Europe has witnessed important development in the public support for Palestine, which opposed the Israeli war on Gaza Strip (GS), in the summer of 2014. The support increased, way of expression evolved, actions were coordinated, and alliances in civil society were weaved. This interaction was generally characterized by diversity in its components and by involvement of new categories and segments in a number of European countries.
Overwhelming public response has shown multiple shifts within European societies concerning their position towards the policies and violations of the Israeli occupation. However, such transformations were not clear on the official level.
The development of public support for Palestine has three possible scenarios, either it will evolve, or it will stay relatively stable, or it will deteriorate which seems significantly unlikely. The support and solidarity with Palestinian rights in Europe is likely to develop. The growing capacities of civil societies as well as the accumulated experience, whether in forging alliances or in launching initiatives on the popular level, are important factors supporting this scenario.
As the Israeli aggression on GS started in the summer of 2014, a wave of condemning public events was simultaneously launched in a number of European countries. The wave soon gained wide momentum—although parliaments, universities and unions were on summer vacation—and interaction escalated throughout the 51 days of aggression.
This was the third aggression within six years, which helped accumulate public experience and maintained the interaction with the Palestinian issue in Europe relatively alert. Moreover, the few years before the aggression has witnessed milestones in public support for the Palestinian issue across Europe, thus paving the way for rapid and quick public response to the attack on GS.
The masses that took out to the streets to protest against the assault in its first days are those people whose stance towards the occupation has been formed based on former Israeli aggressions and military campaigns. Participants in mass action mainly included organizations, unions, and movements, which consider Palestine a priority, if not exclusively specialized in the Palestinian issue.
As the assault continued, new groups joined the condemnation wave together with public figures that took part in public events or expressed their stances on media outlets and social platforms.
Public reaction against the 2014 summer war on GS was fast and it erupted during the first days of the assault, or on the first day in some countries, as represented in demonstrations, sit-ins and “pauses” in public places. Estimates show an increase in public events on weekends reaching around 200 demonstration points throughout Europe only on Saturdays. Some demonstrations were very large and their size was unprecedented compared to events supporting the Palestinian issue. Nonetheless, mass interaction was not as large in some east and central European countries, which reflects the level of growth of civil society and traditions of solidarity with foreign issues in these countries.
Remarkably, supporters of Israel could not succeed in mobilizing significant mass demonstrations in Europe and their movements were limited as compared to the pro-Gaza demonstrations, which were joined by new groups.
During the third week of the aggression, a counter-wave was launched in many European countries to discredit demonstrations and public events condemning the assault. That wave employed successive reports—some of which were released by Jewish communal bodies in a number of European countries—claiming that severe increase of anti-Semitism has been monitored. In addition, some dispersed altercations or clashes, especially the clashes in Paris between anti-occupation demonstrators and French Jewish youths, were highlighted to undermine the solidarity scene. In return, several voices, including Jewish figures, criticized claims about anti-Semitism, especially when the criticism of occupation crimes was confused with “hatred of Jews.”
During that period, coalitions and alliances were formed at demonstration venues, and they continued over the next several weeks, thus were transformed into permanent programs and projects of civil action dedicated to face and isolate the occupation. This popular uprising was soon transformed from stances rejecting the assault to practical steps and programs against the offensive and the blockade, in addition to calls for boycott, sanctions and divestment.
Besides public events, sectoral demonstrations were held where particular groups were mobilized and some demonstrations and sit-ins were held facing some particular institutions.
Most European media outlets did not show much concern about the Israeli offensive or the suffering of the Gazans, at least for the first three days of the war. The transformation was noticed on Thursday and Friday 10–11 July, when the plight of Gazans started to pave its way into headlines of major newspapers.
Public protests against the assault in Europe remained in the shadow at least for the first two weeks. The shift was only noticed in the third week, when they started to draw media attention and became part of major media coverage.
Public Support and Limits of its Influence on the Political Level:
Public opinion against Israeli aggression on GS adopted a group of political stances and demands, some of which were directed at decision makers at executive and legislative levels in each individual country and in the wider European arena.
Lists of demands upheld by masses condemning the assault evolved from being general demands, such as halting the offensive and lifting the siege, to specific demands, such as calling for stopping arms export to Israel, incriminating the recruitment of European citizens in the Israeli army and opening marine lines with Gaza port. These demands were added to the calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions and for expelling Israeli ambassadors.
Although the official European stances witnessed relative transformation in the following weeks, they remained quite far from the public support witnessed in different European cities and capital. Thus, the change was limited to a decrease in bias to the Israeli side, which was clear in the first weeks of the assault, afterwards there were official calls for humanitarian aid due to the serious damages caused by Israeli offensive.
Palestinians in Europe: Development of Their Presence and Their Accumulation of Experience:
The developments during the 2014 summer in GS boosted Palestinian presence in Europe, especially with the protracted assault, which extended over seven weeks and was relatively longer than the two previous rounds of aggression in 2008–2009 and 2012.
This round was a major event that helped in passing the cause to and deepening the awareness of younger Palestinian generations in Europe. They became more informed with the facts of the conflict, and even with the general and detailed knowledge about Palestine and its different regions. The major developments fueled the Palestinians’ sense of belonging, thus reflected in public, media, cultural, and political events.
The Palestinian diaspora in Europe developed its public support for the Palestinian issue. Thus, it was not only manifested in the simple old form of demonstrations but rather it was renewed and diversified, with exchange of experience between Palestinian and pro-Palestine activists in the same and in different countries.
Development of Solidarity by Various Groups and Sectors:
Public support for Palestine in Europe during the latest 2014 Israeli aggression, involved a diversified spectrum including Palestinian, Arab and Muslim groups. It also included pro-Palestine European groups, Jewish groups and groups with different interests.
In some cases, these groups, unions and institutions organized common public events, but in other cases one group would organize an event when failing to unify public performance. This ultimately shows difference of levels of experience in forming alliances and in coordinating for staging a pro-Palestine event in European socities.
Public support for Palestine in Europe has waxed and waned witnessing several transformations in the recent years. Thus, the traditional concept of solidarity with the Palestinian issue was replaced with a direct adoption of it, in addition to developing new, effective mechanisms to express this solidarity. As for the adoption, it is based on the perception that the Israelis have committed gross moral violations, which makes facing the occupation a common human responsibility.
In this context, European public support for Palestine witnessed the emergence of specialization, where some groups became concerned with some sub files of the Palestinian issue, while bypassing ideological spectrums. Performance also shifted from focusing on traditional sympathy to employing pressure and initiation. In parallel, frameworks of cooperation, coordination, partnership and alliances developed while witnessing growing trends of networking in real and virtual worlds and growing experiences, roles and capacities of civil societies.
• Impending or shocking events of exceptional character, and the consequent media and political interest in them.
• Development of the ability to make a public and media event, whether inside or outside Palestine, through effective steps, campaigns and initiatives. This is added to the accumulation and exchange of experiences in the field of mass action supporting the Palestinian issue, and benefitting from the advantages of communication and networking across multiple environments in this area.
• The rise of activism in Europe, the growing capabilities of the masses, and opportunities of movement and influence available in this arena.
• The development of alliance and coordination within mass action to serve the Palestinian issue.
• Development of the Palestinian discourse and the discourse supporting the Palestinian rights in Europe and the world, and the development of specialized discourse whether that concerning the right of return, boycotting the occupation, and lifting the blockade.
• Opportunities available for masses and civil society in following latest developments of the Palestinian issue, thus urging fast response to developments and updates.
• Focus of media outlets on the developments of the Palestinian issue and the mass interaction with it, where these masses employ various communication means.
• Diversity of components of the interactive masses, and the involvement of multiple sectors and groups in the interaction rather than being limited to homogeneous components or specific factional or ethnic components.
• Involvement of public figures and active civil society organizations, in addition to parties and unions, in the public support for Palestine.
• Retreat of sides biased to the Israeli occupation within the civil society in European countries or their inability to mobilize supporters, and the decay of the occupation persuasive power.
• Intensity of public support depends on the developments and events in Palestine, which is a dilemma that appears particularly in files that suffer from chronic pressure and violations and lack serious or shocking events and developments, such as the issues of Jerusalem and the prisoners.
• Concurrence of some events and developments with holiday seasons and major sports events, thus occupying the public with activities other than those supporting the Palestinian issue.
• Weak knowledge of some civil society components and public sectors about the developments and violations taking place in Palestine.
• The emergence of issues and concerns on the level of foreign politics, which distract the masses from the Palestinian issue, including the growing crises in the Arab and Muslim world.
• Stigmatizing criticism of Israeli occupation as “hatred of Jews” and “anti-Semitism,” which has particular impact on public figures and some sides of the civil society.
• Linking public interaction with the Palestinian issue in some countries with security concerns, or riots and disturbances, or calls for violence.
• The impact of Israeli propaganda and its attempt to mar Palestinian struggle and link it to terrorism and extremism.
• Unexperienced coalitions and alliances supportive of the Palestinian issue in some European countries, which undermines their efforts and possible influence.
• In some European cities, public support is led by certain groups, thus, lacking diversity in supporters.
• Palestinian schism and the consequent gaps in performance and discourse This is primarily noticed in the absence of representatives of Palestinian embassies and diplomatic missions in Europe from public events supporting Palestine.
• Stereotypes in public performance and lack of renewal in forms, tools and content in addition to limiting action to simple activities such as demonstrations and sit-ins.
• Weak media coverage of the developments of the Palestinian issue or the public events supporting it, might fail to attract the masses, or obscure their voice or discourage their interaction.
• The general impression of the masses that they are unable to influence political choices or the track of events in general.
Public support for Palestine in Europe has witnessed remarkable progress in the recent years. The future of this support may witness either development or relative stability, while the deterioration scenario seems quite unlikely.
Development Scenario: Public support for Palestine in Europe may develop, if growth indicators in its frameworks increase, the ability of these frameworks to make influence and pressure increases, and when new groups and sectors join these frameworks. Consequently, support of Palestinian rights would become a public culture in the European civil societies, which will reject the occupation’s policies and violations. The developments of the Palestinian issue would be also a catalyst in this respect. The development scenario might be likely if the Palestinian issue maintains its international presence and if its events continue to grow, yet without this necessarily meaning direct influence on the political and media levels.
Relative Stability Scenario: This scenario is linked to the possibility of relative calm in the Palestinian scene, and the possibility that international concern may be shifted to other issues. As for public support for Palestinian rights, it will remain linked to oscillating interaction with developments and events, with slow development in the growth of its frameworks and effective institutions in this domain. The ability of public support to impact political and media levels enhances the possibility of the Relative Stability Scenario.
Deterioration Scenario: This is quite an unlikely scenario and it could be assumed based on specific factors and variables such as the status quo remains unchanged in Palestine, or there is apathy towards the Palestinian issue as a result of the rise of different concerns in foreign policies, or under the pressure of Israeli distortion and propaganda campaigns. This scenario remains highly unlikely given the developments witnessed in recent years in media and frames supporting the Palestinian issue, and the growth of networking capacities available for the masses and civil society, in addition to the fact that the Palestinian issue maintained its presence in the international arena.
• Liberating the public support for Palestine in Europe from its dependence on the oscillating escalation of developments and events in Palestine. This needs focus on creating the public event and coordinating movements and initiatives.
• Renewal in forms of public support, its tools and content. The accumulation of experiences must be exploited, while expanding the exchange of expertise, and stimulating pressing projects and work programs. In addition, by diversifying the angles of approach to the Palestinian issue, the popular concern of different sectors of European communities would be stimulated.
• Continued development of effective coalition, alliance and coordination formulas for the benefit of the Palestinian issue in Europe, and working to attract different sectors and segments and more public figures and civil society organizations.
• Enhancing Palestinian discourse targeting people of the world, and developing means of communication and networking with the public and the civil frames, while reviewing the official Palestinian performance and its discourse regarding the public support for Palestine, especially that of Palestinian embassies and diplomatic missions.
• Developing political communication, media performance and the effective response to Israeli propaganda, while deconstructing the latter’s bases and content.
* Al-Zaytouna Center would like to thank Mr. Hussam Shakir for contributing to preparation of the draft upon which this assessment has relied.