Cease-fire should lead to change of direction
SO, a ceasefire has been declared in Gaza. Israel has halted its bombing and started to withdraw its tanks. Hamas has stopped the rockets. If we keep our fingers crossed the lull may last past President Obama's inauguration, and if it survives the odd provocation and signals a real shift in US policy towards keeping its rotweiler on the lead, we might get on to the rocky road to peace.
So was it worth it? In 23 days 1300 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces including 417 children and 108 women, and 5,320 injured. Israeli losses were minor,for all the repeatedly parroted counts of rockets, but for those who lost somebody they were real. And none of these casualties were necessary. The Israeli government could have kept up the previous cease fire, lifted its siege on Gaza which was causing death and suffering while the world looked on, and agreed to talk with Hamas. Instead, with the encouragement of Bush and Blair, it waged a policy of collective punishment of the Palestinian people for the way they had voted, and after wars in Lebanon and Gaza - if we can call it war when they bomb and massacre a largely defenceless population - Israel is no better off.
Though many Palestinians never supported Hamas, and many are critical of it now, the people in Gaza are not likely to chuck out those they elected just because Israel says so. The British people did not bow down to the Luftwaffe's Blitz and decide to collaborate, they waited till Hitler was soundly beaten before they voted out Winston Churchill. The Palestinians have not got an RAF, but they have got steadfastness and willingness to sacrifice. If the Israeli rulers and military had not grown so arrogant in their racism, and not been so confident that they could rely on America, they might have recognised this by now. Instead, they let go and spurned the hand of the PLO leadership, only to find themselves facing Hamas. Then they ignored the fact that even after Hamas was elected a majority of Palestinians favoured resuming peace talks, and a majority of Israelis favoured talking to Hamas.
Elections are due in Israel next month. With this war, Labour's Barak wanted to show how tough he could be at killing Palestinians, prime minister Olmert wanted to show that Israel could still do as it liked with the blessing of Washington, and Benyamin Netanyahu, backed not just by America's Zionist lobby but its frightening Christian Right, vied to show himself toughest of all. There's nothing like a war to unite the classes and keep minds of things for which the leaders have no answer, like economic and social crisis.
The ban on two Arab parties within Israel shows it is not just the Palestinians in Gaza or the occupied territories who are in the politicians' sights. Some Israeli leaders openly speak about ethnic cleansing, Foreign Minister Zippi Livne hints at it even while talking of peace, by saying the Palestinians national rights will be "there" -in a Palestinian statelet for which her government leaves but fenced off enclaves. The cover for such a brutal exclusion might be the US-backed war with Iran. It might even bring more US military and economic aid.
But here uncertainty comes in. Obama has promised the American people fewer foreign adventures not more, and more spending on helping American industry weather recession and tackling the social problems that George Dubya ignored.
There was almost a sign of change just before the Bush reign ended. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice helped draft the UN resolution for a Gaza ceasefire, and was going to vote for it, unlike the US vetoes we saw for instance in the Lebanon war. But in the end she abstained. It then came out that Bush and Cheney had called, telling her not to support the resolution. So those record standing ovations for Cheney at the AIPAC (Zionist lobby) conference were not in vain! Prime Minister Olmert then boasted that he had called Washington to bring about this twist. He may have thought this would boost his prestige with Israeli voters, but US Jewish leaders were not amused. They say the American public, not to mention the political elite, will not take kindly to the notion that America's Secretary of State can be told what to do and humiliated at the behest of a heavily subsidised pipsqueak in the Middle East.
We may note also that unlike in the Lebanon war, Britain voted for the ceasefire this time, even though Gordon Brown's government remains pro-Israel and has continued = but less openly -supplying some of the IDF's arms. The other day I watched some good speeches in the House of Commons condemning Israel's war, from among others, Labour's Gerald Kaufman. (Though it was a pity only about a dozen MPs seemed to be present for the debate). Even the under-secretary for Foreign Affairs had to tell pro-Zionist Labour MP Louise Ellman off for disregarding the Palestinians' lives. I hope the voters of Liverpool Riverside will say the same thing. Ms.Ellman may find alternative employment with the Zionist PR outfit BIPAC, where her former colleague Lorna Fitzsimmons was given a rough time by demonstrators who broke in.
The government knows that such actions are the tip of the iceberg. On Saturday morning I was at the Southern and Eastern Regional Council of the Trades Union Congress (SERTUC), where a motion on Gaza from the Transport and General Workers Union, calling for Israeli withdrawal, an end to the siege and restrictions on movements of Palestinians, and an end to the firing of rockets into Israel, was unanimously passed. The resolution also calls on unions to lobby the European Union for suspension of talks on the EU-Israel Association Agreement, in view of the Israeli state's breaches of international law and human rights.
I took the opportunity to say a few things about responsibility for the war, and mention the letter I had seen from people in Sderot, who did not agree that Israel killing innocent Palestinians in Gaza was delivering peace and security to themselves, and who had established their own cross-border links, people to people. I also noted that though Gordon Brown talked about ending the arms traffic, he did not refer to the arming of Israel - £18 million worth of British equipment supplied in the first three months of last year. Mentioning the US arms ship reported sailing from Germany, I recalled that in the past, members of my union did not wait for government arms embargoes, but imposed their own on repressive and warlike regimes. I recognised we did not have the same rights nowadays, but hoped that if any workers took action as a matter of conscience, we as trade unionists should support them.
Later that day I was at the demonstration in Trafalgar Square, where Deborah Maccoby, speaking for Jews for Justice for Palestinians, described how Israeli police had halted a humanitarian aid convoy organised by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and forced the drivers to return to Tel Aviv, after confiscating the medical supplies intended for Gaza. "So much for Israel's claims as the 'only democracy in the Middle east'" Deborah commented.
After the official demonstration, which ended peacefully, some youths marched through the West End, and vented their anger on Starbuck's (a US company said to support Zionist settlers) before the police caught up with them. It was not till I got home however that I heard of a much more significant and well-executed action.
As reported by Mark Townsend for the Guardian
"Nine people are being questioned by police following extensive damage at an arms factory where protesters claim military components are being made for Israeli warplanes bombing Gaza.
"The group, which calls itself Smash EDO, entered the EDO MBM Technology plant in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, in the early hours of this morning. During the incident computers and furniture were hurled from the windows of the Sussex factory. Police described the damaged as 'substantial'....
"EDO MBM is the sole British subsidiary of US weapons company EDO Corp. From its Moulescoomb base it manufactures laser-guided missiles that have been used extensively in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Somalia.
The weapons were reportedly used by Israel against Lebanon in 2005, and have also been allegedly used in the occupied Palestinian territories".
Military components factory ransacked in Gaza protest
This was not quite the sort of action I envisaged when I was speaking to the SERTUC meeting that morning. Breaking into a plant and trashing it is illegal. But then workers taking the sort of action they took in the past, like refusing to load a strategic cargo, are also likely to face legal consequences these days - look what happened to Heathrow baggage handlers who wanted to support their own family members who had been sacked by Gate Gourmet. I also see a Southampton University lecturer, John Molyneux, was arrested and is facing charges for organising an entirely peaceful Gaza protest, in a public park, because he allegedly did not give the police sufficient advance notice.
I don't know how much advance notice Israel gave of its attack on Gaza, or of its raid on Jericho (though on that occasion British observers conveniently evacuated half an hour before), when friends of mine were arrested for a small demonstration in Whitehall. I do know that using white phosphorus in urban areas, like besieging a civil population, is highly illegal. Some of my more conservatively orthodox "marxist" comrades may tut-tut at people taking direct action without going through the usual procedures of passing motions and waiting for replies from ministers, before considering a ballot for action, but...
Meanwhile kids are being killed. And the means to kill them are being made in our midst. If people younger and braver than me have decided to take direct action, all I can say is good for them, and more power to their elbow! Guess that may disqualify me from any jury that's to try them, but I hope others may think likewise.
Let's hope the cease fire lasts. But keep up the campaigning for a change of direction. For real peace, for Palestinians and Israelis and the rest of us, there has to be peace with justice.