On 15 May, Palestinians will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, their violent eviction from their homes and their land by Israeli forces. Nakba means catastrophe – and how else could you describe the ethnic cleansing of two-thirds of the Palestinian population? In the words of Edward Said, Palestinians “had their lives broken, their spirits drained, their composure destroyed forever in the context of seemingly unending, serial dislocation.”
But the Nakba did not end in 1948. The persecution of the Palestinian people has spanned the three-quarters of a century since Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion said of some Palestinian villages: “we must wipe them out”. Today, this sentiment is reflected in Benjamin Netanyahu’s description of Palestinians as “wild beasts” and in comments by the Israeli Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who said that the Palestinian town of Huwara needs to be “erased”.
The events of last year once again put the plight of the Palestians and cruelty of Israel’s regime that dominates their lives on show for all to see. According to the UN, 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. In May, renowned Palestinian-America journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot while reporting on an Israeli Defence Forces raid on a West Bank refugee camp and her funeral procession attacked in Jerusalem. August saw an Israeli bombing campaign kill 50 Palestinians, including children, in Gaza. One of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history took office in October as Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power; illegal settlement activity expanded. This government includes far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir as Minister for National Security. He has previously called for Palestinians who are “disloyal to Israel” to be deported. This feeling is not limited to one ministry. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in 2021 said that Palestinians in Israel “are here by mistake” because the Nakba did not finish the job.
Last month, Israeli forces have once again attacked Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque. Echoing the atrocities of 2021, this egregious violation of human rights has been dismissed by the British press as mere ‘clashes’. This is not the case. “With the establishment of a relationship of oppression violence has already begun,” wrote Paulo Freire. “Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as persons—not by those who are oppressed, exploited, and unrecognised.” Freire’s words remind us that, as they did in 1948, Israeli forces deny Palestinians their dignity and their rights.
In the face of this continuing repression, Palestinian people and organisations have supported each other and pushed for justice. Their insistence on their dignity and freedom inspires so many around the world – and I fully acknowledge and admire the brave activists in every country, including Israel, that have stood up for Palestinian rights and liberation.
As the world’s eyes turned to the FIFA World Cup in December, despite not qualifying for the tournament, the Palestinian struggle was in the spotlight. Whether it was Moroccan players raising the Palestinian flag after knocking out Spain or Tunisian fans holding up a banner which read ‘Free Palestine’, the outpouring of solidarity was a powerful reminder of global support for the Palestinian cause. In Ireland, league leaders Bohemian FC’s 2023 away kit has been designed in support of the Palestinians to raise funds for children in the occupied West Bank.
In February of this year, the mayor of Barcelona terminated the city’s twinning agreement with Tel Aviv, citing Israeli’s “Apartheid policy.” Barcelona’s show of solidarity with the Palestinian people followed a lengthy grassroots campaign by thousands of Catalonians to get Barcelona to become the first city administration in the world to suspend relations with the State of Israel.
In the UK, direct action campaigns, like Palestine Action, have targeted the arms industry that supports the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank. The UK remains Israel’s 4th largest arms provider and, between 2016 and 2020, sold £387 million worth of weapons to the Israeli military. Israel’s largest weapons company, Elbit Systems, has 10 UK sites and provides up to 85% of the land-based equipment procured by the Israeli military.
After an 18-month campaign by Palestine Action, Elbit Systems announced the permanent closure of their Oldham site in early 2022. At the end of December, it emerged that following Palestine Action’s campaign, Elbit Systems were set to lose two multi-million pound contracts with the Ministry of Defence.
Israel’s occupation, which has been declared as apartheid regime by numerous human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, relies on multiple layers of support. Overcoming it and securing justice for the Palestinians will require a coalition of solidarity which will take on each layer of this system. We must pursue the corporations that fund Palestinian oppression just as we do the states who legitimise it. We demand that the UK unconditionally recognises the state of Palestine, as the UN has done, just as we must support Palestinian movements for peace and justice.
In our age of crisis, the fight for freedom and justice is imperative. But, as Nelson Mandela noted, “we know too well that freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”