Editorial: Scotland’s Promise to Palestine

The Trade Unions in Communities centre in Craigmillar is hosting a photo exhibition called ‘We Stand With Gaza’. It includes a photograph of two children, one with an amputated arm, laughing and playing in a street. In Letter From Gaza by Ghassan Kanafani, a man narrates visiting his niece in hospital:

I went out into the streets of Gaza, streets filled with blinding sunlight. They told me that Nadia had lost her leg when she threw herself on top of her little brothers and sisters to protect them from the bombs and flames that had fastened their claws into the house. Nadia could have saved herself, she could have run away, rescued her leg. But she didn’t.

For every Israeli government description of Palestinians’ sub-humanity, there are countless acts of love by Palestinians who chose to stay with their families rather than save themselves. There are countless deeds of doctors who worked to protect lives against the odds, only to be killed or, like the director of Al Shifa hospital, detained by the Israeli army on what was meant to be the first day of truce. There are countless moments of Sumud, the steadfast resoluteness by which Palestine keeps living.

Sumud is often represented by the imagery of pregnancy, symbolising the new life that emerges between a hostile world and a dangerous sky. Edinburgh’s communist choir has recently been singing Anias Mitchell’s pro-Palestinian Christmas song, “Song of the Magi,” which describes the day ‘a child is born on the killing floor’. At a rally on Edinburgh’s mound, one speaker’s words sent ripples through the crowd: they will keep killing, but Palestine is being born in every one of us.

The desire to remain and to return to ruined homes can be confusing for some people in a capitalist culture where individuals value themselves and their wellbeing above all else. Nadia el-Nakla has used her office as a councillor in Dundee and her profile as the spouse of the First Minister to patiently explain why her family went to Gaza despite Israel’s regular military interventions during its years-long siege. El-Nakla’s mother Elizabeth, while she was trapped in Gaza, used her public status to communicate something of the reality of living under siege. When she returned to Scotland along with her family, Elizabeth El-Nakla said that her heart remained in Gaza.

In the days when it became clear that an Israeli onslaught was coming, the First Minister Humza Yousaf pledged that Scotland would provide refuge to Palestinians. But refuge is not justice, and since making his pledge, during a debate preceding the Scottish Parliament’s support for ceasefire, Yousaf accompanied this promise of practical solidarity with the commitment and call to other countries to recognise a Palestinian state. In doing so he has set Scotland apart from many western nations and states, and distanced himself from Britain’s rulers, who demonise the Palestinian people.

Yousaf has been the first to express that when it comes to recognising a state, and offering refuge, Scotland’s government is quite powerless. But that does not mean that the people here are without power. The streets of Scotland have been flowing every Saturday with people marching for Palestine in numbers unseen since Iraq. When Waverley station filled with the sound of ‘From the River to the See, Palestine will be Free’, placards declared that the slogan is not a hope but a promise. Crowds in Glasgow filling Buchanan Street and George Square chanted ‘In Our Thousands, In Our Millions, We Are All Palestinians’, and the slogan was a commitment to action. In Dundee, people organised a night of fireworks for Palestine and children gathered on the Fife side of the Tay and watched solidarity light up the city.

Nor is all the action centred in the cities. In mosques, community halls, and trade union offices, many small groups of people have been organising acts of solidarity, such as those described by Derek Durkin. Alongside our feature on the Network of Photographers for Palestine (Phil Chetwynd), the first section of this issue explores some of the forms of solidarity action in, from buying Palestinian produce (Cathi Pawson), and travelling to the West Bank to work with the farmers holding back the settlements (Jack Murray), to offering support to Palestinians who are here in Scotland – just as Scots did fifty years ago for Chileans fleeing Pinochet, as Enas Magzoub recounts in her review of Colin Turbett’s Aye Venceremos!

The second section of this issue examines how the NHS is faring as its 75th anniversary year closes. Sometimes described as if it is immortal, the NHS more often seems to be an ailing, stiff, and sleepy patient that survives through the skill and patience of its staff. Wilma Brown explains that the reason for this is quite simply a lack of investment and failure of workforce planning. As David Jenkinson discusses in his article, drawing from a career dedicated to child and adolescent mental health, the bare minimum provision is leaving many youngsters without the support they need. Yet through the work of artists like Rosalind Sanderson, hospitals – so often wrought with worry – can become sanctuaries of creativity and joy.

Blueprints for a generously funded health service in Scotland predate the NHS, as Feargus Murray has discovered in the archives of the NHS’s highland precursor, the fascinating and under-researched Highlands and Islands Medical Service. Meanwhile, in her critique of the policy ambitions of the government today, Charis Scott doubts the credibility of Humza Yousaf’s commitments in his Jimmy Reid lecture to making health, happiness, and community wellbeing his priority. As Gerry McCartney explains, it is austerity that explains our falling life expectancy, and while the NHS is vital, reversing those trends depends on economic intervention far beyond the Scottish Government’s intentions.

Elsewhere in this issue, Anna Murray explores Scottish Government plans to pilot juryless trials in rape cases, pitting the rights of those on trial against those of survivors. Monica Lennon explains the mounting pressure to hold polluters accountable with a law of ecocide. And Jack Ferguson, in his review of Naomi Klein’s Doppelganger, explores how corporate capitalism and conspiracy agendas are penetrating into every part of our politics and our psychologies, in a world of hard-rationed hope.

But as the skies darken, we close with the hopeful glimmering of stars that point the way, described in Ali Shehad Zaidi’s study of Munir Niazi, Pakistani poet and dreamer of tomorrow.