From football to music to politics, Scotland’s Palestine solidarity movement is growing

Ben Wray

Chester Cornford, Palestine activist and student at the University of Dundee, looks at the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Scotland, and how from football to music to politics it seeks to build solidarity with Palestine and expose Israeli crimes

IN Felipe Bustos Sierra’s Nae Pasaran, the power of small acts of resistance is clear. The film explores the story of a group of Scottish trade unionists who defied the Pinochet dictatorship of Chile – placed in power through a US-backed coup in 1973. At the Rolls Royce Factory in East Kilbride, these workers, following a sense of moral duty and strong internationalist values, refused to work on the engines that powered the British Hawker Hunter jets used by the Chilean air force, severely hampering the regime’s air capabilities.

I watched this film against the backdrop of growing support for The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.The BDS movement – set up by Palestinians – challenges international support for Israel, targeting goods from illegal settlements and calling for a cultural, sporting and academic boycott of Israel. It in many ways mirrors the anti-Apartheid Movement which challenged the South African government between 1959 and 1994. It came into light amongst my social media circle in the past month, particularly due to various high profile cancellations by artists performing at the Meteor Festival in Tel Aviv. Fairly new to the BDS movement myself, it was spiriting to see renewed wide-ranging support. But how do we go further, and why should we?

The image shared by many under the #DJsforPalestine hashtag

I posed this two-part question to Mick Napier, head of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC).

“There’s four reasons. The horror of the project against the Palestinians; the complicity of our government; and because the Palestinians suffer as a unit. They resist as a unit. We can align with them and do something that’s effective to level the playing field. The fourth is this: our rising, worldwide movement of solidarity in which people can insert themselves very effectively.”

In recent days, just over 25 years since the Oslo Accords, Israeli bulldozers stand posed to demolish the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Amar. With the 1st of October marking the deadline given to residents to leave their homes, their destruction is now deemed legal by the Israeli courts and likely guaranteed. With it, the hopes of a two-state solution continue to flounder.

The passing of the recent national state law which declares “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it” – shatters the equal rights guaranteed to all citizens of Israel in the 1948 Declaration of Independence, and asserts the lower position of non-Jewish citizens in Israel. A mass show of unity saw Palestinians across Israel form a general strike against this discriminatory policy.

Examples of apartheid are numerous and clear. For example, in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Jewish Israeli settlers are subject to Israeli civil law. The Palestinians of the West Bank are subject to Israeli military law. While Palestinian citizens of Israel can vote, Palestinians in the occupied territories cannot, despite Israel continuing to treat the occupied territories as one political entity. Israel makes no such distinction for its citizens in illegal settlements. For an Israeli settler, a commute to work is easy – navigating Israeli-citizen only highways through occupied territories, while Palestinians face long walks and various military checkpoints. In Gaza, 70 per cent of people rely on humanitarian assistance – while Israel effectively blockades the area, limiting fuel and electricity and cutting off medical supplies and economic resources.

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In Scotland and rUK, our support is particularly important. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a legacy of British colonialism. It is too easily forgotten that the British governed Palestine prior to 1948 – when Palestine was partitioned. Given our historical involvement in the region, our support for justice for those living with the direct and indirect consequences of our actions is vital.

Yet, today, Israel is the 8th biggest market for British arms sales – totalling a record high of £221 million worth of arms licenses in 2017. Many of these licenses are fulfilled here in Scotland, by companies such as BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. When asked about reasons why we should support the BDS movement, Mick Napier cited this as a key reason.

“Since the massacre of 2014, we’ve multiplied arms sales to Israel by ten, and this includes sniper rifle parts,” he said.

These sales directly enable violence against Palestinians, such as the recent death of seven people – including two children – in Gaza border protests.

Various British corporations help to enforce apartheid against Palestinians, unchecked by the government. G4S, for example, help run Israeli prisons where Palestinian prisoners are held without trial, with widespread evidence of torture.

Conversely, Israeli intelligence and arms companies provide contracts here in the U.K. In 2014 there was opposition to the granting of Future Cities funding to NICE Systems for intrusive CCTV technologies in Glasgow – technologies used to maintain the surveillance of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

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Furthermore, our politicians legitimise Israeli state actions. The Building Bridges with Israel (BBI) is a cross-party group of MSPs, including Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats; Mary Fee of Scottish Labour, Richard Lyle of the Scottish National Party; and members of the Scottish Conservatives such as Jackson Carlaw and Rachel Hamilton. The minutes of a meeting in June 2018 justifies Israeli shootings of protesters in Gaza and places blame on the Palestinian leadership for the failures of the peace process, while ignoring blatant Israeli violations of international law.

How can we continue the tradition of international solidarity we have here in Scotland and in the UK? As noted in Nae Pasaran, strong internationalist action seems more difficult today due to weaker trade unions. For example, mass actions from organised groups such as in the Miners Strikes of ‘84-’85 seem harder today. But there are actions we can take from here in Scotland to help combat this apartheid injustice.  Speaking on behalf of Dundee University Action Palestine (DUAP), Leanne-Sydonie Goodlad told me:

“The main thing people in Scotland can do, in our opinion, is raise awareness of the situation, and promote the boycott. Many people shy away from the issue because they feel they can’t have an effect, but those people couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Recently, and notably, Israel tried to host a music festival with a main lineup including Lana Del Rey. Our Society, as well as thousands of other supporters of Palestine, urged her to reconsider, just on social media, and while she initially refused to stand down, after thousands of tweets, she cancelled her appearance.

“While this may not seem like much, Israel lost a western face to use as an ambassador, and it was a massive success for the BDS movement. This wouldn’t have been possible without a wave of supporters, including hundreds of Scottish supporters.”

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Direct action is also possible, such as putting pressure on companies and councils directly involved in funding Israeli apartheid. Only recently, SPSC and the BDS movement was successful in pressuring Falkirk Pension Fund into divesting £6 million from Bank Hapoalim, who regularly fund construction in illegal Israeli settlements. Here in Dundee, where I am writing from, we are asking Tayside Pension Fund – who still invest in Bank Hapoalim – to follow Falkirk. Getting in touch with your councillors and asking them to consider divestment is an effective and easy way to make your voice heard. I posed this issue to Napier.

“The key thing is to network and to keep in touch with each other,” he said. “As well as sending an individual letter, try and get your friends and you family to do so. Try and contribute to getting a tsunami of efforts to your councillors. Some of them are principled, many of them are not. They want to keep their seats. You can do so much more with a small number of people than by yourself. In terms of Time to Divest, take a look at their website. Work out where you are, and if you’re interested, take responsibility. Keep up the pressure against the investments in your area.”

The topic of networking is particularly vital. For those who have committed to the BDS movement, and joined solidarity campaigns such as #DJsforPalestine, this support can be taken further by joining organisations such as SPSC, or local groups, such as Dundee University Action Palestine.

A specific opportunity for protest will soon be present here in Scotland. On 20 November, Scotland will host Israel at Hampden Park as part of the inaugural UEFA Nations League. An SPSC led demo is already planned. Napier explained:

“We want to festoon the area around Hampden on that day, with a lot of Palestinian flags, with placards, with messages, in the same way people do in an election campaign. We want to make sure everyone who goes in knows that this about Palestine. This can send a message to Palestine and to Israel as well.”

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A recent petition to call for the Scottish team to boycott the match was rejected by the SFA, who said that football should remain politically neutral. Given that the Palestinian Football Association report having members regularly detained, and face restrictions on playing abroad due to strict Israel border controls, politically neutral football in the region seems a pipedream. In 2012, the Palestine Stadium in Gaza was bombed by the Israeli air-force.

“Our national team will be playing against the Israeli football team, including players from around six football clubs based in Israeli settlements in occupied territories,” Goodlad said. “Although not the issue at hand, but almost to be expected, the Palestinian football team are often denied visas to even play in other states, meaning that many Palestinians cannot even enjoy sport due to the apartheid.”

Troublingly, the Scottish Government has said in email correspondence that boycotting the Scotland vs. Israel games would be a bad move because it would result in financial sanctions for the SFA. In a letter to myself, Joe FitzPatrick, SNP MSP for Dundee West and Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, cited these sanctions as a reason against boycotting the match: “It is likely, therefore, that Scotland would be sanctioned if they did not fulfil these fixtures.”

This position is at odds with the strong messages of solidarity already shown by football fans here in Scotland. We should remember, for example, the inspiring actions of Celtic FC fans, who raised more than £130,000 for Palestinian charities after fines were imposed for the waving of Palestinian flags. A precedent has already been set after Argentina bowed to internationalist pressure and cancelled their World Cup friendly with Israel earlier this year – met by much applause here in Scotland.

A flyer opposing the Scotland and Chile friendly of 1977.

Unlikely to be cancelled, this match will add to a history of SFA shame. A 1977 friendly with Chile was held at the national stadium in Santiago, which was used as a detention, torture and execution centre during Pinochet’s brutal 1973 coup. Those travelling to watch Scotland play against Israel in Haifa today [11 October] should read David Pratt’s excellent piece in The National, which further explores the politics behind this match.

An Anti-Apartheid Movement poster calling the Boycott of Barclays Bank from the 1980s

Justice for Palestine will not come without continued and growing international pressure.

Apartheid in South Africa would not have ended without global corporations divesting in the country; without the isolation of the state through cultural and sporting boycotts; and through international pressure on the government to change. This didn’t happen spontaneously, but through a long period of action from activists.

“Israel is profoundly unpopular in public opinion,” Napier said. “We’ve been tracking this phenomenon, we have a section on our website. By any measure of public opinion, if you measure what people think, Israel is a pariah state.

“In one example, as far back as 2006, the EU conducted an opinion poll and invested a fair bit of money into it. They had to apologise to Israel for the opinions of EU citizens. Israel came top of the poll in terms of being a danger to world peace. Given that Israel keeps crossing red lines, it is deeply unpopular.”

Israel is not getting everything their own way. Look to the anger of Avigdor Lieberman, the Defence Minister of Israel, at the delays in the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar, so vehemently opposed by both Israeli and Palestinian activists on the ground, and the international condemnation that follows it. Look to the Irish government, who officially pledged their support to BDS, with Dublin becoming the first European capital to support the movement.

In the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Picture courtesy of Kaysgeog