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Marching Among the Uncounted

an anonymous voice recounts the Palestinian solidarity march on October 14th 2023 in London, United Kingdom:


I want to get some thoughts down about the march yesterday. For reasons connected with my job and my perception of the general atmosphere in the UK I don't believe I can do that under my own name. I want to be as simple and direct as I can but the situation is obviously complex. From my Jewish and Palestinian friends I beg forgiveness, for this white Gentile Brit indulging in saying his piece. I hope I can also do what I can to amplify the voices of the people directly affected by this disaster. I just needed to get it down. It seems we were lucky we could march at all. From what I hear, similar protests have been banned in Paris and Berlin. The Home Secretary has told the police that waving a Palestinian flag may be a criminal offence. Keir Starmer has already said he would not repeal the Public Order Act should he become Prime Minister and I can only see the space for dissent shrinking in the UK in the coming years. "Protest or power", Starmer jeered at party conference. The lines have been drawn and the language continues to be redefined. Collective punishment is self defence. Palestinian solidarity is, as it has long been in this country, anti-Semitism. To protest is to declare your powerlessness. To march in protest in this country, moreover, is to put yourself among the uncounted. Not just because the police routinely under-count attendance, but because there is a deep and abiding conviction among British people that to care about politics is freakish, abnormal, improper. Real people don't do that. During the brief period in which the war faction of the Labour party temporarily lost control, you heard this a lot: it was held to be one of the primary reasons why the left's project was doomed to failure. The moment you begin to care is the moment you cease to count. Ordinary people do not care. Walking among the uncounted was beautiful and disturbing. All kinds of people don't count. It was a diverse crowd, ethnically and in terms of age, albeit with an especially high proportion of young people, at least to my eye. There were people there from Hackney with whom I've stood at protests here in the neighbourhood: there were also people with whom I have little or nothing in common ideologically, like the Mojahedin-e-Khalq my friend Ghazal spotted mounting a mini-protest on the Regent Street stretch of the protest route, or the Haredis who likewise staged their own, dramatic protest further down the street, standing above the crowd on benches, arms mournfully outstretched wearing a strange kind of protest drape bearing anti-Zionist slogans. What we have in common is that politicians and the press can say what they like about us without compunction, and mostly what they like is to call us anti-Semitic. Please understand that I am not denying the existence of anti-Semitism in the UK. I've seen it. I abhor it. And I also abhor the people who issue disingenuous demands that people like me should prove our innocence and list off endless other condemnations before we can speak about the murder of Palestinians (in the days of the Iraq invasion we called this the condemnathon). The list, in effect, is endless. Any and all care for the cause of Palestine is held to be abnormal, the very last thing you should care about. Why this, and not some other cause? It must be because you hate Jewish people. And because to care is to be uncounted, Jewish people themselves can be called anti-Semitic if they express solidarity with Palestinians. They don't count as Jewish anymore. Under Keir Starmer's leadership, the Labour party sent a letter to an elderly Jewish South African anti-apartheid movement participant *on her death bed*, suspending her from membership on grounds of anti-Semitism. You can't even die without these people wanting to strike you off a second time. In an article on mourning and statehood for Dissent magazine, Gabriel Winant writes: "there is an unmistakable effort to push the pro-Palestinian left, including the Jewish pro-Palestinian left, beyond the pale by weaponizing grief, yielding such darkly comical scenes as German politicians refusing to speak to Bernie Sanders, whose family died in the Shoah, to mark sufficient deference to Jewish death. Such is the power of the Israeli grief machine: it authorizes Germans to tell Jews that they are mourning wrong". Here's the thing. It's easy to explain why British people should care especially about the suffering of the Palestinian people, even if you put to one side things a left wing person might hope everyone could learn to do, like international solidarity. And it's easy to explain why the British state reacts so viciously when we do care. It's because British colonialism is deeply implicated in the dispossession of the Palestinians. Zionist settlement in Palestine didn't start during the British mandate but it did intensify during that time, and British colonial thought was influential on settlers. Asked about the inhabitants of Palestine, early Zionist Chaim Weizmann said "the British told us that there are there some hundred thousands negroes [Kushim] and for those there is no value". The British have taught people how not to count one another for a long time. When the British state rushes to condemn us for caring about the fate of the Palestinian people, what you are hearing is a guilty conscience to end all guilty consciences. I don't mean to centre protesters at the expense of the object of our protest. The Palestinians are dying in unimaginable misery. Whole families in Gaza are wiped out at a stroke by air strikes. There is no water. Those who survive the air strikes drink sewage-polluted water and wait to die of cholera, or dysentery. The IDF demands people leave northern Gaza then bombs the road when they do. Settlers have begun committing pogroms on the West Bank. Israel has dropped more bombs on Gaza in a week than the US dropped on Afghanistan in any year of their war there. If you grieve for the dead, I am with you. But if I come back to the march, it's because I want to know what I can do. One of the speakers at the protest yesterday said that every single expression of solidarity with Palestine matters right now. Being on the march was one means of expression. But for how long will we have it? The blue and red franchises in British politics are united in their revulsion for this cause. The current government is preparing to outlaw the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Do we think Keir Starmer will repeal that? He can't even bring himself to condemn the removal of water and electricity from Gaza. When asked about it on LBC on Wednesday he said Israel had the right. It is sometimes argued that the protests against the Iraq invasion created a mobilisation that eventually led to the Labour left's election to the party leadership, and the rise of the Democratic Socialists in the US. What good has that done? Can we hope for better from a mobilisation of those who do not count in the present moment, disparate as we are? I wish I could end this on a note of hope. I am finding it hard to locate sources of hope right now. For Tony Blair's Labour party, Arab death was the price of Sure Start. As I understand it from party conference last week, this time it's planning reform. The people who count are preparing to be polled. They are preparing not to care. For this, they will get to build on the green belt. And in a land they do not care for, settlements will grow and grow.

 


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