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|Proletarian issue 12 (June 2006)
|Collective punishment will not crush the Palestinian resistance
|Following the election by Palestinians of a Hamas government in January 2006, the EU, Norway and Canada have followed the US’s lead in cutting off vital financial aid to the Palestinian Authority in a blatant and brutal attempt to starve the Palestinian people into removing support from their legitimate representatives.
|Despite the many UN resolutions declaring the Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and occupation of further Palestinian land since 1967 to be unlawful, Hamas, a party committed to resisting that occupation and protecting Palestinian rights and sovereignty, is being boycotted by the US and EU imperialists on the grounds that it is a ‘terrorist’ organisation. That Palestinian resistance to occupation is not only morally justified but also upheld under international law is almost never mentioned in the imperialist press. Nor is this resistance ever put in the context of the massive state terrorism of the Israeli occupation.
Denial of the Palestinians’ right to resist has been at the heart of imperialist black propaganda for decades. It is in the interests not only of the zionist settlers, who wish to legitimise their illegal seizure of another people’s land, but also, and more importantly, of the Anglo-American imperialists, without whose support the ethnically engineered and fascistic little state of Israel would collapse tomorrow. Israel was set up by British imperialism, and continues to be propped up by US imperialism, not because of its benefactors’ great love for the Jews, but because it was and is a vital tool in the imperialist quest to maintain control over the territory and resources of the oil-rich Middle East.
David and Goliath
Reading the imperialist press, it is easy to be misled into thinking the ‘trouble’ in Palestine is one between (unreasonable) equal powers. If anything, it is Israel, with its massive nuclear arsenal and US-supplied F16 fighter plans, that is portrayed as the poor defenceless David under fire from an unreasoning and brutal Arab Goliath. There is never a reference to the illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian territories by the expansionist settler state.
In fact, almost four times as many Palestinians have been killed and injured as Israelis in recent years. Since the start of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 2000, Palestinian resistance to occupation has been responsible for the death of 1,084 Israelis, while the vicious Israeli occupation has led to the death of 3,871 Palestinians. In the same period, 29,786 Palestinians have been injured, as opposed to 7,633 Israelis.
Why does Palestine need aid?
International aid to Palestine amounts to $1bn annually (a small sum compared to the more than $3bn given as economic and military aid by the US alone to Israel every year, plus the nearly $3bn more it receives in subsidies and favourable trade terms). This aid was part of the package agreed under the Oslo peace accords in 1993, as a result of which the Palestinian Authority (PA) was set up in order to supervise provision of basic services and oversee the transition period towards full independence that Palestinians were promised on 22 percent of historic Palestine in return for recognising Israel’s right to exist and keep control of the Palestinian lands it had stolen before 1967.
After nearly 40 years of occupation curfews, closures and checkpoints, the Palestinian economy has been so distorted and weakened that this outside aid is the only way of funding essential services such as healthcare, education, electricity and water provision. Now, instead of insisting that Israel abide by its commitments under Oslo to withdraw completely form the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and dismantle its illegal settlements, the imperialists are supporting the continuing, brutal Israeli occupation and rewarding Israeli expansionism by imposing sanctions not on the occupiers but on the victims of the occupation, an inhuman act of collective punishment that is in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention as well as of all standards of human decency.
Over 65 percent of the Palestinian population was already living in severe poverty as a result of the occupation, the confiscation of land for zionist settlements and the intimidation and murder of Palestinian farmers and fishermen by Israeli occupation forces and settlers. The building of the separation wall, which has grabbed more Palestinian land, sealed off whole towns and villages and made normal life impossible, has accelerated the decline in the Palestinian economy. Despite being ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, the wall’s construction continues apace – all part of the Israeli government’s plan unilaterally to redraw Israel’s borders at the further expense of the Palestinian people.
Effect of the sanctions
The catastrophic effects of the imperialist-imposed sanctions on Palestinian life have acted to compound the zionists’ own starvation tactics. Since January, Israeli occupation forces have closed off the main crossing points into Gaza, resulting in immediate and severe food shortages. The zionists have also been withholding tax and customs receipts, worth up to $50m a month, that they have collected ‘on behalf of’ the PA. While the UN is warning of a humanitarian disaster, the Israeli government is threatening to cut off fuel because of outstanding Palestinian debts, normally paid from the very tax receipts Israel is illegally holding back.
So far in the occupied territories, some 165,000 public employees, including 11,000 health workers and 38,000 teachers, have received no pay for three months, with devastating consequences for their dependants and for the wider community. In a situation where Israeli occupation has crushed the Palestinian economy and unemployment stands at 75 percent in many areas, these government workers’ salaries directly support around a million people, a quarter of all Palestinians, and indirectly support even more through the demand their salaries create for goods and services in the economy
Now, as food stocks disappear, soaring inflation is affecting the price of daily necessities, pushing the mass of Palestinians even deeper into poverty. According to the World Bank, 75 percent of Palestinians now live below the poverty line. John Ging, UN Operation Director in Palestine, says the situation is becoming desperate: “This is the first time bread has been rationed. There is no sugar, oil, milk, the basics.”
Malnutrition amongst children, particularly those under five years old, is on the rise. Over 40 percent of Gazan children now suffer from malnutrition as a direct consequence of the sanctions.
The healthcare situation is equally dire. As the supply of medicines dries up, many hospitals have been forced to close. Even where hospitals are managing to offer a few basic services, many Palestinians have stopped attending clinics and surgeries for treatment because they can’t afford to pay even the nominal fees charged, or to buy what few medicines are available. Mental health problems are similarly on the rise among Palestinians, and especially among children.
Meanwhile, important public institutions (and local employers) such as waterworks, schools, universities etc are spiralling into crisis, and parents are keeping their children away from school rather than try to meet the daily costs of transport and stationery.
Imperialist hypocrisy and double standards
The official excuse being given out to justify this barbaric and indiscriminate onslaught against an entire population is the Hamas government’s failure to ‘recognise Israel’s right to exist’ and to ‘renounce violence’. No mention is made by the US and EU purveyors of ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ and their spokespeople in the bourgeois press that this policy of mass starvation is quite as violent and indiscriminate in its destruction of human life as any bomb. And while the imperialists are busy trying to starve Palestinians into repudiating their elected representatives and giving up their legitimate resistance, no-one has threatened Israel with similar consequences if it doesn’t end its own, much greater, violence against the Palestinians or recognise the pre-1967 borders of the Palestinian state and the right of Palestinian refugees expelled at gunpoint in 1948 to return to their homes.
Quite the contrary. Israel continues to seize land, expand settlements, build the illegal separation wall, assassinate Palestinian leaders, use massive and indiscriminate violence against the Palestinian population and denounce the Oslo accords, refusing point blank to honour its commitments under them, in return for which outrages, the zionists receive not censure and sanctions but the reward of favoured EU trade status and billions of dollars in subsidies from the US government.
Indeed, the two-faced and cynical hypocrisy of imperialism knows no bounds. Let us not forget that rather than denouncing and boycotting the government of Ariel Sharon, a known war criminal responsible for the massacre of thousands of women, children and old people in Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt, political representatives of imperialism in the US and Britain rushed to do business with him, describing him as a ‘man of peace’, while the whole Palestinian population is routinely denounced by western bourgeois politicians and journalists as ‘terrorist’ and ‘fundamentalist’.
In public, the representatives of US and EU imperialism are shedding crocodile tears over the fate of ‘innocent’ Palestinians, and making much of plans to find a way to direct aid through ‘alternative’ (ie, non-governmental) channels. But even if any such funding were to find its way into Palestine, it is clear that it would be used not to help the people there but to further the imperialist cause-celebre of undermining the Hamas government, for, as Ghada Karmi put it in The Guardian: “how essential services can be run without a central administration is hard to imagine”.
It is worth noting that, at the same time as the US government was making noises about providing ‘alternative aid’ for ‘innocent’ Palestinians, the US senate on 23 May voted 361-37 in favour of cutting off aid not only to Hamas but also to non-governmental groups working in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The world's silence in the face of this cruelty is astonishing. There is no international outcry against a policy whose transparent objective is to goad the Palestinians into overthrowing the government they elected in favour of one more pliant to Israel's designs. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan is to draw Israel's border ‘unilaterally’, annexing the large West Bank settlement blocs and keeping Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. The roads connecting it to Israel will bisect Palestinian territory.
“What remains, 58 percent at most, together with the Gaza prison, will form the ‘Palestinian state’. Olmert will be in Washington soon, no doubt seeking a rubber stamp. The idea is presumably that the Palestinians – dispersed and powerless – will then no longer be in Israel's way. Anyone who believes this, as the west's unthinking support for Israel seems to suggest, knows nothing about history or the will of peoples to resist injustice.” (‘Where is the global outcry at this continuing cruelty?’ by Ghada Karmi, The Guardian, 15 May 2006)
Impossible demands for ‘recognition’ of Israel
The new US bill mentioned above requires Palestinians to "recognise the State of Israel as an independent, sovereign, Jewish and democratic state" before sanctions can be lifted, but, as the Institute for Middle Eastern Policy Research points out, this is an impossible demand given Israel's refusal to honour its own 1948 armistice borders. “Congressional representatives insisting that any state recognise Israel and honour its borders must first negotiate the final geographical borders of a Palestinian state, and obtain international recognition of contiguous borders. Only after long overdue international recognition should Palestinians be required to approach the subject of recognising Israel.” (‘Punishing the victim: HR 4681 and the congressional siege on Palestinians’, www.irmep.org)
The nonsense of requiring Hamas to recognise an Israeli state that is constantly expanding its borders at the expense of Palestine is emphasised by Virginia Tilley in the US journal Counterpunch:
“Let us pretend for a moment that Hamas is being asked to recognise Israel in the normal diplomatic sense. In this case, however, the EU position is unsupportable, because diplomatic recognition of a state routinely requires one bit of vital information: ‘right to exist’ where? Israel's borders are not set. Even its plans for those borders are not known; with impressive brashness, Mr Olmert has announced that we will not know until 2010.
“It is entirely legitimate for Hamas to require firm confirmation of Israel's borders before recognising it. It should also be incumbent on the international community to confirm where those borders will be before insisting that Hamas recognize Israel's ‘right’ to them. Otherwise, recognising Israel's ‘right to exist’ could be construed to mean that Israel has a ‘right to exist’ within whatever borders it chooses in coming years.
“As the Palestinians stand to lose most of what is left of their homeland to this fuzziness, Hamas is refusing to endorse it. Is this extremist Islamic intransigence, warranting a funding freeze? Let us run a little thought experiment: Would Canadian, or Norwegian, or English, or French governments be called on the international carpet for not recognising the ‘right to exist’ of a neighbouring state that is, with military force, settling its own ethnically defined population within contiguous walled cities and enclaves in Canadian, Norwegian, English or French national territories, while promising to carve those nations into ‘cantons’?
“Absent clear borders, recognising Israel's ‘right to exist’ must mean something else. And of course it does. Clearly implicit in the term is Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. In other words, the ‘right’ Hamas is being required to endorse is that Israel can legitimately compose itself as a state in Palestine that is populated and run primarily by Jews, primarily for Jews. Such a state would thus be authorised by Hamas to sustain whatever laws and policies necessary to preserving its Jewish majority, even rejecting the return of Palestinian refugees mandated by international law. Or building a massive wall on Palestinian land designed to protect the Jewish state from the ‘demographic threat’ of mass non-Jewish citizenship - ie, the Palestinians. Israel would also be legitimized for past actions on the same agenda, such as expelling the Palestinians from their homes in 1948, and for its future plans, such as confining Palestine's indigenous people to cantons.” (‘Hamas and Israel's “right to exist”’, 12 May 2006)
The nakba continues
On 15 May, Palestinians marked the 58th anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe), the massacres and forced evictions at gunpoint that marked the founding of Israel in 1948, during which Israel expelled more than one half of the indigenous Palestinian population. This is more than a simple remembrance day, however, for while Israel and its imperialist backers continue to attack and starve the Palestinian people, the nakba continues to be a living, current event.
“The nakba is being lived again today in the brutal thrust of the current policies of the Israeli state. More than 10,000 Palestinian refugees have been created by the construction of the concrete separation wall that has cordoned off huge new tracts of occupied land. This wall, condemned as illegal by the International Court of Justice, has turned West Bank cities such as Qalqilya into ghost towns, and thousands of refugees have been created for the third and fourth time in the refugee camps in Gaza. Yet it is not simply in the building of the walls and checkpoints by Israel's occupying forces, or the different roads created for Jews and Arabs on Palestinian land, or the use of specially constructed bulldozers that rip up Palestinian orchards and olive groves and demolish hundreds of homes, or the imprisonment of thousands of political prisoners, or the daily murder of Palestinian civilians, that demonstrates the continuing nature of the nakba. It is also in the dedication of Israel's military and political machinery to the destruction of Palestinian resistance to their project.” (‘Nakba: The great catastrophe’ by Karma Nabulsi, The Guardian, 12 May 2006)
Palestinian resistance unbowed
The situation may be desperate, but the imperialists and their zionist stooges have learned nothing from history if they imagine by such brazen bullyboy tactics to force the Palestinians to their knees. Khaled Meshaal, a leading member of Hamas, told BBC News Online in January that “Hamas is immune to bribery, intimidation and blackmail”, and, 58 years after expulsion from their homes, thousands of first, second, third and even fourth generation Palestinian refugees refuse to “forget” the injustice done to them as Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, optimistically predicted they would. ("We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinians] never do return ... The old will die and the young will forget," David Ben Gurion, 1949)
Meanwhile, aid is beginning to arrive from other, less hostile, quarters. Russia and Iran have both sent substantial donations to the PA, while India has pledged 100m rupees’ worth (approx. £1.2m) of medicines and medical supplies, and relief fund collections are being run by sympathisers and supporters of Palestinian liberation all over the globe: one Turkish NGO, for example, has set itself the goal of fundraising $1.5m.
So far, most Arab governments have shamefully failed to come to the aid of their Palestinian brothers and sisters to anything like the extent required. Some $70m that has been donated by Arab states is blocked because banks, fearing international sanctions, refuse to transfer the funds. There is no doubt, however, that the Arab masses, the Palestinian diaspora and freedom-loving masses everywhere will do their part in sending aid to keep the PA afloat and the Palestinians from starving. If the banks will not transfer funds, other means will surely be found to transport money and goods. Meanwhile, prominent muslim scholars met in Qatar in May to launch a world muslim boycott of countries and banks blocking aid, and called on muslim businessmen to funnel investment into the Palestinian territories.
Moreover, having fought for so long, and having successfully won the battle for international recognition of their cause, the Palestinian people are not likely to give up now. Oppression breeds resistance, and there is every likelihood that Israel will soon come to regret not fulfilling its obligations under Oslo when it had the chance and settling for the massive 78 percent of historic Palestine that it was offered under the terms of that agreement. For with every passing day, and with every arrogant statement about ‘burying’ Oslo and the ‘concessions’ to Palestinian nationhood contained therein, the zionists are effectively working to bury their own ability to maintain a Jewish state in the Middle East.
The Palestinian people have committed no crime, except to have been born in the oil-rich Middle East. The zionist project to establish a theocratic Jewish state found support from first British and then US imperialists because it was seen as a useful tool in the quest for control of Middle Eastern oil. That is why, against all principles of justice, and in the face of all sanity and logic, Israel has been rewarded for its illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by both the US and Britain. Israel has been propped up, financially, politically and militarily, by every single US and British administration, yet even with such mighty backers, it has been unable to secure peace for its people, or to coerce the Palestinians into leaving their land and forgetting the injustices done to them.
As Israeli aggression continues to increase, we have every reason to believe that Palestinian resistance will be massive and determined. We as British workers must do everything in our power to support that resistance, for victory to the Palestinians will be a mighty blow against British imperialism.
> Kadima wins shallow victory in Israeli elections
> Landslide victory for Hamas in PA election - February 2006
> Butcher of Sabra and Shatila on his deathbed - February 2006
> Palestine: Gaza withdrawal brings fresh challenges - October 2005
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