Labour Women Speak Up for Palestine

On Monday March 14 2022, only days after International Women’s Day and in advance of Labour Women’s Conference, hundreds joined Labour and Palestine’s online ‘Labour women speak up for Palestine’ rally.

The event, chaired by the Labour peer, former NUT General Secretary, and long-time advocate for Palestinian human rights, Christine Blower, heard from figures across the Labour and trade union movement in addition to a live link directly from Palestine, with Samia Al-Botmeh, a Palestinian academic at Birzeit University.

Blower began the meeting by highlighting the continued need to support the Palestinian cause because ‘news attention on Palestine waxes and wanes but the struggles of Palestinian women for their human rights and liberation cannot, does not and will not’. She then introduced the first speaker, the MP for Cynon Valley, Beth Winter.

Winter began by asking listeners to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinian women and highlighting the effect of occupation on their day-to-day access to public services and healthcare. She said that ‘we cannot forget the Palestinians and the misery they’re forced to live in by the Israeli Government’ and pointed to the effects of occupation on the Palestinian economy – while Israel enjoyed a similar GDP per capita to the UK.

Clare Baker, from Unite the Union, restated her union’s long history of solidarity with Palestine and spoke about the importance of the Palestine motion passed at Labour’s conference last year. The motion calls for sanctions and notes that Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem – now joined in this by Amnesty International – says that Israel is practising apartheid.

The next speaker, Philipa Harvey, spoke about her experience as a TUC delegate to Palestine and the effect of the occupation on health, education and trade unionism, and how Palestinian women were leading the resistance in all these areas. She concluded her contribution by emphasising that ‘we speak up for Palestinian women because they’re resisting in all aspects of life.’

Gemma Bolton said that ‘Palestinians are treated like second class citizens and sometimes not like citizens at all’ and stressed that the voices of Palestinian people are often written-out of the debate. She insisted on the need to continue the fight in the Labour Party to ensure Palestinian voices are heard and urged the audience to invite speakers on Palestine to their CLP or Labour branch meeting.

The next speaker, Kim Johnson, MP for Liverpool Riverside, highlighted the differences between the response to the situation in Ukraine and the occupation and siege in the West Bank and Gaza. She said that while pundits have rightly used expressions like ‘violating international law’ and ‘illegal occupation’ in the case of Ukraine, ‘these expressions and comments have been sorely missing when referring to the occupation in Palestine’.

She commented further that we should apply our values consistently, and that ‘all people have the right to resist oppression and live in dignity and freedom’.

Christina McAnea, General Secretary of Unison, sent a statement of support to the rally which emphasised the situation of women in the occupied territories and Gaza. She said ‘the lack of freedom of movement and other fundamental rights, resources, markets and means of production, has decimated the Palestinian economy, driving millions of women into poverty and denying them the right to decent work and quality public services’.

Next, listeners heard from the Palestinian academic, Samia Al-Botmeh, directly from Palestine. Highlighting the importance of international solidarity, she said ‘I ask for your solidarity on behalf of my people and Palestinian women who have to bear the brunt of these measures. Your solidarity keeps our resistance going and enables us to expose these policies and generate measures to resist the occupation’.

She continued: ‘it’s extremely important to expose these violations… because the extent to which Israel is implementing its colonial policies is mocking the world. I ask for your solidarity on behalf of my people and Palestinian women who have to bear the brunt of these measures. Your solidarity keeps our resistance going and enables us to expose these policies and generate measures to resist the occupation’.

Next, Louise Regan, speaking on behalf of the NEU, recounted some of her own experiences of trade union delegations to Palestine – including watching teachers resist the closure of their school by Israeli military, and the use of tear gas by soldiers in schools. She emphasised the psychological ‘impact of going home at night and not knowing if it’s a safe place for your children’.

The final speaker was Rivkah Barnard of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. She said that ‘we should never forget that Palestinians aren’t passive victims; they are leading the struggle’, and that ‘the Palestinian resistance to occupation remains strong and shows amazing grassroots power.’

She continued: ‘part of our role in the solidarity movement is to create the space for Palestinians to be heard – but we also need to take forward the demands that emerge’.

That means stopping UK complicity in Palestinian oppression – suspending arms sales to Israel, ending trade with illegal Israeli settlements, and resisting the Government’s legislative proposals to criminalise Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

‘If passed, this legislation will choke our ability to take action and hold companies to account – whether its arms companies selling weapons to Israel, or companies that make bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes.’

In her closing words to the rally, Christine Blower urged everyone to continue the fight for Palestinians human rights in the Labour Party. She concluded: ‘no one will be free until we are all free’.