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Na’amod protest, London
Courtesy of Na’amod

Speaking to Jewish activists leading Free Palestine protests across the UK

This week, the anti-occupation movement Na’amod staged demonstrations against Israel’s bombing of Gaza — here, British Jews explain why they took part, and why a ceasefire isn't enough

On Wednesday evening (April 19), over 250 British Jews publicly condemned the Israeli government’s bombing of Gaza, and showed solidarity with Palestinians facing a surge of violence and oppression, in protests staged across the UK. Following a week in which 200 Palestinians (including 59 children) were killed in attacks on the region, the demonstrators also mourned the lives lost, including those of 12 people killed by rockets from Gaza directed at Israel.

Organised by Na’amod — a movement of British Jews that campaigns against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories — the protests spanned several UK cities, including London, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, and Newcastle. The organisation says that it is likely one of the largest ever Jewish communal actions in opposition to the Israeli government, highlighting the importance of speaking out in this moment.

“This action was a really important demonstration that not all Jews support Israel and its actions,” Ethan Axelrod, a 25-year-old activist who attended the protest in Bristol, tells Dazed. “We represent a large and growing portion of our community who are appalled by Israeli state violence against Palestinians, and who oppose Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.”

“We want the rest of our community to join us, stand up and be counted.”

The past 11 days of hostility have seen the worst bloodshed against Palestinians since 2014. Tensions first rose amid unrest sparked by a crackdown on gatherings during Ramadan, and a wave of public hatred from far-right Israeli groups. Subsequent attempts to forcibly dispossess dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and hand them to Israeli settler colonisers, added fuel to the fire.

On Tuesday (May 18), the United Nations announced that more than 52,000 Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli airstrikes, which have also destroyed press offices and medical facilities. “For every person killed, hundreds are left homeless, in mourning and without livelihoods,” notes Na’amod organiser Daniel Lubin, 24, who addressed the crowd at the London protest.

Na’amod’s Wednesday demonstrations saw the movement turn its focus on Jewish communal leaders, demanding that they condemn Israel’s aerial bombardment and support international efforts to end the state’s recent spate of violence. They also called for high-profile Jewish figures and organisations to acknowledge that the root cause of the unrest is Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

“I organised yesterday’s protest because as a British Jew I can't stand by while the Jewish leadership that claims to represent me tacitly supports the Israeli government in its silence, or equivocates on this issue,” Lubin adds. “You are either for Palestinian rights or against them.”

20-year-old Meir, who attended the event in Cambridge, similarly expresses disillusionment at the response from Jewish leadership. “I grew up in an environment where hardcore Zionism was the norm, and in the past few weeks I’ve seen all those lies crumble,” they say, adding: “I’m really angry at the lack of moral leadership in the Jewish community, and if Na’amod have to be that leadership, then so be it.”

Amid global pressure — including US calls for Israel to “de-escalate” the violence — prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced on Thursday that it has approved a “mutual and unconditional” ceasefire, which came into effect in the early hours of Friday morning. However, as Na’amod points out, Palestinians will continue to endure “daily brutalities” without an end to the decades-long military occupation.

“The root cause of all of the violence and suffering is the occupation,” Francesca Kurlansky, another Na’amod organiser, told the rally on London’s Southbank. “There can be no peace or justice while millions of Palestinians face the daily indignity of being denied basic civil and political rights.”

Jeffrey Newman, a 79-year-old Rabbi and activist who spontaneously addressed the Southbank crowd on Wednesday, echoes this statement in the wake of the ceasefire announcement, saying via social media: “We must intensify our efforts so that such violence and bloodshed is not repeated.”

Revisit Dazed’s guide on how to talk about Palestine and show your support here, and view photos from London’s rousing Free Palestine protest — which saw an estimated 150,000 people take to the streets last Saturday (May 15) — here.