‘Gaza genocide exposes the naked face of imperialism’

Palestine is central to all our struggles against injustice. Bethany Rielly reports from War on Want’s festival of resistance.

In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians. This chant, echoed by millions across the world, has taken on a new meaning in the wake of Israels annihilation campaign in Gaza.

The message sent by the united front formed between Global North countries including many former colonial powers in support of Israel as it commits genocide in the obliterated Strip has been received loud and clear by those on the frontlines of the climate crisis: youre next. As Colombias President Gustavo Petro said at COP28 in December: What we see in Palestine will also be the suffering of all of the peoples of the South.

This realization was front and centre of War on Wants festival And Still we Rise last weekend. Taking its name from Maya Angelous best-known poem, the one-day event was a defiant and cathartic gathering of international activists against war, debt and climate injustice. This is, after all, what Naomi Klein described as the age of catastrophe.

A child writes 'peace' on a blackboard

A child writes ‘peace’ on a blackboard at War on Want’s ‘And Still We Rise’ festival in London. Photo by Cory Marsh /War on Want.

Rooms were packed with attendees from across generations and nations, eager not only to understand the violent, unequal and rapidly heating world we find ourselves in, but to offer the solutions and visions to get ourselves out of it. Gaza was on the lips of every activist who travelled to Britain, whether they hailed from Argentina, South Africa or Pakistan, while the bustling halls of Friends House were filled with keffiyehs, watermelon T-shirts and Free Palestine badges.

Its not simply about a struggle against forms of apartheid or settler colonialism, Asad Rehman, War on Wants executive director, told New Internationalist. It gives us a glimpse of how the Global North will respond to the major crises [] as more and more of our systems begin to collapse, not just from the climate crisis but food insecurity. So when we say we are all Palestinians, its not just an individual act of solidarity, its a collective realization that the poor, the marginalized, Black and brown people will be actively sacrificed to the interests of the elites in the Global North.

Palestine also draws on the threads of the different crises facing humanity, exposing the banks and corporations profiting from both war and the climate crisis, and the governments refusing to fund public services while diverting military aid to Israel. More than ever this is a moment to act, Rehman said, its about weaving together those different struggles into a common front. He continued: The consciousness [around Palestine] is politicizing, its educating, its deepening peoples understanding of colonialism and imperialism. We say we need a new internationalism rooted in anti-imperialism, because this is the naked face of that imperialism.

Asad Rehman speaks at the event

War on Want’s Asad Rehman calls for solidarity with Palestine at organization’s festival of solidarity in London on 24 February, 2024. Photo by Michael Preston for Quakers in Britain.

It was clear many organizers hadnt paused for a moment since 7 October, hurtling from one protest to another in a desperate bid to force our callous leaders to act. That frustration, rage and grief spilled out early in the day, when Palestinian poet Rafeef Ziadah performed her 2011 poem We teach life, Sir, moving the auditorium to a tearful standing ovation. Sharing that moment felt like a soothing balm over the painful isolation of consuming videos of crushed and starving bodies alone. 

In such dark times, its easy to feel powerless. But speakers reminded us that there was still hope. Recent victories, such as the UK governments withdrawal from the climate-wrecking Energy Charter Treaty earlier this month were held up as prime examples of what movements powered by people can achieve. While South African activist Tasneem Essop reminded attendees that systems of apartheid have been defeated before, and that there are still lessons to be learnt from these historic struggles. One of the most important, she stressed, is to forge true unity across movements.

We never in the struggle against apartheid fell into the trap of issue-based struggle, she told a panel titled Building our Movements of Movements, chaired by NI co-editor Conrad Landin. She poured scorn on environmental campaigners and organizations who have refused to speak out on Palestine in recent months. You would think that genocide is a litmus test for all of us in our struggles. In parts of the climate movement it wasnt.

With millions coming out onto the streets, across all faiths, countries, ethnicity and causes, Palestine has galvanized a movement of movements worldwide. This is the moment for us collectively to strike, to be united, Essop stressed. We cant go back into our narrow little fights.

But as more people rise up against war, inequality and climate injustice, concerted efforts are being made across states to crack down on this moment of resistance marking another crisis in this age of catastrophe. We see this with the smearing of protesters calling for peace in Palestine, as hate marches, terrorists and racists.

In Sri Lanka, one of the countrys worst affected by soaring prices driven by Big Oil greed, lawmakers are set to introduce a bill to prevent a repeat of the islands 2022 uprising. Swasthika Arulingam, president of Sri Lankas Commercial and Industrial Workers Union, and a human rights lawyer, told New Internationalist that the bill could see strike action considered an act of terror. Its not only just about repression, she said. Its also targeting groups which are resisting the government like workers groups, like farmers groups.

Alongside political discussions, panels and workshops, the festival also drew on the cultural traditions of social movements of the Global South, injecting music, poetry and dance into the days itinerary. In these challenging times, spaces of joy, togetherness and movement building are more important than ever. This was the rationale behind billing the event as a festival of solidarity, to celebrate and remember our power as a collective, Rehman said.

This coming together, across continents and movements, is crucial if were to confront the forces simultaneously driving climate breakdown, genocide and global inequality. Palestine has shown us the way, now we must follow it. As Meena Raman of the Third World Network said: If we can do that for Palestine, we can do that for the rest of the world.

New Internationalist was media partner at War on Wants And Still we Rise festival. Additional reporting by Amy Hall.