rs21 members attended protests last weekend in London and Manchester in solidarity with Palestine. John Nicholson reports on the Nakba 75 demonstration and march on 14 May 2023 in Manchester, providing some background on why the day is so important to mark.
When asked if she was okay striding along with this sculptured ‘map’ of Palestine – all the way from Platt Fields Park to Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester (a 3–4 mile march) – the person pictured (on the left) replied: ‘my grandfather carried all his possessions on his back 75 years ago, it’s the least I can do to carry this here today’.
For Palestinians, the ‘nakba’ – or ‘catastrophe’ – is continuing every day, and the UK has been integrally involved. When in 1945-48 the forces of the incipient state of Israel had been sizing up the residences of the Palestinians, it was officials of the Jewish National Fund who advised the military where to strike (the JNF remains a registered charity in this country). Then in 1948 they pounced. The nakba forced 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, never to return to their 500 villages and lands. Some of these remain buried under Jewish-Israeli-only ‘leisure parks’, such as the British Park, funded by JNF supporters in this country.
The events of 1945-8 followed the Balfour Declaration of 1917, through which the Foreign Secretary assured the Zionists of UK support for a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ – ie, in Palestine, and over the heads of the Palestinian people who lived there. The nakba directly flowed from this.
Since then, the enforced exodus from Palestine has meant that there are now 7 million Palestinian refugees around the world. Many of the descendants of those expelled in 1948 are still in horrendous conditions in refugee camps in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The specific quasi-refugee status granted to Palestinians pre-dates the full implementation of the Refugee Convention and still leaves them with mere welfare support through the UN Relief and Works Agency (often-endangered – suffering massive cuts from former US President Trump which have been only partially reversed since). This keeps them in a form of limbo, with no access to the full refugee status of others.
And, as one writer recently put it with regard to UK immigration policy:
Britain condemns the Russian criminal invasion of Ukraine, recognises the Ukrainian right to resist, and opens the door to Ukrainian refugees… But the hypocrisy is staggering, as they enforce a Hostile Environment on other asylum seekers and migrants, are silent on Israeli war crimes, and do not recognise the Palestinian right to resist. They instruct local authorities to end investments in Russia, but plan legislation to stop local authority Boycott Divestment and Sanctions which could target Israeli war crimes.
In the last 75 years this country has continued to give contracts to Israeli arms firms, to train (and receive training and technology from) the Israeli military, and to refuse to put any sanctions at all upon anything or anyone connected with the racist Zionist apartheid state of Israel.
Yet Palestinians continue to resist. From marching into the barrels of Israeli snipers at the edges of the territory of Gaza to remaining in their homes when threatened with eviction and demolition across the West Bank, Palestinians have retained their demand for the Right to Return – exemplified by the slogan ‘Exist, Resist, Return’.
In solidarity with their resistance, Manchester has increasingly sought to unite a wide range of organisations and individuals to highlight Israel’s apartheid regime and its atrocities towards the Palestinian people. These include Manchester Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Manchester Palestine Action, the Youth Front for Palestine, Jewish Voices for Labour, as well as the Greater Manchester Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Oldham Peace and Justice Group (who were instrumental in developing the campaign against Israeli arms firm Elbit’s factory in Oldham – which then closed in January 2022 after direct actions by Palestine Action). Together the movement in Manchester has regularly occupied the arms-investor Barclays Bank and the offices of Puma (sponsors of Israeli football), and demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners (including many children, and many who are held effectively indefinitely under ‘administrative detention’).
We have been particularly inspired by the young Palestinians themselves who have put themselves forward (the risk of their doing so should not be underestimated). As a result, the 500 people who joined our Nakba 75 demonstration on 14 May did so as a direct challenge to the Israeli bombing of Gaza and as direct support to the ‘Siege’ of Leicester undertaken by Palestine Action for the month of May. Manchester heard from the groups involved, received a phone link and email communications from Gaza, and the rapper-activist Lowkey joined both ends of the demonstration to highlight the closure of two Elbit offices and the government cancellation of two Elbit contracts late last year.
Cutting across this there was a realistic warning by the stewards at the outset that we might face police restrictions arising from the hastily-legalised Public Order Act. Clearly we were not going to let ourselves be deterred in advance. In the event, there was absolutely no hint whatsoever of objection by the police. Indeed, they facilitated our march without demur.
As usual, we had not warned them nor liaised with them in advance. We will walk on our streets where we want to. We took the road, all the way down the arterial Wilmslow/Oxford Road into Piccadilly Gardens in the city centre, accompanied by unceasing loudspeakers and chanting, and the vibrant drumming of the PCS Samba Band. We followed the extensive Nakba banner and a purpose-built map of Palestine – as well as a giant key to symbolise the keys that Palestinian refugees keep of the homes from which they were displaced. And we continued to say that as long as Palestinians demand liberation, we will not stop supporting them – until Palestine is free.