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Hastings and Rye PSC's vigil and die-in marked the first anniversary of

Hastings and Rye PSC’s vigil and die-in marked the first anniversary of Palestinians’ attempts to return to land taken from them by the Israeli state.

PSC marks anniversary of the Great March of Return in Gaza

To mark the one-year anniversary of the Great March of Return in Gaza, a vigil and die-in was recently staged by the local branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Hastings town centre. Laurie Holden of Hastings and Rye PSC reports on the action.

For the past year tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been making the Great March of Return – marching to the Israeli security fence demanding an end to the siege and the right to return to the lands from where their families were violently expelled during the founding of Israel in 1948.

To show solidarity and support, there were over 25 rallies and vigils throughout the UK, along with events in cities around the world, including Dublin, Limerick, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Hungary, Toronto and San Francisco. The protests also marked Land Day – the anniversary of the day in 1976 when Israel killed six Palestinians peacefully demonstrating against land theft.

During the die-in, the names of the 35 children killed this past year were read out, and participants observed a minute’s silence to pay our respects to all those who have lost their lives just for protesting.

For 12 years, Israel has imposed an illegal blockade on Gaza by land, air and sea. This has cut off the two million inhabitants, who are crammed into an area smaller than the Isle of Wight, from the outside world. In these 12 years, Israel has destroyed Gaza’s industry. It now has the highest unemployment rate in the world – 52%. Virtually all – 97% – of the water is undrinkable. The United Nations has said that Gaza will become uninhabitable by 2020 – that’s just eight months away.

Right to return enshrined in international law

The right of refugees to return is enshrined in international law, but denied to the people of Gaza,  more than 70% of whom are refugees (and their offspring). Some of them can see – over the fence – the villages and towns where they once lived. Even in Syria, after eight years of bloody war, more than one million refugees have returned now that the war is over in most areas. But the number of Palestinians that Israel has allowed back is precisely zero.

The demonstrations were inspired by the internet posts of Palestinian poet and journalist Ahmed Abu Artema. He was watching birds flying over the barbed-wire fence – and he realised that these birds had more freedom than he had. These unarmed demonstrations caught the imagination of a wide range of society – artists, writers, activists and particularly the youth. This has now become a mass movement of people with the simple dream of one day returning home.

But in return, the Israeli military sent in snipers – well-trained, well-armed snipers, who, judging by their results aimed to kill. The toll to date is 268 killed and nearly 7,000 injured. They shot some in the back, some in the back of the head. They shot children. They shot journalists, people wearing vests with ‘PRESS’ written on them. They shot medics – people who were clearly identified as medics. One medic they shot dead was 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar. Her death came just before she and her fiancé were about to announce their engagement.

hastings-vigil-un 350As the UN observed, the Israeli snipers also aimed at demonstrators’ legs, with the aim of disabling them – some 125 people have had amputations. Others were hit in the groin; some of the young women thus injured will never be able to have children.

The Israelis used both high-velocity Israeli-manufactured Tavor rifles using 5.56mm military ammunition and US-manufactured M24 Remington sniper rifles shooting 7.62mm hunting ammunition, which expand and mushroom inside the body.

Not all fatalities were as a result of sniper fire. Ahmed Samir Abu Habil, 15, died after he was hit by a high-velocity tear gas canister that lodged itself in his head.

Complicity of the UK and the US

But Israel can’t get away with these actions on its own. The support it gets from many Western nations is crucial. Successive UK governments have given Israel political, economic and military backing. Since 2008, the UK has sold £434 million worth of armaments to Israel, including components for aircraft missiles and for sniper rifles. It also sells components for F-16 fighter planes made by the US company Lockheed Martin which are in turn sold to Israel.

The UK has shown that it is complicit in Israel’s atrocities. In February the UN published a report stating that Israel’s killings at the Gaza protests may amount to war crimes for targeting children, medics, the press and the disabled. But the UK has refused to endorse this report. This was condemned at the vigil.

Ultimately, it is the US support for Israel that allows it to get away with these outrages and its constant breaches of international law. Israel has been described as the ‘US attack-dog’ in the Middle East. The amount of aid that the US has given to Israel since 1949 has been estimated at $140 billion. At the moment, US aid to Israel is mainly military aid, at a rate of just over $10 million a day.

Thankfully, in both the UK and US, people are waking up to the crimes of Israel. A recent headline in the US was “New Poll Shows Support for Israel Plummeting….” An Economist/YouGov poll showed that “only 25% of 18 to 29-year-olds see Israel as an ally, just 29% of women, and only 19% of African Americans.” And support for Palestine is growing all the time.

hastings-vigil2 600

Actions to support justice for Palestine

After the minute’s silence, a spokesman for the local PSC listed the actions that can be done to support justice for the Palestinians. Apart from signing petitions, writing to MPs and getting involved with the Palestine solidarity movement, the PSC encourages as many people as possible to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The boycott movement played an important role in ending the apartheid system in South Africa. It can do the same with the system in Israel, best described as a settler-colonial apartheid state.

BDS successes are coming through all the time. At the moment there are laws going through the parliaments of Ireland and Chile which will make the import of Israeli settlement goods illegal. Some of the biggest pension schemes and investment funds have been pulling their money out of Israeli businesses.

War on Want’s Stop Arming Israel campaign has had a notable success recently – HSBC bank announced that it has fully divested from Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit Systems. In fact BDS victories are regularly being announced.

Organisations are announcing their support for BDS all the time – trade unions, churches, political parties, student unions.

There’s also the cultural boycott – this involves the musicians that refuse to play in Israel. And there’s the academic boycott. Probably the best-known success was when the late Professor Stephen Hawking refused to attend a scientific conference in Israel.

There was a collection at the vigil for Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP) which raised over £100. Clearly, the work of organisations such as MAP is in serious demand in Gaza during Israel’s assaults.


Hastings and Rye PSC’s website and Facebook page.

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Posted 17:44 Thursday, Apr 18, 2019 In: Campaigns

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