The invasion of Gaza has inspired outrage across the world. Even people with limited knowledge of the plight of the Palestinians over the last 60 years have been appalled at Israel’s shocking brutality and arrogance – at the sheer one-sidedness of the violence. As the Israeli academic Avi Shlaim writes, “Israel’s insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash.”
In Britain, Israel’s barbaric offensive has brought hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets in protest. There have been two big demonstrations in London of at least 100,000 each – the largest protests since the early days of the Iraq war – as well as daily protests outside the Israeli embassy and sizeable demonstrations in every major city in the country.
These various protests have not been exclusively attended by the social-democratic left; the muslim community has been mobilised, and many people have been politicised for the first time by the shocking news from Gaza.
The British state has come down hard on the protestors. Riot police have been out in full force and have been quick to charge packed demonstrations and make false arrests. On the demonstration in London on 4 January, police repeatedly charged hundreds of people trapped in a tunnel on the route between Trafalgar Square and the Israeli Embassy.
Even the Guardian felt compelled to report the proceedings: “People told of being trapped under each other and of hearing screams of fear as police charged the crowds three times in the confined space of the Piccadilly underpass on the edge of Hyde Park …
“Among several people injured was Asil Alrashidi, 23, a bank worker from Langley, Berkshire. She said she feared she and her sister would die after they were trapped in a crush of people as a stampede broke out when protesters panicked amid repeated charges by baton-wielding riot police.
“She said she suffered bruising after being knocked to the floor. ‘I was petrified,’ she said. ‘The riot police were charging and pushing people, hitting them with their batons. I was trapped with people coming at us. They were falling on us, trampling us.
“‘There was screaming and shouting, I thought I was going to die. I was holding my sister, our hands were separating and I could hear her screaming my name. I think there were 20 to 30 people on top of me.’”(‘London clashes: protesters tell of fear and panic’, 5 January 2009)
The British government has said very little in relation to Israel’s crimes, but the police have been busily criminalising those protesting against Israel’s brutality. This was witnessed first-hand by a CPGB-ML member who was arrested merely for attending a protest outside the Israeli embassy on 28 December.
Although the demonstration was peaceful, the police were cramming people into a smaller and smaller space and intentionally pushing people over. Our comrade was kicked in the shin by a police officer. When he protested about this, he was pulled through police lines, handcuffed and taken to Charing Cross Police Station, where he was kept for five hours in a cell without so much as a cup of water, a phone call or access to a solicitor.
He was never read his rights or told why he was being detained, although the police insisted on taking a DNA swab from him. After ten hours, he was released and told to come back in late January (this has since been moved to June!), when he will find out whether he faces charges of using “threatening words and behaviour”!
In a world of ever-intensifying conflict between imperialism and the people it oppresses, the state overtly shows its true colours as an instrument of bourgeois class rule as it seeks to intimidate those showing solidarity with the oppressed. In a world of economic decay and ever-intensifying conflict between the working class and the ruling class, the state seeks to send out a warning that resistance of any kind will not be tolerated.
The capitalists can feel the ground crumbling beneath their feet, and they are scared.
We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated into giving up protest. To do so would not only mean betraying our brothers and sisters across the world suffering at the sharp end of imperialism’s stick, but also to consign ourselves to a hopeless life of meek submission in the face of poverty and destruction in Britain.
Whether the ruling class likes it or not, militant anti-imperialism will resurface on the streets of Britain, as the natural product of economic and political circumstances. The demonstrations we are now witnessing foreshadow a re-awakening of this wider working-class struggle.
Where necessary, we must organise to defend ourselves, but we shall not be silenced! United, and properly organised, we are far stronger than the repressive state forces.