Protests across the world have affirmed that despite the huge propaganda offensive which Israel has unleashed in recent days to justify its barbaric, atavistic assault on civilians and civilian targets in Gaza, and despite the considerable exertions of a largely compliant mainstream media in echoing this justification, people are rising up with one voice in condemnation of Israel’s brutal attack and in active solidarity with its victims – the Palestinians.
Mainstream commentator after mainstream commentator has attempted to browbeat Palestinian spokespeople with the same question: Why are Hamas launching these homemade rockets? The answer, in truth, is really very simple: Because they do not have Merkava tanks, Hellfire missiles, and F16 fighter aircraft at their disposal.
With its usual, come-to-be-expected pusillanimity our trusty mainstream journalists have sought to portray this is a conflict between two equal sides. Yet thinking about it for a moment, you really can't blame them, can you? After all, on one side you have the state of Israel with a population in 2007 of just over 7 million; a per capita GDP of around 26,600 dollars; a military budget of some 8 billion dollars enabling it to amass the 4th largest and one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world, including 450 aircraft and a nuclear arsenal comprising an estimated 200 warheads.
On the other side you have Palestine with a population of around 4 million, 1.5 million of whom are currently under siege in the Gaza Strip, in addition to another estimated 5.5 million refugees scattered around the world, predominately in the Middle East; a per capita GDP of 830 dollars (after the usual remittances are siphoned off to the Israeli government for the pleasure of allowing Palestinian exports to pass through its hands); and no military budget to speak of, thus enabling it to amass a deadly arsenal of homemade rockets, stones and petrol bombs, including an unknown number of slingshots.
It is this Palestinian military might, built up over many years with the kind of sneakiness of which only the Arabs are capable, which constitutes a clear and existential threat to only Western-style democracy in the Middle East. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to state that the Palestinian people with their insistence on survival constitute a clear and existential threat to civilisation itself.
And yet perhaps not. Perhaps in their reluctance to be ground into the dust the Palestinians of Gaza are only following the advice of no less a heroic figure than the first Prime Minister of Israel, one David Ben-Gurion, who said just before he died:
"Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it's true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?"
Zionism, beginning as a self consciously secular, nationalist movement, had by this point absorbed the religious justification for Israel’s existence, evidenced in the section of the aforementioned quote in which Ben-Gurion, in the manner of an aside, promulgates the view that God promised the land to the Jewish people. Interestingly, as we fast approach 2009 this is a view which still enjoys common currency not only in Israeli society but in capitals throughout the West. Indeed our very own Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset earlier in the year to mark the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel, said:
I am especially pleased - as the first British Prime Minister to address the Knesset - to congratulate you at this sixtieth anniversary on the achievement of 1948: the centuries of exile ended, the age-long dream realised, the ancient promise redeemed - the promise that even amidst suffering, you will find your way home to the fields and shorelines where your ancestors walked."
He went on to say in the same speech:
"And you proved that while repression can subjugate it can never silence; while hearts can be broken hope is unbreakable; while lives can be lost the dream could never die; that - in the words of the prophet Amos - 'justice would roll down like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream'."
Now I don't know about you, but in the world I live in people who hold such beliefs of divine exceptionalism are not in need of their own land, they're in need of psychiatric care.
To put it another way, imagine smashing down the door of a stranger's house, informing him that you and your family have been promised his house by God, preparatory to forcing him and his family into the boxroom, and then calling in the police when he tries to force his way out again. In any civilised society you wouldn't just be arrested for such a crime, you'd be sectioned.
Yet this in microcosm describes the fate of the Palestinian people, though with one significant caveat. Rather than those who have invaded their home criminalised, it is they who've been not only criminalised but demonised.
The militant protests that have already taken place in London outside the Israeli Embassy against Israel’s assault on civilians in Gaza reflect a mood of determination and anger when it comes to Palestinian solidarity that is long overdue. Watching news reports of protestors pushing the police back was a sight to gladden the eye of anyone interested in universal human rights and justice. In the coming days, with protests planned to continue around the country, let’s ensure that the pro-Israel consensus which currently and egregiously dominates the body politic in this country is rocked to its very foundations. Let’s ensure also that the international campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel called for by Palestinian civil society is placed at the heart of every organisation’s solidarity work with the Palestinian people from here on in.
Finally, let’s ensure that by the time we're finished Gordon Brown, George Bush, and Ehud Olmert et al are left in no doubt that when it comes to our Palestinian brothers and sisters - the people have spoken.