It is a great honour to speak on behalf of the IWA(GB) at this memorial meeting in memory of Al-Hakim (the healer/the wise one), Comrade Dr George Habash, founder of the PFLP.
I want to take this opportunity to bring greetings from the Indian Workers Association (Great Britain) to the Palestinian people and their organisations in struggle.
In particular, on this occasion, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but not forgetting Hamas, the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people, so recently excluded from the farcical negotiations of Annapolis.
I bring greetings, also, to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. We will never forget its late lamented leader Yasser Arafat, whose shoes have proved too big to fill by its current leadership, but whose role in the struggle will undoubtedly persist and be reinvigorated as its cadres learn the lessons of the current situation.
The Principle Charter of the IWA(GB), printed on the membership card of every member, states that the central mission of our organisation is to oppose racism and imperialism, and to support the right of nations to independence and self-determination.
Racism weakens the British working class, makes it incapable of organising to defend its common interests.
Likewise, national chauvinism, anti-Islamism and religious bigotry are tools used to lessen our sympathies for the victims of our imperialist ruling class; to keep us hitched to the war chariot of imperialism.
Lenin said: “The revolutionary movement in the advanced countries would certainly be a sheer fraud if, in their struggle against capital, the workers of Europe and America were not closely and completely united with the hundreds upon hundreds of ‘colonial’ slaves who are oppressed by capital.”
Learning from the history of India’s struggle against British imperialism, we see that the most progressive members of the British working class – in particular the then newly-formed CPGB – supported the Indian people’s struggle for national independence. They did so because it was their struggle.
Israel, an apartheid state
In my youth, the IWA(GB) was active in the struggle against the racist Apartheid system in South Africa. We remained so until that system of Bantustans, systematic discrimination, torture, and marginalisation was torn down. And it was torn down, notwithstanding the ongoing struggle of South Africa’s poor black masses for true economic and political emancipation.
And we continue to be opposed to the zionist project in Israel; a project which is no less racist than apartheid South Africa. A project which, like the apartheid regime in South Africa, has proved expert in the use of apartheid walls, fortified settlements, ‘Jewish only’ roads, checkpoints and passbooks, as well as in the more traditional forms of state oppression such as prisons, police and army (Israeli Defence Force, if you will!)
All of these means have been used by Israel to divide the remaining Palestinian nation (living on just 22 percent of historic Palestine) into a series of around 170 Bantustans, barely able to engage in social and economic intercourse with each other.
It is no exaggeration to talk of an entire nation imprisoned.
Israel is no less willing than apartheid South Africa was to torture, kill and maim innocent men women and children – all in the name of ‘defending human rights’ (of its citizens) and ‘fighting terrorism’. How hollow those phrases have come to sound on the lips of the zionists!
Israel is no less willing to expel the oppressed majority from their homes, exclude them from the best land and the economic fruits of their labour – solely on the basis of their race.
And Israel is certainly no less willing to trample on the rights of its neighbouring states: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon again (and again!) – to invade and bombard them – all under the protective wing of, and with massive subsidies from, US, British and EU imperialism. Indeed, the US alone gives $3.2bn in subsidy annually to the zionist state.
The Holocaust industry
Despite all this, people are often offended when criticism is extended to Israel; they are quick to label critics of zionism as ‘anti-Semitic’. This tactic, used to undermine criticism of Israel’s actions, goes to ridiculous lengths: “All Arabs are anti-Semitic,” they will say (adding, in parenthesis, that “they have plenty of room, they should just clear off”, and ignoring the fact that both Arabs and Jews were fraternal Semitic tribes in origin!)
The Jewish people have suffered, we are told – and historically this is true. But does that justify present ongoing crimes against the wholly innocent Palestinian people? Of course it does not!
God promised this land to the Jews, the zionists will say; they are God’s ‘chosen people’. This is a somewhat less convincing argument, but at base one of racial superiority, not dissimilar to the nonsense perpetrated within living memory of the ‘Aryan master race’.
Norman Finklestein noted in his book, The Holocaust Industry, how imperialism, having adopted zionist Israel, has used its own past crimes (against the Jews) to attempt to divert criticism from the very real terrorist crimes of modern day zionism.
For this service, Mr Finkelstein too has been labelled anti-Semitic and a ‘self-hating Jew’ by the orthodox zionist clique.
The words of Theodor Herzl, quoted by Harpal Brar in the introduction to his book Imperialism in the Middle East are instructive in this regard:
“[F]or Europe we shall create there in Palestine an outpost against Asia, we shall be the vanguard of the civilised world against barbarism . . . England with her possessions in Asia should be most interested in Zionism . . . The shortest route to India is by way of Palestine. And so I believe in England that the idea of Zionism, which is a colonial idea, should easily be understood. “
And this from Arthur Balfour, British foreign secretary, in 1917:
“The four great powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-old traditions, in present needs, in future hopes of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land . . . Whatever deference should be paid to the views of those living there, the powers in their selection of a mandatory do not propose, as I understand the matter, to consult them.”
Israel, then, in the words of its founder, is a colonial idea. The suffering of the Palestinian people is in aid of oil and empire.
Those who make the wounds
At this point, I would like to introduce the testimony of Comrade Norman Bethune, a Canadian surgeon who went to the aid of republican Spain and then served in the medical corps of the Chinese communist eighth route army fighting Japanese colonial fascism in the 1930s.
After spending another long night operating on the wounded soldiers, just behind the front line, he described his night’s work: amputating legs, opening abdomens and sewing up perforated loops of bowel, debriding the jagged wounds of the young soldiers’ shattered limbs; fighting blood loss and infection, everywhere infection.
And he extended his medical care to the young Japanese soldiers too, noting their similarity to their Chinese brothers; their workers’ hands.
‘Who is responsible for these crimes?’ he asked himself. Should we not seek the guilty party by looking for those with a motive – as we would solve any other crime? Who stands to gain by sending a million Japanese soldiers to butcher a million more Chinese?
“Behind all stands that terrible, implacable God of Business and Blood, whose name is Profit. Money, like an insatiable Moloch, demands its interest, its return, and will stop at nothing, not even the murder of millions, to satisfy its greed. Behind the army stand the militarists. Behind the militarists stand finance capital and the capitalist. Brothers in blood; companions in crime.
“What do these enemies of the human race look like? Do they wear on their foreheads a sign so that they may be told, shunned and condemned as criminals? No. On the contrary. They are the respectable ones. They are honoured. They call themselves, and are called, gentlemen. What a travesty on the name, Gentlemen! They are the pillars of the state, of the church, of society. They support private and public charity out of the excess of their wealth. They endow institutions. In their private lives they are kind and considerate. They obey the law, their law, the law of property. But there is one sign by which these gentle gunmen can be told. Threaten a reduction on the profit of their money and the beast in them awakes with a snarl. They become ruthless as savages, brutal as madmen, remorseless as executioners. Such men as these must perish if the human race is to continue. There can be no permanent peace in the world while they live. Such an organisation of human society as permits them to exist must be abolished.
“‘These men make the wounds’”.
The current situation
Years of colonial humiliation inflicted by Israel have been punctured by growing periods of militant Palestinian struggle, exemplified by the 1987 Intifada (or uprising).
Following the first gulf war and collapse of the Soviet Union, Yasser Arafat negotiated with Yitzak Rabin to accomplish the historic Oslo Accords of 1993, which could have acted as the basis of a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinian people. At that time, the PFLP did not agree with the compromise, but the Palestinian people were thirsty for peace and an accommodation.
Rabin, in fact, was shot dead by zionist extremists for his ‘betrayal’ two years later.
Constant delays, foot dragging and failures to implement the promised changes (culminating with Ehud Barak’s total intransigence at Camp David in July 2000) led to the exhaustion of Palestinian patience and a return to more militant forms of struggle.
The Al-Aqsa Intifada was triggered in September 2000 by violation of the Haram al-Sharif compound, where the Al-Aqsa mosque (Islam’s third holiest shrine) and the Temple on the Mount (deemed holy by Judaism) are situated. Sharon marched on the mosque, accompanied by some 2,000 armed security personnel and IDF thugs, in order to send the clear message that Israel would never give up East Jerusalem, or indeed the idea of a greater, ‘Eretz’, Israel. The following day, Israeli gunships opened fire on Palestinian worshippers, killing 10 and injuring more than 200.
A sea of anger followed, bringing an increase in reprisal attacks within Israel and Palestine. Not only was there a rise of retaliatory attacks on Israeli army and militia, but reprisals were increasingly directed at the US puppet-master, as exemplified by the attack on the USS Cole as she lay at anchor in Yemen.
Israel has taken to Nazi-style punishment bombings of civilian flats and districts in Gaza and the West Bank. We are regularly subjected to the horrific spectacle of seeing her rain bullets, bombs and rockets on innocent Palestinian civilians, using the latest and most sophisticated jet fighters, attack helicopter gunships and field artillery guns to kill and maim Palestinian civilians en masse.
After the sad Death of Yasser Arafat on 11 November 2004, Mahmoud Abbas was selected as the new leader of the PLO, and swept to victory in presidential elections. Unlike his much-lamented predecessor, however, he was clearly much swayed by the influence of the US, and has failed to steadfastly uphold the minimum demands of Palestinian people for a two-state solution, namely:
· A Palestinian state on 1967 Borders (22 percent of historic Palestine);
· East Jerusalem as its capital;
· The release of all political prisoners;
· The right of return for all refugees (now grown in number to 5 million);
· An end to the building of settlements inside the 1967 borders of Palestine;
· The destruction of the apartheid wall (which, incidentally, is robbing another 20 percent of meagre Palestinian territory, along with many of its precious water and other resources).
Palestinians lost faith in the former PLO leadership and voted for the principled and uncompromising stance of Hamas in the parliamentary elections of January 2006.
US and Israel have encouraged Abbas to split the unity of the Palestinian people, so jealously guarded by Arafat – and, indeed, by Dr George Habash and the PFLP – and continue to disregard their own allegedly cherished principles of democracy by refusing to recognise the results of the January 2006 election.
So displeased were the US and EU by the defiance of the Palestinians that they halted all aid to Palestine following Hamas’ election victory, finally hitting on the perverse tactic of reinstating partial aid in June 2006 (after international pressure in light of the suffering they were causing), but insisting that this should flow through the discredited Abbas leadership, in a further cynical bid to starve the Palestinians out of supporting Hamas.
While the US is intensifying its genocidal wars against the long-suffering peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, and as Iran is feeling itself under increasing threat, Israel is being re-affirmed as a pillar of US military strategy: that country’s ‘largest aircraft carrier in the Middle East’.
Annapolis conference and the siege of Gaza
To divert attention at this crucial time from the suffering of the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans, not to mention the power games being played out in Pakistan and across the region, the representatives of some 47 countries were invited to attend international ‘peace talks’ on the future of Palestine in Annapolis, the capital of Maryland (US).
Both the democratically elected Hamas government of the Palestinian people and the Iranian government were conspicuous by their absence, however, making a mockery of the entire proceedings.
Mass demonstrations throughout Palestine took place to express the anger of the people and oppose the talks. In the words of Khaled Meshal, Hamas leader:
“While the Palestinian people are divided, no-one is authorised to give up an inch of land, exchange it or give up the right of return.
“Strategically, the US is setting the stage and covering up for the upcoming American war in the region . . . There are preparations for an American war on Iran, and perhaps other parties – Syria, Lebanon and Hizbollah. Therefore America is distracting us with a false game and is preparing for the real one.”
Since 19 September 2007, Gaza has been officially dubbed ‘enemy territory’ by Israel, and its 1.5 million inhabitants have been under siege. The following statistics paint a graphic picture of life as it currently stands inside the world’s biggest ever death camp:
· 80 percent of Gazans are reliant on food aid, receiving just two thirds of their recommended daily calorific intake;
· 90 percent of Gazans are living below the poverty line;
· Electricity has been cut off and diesel supplies stopped;
· Water supplies from Israel have been cut off, with the result that 210,000 people have access to water for just two hours a day;
· Medicines and essential supplies are being denied.
· The 900 supply trucks that formerly entered the territory daily have been reduced to a mere 15 per day (1.5 percent).
The people of Gaza are being collectively punished for supporting Hamas; for supporting the party that maintained military pressure on Israel at a time when the Palestinian population was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the willingness of the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, to toe the line of Israel and the US.
On 17 January, all borders between Gaza and the outside world were completely sealed, preventing any relief from this Israeli-created hell. This proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as far as the inhabitants of Gaza were concerned. With absolutely nothing to lose, they rebelled en masse and, on 23 January, the Egyptian border was breached, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians crossed into Egypt to buy essential goods.
The Israeli authorities are rightly worried that the next such breach might see masses marching into their confiscated homeland within Israel itself.
Meanwhile, the constant military violence against the imprisoned people of Gaza has never ceased. Even since the farcical Annapolis ‘peace’ talks, 117 people have been killed by the Israeli army in Gaza, bringing the total killed since the beginning of the second Intifada to 6,067.
The silence from the ‘international community’, so prepared to take part in the ‘peace process’ for Palestine, has been deafening. While claiming to be unable to sit and talk with Hamas, which is apparently ‘too violent’ (ie, is taking a steadfast anti-imperialist stand against Israeli oppression), the various imperialist powers appear to have been no such qualms about having Israel at the conference while it continues violently to oppress the Palestinian people.
There have been no demands on Israel to end the siege, or calls by the self-styled ‘champions of human rights’ and ‘humanitarian watchdogs’ of the US and Britain for a major outcome of the so-called peace conference to be at the very least the end of the siege. What a sham!
For any negotiations on the future of Israel/Palestine to be successful, they must be on the basis of the minimum programme of the Palestinian people: full Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
This programme was set in motion at Oslo and stopped in its tracks at Camp David (by the total intransigence of the Israeli and US negotiators). Israel has shown that it is unwilling or unable to take that route; therefore the Palestinians have no choice but to resume their campaign of armed resistance in pursuit of a single Palestinian state over all of historic Palestine.
According to Uri Avnery, an Israeli commentator:
“At long last there exists in the world a consensus that peace in our region must be based on the co-existence of the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Our government has slipped into it and is exploiting this agreement with another aim altogether: the rule of Israel in the whole country and the turning of the Palestinian population centers into a series of Bantustans. This is in fact a one state solution (Greater Israel) in the guise of a two state solution.”
Olmert himself has stated:
“[I]f the day comes when the two state solution collapses, and we face a South African style freedom struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”
Israel as it is cannot continue – either it must grant the minimum demands of a Palestinian state, or, by its intransigence, it will indeed get the one-state solution, but not that which it desires – historical Palestine will be reborn!
Dr George Habash
Comrade Habash was born to the Christian Arab community in Al-Lid (Lydda), Palestine. Sent to Jaffa (now Tel Aviv) and Jerusalem for secondary education at orthodox Christian schools, he excelled in his studies. From there he passed to Beirut where he entered the American university, going on to study medicine.
In the words of Comrade Habash:
“Politics was out of my mind, and it never occurred to me that I would get involved in it, and that it would become my whole life.
“This condition of mine remained constant up till the beginning of my fourth year in the university, my second year in the school of medicine. When one day a friend in the university . . . approached me and said that there was a professor in the university – meaning Dr Constantine Zureik – who was conducting small closed cultural circles, talking . . . about Arab nationalism and about the Arab nation and how and why it should resurrect. He suggested to me the idea of attending these circles . . .
“That was at the end of June/July 1948, when zionists had been trying to complete the uprooting of Palestinians from their homes and land, which at the time had reached its peak. The year ended and the university closed its doors. I told myself that I should go to Palestine and to Al-Lid in particular. Zionist forces uprooted the people of Yafa to temporally settle in Al-Lid. But my parents asked me to stay in Beirut, and sent me money; my mother was always worrying about me a lot. My arrival surprised the family and my mother said, ‘What do you want to do, son?’ And my sister for her part added asked: ‘What could you do?’ I wondered whether I could fight. I had already started studying medicine and probably I could help in this field. There was in the hospital a doctor of the Zahlan family, and I started assisting him.
“Al-Lid, like other Palestinian Arab cities and villages was in severe condition of confusion and worry. Zionist airplanes were bombarding Palestinians and frightening them. Conditions were severe and horrible.
“I was involved in my work when my mother’s aunt came to the hospital and told me that my mother was worrying about me and asked me to return home. I refused and insisted on remaining in the hospital, but she insisted and I in my turn insisted on doing my duty. When I continued refusing then she told me that my elder sister, whom I dearly loved, had passed away. On my way back home I saw people in the streets in a severe condition of fright, and the injured, including some that I knew, lying unattended on the sidewalk.
“We buried my sister near our house, as reaching the graveyard was impossible. Three hours later, zionist terrorists attacked our house shouting and ordering us to leave in Arabic, ‘Yala Barah, yala barah ukhrojo’; ‘Go out, leave’. My mother and I, along with my sister’s children – including a baby whom we carried – walked with our relatives and neighbours. We didn’t know where to go. The terrorists were ordering us to walk, and we walked. It was a very hot day, and it was Ramadan. Some of those around us were saying ‘This is resurrection day’ and others said ‘This is hell’. Upon reaching the end of the town we saw a zionist checkpoint to search the people. We didn’t have any arms or weapons. And it seemed that our neighbour’s son, Amin Hanhan, was hiding money; fearing that they steal it from him, he refused to be searched. The terrorists shot him dead just in front of us. His mother and his younger sister rushed to him and started wailing. His younger brother, Bishara, was a friend and classmate of mine, and we used to study together.
“You ask me why I chose this path, why did I become an Arab nationalist? This zionism claims to speak about peace? This is the zionism I know, saw and experienced.”
In memory of Comrade Norman Bethune
I think the words paid in tribute to Dr Norman Bethune by Mao Zedong go a long way to explaining the reasons British workers should support the Palestinians in struggle.
They are also a fitting tribute to Comrade Al-Hakim, Dr George Habash.
“Comrade Norman Bethune, a member of the Communist Party of Canada, was around 50 when he was sent by the communist parties of Canada and the United States to China; he made light of travelling thousands of miles to help us in our war of resistance against Japan. He arrived in Yenan in the spring of last year, went to work in the Wutai Mountains, and to our great sorrow died a martyr at his post.
“What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own? It is the spirit of internationalism, the spirit of communism, from which every Chinese communist must learn.
“Leninism teaches that the world revolution can only succeed if the proletariat of the capitalist countries supports the struggle for liberation of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples and if the proletariat of the colonies and semi-colonies supports that of the proletariat of the capitalist countries. Comrade Bethune put this Leninist line into practice.
“We Chinese communists must also follow this line in our practice. We must unite with the proletariat of all the capitalist countries, with the proletariat of Japan, Britain, the United States, Germany, Italy and all other capitalist countries, for this is the only way to overthrow imperialism, to liberate our nation and people and to liberate the other nations and peoples of the world.
“This is our internationalism, the internationalism with which we oppose both narrow nationalism and narrow patriotism.”
Mao ended his tribute to Dr Norman Bethune with words that apply equally well to Comrade Habash:
“Now we are all commemorating him, which shows how profoundly his spirit inspires everyone. We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him. With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people. A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already noble-minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people.”
Comrade Habash was such a man.
Long live the memory and example of Comrade Al-Hakim, Dr George Habash!
Victory to the Intifada!