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Opinion

Why I marched for Gaza

22 Oct 2023 7 minute read
Marchers in Cardiff at the weekend. Image by Gareth Llewelyn Evans

Adam Johannes

The majority of Tory and Labour MPs overwhelmingly support Israel’s war on Gaza, while the latest YouGov poll shows the majority of the public overwhelmingly wish to see an immediate ceasefire.

This weekend I attended a political demonstration in Cardiff, part of a day that saw an estimated 300,000 people march across the UK for Palestine in what may have been the biggest wave of anti-war protests in Britain in twenty years.

I have been an organiser in the Welsh peace movement over several years, and a supporter of the Palestinian cause for over two decades. So when somebody once emailed me asking how and why I was such an ardent advocate of Palestinian freedom, they seemed taken back when I mentioned that I had actually once been ardently pro-Israel. I would like to share my reply to explain why I changed my mind and why I now march for Palestine:

When I was growing up the creation of the State of Israel seemed to me a noble endeavour. Historical events like Israel’s 1948 war of independence seemed glorious like the battle of Masada in 70 AD or the Warsaw Ghetto Rising, Jews again courageously fighting against impossible odds, only this time with a happy ending! My religious upbringing made the return of Jews to Israel after 2000 years seem natural and right.

Palestinians who had lived there for centuries didn’t really exist in my mind. I thought how Israel treated them wasn’t great, but it was very vague to me who the Palestinians actually were, and besides there had to be an Israel because of the Holocaust, and maybe Israel only acted like it did sometimes because all the surrounding Arabs wanted to drive the Jews into the sea!

A miracle

My late mother once described Israel to me as a ‘miracle’. They had made the desert bloom. She described her feelings of anxiety as a teenager in England during the Six Days War and joy afterwards. This new society I once believed had even created experimental socialist communities called the Kibbutz where I hoped to spend the summer of my 18th year.

I remember as an 18 year old philosophy student, a woman who became one of my most cherished friends at the time had just arrived from France, she was Jewish and mentioned she was looking for where the synagogue was. She said even though she wasn’t particularly religious, it was important for her personally to be connected and preserve her religious tradition and culture because ‘they tried to exterminate all of us’.

My father brought me up with a strong sense of identification with Jewish oppression. The bookshelves in our home were well stocked with Jewish writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer, Primo Levi, Martin Buber, and I was encouraged to read the diaries of Anne Frank and Victor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ based on his experiences as a survivor of a death camp.

He loved old films like Assisi Underground, about how Italian Christians had hidden Jews from the Nazis. I still believe that the Holocaust should never be forgotten and the lesson from history must be ‘Never Again’ for anyone, and it makes me feel sick when even today you sometimes hear people spouting outlandish conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the banks, media, America, the world and so on.

My father had grown up part of the post-war generation in the shadow of the Holocaust and had seen Jewish schoolfriends in London still suffer antisemitism. With good intentions then my father till recently was strongly pro-Israel and I remember him once being upset when I told him that he had got it all wrong and it was the Palestinians who were the underdog. An argument erupted where we both shouted angrily accusing each other of being a racist. He said I was racist because I said Israel had no right to exist. I said, no you are the racist supporting an apartheid state.

Biased

But that was later, I remember the week after 9.11 getting involved in the emerging anti-war movement and meeting socialists and Muslims who were very pro-Palestine. At first they seemed very biased to me, I felt they were way too one-sided never highlighting Palestinian suicide bombers and a bit extreme. Some even said Israel shouldn’t really exist though I was relieved to discover they didn’t want to drive Jews into the sea, but rather said that Arabs and Jews could live together and we shouldn’t concede the racist idea that they couldn’t.

I also discovered that in the socialist group I had joined that its founder was Jewish and there were many other articulate veteran Jewish campaigners in the party who always took the side of the Palestinians. At the same time it was hard to oppose America and Britain occupying Middle Eastern countries and not notice what was happening to Palestinians.

But I was still confused. I would try to follow debates between supporters of Israel and Palestine but they always seemed filled with facts and figures, claims and counterclaims and I would get bogged down in a tangled web of history that I couldn’t navigate.

Finally in exasperation I went to Cardiff Central Library and over six months read virtually every book they had on Israel/Palestine from every perspective, Zionist, liberal Zionist, anti-Zionist, left wing, right wing, Pro-Palestinian, anti-Palestinian. I read book after book.

I remember slowly noticing that the Palestinian narrative of what had happened had more logical coherence than the Zionist narratives I was reading which seemed to lie on key facts. For example, one famous book absurdly arguing that actually there had been no Arabs in Palestine and that they had come to the empty land only after the beginning of Zionist colonisation attracted by the economic development created by Zionist settlers.

I remember the first eureka! moment when it finally clicked what the conflict was about, and that far from being complicated as most people I knew seemed to think it was actually really simple.

Palestinians had lived in their houses and on their land for generations. Suddenly other people started arriving from Europe. These people didn’t want to live alongside the people already living there as many small Jewish communities had for centuries, but to displace and replace the native Arab population and exclude them and drive them off their own land.

There are complications that the settlers were often themselves fleeing an existential threat or leaving societies where they had suffered racist persecution, but the central truth that Israel could only be created and then maintained on the basis of racist violence towards Palestinians became clear to me, and from that point I was an advocate for Palestine, or rather became one only after the second eureka! moment.

Humanise

This was reading an anthology of writings by a Palestinian intellectual freedom fighter, Edward Said, in essays like ‘Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims’ he calmly and eloquently – while refusing to compromise on his own people’s history, experience and national rights – sought to also humanise and understand his oppressor arguing that a common future lay in creating a dialogue between two people’s histories and narratives to move forward.

It was Edward Said’s deep humanism and positive vision of coexistence that could liberate the oppressor and the oppressed alike that finally won me to realising that like the U.S. civil rights movement or anti-apartheid, Palestine was a universal struggle for universal human rights that anyone who believed in justice had to support. Edward Said believed Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews would one day live as equals in one democratic state of Palestine-Israel stretching ‘from the river to the sea’.

And it is this principle of Arab-Jewish coexistence on the basis of equal rights that continues to flame my political imagination.

Edward Said always loved to quote these words of Carribbean poet Aimé Césaire –

“And no race holds a monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of strength, and, There is a place for all at the Rendezvous of Victory.”


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Another Richard
Another Richard
5 months ago

It’s quite an achievement to write an essay on the Palestine/Israel conflict without mentioning Hamas, which is not an organisation that shares the admirable “principle of Arab-Jewish coexistence on the basis of equal rights”, but has the goal of an Islamist state covering the whole of Palestine.

Richard
Richard
5 months ago

Are you in favour of a 2 state solution?

Cat
Cat
5 months ago

Thank you for writing this.

Pascal Lafargue
Pascal Lafargue
5 months ago

On this particular case, I personally find it difficult to be with or against any of these two peoples. Too much suffering on both sides, too much complexity regarding this geopolitical issue, to be able to give an humble opinion. I haven’t read as much books as the author of the articles about this subject, but I have recently watched the documentary ‘The History of antisemitism’, on Arte, (4 hours), and read ‘Violence and the Sacred’ by Rene Girard, to understand that condemning the Jews, even the Sionists is a delicate matter. I am not saying it isn’t something that… Read more »

Richard
Richard
5 months ago

Indeed and the organisers of those protests have a moral duty to have zero tolerance of any participants or banners that spout anti Jewish views or who deny their right to live in peace and security in their own country.

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Judaism and Zionism are 2 different things, There are many Jewish people who oppose The Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinian people. There are organisation e.g The Jewish Voice for Peace and The Neturei Karta Orthodox Jews who vehemently oppose Zionism.

Richard
Richard
5 months ago
Reply to  Johnny Gamble

What do you understand by “Zionism”?

Riki
Riki
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard

A country that was super imposed over a pre-existing one!

ron
ron
5 months ago
Reply to  Riki

Which one? The British mandate? The Ottoman rule? A non-state headed by Amin al-Husseini?

Riki
Riki
5 months ago
Reply to  ron

Is’not’real!!! Palestine became a regional part of the Ottoman Empire, they didn’t try to eliminate it from history like some people are doing. People who support is’not’real Are the same ones who would gladly have sold Wales out to the Normans or Anglo had they the chance. Just like how you have the English pretending to be British at our expense, now we have European converts to Judaism playing from that exact playbook.

Riki
Riki
5 months ago

There are plenty of videos on YouTube showing exactly what zionists are like to not only Arabs and Muslims, but to Christians also. They spit on Nuns when they travel past them for heaven sake.

Riki
Riki
5 months ago
Reply to  Riki

So four people would prefer spitting on nuns than being in danger of being called an Anti-Semite. This world is beyond crazy!

ron
ron
5 months ago

All those balanced words, but on Twitter you posted only that you support “Palestine from the river to the sea”, which is a call for the destruction of Israel, without mentioning a common state (a wish for many, but unrealistic). How can anyone discuss the de-stating of a country? Surely this is an irrelevant point and leads nowhere closer to a solution. And if that’s not what you meant, maybe you should really be more careful what you write.

Riki
Riki
5 months ago
Reply to  ron

Probably because the creation of Isreal came about at the expense of an already existing nation. The people of which are now being offered the options of leaving or genocide! Anyone defending what Is’Not’real are doing should be right beside them when their leaders are brought up on charges.

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
5 months ago

Alan H. Luxenberg is Acting President of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and author of “The Palestine Mandate and the Creation of Israel” and says, in his article for the scholarly ‘History News Network’ of the George Washington University, ‘ – – – the history of the twentieth century is a history of the Palestinians’ resistance to establishing a Palestinian state—if it had to exist side by side with a Jewish state.’ [My emphasis.] The word ‘Palestinian’ is founded in a political delusion. Since there is not and never has been any such cultural entity as an historic Palestinian… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Philip Davies
Pascal Lafargue
Pascal Lafargue
5 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

Da iawn!

Hywel
Hywel
5 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

I’d be wary of any subject matter emanating from the Foreign Policy Research Institute – one of their Board of Directors’s media company apparently received a contract from the State of Israel. The agreement was a $90,000 test project to help Israel’s image in the United States.
Alan H Luxenberg himself says ‘Zionists would brook no compromise of their vision of the Biblical promised land (Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and parts of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon)’
Hamas wants all of Palestine free from Zionist control.
This is an intractable conflict between mortal enemies.

CapM
CapM
5 months ago

Both groups are descended from Neolithic polytheists. Jews via monotheism, Muslims via monotheism and possibly further conversions via Judaism and or Christianity

It’s a religious war between present day Jewish Canaanites and present day Muslim Canaanites.
One land, one people, two books.

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