Two years ago, following the breakdown of a truce between Israel and Hamas ( controlling party in the Gaza strip) a bombing campaign started against the Palestinians, called Operation Cast Lead. Despite the fact that this was in response to rocket attacks by Hamas, and therefore could have been considered to have been the result of some provocation, the world, and particularly large numbers of people in the UK came out to protest.
Within 6 days, a mass rally of 50,000+ people, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and the British Muslim Initiative, supported by a number of celebrities, was arranged in Central London. In addition there were rallies in other major cities of the UK and much coverage in the media.
The popularity behind this was so great, a further mass demonstration was organised a week later, on the 10th January 2009 with similarly large numbers, so great was the outrage.
It was accepted by sensible commentators that the situation in Gaza was complicated and that it was not as simple as there being an aggressor and an innocent party; that was not the point. The human reality of this was that innocent Palestinian people were being killed by Israeli bombing ( as well as a smaller number of Israeli people); considerably more were being injured by the insidious release of phosphorous bombs, causing deep, slow burning of the flesh.
The bombing campaign ended on the 17th January 2009, after 1400 people were killed, and much destruction of housing and infrastucture. An appeal was established by the Disasters Emergency Committe to send aid to Gaza on a humanitarian basis. The BBC, who had already been criticised, for their reporting of the campaign refused to air the appeal on the grounds of “impartiality”; other broadcasters chose to show the appeal. Such was the disgust at the BBC that a protest of 2,000 people made their way to Broadcasting House on the 24th January 2009 to demonstrate against the BBC’s position; speeches were given by Tony Benn and George Galloway amongst others.
At the rally on the 10th January, George Galloway declared the intention to send a convoy to Gaza with emergency aid to help alleviate, in some small measure, the crisis that the Gazans were in. Through considerable hard work, ingenuity and enthusiasm from a number of people this convoy, under the organisation of Viva Palestina, left from Hyde Park on 14th February 2009 ( St Valentine’s Day). Since that date many other convoys from the UK and other countries have travelled through different means to enter Gaza. Most recently, on 31st May of this year, a flotilla of 6 aid ships was attacked by the Israeli forces leaving 10 people dead.
Since 2009, Gaza has remained under siege, with nothing other than basic humanitarian resources allowed into the strip. There has been little access to construction materials to allow the people to build safe housing, and re-build the infrastructure. It has only been since the beginning of 2010 that glass, wood, cement and aluminium have been allowed in. The Palestinian people have had to live in despicable conditions and many opportunities have been exploited to bring in materials, covertly, including the very dangerous tunnels under the border with Egypt.
There are signs that the tension is mounting and that a second war is about to be initiated. On 9th December 2010, the Israeli’s struck at the only powerplant in the Gaza strip plunging the whole area into darkness. It is probably to safe to assume that this is only the start.
Yesterday was the 2nd anniversary of the start of the bombing campaign and a demonstration took place outside of the Israeli embassy. This was attended by a few hundred people at most, no celebrities, no media attention, and very little enthusiasm or outrage. The uproar of 2 years ago, which brought thousands outside of the Israeli embassy, has been forgotten, as we concern ourselves more with the tuition fees, austerity cuts, the weather, and other manageable crises.
The turnout in the UK, 2 years ago, was impressive, and the mobilisation of people in line with our tradition for voicing outrage and supporting humanitarian causes was uplifting; however our stamina and attention span is limited. It would be disappointing if, in 2011, we waited again for the bombs to start raining down on the citizens of Gaza, before people were reminded of the reality of the situation in the Strip.
There is a real danger that more people will be killed in the next few months if the UK ( and the world) does not remind itself of the “love” that it had for Gaza in 2009, and makes its feelings known to the Israeli government….soon!