Children of a Lesser God

For anyone with a Kindle, my new novel – Children of a Lesser Godis available free for the next three days as part of an Amazon promotion.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

‘The Gaza border, January 2009, just before the IDF launches a land invasion of the Gaza Strip as part of Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s land, sea and air assault designed to destroy the capability of the Palestinian resistance to launch rockets at Israeli towns and settlements adjacent to the Strip.

Waiting for the Israelis are members of the Palestinian resistance. Among them is 22 year old Azzam. On the other side, waiting to begin the assault with IDF’s elite Golani Brigade, is Gabi.

The story of both men unfolds in the hours preceding the assault. It is the story of a decades long struggle between two peoples who refuse to accept they are the Children of a Lesser God.’

The Gaza war – initial thoughts on the outcome

Following on from his article earlier this week, leading Palestine solidarity activist Kevin Ovenden responds to the latest events in Gaza

It is far too early to provide a comprehensive account of the impact of the latest Gaza War on the prospects for the Palestinian struggle, Israel and the region as a whole.

But it is clear that the seven day war demonstrated both Israel’s continuing preparedness to seek to solve its ongoing crisis and internal political impasse through war, and at the same time the tighter constraints that exist on account of the Arab revolutionary process and continued resistance to imperialism and Israeli aggression.

In response to questions from and out of conversations with many friends, however, here are some schematic observations and opinions that may stimulate a wider discussion.

1) Friends in Gaza, from across the spectrum, report a great sense of relief. And grief. At least one close friend lost his mother when a bomb hit their apartment block. There is also defiance from withstanding the Israeli assault and from the prevention (whatever people ascribe that to) of a ground invasion. Hamas has been boosted internally. People in Gaza do have a genuine sense of “victory”. There is hope that the siege will fall – quickly and totally.

2) Hamas is also boosted externally and is in the spotlight of diplomacy in the region, despite its continuing proscription in the US, Britain and much of Europe. The political siege imposed since Hamas won the 2006 election is already ended and the West is having to adjust to that. In reality, and through back channels and intermediaries, it already has.

3) Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and his leadership in the Muslim Brotherhood are also lifted. As every correspondent reported, he received warm praise from Washington, London and even Tel Aviv for his role in the ceasefire. He was able to continue to balance deftly the groundswell of support for the Palestinians in Egypt and maintaining relations with the West and the Camp David accord with Israel. There were, however, significant demonstrations in Egypt from those who rightly feel that Morsi should go much further.
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Gaza: what means this war?

This is a guest post from leading Palestine solidarity activist Kevin Ovenden.

What means this war?

The response from Western capitals and their allies to Israel’s latest war on Gaza was as expected. 

There was no hand-wringing about a “no-fly zone” to protect civilians; no cliched demarche from Paris calling for “humanitarian corridors”; no emergency London or Doha conference to agree “non-lethal” defence supplies to the people of Gaza; no total or even token sanctions on Israel; no calls for Binyamin Netanyahu to step down; no media castigation of the “regime” in Tel Aviv; no arms or billions in largesse flowing from Western allies in the Persian Gulf and Turkey to those fighting an illegitimate, murderous aggressor. 

Instead, there was full-throated support for Israel. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague led the pack in laying “principal responsibility” for the aggression on its victims – the Hamas government in Gaza and those who elected it. His subsequent advice that Israel risked “losing international support” through a ground invasion merely indicated the West’s preferred parameters for this bout of slaughter.

All predictable, perhaps wearily so. Why then rehearse this litany of hypocrisy? Because if we become inured to it, let it stand as a harsh fact of life in a cynical world, then unwittingly we allow the West and its allies to shift the narrative in the Middle East, to frame events and to determine which questions will be asked and which buried. And not just there.

That has been a central aim in Washington, London, Tel Aviv and the rest for the last 12 months as they attempt both to grapple with a region that is in a process of long-term profound change and to manage their equally long-term decline. 

It is almost exactly a year ago that Palestine was last at the centre of official international attention, when Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen pushed at the UN Security Council for the recognition of a truncated Palestinian state. Voted down by the US and its allies, he is set to make the same bid at the wider UN General Assembly, where there is no great power veto, at the end of this month.

But in those 12 months, Palestine was off the agenda – as Israeli settlements expanded, the siege on Gaza continued and the apparatus of apartheid deepened. So much so that when Netanyahu visited the US earlier this year to rally the pro-Israel AIPAC conference and nakedly boost the fundamentalist Republican election campaign against Barack Obama, he was able to get away with barely mentioning the word “Palestinian” whilst agitating for war on Iran and seeking to bend the outcome of events in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere to Israel’s and the West’s advantage. 

The return of Palestine (which didn’t go away from the minds of those genuinely driving change in the Middle East), as so often through massacre and tragedy, lays bare the true fault-lines and course of development in the wider region. It illuminates also the manoeuvres to subvert progressive change and to distract us – which have preoccupied the Empire since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago. 

Israel and US decline

The proximate reasons for Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud are interlinked and reasonably clear. At the end of October Israel bombed the Yarmouk factory in Khartoum, Sudan, accusing it of being a staging post for the supply of Iranian missiles to Hamas and other resistance organisations in Gaza. Of course, the standard Western government and media portrayal of some kind of equivalence between Israel, a nuclear-armed state with the fourth most powerful army in the world backed by the most powerful, and the Palestinians, occupied, besieged, exiled, without an airforce or air defence and with the most minimal of arms, is risible. And we are told from reliable reports that far from escalating confrontation and triggering the war, Hamas was in fact seeking a truce with Israel when its military commander, and close ally of leader Khaled Mishaal, Ahmed al-Jaabari was assassinated, signalling the start of the war. 

Nevertheless, the arrival of rockets such as the Fajr-5 in Gaza is of considerable concern to the Israeli state. It means, as the last week has shown, that Israel’s assault on Gaza, while overwhelming, is not entirely without response. Air raid sirens have sounded in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An Israeli public, promised that the 2006 war on Lebanon and the 2008-09 war on Gaza would leave them safer, faces the reality that the security balance is shifting even as they have state of the art shelters and the Dalou family, all but wiped out in an Israeli raid on their apartment block in Gaza, had nowhere to hide in the world’s largest open air prison camp. Crushing or disciplining resistance in Gaza has a politico-military logic for Netanyahu – especially as he presses on towards military confrontation with Iran and wants to pre-empt any fighting response from the Palestinian territories and from Lebanon. He has been frustrated from forcing through the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities this year and before the US presidential election. His cartoon performance at the UN two months ago, however, signalled a determination to bring things to the boil by next spring. Unable to lash out at Iran or directly against the resistance in Lebanon after Israel’s defeat in 2006, the caged Palestinians of Gaza provide a convenient target for a barbaric “demonstration effect” of Israel’s power. 

The message is clear – despite the changes in the region, we can still do this. We are serious about a greater Israel and “solving” the “Palestinian problem” on Egyptian and Jordanian territory, with the apartheid infrastructure of occupation taking most of the West Bank into an expanded Israel. It is a message for domestic consumption. Netanyahu faces a general election in January. The fusion between his Likud party and the ultra-right Avigdor Lieberman did not produce a poll bounce. It is a message to the Palestinians, including Abu Mazen as he plans to go to the UN and is increasingly desperate in the face of settlement building, the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and the bankruptcy of the Oslo process. It is aimed at Arab capitals – especially Cairo. And it is addressed to Washington, where even Obama’s craven support for Israel does not have the required zealotry of Netanyahu’s friends on the Republican right, who were rejected in the presidential and Senate elections. It’s a gambit that shows every sign of backfiring, as in 2008-09 and 2006. Ceasefire talks this week could not avoid the calls to lift the six year siege on Gaza.

This isn’t the first time an Israeli prime minister has flayed the Palestinians – pour encourager les autres. In 2001, following 9/11, George W Bush toyed with the call for Palestinian statehood and a renewed peace process. It was window dressing to garner support for the impending wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel’s Ariel Sharon responded with a massive military incursion into the West Bank and Gaza. Israel was going to make no compromise even to assist its benefactor’s war drive. 

Israel remains at the centre of the US establishment’s – both Democrat and Republican – calculus of control in the Middle East. Washington provides unique access to weapons and billions of dollars of subventions to Tel Aviv – and the EU and Britain give preferential trading agreements – because it is calculated as in its interests to do so. The pro-Israel lobby does not determine those interests or high policy. But it does exert a vice-like grip on policy discussion to sideline alternatives, and their bearers, which might loosen the relationship with Israel and its right wing for the purpose of securing a broader, more stable set of alliances in pursuit of Persian Gulf oil. Keeping its hand on that spigot remains vital to US strategic policy. Even as it tries to reduce its own dependence on foreign oil, it still wants to control the supply to others, such as China, whose economies cannot function without it. The Israeli tail does not wag the US dog. But an ageing dog can lose full command of its faculties.    

The grand gamble under George W Bush and the authors of the Project for the New American Century a decade ago did not pay off. The war on Iraq resulted in weakening the US position in the Middle East, a deep and persisting decline of militarist public opinion in the US and Europe, and the strengthening of Iran in Iraq. The Afghanistan war is lost. Western prestige is falling and the political costs mounting alongside the rising Afghan and Nato death tolls and the destabilisation in Pakistan. 

But it would be a foolhardy mistake to read off from that either the impotence of US-organised imperialism or the prospect of pacific development in the Middle East, where those striving for progress would have the space to skirt around the rocks of occupation, military aggression and foreign interference. Changing the Middle East without confronting state power, great and local, as it were. 

First, the US remains immensely powerful – militarily more powerful than the next 19 states together, many of them its allies in any case. Its presence in the Persian Gulf is entrenching – in Bahrain and Qatar. Perversely, that is not Washington’s strategic intention, which is rather to concentrate military deployment encircling China. The doctrine is outlined in the Pentagon’s “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for a 21st Century Defense”. It’s forced to maintain direct deployment in the Middle East because the second limb of policy to manage upheaval and relative decline is unreliable. It is more dependent on proxies and allies in the region. They have their own distinct interests. So Israel and Turkey, a member of Nato, are both close allies of the US. Turkey is no longer a simple client of the US. A decade of AKP rule by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan and his foreign secretary, Ahmet Davutoglu, has meant a policy of putting the interests of Turkish capital first. But it remains a close, though more independent ally, and is pitching for the role of US suzerain in the Levant. The problem is that Israel already sees itself as the regional power. Turkey has ambitions which clash with that. Both have conflicting interests over, for example, the future of Algerian-levels of natural gas reserves discovered under the sea between Lebanon, Israel and the divided island of Cyprus. The tensions persist even as Erdogan seeks a tight fit with the US and Nato. So the story of Washington’s response to armed conflict in Libya and more so Syria is not simply of reluctance to intervene directly in conditions of circumscribed power. It is also one of relying on allies who have their own aspirations – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Gulf Cooperation Council. This is not a recipe for ending direct Western intervention – as Libya and the moves to cohere a pro-Western political leadership in Syria demonstrate. It is certainly not a prelude to less war in the Middle East. 

There is a parallel with the US response to its greatest ever imperial defeat: Vietnam. The victory of the Vietnamese people encouraged forces of liberation everywhere. It did not mean that a wounded US imperialism tiptoed from the stage, leaving others to play the principal. There followed a new doctrine of intense re-engagement though allies, state and others, overt and covert. The Contra war in Nicaragua; the strengthening of support for Israel after the US presence in Lebanon was forced to a close by the loss of 241 of its soldiers in 1983; the arming of Saddam Hussein against revolutionary Iran; the disastrous meddling in Afghanistan to back favoured sons of the mujahideen; the second Cold War, with the stationing of Cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe directed against the then main strategic competitor, the Soviet Union, upon whose collapse there followed the 1991 Gulf War and a resurgence of direct US interventions throughout the late-1990s. The cycle culminated in the full-blown occupation of Iraq in 2003.  

For sure, there are major differences between the position of the US three decades ago and today (though the sanctimonious Western baiting of Russia and China at the UN over Syria is redolent of 1980s Cold War rhetoric, as is the stationing of a missile “defence shield” in Eastern Europe and Turkey). The most obvious difference is the re-emergence of revolutionary upheavals across the Middle East/North Africa region. In 1979, the US lost a pillar of support with the fall of the Shah of Iran. Three decades later, and despite billions of dollars of support, it lost Mubarak. 

Response in the Arab region

Anger and shame in Egypt at the complicity of the Mubarak regime in the oppression of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, was at the centre of the movement that tore him down. It was the Al Aqsa Palestinian intifada a decade ago which led to a generation of young activists breaking the stranglehold of the Egyptian security state and taking to the streets for the first time in many years. Rage intensified at Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, during which Mubarak sealed the border with Gaza while – let us never forget – pledging along with every other Arab president and prince undying love for “our Palestinian brothers”. A fresh generation faced the ugly triptych of neo-liberal dislocation, national humiliation at their country’s prostration to imperialism and a police state viciously repressive in proportion to its declining legitimacy. That powered the great upsurge of protests and strikes that went on to topple Mubarak, in the wake of Tunisia’s Ben Ali. Underlying those movements are deep shifts in Arab societies, and in the configuration of imperial power. It is not only that these transformations are processes, rather than simply events (a journalistic commonplace now). They are likely to be drawn out over many years. Many Arab historians identify the start of a new epoch in the region. That’s why it is a mistake – understandable from those who continue to experience declining living standards and repression in the Middle East – to imagine that what Western journalists called the Arab Spring has ended, to be replaced not with a glorious summer but by a seemingly permanent winter of dispossession. Equally, to imagine that the movement would simply surge forward and rapidly transform everything, or to exaggerate what has changed, is to underestimate the resources of the other side, their tenacity and the critical political junctures the movement continues to face. Operation Pillar of Cloud poses one such juncture for those fighting for democracy in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere: is this to be done alongside those bombing Gaza, or against them? The answer from the popular masses in Syria and in every Arab state is already known and is resounding. But the same people know from their own bitter history that unfortunately popular sentiment and principle are not automatically reflected in the politics of those who rise to the top – in fact, they rarely have been. 

Compared with 15 years ago, the position of Israel and of its Western backers is demonstrably weaker. Then Israel could look to two treaty-allies on its frontline – Jordan and Egypt – an ongoing, though faltering, occupation of southern Lebanon, and a Syria that was contained, almost a Cold War relic which had recently joined the US-led assault on Iraq, then the strongest Arab state.  

A lot has changed, but much has not. Saudi Arabia (the oldest US Arab ally), Qatar and the regional capitalist hub represented by the Gulf Cooperation Council states have been pivotal in muting the response to Israel’s aggression on Gaza. Naturally, there have been words. It is easily forgotten, however, that strong words came from all of them, and from Egypt’s rulers at the time, in 1982 over the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, over the first intifada, the second intifada, the siege of President Arafat in Ramallah, Operation Cast Lead… No Arab leader can do anything other than rhetorically boast he is with the Palestinians “until Jerusalem”. The emir of Qatar promises reconstruction aid for Gaza, while hosting the US Centcom base, a keystone of US, and by extension, Israeli military might – which is… flattening Gaza. They cannot be judged on words. At all. Ever. 

Their actions are to suppress, cajole or crush the militant heart of the movement which is best exemplified in Egypt. So they have systematically repressed the movement in Bahrain over the last 12 months, with the full support of the West. British prime minister David Cameron earlier this month toured Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. He was selling arms and grovelling his apologies to the House of Saud for a rare, critical British parliamentary report on the total absence of human rights in the kingdom. He cemented the recent military agreement with Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet. All this while Cameron and the kings posed as champions of democracy in Libya and Syria. The nauseating hypocrisy is summed up by Britain’s William Hague. Six days into the assault on Gaza, which as a great friend of Likud he backs above and beyond the call of his office, he proclaimed that the British government would now recognise the latest umbrella group of the Syrian opposition. It’s the one which the West – Britain and France above all – has with Gulf allies spent months ensuring is safely politically aligned. If they get their way, the fruit of the appalling fighting in Syria will be a government still more amenable to the West. We expect the Western media and politicians to fall silent about their double standards. The movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people and with the mass of Arabs cannot. 

Wiping Palestine off the map of public concern as thoroughly as it was wiped off the geographical map in 1948 has been key to Western and Gulf efforts to redirect and redefine the “Arab Spring” over the last 12 months. That has gone hand in hand with the direct suppression of the movement in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and with the effort to usurp and bend political forces from Libya to Syria and Egypt. The strategy has had some success. Until now. Until the renewed Israeli aggression on Gaza, which provides a moment in which the central issues are again clarified. 

The process is concentrated in Jordan. Last week tens of thousands of protesters broke a taboo and the law by calling for the fall of King Abdullah (the monarch, who rules by sole virtue of being his father’s son but who with no hint of irony said last year that Syria’s Bashar Al Assad lacked “democratic legitimacy”). The protests and strikes over fuel hikes in Jordan began on the eve of Operation Pillar of Cloud. Israel has an embassy in Jordan, where two thirds of the population are expelled Palestinians. The tripartite treaty and security arrangements between Israel, Jordan and (still) Egypt are central to Tel Aviv’s capacity to hold down the Palestinians. Fear of an Egyptian-style confluence of rising social discontent and heartfelt support for the Palestinians led Abdullah to cancel a visit to London in order to manage the crisis on Saturday as protests intensified. Part of his arsenal of response was, along with other Arab leaders, to call for a ceasefire and to issue a verbal fusillade against Netanyahu. He and they were licensed to do so. Words. Words – while the embassy of Israel and the mutual treaty stayed in place. Words while Jordan’s secret police host the CIA to train those approved by Israel to serve in the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, containing the incipient Palestinian spring in the West Bank and Jerusalem. 

Egypt and Turkey

The venue for the ceasefire negotiations was Cairo, where President Mohamed Morsi on the one hand recalled Egypt’s ambassador to Tel Aviv and on the other received warm praise from Washington and London for his “mediation efforts” between Israel and Hamas. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is not only closely linked to Hamas, which has moved through Cairo to normalise relations with Doha, Riyadh and other Arab capitals. The Brotherhood also stakes much of its claim for legitimacy on pan-Islamic solidarity to recover Palestine. Of course, by the standards of political leaders in Britain, where I’m writing this from, the recall of an ambassador from Israel is a huge step forward. But Morsi came to office in Egypt thanks to the revolutionary overthrow of Mubarak. The yardstick is very different. What may be lionised in Britain is lamentable in Egypt. Throughout the Israeli assault on Gaza restrictions have remained in place at the Rafah crossing with Egypt. The argument from Morsi and from the Brotherhood since his election has been that caution is necessary – a balancing act – so as not to provoke the still powerful Egyptian military or Western powers, who warily see the Brotherhood as a force they are obliged to do business with, rather than one they would have freely chosen. Egypt has just secured a loan from the International Monetary Fund, with the customary attendant neo-liberal conditions. Now, no friend of the Egyptian people would relish war or a reckless military confrontation with Israel. But we are not talking about some preemptory abrogation of the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt at a moment when Egypt would be isolated and seen to be inviting reprisals. We are talking about the moment when Israel launches its biggest aggression against Palestine since Mubarak sat idly by (while telling us he was praying for Gaza) four years ago. If not now, when? Operation Pillar of Defence has produced significant protests in Egypt, including from Muslim Brotherhood members. A gathering of parties, among them the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, called for action, rather than words, from Morsi. 

His election run-off against the candidate of the SCAF military council this year produced a division in the revolutionary movement in Egypt. First there was a liberal argument – echoed by sections of the historic left – that the Muslim Brotherhood, indeed Islamist forces generally, are simply reactionary, as much an enemy of the mass of the population as the military junta which hankered for continuity with the Mubarak years. At the extreme end were pro-Western liberals or social democrats who openly said they preferred the “secular”, military-backed Shafiq to the “Islamist” Morsi. A second, more difficult, argument was among those who rightly do not equate the Muslim Brotherhood with the military, but who differed over the tactics of whether to boycott the election or to vote for Morsi in order to stall the direct attempt by the military to roll back the revolution. I believe that the narrow victory of Morsi and the course of politics since is a vindication of arguing for the defeat of Shafiq in the election, which meant favouring the victory of Morsi, against the understandable feeling of overwhelmingly young, urban revolutionaries to boycott the election in the name of radical street action against all the old conservative faces. 

Be that as it may. The point for all the radical wing for the Egyptian revolution was what were the best tactics to propel it forward. It was about how to go beyond the chronically cautious, vacillating Brotherhood leadership and how to defeat the move by Western powers to limit the changes to a parliamentary/presidential facade, behind which Egypt’s role in the region would remain little changed, as would the position of working people, peasants, the poor and the oppressed at home. 

The assault on Gaza and the tepid response from the Egyptian government provide a moment when radical revolutionaries can aspire to do just that: to win broader layers to the radical goals of the revolution as workers and the poor continue to resist at home and the government’s vaunted Islamic solidarity stands diminished abroad. The divisions among the Brotherhood over Morsi’s performance mean that the genuine left can pose a militant way forward alongside those disappointed with Morsi – in common initiatives.  

This is so not only in Egypt. Turkey, under Erdogan’s AKP Islamist government, has issued strong words against Israel, calling it “a terrorist state”. Erdogan and Davutoglu have been at the centre of steering the “Arab Spring” towards an outcome in their own image, a kind of Islamic version of European Christian Democracy. 

No one can doubt the sincerity of the mass of Turkish people, religious and secular, in their support for the Palestinians. Those of us who were aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship attacked by Israel two years ago will forever attest to that. Erdogan also issued strong words against Israel in 2009, during Cast Lead. But since his “just one minute” speech at the Davos summit in Switzerland nearly four years have passed. In that time, and despite diplomatic spats, trade between Israel and Turkey has increased 60 percent to $4.4 billion. That provides a significant portion of Israel’s foreign earnings. It is exactly the vulnerability identified by the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. But there are no Turkish economic sanctions on Israel. Erdogan is on the point of requesting extra missiles from his Nato partners. They are not to protect the Palestinians or even theatrically to wave at Israel. They are for pointing at Syria, as the border tension between the two countries escalates and Turkey wishes to play kingmaker in Damascus. 

The US, Britain, Europe and the war at home

Suggestions and observations from those in the West to friends in the Middle East are cheap – in fact worthless – if they do not flow from and are subordinate to building a serious movement in the heart of the Empire. There is a long tradition of “progressives” in the West refusing to oppose or giving tacit support to their states’ war machines in the name of “liberating” people from only carefully selected “despots” in far off lands. It may indeed be inadequate for one Middle Eastern foreign minister after another ritualistically to visit Gaza under bombardment. But the US and British governments are not inadequate. They are self aware and irreplaceable backers of Israel. They are participants in this war. The EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton, with the war criminal Tony Blair as Middle East peace envoy, was despatched not to Gaza under bombs, but to the West Bank. There they sought to pressure Abu Mazen not to push recognition at the UN. 

The Western public response to Israel’s attack on Gaza has been angry. In most countries support for Israel continues to fall. But those of us active in the West must be honest: we have a very long way to go. The ease with which the British media and political class supported this aggression on Gaza shows that. Too easily and too often have we allowed Palestine to be sidelined over the last 12 months. Too readily have some of us not singlemindedly honed in on the crimes of our own governments. Failing to do that allows greater space for them to sow confusion and division; falsely to pose as liberators; to redefine the public perception of the Arab Spring as a movement directed mainly at those at odds with the West, while our allies are supposedly quietly reforming. And our core allies in the region are spewing an ethnic-religious poison against “Persians”, “Alawites” and Shia minority Muslims in a sickening reheating of Sykes-Picot divide and rule. That poison has entered the veins of even some in Britain’s Muslim communities. While the venom weakens the body, the ideological barrage softens the mind. Few may buy the brazen trickery of Israel’s venerable war criminal Shimon Peres, who claimed last year that he welcomed the “Arab Spring” as it represented, he said, an overdue, pro-Western modernisation of the Middle East, directed against the “old politics” of “Hamas, Hezbollah” and Arab nationalism. But the more we allow Palestine to be glossed over, the easier it is for all those who wish to derail the movements to rid the Middle East of all foreign domination and of corrupt rulers, and who manipulate the better part of the feelings of Western citizens, mostly prey to the media corporations.   

The return of revolutionary events to the Middle East did not mean that the struggle against imperialist interference ended. It meant that that struggle could be refounded on mass, revolutionary movements. There is every reason to stand with mainly young people in the Middle East facing over a century of dismemberment, disfigurement and disillusion with those who have promised to solve it. There can be no excuse in the imperialist states for mature movements not to confront systematically and in all fields our governments. The century-long foreign domination of the Middle East is weakening, thanks in no small measure to the continued resistance of the Palestinian people. Tensions and conflicts in the US-organised hierarchy of control are mounting. But there is still a hierarchy of control. It is that which defines the problems it faces, not the other way around.  

Britain, post-Suez, has been wedded as a junior partner, an adjutant to the US. When Cameron’s government backs Israel in deed and not just word, helping to arm it, covering for it at the UN, when it props up the Gulf dictators and seeks to usurp the future of the Syrian and Arab people more generally, then these are not simply Middle Eastern questions, the subjects of theoretical debate or ideological elucidation. They are British political questions. 

Three generations ago several leaders of what would become successful anti-colonial liberation movements spent time in London: it was the capital of the biggest empire. Gandhi, Kenyatta and others, discussed with Labour Party people, the Independent Labour Party, Communists, Fabians and more besides. They did not look to progressives in Britain primarily for an organised discussion about politics in the Indian subcontinent or East Africa. Principally, they sought out people here who would construct a movement that could help lift the Union Jack-boot off the necks of people in the two thirds of the globe then run from London. 

Britain’s despicable support for the latest war on Gaza shows why a movement and political principles opposed to contemporary imperialism remain vital. Keeping Palestine as “the issue” is central to that movement. It embraces the welcome reality that globally for tens of millions of people, especially young people thirsting for change, Palestine has become the symbol of the world struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter – as Malcolm X used to put it. Palestine is also a loadstone. Real progress in the Middle East, in deeds not empty words, brings the liberation of Palestine closer, not more distant. 

The change from Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 or the war on Lebanon two years earlier is not only in the Middle East. It is in Europe and north America. Here, now, we are in the throes of a long economic crisis. Austerity grips the US, Britain and Europe in a way that was only dimly discernible on the horizon when Israel killed 1,417 Palestinians four years ago. The stakes for the old imperial powers are very high. So too for their people. 

In addition to the considerable minority who were already moved to side with the Palestinians, there are many others in Britain who ask or who can be encouraged to ask – why should we stand with Cameron behind Israel’s shooting war on the Palestinians, when it is Cameron and his Etonian millionaires who are at economic and social war with us? As austerity bites deeper and domestic support for the government withers, then foreign imperial adventures are all the more risky. Ensuring that the risk is realised requires an unswerving focus on the duplicity and crimes of our rulers, intensifying every argument against them through whatever actions we can muster with broad support. With a British government in occupation of Afghanistan, a belligerent in Gaza and at war against us at home this is not a distraction. It is the most meaningful thing we can do in solidarity with those resisting in Palestine and across the Middle East. 

Greece is the European country hardest hit thus far by the economic war of the rich against the rest. There have been many demonstrations, strikes and electoral battles by the left over the last four years. On the annual commemoration of the Polytechnic Uprising against the military junta in 1973, a massive demonstration unsurprisingly took to the streets of Athens on Saturday, 17 November. There were many excellent candidates for where the march should go to, given the manifold domestic and international tormentors of the Greek people today. The demonstration, three days into the assault on Gaza, chose to go the Israeli embassy in Athens. To its credit, on that evening at least, the Communist Party contingent argued with the police that its permit for that route should also include everyone else who wished to protest against the outpost of the Zionist entity in solidarity with the Palestinians. The anti-capitalist left and the bulk of the demonstration did wish to; they marched there together. 

It was more than a gesture of solidarity, splendid alone as that would have been. The governments of austerity Greece, a member of Nato, have drawn increasingly close to Israel over the last two years. In striking at that pact and for the people in Gaza, the Polytechnic demonstration revealed a political intent for a radical break with all the filth of Western capitalism and imperialism. 

Internationalism is not simply support for those elsewhere; it is the beating heart of a truly radical politics at home. And the meaning of this latest Israeli war? More war and imperialist meddling are to come. Alongside them, further upsurges and resistance. And for those of us who resist – Palestine is still the issue. 

Kevin Ovenden
20 November 2012

Israel’s War is Not Against Hamas It’s Against Justice

As ever, the dominant narrative being presented to us on the current conflict in Gaza is that Israel is defending itself and its civilians against unprovoked aggression by Palestinian terrorists. And as expected, it is the same narrative being pushed in Washington and London, as like a well-rehearsed play the actors involved perform their respective roles with the same old aplomb.

It is the same narrative we have been subjected to over countless years, one intended to paint Israel, that democratic outpost of western civilisation surrounded by barbarian hordes intent on its destruction, as perennial victim.

But as in the past, so as now, it is a lie.

The truth is the current conflict has little if anything to do with Hamas or its rockets. It does however have everything to do with the state of Israel’s decades-long policy of occupation, embargo, siege, collective punishment, expropriation, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Israel’s war is not with Hamas but with the Palestinian people in their entirety, both the 1.5 million in Gaza and the 2.5-3 million in the West Bank. It is a war waged every hour of every day there is occupation, checkpoints, and settlements. It is a war waged every hour of every day there is an economic embargo, siege, and collective punishment. It is a war being waged every second of the indignity and humiliation suffered by its victims.

Yet despite the irrefutable facts of Israel’s barbaric treatment of a people criminalised for daring to exist, we are treated to a constant inversion of the truth, which holds that the many and multiple depredations being suffered by the Palestinians do not amount to one of the most sustained and grievous crimes against humanity in history, but are the result of their intransigence and violence. This is the song of colonialism. The victims always bring it on themselves. If only they would learn to bear their chains in silence. As Golda Meir said, “We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”

And they are killing them, right now, even as the world looks on – again.

Worse, when we consider that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people constitutes a clear and inarguable breach of international law, and has done for decades, the Western media’s continuing policy of ascribing a moral equivalence between Israel, an oppressive settler colonial state, and the Palestinians, an oppressed colonised people, monumental insult is added to monstrous injury. There is no moral equivalence. Nor can there ever be one.

Israel’s latest military assault against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, which, at 40km long and 10km wide with a population of between 1.5 and 1.7 million people, is one of the most densely populated pieces of land in the world, goes by the biblical name of ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’. As with ‘Operation Cast Lead’ four years ago, during which 1400 Palestinians were killed, thousands more were wounded, and war crimes, as adduced by the UN and the Red Cross, were committed wholesale, this latest military operation is designed to terrify the Palestinians into submission.

The major, though as yet unquantifiable, difference between now and then is Egypt.  Mubarak, Israel’s man in Cairo, has been replaced by Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt and champion of the Muslim Brotherhood, and at time of writing the prime minister of Egypt has already visited Gaza to show solidarity and offer Egypt’s rhetorical support to the Palestinians. The question now is how this support will manifest if, as expected, Israel escalates its assault in the days ahead. The answer could well have a bearing on the future not only for the Palestinians but the region as a whole.

Meanwhile in Washington the Obama administration, thus far supporting Israel in time-honoured fashion when it comes to the US and its closest ally, will not relish the prospect of strained relations with the most populous Arab nation in the world. Not now with the region still in a state of flux as a result of the Arab Spring. And not even despite the fact that Israel is and remains America’s closest ally. Former US president Ronald Reagan, with the candour of a man accustomed to making and breaking governments at will, said it best: “The greatest security for Israel is to create new Egypts”.

A new Egypt has been created, but not by Israel or the US, by the Egyptian people. And it remains to be seen how this will impact on Israel’s ability to continue in the old way.

It is a question that is still to be answered. What we know for certain now is that oppression breeds resistance. The rockets being fired against Israel from inside Gaza are the natural response of a people under siege for the crime of exercising their democratic right to elect a government of their own choice. And when it comes to that government, Hamas’s supreme crime, according to Israel and its apologists, is that in its charter it states its desire to see the destruction of Israel. Standing alone, and shorn of any historical or actual context, it is a desire that cannot be understood or accepted by any reasonable person. But add this context, in the shape of the previously mentioned decades-long occupation and policy of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and national humiliation: is it really beyond comprehension that the people suffering this oppression may develop along the way a hatred of their oppressor, however irrational it might seem to us who don’t and consequently could never understand its dehumanising impact?

In the last analysis, the only way Israel will ever be able to guarantee its security is if it guarantees the security of the Palestinians. This will first of all require an end to the inherent racism that exists in the heart of every coloniser towards those being colonised. The Palestinians are not subhumans. They are not products of a lesser culture or race. They are a people who have suffered six decades of injustice that continues as a stain on the conscience of the world.

Incinerating their children in the name of civilisation and democracy renders both meaningless.

The bombing of Gaza University

Where’s the Academic Outrage Over the Bombing of Gaza University?

By Neve Gordon and Jeff Halper

I am also opposed to the war in Gaza (Hebrew)Not one of the 450 presidents of American colleges and universities, who denounced the decision of the union representing British academics to promote a boycott of Israeli universities, raised their voice against the bombardment of the Islamic University in Gaza. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger who organized the petition remained silent, as did his co-signatories from Princeton, Northwestern, MIT and Cornell. Most others who signed similar petitions, like the 11,000(!) professors from nearly 1,000 universities around the world, also refrained from expressing their outrage when the leading university in the Gaza Strip was attacked. The artfully named Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which organized the latter appeal, surely had nothing to say about the assault.

The story was reported widely by the different news agencies, including the Chronicle. Haaretz noted that Israel “bombed the Islamic University and a government compound in Gaza City, key centers of Hamas power, in the third day of its aerial assault on the city.” While the extent of the damage to the university, which was hit in six different air strikes, is unknown at this moment, Haaretz reported that “Two major buildings were leveled to the floor. One building was main laboratories and the other was lecture rooms buildings. Each building was 4 floors high.” Witnesses said the two university structures hit today were the science-laboratory block and the Women’s Building, where female students studied in classrooms separate from those for male students. There were no casualties, as the university was evacuated when the Israeli assault began on Saturday.

Virtually all the accounts agree that the Islamic University was attacked because it was a “cultural symbol” of the Hamas movement, the ruling party in the elected Palestinian government which Israel has targeted in its ongoing attacks on the Gaza Strip. Mysteriously, hardly any of the news articles emphasized the educational significance of this university, which exceeds by far its cultural or political symbolism.

Established “with the approval of the Israeli authorities“ in 1978, the Islamic University is the first institution of higher education in the Gaza Strip and still its major and most important university, serving over 20,000 students, sixty percent of whom are women. It is comprised of ten faculties “ education, religion, art, commerce, Shariah law, science, engineering, information technology, medicine and nursing“ and awards B.A., B.Sc., M.A., M.Sc. and Diplomas. Taking into account that Palestinian universities have, in UNICEF’s words, been regionalized because Palestinian students from Gaza seeking hig! her education are barred by Israel from studying either in the West Bank or abroad, the educational significance of this institution becomes even more apparent.

These restrictions became international news when last summer, Israel refused to grant exit permits to seven carefully vetted Gazan students who has been awarded Fulbright fellowships by the State Department for study in the US. After the incident was covered by The New York Times, top State Department officials intervened to restore the students Fulbright fellowships although Israel allowed only four of the seven to leave, even after appeals by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. “It is a welcome victory” for the students, opined the New York Times in its July 8, 2008, editorial, “[and] for Israel, which should want to see more of Gaza’s young people follow a path of hope and education rather than hopelessness and martyrdom; and for the United States, whose image in the Middle East badly needs burnishing”

Notwithstanding the importance of the Islamic University, Israel has tried to justify the bombing. An army spokeswoman told The Chronicle that the buildings had been used as “a research and development center for Hamas weapons, including Qassam rockets. One of the structures struck housed explosives laboratories that were an inseparable part of Hamas’s research and development program, as well as places that served as storage facilities for the organization. The development of these weapons took place under the auspices of senior lecturers who are activists in Hamas.”

Islamic University officials denied the Israeli allegations. Yet even if there is some merit in them, it is common knowledge that practically all major American and Israeli universities are engaged in research and development of military applications, and receive funding from the Pentagon and defense corporations. Unfortunately weapons development and even manufacture has become a major part of university systems worldwide – a fact that does not justify bombing them.

How, given the unfolding events, should academics respond to this assault? Regardless of one’s stand on the boycott of Israeli universities, anyone so concerned about academic freedom as to put one’s name to a petition, should be outraged no less by Israel’s destruction of a Palestine university. The question, then, is whether the university presidents and professors who signed the different petitions will speak out against the bombing of an Islamic University.

Neve Gordon is chair of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008). Jeff Halper is director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. His latest book is An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (Pluto Press, 2008).