Mayday! Mayday! Middle East....but where is solidarity?
RED flags were flying in the streets of Gaza, and in the southern districts of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, to celebrate May Day, and international workers solidarity. Thousands joined the Gaza march called by three left-wing Palestinian organisations, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine(PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine(DFLP), and the Palestine People's Party(PPP).
Held on Thursday to avoid the Muslim sabbath on Friday, the Gaza demonstration was a powerful sign of defiance and belief in a better future, in an area devastated by Israel's military onslaught and still suffering the blockade. Many of the young people marching for this Workers Day have grown up in refugee families and had little opportunity to do paid work. Those who can seize any chance to study, but have seen colleges bombed, and have little chance to pursue their careers, or develop their society as they would wish. But they won't give up.
A report from Maan news agency notes that on the same day as the march, two workers were killed in a tunnel collapse near Rafah. Because of the siege maintained by both Israeli and Egyptian forces, people are using tunnels to smuggle in food, fuel, and other goods. Tens have been killed whether by accidents or Israeli and Egyptian attacks, on the pretext of preventing arms smuggling. But "Work in the tunnels is one of the few job opportunities in the Gaza Strip," Maan says. "According to the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in Gaza the unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip have reached 65 per cent, and poverty is now 80 per cent., due to the ongoing Israeli-led siege and repeated assaults. The number of unemployed in the Gaza Strip is about 200,000.
"Many children and young men participated, but unfortunately almost no women", Maan notes. ". The supporters of the three different parties were marching all together, without forming separate blocks, giving a clear sign of unity of the left and of the Palestinians in general". Speakers from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have called on the leaders of the two main Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, to sop putting their rivalry in front of the struggle for their people's rights.
Maybe the Gaza May Day march is also a sign the Left here should consider. We don't have to endorse the programme of the PFLP or other groups to recognise and salute their courage and dedication in raising the Red Flag and inspiring their people's vision amid the ruins and continuing battle to survive. Yet while Israel and its Western allies have been guilty of refusing to recognise the democratically elected Hamas, too many on our side seem either forgetful or ignorant that there is anything to its Left. From what I saw of the Gaza May Day demo on film there was not a green Hamas flag to be seen.
If women in Gaza's conservative and macho environment felt deterred from participating in May Day, their sisters in Israel were coming under direct attack. Police raided the homes of members of the feminist New Profile movement on April 26, as part of a clampdown on anti-militarists timed for the eve of the country's memorial day. Right-wing papers accused them of assisting draft resisters. Women were arrested and
had computers seized. Protesters in Tel Aviv were assaulted, and more arrests made.
Nevertheless - and perhaps spurred on by the attack, Arab and Jewish communists and other left-wingers joined the May Day march through south Tel Aviv and Jaffa. As well poor conditions, these streets are being targeted by right-wing racists who want to drive out Palestinians, and who are encouraged by the far Right taking its place in government. So this was a timely demonstration of solidarity.
May Day was also the day when people from the village of al-Ma'sara and neighbouring villages in Bethlehem area marched in protest against Israel's Apartheid Wall, which encroaches on their land and isolates their villages. Their demonstration and Workers Day festival was organised by the popular committees of al Ma'sara and Bethlehem district, in cooperation with the Bethlehem branch of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).
Israeli Occupation forces attacked the demonstration, firing on the crowd with tear gas, sound bombs and rubber coated steel bullets. Nine people were injured, among them the head of the PGFTU, Shaher Sa'ad. Soldiers arrested ŒAzmi Sheukhi from Hebron, Mustafa Fawagreh from Um Salamoneh and Muhammed Brajiya, Mahmoud Zawahreh, Hasan Brajiya, all members of the popular committee in al Ma'sara. They are still held in prison.
This continues the escalation implemented over the last months by the Occupation forces against those resisting the Wall, which has lead to increased arrests, injuries and deaths. Several weeks ago, Bassem Abu Rahmeh was shot and killed in the village of Bil'in, and last week, 37 people were injured in similar protests. Ni¹linat Nilin. The PGFTU is calling on the international trade unions to take action and show solidarity with Palestinian villagers and trade unionists..
Repression on May Day is also reported from Iran. A correspondent says police attacked people who had gathered in Tehran's Park Laleh for a May Day rally, before they had even begun chanting any slogans. Several demonstrators reportedly had bloodied faces. More than 150 people were arrested, some of them sent to Evin prison, others detained at police stations throughout the capital.
Security forces also raided the homes of some known civil rights campaigners, taking away computers and CDs, books and private papers. Jelveh Javahri’s mother, whose daughter was held in custody, said “I had the key. When I entered my house I saw them putting anything available into some sacks. They took everything, even Jelveh’s and Kaveh’s university diplomas. They told my daughter to go with them to answer some simple questions. But my girl resisted. She told them that they must have a legal order to arrest her. So the security forces called, three big men came and took Jelveh with themselves with the use of force and violence. Kaveh was made to have handcuffs. I told them that you are putting handcuffs on the hands of freedom.”
While reading this report from Tehran, I was thinking about the disgraceful decision by the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) at its conference,on April 25, to continue excluding Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) from affiliating. Apparently one bright spark supporting the STWC leadership's line suggested that if people wanted to protest against the Iranian regime they should go to Tehran to do so.
HOPI, many of whose supporters are seasoned left-wing Iranian militants in exile, is opposed to the Islamicist regime and opposed to imperialist war threats and sanctions against Iran. Its "Smash the Sanctions" leaflet says "sanctions hurt ordinary people, not the rich and powerful". It points to Microsoft,Yahoo and Paltalk refusing to serve Iran, and making it harder for Iranian students, workers and political activists to communicate and access the Internet, whereas the regime has little problem.
This was underlined this week when we learned that Facebook too, which claims to want everyone to communicate freely, is refusing to accept 'friends' from Iran, because the country is on the US government's blacklist. (Compare with the way American lawyers shout "discrimination" or worse when unions propose to boycott Israel!) At this rate, reports like I quoted about May Day in Tehran will be harder to come by. President Ahmadinejad must be grateful to the US government and companies that are helping him shut up the opposition. But at the STWC conference people were arguing that if you criticise Iranian repression you make the case for sanctions and war! No wonder Stop the War has increasing difficulty opposing the British government's policies. Its leadership shares their level of thinking!
So workers in Iran, and the Middle East, have to contend with three hostile and oppressive forces:
- The US-led imperialists and Israeli militarists.
- The corrupt local rulers and reactionary clerics
- And the stupidity and ignorance among Western lefts and peace campaigners who are supposed to be their friends.