Jenny Tonge’s resignation highlights her sacrifice for justice and, more significantly, the lengthy suffering of the Palestinian people
The streets of Gaza were set alight for days, beginning last Friday, as Palestinian civilians were attacked by Israeli forces. The constant pulsating sounds of drones, shells and bullets engulfed the city, completely obliterating Palestinian houses and injuring men, women and children mercilessly. Many fell victim to Israeli gunfire in the northern Gaza Strip, as Israeli troops stormed homes in a number of West Bank communities and arrested civilians during the early hours of Tuesday. Local sources reported “invasions and home searches in the cities of Jenin and Nablus, northern West Bank, in the central West Bank city of Ramallah, Hebron city and southern West Bank”. The death toll has reached dozens with many more injuries. Nader, a Gazan youth, tweeted about how the constant shelling was keeping him from sleeping; an almost nonchalant expression of reality from one numbed by what has become an only too frequent experience.
It is not hard to see why so many are in opposition to the so called “peaceful two state” paradigm advocated by the British government. Recently, the issue surfaced once again, now infamous in many media circles as the “Jenny Tonge affair”. Tonge, the outspoken member of the Liberal Democrats, renowned for her work towards achieving peace in Gaza, was once again surrounded by controversy in recent weeks. Her speech at a Middlesex University event on Palestine where she declared that “Israel would lose support and then they will reap what they have sown”, stirred particular outrage from the Israeli lobby, provoking pressure from her own party leaders. “Beware Israel,” she stated, “Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough.”
Her comments were dismissed by the pro-Israel lobby group, The Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel, which mocked her as an “irrelevant siren and a marginal voice”. However, while Tonge was advised to apologise for her statements by no less than the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, in a boldly courageous move she chose instead to stand by her sentiments and principles and resign. Many lauded her stand and praised her for not giving in to the pressure brought to bear in the interest of standing for what she believed to be just.
This is not the first time that Lady Tonge has been surrounded by controversy. For a number of years, she has been outspoken about the injustices endured by the Palestinians, particularly since she visited Gaza and witnessed the inflictions first hand. During November 2008, Tonge, along with Lord Ahmed, Clare Short, and a group of MEPs, broke the blockade of Gaza by boat and visited the region. As a result of her critical comments, she has frequently drawn the ire of the Israeli Lobby and political figures. It wouldn’t be the first, or indeed the last, instance in British politics that a high profile candidate has been gagged and condemned by those determined to display tactics of absolute power over asserting the individuals’ right to the freedom of speech. This factor is a particularly worrying development.
While addressing the Palestinian cause, it is important to address the constant stream of control from our government polarising us in order to follow a programmed political complexion. Cemented in the “you are either with us or against us” mentality, it seems there is a systematic strategy of forcefully removing any slight shade of grey in argument or opposition when it comes to certain discussions. Surely it isn’t completely idealistic that we expect an opposing view to be given a voice, especially when that voice speaks of the innocent lives of so many that are being ignored. Let us not forget what democracy is; we do not want an elected dictatorship to start emerging in our country. Lest we forget, it isn’t the Palestinians that sparked the conflict in the first place.
The campaign for the awareness of the Palestinian cause has been apparent for several years, and is often ignited by Israel’s constant augmented attacks on the people, reopening and provoking old wounds. A massive growth in awareness has gained momentum through various creative channels: film, music and poetry. However the cause feels the need of influential voices to achieve greater awareness. It is important to consider that there are Palestinian people who are constantly facing dismissal the world over. And those who dare to speak the truth on their behalf, such as Lady Tonge, are being condemned for it.
Without our conscious awareness, our freedoms are gradually being whittled away. The changing face of democracy is no longer enabling us to retain those freedoms that we have won for ourselves, over a long period of time. Some would say, in the process of speaking up about what she believed in, the Baroness effectively forfeited her right in government. But would we regard this as such a negative repercussion when we consider that those who are pushing her out are the same who deem the two state solution as “peaceful”. And, who has the right to dictate that opposition to a particular state’s aggression forfeits ones right to a place in government? While Tonge was vilified for her statements, the same critics condemned the state aggressions in Syria. It is a deeply telling hypocrisy.
The Jenny Tonge affair can only accentuate the deplorable situation in Palestine, thus spreading awareness of their cause; after all it is far better to be talked about than not talked about. The disenfranchised too have their right to be heard and represented, to speak out against discrimination and seek justice. Tonge’s piercing words were able to cause a stir among members of her party and administration. However we must not permit news, shaped by a politically approved narrative and supported by certain influential lobbies, to monopolise our attention.
In the words of Shakespeare, “no legacy is so rich as honesty”. Jenny Tonge has left behind a legacy of honesty, one which is often too rare in our politics. However, while she may have been forced to resign her position, it is fundamentally important to remember the cause for which she was willing to lose all that she had worked for: the Palestinian cause. These people, who are being collectively punished, unlawfully detained and indiscriminately murdered, must remain at the forefront of our consciousness.
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