Last Saturday our banner had its first outing when some of us joined the protest organised by Edinburgh Action for Palestine outside the King’s Theatre. The theatre was putting on the L-E-V dance company, whose performances around the world have been sponsored by the Israeli state. Every year at the Edinburgh Festival protestors ensure that such cultural ambassadors cannot whitewash over the realities of Israel’s aggressive apartheid regime.
But history doesn’t wait for people to make banners and write formal statements of beliefs, and even before we had got this group properly set up we were on the streets protesting Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza.
Here is Jolanta speaking in Edinburgh at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba in May.
And here is Sarah speaking at the emergency demo in Glasgow a few days later. Sarah also spoke in Dundee the day before. Sarah’s speech is reproduced below:
And Jolanta again at a July demo against the SDL in Glasgow:
Speech to the emergency demo for Gaza:
I am speaking on behalf of our newly set up organisation of Scottish Jews against Zionism.
No-one with a heart that beats and eyes to see can fail to be moved by the catastrophe that is playing out in Gaza. And despite the careful whitewashing in so much of the mainstream media, this catastrophe is planned and deliberate and is being carried out by a government and an army that claims to represent the Jewish people – my people. That is why it is important that the many Jews who are horrified at what is happening can stand up and say loudly and clearly this is not done in our name.
As some of you may know, I am just back from a week in Rojava, the autonomous predominantly Kurdish area in Northern Syria where they are establishing a bottom up democracy based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan used to fight for a Kurdish state, but he came to realise the dangers that this posed – that when an oppressed minority becomes the rulers of their own state, then they can become the new oppressors. As Israel exemplifies, no group is intrinsically immune from exploiting power to turn against others.
The catastrophe in Gaza today is the continuation and amplification of the catastrophe that accompanied the foundation of the Israeli state, 70 years ago this week. The Arabic word for catastrophe is nakba. The Palestinians who were driven from their ancestral villages to make room for a specifically Jewish state have been commemorating that original Nakba for 7 decades, but never has the situation been as desperate as it is today. Never has the Israeli government been so blatantly unapologetically racist and violent. Never has such a large part of Israeli society been so blinded by racial hate. Never has the description of Israel/Palestine as an apartheid state been more apt. And never has the wider political world been less ready to say ‘no’ to Israeli aggression. Because these developments in Israel have not happened in a vacuum. They are part of a world political shift towards the right.
When folk call on the ‘international community’ to do something, they turn towards politicians and diplomats. These people may wring their hands, even pass a few condemning motions, but they are part of the system that has allowed all this to happen. Real support will only come from the real international community – the people who are standing up in streets and squares across the world in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to the wider politics that puts greed and power and arms deals before people’s lives.
We can stand here and protest because our ancestors fought for that basic freedom. When the Palestinians stand up to protest against their incarceration in a modern ghetto, they are mowed down by Israeli bullets. And despite the scores of deaths, the thousands of casualties, the indifference of world leaders, the Palestinians have shown a bravery and determination that is truly inspiring.
Understanding and support for the Palestinians has been growing – especially here in Scotland, and especially through the important movement for boycotting Israeli goods and divesting from companies that work with the Israeli government. These actions are hitting Israel’s carefully manufactured image, and Israel is fighting back. They are fighting back by trying to portray anyone who criticises Israel, and particularly anyone who argues against Zionism, as anti-Semitic. Zionism is a political movement for the creation and maintenance of a specifically Jewish state. We believe it is vital that we resist any system that prioritises any one religion or ethnicity. That resistance is not anti-Semitic. What is anti-Semitic is to assume that all Jews are Zionists
Zionism has also been a catastrophe for Jews. It has – to use a biblical phrase – hardened people’s hearts. What happened to the precept of Rabbi Hillel from the first century BC: ‘That which is hateful to you, do not unto another’? What happened to the Talmudic principle that the preservation of human life takes precedence over all other commandments? Should we forget the recognition of shared oppression that encouraged so many Jews to take a prominent place in the progressive left movements of the 20th century?
Those of us who can see what is happening need to speak out and say, for the sake of everyone who lives in that land – Palestinians and Jews and Druze and Armenians and people who don’t identify with any ‘group’- and for the sake of the whole of humanity: Palestine will be free from the river to the sea!