Tanya Gold

In Penzance, they want to talk about Zionists killing children

I went to a Palestine Solidarity Campaign march in west Cornwall, where I live, to find out if its supporters can stand for Palestine without being anti-Jew. This is what I discovered...

November 16, 2023 17:35

I am spying on my neighbours. I live in west Cornwall and I didn’t think there would be a Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) rally here, but there was. I didn’t think I would go but I did. I didn’t think I would speak at it, but I did.

My issue with the PSC is that some of its supporters struggle to stand for Palestine without being anti-Jew.

You might think this would be easy but in my experience, they cannot do it. In the early days of the war there was a PSC rally in Falmouth, a university town 30 miles east. I expected that, but I expected nothing in Penzance, my hometown.

Politics is strangely muted here: people have more urgent tasks, such as putting food on the table. The week after October 7, some ladies of the church put a note under my door. They are praying for us, they said.

I overheard a man in the greengrocer’s denouncing Israel on 10 October. I asked him if people were crossing the border to kill his family. He said no. And that was it.

Still, I heard there would be a PSC rally in Penzance and I looked at the Facebook page. I have good reason: I have a son and I am nervous that his bucolic childhood will end with the shout, “fucking Jew” from a child who doesn’t know what a Jew is.

I found a few fanatics: a Morning Star-reading Buddhist who posts photographs of paragliders with Palestine flags in between walking in the St Loy woods; a teaching assistant who hates Israel so much she insists on using asterisks instead of its name because that’s normal. It’s the passion.

The rally was at the bottom of Causewayhead. I wasn’t alone in supporting Israel. When I got there, I found a Jewish woman with her husband. They each carried a laminated Israeli flag and a laminated photograph of the hostages in Gaza. A crowd assembled. It was various: some young people; more elderly people; some families; a man with a Palestine flag but no shoes. We were stared at with a kind of muted hostility and curiosity. They passed a petition round for the local MP.

The first speaker read out the Michael Rosen poem Don’t Mention the Children. It charges Israel with refusing to broadcast the names of dead Palestinian children.

Then we were heckled. A man walked past and shouted, “Who started it?” in a broad Cornish accent. He was heckled back. Then a young man opened his mouth and screamed, “From the river to the sea”.

At this, I heckled, because every rally is a paradigm of the conflict itself: what happened to the peace poetry? Then a woman with a bobble hat came and stared at me. I stared back until she left. The original heckler was dispatched.

Next, a young woman repeated the blood libel that the al-Ahli Arab hospital was bombed by Israel. Her lies made her breathless, but activism is a drug.

Then a man spoke about establishing a PSC in Penzance. I heckled again. I asked: what’s the endgame? What do you want to see? “We want peace,” he said. I asked: Two states? One state? He said, “I genuinely don’t know. That’s something I’m reading about now and trying to figure out”.

Because this was not unlike a group therapy session, he asked me what I wanted. Peace, I said: two states and an end to the war. I would like to stop extremists holding all the power.

I was interrupted by a man saying, “but Zionists”. He said all Zionists were extremists, then he changed his mind. I would, I said, like my child to be able to walk the streets without, at some point, someone calling him a fucking Jew.

At that point a woman screamed: “Stop killing the children then!” I stopped and was applauded by perhaps three people. Though they might have been applauding the heckler.

It’s hard to say. The next person called the (so far theoretical) heckling of local Jewish children “despicable”. I was grateful for that.

A few people came to speak to us afterwards. They said they were glad we were here. One was from my son’s cub group: she reminded me of the names of her children.

A youngish man accused us of weaponising the Holocaust. Another man wanted to talk about the geopolitics but when I mentioned Iran, he waved his arm: it’s not important, he said.

The Buddhist did not come over. I think she could not bear to be in our presence. Real Jews interfere with the theoretical Jew of her imagination. I fantasise that she was disappointed that we did not have horns.

The picture here is complicated, and not without hope. More as it comes.

November 16, 2023 17:35

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