Palestine Solidarity

Through involvement with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign I have met a lot of inspirational people, both Palestinians and their allies in their quest for justice and self-determination, from whom I’ve learnt a lot. One of these was the late Hanna Braun. Here are two pieces I wrote about her for the PSC journal Palestine News, a review of her autobiography, Weeds Don’t Perish, and an obituary:

Hanna Braun 1927–2011

            Tributes have been paid worldwide to Hanna, who died just weeks after publishing her autobiography, Weeds Don’t Perish: Memoirs of a Defiant Old Woman(reviewed in autumn’s Palestine News.) This testimony to the power of the awakened human conscience, chronicling a life committed to anti-racist education and campaigning, is a must-read. The book’s launch at the Tottenham Palestine Literature Festival was introduced by Ghada Karmi, who calls Hanna ‘an inspiration to both Palestinians and Jews. Her courage and outspokenness as an anti-Zionist campaigner should be a model especially for all those Israelis and Jews afraid to take a stand against the oppression of their state. She was unique, irreplaceable.’

            Taken to Palestine in 1937, Hanna participated in Israel’s creation before becoming ‘a true friend of the Palestinian people,’ as Reem Kelani says. [http://www.reemkelani.com] ‘By her presence, as a survivor of the Holocaust in which most of her relatives perished, a former member of the Haganah and an ex-Israeli, Hanna reminded us that ours is a struggle against injustice in its many forms. She lost so much in Germany, the land of her birth, and yet eschewed the Zionists’ vision of a future built at the expense of another people. Rare in this life are people of such honour and determination as Hanna.’

            A tireless activist, Hanna played a major role in PSC, co-founding Coventry’s branch in 1984 and organising, writing, speaking and demonstrating for decades. Sarah Irving writes of ‘the privilege’ of working with this ‘amazing’ woman in 2001’s ISM West Bank visit. ‘Then in her mid-70s, Hanna did a fantastic job of diverting Israeli soldiers trying to harass Palestinian villagers; they never seemed to know quite what to do with this tidy little woman who could have been their grandmother.’

            Hanna is hugely missed, for her political passion, humour and zest, and as a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. At her funeral her daughters honoured the complexity of their mother’s difficult, fractured life as well as her steadfastness, affirming that ‘the world is a very different place because Mum lived in it, spoke of her life, reached out to people, charmed, harried and hassled people and just kept going.’ As her friend Gaby Forrell wrote, ‘not everyone is anti-everything that is morally incorrect: racism, class, homophobia, xenophobia. But Hanna was.’ This defiant spirit lives on wherever people strive for justice, equality and peace.

Frankie Green 2012

Remembering Hanna: a few words on behalf of SWAZO – an informal tribute for her memorial gathering at Conway Hall, March 2012.

I first met Hanna at meetings and demonstrations as the second intifada was getting underway. I had just woken up to the true situation of the plight of the Palestinians. One day I was chatting to her at a PSC rally outside Downing Street and naively asked her if she was going to join one of the new Jewish groups starting up. She snorted and laughed uproariously. “Why would I do that? Might as well join a group of short women for justice for Palestine!’ Thus was born the little-known organisation, SWAZO. 

Short Women Against Zionist Oppression was organised, like many revolutionary movements, on the basis of a tightly-knit cell – in our case, of two members. Our constitution committed us to avoiding sectarianism, as a split in the group would have left each of us without anyone else to talk to. Voting was always unanimous; we worked on consensus which, as some of you may agree, is generally more successful the fewer people involved. We were feminists and non-hierarchical, and in a respectful nod to the Zapatistas, each designated by the snappy title co-sub-commandante. We did not claim to speak for all short women, and having a mother who was a short woman was not enough to guarantee membership, the criterion for which was to be measured up by standing back-to-back with Hanna – to be a hair’s-breadth taller disqualified you. A couple of men complaining of discrimination were considered for membership, though they quailed when considering the transformation required. 

This silly running joke between us baffled and no doubt annoyed many people over the years. However, I wanted to mention it today not just to illustrate Hanna’s sense of humour but because the reality behind the spoof was serious, the principles Hanna held dear, which she embodied and which were behind her retort to me that day in Whitehall. Hanna’s anti-zionism was part of her passionately felt anti-racism. While not denying the value of Jewish people repudiating Israel’s claim to represent all Jews, she firmly rebutted one of zionism’s basic tenets: that simply by dint of being born Jewish she had any particular right to a position regarding the land of historical Palestine, let alone to live there, or the idea that her opinion held a particular weight.  She loved Palestine because she fell in love with the land when it was her home, not because she thought it was a homeland for Jewish people. Far from it. She whole- heartedly upheld the right of return for all Palestinians who had been driven out by the Nakba and their descendants. She opposed Israeli occupation and apartheid as a human being committed to human rights, who chose the values of loyalty to a common humanity over ethnic or national identity. 

By the time I met her, she told me the days of thinking Israel had originally had some values that could be redeemed, that the state had somehow lost its way, were long behind her. She had no illusions whatsoever, but she always had hope in the quest for freedom. I believe the core of her anti-racism was a rejection of essentialism: that pernicious notion that groups of human beings are somehow intrinsically different from one another, that another is The Other. I think Hanna was for many people a symbol of optimism because she exemplified the possibility of personal evolution, that the values we choose and make are what count; our identities being not given at birth but created in our lives, and Hanna had a lifetime of working for liberation. 

SWAZO was light on ideology and strong on principles, and followed Hanna’s perception of the unfairness of a two-state so-called solution – she announced loudly once she thought the name of the place was less important than the establishment of democracy and equality for all its citizens: ‘why not have one country and call it Pisrael?’ 

Many people around the world have paid tribute to Hanna – it seems she had, as was said of Edward Said, just a few thousand closest friends . Like everyone else, I consider it an honour to have known and learnt from her. Although SWAZO is now disbanded, I know Hanna’s spirit will live on whenever defiant old women meet to hatch plots and laugh in the face of adversity, and wherever people of all ages, genders and backgrounds come together in human solidarity in the cause of justice.                     

Frankie Green 

Frankie wearing Free Palestine t-shirt, standing at a stall in Trafalgar Square.
Land Day demonstration 2012, Trafalgar Square

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign

An address to Canterbury City Council Executive meeting, 21/6/12

Ladies and gentlemen,

Developments since the last full council meeting make it necessary to respond to the leader’s statement made then. Francis Maude has made it clear councils can reject companies for ‘grave misconduct;’ Veolia executive Robert Hunt confirmed Veolia is a single entity; solid legal opinion calls into question the validity of legal advice given to the council. The crisis continues in Israeli-occupied Palestine as armed settlers rampage and kill with impunity. This demands urgent divestment by complicit companies and action by public bodies.

After Monday’s murders of Hebron civilians by settlers Dr Hanan Ashrawi said “the current racist formation of the Israeli government, Knesset and military granted settlers a green light to conduct organized crime, and to directly target unarmed Palestinian people” and the “shameful silence of the International Community” … “grants the settlers amnesty, and encourages them to escalate their assaults.” This week Israeli settler militants invaded farmland, raided and set fire to crops, a settler ran over a 13 year old (hospitalized), villages were invaded in the middle of the night, homes raided, goods stolen, and settlers drove 3 cars deliberately into a funeral procession. People in Hebron were stoned by settlers and shot at by Israeli soldiers. These things happen every day and Veolia facilitates them, by servicing settlers and the occupying military. If this country was invaded and occupied by a foreign military would we not hope people worldwide might help?

Solidarity posters as appeared in Whitstable windows

The more we research Veolia’s claims, the more unreliable they appear. The company ostensibly divests from its most notorious ventures but tenders for contracts servicing illegal army bases in the Jordan Valley. Mr Hunt claims the company ‘sold’ Tovlan landfill site.  In fact it’s transferred to a settler organization while Veolia retains a permanent managerial role. He confirmed that landfill waste is transported from inside Israel, breaching Geneva Conventions. The company continues to profit from Tovlan which is still registered in Israel as belonging to Veolia. 

Mr Hunt’s claim that Veolia’s projects contribute to a unifying infrastructure – under apartheid conditions?! – is the height of hypocrisy. They never once consulted the Palestinian Authority who twice objected to the Jerusalem Light Railway [in 2001 and 2007.] By making a contract with the occupier, Veolia helped sabotage the Oslo Accords! 

Mr Hunt claimed Veolia would withdraw immediately if it was found that the company acted illegally. Yet learned opinion confirmed that the light rail project was illegal. The presumption of illegality could only be reversed if Palestinians sanctioned the rail. A Paris court case Mr Hunt cited brought by Palestinians failed only on a technicality [as only signatories to the Geneva Conventions were eligible to bring such cases in France.] Mr Hunt covered up the fact that the court was unable to consider the substantive matter of whether Veolia’s involvement was illegal per se.  

When you hear President Obama and William Hague deploring the expansion of illegal settlements in violation of international law, remember Veolia is complicit in servicing that occupation! Is Canterbury not part of the UK, a country with responsibilities as a High Contracting party to the Geneva Conventions? Is Canterbury not part of the same UK that supported a 2010 UN Resolution [A/HRC/RES/13/7 April 2010], declaring the Light Railway illegal?

Let us not forget: economic sanctions can help the fight against tyranny! Councillors, I believe if you consult your constituents you’ll find many who, as well as caring about local issues, do not feel separate from the rest of the human race! They have a profound wish to help others when hearing bad news but events seem too far away. Here, now, is a chance to do something that will actually help reduce human suffering and injustice! Why would anyone not wish to take this opportunity, or find specious reasons to avoid acting in accordance with ethical principles? 

Poster saying 'Bin Veolia: complicit in Israel's violations of international and human rights law.'

Campaigners from Whitstable and Canterbury protest council contracts for Veolia, 2012
Photo Richard Stainton
Letter to local paper explaining need for boycott of Israeli goods.

Against Pinkwashing

I have been involved in anti-pinkwashing campaigning against Israeli attempts to hijack our cause, and in solidarity with Palestinian lgbt activists. In 2002 I helped draft the letter sent out to the media, as below, which several long-term activists including original GLF members signed, explaining the situation: 

‘Dear Editor,

London will host this summer’s WorldPride Festival, four decades on from the Gay Liberation Front’s first Gay Pride events. Simultaneous and overlapping with the civil rights, anti-apartheid and Women’s Liberation movements, GLF also drew inspiration from the national liberation struggles of people freeing themselves from colonialism. The LGBT rights we now celebrate originate in the groundbreaking work of that era.

How ironic it would be if, in an attempt to gain a veneer of respectability by promoting itself as a liberal, tolerant haven for gay people and a prime gay holiday destination, an oppressive regime which routinely violates human rights, practises institutional racism and dispossesses an indigenous population tried to co-opt that progress. 

As long-term advocates of LGBT and women’s rights, some of whom created the first Gay Pride events, we wish to express our concern at the cynical hijacking of those rights by Israel’s ‘pinkwashing’ PR campaign. The specious freedoms enjoyed by some Israeli gay people and visitors to Tel Aviv’s nightclubs bear no more relation to real equality than did the privileges accorded white people during South African apartheid. Pinkwashing tries to divert attention from the untold suffering caused by Israel’s subjection of the Palestinians to siege, bombardment, military occupation, ethnic cleansing, land theft, settler violence, killings (180 in 2011 alone), imprisonment, forced exile, the crushing of economic, educational and social infrastructure and denial of legitimate aspirations to self-determination. 

We write in solidarity with Palestinian LGBT and civil society organisations who initiated the burgeoning global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to bring pressure to bear upon Israel until it complies with international law, and endorse their insistence on the universality of human rights. We invite all who share our abhorrence of Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians to observe the boycott of Israeli tourism and goods, and hope that LGBT people encountering pinkwashing will take pride in remembering the roots of our campaigning history and support the Palestinian quest for justice.’

Rainbow flag with picture of military tank and saying 'No pride in Israeli Apartheid.'
Frankie and friend with placards on 2014 protest in london against Israel's attack on Gaza. 'UK stop arming Israel.
London protest against Israel’s attack on Gaza, 2014

Some contributions to Palestine News, PSC’s magazine – articles, interviews, book reviews:

Aswat slogan
Palestine News, 2011

Non Violent Action/Peace News:

Letters to or in Guardian and other media and to politicians:

21 Feb 2009
10/7/2010
3 April 2009
31/7/2010
22/9/2007
19/11/2006
25/2/2006
30/7/05
26/7/2004
2/8/2004
PSC poster for international women's day 2004: music, food, speakers. The wall must fall!
20/5/2000
2001