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Palestine: A peoples' revolution moves EU parliaments

Decades from now, the historians of Palestine/Israel will revisit these events and see their importance in achieving Palestinian freedom

The last quarter of 2014 witnessed a series of revolutionary events in several European parliaments following the horrific militarised violence perpertated under Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Five major European parliaments including those of France, the UK, Ireland, Spain and, more recently, the European Parliament all stood up in support of Palestinian statehood. Already afoot in other European parliaments, notably Denmark, Portugal and Belgium, are similar unprecedented moves.

On 13 October 2014, the British House of Commons spoke with a single voice, passing an historic decision to recognise the state of Palestine. Coming from the parliament of the UK, a centuries’ old emblem of liberty dating back to the 1215 Magna Carta, this unexpected gesture, which was modest, symbolic, political and moral at one and the same time, provided Palestinians and their supporters with new hope. It was deeply felt by the people of Gaza in particular, who were mentioned repeatedly in the parliamentary debate before the vote. The UK decision to set in motion a process of formal recognition was swiftly followed by Ireland. On 22 October, the Upper House of Ireland's parliament passed a motion calling on the Dublin government to recognise the State of Palestine.

Sweden makes it official

Sweeping northward to Sweden, the wave drew added force from an especially revolutionary development. Culminating rather than starting a formal process, on 30 October 2014 the Swedish government officially recognised the occupied State of Palestine, becoming the first Western European and EU state to do so. In a bold move, Sweden announced this unilateral recognition, described in the words of Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom: “There is a territory, a people and a government.” In a strong bid for democracy and justice, Wallstrom also commented, "Our decision comes at a critical time because over the last year we have seen how the peace talks have stalled, how decisions over new settlements on occupied Palestinian land have complicated a two-state solution and how violence has returned to Gaza."

The wave then continued to Spain, where on 18 November a near-unanimous parliamentary vote (319:2) passed a motion calling on Madrid to “recognise Palestine as a state”. A similar resolution was approved by the Lower House of the French Parliament on 2 December. Finally, on 17 December, an overwhelming majority (498:88 with 111 abstaining) of representatives to the EU Parliament, speaking for 500 million citizens of 28 EU member states, approved a similar motion to support the recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

One or two decades from now, or possibly even sooner, I believe that the histories of Palestine/Israel will revisit these events in detail and discern their major importance in achieving Palestinian demands for justice, equality and freedom.

Recognition led by civil society

These swift, significant and profound developments were distinctly inspired by pressure from the masses, protesting what the Russell Tribunal on Palestine described as “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity,” at the special session convened to examine Israel’s military assault on Gaza last summer. They amount to a watershed in the long struggle for world recognition that the Palestinian people are fully entitled to liberty and self-determination. These events also demonstrate the powerful potential of civil society movements, both local and global, to achieve large-scale and abiding change at key decision-making bodies. They re-emphasise the force and significance of civil campaigns and demonstrations in counteracting the passive policies of numerous world governments. It is Europe’s free citizens who have led its lawmakers to take this long-awaited stand, delivering a resounding slap on the wrist to skeptics who underrate and undermine the role of grassroots action in setting the political agenda.

Years of grassroots organising laid the groundwork. But the size and strength of the popular movement propelling these events was a direct response to the events of last summer, when Israel launched a new assault on Palestine (most forcefully against the Gaza Strip, with concurrent actions against the West Bank).This was the third such military offensive in five years. The attack was the focus of media attention and protest movements around the world. Thousands of members of various European parliaments and millions of their constituent citizens followed the seven weeks of horror on their television screens.

They witnessed the massive destruction in Gaza and watched the rising death-count till it reached over 1500 civilians including 541 children. They looked on as Israel killed over 10 Palestinian children a day, on the average, throughout 51 days of aggression. The votes of Europe’s parliaments’ sounded a protest against this barbaric attack on a helpless, imprisoned, besieged, starved and occupied population. It stood up to defend human liberty, the Geneva Conventions, international law and basic human rights, including the right to life, health, work, freedom of movement. It firmly supported the right to fulfill basic humanitarian needs, of which Palestinians are systematically deprived.

A stand against complicity in slaughter

The huge constituencies that assembled in unparalleled numbers on the streets of Paris, London, Dublin, Madrid and Stockholm to protest Israeli violations of shared principles, traditions and values, were also protesting the complicity of their governments. Notably, these actions were broad-based, crossing divides of class, age ethnicity and religion. They were organised and led by students, women, activists, grassroots groups, unions and by individual people, all convinced of the urgency of the Palestinian cause, one of the most severe among the still-unresolved struggles of the colonial era. This was the nature of the intensity that carried the day over the summer of 2014, leaving European MPs no other choice than finding a meaningful response.

The parliamentary votes sweeping through Europe reveal the exceptional shifts taking place on the world stage today. According to the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), over 150,000 demonstrators from throughout the UK descended on London on 19 July to protest Israel’s horrific assault on Gaza. Some 61,023 wrote to their Members of Parliament in July-August urging them to pressure Israel to stop its collective punishment of Palestinians. A total of 645 MPs were contacted, amounting to almost the entire parliament. October’s historic vote for recognition of Palestine followed 57,808 emails sent to MPs via the PSC email tool in just 11 days.

Boycott movement grows

The international struggle for Palestinian rights and self-determination is undergoing a period of momentous change, infusing Palestinians and a worldwide solidarity movement with new hope and energy. Speaking to the failure of formal diplomacy, popular mass-action is emerging as the only way to break the Israeli Palestinian impasse. Its steady growth is, moreover, indicative of a major shift in public opinion regarding the Palestinian cause. While many officials, including the Palestinian leadership, claim these processes as the fruits of their efforts, recent groundbreaking developments are clearly driven by popular movements.

Among these is the Palestinian civil society call for an international movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and upholds Palestinian rights, a multiple-based effort that gained a great deal of momentum in 2014. Equally important in enabling the watershed is the legendary Palestinian steadfastness in Gaza, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Day after day, Palestinians are becoming a centre of international protest. Day after day they are winning over world opinion as they foreground the legitimacy of their national struggle for dignity and equality.

Gandhi’s victory over British colonial rule in India, the defeat of the United States in Vietnam, the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and the success of the legendary civil rights movement in the US are all examples of struggles in which justice prevailed, supported by international law and world public opinion. Now, it is the turn of the Palestinian cause to extend the revolutionary votes of European parliaments, of the huge popular protests and to attain a new level of support and effectiveness.   

In the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who was commemorated this week: “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism.”

-Ghada Ageel is a visiting professor at the University of Alberta Political Science Department (Edmonton, Canada), an independent scholar, and active in the Faculty4Palestine-Alberta. Her new book “Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and harder experiences” is forthcoming with the University of Alberta Press- Canada.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: These swift, significant and profound developments were distinctly inspired by pressure from the masses (AFP)

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