Greta stands with Gaza

Greta Thunberg's 'stand with Gaza' is a historic moment for the global climate movement.


Greta Thunberg posted the picture below on her X account during a week of climate and peace protests in London recently. Many people in the press criticised her because they themselves supported the Israeli bombing and opposed a ceasefire. 

Medical Aid for Palestinians is responding to the current emergency in Gaza. It has launched an emergency appeal to 'ensure that Palestinian health workers have the medical resources they need, as soon as possible'. You can donate to the appeal online

Some of those people called her, ludicrously, antisemitic, because a toy octopus appeared in the first image she used. There was also criticism from some climate activists in Germany, Austria and Israel. Beyond that, there was little open criticism from the climate movement, and much support on social media.

This is a historic moment for the global climate movement. This article explains why. The photo reminded us of Martin Luther King’s speech on the Vietnam War at the Riverside Church in Manhattan on 4 April 1967. 


King had maintained a public silence on the war for the two years after President Johnson sent 500,000 troops to Vietnam. Now he broke that silence to call for peace and American withdrawal.

Nancy and Jonathan have recently published Why Men? A Global History of Violence and Inequality (Hurst, 2023). Order a copy now.

Many of his advisers, and many liberals had urged him not to speak out, saying that it would split the civil rights movement and turn President Johnson’s government against them.

King went ahead. In an eloquent and closely argued speech, he said that he had been urging nonviolence on young African Americans rioters. They had replied to him with a question: What about Vietnam?  

"Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.

"For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."


King’s courage strengthened opposition to the war, particularly among Black Americans, and especially among Black American soldiers. But the effect of his words went far wider as well.

King also told the truth – the war was racist. And it was the same racism that characterised American society. And by telling the truth King saved his own integrity.

Greta's speaking style is very different from King’s. He was the greatest rhetorical speaker in America in the twentieth century. He reached for the strongest effects, for metaphors and the rolling rhythms of Southern preachers and gospel music.

Greta is a master of plain speech. Her longest speeches are short, clear and passionate. Her X posts are compact, honest, devastating. And in this picture there are only twelve words. But together they carry a complex argument.

Each face tells a story, and each tells a different story.


Look again at the four young women. Greta holds a sign that says “Stand With Gaza”. Because she is instantly recognizable, the most important leader in the climate movement, this carries a message: The whole climate movement should support Palestine. 

It’s a call for change. And she is choosing her words carefully: Stand With Gaza. Not peace, not ceasefire - though she supports both. 

But no, solidarity is the starting point. Behind her another young woman holds two words: ‘Climate Justice Now’. She is saying this is about climate. And this is about justice. 

As with King, we cannot talk about climate justice if we do not support the most important issue of social justice in the world right now. A third woman holds two words: “Free Palestine”.

They are written on a piece of paper, or cardboard, on which someone has painted the colours of the Palestinian flag. Again, that means peace, but far more. This is an intervention on the radical side of the issue.


The fourth woman has five words: “This Jew Stands With Palestine.” Our solidarity is not antisemitism. Take a moment to look at those expressions again.

This picture, these four women, are a response to a moral imperative. This is a response to a unfolding great atrocity. That is the most important matter here, and that is enough. But this solidarity is also historically important for the climate movement. Here is why.

This is a change. All through the days of the mass school strikes, Greta insisted that the movement had to be non-political. For example, she refused to support a Green New Deal because it would split the movement. She did not then comment on matters beyond climate.

This made sense to her, as it made sense to many people in the climate movement. And on some level, she may still have hoped against hope for action by the politicians. Then two things happened. 

First, in October 2019 Thunberg called for adults to join the school students on strike. She said that if they did not, the students could not win. Large numbers of trade unionists did strike in Germany and Australia, but nowhere else.


The conclusion was clear. Greater power was needed. Only a global movement for social justice in all its forms could deliver that. The other conclusion was that the leaders of the world would not act. Form the UN climate talks in Glasgow in 2021 she sent two tweets that condensed the argument. 

One was “Blah, blah, blah. F*** you.” The other was “Uproot the system”. Gaza matters because of seventy-five years of suffering, and because human beings, children, women and men are dying there in great numbers.

But those are not the only reasons why so many people have marched in solidarity in so many countries. This is also a great public racist massacre. This is the racism of centuries of white supremacy made murderous flesh again.

People know this, all over the world. It is why African Americans and people of colour are so central to the marches in the United States, and why all the thirteen representatives in the US Congress who have called for a ceasefire are people of colour.

Most people in Africa, Asia and Latin America know this too. But so do many, many white people in Europe and North America. So do people in the Middle East, acutely, in their guts, enraged and in sorrow. And so, as we have seen, do many Jewish people in New York, Washington and Tel Aviv.


This is why the movement has been so enormous. We want to rid the world of racism and we are saying every human matters. The scale of these movements has frightened the governments of the world. That is why the secretary general of the United Nations and most of the governments of the world have called for a ceasefire.

This is where the future of Palestine, the future of the climate movement and the future of humanity come together. For one thing, climate change will bring us many massacres like Gaza's, many punishments of refugee camps. 

Runaway climate change will cover the world with walls, camps, barbed wire, hungry refugees and government massacres. The fight against such a future starts now. But there’s more. Pakistan has at least housed many refugees for decades. 

Almost all of Europe is far worse, and there hatred of refugees fuels racism and a turn to the far right. But also, we know by now that we cannot stop climate change without a massive, committed climate movement across the world, willing to take power to save us all.  

We cannot do that without the active support of the majority of workers and peasants in Africa, Latin America and Asia. There are many reasons. The people in the poorer countries of the Global South are 80 per cent of humanity. 


Back in 2019 those countries already produced 62 per cent of global fossil fuel emissions. Soon enough they will produce two-thirds. That means we cannot stop climate change unless the people in those countries insist upon an economy that brings them a decent standard of living through renewable energy.

Moreover, the great social movements of the last hundred century strongest, and most important in the countries of the Global South. After all, that is where people have suffered most. 

And since the Arab Spring, and all the great movements against dictatorship, the social movements have again been strongest in the South. And the impact, the horror, of climate change will be worst in the South. 

The movements in Europe and North America still matter. We write this in England, and Thunberg made that photo in Sweden. And people in the South will not stop climate change if the North refuses to do so. 


We are all in this together. But what happens in the South will matter more. That is why standing with Gaza against racism matters for the future of the climate movement. But there is another link. To stand with Gaza is to stand with life against death. 

To stand against climate change is to do the same on a far larger scale. This photo, just a photo, is a moment in human history. By contrast, Gaza is the most important issue in the world right now. 

But this is also a turning point in the climate movement. There will be many more horrors. We are embarked on the mother of all struggles to save each other and all living things. 

There will be many more such moments, and some of them will be even worse. But the direction of change for the climate movement is becoming clear. Like the signs say: stand with Gaza - climate justice now!.

These Authors

Nancy Lindisfarne is an anthropologist and author. Jonathan Neale is a regular contributor to The Ecologist. They have recently published Why Men? A Global History of Violence and Inequality (Hurst, 2023). Order a copy now.

Medical Aid for Palestinians is responding to the current emergency in Gaza. It has launched an emergency appeal to 'ensure that Palestinian health workers have the medical resources they need, as soon as possible'. You can donate to the appeal online

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