Despicable attack on Gaza
On 27 December, Israel launched its latest campaign of indiscriminate killing and destruction, this time directed at the people of Gaza. Over the course of three weeks, over 1,300 Gazan Palestinians were killed. The vast majority of these were unarmed civilians, and at least 400 of them children, giving lie to Israel’s claims that its bombs were targeted against resistance fighters. Several thousand people were severely wounded, and a hundred thousand were displaced.
Massive numbers of homes and public buildings were destroyed, including several UN buildings (the repair cost of which the UN has estimated at around two billion US dollars). Israeli targets included schools, hospitals, ambulances, playgrounds, government buildings and a university.
The attack, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, was characteristically brutal – UN special rapporteur Richard Falk (a Jew living in the US) said that the situation in Gaza brought forth “the worst kind of international memories of the Warsaw Ghetto” (Haaretz, 24 January).
Calling for a war crimes investigation, Falk noted that Israel paid not the slightest attention to the welfare of the people of Gaza. “There could have been temporary provision at least made for children, disabled, sick civilians to leave, even if where they left to was southern Israel.” The arrogant response of Israel’s foreign ministry was to dismiss Falk as “a well-known Israel hater”, adding: “There’s no need to lose one’s temper”.
An article in The Telegraph of 21 January, entitled ‘Israel accused of executing parents in front of children in Gaza’, contained some harrowing eyewitness accounts of Israeli brutality. “One nine-year-old boy said his father had been shot dead in front of him despite surrendering to Israeli soldiers with his hands in the air… Rawya Borno, a Jordanian doctor, said civilians, including children, were rounded up and killed by Israeli troops. In interviews with ITV News, Palestinians claimed that Israeli forces knowingly killed civilians in Zeitoun on the morning of Jan 14….’
Particularly audacious (and stupid, given the international reaction) were the attacks on UN-run establishments, including the UN’s Gaza headquarters, a hospital, a school and a building used by the media. According to the Independent of 16 January, “three members of UN staff were injured when three Israeli shells hit the headquarters, setting it on fire. Thousands of tonnes of desperately needed food and humanitarian supplies were destroyed and about 700 refugees given shelter in the building had to be evacuated. UN officials said the shells were white phosphorus, believed to have been responsible for burns suffered by some Palestinian civilians.” UNRWA (the UN agency responsible for the welfare of Palestinians) reported that five of its staff members were killed during the invasion.
The IDF predictably claimed that the UN-run schools where “infiltrated by Palestinian terrorists”, and yet there “was not a single armed resistance fighter found among the 40 bodies recovered from the rubble by the United Nations workers, International Red Cross and Palestinian medical crews at the girls’ elementary school; all were children, teachers and refugees. Every organization and individual eyewitness refutes the Zionist-American apology of the Israeli bombing of the school, including the entire European Union.” (James Petras, ‘Israel Asserting Middle East Supremacy: From Gaza to Tehran’)
Use of chemical weapons and depleted uranium
There is abundant evidence that Israel used banned weapons in its vicious attack on Gaza. According to Amnesty International, white phosphorous munitions were used “indiscriminately and illegally” in overcrowded areas of Gaza (white phosphorus is a hugely incendiary substance that bursts into all-consuming flames that cannot be extinguished with water, burning flesh to the bone and often leading to death). Amnesty said that “weapons experts in Gaza found white phosphorus artillery shells marked M825 A1 – a US-made munition – throughout the coastal strip” (‘Amnesty International: Gaza white phosphorus shells were US made’, The Times, 24 February). Researcher Donatella Rovera declaimed the use of white phosphorus in no uncertain terms: “The repeated use in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime.” (Reuters, 19 January). Indeed, the use of white phosphorus (or any other incendiary weapon) in civilian areas is prohibited under Article 1 of Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Israel is a signatory.
Further, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that traces of depleted uranium had been found in victims of Israeli shelling (see Haaretz, 19 January). In the words of the IAEA, there is a “high risk of developing cancer from exposure to radiation emitted by … depleted uranium weapons” (cited from Press TV, 22 January). Depleted uranium weapons, known to have been used extensively by Nato bombers against Yugoslavia and the US-led coalition against Iraq, are classified under the Geneva Convention as ‘illegal weapons of mass destruction’.
Attempts to starve the population into submission
For the duration of its attack, and indeed for several weeks in the run-up to it, Israel prevented practically all supply trucks from entering Gaza, thereby depriving the population of food, water and medicine.
The February/March issue of Proletarian reported that: “UNWRA and the World Food Programme are the two main food providers in Gaza, with the former feeding 750,000 people. On 5 November 2008, Israel closed all access into and out of Gaza, preventing food, medicine, fuel, spare parts for water and sanitation systems, fertilisers, plastic sheeting, telephones, paper, glue, shoes and even teacups getting through in adequate quantities.
“On average, 4.6 trucks of food per day entered Gaza in November 2008, compared to an average of 123 in October and 564 in December 2005. Between 5 and 30 November, a mere 6 percent of the requisite food was allowed into Gaza. Not surprisingly, then, on 18 December, UNWRA was forced to suspend all food distribution because of the blockade.
“The World Food Programme has had problems of a similar nature, being allowed to send only 35 trucks out of the 190 it had planned to send to cover the needs of Gaza’s population until the start of February this year.”
What could possibly justify the blockade of food and medicine? It is abundantly clear that Israel was cynically trying to starve the population of Gaza into dropping its support for Hamas.
At midnight on Saturday 17 January, after 22 days of full-scale bombing, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire. Shortly after, Hamas declared its own ceasefire, with the condition that the Israeli army withdraw completely within a week.
Negotiations have been, and are, taking place with a view to establishing a more permanent truce, but no deal has been reached at the time of writing, as the Israeli side is insisting that any opening of border crossings – obviously crucial in terms of the resumption of normal life in Gaza – be linked to the return of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian resistance fighters from Kerem Shalom (a kibbutz on the Gaza-Egypt border) in June 2006.
Chomsky points out the twisted logic of the Israeli demands: “Israel insisted that no ceasefire can be implemented without the return of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. He is a household name in the West, unlike the Muammar brothers, the two Gaza civilians kidnapped in an IDF raid one day before the capture of Shalit. Uncontroversially, kidnapping civilians is a far more serious crime than capture of a soldier of an attacking army, but in the West, only Shalit exists – and of course there is no attention to Israel’s regular practice over many decades of kidnapping civilians in Lebanon or on the high seas, sending them to Israeli prisons, sometimes secret prisons, sometimes held as hostages for many years. But thanks to deep-seated Western racism and imperial mentality, the Israel demand that there can be no ceasefire without the release of Shalit appears reasonable.” (Noam Chomsky interviewed by Assaf Kfoury, ZNet, 9 February).
Similarly, Mustafa Barghouthi writes: “Despite having thousands of our civilian brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, mothers and daughters in Israeli prisons routinely subjected to torture, we are told to immediately release a single captured Israeli soldier – or face another wave of high-tech brutality.” (‘Steadfast Before Goliath’, commondreams.org, 9 February).
Reasons for the Operation Cast Lead – ostensible and real
The main theme of Israel’s public justification for its onslaught against Gaza was the need to protect Israeli civilians from Palestinian rocket attacks. The utter idiocy and implausibility of the idea that a full-scale bombardment – killing over a thousand people – was a reasonable response to a phenomenon that has resulted in a grand total of 17 Israeli deaths in seven years is the number one reason that people across the world came out onto the streets in their hundreds of thousands to oppose Israel’s Nazi-like activities. As Avi Shlaim, writing in the Guardian of 7 January, notes: “Israel’s insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash” (‘How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe’) .
Shlaim continues: “As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted – a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, ‘crying and shooting’”.
Israel’s true agenda is unequivocal, and is an extension of the policy it has been following for decades: use every trick in the book to disrupt the unity of the Palestinian national movement, and do anything possible to isolate the most militant sections of that movement. Many years ago, that meant funding Hamas in order to build an alternative power base to the secular and at that time highly militant Fatah. In 2009, it means backing the most compromising and right-wing elements within Fatah (led by Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan) and waging maximum war against Hamas and the other active resistance groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. To quote Avi Shlaim again:
“Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.
“America and the EU shamelessly joined Israel in ostracising and demonising the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.” (ibid)
There is nothing Israel would like more than to see regime change effected in Gaza, as it already has been in the West Bank. Indeed, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said openly just a few days before the start of the bombing: “The state of Israel, and a government under me, will make it a strategic objective to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza. The means for doing this should be military, economic and diplomatic.” (BBC News Online, 22 December).
An additional factor behind the timing of the war was the Israeli general election, which took place a month and a half after the start of the war. The possibility of knocking Hamas out of the political scene was simply too tempting for the various contending political leaders in Israel.
The Palestinian resistance remains undefeated
Notwithstanding the horrific loss of life and the extraordinary level of damage to public and private property caused by the Israeli attack, it must be said that Israel well and truly failed in its war aims, while the population of Gaza demonstrated an unbreakable resolve. The February/March issue of Proletarian remarked that “while no Arab army hitherto has successfully withstood Israeli military assaults for more than a couple of weeks, Hizbollah and Hamas have faced the Israeli army for 34 and 22 days respectively – and emerged stronger from the contest.”
Israel hoped to wipe out Hamas and to detach it from its support base. From this perspective, the war was an unmitigated failure. Hamas remains very much intact, as does its military capability – indeed, in the hours between Israel’s unilateral ceasefire and the Hamas ceasefire, the Palestinian resistance fired more than 20 rockets into Israel. Hamas’s popularity is greater than ever, and it enjoys a far greater legitimacy in the eyes of the masses of the world than it ever did before.
Israel had been preparing for the war for months, refusing to let crucial supplies in and trying to starve the Palestinians into submission. The population of Gaza responded with a remarkable creativity and resolve. Sara Flounders, writing in the Workers World of 8 February, writes that: “The Israeli blockade led to a new economic structure, an underground economy. The besieged Palestinians have dug more than 1,000 tunnels under the totally sealed border. Many thousands of Palestinians are now employed in digging, smuggling or transporting, and reselling essential goods. Smuggling constitutes approximately 90 percent of economic activity in Gaza, Gazan economist Omar Shaban told The Guardian.” (‘Resistance takes as many forms as life itself dictates’). Flounders further notes: “A population with skills, education, massive unemployment, lots of time and no future will be able to build rockets, mortars, pipe bombs and mines out of the tons of scrap metal and twisted ruins that Israel left behind.”
The truth is that Israel didn’t even get close to victory. Although they launched a land invasion (on 3 January), their soldiers and tanks didn’t dare enter the cities for fear that they would be swiftly wiped out by a Palestinian resistance movement that has shown time and time again that it is more passionate, more willing, more creative and more intelligent than its opponents.
Reactionary Arab regimes lose big
The shocking behaviour of the pro-western Arab regimes, unwilling to do anything to support their Palestinian brothers and happy to go along with every Israeli atrocity, served to further open the eyes of the Arab masses as to the truly reactionary nature of these regimes. The Egyptian government in particular suffered a huge fall-out as a result of its active support for Israel’s reckless campaign (not coincidentally, Egypt is the number two recipient of US aid, after Israel).
Egypt refused to open the Rafah crossing between it and Gaza, and massively escalated its security force in order to restrict the underground transfer of arms and supplies into Palestine. This increased security force is still in place. Daniel Kurtzer, US Ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, pointed out that there has been “a renewed emphasis on the part of the Egyptian authorities to see what they could do to curb the smuggling and to increase both their technical and human resources along that border to try and stop Hamas rearming to the extent it was before.” (cited in ‘What was Egypt’s real Gaza role?’, BBC News Online, 10 February).
Much has been made of the fact that the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, went to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak just 48 hours before the start of the Gaza campaign. It is difficult not to share the analysis of the Arab street, i.e. that Livni went to Gaza in order to instruct Mubarak to increase border security and to be prepared to support a Fatah-led administration in Gaza should Israel succeed in forcing a surrender from Hamas.
Egypt is certainly known to be amenable to this sort of plan. Issander el Amrani of The International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution NGO, pointed out: “It is clear that the Egyptians will not tolerate in the long term what they call ‘an Islamic emirate of Gaza’. The eventual goal through whatever means is to remove Hamas from having sole control of the Gaza Strip. It is very clear that there has been a collaboration with the Israelis that surpassed anything that has happened before.”
The reaction by the Arab masses to this betrayal has been a torrent of popular anger. Enormous demonstrations have taken place in Egypt, under the slogan “Gaza, forgive us”, and there is a popular campaign in progress to prevent the Egyptian regime from supplying natural gas to Israel. Alberto Cruz writes: “The resistance of Gaza’s inhabitants and the intelligent strategy of Hamas has taken the reactionary Arab regimes by surprise. They have to face their peoples given that their survival depends on it. Arab Press editorials are very clear in this regard, although the surest analysis is perhaps that of the Lebanese ‘Daily Star’ from January 9th, ‘Gaza is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the danger for Arab States.’ And it points out, ‘non-State agents are going to gain more influence (among Arab people) at the expense of disgraced governments and an inert Arab leadership’” (‘The massacre in Gaza puts the Mubarak regime in serious trouble’, Global Research, 16 January) .
Other Arab regimes seen as selling out to Israel (such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan) have also come under fire, whereas those governments that have come out unambiguously in support of the Palestinian struggle (such as Syria, Qatar and Yemen) are enjoying a surge in popularity.
Meanwhile, the Vichy government in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas has suffered badly as a result of the bombardment, as it is well known that the Israeli/US plan is to replace Hamas with the Palestinian Authority under Abbas. Indeed, an interview last autumn given by the de facto West Bank chief of staff, General Dhiab al-Ali (Abu al-Fatah), puts Operation Cast Iron in an interesting light:
“‘If Gaza remains mutinous the Palestinian Authority will have no choice but to use force against it,’ Ali said in a recent interview with Haaretz at his Ramallah offices.
“Ali said the PA has not ruled out using force if the territory remains in Hamas’ hands.
“‘There haven’t yet been consultations with the Israelis on the issue,’ Ali said. ‘We hope we won’t need that option – for us it’s the last choice for unifying the homeland – but we must be prepared to implement it. If you want to transport forces [to Gaza] you need different weapons and different capabilities [than those currently available]. There must be Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian agreement. But if circumstances permit then we must reunify the homeland.’” (Haaretz, 22 September 2008)
This shockingly candid interview confirms what many Palestinian commentators have been saying for over a year: that Abbas and his henchmen are working with Israel and the most reactionary Arab regimes to overthrow the elected government in Gaza.
The widespread excitement over the election of Barack Obama had led many supporters of Palestine to assume that Obama would identify himself with the Palestinian cause and speak out against the Israeli assault on Gaza – after all, surely this would be consistent with his supposed new-look foreign policy. However, Obama kept silent for the length of the campaign.
It should be noted here that Obama’s pro-Israel sympathies are beyond question. On a trip to the Israeli border town Sderot in August, he stated that “if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that”.
In his first major statement regarding the Middle East since taking office, Obama said: “Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats. Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements. Going forward, the outline for a durable cease-fire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm” (Washington Post, 22 January).
He continued: “For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror” Not a mention of the slaughter and ignominious repression of the Palestinians. No mention that the house under attack, and in which his daughters sleep, has been stolen by the occupiers and the attackers are its legitimate owners – who had been expelled from it at gunpoint.
This totally one-sided and false analysis differs in no meaningful way from the line taken by the Bush regime. As Chomsky points out: “Omitted are the inconvenient facts that the US-Israel are not only dedicated to the destruction of any viable Palestinian state, but are steadily implementing those policies. Or that unlike the two rejectionist states, Hamas has called for a two-state settlement in terms of the international consensus: publicly, repeatedly, explicitly” (‘Neither the US nor Israel is a “genuine party to peace”’, Information Clearing House) .
John Pilger, writing in the New Statesman of 5 February, points out: “Obama’s administration is the most Zionist in living memory – a truth that has struggled to be told from beneath the soggy layers of Obama-love. Not a single member of Obama’s team demurred from Obama’s support for Israel’s barbaric actions in Gaza. Obama himself likened the safety of his two young daughters with that of Israeli children while making not a single reference to the thousands of Palestinian children killed with American weapons – a violation of both international and US law. He did, however, demand that the people of Gaza be denied ‘smuggled’ small arms with which to defend themselves against the world’s fourth largest military power. And he paid tribute to the Arab dictatorships, such as Egypt, which are bribed by the US Treasury to help the US and Israel enforce policies described by the United Nations Rapporteur, Richard Falk, a Jew, as ‘genocidal’.”
Zionism starting to lose its grip on the Jewish community
One entirely welcome outcome of the Israeli attack on Gaza is the increased size and visibility of the anti-Zionist element within the Jewish community. The moronic arguments put forward by the international Jewish leaders in support of the Israeli government have “finally provoked vigorous opposition among leading Jewish intellectuals, writers and other professionals. New organizations and personalities have emerged within the Jewish community, which have forcibly repudiated Israel’s genocide. Some Jewish activists have taken bold direct actions, occupying Israeli consular offices in a few major cities and calling for a total boycott of Israeli goods and academic exchanges. Others have confronted Zionist apologists in public forums and press conferences.” (Petras, op. cit.)
In Australia, more than 100 Australian Jews, including novelists Linda Jaivin and Sara Dowse, Greens MP Ian Cohen and former environment minister Moss Cass, signed a statement condemning the Israeli invasion of Gaza as inhuman and abominable. “We are Australian Jews who join thousands in Israel and around the world condemning ongoing Israeli military attacks on Gaza,” the signatories said. (AFP, 6 January)
In Toronto, Canada, eight Jewish women protesting Israel’s action were arrested after occupying the Israeli Consulate. In a news release, the group said the action was “in protest against the ongoing Israeli assault on the people of Gaza. The group is carrying out this occupation in solidarity with the 1.5 million people of Gaza and to ensure that Jewish voices against the massacre in Gaza are being heard.” The protesters said they wanted to “send a clear statement that many Jewish-Canadians do not support Israel’s violence and apartheid policies.”
In Los Angeles on 3 January, ten Jews chained themselves to the Israeli Consulate, demanding an end to the military action in Gaza. According to the LA Times: “Other activists who were not chained to the building walked in a circle outside the consulate, chanting: ‘Let Gaza live! End the siege now.’ One of the signs they carried read: ‘The Israeli consulate has been closed for war crimes.’”. The report quoted Hannah Howard, a spokeswoman for the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, saying: “Jews will not allow the violence that is being done in our name to continue. Not all Jews are united in support of Israel.”
Given the tight grip that Zionism has maintained over the Jewish community since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, these developments are significant and welcome.
Israeli elections: right = left.
The elections for the 18th Knesset on 10 February, necessary due to the resignation of Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister in the light of corruption allegations (Israeli voters tend to be far more concerned about corruption than genocide), demonstrated that the Israeli public has been well and truly fooled by its government’s rhetoric on Gaza. There is no question that the majority of Israelis want to live in peace and believe that the Palestinians deserve at least some form of state. However, they have been sold the lie that the obstacle to peace is not Israeli intransigence but the lack of a ‘willing partner for peace’ in the Palestinian camp. They have been duped into believing that Israel is under threat and that terrorists are putting Jewish lives at risk – indeed this myth is the one constant theme throughout the history of Israeli politics. So, Israelis voted for a ‘tough stance’ – for Israeli unilateralism with regard to solving the ‘Palestinian problem’; they voted for ‘internal security’.
There isn’t a cigarette-paper’s real difference between the policies of the major parties in Israel. A Xinhua report of 11 February notes that: “In Gaza, the poor and war-torn people see no difference between a right or a left wing party in Israel. All of them agreed that all what they want is to live in peace and improve their living conditions.” The article cites a Gazan taxi driver, Nidal Shaladan, as saying: “These parties have nearly similar programs and agendas that are mainly meant to create more sufferings and agonies to the Palestinian people and kill any hope for them to have their independent state.”
In the event, the elections were a very close call, with Kadima and Likud pretty much neck and neck. The biggest winners were the obscure ultra-right Yisrael Beiteinu, who came third, with 12% of the vote. The biggest losers were the Labor Party, who won under 10% of the vote, just two seats more than the uncompromisingly mad Shas party.
It fell to the President, Shimon Peres, to choose from Tzipi Livni (Kadima) and Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) to nominate as Prime Minister. He chose Netanyahu – a hawk even by Israeli standards – and gave him six weeks to put together a coalition.
John Pilger describes Netanyahu in the following colourful terms: “Netanyahu is a fanatic’s fanatic who has made clear his intention of attacking Iran. In the Wall Street Journal on 24 January, he described Iran as the ‘terrorist mother base’ and justified the murder of civilians in Gaza because ‘Israel cannot accept an Iranian terror base (Gaza) next to its major cities’. On 31 January, unaware he was being filmed, Israel’s ambassador in Australia described the massacres in Gaza as a ‘pre-introduction’ – dress rehearsal – for an attack on Iran.” (op. cit.)
The coalition government will be heavily dependent on Yisrael Beiteinu, whose leader, Avigdor Lieberman, has advocated deporting Arab Israelis who fail to swear an oath of loyalty to the state. In short, the new government will be as reactionary as any other Israeli government.
The healthiest reaction came from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who warned that the new government would be defeated in Lebanon just as its predecessors were.
“The good news is that Israel has become more candid and clearer … Do not to let [the election results] frighten you, because whoever comes to frighten us, all of them have been defeated in Lebanon – Begin, Sharon, Rabin, Barak, Netanyahu, Olmert, and Livni. There is one who has yet to try and that is Lieberman… He too will be defeated.” (Haaretz, 16 February)
Everyone has a part to play
The British working class has a responsibility to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. For decades, the Palestinians have been at the forefront of the fight against imperialism – a fight which is ours as well as theirs. What’s more, revolutionaries in the imperialist countries can take advantage of the widespread disgust with Israel’s vicious and indefensible campaign of terror to educate people about the role of British and US imperialism in supporting Israel. Let this be another thing that makes the people hate imperialism!
An important development over the last few weeks has been the resurgence of student activism, with numerous occupations being held at campuses around the country in protest at Israel’s actions. Emily Dugan, writing in the Independent of 8 February, writes: “They are the iPod generation of students: politically apathetic, absorbed by selfish consumerism, dedicated to a few years of hedonism before they land a lucrative job in the City. Not any more. A seismic change is taking place in British universities.
“Around the UK, thousands of students have occupied lecture theatres, offices and other buildings at more than 20 universities in sit-down protests. It seems that the spirit of 1968 has returned to the campus.
“Beginning with a 24-hour occupation at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on 13 January, the sit-ins spread across the country. Now occupations have been held at the LSE, Essex, King’s College London, Birmingham, Sussex, Warwick, Manchester Metropolitan, Oxford, Leeds, Cambridge, Sheffield Hallam, Bradford, Nottingham, Queen Mary, Manchester, Strathclyde, Newcastle, Kingston, Goldsmiths and Glasgow.
“Among the demands of students are disinvestment in the arms trade; the promise to provide scholarships for Palestinian students; a pledge to send books and unused computers to Palestine; and to condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza.”
In many cases, the students have been successful in extracting concessions from the universities’ committees. A CPGB-ML member who took part in the occupation at the University of the West of England reported that the university agreed to: send a letter of solidarity to Gaza University and a letter of protest to the BBC and Sky, condemning their refusal to air the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) aid appeal; fund one scholarship for a Palestinian student and underwrite the funds for a second; support fundraising events on campus to raise money for Gaza; and send surplus resources (computers, book etc) to Gaza via the DEC. To ensure that agreements are implemented will require continued student involvement and on-going campaigns.
The trade unions could have a massive impact if they chose to do so. If they wanted to end British economic support for Israel, they could do so. If they wanted to end the supply of British military equipment to Israel, they could do so.
As we have said before in relation to Iraq, the working class has the power to stop the war; it must learn to use it, even though this means making a break with the treacherous social democratic leadership that has been dragging the British working class up the garden path for far too long. At the moment, the students and a few courageous activist groups such as Smash EDO are leading the way in terms of real opposition to Israeli aggression. The working class needs to catch up and hold the banner of anti-imperialism firmly in its hands!
As a minimum, we urge all readers in Britain to join the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and to support its boycott of Israeli goods. Raise the issue of Palestine with your friends, family and colleagues, and help them to understand that Israeli barbarism is inextricably linked with US-British imperialism.
If we really want to help the Palestinians, we must join the fight against imperialism in all its forms.