This weekend I took part in the national demonstration for Gaza in central London, my first ever such involvement in a public gathering concerning Palestine. Attending it never quite amounted to smashing a psychological barrier of sorts, but perhaps served as a minor milestone in my ever growing understanding of Israel.
My relationship with Israel has always been complicated at best. While at school I remember being privately infuriated by reports of the Second Intifada, 2006 Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. At university in Scotland, I was surrounded by acquaintances and student organisations passionate about Palestine. Much as I agreed with the gist of their statements, I could not quite bring myself to fully embrace what they said or campaigned for, let alone in the tones they did so. The often blatant disregard for the nature and fears of Israeli society and at times possibly justifiable difficult choices it must make (a recent viewing of the excellent Gatekeepers documentary reminded me as much) was a case in point. Many stunts by the likes of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, including disrupting a Jewish ball at my university, never quite endeared me to some of their activism.
Israel is not my state nor will it probably ever fulfil my own lofty aspirations and hopes for it. I was brought up entirely detached from it and have yet to visit, despite the almost inevitable ‘have you been to Israel?’ questioning I am sometimes subjected to in certain contexts. Being Jewish should by no means equate to full-fledged and blind support for Israel, a sectarian stance in my eyes. But for all its numerous, well-documented and rightly condemned abuses and faults, there remains a slight emotional allure about Israel, something not many critics can appreciate; the emigration of relatives of mine to Israel after decades under Communist rule, as well as the representations of Israel they longed for, alerted me to this.
It is hard to draw any significant conclusions from the demonstration I attended. Marching as part of a Jewish bloc, I largely did not interact with other demonstrators. Even while at the protest, I could not help but continue to wonder why it is this issue above so many others in the world that brings out the crowds and whips up such fervour (and no, this is not a case of ‘whataboutism’ nor a ‘proportionality’ argument). I do question how significant or meaningful a gesture for the advancement of the Palestinian cause swathes of protesters or non-protesters wearing a keffiyeh really is. I pondered what the chanting crowds actually meant by a ‘free Palestine,’ or one ‘from the river to the sea.’
Nonetheless, despite these and other trivial queries of mine, I felt at peace during the demonstration. Israel is not the lightning rod for all of my political concerns, let alone ones of a particularly Jewish relevance, but its plight and that of Palestine remain significant to me. And perhaps my attendance at this march just reinforced that sentiment once more.