Young people fighting for Palestine

LSE students occupation against war on Gaza

By Jennifer Nash

The youth movement for Palestine in Britain has continued to strengthen, with a number of significant advances.

The growing support for Palestine amongst young people in Britain has finally encouraged the National Union of Students (NUS) to join the growing movement for justice and peace for Palestine.

In a policy motion adopted at a National Executive Council meeting on 17th May the NUS resolved to “strongly condemn Israel’s siege on Gaza and actively campaign for it to be lifted in accordance with international law” and to commit to actively support Palestinians’ right to education.

The significance of this breakthrough should not be underestimated – NUS’s new policy represents a major departure from its recent record on Palestine. For example, NUS refused to condemn Israel’s war on Gaza in 2009 and failed to condemn the killing of 9 civilian peace activists onboard the Mavi Marmara in May 2010.

Commenting on the vote, Kanja Sesay of the NUS Black Students’ Campaign said, “It is a victory that NUS is finally standing in solidarity with the Palestinians and supporting their freedom. Winning this policy has been a long struggle.”

Vicki Baars, NUS LGBT Officer (Women’s Place) who spoke in support of the new NUS policy added: “I’m really pleased to see NUS taking a strong stance on the issues and experiences faced by Palestinian people and especially those of Palestinian students.”

However, a campaign is underway to reverse the new policy.

Speaking to the Guardian outgoing NUS President Aaron Porter attacked the NUS’ new pro-Palestine policy stating:

“NUS has always taken a measured and balanced approach to the complex issues surrounding the Middle East and I believe changing that is damaging to all involved. NUS has worked closely with the Union of Jewish Students to tackle hate speech on campus and I am proud of that work.

“Jewish students must feel able to participate freely in our movement and I will do all I can to persuade the NUS NEC to drop a policy which is seen as anti-Israel and to further co-operation on campuses.”

The implication is clear – supporting Palestine is linked to “hate speech” and poses a threat to Jewish students on campus.

In reality, the only way to consistently oppose “hate speech”, prejudice, discrimination and bigotry is to stand up for equality and justice for everyone, including the Palestinians. Until now, NUS has failed to do this.

Kanja Sesay hit the nail on the head when he said: “supporting the right to education for Palestinians is not hate speech.”

Indeed, supporting the right to education all over the world is a basic responsibility of us all, but especially for an organisation that exists to defend the rights of students, like the NUS. The struggle to ensure that the NUS maintain its policy in support of the Palestinians’ right to education is crucial, especially with the evidence that there are likely to be moves to reverse the policy at the July NUS NEC meeting.

A Facebook page has been set up congratulating NUS for their new policy position: ‘Well Done NUS for supporting Palestine’ – sign up today to show your support and encourage NUS to keep the policy.

On the eve of the global commemorations and protests for the anniversary of the Nakba – the annual commemoration of the Palestinian displacements as a result of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 – over 300 young people came together for the fifth meeting of the Equality Movement. This was launched earlier this year by Lowkey, Jody McIntyre and MC Logic.

The theme was solidarity with Palestine and the speakers included former PLO representative Karma Nabulsi, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Sarah Colborne and George Galloway.

George Galloway underlined the significance of what the Equality Movement has achieved so far when he said: “As someone who speaks about Palestine all over the world, all the time, I can tell you there are seldom this many young people in one room talking about politics anymore.”

Check out the video of George Galloway’s speech here and of Jody McIntyre’s speech here.

The meeting discussed what the next steps for the international Palestine solidarity movement are. Most immediately the forthcoming flotilla to Gaza is a key opportunity for the international solidarity movement to act together and have a transformative effect. The ‘Britain to Gaza’ contingent is scheduled to set off in July. Check out their website to keep up with developments.

The Equality Movement’s next meeting takes place on Friday 1st of July at Lambeth Town Hall in London on the theme ‘Who policies the police?’ with Benjamin Zephaniah among the speakers. Check out the details on Facebook here.