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Palestine solidarity movement on the defensive as AGM votes for zionist formulations

1 March 2012

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s AGM last month resulted in what can only be described as a significant step back for the British anti-imperialist movement and a significant victory for zionism.

The meeting voted to endorse a paragraph that the PSC executive had recently added to the campaign website stating that “Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. Such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.” (My emphasis)

That is, they voted to give the PSC’s executive the ability to discipline and expel sincere and useful solidarity activists for committing a ‘crime’ that exists only in the zionist imagination – the crime of ‘minimising the holocaust’. And, whether they realised it or not, they simultaneously voted to endorse the zionist conflation of two terms that have no actual connection: racism and holocaust denial/‘holocaust minimising’.

Not that this is all that surprising in a country where ordinary people are so totally saturated with and generally accepting of imperialist propaganda. Even the fact that the PSC statement referred simply to ‘the holocaust’ rather than ‘the jewish holocaust’ shows how in thrall its writers are to the prevailing imperialist and zionist rhetoric, even if only subconsciously.

We are all ‘holocaust minimisers’

Speaking for the CPGB-ML, I proposed an amendment to the executive’s motion on anti-semitism that asked the campaign to keep to its primary focus of carrying out “effective work in solidarity with Palestine, against zionism and imperialism”. During my speech from the floor I emphasised the point that the more effective and influential the Palestine solidarity movement becomes, the more vociferously it can expect to be attacked by Israel’s supporters – which inevitably means being accused of ‘anti-semitism’ by hysterical zionist campaigners.

As if to prove the point that ‘holocaust minimising’ is a crime that anyone can be accused of, I found the trick being used against me by PSC Secretary Ben Soffa, who managed to twist my words with impressive sophistry. I had pointed out that those who ask any kind of question about the Nazi holocaust, or who challenge any of Israel’s founding myths, are all labelled ‘holocaust deniers’, ‘anti-semites’ and ‘racists’ by the zionist lobby. According to Ben, however, what I’d said was that the jewish holocaust was a myth!

Not only was this an unnecessarily hostile response to what was actually a fairly innocuous amendment, it was also a very underhand trick to play given that I was given no opportunity to reply. No doubt my expulsion is being prepared as we speak …

To underline the point, the meeting also voted to expel an activist from Brighton on the basis that he was deemed to be a holocaust denier and therefore ‘anti-semitic’. Just as in my local branch’s discussions, the case for the prosecution at the AGM focused not on why the accused member’s views meant he could not be useful as a PSC activist, but on whether those present agreed with him or not; whether they found his alleged views personally acceptable.

It’s a clever sleight-of-hand, but an important one for those interested in building a broad-based mass movement for Palestine. I suppose at this point I have to say (again) that I have no interest in denying the truth or the horror of the Nazi crimes against the jews of Europe. But whether I do or not is NOT the business of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Those who try to make it our business should simply be asked, firmly but politely, to take their discussions elsewhere.

Mass movement or liberal charity?

As far as I can see, the only points we all need to agree on are that the Palestinians have the right to decide what their minimum programme should be, as well as to chose their own leadership and their own forms of struggle, and that British people should be mobilised to support the just Palestinian struggle for self-determination and to stop Britain’s participation in and backing for the criminal zionist project. Insisting on further points of agreement does not serve this agenda; it does not help Palestine.

What was especially tragic about the antics at the AGM was the way that the timetable for the day was manipulated so that discussion of these diversionary non-issues took up most of the available debating time – to such an extent that several important motions were dropped off the day’s order paper. Almost all of those wishing to oppose the leadership’s agenda were stopped from speaking by the chair, while speaker after filibustering speaker was invited to come to the mic to endorse the leadership’s position and waste what little debating time was available.

Even these speakers, antagonistic as they were to our party’s agenda, had to concede our main points: that the jewish holocaust was not the unique event that zionist propaganda portrays it as being, but one of an ongoing string of catastrophic industrial-scale massacres that have been a hallmark of the imperialist system since it arrived on the scene over a century ago; and that it is the system of imperialism that we must fight if we are serious about supporting Palestine.

Comrade Harpal Brar received extremely warm applause in the hall when he made these points, pointing out the absurdity of obsessing over one of imperialism’s holocausts to the exclusion of all others. Indeed, the jewish holocaust made up just one small part of the gigantic holocausts that were the two world wars of the 20th century, perpetrated by the imperialists in order to save their rotten system at the expense of 100 million lives.

The jewish holocaust, he said, was not the murder of one race by another race but the murder of human beings by imperialism. Similarly, Israel itself is not a jewish project, despite its window dressing, but an imperialist project aimed at controlling the vital resources of the Middle East. Far from being the defender of jews that it claims to be, Israel does untold damage to the interests of jewish workers, just as it does to those of Arabs and, indeed, to those of workers all over the world.

The power of the unions

Many of the activists present were seriously disgruntled about the lack of time dedicated to discussing the campaign’s real plan for action in support of Palestine, feeling that the day had been given over to a zionist-inspired witch hunt, whose only motivation seemed to be that of keeping the PSC ‘respectable’ in the eyes of its establishment patrons. Many also found it worrying that so few actual Palestinians were present – either on the day or in the organisation generally.

One telling tactic that was used during the debate was the threat of disaffiliation by the campaign’s big union backers. What would Unite do, we were asked, if they got wind of even a hint that the PSC was being accused of anti-semitism? Drop us like a hot potato, of course, came the unspoken response. And so the debate, what little of it there was, died. After all, we don’t want to lose our connection with all those organised workers, do we?

The affiliation of major unions like Unite to the PSC in recent years has been hailed as a major breakthrough in the campaign’s progress; proof that we are becoming ‘mainstream’. The outcome of such affiliations, however, has not been quite what the more optimistic of us might have expected.

Instead of harnessing the collective power of Unite’s 1.5 million members in active solidarity with Palestine, the PSC has merely been given an opportunity to distribute postcards to union members aimed at persuading them to boycott settlement goods when making their weekly supermarket shop. But while moving a few people (or even a few thousand people) to make individual consumer choices may reflect a certain level of awareness and sympathy amongst the British population generally, it is no substitute for mobilising them for collective action; and not much threat to Israel either, if taken no further.

How much more effective would it be if Unite organised its lorry drivers to refuse to handle the goods to start with? Or if Usdaw backed its shop workers in refusing to put Israeli goods on the shelves? Or if the RMT organised members engaged in transporting freight by rail and sea to refuse to handle goods or weapons coming from or going to Israel? Or if the NUJ’s journalists stopped regurgitating zionist lies in Britain’s mainstream media?

Far from harnessing the power of Unite’s workers in support of Palestinian liberation, the affiliation has instead brought the power of Unite’s Labour-affiliated leaders into the PSC, where it is being used to crush any chance of organising the type of really effective Palestine solidarity work that might actually help Palestine by harming Israel – because in the process it would also damage British corporate interests.

And so the campaign’s new mantra seems to be: ‘What would Unite think?’ – which might as well be ‘What would the Labour party think?’ or (to take it to its logical conclusion) ‘What would Lord Sainsbury think?’

Dockers and activists stop the unloading of an Israeli ship in San Francisco, June 2010

Dockers and activists stop the unloading of an Israeli ship in San Francisco, June 2010

Non-cooperation off the agenda

Not that anybody present seemed to notice it, but the point about what kind of solidarity action is most useful was nicely underlined in the keynote speech of the day, given by Comrade Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Having flattered the activists present by making the rather surprising assertion that the British PSC was the best solidarity organisation in the world, Comrade Omar pointed out that the most effective form of boycott was the type delivered by dockers who refused to unload a ship bringing Israeli goods to South Africa in February 2009 – an action which he said had absolutely terrified the zionists and their imperialist masters. (Tellingly, the reference to the South African dockers’ action has been omitted from the edited version of Omar’s speech published on the PSC website.)

Which brings us back to those critical undebated motions. The last item on the day’s agenda was the CPGB-ML’s motion on non-cooperation, which called on the PSC to mobilise British workers to follow the brave example of their South African counterparts.

In particular, it called for “Building support within individual unions and at the TUC for motions that draw attention to the complicity of Britain’s government and corporations in Israeli war crimes, and that also call on workers to refuse to cooperate in their commission (eg, by making or moving munitions or other equipment, by writing or broadcasting propaganda, or helping in any other way to smooth the path of Israel’s war machine).

Yet although the PSC’s leaders seemed perfectly happy to applaud such actions being taken elsewhere, they were clearly determined to avoid even a discussion about replicating them here in Britain. Having made sure the motion’s contents wouldn’t be debated at the AGM, the executive has quietly dropped all mention of the motion in its online summation of the meeting.

In fact, during the whole course of the day, the only mention of non-cooperation outside of Omar’s South Africa reference came when, as a candidate for election to the EC, I used my single minute of mic time to address a plea for action to the assembled delegates

If elected, I told them, I would focus my energies on organising and coordinating active non-cooperation work. In particular, as a media worker myself, I offered to work with other media worker members in PSC to get resolutions to the Bectu and NUJ conferences on the subject of non-cooperation with Israeli war crimes.

I emphasised the need to recognise the crucial role the media plays in supporting the zionist narrative and obliterating the Palestinian one, and reminded the activists of the Nuremberg rulings, which made it clear that propagating in favour of illegal wars and occupations is a war crime. That being so, I told them, it is vital that our media unions start to take a stand and protect their members from such involvement.

Interestingly, although I clearly wasn’t on the executive’s pre-approved list, and therefore had very little chance of being elected, this message was not so unpopular with the delegates as the leadership might have hoped. I received 119 votes (around 50 less than was needed to be elected).

The issue of active non-cooperation goes right to the very heart of what ‘solidarity’ actually means, bringing to workers’ attention the very real power that they have to change things when they act collectively.

It is understandable that the imperialists don’t want us to talk about this. Understandable, too, that the bought-and-paid-for labour aristocrats of the TUC and the Labour party should prefer to crush all such discussion, harmful as it is to the imperialist interests that they ultimately serve.

What is neither understandable nor forgivable is that the leadership of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign should be so averse to giving workers this message. Yet such is clearly the case. Every tactic continues to be used within the campaign to supress and sideline discussion on this vital aspect of our work, while those who do bring up the subject are treated as pariahs and portrayed as a hostile presence in the organisation.

The one vote that didn’t go the executive’s way was over a proposed constitutional amendment that aimed to expedite the process for expelling activists by removing their right to appeal to an AGM. Clearly, the tenor of the day’s debate had awoken a significant section of the delegates to the possibility that the proposed changes might not be inspired by benign motivations, so that the necessary two-thirds majority was not achieved.

Meanwhile, if anyone doubts that it is Labour and not we communists who are the real threat to the building of an effective mass movement for Palestine solidarity in Britain, perhaps they should think about the recent all-expenses-paid trip to Israel taken by a delegation of bright young Labour hopefuls, all in leadership positions within Labour’s youth and student organisations. Paid for by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), a frontline defender of the zionist state in Britain, the delegates were schmoozed by Israeli war criminals such as army spokesman Captain Barak Raz and Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev, as well as by Britain’s own arch-war criminal (sorry, ‘peace envoy’) Tony Blair.

Since Labour has given ample proof of its willingness to commit any crime in the cause of protecting British imperialist interests, it is hardly surprising that the party and its leaders continue to be committed backers of fascist Israel and defenders of its racist zionist ideology. What is surprising is that those who want to go against imperialist interests by supporting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination should allow their campaign to be misled by people who are tangled in a web of personal connections and political affiliations to that self-same warmongering, zionist-backing organisation.


Anti-imperialism and the PSC executive

13 January 2012

I went to a meeting on Tuesday night of my local Palestine Solidarity Campaign group. We were there to talk about various motions for the upcoming PSC AGM on the subject of ‘anti-semitism’, and ‘holocaust denial’, alongside a proposed constitutional change that would take away the right of an expelled individual to appeal to the members at an AGM in the future.

I was also hoping for some information that might make sense of various rumours and allegations that have been doing the rounds — some fairly recently, and others for quite a while now.

The old rumours centre around the allegation that the PSC leadership has been taken over by a clique from Socialist Action, who make sure that as many of their cronies as possible are elected to the PSC exec and given paid jobs in the PSC office.

The new rumours are variations on a theme whereby independently-minded activists who aren’t ‘on message’ with the leadership’s agenda are alleged to have been removed from positions of influence in PSC branches following zionist-inspired accusations of ‘anti-semitism’ and ‘holocaust denial’.

The issue of a Socialist Action takeover of the PSC leadership has never been dealt with openly at a PSC AGM, although it’s a rumour that refuses to die. Personally, I don’t care what organisation people affiliate to as long as they’re doing the job, but if, as Tony Greenstein asserts, this group are more interested in creating a cosy niche for themselves than in building the most effective solidarity movement possible, then this has serious implications for the organisation’s work.

The issue of expelling people on grounds of anti-semitism, however, is clearly at the root of several motions to the AGM and is likely to be the main topic of debate when members meet on 21 January.

First comes the Executive’s proposed constitutional amendment, which not only removes the right of expelled members to appeal to an AGM, but also proposes introducing new ‘codes of conduct’ for PSC meetings and activities that would give grounds for expulsion if breached. (Currently, the only ground for expulsion is a breach of the PSC constitution.)

If there’s no ulterior motive behind this, it’s hard to see that there’s any need for changing the perfectly adequate procedures PSC has in place already, or why we should be in the business of creating reams of regulations to control adults who are perfectly capable of letting each other or the centre know if they find the language or behaviour of others unacceptable.

If the rumours are true, however, the proposed changes would certainly make it easier for the PSC exec to get rid of activists in such a way that most members would never know anything about it.

Then there’s the Executive’s motion on ‘Combating racism, islamophobia and anti-semitism’, which endorses a statement that recently appeared in the centre of the PSC homepage, stating: “Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. Such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.” (Emphasis added)

Anti-semitism cartoon by Carlos Latuff

It is a strangely defensive assertion to be putting at the centre of the organisation’s mission statement. Moreover, the wording makes clear that the issue is not actually racism/anti-semitism, but ‘holocaust denial’.

This becomes particularly problematic when we recall that it is the zionist hype machine that has conflated the two as interchangeable terms and created an atmosphere in which anyone is branded an ‘anti-semite’ who questions anything about Israel, including the founding myths concerning the supposedly unique suffering of jews and the alleged impossibility of jewish people living free from persecution anywhere outside Israel.

I’m no racist and have no interest in defending those who are, but the motivations for placing such a statement at the front and centre of PSC’s work are troubling. Is racism so difficult to deal with in an avowedly progressive organisation that it needs to be expressly formulated against? And why are we bowing to the zionist formulation that equates ‘holocaust denial’ with ‘anti-semitism’ and racism?

To those with a basic grasp of history, it is clear that the jewish holocaust did actually take place. To those with a basic grasp of the workings of imperialism, it is equally clear that the same racist scapegoating that led to the German extermination of European jews has been reborn in Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in particular and Arab and muslim peoples in general.

Israel launched itself as a state with a war of extermination against the Palestinians, while its nuclear arsenal is pointed like a dagger at the heart of all independently-minded peoples in the Arab world, from Lebanon and Syria to Iran and Iraq.

Since the Nakba of 1948, Israel has perpetrated massacre after massacre, using collective punishment, internment without trial, the strangulating siege on Gaza, apartheid separation policies and house demolitions, crop destruction and fisheries pollution to control, suppress and expel the local population.

Transforming its imported jewish population into merciless hi-tech stormtroopers, the zionist state has set up innumerable checkpoints, criss-crossed the occupied territories with jewish-only roads and settlements, created no-go zones to protect them and built huge walls that are carving even the officially recognised part of ‘Palestine’ into innumerable inaccessible bantustans, hurling snipers, gunboats, F16 bombers, attack drones and more against a largely unarmed civilian population in its ongoing project to cleanse Palestine of Palestinians.

That the Israelis have been ultimately unsuccessful in their mission to dehumanise and disperse the people of Palestine is beside the point. The atrocities that they daily commit, along with the reams of anti-muslim and anti-Arab propaganda they put out, the racist laws that govern Israeli society and the culture of hate that they have promoted have seen to it that the zionists, under the tutelage of their uber-Nazi warlord patrons in freedom and democracy-loving states like the USA and Britain, have become true successors to the Nazis.

And yet western politicians and mainstream western media have almost nothing to say about Israel’s crimes, despite the growing inability of the capitalist press to keep the “plucky little David” narrative wholly intact. Quite the reverse – they consistently lie, as do the Israelis, about what Israel is doing and why, repeating Israeli government press releases as if they were proven fact and giving no context that might enable ordinary viewers, readers and voters to understand what’s really happening.

It is because of this patronage — because Israel was only created to serve the interests of imperialism in the Middle East — that the zionist state is backed up by the military, economic and diplomatic might of the US and Britain, which enables it to commit atrocities and war crimes on a daily basis with total impunity, despite the condemnation of the vast majority of peoples and governments in the world.

That being the case, and in a world where zionism has arrogated to itself both the right to speak for all jews and the right to speak on behalf of all jewish holocaust victims, even while perpetrating its own holocaust against the Palestinians, the rise in anti-jewish sentiment is hardly surprising, and nor is the rise in numbers of those who are questioning the truth about the holocaust. When so much of what Israel projects (the only democracy in the Middle East, a bastion of civilised values, etc etc) is revealed to be a lie, why wouldn’t people also start to wonder whether the whole Holocaust story, so central to the image that Israel projects to the world, might also be untrue?

And so ‘Holocaust denial’ has become an unfortunate by-product of what Norman Finkelstein aptly termed ‘The Holocaust Industry‘ – the zionist promotion of the myth that the jewish holocaust was somehow different from all other episodes of extermination in human history, and that this unique suffering justifies both the creation of Israel and any crimes the zionist state may commit in alleged ‘defence’ of its existence.

Moreover, it’s increasingly well understood that the early zionists were quite happy for the holocaust to go ahead if it was going to create jewish refugees who would make their way to Palestine. Hardly surprising then, that many who don’t understand imperialism’s role in the Middle East and in the foundation of Israel question the validity of the Holocaust industry’s myths about jewish suffering and are prey to conspiracy theories about an alternative narrative to the holocaust, as well as to myths about a ‘jewish power’ that controls world finance and politics and protects the Israelis from world public opinion.

The degenerate state of Israel is by far and away the world’s biggest creator of anti-semitism, and since only the defeat of Israel will change that, support for the Palestinian people’s struggle against zionism and imperialism is probably the most useful contribution to ending anti-semitism.

So racism and ‘holocaust denial’ are clearly NOT the same thing, while Holocaust ‘minimising’ is even more troublesome to pin down. Are we to take the zionist definition that anyone who asks a question about the Nazi extermination of jews is automatically an anti-semite and therefore a racist? If someone suggests (as several eminent scholars have done) that they think perhaps five (rather than six) million jews were killed by German imperialism (alongside 25 million Soviets and 200,000 Roma), is that person guilty of the abhorrent crime of ‘minimising the holocaust’ and worthy only of being hounded out of the PSC, unable to contribute anything useful to its work?

If it’s so important, how did we operate so long without such a clause? And why don’t all organisations have them? Why doesn’t Stop the War have a statement on its homepage asserting that anyone who denies or minimises the holocaust in Iraq is a racist who can’t be allowed to work in the anti-war movement?

Actually, all sorts of perfectly well-intentioned people and good anti-war activists echo the mainstream media in doing just that – putting the death toll in Iraq at a ridiculous 100,000, despite research that shows that war-related deaths in Iraq since 1990 now amount to a horrendous 4.6 million people dead from war and sanctions-related causes since 1990, while another 5 million Iraqis have been made into refugees.

Only two solutions present themselves to the question of why PSC’s leadership should have suddenly become so sensitive to zionist accusations. The first is that they are coming under a huge amount of pressure from the zionist lobby and have simply buckled. The second is that the accusations provide a handy cover for getting rid of activists who want the campaign to do more than lobby parliament, cosy up to the ‘left’ wing of the warmongering, zionist-backing Labour party and give out boycott leaflets.

During the course of the discussion around these issues on Tuesday evening, I was suddenly accused by one of the activists present of being “party political”. She insinuated that my lack of attendance at meetings over the last few years was proof of entryism (rather than proof of having babies), that my organisation has a secret “agenda” and would “love to have influence in the PSC” and offered as proof of an “extremism” that no sensible person could wish to be associated with the fact that the CPGB-ML was “sad about the death of Kim Jong Il“.**

I have never tried to hide my party affiliations, so I can’t imagine that information regarding my membership of the CPGB-ML was news to many people in the room. But the accusation and the way it was put reminded me strongly of some of the attacks I came under at the PSC’s 2011 AGM, when a perfectly sane and sensible resolution about active non-cooperation work was hysterically opposed by the Executive and its supporters on some very spurious grounds, one of which was along the lines of “you can’t trust these commies – they’re extremists and they want to take us over”.

Interestingly, this attack illustrates the very point I had been trying to make in the meeting, which is that the PSC is supposed to be a broad church. Its stated aim is to build a MASS MOVEMENT in Britain in support of Palestine, which necessarily means working with all sorts of people whose programme and ideology you don’t agree with. It’s the very essence of single-issue campaigning – you maximise your support base by bringing together all those who agree on the fundamental point: in this case, the need to build support for Palestine in Britain.

And while communists often come under attack for their party affiliations and ‘extreme’ views, no-one ever seems to make the same link with those from, say, the Labour party. But ask yourself this: why is it ok to work alongside MPs and trade unionists whose career keeps them tied to a party drenched in the blood of millions of Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis … and Palestinians, but suddenly a matter of principle not to cooperate with those who consistently seek to support the victims of imperialist war? Why is it possible to listen respectfully to pedlars of mediaeval superstition (insert your religion of choice here), but quite impossible to hear the voice of those who prefer to bring enlightenment and science into the movement?

We communists have no lucrative careers to protect. We have no desire to cling to a stake in the system that has created war, poverty, starvation, waste and destruction on an industrial scale. We are interested in one thing only: the fight against imperialism. And while that naturally makes us the vilified target and pet hate of every bourgeois liberal and imperialist warmonger, it is hardly a justification for such hysterical levels of suspicion from fellow campaigners for Palestine.

Communists are involved in Palestine solidarity because Palestine is one, vitally important, part of the struggle against imperialism. We do not view Palestinians as a charity case deserving of our sympathy, and nor do we seek to control the way in which they carry out their struggle. They are our brothers and sisters in arms who currently find themselves on the front line of the battle, and it is our duty to do whatever is within our power to help them to victory.

The fact that we are serious about wanting to WIN this battle is demonstrated by the fact that at next week’s AGM I will be bringing a resolution that is essentially the same as the one I proposed last year. This is not because I love being harangued or voted down, but because no amount of intimidation is going to change the fact that what Palestine needs from us is EFFECTIVE SOLIDARITY. Not sympathetic murmurs and pointless Early Day Motions, but a real effort to mobilise the power of working people to put a spanner in the works of the imperialist-zionist war machine.

As the CPGB-ML blog puts it:

“It is our belief that the contents of the following resolution are entirely uncontroversial to 95 percent of Palestine solidarity activists. However, since the resolution calls for the PSC to actively encourage British workers to use their collective power to prevent British companies and media outlets from participating in Israeli war crimes, the resolution is decidedly harmful to the interests of British imperialism.

“Thus it is clearly NOT acceptable to the imperialist, zionist Labour party, or to the Labour-affiliated leaders of the trade-union movement.

“PSC members need to decide whether they want to build a broad movement that really does aim to give meaningful solidarity to Palestine, or whether they prefer to let the PSC executive maintain its cosy relationship with various left-Labour and TUC bigwigs … and to allow these interests to dictate that their ‘solidarity’ work should be kept at the level of a charitable occupation that won’t threaten imperialist interests.”

Enough said.


** By the way, those who have accepted the anti-Korea prejudices that fill western media might be interested to note that Cuba observed three days of national mourning following the death of Kim Jong Il, while governments, parties and heads of state from all over the oppressed world, including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, sent condolences to the Korean people.

From Palestine, condolences were sent by the PFLP, the DFLP and Mahmoud Abbas. Yasser Arafat had a close relationship with the DPRK, which has long been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian struggle, and he visited the country six times. Indeed, when he died, the north Korean state observed three days of official mourning for him.

We are not ashamed to be in such company, and nor can we consider it to make us some kind of ‘loony fringe’ to be on the side of the majority of humanity.

Update: Hassan Ghani released and deported to Turkey

12 November 2011

Just got this message:

Hassan has been in touch from Istanbul where he is fine although he has no mobile phone or any other belongings. He is due back in UK from Monday.

He said the FCO told him his friends were working on his behalf while he was locked up and it made a massive difference to him.

Thank you very much everyone.

And this from Hassan himself:

I’ve just, for the first tıme, had a brief chance to look through some of the messages online.

I’m deeply moved by the support people have shown, I can’t tell you how much it means to me. I don’t have proper internet access where I am at the moment (being robbed of my phones etc hasn’t helped), but I hope to return to London on Monday and will be ın touch with everyone soon.

At the end of the day what we all must remember is that what we received, as passengers on the freedom wave, is only a small taste of what life is like for political prisoners in Israel and around the world.

My love and thanks to everyone who wrote a message or made a prayer.

Fi aman Allah

Kidnapped British reporter Hassan Ghani must be released by Israel

9 November 2011
Hassan Ghani reporting for Press TV from Tahrir Square in Cairo, November 2011

Hassan Ghani reporting for Press TV from Tahrir Square in Cairo, November 2011

Hassan Ghani, a brave and hard-working young reporter known for his documentary films about the Viva Palestina aid convoys and his live reporting from the deck of the Mavi Marmara as it came under attack by Israeli commandos last May, has been kidnapped by the Israeli state and is in grave danger.

Hassan is an award-winning Scottish journalist known for his honesty and integrity. Four days ago, he was working to cover the story of two boats travelling to Gaza under the name of the Freedom Waves flotilla. While the boats were in international waters, warships and gunboats from the Israeli navy attacked them. Masked and heavily-armed commandos stormed aboard (an act of international piracy), hijacked the boats and abducted all those on board to an Israeli jail. Although other journalists working on the boats have since been released, Hassan has not. Moreover, he has been kept in isolation from all the other passengers.

The two boats, MV Tahrir and MV Soairse, were organised by human-rights activists from Canada and Ireland in the latest attempt to break the illegal siege on Gaza. Hassan was the only British citizen aboard, but the UK consulate in Tel Aviv is notoriously uninterested in protecting the rights of Britons who have incurred the wrath of the Israeli state. Moreover, Hassan is a muslim. His parents are from Pakistan and he has worked for several years as a reporter for Press TV.

In the current climate, where the ‘war on terror’ is being used as an excuse for rampant islamophobia, both in Britain and Israel, it is clear that the British government is only going to take action if it feels itself to be under pressure from the public to do so. Indeed, it may well have political motivations for colluding in any attempt by Israel to brand Hassan as some kind of terrorist or agent, although any such claim would be totally spurious and unfounded.

If there is no pressure from the British government, there is no saying what the Israelis might feel free to do. In a state based on ethnic cleansing and apartheid racial segregation, just having a brown skin is a ‘provocation’ to many officials. Where that brown skin is accompanied by a muslim name and a mission aimed at exposing Israeli war crimes, experience must lead us to suspect the worst.

The history of Israel is made up of six decades of perpetrating the most horrific crimes against Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrian and other middle-eastern peoples – and of total immunity from any consequences thanks to the protection of successive British and US imperialist governments and corporations. The massacre of ten unarmed human-rights activists on the 2010 Freedom Flotilla was just one of many examples of Israel’s unbridled aggression towards those who try to bring it to account.

No doubt Israel would welcome the chance to make a scapegoat of Hassan, especially at a time when it is escalating its efforts to start a war against Iran. Other delegates aboard the two ships heard Israeli officials refer to him as “The Iranian”, which itself is a chilling indication of the attitude being taken towards Hassan.

To all those reading these words: please do what you can to spread awareness of Hassan’s plight in any way possible. The story needs to be covered by British journalists. Our media unions must take up and publicise Hassan’s cause, and those union members who work on the news must insist that the story gets coverage. So far, there has not been a single mention of Hassan’s abduction or of the raiding of the Freedom Waves flotilla on the BBC.

The video below features an interview with Jihan Hafiz, a US journalist who was also working on board the flotilla and who has now arrived back in New York. Please forward this link or write a message of your own and spread the word. The British government must demand Hassan’s immediate release!

DVD review: Channel 4’s The Promise breaks new ground for Palestine on mainstream British TV

14 April 2011
The Promise, directed by Peter Kosminsky

The Promise, directed by Peter Kosminsky


Written and directed by Peter Kosminsky for Channel 4, The Promise is a four-part drama series that tells the story of the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine, 1948. Set mainly in Haifa, events are seen through the eyes of two British protagonists – Len, a sergeant in the British army of occupation in 1947/48, and his granddaughter Erin, who visits Israel 60 years later during her gap year at the invitation of a friend.

Reading her grandfather Len’s diary six decades after the events it describes, 18-year-old Erin learns about some of the momentous events that led to the Palestinian Nakba (‘catastrophe’) at the same time as her travels in modern-day Israel/Palestine are opening her eyes to the legacy of that time.
Originally inspired by the letter of a Mandate-era British soldier, the drama has been meticulously researched. Seventy former servicemen contributed their stories in order to give a detailed picture of the way ordinary British soldiers in Palestine lived and thought during the years immediately preceding the partition and ethnic cleansing of the country.

There are excellent performances throughout the seven-and-a-half hour drama, particularly from the two leads, Christian Cooke and Claire Foy, and the authentic atmosphere is immeasurably boosted by an excellent supporting cast of Palestinian and Israeli actors and by being shot on location in Israel itself.

We see the enormous sympathy that most soldiers initially had for the jews following the atrocities of World War Two, and we see how the zionists played on that sympathy to foster support for a jewish state in Palestine.

Setting up social clubs in which ordinary soldiers mixed with jewish girls was one tool used by the zionists to great effect – both as a means of spreading sympathy for zionism and also as a way to gather information on the movements of British forces. Len’s love affair with a jewish girl who turns out to be a militant Irgun fighter is one of many relationships that is shown to help zionist paramilitaries in their mission to speed up the process of ejecting the British army from Palestine.

Len’s ultimate disillusionment with both his lover, who he sees taking part in the massacre of unarmed Palestinian villagers, as well as with his British army superiors, who seem unconcerned with the imminent slaughter of Palestinian Arabs about to take place, leads him to desert, fighting briefly on the side of the largely unarmed Palestinians who are being killed and driven out of their homes under the noses of the departing British forces.

The depiction of modern-day Israel is similarly well drawn. We see the jarring contrast between the first-world lifestyle of those in westernised Israeli cities, complete with designer shopping malls and hedonistic nightlife, and the Palestinians living in the run-down Arabic towns and villages under occupation. The sadistic and all-embracing nature of the occupation on the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, and the apartheid nature of the state of Israel for those Palestinians who remain within Israel’s borders are both shown.

The militarisation of what initially appears to be a very pleasant society is clearly revealed as Erin gradually comes to realise that every Israeli she meets is or has been in the army. Indeed, it transpires that the apparently ‘liberal’ father of the family she’s staying with was formerly a general. He is keen to present Israel as a democracy and to brush over the fascistic nature of its military state, but his liberalism doesn’t extend to accepting a Palestinian as a guest in his own home, or to wishing to spare his children from the brutalising experience of playing their part in the occupation.

As a drama, The Promise works well, in particular in relation to the 1947/48 characters. The love story between Len and Clara, her ultimate betrayal, Len’s friendship with local Palestinian Mohammed’s family and his overriding sense of failure when he is unable to save their young son Hassan from a zionist sniper are all movingly and convincingly portrayed.

Erin is a less likable but equally convincing character, and viewers are drawn into her quest to hunt down the family that her grandfather befriended. Her journey across Palestine, from Haifa to Nablus to Gaza, gives an insight into the still ongoing process of colonisation and expropriation as she comes face to face with those who now live in the homes that formerly belonged to Mohammed and his relations.

As a piece of history, The Promise is less satisfying. The drawback of Kosminsky’s style of research – ie, based solely on asking people about their experiences – makes for a wealth of interesting detail, but does little to explain the real historical context or forces at work.

Thus, the ‘background’ to the creation of the state of Israel is given as the Nazi holocaust – and while this may well have been the subjective experience of many people who lived through the events, one does not have to look that far to find that it is in fact a piece of imperial myth-making – as well as being one of the main planks of zionist self-justification.

Jewish immigration into Palestine became British imperial policy as far back as the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which stated that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object …

This policy can be explained not by a desire to give jews a ‘homeland’ where they could be free from persecution, but by the desire to implant a population that would help them maintain control of the middle-eastern oil that had just then become central to the military and industrial workings of the British empire. As British colonial governor Sir Ronald Storrs wrote of the zionist project: “It will form for England a little loyal jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”

Before the Nazi holocaust, zionism was a marginal ideology amongst jews worldwide, despite the persecution many jewish communities suffered all over Europe. Indeed, the very idea that jewish people constitute a ‘nation’ is one that progressives have always disputed, and working-class jews in the early decades of the 20th century were much more likely to be drawn to socialism and communism than to zionism.

Peter Kosminsky’s own background is a reflection of this. His father, a second-generation immigrant from Romania to Britain, worked as a tailor in London and is described by his son as a communist. Kosminsky himself, despite identifying with his jewish cultural background, had never been to Israel before shooting The Promise, and felt no particular affinity for the country when he was there.

The suffering of the jews during the Nazi rampage was used as a justification for bringing the zionist project to fulfilment, but why it was that the jews should be ‘compensated’ for their sufferings in Europe by being given Palestinian land was quietly glossed over. The local population were either dismissed as ‘Arabs’ who could be easily moved to some other Arab country, or their existence was denied altogether, as epitomised by the widely-used phrase “A land without people for a people without land.”

The father of modern zionism, Theodore Herzl, was himself under no illusion about what kind of mission he was on. In his 1896 work The Jewish State, he wrote: “For Europe we shall serve there as part of the fortified wall against Asia, and function as the vanguard of civilisation against the barbarians. As a neutral state we shall keep our ties with all the European nations, who will guarantee our existence there.”

That is, that in return for being allowed to establish Israel in Palestine, the zionists would promise to serve imperialist interests in the region.

And that is precisely what Israel has done and continues to do – and precisely why its armed forces have been given imperialist protection (first by Britain, then by the US with British support) as they have massacred, bombed, invaded, occupied, ethnically cleansed and generally broken every rule of international and humanitarian law for six long decades.

By showing the situation only as it appears through the eyes of a lowly sergeant, the series neatly sidesteps the question of Britain’s long-term role and motivation in Palestine and the wider Middle East, leaving a general impression of an army that was playing the ‘difficult’ role of policeman between two opposing sides – the same impression that was carefully fostered in official British propaganda at the time, and the same story British imperialists have used to cover many of their manoeuvrings before and since, from India to Ireland and Iraq.

This missing of the big picture from the early story cannot but have its knock-on effect into the present-day narrative. Like her grandfather, Erin is shown as a disinterested bystander caught up in events outside her control – one who has divided sympathies and is frustrated by the injustices she sees, but who ultimately has no real connection with the events being played out before her.

The racism of Israeli society is an anathema to Erin’s sensibilities and we are invited to sympathise with her frustration, but she seems profoundly oblivious to the fact that she herself expects to – and does – remain largely immune when she challenges Israeli soldiers. Her outspoken ‘bravery’ comes easily, since she never has any thought that she might seriously suffer for it as a Palestinian would. Nor does she ever seem to wonder why this should be so.

Of course, those from the West and Israel who truly take the stand of the Palestinian people (such as Rachel Corrie) can’t necessarily expect to receive such kid glove treatment, and have even paid with their lives, but Erin herself clearly has no idea of any of this. The overriding impression that is left from the various scenes where Erin flies to the defence of Palestinians is that the Palestinian people themselves are objects of pity or charity in need of ‘rescuing’ by more forceful/clued-up outsiders.

The idea that Israel’s racist, colonialist society still serves British imperialism – that it continues to be fostered, supported and given financial, military and diplomatic support in order that British oil monopolies can carry on dominating and plundering the region – is never explored. And nor, therefore, is the connection between the privileged life that Erin unthinkingly takes to be her own birthright and the oppression of those whom she is rightly angered at seeing the Israelis mistreating.

Petty-bourgeois pacifism permeates Erin’s thought processes and directs the audience’s sympathies too. The acts of the occupying army and those of a ‘suicide bomber’ are equally to be condemned, and the myth that present-day acts of demolition and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians are ‘reprisals’ for such acts of ‘terrorism’ is left unchallenged.

The Palestinians are overwhelmingly depicted as victims with whom we can and should sympathise – so long as they don’t take it into their heads to fight back. The only member of the resistance with whom we are invited to sympathise is a former soldier who has renounced violence as ‘futile’. Despite having seen the massive Israeli armoury ranged against them, Erin’s main concern when she sneaks through a tunnel into Gaza is that the people she is travelling with might be carrying weapons into the Strip!

Despite these weaknesses, however, The Promise is a rare and brave attempt to show at least a part of the reality of a situation that has been so far ignored by British mainstream dramatists. Kosminsky has produced a thought-provoking and intelligent drama that will no doubt inspire many to look again at their prejudices regarding Palestine and Israel, having been given some small insights into a history of Palestinian dispossession and oppression of which most British people are still quite unaware.

It remains for a truly anti-imperialist director to show the story of Palestine in its full context, with the Palestinians and their resistance (rather than the Israelis and their myths) in centre stage.

Dr Swee Chai Ang: The children of Sabra and Shatila

18 February 2011

The following extract is taken from Dr Swee Chai Ang’s 1989 book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, which describes the experiences of a British surgeon, herself a refugee from Singapore, who went to help the wounded of Beirut in 1982 after the Israeli invasion and ended up founding Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), having witnessed the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of 15-18 September 1982.

This extract descibes events and thoughts in the days straight after that massacre of over 3,000 unarmed and undefended women, children and old people by Israeli-backed militias.


Children standing in destroyed Sabra and Shatila camps raise the victory salute, Beirut, September 1982

Children of Sabra and Shatila raise the victory salute in front of their destroyed homes after the 1982 massacre. 'We are not afraid. Let the Israelis come.' (Apologies for poor quality. Scanned from Swee Ang's book.)

As I walked through the camp alleys looking at the shattered homes [many of these houses had just been rebuilt following earlier bombardments by Israel] I wanted to cry aloud, but was too exhausted emotionally even to do that. How could little children come back to live in the room where their relatives were tortured and then killed? If the PRCS [Palestine Red Crescent Society] could not function legally, who was going to look after the widows and orphans?

Suddenly, someone threw his arms around me. It was Mahmoud, a little child who had broken his wrist while trying to help his father rebuild their broken home. He had survived and his wrist had mended, but now his father was dead. Mahmoud cried, but he was glad I was alive because, from his hiding place during the massacre, he had seen the soldiers taking us away. He thought they had killed me.

Soon I was surrounded by a whole lot of children. Kids without homes, without parents, without futures. But they were the children of Sabra and the children of Shatila. One of them spotted my pocket camera, and wanted a picture taken. Then they all stood together, wanting their pictures taken. They wanted me to show their picture to the people of the world. Even if they were killed and the camps were demolished, the world would know that they were the children of Sabra and Shatila, and were not afraid. As I focused my camera, they all held up their hands and made victory signs, right in front of their destroyed homes, where many had been killed. Dear little friends, you taught me what courage and struggle are about.

As I walked home that evening … I walked past large Israeli tanks packed with soldiers. In my mind’s eye, I could only see the Palestinian children of the camps with their arms raised defiantly in the victory sign. As long as there were Palestinian children, the Palestinians would keep on going. That evening, I sat down in an exhausted state and wrote a letter to my husband in London:


Physical exhaustion comes on and off, but I have no fear, no paranoia: our history has taught us otherwise. Would the slaves of yesterday have ever dreamt that one day they would be free and be called human beings? But this is our testimony – that historical trends are such that we will win. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow: maybe not even this generation, maybe not even the next generation – but because we are human we will win, one day. Yes, it will take tenacity, discipline, sacrifice, a great price – but that which rightly belongs to us we will recover some day.

Darling, we are just two tiny individuals in this tide of historical liberation. Somewhere we may be washed away, forming the error margin – washed aside – but we know where the tide will flow, and nothing can stop it. It may sound rhetorical – but in the whole history of the oppressed people struggling for justice, nothing will ever sound rhetorical enough.

I cry like a young soldier would, one ready and prepared for a battle, but fallen even before the battle has begun. However, I laugh, laugh victoriously, for I know that there are millions that would carry on the struggle after me.

I looked into the face of death and have seen its power and ugliness, but I have also looked into its eyes, and seen its fear. For our children are coming, and they are not afraid.

Put the Palestinians on a diet: media bury documents revealing Israel’s deliberate policy of near starvation for Gaza

20 November 2010
Young Gazan girl wounded during the massacre of Dec 08/Jan 09. More than half of Gaza's 1.5 million people are children.

Young Gazan girl wounded during the massacre of Dec 08/Jan 09. More than half of Gaza's 1.5 million people are children.

An excellent piece by Media Lens revealing once more the total complicity of the British media with Israel’s war crimes.

Israel has been forced to reveal what Palestinians and other observers on the ground have known for a long time: that the blockade of Gaza is state policy intended to inflict collective punishment, not to bolster Israeli ‘security’.

An Israeli human rights group has won a legal battle to compel the Israeli government to release three important documents. These outline state policy for permitting the transfer of goods into Gaza prior to the 31 May attack on the peace flotilla in which nine people were killed by Israeli forces. The group, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, is demanding Israeli transparency. Meanwhile, Israel refuses to release documents on the current version of blockade policy which was ‘eased’ after international condemnation following the flotilla attack.

The released documents, whose existence Israel had denied for eighteen months, reveal that the state approved “a policy of deliberate reduction” of basic goods, including food and fuel, in the Gaza Strip. Gisha Director Sari Bashi explains:

“Instead of considering security concerns, on the one hand, and the rights and needs of civilians living in Gaza, on the other, Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralysing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place.” (Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, ‘Due to Gisha’s Petition: Israel Reveals Documents related to the Gaza Closure Policy‘, 21 October 2010)

As Saeed Bannoura of the International Middle East Media Center reports, the Israeli government imposed a deliberate policy:

“in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are ‘putting the people of Gaza on a diet’.” (Saeed Bannoura, ‘Israeli government documents show deliberate policy to keep Gazans at near-starvation levels‘, International Middle East Media Center, 6 November 2010)

Bannoura adds:

“This release of documents also severely undermines Israel’s oft-made claim that the siege is ‘for security reasons’, as it documents a deliberate and systematic policy of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza.”

When Israel and the United States were reacting to Hamas’s election victory in Gaza in January 2006, long-time Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass stated:

“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” (‘Hamas readies for government, Israel prepares sanctions’, Agence France Presse, 16 February 2006)

The released documents contain actual equations used by the Israeli government to calculate the exact amounts of food, fuel and other necessities needed to do exactly that. (‘Submitted to Gisha in the framework of a Freedom of Information Act Petition, AP 2744/09 Gisha v Defense Ministry‘, Appendices B, C and D)

The policy is all the more disturbing, indeed repellent, given that almost half the people of Gaza are children under the age of eighteen. One might reasonably conclude that Israel has deliberately forced the undernourishment of hundreds of thousands of children in direct violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Media Response? A Polite Silence

Our searches of the Nexis newspaper database show that, as far as we could determine, not a single UK newspaper has reported the release of these damning Israeli documents. We widened our searches to include all English-language publications covered worldwide by Nexis. We found just two: one from the Palestine News Network on 21 October and one in Palestine Chronicle on 6 November.

We were so surprised by the uniform silence across the English-language press that we asked US-based media analyst David Peterson to check our findings. He was able to do so, spelling out his search results as follows (email to Media Lens, 11 November 2010):

Major World Publications: zero

All News (English): two (the same two that we found, as mentioned above)

Broadcast Transcripts: zero

A search of the Factiva database (covering all major English-language newspapers and wire services) found the same results. Peterson commented:

“No mentions in any of the major English-language newspapers or wire services of the fact that someone had revealed the actual Israeli government policy towards the Gaza Palestinians is to force a ‘deliberate reduction’ in their access to the necessities of everyday survival.”

It takes a peculiar form of social malaise for this astonishing media silence to be maintained in ostensibly free societies.

The Fiercely ‘Independent’ BBC

On 11 November, an online BBC article reported on the Gaza blockade but made no mention of the released documents. (‘UN: No change in Gaza despite easing of Israel blockade‘ by Jon Donnison, BBC news online, 11 November 2010)

Reporter Jon Donnison wrote:

“The UN says there has been ‘no material change’ for people in Gaza since Israel announced it was ‘easing’ its economic blockade of the Palestinian territory.”

Jon Ging, the head of UN operations in Gaza, said few people had noticed any difference:

“There’s been no material change for the people on the ground here in terms of their status, the aid dependency, the absence of any recovery or reconstruction, no economy.”

Ging continued:

“The easing, as it was described, has been nothing more than a political easing of the pressure on Israel and Egypt.”

The BBC gave the final word to Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry:

“Why is the border blockaded? Because the territory has been overtaken by a declared terror movement.”

This assertion that the Gaza blockade is motivated by security concerns went unchallenged.

World News Today, presented by Zeinab Badawi on BBC4, broadcast a piece by Donnison along similar lines to his article. (BBC World News Today, BBC4, Thursday, 11 November 2010, 7.00pm)

We wrote to Jon Donnison and asked whether he was aware that the Israeli human rights group Gisha had obtained Israeli government documents confirming that the collective punishment of Gaza is based on politics, not security. We asked him:

“Have you reported the release of these documents?

“Will you be pursuing it in a new article?” (Email, 11 November 2010)

We emailed again on 16 November but have received no response to date.

Compare and contrast the BBC’s performance on this story with a new Foreign Office-sponsored piece on the BBC by news presenter Zeinab Badawi:

“Transparency, accountability of government actions is absolutely crucial. And frankly that’s the role of the media. You know, shining a harsh spotlight on truths and sunlight, after all, is a very strong antiseptic, isn’t it?” (‘Zeinab Badawi says freedom of expression is cornerstone of democracy in Britain‘, 5 November 2010)

Badawi added that “the BBC’s constitution means that we absolutely, absolutely cherish and protect and fight for our independence. We don’t even have an arm’s length relationship with the government, we just don’t deal with the government at all.”

Badawi continued the self-adulation:

“It [the BBC] really is a vital, vital tool for the dissemination of information in all sorts of ways. All these things have really served to underscore that freedom of speech that we have in this country. And I suppose the BBC best epitomises that tradition.”

She concluded:

“I’m very proud to be an employee of the BBC.”

Write to the media and let them know that their complicity in Israel’s war crimes is unacceptable. Some suggested email addresses are listed at the bottom of the original article.

The violence debate: teaching the oppressed how to fight oppression

1 November 2010

By Ramzy Baroud, via Palestine Chronicle

Misreading history often leads to an erroneous assessment of the present.

An American activist once gave me a book she wrote detailing her experiences in Palestine. The largely visual volume documented her journey of the occupied West Bank, rife with barbered wires, checkpoints, soldiers and tanks. It also highlighted how Palestinians resisted the occupation peacefully, in contrast to the prevalent media depictions linking Palestinian resistance to violence.

More recently, I received a book glorifying non-violent resistance, and which referred to self-proclaimed Palestinian fighters who renounced violence as “converts”. The book elaborated on several wondrous examples of how these “conversions” came about. Apparently a key factor was the discovery that not all Israelis supported the military occupation. The fighters realised that an environment that allowed both Israelis and Palestinians to work together would be best for Palestinians seeking other, more effective means of liberation.

An American priest also explained to me how non-violent resistance is happening on an impressive scale. He showed me brochures he had obtained during a visit to a Bethlehem organisation which teaches youth the perils of violence and the wisdom of non-violence. The organisation and its founders run seminars and workshops and invite speakers from Europe and the United States to share their knowledge on the subject with the (mostly refugee) students.

Every so often, an article, video or book surfaces with a similar message: Palestinians are being taught non-violence; Palestinians are responding positively to the teachings of non-violence.

As for progressive and leftist media and audiences, stories praising non-violence are electrifying, for they ignite a sense of hope that a less violent way is possible, that the teachings of Gandhi are not only relevant to India, in a specific time and space, but throughout the world, anytime.

These depictions repeatedly invite the question: where is the Palestinian Gandhi? Then, they invite the answer: a Palestinian Gandhi already exists, in numerous West Bank villages bordering the Israeli Apartheid Wall, which peacefully confront carnivorous Israeli bulldozers as they eat up Palestinian land.

In a statement marking a recent visit announcement by the group of Elders to the Middle East, India’s Ela Bhatt, a ‘Gandhian advocate of non-violence’, explained her role in The Elders’ latest mission: “I will be pleased to return to the Middle East to show the Elders’ support for all those engaged in creative, non-violent resistance to the occupation – both Israelis and Palestinians.”

For some, the emphasis on non-violent resistance is a successful media strategy. You will certainly far more likely to get Charlie Rose’s attention by discussing how Palestinians and Israelis organise joint sit-ins than by talking about the armed resistance of some militant groups ferociously fighting the Israeli army.

For others, ideological and spiritual convictions are the driving forces behind their involvement in the non-violence campaign, which is reportedly raging in the West Bank. These realisations seem to be largely lead by western advocates.

On the Palestinian side, the non-violent brand is also useful. It has provided an outlet for many who were engaged in armed resistance, especially during the Second Palestinian Intifada. Some fighters, affiliated with the Fatah movement, for example, have become involved in art and theatre, after hauling automatic rifles and topping Israel’s most wanted list for years.

Politically, the term is used by the West Bank government as a platform that would allow for the continued use of the word moqawama, Arabic for resistance, but without committing to a costly armed struggle, which would certainly not go down well if adopted by the non-elected government deemed ‘moderate’ by both Israel and the United States.

Whether in subtle or overt ways, armed resistance in Palestine is always condemned. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah government repeatedly referred to it as ‘futile’. Some insist it is a counterproductive strategy. Others find it morally indefensible.

The problem with the non-violence bandwagon is that it is grossly misrepresentative of the reality on the ground. It also takes the focus away from the violence imparted by the Israeli occupation – in its routine and lethal use in the West Bank, and the untold savagery in Gaza – and places it solely on the shoulders of the Palestinians.

As for the gross misrepresentation of reality, Palestinians have used mass non-violent resistance for generations – as early as the long strike of 1936. Non-violent resistance has been and continues to be the bread and butter of Palestinian moqawama, from the time of British colonialism to the Israeli occupation. At the same time, some Palestinians fought violently as well, compelled by a great sense of urgency and the extreme violence applied against them by their oppressors. It is similar to the way many Indians fought violently, even during the time that Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas were in full bloom.

Those who reduce and simplify India’s history of anti-colonial struggle are doing the same to Palestinians.

Misreading history often leads to an erroneous assessment of the present, and thus a flawed prescription for the future. For some, Palestinians cannot possibly get it right, whether they respond to oppression non-violently, violently, with political defiance or with utter submissiveness. The onus will always be on them to come up with solution, and do so creatively and in ways that suit our western sensibilities and our often selective interpretations of Gandhi’s teachings. 

Violence and non-violence are mostly collective decisions that are shaped and driven by specific political and socio-economic conditions and contexts. Unfortunately, the violence of the occupier has a tremendous role in creating and manipulating these conditions. It is unsurprising that the Second Palestinian Uprising was much more violent than the first, and that violent resistance in Palestine gained a huge boost after the victory scored by the Lebanese resistance in 2000, and again in 2006.

These factors must be contemplated seriously and with humility, and their complexity should be taken into account before any judgments are made. No oppressed nation should be faced with the demands that Palestinians constantly face. There may well be a thousand Palestinian Gandhis. There may be none. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. Only the unique experience of the Palestinian people and their genuine struggle for freedom could yield what Palestinians as a collective deem appropriate for their own. This is what happened with the people of India, France, Algeria and South Africa, and many others nations that sought and eventually attained their freedom.

– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London) is essential reading for all those interested in the history of Palestine.

Latest Viva Palestina convoy breaks siege and enters Gaza to jubilant crowds

25 October 2010

[Zaher Birawi of Viva Palestina speaks to Yousef Helou of Press TV on entry into Gaza.]

The Viva Palestina convoy of almost 150 vehicles, 370 people from 30 different countries and $5m of aid has entered Gaza.

Amidst scenes of jubilation from thousands of Palestinians there to greet the convoy, Kevin Ovenden, the convoy director, expressed his joy at being in Gaza once again.

“We have driven more than 3,000 miles to bring this essential aid and to break this illegal siege of Gaza. We have been joined by supporters from Morocco and Algeria and from the Gulf States and Jordan, to make this the biggest convoy ever to break the siege of Gaza. We are absolutely overjoyed to be here and to bring with us the soil from the graves of those who were massacred on the Mavi Marmara which will be used to plant trees as a memorial to their sacrifice.”

The convoy set out four weeks and five days ago from London. It travelled through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Syria. Everywhere the reception was fantastic and the generosity of well-wishers unsurpassed. Towards the end there was a frustrating delay in Syria whilst negotiations at the highest levels were conducted with the Egyptian authorities.

In the end it was all worth it as the Egyptian authorities decided to allow passage of the whole convoy. Convoy leaders however regret the decision by the Egyptian authorities to exclude 17 members of the convoy, including George Galloway.

Convoy leaders confirmed that not only medical but other forms of aid have been taken into Gaza on the convoy in almost 150 vehicles, which can be used for medical and other peaceful purposes. Total aid is valued at $5m.

Viva Palestina were also keen to correct inaccurate reports that had appeared in the New York Times and elsewhere. These claimed that the convoy had entered Gaza through Israel.

These claims are entirely untrue. Viva Palestina has had a firm principle from its inception and that is it will not go through Israel to reach Gaza or hand over convoy aid to Israeli authorities.

Entry into Gaza was through Egypt. The convoy sailed from Latakia in Syria to the Egyptian port of El Arish and then drove the 40km to the Egyptian/Gaza border at Rafah, where they entered the Gaza Strip.

Video: Viva Palestina convoy waits in Latakia

14 October 2010

Via Press TV