March 13 / 15, 2009
By ERIC RUDER
More than a month after Israel’s assault on Gaza ended, life for Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians continues to be a daily struggle. Israel maintains a suffocating siege that blocks the flow of basic staples, plunging the vast majority of residents into abject poverty.
But a ray of hope has emerged in the form of a growing international struggle–from Canada and the U.S., to Europe and South Africa–to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. On March 21, justice for Palestine will be a main slogan at an antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C. organized to mark the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Haidar Eid, a professor of English, political commentator and longtime activist, is a resident of Gaza City and has provided an ongoing eyewitness account and analysis of Israel’s war.
THE SHOOTING part of Israel’s war is now over, according to the media. Yet Israel continues air strikes on targets in Gaza every few days. And in addition to the bombings, Israel’s siege remains firmly in place, stopping all manner of critical goods from getting into Gaza. Can you describe conditions now?
THE COURAGEOUS Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has talked about the hermetic siege of Gaza that has been in place for some three years now. Prior to the war, Pappe called this siege “slow-motion genocide,” and he was absolutely right.
Even before the war, more than 350 terminally ill people died because Israel refused to allow them to leave Gaza for essential medical treatment. Israel refused to issue them travel permits to be treated in Egyptian or Jordanian hospitals. I’m talking about people with kidney failure, heart problems, cancer.
The war transformed the slow-motion genocide into real genocide–I don’t know what else to call it. During the war, more 1,440 people were killed.
We thought that the end of the war would also mean the end of the medieval siege imposed on Gaza. But unfortunately, that hasn’t happened since the end of the Gaza massacre–and I really don’t want to call it the end of the “war,” because the war has continued but in different forms.
Israel failed to achieve any of its three objectives that it declared at the beginning of the war–topping the government of Hamas, putting an end to the launching of rockets, and establishing a new security arrangement in Gaza.
Since they failed at this, they have been trying to achieve politically what they could not militarily–with the help of the U.S., even under the Obama administration, with the complicity of the European Union and with the help of some Arab regimes.
This is why all the proposals to reconstruct the Gaza Strip being discussed at the recent international donors conference at Sharm el Sheik all come with so many strings attached. In fact, these strings make reconstruction impossible.
So when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Tel Aviv and Ramallah, she talked about conditions for reconstruction. Condition number one is for the Hamas government and the resistance groups in general to recognize the state of Israel. Number two is to recognize previously signed agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, which ultimately means recognizing the state of Israel also.
But there are some big questions that come along with this, which the U.S. and the mainstream media prefer to avoid. In particular, what Israel are the Palestinians supposed to recognize?
Israel is the only member of the UN that does not have recognized borders. Does the apartheid wall represent the border of the state of Israel? Or is it the 1967 border? Recognition of Israel under this situation allows for the ongoing expansion of Israel’s borders.
Number two, Israel is also the only country on the face of the earth that has no constitution. Israel instead has Basic Laws. The first basic law defines Israel as the state of Jews all over the world. You have a theocratic state instead of a state of all of its citizens. This raises the question of what happens to 1.2 million Palestinians who are considered citizens of the state of Israel, but they are not Jews.
Also, what happens to more than 6 million Palestinian refugees living in the diaspora? Not a single agreement by the PLO and Israel, with America as a moderator, mentions the right of return, although UN Resolution 194 calls for the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland, to their villages, to the cities and towns from which they were expelled. And Resolution 194 calls for compensation for the injustices they have suffered.
But these are things that Israel wants the Palestinians to concede before talks even begin. As Marx said, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Now, we have seen the donors’ conference, and a visit from Hillary Clinton, during which she uttered not one word of sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. This is tragedy and farce.
Palestinians are paying a heavy price. This is the continuation of the genocidal war launched by Israel against Gaza and supported by the international community. And the talks that are supposed to reconstruct are merely further means to carry out Israel’s agenda.
THE U.S. and Israel also call on Hamas to “renounce violence,” but they never recognize the incredible hypocrisy of this demand. Israel consistently uses overwhelming violence against the Palestinians, and the U.S. supplies the weapons that allow Israel to do so.
ABSOLUTELY. WHAT kind of weapons does the resistance movement in Gaza have? Crude homemade rockets, and some Grad rockets smuggled through the tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza. But now the tunnels can’t be used. Israel has repeatedly bombed them.
Because Israel has enforced its siege of Gaza, these tunnels have also been used to bring essential goods into the Strip. For example, I haven’t been able to drive my car since the war ended, because we can’t receive any gas from Egypt, which had to be smuggled through the tunnels.
We are talking about the fourth-strongest military in the world, with 250 nuclear warheads, F-16s and helicopters, against a largely defenseless population. We are not talking about two equal parties.
According to international law, Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is illegally prohibiting more than 6 million Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and towns.
What we are calling for–myself as part of Palestinian civil society, as an academic, as an activist–is simply the implementation of UN and Security Council resolutions and international law. Under international law, we are guaranteed a state and the right of return for refugees.
By signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, the official Palestinian leadership made an agreement that violates our rights and international law [by bargaining away these essential national rights]. It has now become a habit for Israel and the U.S. to expect the weaker party, the Palestinians, to give more and more concessions.
One of the biggest mistakes that the Palestinian leadership made was to assume that the U.S. was acting as a fair broker. But in fact, the U.S. has been entirely biased–because of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., and because I don’t think you can separate the interests of U.S. imperialism and Zionism in the Middle East.
The U.S. attacked and occupied Iraq and committed genocide against Iraq’s civilians. It killed more than 1.5 million Iraqis–because of oil, in pursuit of its interests in the region, and to protect the state of Israel.
The Americans have failed miserably in Iraq. Israel failed miserably in Lebanon in 2006. And then, they tried to target what they consider to be the weakest pocket of resistance in the Middle East, namely Gaza. Fortunately, that failed. Israel tried for 22 days to bring the resistance to its knees, but could not.
That is why they are trying to achieve politically what they failed to militarily.
THE CONDITIONS attached to reconstruction aid at the Sharm el Sheik summit and the visit of Hillary Clinton are intended to politicize reconstruction by channeling money and support to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Then Abbas, after meeting with Clinton, warned Iran not to “interfere” in Palestinian affairs. Can you talk about what’s going on here?
THE RECENT dynamic in the Middle East is that Israel, the pro-Oslo forces among the Palestinian political leadership, and several of the reactionary Arab regimes along with the U.S. are trying to remake the consciousness of Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular.
The Arabs and the Palestinians have always viewed Israel as the enemy for kicking two-thirds of the Palestinians out of their homes in 1948, for occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, and for launching a series of genocidal wars against the Palestinians.
So Israel and the U.S. are working to portray Iran and its Shia leadership as the new enemy of the Palestinians and the Arabs, especially the Sunni Arabs. In other words, they have been promoting identity politics and sectarian divisions exactly as the Americans did in Iraq. This approach failed in Lebanon, but Abbas is still working with the U.S. and Israel to carry this out with respect to Gaza.
Iran is not supporting just Hamas. Iran, since the fall of the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979, has given support to the Palestinian resistance, for example, by allowing the Palestinians to set up an embassy in Tehran.
Iran does provide some military assistance to the Palestinian resistance, as Iran has also helped the resistance in Lebanon. It is important for us to understand that if Palestinians are to continue their struggle for national rights, they need the support of Muslims, Arabs and freedom-loving people all over the world.
The support from Iran does not come with strings attached, as it does from the U.S., the EU and elsewhere. We have a joint project, and we have common goals–fighting American imperialism in the Middle East and liberating Palestine. That’s why the U.S. and its allies, including several Arab regimes, have been targeting Iran as the enemy of Arab and Muslims in the Arab world.
To return to some of the strings attached to the “reconstruction aid,” I don’t think any Palestinian with a shred of dignity could accept them. Why should we accept aid predicated on the idea that what happened to Gaza was a natural disaster–as opposed to a man-made disaster created by the state of Israel to annihilate the Palestinian resistance and Palestinian society?
The people of Gaza have been punished because of their democratic choice in 2006 of a party, Hamas, which does not support the Oslo Accords and calls for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Although I do not support Hamas ideologically, it was the democratic choice of the Palestinian people. And most people who voted Hamas into government are not Hamas supporters, but wanted to vote for an organization that is not corrupt and that does not support the Oslo Accords.
Since the Oslo “peace process” began in 1993, right up to the present, we have not seen an independent Palestinian state. On the contrary, Israel has increased the number of settlers in the West Bank from 190,000 to more than half a million, and has expropriated more than 25 percent of the land of the West Bank by building the apartheid wall, by enlarging Greater Jerusalem, and by enlarging existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Therefore, Israel has made the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 22 percent of historic Palestine an impossibility. I think ordinary Palestinians realize this, which is why they support the resistance–not only Hamas as an organization, but all resistance organizations, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Resistance Committees, Islamic Jihad and so on.
FOR A long time, the assumption within Israeli, U.S. and PA diplomatic circles was that there was progress toward implementation of a two-state solution. The election of the new Israeli government–with Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister and marked by extreme anti-Arab racism and open rejection of the two-state solution in favor of a vision of a “Greater Israel”–seems to represent a real turning point. How do you see this playing out?
ISRAEL HAS already made the two-state solution impossible, and we definitely need to begin discussing an alternative program to the fiction of the two-state solution. The first thing to do is to dismantle the Palestinian Authority.
The PA was a product of the Oslo Accords, and it sends the wrong message to the international community and to solidarity groups all over the world. The existence of the PA suggests that what exists in Palestine are two equal parties–the Israeli state with its army and the Palestinian state with its army.
We need to get rid of the PA in order to correct the equation. The relationship that exists is not between equals, but between an occupier and an occupied, an oppressor and an oppressed.
By dismantling the PA, the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank can form a national front that can lead Palestinian resistance against occupation–as we had during the first Intifada, or uprising, in 1987.
The Gaza massacre was like a political tsunami that was supposed to change the map of the entire Middle East, not just Palestine. It has exposed the Oslo Accords as a hoax–They were never supposed to lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and they never supported the security of Palestinian civilians of Gaza and the West Bank.
Ultimately, they led to the transformation of Gaza into the largest concentration camp in the world. And they led to the transformation of the West Bank into three bantustans–one in the north that includes Qalqilya, Jenin and Tulkarem, one in the middle with Ramallah, and one in the south with Hebron and Bethlehem.
Most Palestinians now realize this and are way ahead of their leadership for a very concrete reason–because the Oslo Accords created a new Palestinian bourgeoisie whose interests are linked to the continuation of the Israeli occupation and the protection of American interests in the Middle East.
The problem, I think, is that there isn’t a single political organization among the Palestinians that clearly calls for the establishment of a secular democratic state in historic Palestine on the model of South Africa or Northern Ireland. That is, we need a political organization that calls for a state for all its citizens, regardless of religion, sect and ethnicity.
I believe that we are moving toward a third Intifada that will largely depend on the common resistance of the Palestinian people and, crucially, the support of a global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
To name just a few of the inspiring examples of BDS activism around the world, there have been more than 28 campuses occupied by students in Britain; several campuses occupied in the U.S. and the decision by Hampshire College to divest from Israel; and efforts by several South African solidarity groups.
We want to have an international BDS campaign modeled on the anti-apartheid movement that ultimately led to the end of white rule in South Africa in 1994 and the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.
THERE DOES seem to be real enthusiasm for building such a movement to challenge the Israeli occupation and develop meaningful solidarity with the Palestinian cause. But some people still wonder whether a BDS campaign will cut off “constructive engagement” that would be essential to a solution to the conflict. What do you think about this argument?
THE QUESTION of dialogue between Israel and Palestinians can be settled this way–since 1993, there have been negotiations between Israel and the PA, and the outcome is a massacre in Gaza.
And as a basic principle, it doesn’t make sense to me to have a “dialogue” with a far superior occupying force without taking into consideration the ways in which resistance can produce the conditions necessary for achieving something with this dialogue.
Michel Foucault, the French philosopher, said that where you have authority and power, you also have resistance. One of the problems with the official leadership in Palestine is that it placed all its eggs in the basket of negotiations and dialogue, without taking into consideration the question of resistance.
This is one of the reasons that Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas’ current within the PA, lost the elections. What we have reached is a situation not unlike South Africa in the mid- and late 1980s, when the opponents of the anti-apartheid movement latched onto this argument, especially after Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher said that the West should have ties with South Africa as part of a policy of “constructive engagement.”
In fact, most anti-apartheid activists and solidarity groups thought it was nonsense to talk about such engagement because the balance of forces favored the oppressor.
The same thing pertains in Palestine. When you have negotiations, the powerful party interprets whatever agreement that is struck in terms that enshrines their own interests, rather than the interests of the occupied.
Because of the huge gap between the Palestinian victims and the Israeli occupiers, we need the intervention of the international community, by which I do not mean official bodies, but civil society organizations, churches, mosques, clubs, student groups, labor unions and so on.
These were the forces that boosted the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s. I remember very clearly that when Nelson Mandela was released in 1990, he called on all supporters of black South Africans not to lose the momentum against apartheid, and not to bring the movement to an end until he was elected the first president of a multiracial and multicultural South Africa.
I can see the same thing happening in Palestine. Because of this imbalance of power, we need the intervention of the international community. I don’t think that the Palestinians will be able to fight the Israelis alone, because nobody can fight such an overwhelming military force on their own.
The anti-apartheid movement against South Africa depended on four pillars–the armed struggle, the mass mobilization inside South Africa, the political underground and the international BDS movement. The catalyst was created by the global anti-apartheid movement.
Unfortunately, the political leadership here–whether on the right or the left, whether Hamas, Fatah or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–do not have such an internationalist consciousness.
This internationalist dimension is coming from civil society organizations. That is why in 2005, more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a call to the international community to boycott the state of Israel and to sever all diplomatic, military and economic ties with apartheid Israel.
The only thing we can rely on is the power of the people.
Eric Ruder writes for the Socialist Worker.