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George Galloway and Kevin Ovendon: Point of no return for Israel after Mavi Marmara massacre

1 July 2010
George Galloway and Kevin Ovendon address Viva Palestina convoy members held up in Jordan by Egyptian intransigence, Christmas Day 2009

George Galloway and Kevin Ovendon address Viva Palestina convoy members held up in Jordan by Egyptian intransigence, Christmas Day 2009

“There can be no peace between truth and falsehood … there can only be eternal struggle between them.” Padraig Pearce’s words uttered on the eve of the first world war ring true today following the massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara at the end of last month.

Via Morning Star

The desperate attempts by the Israeli government and its supporters to blame the victims of terror for what is an act of state terrorism are sickening and depraved. But they show little sign of success.

None but the dwindling hard core of Israel apologists is taken in by a propaganda campaign which fast unravelled even as it began. The testimony of the survivors is coming out now thick and fast.

But you really need to know only one thing – on the one hand nine lie dead and scores more wounded. On the other are a couple of roughed-up Israeli soldiers. That says it all.

Under all the great legal, moral and religious codes, the victims facing brutality from elite assassination forces had the right to defend themselves with their bare hands and with whatever was to hand.

Indeed that’s what passengers aboard a ship bound for Palestine in 1947 did. It was carrying displaced persons from war-torn Europe and was boarded by British soldiers.

The passengers resisted. Three were killed. One had his head stoved in by a British rifle butt.

The British government claimed extremists on board had provoked the deaths. World opinion did not buy it and nor did the leaders of the zionist movement.

The ship was called the Exodus. It was carrying Jewish refugees and the episode became a cornerstone of the foundation myth of the state of Israel.

The attack on the Mavi Marmara represents another sort of turning point – and it has the potential to become decisive.

The Palestine solidarity movement has been shrouded in the miasma of defeat that has settled on the Middle East and sedimented in the minds of many activists for far too long. But in the wake of this massacre it is finally lifting and we can begin to see a way forward through the thinning fog.

Some may say it is scandalous that the daily humiliations and oppression of the Palestinians in besieged Gaza, the occupied West Bank and in refugee camps have not generated the breadth of response that this atrocity against their supporters has.

But analogous events in other struggles have helped to focus world attention on the primary victims of colonial and racial oppression.

When two Jewish civil rights volunteers from New York were murdered alongside a black activist in Mississippi in June 1964 the result was to deepen and radicalise the movement for black equality and liberation in the US. The anniversary of the lynching is today.

For the Palestine solidarity movement the Mavi Marmara massacre is another Sharpeville or Soweto – two of the great milestones in the struggle against apartheid.

It is the Sharpville and Soweto of the solidarity movement, but not for the Palestinians themselves. They have endured more, and more massive, massacres for 62 years – from Deir Yassin, through Black September and Sabra and Shatila to the Gaza invasion of 18 months ago.

It is the accumulation of those crimes and Israel’s increasingly egregious refusal to abide by the norms the ‘international community’ says it upholds that has laid the basis for turning the reaction to the Mavi Marmara into a decisive advance in the struggle.

Israel is facing growing pressure. In 2006 it lost politically and militarily in its war on Lebanon. The attack on Gaza in the winter of 2008/9 brought unprecedented condemnation and numbers onto the streets in cities around the world.

The forging of passports for use in the assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai earlier this year left many people in Britain, Australia, Ireland and Germany who had not previously been sympathetic to the Palestinians wondering why their governments were sponsoring this piratical state.

In the US larger numbers of people than ever are asking why, at a time of economic austerity, the White House and Congress vote through billions of dollars of subvention to Israel every year. The US authorities were paying for the very bullets that Israel’s commandos fired five times into Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old US citizen aboard the Mavi Marmara.

US General David Petraeus recently told a committee on Capitol Hill that he thought Israel had become a strategic liability for the US.

While there remain powerful overlapping interests between US and Israeli imperialist strategies in the Middle East, their interests are not identical. And the geopolitical map is changing.

Tel Aviv would do well to remember the dictum of Britain’s arch-imperialist prime minister Lord Palmerston – Britain, or any great power, “has no eternal friends and no eternal enemies, just eternal interests”.

Turkey’s renewed role in the near and Middle East is one of the clearest indications of the dilemmas facing Israel and the US.

Historically Turkey has been a key US ally – it was the stationing of US missiles there that provoked the Cuba missile crisis at the height of the cold war.

But its government is now reflecting pressures for a realignment. Seven years ago the Turkish parliament refused to allow the country’s military bases to be used in the invasion of Iraq, a decision that had a profound impact on the course of the war by preventing a US invasion from the north and thus creating a wider space for the insurgency to develop.

Last week Turkey voted alongside Brazil at the UN security council against fresh sanctions on Iran. And Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan clashed with Israel’s Ehud Olmert over the Gaza massacre at a glitzy Davos shindig last year.

Sections of the Turkish capitalist class want the state to provide a more independent role, bridging economic relations between the Middle East and Europe, while the military-security apparatus remains locked in an old alliance with Israel and the US.

These conflicting pressures on the Turkish government put paid to the idea that it had somehow planned to stage the massacre on the flotilla as a provocation to Israel.

The flotilla was clearly a civil society initiative in solidarity with the people of Gaza, coming mainly from the Islamically inspired welfare and humanitarian organisation the IHH, which created mass, popular calls on the Turkish government to act, which it did.

So Israel and the US are now embarking on a concerted attempt to unwind this process by propagandising against the IHH and seeking to isolate the elements of Turkish society which stand most strongly with the Palestinian cause.

The solidarity movement needs to launch a well-thought-out response if it is to catch this changing tide. As the anti-war movement in Britain has done over the defence of muslim communities under attack following 11 September 2001, we need to stand in solidarity with the Turkish movement and reject all attempts to claim that Islamic civil and political organisations such as the IHH and the parliamentary Islamist parties in Turkey are in any sense cyphers for al-Qaida.

The movement must become permeable to new forces, especially embracing the young muslims who took to the streets over Gaza and again over the Mavi Marmara massacre.

The success of the three Viva Palestina humanitarian convoys to Gaza in the last 18 months testifies to success of that approach.

The forces that can be won to active engagement in the solidarity movement are now very wide indeed. A recent survey analysed by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books found an increasing disconnect between young, liberal jewish people and zionist organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which seek to speak in the name of all jews.

Younger people were much more likely to be critical of Israel and to hold it to universal standards of behaviour rather than churning out apologias.

The initiatives by land and sea to break the blockade on Gaza and end the siege are critical for two reasons.

First, Gaza is at the cutting edge both of the solidarity movement and of the attempts by Israel and its backers to defeat the Palestinian resistance by destroying the wing that Palestinians invested most hope in at the free elections held four years ago – Hamas.

The apartheid wall, the occupation of the West Bank and the ethnic cleansing of east Jerusalem are monstrous injustices, but the key to resolving them is to end the Gaza blockade, thus helping to create conditions in which the Palestinian movement can overcome disabling divisions and exert far greater political pressure.

Second, the convoys and flotillas provide high-profile and direct challenges to both Israel and to those other states that help to enforce the siege.

Behind those who have travelled on them stand many thousands who have raised money and tens of thousands who offered support in other ways.

There are now international efforts under way to ensure that the land and sea missions are better co-ordinated, bigger and with more countries taking part.

Viva Palestina has initiated an international land convoy, in conjunction with a large sea mission, leaving in September of this year just after Ramadan.

The aim is not to loosen the bars around Gaza – which Israel and Egypt under the pressure of the flotilla fallout are already doing – but to end the siege entirely, allowing commercial and economic relations between Gaza and the rest of the world, which it needs to develop freely.

Coordinating these next steps will be a theme of discussion at the Summer University of Palestine taking place in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley from 25 July to 1 August.

It is attracting internationally acclaimed experts and speakers on Palestine and is receiving registrations from around the world.

But although all movements require activists, this cannot be a movement only of activists – it must become a more general movement of people for whom Palestine has become the international symbol of the fight against injustice.

The struggle against apartheid provides valuable lessons. It combined direct action against racist South Africa and its interests with mass mobilisations – demonstrations, cultural events and so on – and a range of activities aimed at isolating the regime through sanctions, boycotts and divestment.

Each one reinforced the other and was accompanied by clear refutations of apartheid propaganda.

Such initiatives are needed now, simultaneously at different levels. One element is a co-ordinated and targeted consumer boycott. Few people in the mid-1980s knew the full connections between British capital and apartheid South Africa.

However millions knew not to buy Outspan fruit or bank at Barclays. Some went further in picketing supermarkets or occupying Barclays branches. A similar focused call which could be popularised as the cutting edge of a wider boycott would be helpful today.

Respect Party leader Salma Yaqoob last year managed to get cross-party support on Birmingham City Council – the largest local authority in Europe – to move towards a boycott of Israel.

Following the recent local government elections there will be other councillors who can move, or be moved, in the same direction.

The cancellation of gigs in Israel by a number of bands following the flotilla attack led to cultural figures and commentators in Israel voicing fears that the radicalising policies of Binyamin Netanyahu were leading to the country becoming a pariah state.

Trade unions in Britain and in many other countries now have extensive policies aimed at boycotting at least some contacts with and products from Israel.

The TUC congress in September may well see successful moves to harden that position. In 1985 a 21-year-old Dublin shopworker called Mary Manning read just such a union policy circular and told a customer that she could not check-out her grapefruit because it was on the apartheid boycott list.

She was sacked, but the strike by her and 10 workmates for a year that resulted became an international cause celebre for wider solidarity.

If the general consumer boycott, mass initiatives and trade-union policies are popularised they are likely to intersect with more people like Mary Manning today.

Dockers in Durban and Sweden have already refused to unload Israeli ships. And dockers and their supporters in Oakland, California, did the same yesterday.

All these strands make up a movement that has the capacity to alter policy in the West and contribute to political processes in the Middle East to help end the suffering of the Palestinians. This will require serious strategic and tactical coordination as well as drawing in fresh forces.

Ending the siege of Gaza is an obtainable victory and an important step forward in the wider and longer struggle for a free Palestine. The eternal struggle will end only when justice prevails and freedom is won.

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