A Medieval Christmas in Gaza?

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Raw sewage and muddy rainwater rising in the fruit and vegetable market. Six hours of electricity a day, while snow blankets the Middle East. Will it be frostbite, corpses and medieval diseases this Christmas for Gaza? The world’s media, of course, pays not a fig of attention to the crisis.*

Meanwhile here in Brighton & Hove, today at the weekly Boycott Ecostream demo – urging consumers not to buy products made by an Israeli company with its HQ illegally situated in occupied territories – local Zionists chanted ‘The BDS-ers don’t care about Palestinians, they only care about their human rights agenda’. The Zios also repeatedly, loudly, denounced us all as ‘crybabies’ and anti-Semites, and gleefully hurled vacuous personal slurs – ‘You spit like a girl’ to one man who hadn’t even opened his mouth. We laughed about that one later on in the cafe –  the Zios’ non-sequiturs never cease – but it is telling that the accusation enforces gender apartheid. For the rest of their insults are simply desperate, incoherent attempts to divert attention from the real issues: the ethnic cleansing and racial segregation inherent in the Zionist project.

A Zionist is someone who defends the indefensible, and  in my experience the majority of the Zios on Western Road are a particularly hostile sub-genre: people for whom human rights, truth and empathy are simply excuses for derision and contempt; people who delight in trying to provoke others to violence. Though the Brighton BDS protesters have a policy of not engaging with these attacks, it is very difficult to listen to their catcalls and lies and remain silent. It is tempting (for me, at least!) to retaliate with stinging words, but this would likely escalate hostilities, possibly leading to arrest, and in any case is not the dignified, progressive or mature thing to do. You might ask me to have compassion for these people, but while I do feel sorry for them I have greater and more immediate concerns. First and foremost, the impression passersby get of our campaign. The general public is walking a gauntlet on that sidewalk, some unaware that two separate points-of-view are being promoted. The BDS protesters do a tremendous job – handing out over 700 leaflets a week in various demos and stalls – but nevertheless, the atmosphere on Saturdays is intimidating to many and reinforces the cynical and misinformed view that ‘both sides are as bad as each other’.

Sussex police are supposed to maintain public order at the demo, and will intervene to halt some of the more obvious hostilities, though many others pass unchallenged. Today I wondered if we should demand that the police prohibit verbal abuse during the demo. Verbal abuse includes ‘destructive criticism, mocking; accusing; [and] name calling’; it is a recognised aspect of hate crime and Sussex Police should have a working definition of it. At the very least any accusation of anti-Semitism should be absolutely banned from the demonstration. Speaking personally, I am an Associate Lecturer, and my career is at stake if the general public is allowed to believe that my activism for Palestine is motivated by hatred for Jews. That is an noxious, potentially hugely damaging slander, designed to deter people from criticising Israel, and I do not take it lightly at all.

I will keep you posted. In the meantime, standing with my comrades, who are out every weekend facing this vicious abuse, I have never been more proud to be call myself an anti-Zionist. My encounters with Zionism on Western Road have only reinforced my conviction that it is a racist, inhuman doctrine that must be completely dissolved before there can be peace and plenty for all in the Holy Land. Perhaps this is currently a radical view. But supporters of Nelson Mandela and the ANC were once called extremists. Will it take an epidemic of winter deaths, or outbreaks of cholera, trachoma, and typhoid in Gaza for the world to at last realise that the plight of the Palestinians is no less grave than that of Blacks in apartheid South Africa? The ‘tipping point‘ is here, some commentators argue – Mandela in his dying as powerful a changemaker as he was in the glory of his life. Maybe, maybe not. See-saws can teeter a long time. But things can’t get much worse in Gaza. And it is clear that BDS is scoring one victory after another – so here’s hoping 2014 will indeed prove a meltwater year in the struggle to unfreeze (at last) the Palestinians’ full slate of human rights. No matter the cost to the Zionist delusion of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’.

*I beg your pardon, Aunty. A mouldy fig seed of attention is paid here to the crisis in Gaza, omitting any mention of the occupation, the siege, or the bombing that damaged the power plant in the first place.

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