It wasn’t the biggest demonstration of solidarity with Palestine, possibly it was the smallest, given that many tens of thousands marched to the Israeli embassy in London to protest against the carnage in Gaza. The little gathering in a remote town more than 900 kilometres to the north of the English capital, nevertheless expressed its outrage both at Israel’s war crimes against innocent men, women and children and at the failure of individual governments and the United Nations to take action over Israel’s latest murderous onslaught.
The small town protest still managed to involve its own Palestinian representatives, a doctor, his wife and three charming children, who swapped living in the hostile environment of Gaza, the world’s largest prison camp where Israel keeps 1.8 million people under siege, for a quite different life in the peace and tranquility of the scenic Scottish Highlands.
The central London protest march filled the streets with estimates of up to 100,000 demonstrators, some occupying the entrance to government offices for a while, others chaining themselves to railings. What was important was that the protests - large and small - took place virtually unhindered without tears or tear gas. Britain, for all its failings, pays lip service to the democratic right to public protest.
In striking contrast in Paris, demonstrators absurdly had to risk jail sentences and hefty fines by defying a Socialist government prohibition against their protest over Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza. Riot police, tear gas and violent clashes marked quite a different perspective on democratic rights. A Socialist government invoking draconian measures against people protesting against the mass murder of children?
It isn’t clear yet how long the latest massacre of Gazans will continue or what the final toll of deaths, injuries, displacement and sheer human misery will be, but the savagery of the slaughter yet again reveals the true nature of Israel’s militaristic mindset. No-one, least of all their prime minister, seeks to conceal their contempt for human rights, and particularly the rights of Palestinians, now openly regarded and treated as Untermenschen.
Israel’s leaders - political and military - simply ignored the heartfelt plea from a veteran of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and an Auschwitz survivor, Chavka Fulman-Raban, when she urged her fellow Israelis to rebel against the occupation. Ironic then that Israel’s defenders boastfully assert its spurious claim to be a democratic country despite its quasi-apartheid system, marked in the way it treats those Palestinians who live within its borders, let alone its violent occupation of Palestine’s West Bank and its perpetual siege of Gaza.
The longer we tolerate governments not merely failing to halt Israel’s systematic aggression when they should be taking decisive steps, but continuing to ignore the perpetuated injustice to Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948, the more we allow the continuing commitments to prop up Israel with military aid ($3bn a year from the USA) or the normalising embrace of the EU offering neighbourly close collaboration, the more blatant the democratic failures of our own countries become.
Whatever happened to liberté, égalité, fraternité? We need to go back to the French noble who first coined the phrase, Archibishop François Fénelon. More than three centuries ago he wrote words of wisdom now more apt than ever:
‘’A people is no less a member of the human race, which is society as a whole, than a family is a member of a particular nation. Each individual owes incomparably more to the human race, which is the great fatherland, than to the particular country in which he was born. As a family is to the nation, so is the nation to the universal commonweal; wherefore it is infinitely more harmful for nation to wrong nation, than for family to wrong family. To abandon the sentiment of humanity is not merely to renounce civilization and to relapse into barbarism, it is to share in the blindness of the most brutish brigands and savages; it is to be a man no longer, but a cannibal.’’
Paintings by Jane Frere