Jews in Bristol protest Israel’s violence and oppression in Palestine
Jewish Bristolians gathered on College Green last night (19 May) to demand an end to Israel’s occupation and violence in Palestine in the midst of a rising death toll in the most recent escalation in the decades-long conflict.
The event in Bristol was one of several across the country organised under the banner of Na’amod, meaning “we will stand” in Hebrew. The organisation is working to mobilise British Jews to end the community’s support for the illegal occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza that has led to a humanitarian crisis. Human Rights Watch has recently condemned Israeli government’s continued abuses as amounting to apartheid and crimes against humanity.
Speaking to the Cable, Ethan Axelrod, an organiser of the event in Bristol, said: “More and more British Jews are coming to realise that Israel doesn’t represent their values and its actions don’t represent what we stand for as British Jews and the values we hold dear”.
As large protests calling for justice for Palestinians took place in recent weeks, locally and across the world, the group in Bristol turned out following the most recent escalation in violence, which was sparked by the right-wing Israeli government efforts to evict Palestinian families to make way for Jewish settlers in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The eviction was met with a wave of protests by Palestinian residents, and led to scenes of Israeli security forces violently storming the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Tensions among the communities within Israel erupted, and military conflict ensued as Hamas, the Islamist ruling party in the blockaded Gaza Strip, and Israeli forces exchanged fire.
Axelrod said the recent violence “does really come back to Israeli actions causing this recent escalation, and that’s then been followed by disproportionate Israeli attacks in Gaza”.
Rockets fired from Gaza have reportedly killed 12 Israeli civilians, including two children, at the time of reporting. The vastly superior fire power of Israel, one of the world’s most advanced militaries, has led to more than 200 reported deaths, including dozens of children, in the Gaza strip. Israel claims that only militants are being targeted, but residential towers, refugee camps and offices of international media have been hit by Israeli air strikes in the densely populated territory that is sealed off by Israel on all sides. In a sombre atmosphere, the group read names and ages of Palestinians killed, from small children to whole families.
With a slogan of “Racism isn’t Kosher”, Na’amod members and those present wanted to demonstrate that British Jews are not united in support for Israel’s actions, and as Axelrod said: “It is okay to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic and there’s ways of doing that, and people shouldn’t feel like they can’t criticise Israel for fear of offending British Jews”. But with the historical and current spectre of anti-Semitism, it is a vexed and sensitive topic within the community.
The small but vocal movement of anti-occupation Jews continues a long tradition of rejecting the aggressive nationalism of successive Israeli regimes that claim to speak for Jews around the world. Na’amod states that they “are united by our opposition to an occupation which deprives Palestinians of their freedom, dignity and human rights, is contrary to Jewish values and, like every system of oppression, morally corrupts those who support and administer it.”
Axelrod told the Cable: “the UK government again assumes that British Jews are a monolith and we all support Israel, and the way to get British Jewish votes and British Jewish support is by unconditional support for Israel, so we want to make it clear that that’s not the case”
Another attendee told the Cable: “The resurgence of the violence between the state of Israel, and particularly Gaza, has been horrifying, particularly because of the enormous power imbalance between those two”.
Some of those in attendance have reached out to a local Mosque in Bristol and will join a demonstration planned for Saturday (22 May) in protest at Israel’s actions and UK government support.
On 11 May, MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy wrote that: “Current efforts to forcibly displace whole communities only serves to prolong the violence and instability in the region. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary last week after being notified of the situation in East Jerusalem, calling for an urgent attempt to de-escalate the crisis in Sheikh Jarrah. Failure to condemn the violence and disregard for international law renders the UK complicit in the suffering of the Palestinians being attacked”. No response from Government ministers has been received to date.
As well as diplomatic support, the UK has exported hundreds of millions worth in military equipment and arms sales to the Israeli regime, some of which are produced just miles away from College Green by companies in the large arms and aerospace sector in the Filton area.
Axelrod said “I do feel hopeful that at least what we can do here is make clear that we won’t be taken for granted as supporters for Israel, and put pressure on Israel via the British government and via the British Jewish community to change the way it’s treating Palestinians and end the occupation”.
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It is so important that Jews abroad make public their views and undo the knot paralyzing criticism of Israel policies because of fear of being labeled antisemitic.
I went to a wonderful Hebrew school in 1959 and it saddening to see the trauma that children on both sides are having to live through.
Hopefully the adults will soon end this unfair conflict.
Really pleased to see Bristol Jews standing up for Palestinians. A two state solution is the only way to end the violence that seems to erupt every few years. Israel and Palestine both have a right to exist, and international leaders should be working towards this end. I a however not holding my breath as we have been at this point several times before – so long as the corrupt Netanyahu (sorry spelling) is in power then the two state solution is never going to happen.
Hello Nikki! I would like to shed some light on the matter when it comes to a two-state solution, as a Palestinian. During the 1948 Nakba, Israel had no claim over the land… and the excuse of masking zionism with Judaism is only that, a mask…that is especially due to the fact that muslims christians and jews lived in Palestine prior to 1948 peacefully… so naturally, when the UN introduced its partition plan, Palestinians who were scheduled to get kicked out of their homes refused this, and what happened was that still, their homes were taken away. later on, following Al-Naksa of 1967, in which Israel still took more land, came the Oslo Accords in which they reached the ‘peaceful’ two state solution…except, Israel has made it quite clear if you look at the map of Palestine form 1948 till now, that the only and main goal is a full Israeli state, and that has nothing to do with netanyahu, that is a goal as mentioned in various governmental documents…Tel Aviv was originally Jaffa and the people who were kicked out still live in refugee camps in hopes of returning. here is what should happen, Israel should be condemned for what it is, an apartheid occupation that needs to be dismantled, and the land should be returned to the Palestinians, that be muslims, christians, or jews…not Israeli settlers coming from all around the world. peace does not solve injustice, liberation does.
Thanks for this crucial piece of reporting: taking issue with Israel and being anti Semitic are SO not the same thing, an argument conspicuously lacking from the mainstream discourse.
Reading out the names of those who’ve died is as heartbreaking as it is angry-making….
Thank you again
The Genocide of the Palestinians by the Jewish State must end. UK Jews must stand up to the many extremist UK Jews in their midst, including David Collier. Lian Harush must be arrested.
I notice that you have not interviewed nor quoted any of the actual Bristol Community. We are simply quiet and terrified by the exponential rise in violent and vicious anti Israelism which is the new antisemitism. It is so disappointing to see these people who are seeking safety in sympathising with those who would destroy us.
There are 2 billion Arab/Muslims in the world and only 14 million Jews. Israel is tiny, the size of Wales. It is the only place we can go to hide if the antisemitism gets too vicious and they want to remove that too. None of the media show this accurately, nor shows the truth of the situation. None. The media just mindlessly follow the line that is put out by the antisemites.
If this march was demonstrating against Muslims or or a black or any other ethnic minority there would be an outcry. But as it is against Jews, it is supported. This is simply wrong and an offence to civilised society.
Please do not show my email address. I am too frightened to speak openly.
I cannot see how a two state solution is possible, one democratic state recognizing all who live in it. the two states where, how??. The Israeli state has made the 2 states impossible. with settlement, roads and other infrastructure destroying Palestinian land.