Dear Manchester Evening News (cc any newspaper in the UK)
I was a teacher and human rights worker for two years in the Gaza Strip in 2010 and 2012 and I lost many friends, including two students of mine, one of whom died with two of her toddler children, her husband and mother in law with a single bomb in 2014 (like over 2200 others who lost their lives in those 51 days). We are glad you decided to report on our demonstration on Sunday outside the “Stand with Israel” rally at the Palace theatre in Manchester as for a long time we have felt that the Manchester Evening news has given a lot more column inches that prioritized the Israeli perspective. We understand the pro-Israeli pressure groups are extremely well-organised and frankly have historically made sure that Palestinian voices cannot be heard with any sense of what’s actually happening to them on the ground. It should be a giveaway when historic leaders against racist regimes like Archbishop Desmond Tutu on his visits to Palestine and Nelson Mandela have compared what is happening to the Palestinians with Apartheid South Africa, and have called for a similar international struggle against it.
So it is a disappointment that the Manchester Evening News article was edited Tuesday morning to incorporate more rhetoric from Raphi Bloom and North West Friends of Israel that is merely a disguise and cover for Israel to further its decades-long military occupation of Palestinian land. While they accuse our groups of anti-Semitism, (including Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine, formerly Manchester Jews for Justice for Palestinians) his positions and that of North West Friends of Israel have consistently endorsed Israel’s racial segregation of the Palestinians.
They were publicly advocating Israel’s bombing of Gaza in 2014 for 7 weeks that killed over 500 Palestinian children, denying that Israel’s military occupation of Palestine even exists and denying further that hundreds of Palestinian villages had had their inhabitants purposefully, forcibly removed to make way for Israeli expansion on the land. These are facts on the ground as even recognised by the UK and US governments (whose current administrations are more supportive of Israel than any before them) and very clear to anyone who has spent any time in the Palestinian towns and villages that are still standing. Anything they conceded was due to “human shields” even though some of the most experienced British reporters said they saw no evidence of them. Gaza is one of the most crowded places on the planet with a population of mostly children – when I was there during the attacks of 2012 I visited the flattened houses of entire families that had been wiped out.
Raphi Bloom and North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI) have also used diverse and underhand tactics to target people in solidarity with Palestinians. Two doctors in the Manchester area who supported justice for Palestinians were incorrectly investigated about their conduct by professional bodies – after intense lobbying by Raphi Bloom and NWFOI. This lead to months-long harrowing ordeals for both women. Another activist had his reputation tarnished by showing a photo of him waving to a camera, and then spreading it around the internet with completely false claims it was a Nazi salute. Teachers and students at Universities have had to deal with the same baseless accusations. Every single one of the claims was proven false, but this level of fabrication is grotesque enough for the damage to stick. Anti-Semitism is abhorrent and we should all be relentlessly opposing it, as we should with rising islamophobia and any other form of prejudice. But claiming anti-Semitism to hurt people unjustifiably and silence criticism of Israeli state violence undermines and abuses the term. It is further undermined when North West Friends of Israel regularly allow people from racist groups like the English Defence League and British National Party to join them on their rallies, despite their very real history of Nazi sympathising and explicit anti-Semitism.
North West Friends of Israel’s rally was originally called “Stand with Israel” and they altered the name this time to include the word “Peace” despite no peace ever coming about when an entire people is expected to continue living under a military occupation or crippling blockade. The rally was proudly announced as supported by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has used the word “peace” regularly while carpet-bombing entire towns in Gaza.
Not a single quote from our press release that was jointly released by 6 Manchester groups and sent to the Manchester Evening news prior to the event was included in the article. Not one.
We would like more bravery, bravery in the Media to include Palestinian voices and to not allow Israeli pressure groups to influence the direction of media reports. Mandela and Tutu and other anti-apartheid heroes have often said they remember those who spoke out about them when it was not fashionable to do so, when they were written off as terrorists by the UK media and the UK government in the 1980s. Likewise they have said, as many other human rights campaigners around the world have, that media should be less willing to hide the injustice of Palestinians living for decades under illegal military occupation, or besieged in Gaza amidst the regular bombing campaigns, or as millions of refugees forced into exile without any right of return home. They are people who should know how racial segregation feels and what we should do to stop it.
I hope you can at least in future give a fairer hearing to people working for justice for the Palestinians. I hope you understand that not only are some of the most prominent advocates of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of the Israeli state Jewish themselves, but that it is not anti-Semitic to campaign against the actions of a state that has held a population of indigenous people imprisoned in their own land for so long. Like for South Africa, grass roots movements like this come about when states and international governing bodies do nothing about a continuing injustice. In this case Western governments are doing worse than nothing. They are rewarding the Israeli state with more financial aid and political support than any other country in the world, despite them violating more United Nations resolutions than any other.
I’d really appreciate it if you would read it and include some of our reasoning so it is not the false accusations of the North West Friends of Israel that dominate the narrative. It is the Palestinians who are being dispossessed and militarily occupied and not the other way around.
With Best Wishes
Manchester Palestine Action