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After Gaza, a new responsibility to build solidarity with Palestine

23 May 2021

Palestine Solidarity demo, Custom House Sqaure, Belfast

The 700 strong demonstration in Belfast's Custom House Square on Saturday the 22nd of May, a mirror image of demonstrations in communities across Ireland, showed that things have changed and that a new opportunity has arisen to build an effective solidarity movement with Palestine in Ireland and across the globe.

One aspect of that was the size and range of the demonstration, another the scope of the audience, from grizzled veterans to an enraged emigre population to a new influx of young people. The size came close to the recent black lives matter demonstrations and drew upon many of the same activists.

There was one other major shift in the political tone of the organisation, summed up by PbP MLA Gerry Carroll, when he described Israel as an apartheid state.

One of the restraints on the solidarity movement has been an unwillingness to take a position on disagreements between the Palestinian organisations.  The Palestinian Authority has supported the Two State Solution, suggesting that some sort of partition line could lead to a Palestinian state and solidarity groups have largely kept silent on the issue.

Trump blew the two state idea out if the water, and as a result the Palestinian Authority was reduced to a spectator, ignored by Hamas, by the West Bank fighters,  by the fighters in Jerusalem and by Arab citizens of Israel.

Biden is now trying to revive the Palestinian Authority and the two state solution as cover for further ethnic cleansing by the Zionists, so it is important that we label Israel as an apartheid state. The only response to apartheid is the destruction of Israel and the construction of a Palestinian state, with equal rights for all.

The logic of the apartheid label has yet to lead to a new strategy and tactics for the solidarity movement. Many speakers fell back, time and time again, on a tactic of BDS - Boycott, disinvest and sanctions.  While necessary, the pushback against BDS through charges of anti-semitism have shown its limitations. We cannot target Israel without dealing with the network of support by imperialist states.

Instead there was a certain level of delusion. Many speakers claimed that this was the biggest Belfast protest ever in support of Palestine.  This is simply not true.  Other speakers claimed that Belfast was united in support of Palestine. This is also untrue. There is fervent support for Israel in the ranks of loyalism. Demonstrations many times bigger have been held in the past. The thing is, those demonstrations were organised by the trade unions through ICTU and the unions have withdrawn into the background to avoid any confrontation with the loyalists.

The current demonstration had a speaker from Trade Union Friends of Palestine and a member of Unison speaking in a personal capacity. There was one MLA.

So an initial task is to press the trade unions to renew public support for Palestine.  Another is to press other political parties.  Support for Palestinians is high among Sinn Fein supporters, but the leadership have a history of secret  meetings with the Israeli government.

BDS is necessary but not sufficient. Israel has unanimous support amongst the imperialist powers and their dependent states. Ireland has a place on the UN security council and endless diplomatic and trade links to Israel. The task of the solidarity movement is to break these links.

The demonstration in Belfast,  the demonstrations across Ireland and across the globe, indicate a new opportunity for solidarity. The necessary is to put forward a programme of action aimed at the destruction of the apartheid state and to bring all the disparate elements of solidarity together in one united campaign.

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