Thank you for the invitation to speak tonight at your fundraiser. I want to let you know that we also have been fundraising through the British Shalom Salaam Trust and have collected over £50,000 for medical aid to Gaza.
Money is sorely needed, but that is only the first step. We need political action and we need engagement.
Make no mistake: the isolation of Hamas after they own elections described as free and fair by international observers contributed to the invasion of Gaza. The refusal to engage allowed Israel to successfully demonise Hamas. The public was softened up to expect action. The invasion had been planned for 6-8 months. It was clear what was coming.
What was the purpose of the war on Gaza?
There were two electoral considerations and one military one.
What it was not about were the stated aims – stopping the rocket fire or deposing Hamas. The failure of both of these objectives lies behind the new condition that Shalit should be released before the blockade is lifted. The choreography of this is disgraceful and shows how Israel holds the lives of its citizens like Shalit and the people of southern Israel cheap.
Gilad Shalit should be released, but not as part of negotiations to lift the blockade – which I would remind you, was supposed to be lifted as part of the ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt.
So not only was that ceasefire broken by Israel on November 5th last year.
They never complied with its conditions in the first place.
It’s worth remembering that, the next time Israel says Hamas won’t abide by previous agreements.
So we have the impending Israeli elections and the need to re-establish the “deterrent factor” of the Israeli Army. But most important of all was the change of presidents in the USA. We shouldn’t bank on him, or rely too much on his good offices, but unlike the intellectually and morally lazy George Bush, Barack Obama is engaged. He has a different attitude and different personnel. Aware of that, Israel was doing its damnedest to stave off the day when Palestinians are united and the international community brings pressure to bear: that is their greatest political fear.
I spoke to a former leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin last year. He tells a story where if you put a Palestinian flag, a Hamas Flag, a Fatah flag and a PFLP flag on the ground in the street, someone would come past and pick up the Hamas flag. Then someone would pick up the PFLP flag and someone would pick up the Fatah flag. But no one would pick up the Palestinian flag. The war on Gaza was aimed at delaying the day when the Palestinians are unified and pick up one flag.
The carnage in Gaza was justified by Israel and its supporters because they said terrorists were hiding amongst civilians. But if terrorists were hiding amongst the population of Belfast, or London, or Dewsbury, no one would claim it would be justifiable to raze areas of these communities to the ground. Doing that in Gaza means holding the lives of Palestinians cheaper than others. And that is racism.
No racism is justifiable, of any kind.
We have to deal with it when it occurs and cannot avoid the fact that anti Semitism – classical prejudice against Jews as Jews – both exists and is on the increase. But we have to be wary of it being used as a way of silencing debate and spreading fear. The story in The Sun recently about targeting British Jews for attack as revenge for Gaza demonstrates how cynically people use the accusation, but it does exist.
JfJfP has been especially impressed with the attitude we have found on demonstrations in support of the Gazan people where people have welcomed us, asked to be photographed with us, stand and march with us. We have been impressed with the emails we have received from British Muslims, stating they have no issue with an Israel within the 1967 borders and praising the stand we take.
Anti-semitism is bad in and of itself, but it also plays into the hands of our critics. There was no place for Islamophobia after 9/11 or 7/7. Unjustifiable as it was, it grew and has produced the situation we are in now, with suspicion and fear greatly increased.
We cannot replace or respond to one unjustifiable prejudice with another.
Just as important is the strength we gain through cooperation.
What can Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador, say when MPAC invites JfJfP to speak at a fundraising dinner?
What can Melanie Philips say when we raise money for Gaza?
When British Muslims take on anti Semitism and British Jews tackle Islamophobia, where does that leave the real racists then?
There is so much we can do together.
We are here because we are angry at the destruction in Gaza outraged at the suffering of the population. But moral outrage is only a starting point. Do not expect it to be shared by politicians. For them – as Tazneem and the other speakers said – action and mobilisation is the only thing that works. Aid is one thing – and it is more than just symbolic. It can spread and strengthen resistance to oppression.
But treaties and agreements are made by politicians and if we want them to make the right agreements and the right treaties, we have to make sure we tell them what we want to be in them. here is an emergency lobby of Parliament in London on 11 March. Lobbies are not just for a few, they need to be as well attended as possible and I would like to see everyone in this room at the House of Commons on 11 March to tell your MPs what you think about Gaza. You can’t do that on a demo, or from a distance. You have to do it in person. That’s how, together, we can begin to make a difference.