Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s march through Hastings

Report by Tom McCann

A week ago yesterday a ceasefire was brokered between Israel and Hamas.

The ceasefire was the climax—if even only temporary—of the latest increase in tensions in the region between the two sides which culminated in a 15 day conflict that left hundreds dead, thousands wounded and tens of thousands more displaced by the bombing and destruction of their homes.

It’s another chapter in a conflict which has lasted in various forms since the creation of the Israeli state in 1947. This conflict attracted the attention and outcry of the world with protests staged only across the the world in support of both sides.

In Australia, protesters gathered outside Parliament in support of Palestine; in the European capitals including Paris and Berlin, thousands of protesters marched and chanted through the streets also in support of Palestine. Closer to home in London, an estimated 180,000 protesters gathered in support of Palestine too; a pro-Israeli demonstration required police intervention, however, as pro-Palestinian demonstrators launched a counter-protest against the pro-Israelis.

Pro-Palestinian protesters outside Debenhams in Hastings town centre.

The conflict has even found its way to Hastings.

A week ago today, a day after the ceasefire was brokered, the Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign staged a demonstration in Hastings town centre in support of the Palestinian people.

Led by Katy Colley, the demonstration was a peaceful one and, despite heavy rain, had around 75 people attending at its peak.

Councillors from Hastings Borough Council (HBC) and other local politicians were there to voice their support of Palestine. Controversy was not amiss either, with John Sydes, the former Conservative candidate for Castle ward in recent local elections being seen to voice his support of Israel.

In tribute to those who lost their lives, names of children under five who died were read out and references made to Britain and the United States’ histories and ongoing roles within the region—roles which Ms Colley called “complicity” in Israel’s “apartheid” of Palestine—and a number of chants were taught and then sung by protesters; “In our thousands, in our millions/We are all Palestinians” went one; “Free, free Palestine” another; and finally “From the river to the sea/Palestine will be free.”

The Socialist Worker Party (SWP)—who Ms Colley emphasised are not affiliated with the Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign—were also in attendance and were seen handing out fliers with a heading which read: “Victory to the resistance…

The SWP’s flier though writing of alleged Israeli targeting of media buildings, hospitals and schools made no reference to Hamas’ targeting of civilian areas nor to Hamas’ escalation of tensions into the current crisis by their reactionary bombing response to the Israeli Defence Force’s tear gassing of protesters from within a mosque.

The flier even proposed a ‘solution’ to the conflict—the dismantling of the Israeli state while calling the current idea of a two state solution a ‘sham’.

The Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s own flier was in contrast much more grounded. In their flier, the Campaign stated “today we are showing our solidarity for all Palestinian people everywhere.

“What we are witnessing is not a ‘war’, a ‘decades-old conflict,’ or ‘clash’ between two equal sides. The Israeli regime is a settler-colonialist occupation which has been ethnically cleansing the indigenous peoples — the Palestinians — from before it declared statehood in 1948.

“This is not a war, it is an occupation and apartheid,” it goes on to say, before calling for four changes to see permanent change in the region: that Israel stop bombing Gaza; for the end of what they call ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah; the dismantlement of what they call Israeli apartheid; and the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

From a previous protest

“I thought the protest was really well attended,” Ms Colley told Hastings In Focus. “Those who came were in good spirits and donated incredibly generously; we raised £536 in an hour for Medical Aid for Palestinians, a British charity providing vital support for health facilities and professionals now working to alleviate the crisis in Gaza.”

“We made a lot of noise today: we banged our drums, we stopped the traffic and we chanted loudly for the rights of all Palestinians. Cars and busses honked their horns in solidarity and even when the heavens opened and it poured down, not one person stopped chanting. It was an incredible atmosphere. So uplifting!

“It made me realise as we were walking through the rain that whatever we go through is nothing compared to what the Palestinian’s are facing; there were times when I couldn’t even speak from the rain, but really it’s nothing to what they are facing.”

The Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign was founded in 2014; it was three years ago that Katy became involved.

“I’ve been on this journey 20 years altogether” said Katy. “I’m Jewish myself, and you might say I’m from a pro-Zionist background. But growing up and even at school a lot of people don’t know where to find the information. Once I started finding it I found the truth and now other people are learning it with me.

“We have had a flood of new members in the last two weeks. What we have achieved is really outstanding; social media was what allowed it to come together. We livestreamed the protest, and we saw that as were doing it we were being watched by people all the way in Gaza.

Protesters march through the rain in support of Palestine.

“It’s the injustice of it all,” says Katy. “I think people are realising that. And once you know too much you can’t turn back; your own knowledge is too great.”

Some may ask what business this conflict is of two foreign nations at the end of the Mediterranean to do with Britain? To this, says Ms Weitz: “We have many trade deals with Israel; we sell arms to them to be used against Palestinians and we train our troops together. There is also the matter of the Balfour Declaration, which Palestinians to this day deem their greatest betrayal.”

The Balfour Declaration though essentially now forgotten in the UK could be said to be the origin of this entire conflict. It supported a “national home for the Jewish people” in the land of the Palestinians where only a small Jewish minority lived and which was then part of the collapsing Ottoman Empire.

As the the government continues to sell arms to Israel, Ms Colley does not expect them to change. She credits however the growing movements within the western world such as BLM and the use of social media with causing change: “people around the world are becoming aware of the injustices they themselves face and because of this they are also becoming aware of the injustices of other people.

“I strongly believe we have reached a tipping point and that this is an unstoppable movement,” said Katy in an email. And indeed as discontent grows around the world it may well be.

“As long as we aren’t frightened of false accusations of supporting terrorism or anti-semitism then I think we can achieve a lot. It is the Palestinian people who we are supporting, people like you and me.”

Of the ceasefire, she says: “You can call a ceasefire on shooting but there is no ceasefire on apartheid and occupation. There are two million Palestinians living in the largest open air prison in the world in Gaza today. Until they and all Palestinians are free and have full rights, this must continue.”

“We will be doing more throughout the year,” says Katy. “In July we have something very special planned but we cannot reveal anything yet.”

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