Behind the Palestinian Intifada
May 11, 2001 | Page 8
AS ISRAELI Foreign Minister Shimon Peres prepared to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington earlier this month, Israeli forces launched another invasion of the Gaza Strip. Israeli army commanders ordered tanks and bulldozers to level houses that they claimed were providing hideouts for Palestinian fighters. "I was asleep when the invasion started, but when I recognized the noise of the tanks and bulldozers...I ran in my pajamas from the house," 61-year-old Palestinian farmer Mahmoud Hassan, told the Associated Press. "Soon the house vanished."
The invasion showed once again that, after years of a "peace process" that began with the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, this supposedly Palestinian-controlled area effectively remains an occupied territory.
The U.S. State Department criticized the invasion. But that hasn't interrupted U.S. support for Israel. And the U.S. hasn't stopped its ritual denunciations of "Palestinian violence"--even as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stepped up Israel's attacks on Palestinians since he took office in March.
What lies behind the current uprising, or Intifada, in Palestine? Why does the U.S. back Israel's brutality? And what's the future for the movement for Palestinian liberation?
More than 300 people gathered at Columbia University School of Law at the end of March for a special conference to discuss these questions. Leading Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. activists took the podium to offer their answers.
Here, Socialist Worker speaks with several participants and reprints excerpts of remarks from others--crucial information for understanding the Middle East today. MENEEJEH MORADIAN, AARON HESS and HADAS THIER compiled the interviews and transcripts for this special feature.
Allegra Pacheco is an Israeli human rights activist and a lawyer who represents Palestinians in Israeli courts.
WHAT ARE conditions like for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories?
OBVIOUSLY, THERE are bombings and shootings, and people are living under a real military occupation--with all the military apparatus and without any kind of rights or liberties. They are denied freedom of movement, freedom to contract, freedom to express themselves. Every aspect is controlled by the Israeli military.
Inside Israel, Palestinians also have a very difficult existence, because the law says that Israel is a democratic and Jewish state--and that if you're not Jewish, you're excluded from various aspects of Israeli society.
As an anti-Zionist, it's difficult living in the system. I'm privileged, I'm white, and I'm opposing it at the same time. But I would just say that I wouldn't compare my difficulties to Palestinians.
Change has to happen. This can't go on the way things are now. That was clear for a long time.
WHY DO you think the "peace process" failed?
THE OSLO agreement wasn't about ending the Israeli occupation or about rectifying the refugee issue or the underlying, fundamental problems that are really creating this conflict--that is, the inequality and discrimination caused by Israel's control over that land.
Israel is a Jewish state of 5 million Jews controlling 4 million non-Jews, either under occupation or as second-class citizens. Unless we address that fundamental structural problem, this isn't going to go away.
That's why I keep saying that ending the occupation isn't enough. We need to stop that oppression, but it's not going to end the underlying problems.
WHAT'S YOUR vision of a just solution?
IN MY mind, we have to go back historically and look at British colonialism and its solution to the "Jewish question." Their solution was to divide Palestine between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. We have to say that this wasn't a solution--that's not a way to end the oppression of anyone.
I think that we need to look toward integration as opposed to separation. It's amazing how separation in Israel/Palestine is considered an acceptable concept, whereas everywhere else, it's abhorrent. It was abhorrent under Jim Crow in the U.S. South. It was abhorrent in South Africa. But here, this is what people are suggesting.
I think that we need to look at the ways people liberated themselves, especially from colonialism, and look at models of integration--not perpetuating these artificially based distinctions.
There were Jews in Palestine before 1948, and Jews have lived in the Arab world for a long time. The goal isn't to replace Jewish elite control by Palestinian control but actually to create a society that's equal and provides dignity for all.
I think that the discourse needs to be about the one-state solution and to get rid of this two-state mythology. And we shouldn't let it come back because there's going to be another Oslo.
The powers that be, unless they fall tomorrow, are going to negotiate something. Don't think that Shimon Peres is just sitting on his butt. He's the master of secret negotiations and secret talks. He's finding some people to come up with another "Oslo."
When that happens, we need to be strong enough in our ideology and principles to look beyond it and say it's another ruse. We weren't strong enough in 1990, 1993 and 1994. The solidarity movement failed. Now it has to prepare itself so that we can keep going until justice prevails.
Souad Dajani is Middle East Program Coordinator for Grassroots International in Boston.
WHAT KIND of conditions are Palestinians facing in the Occupied Territories today?
THE SITUATION has really deteriorated since I was last there in September, on the eve of the new Intifada. Israel has enforced closures both internally and externally, so that all Palestinian communities are cut off from each other and from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. There's a very high rate of unemployment--almost 80 percent.
People can't go to their jobs. People are dying because they can't get through checkpoints to get to a hospital. In Gaza, there's a total blockade of fuel, food and supplies.
I talked to mothers who have only been able to feed their children tomatoes for a month. The situation is absolutely atrocious.
The U.S. media and the Israeli government say the current Palestinian Intifada is an orgy of violence orchestrated by Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat. But the real story is that the Intifada is a grassroots struggle of men, women and children to resist occupation--against all odds.
The Intifada is a response to the failure of Oslo to deliver any improvements in the lives of Palestinians. We need to also point out that Israel has for years had plans to impose by force what it wanted if Palestinians wouldn't submit.
What Palestinians need is an uprising, or revolution, that mobilizes the whole population. This is very difficult because, under Oslo, the territories have become more fragmented. But I think there needs to be a new vision that goes beyond the idea of two states--that goes beyond coexistence with a racist, exclusivist state that dispossessed Palestinians in the first place.
Naseer Aruri is the author of The Obstruction of Peace: The U.S., Israel and the Palestinians.
WHEN WE talk about why the U.S. supports Israel, there tend to be two theories. One is the "lobby theory"--that Israel has a very effective lobby in Washington. The view is that the Israel lobby has really been making U.S. policy--by pressuring politicians at all levels.
The second theory is the "strategic asset" theory, and this is the one I have always argued for. I think the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is that they both share the same worldview.
After the Second World War, the U.S. tried to replace the main imperial powers, France and Britain. And it was doing this under the pretext of containment of a Soviet threat that was much exaggerated. Insofar as containment related to the Arab world, I think it was more of a containment of Arab nationalism rather than communism.
So one objective of U.S. policy was trying to crush Arab nationalism. It didn't really do this by itself. This was done on its behalf by Israel.
In 1967, Israel delivered for the United States [with the military defeat of Egypt, Jordan and Syria and the seizing of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the Six Day War]. I still remember discussions at that time among American politicians, foreign policy analysts and others, who said, "Look at what Israel has done for the U.S." The U.S. was very impressed by that experiment.
And this is the beginning of when the U.S. begins to look at Israel as a strategic asset. This happened under a Democratic administration, and when you trace the historical record, you'll see that it didn't really matter who was in the White House--that theory about Democrats and Republicans is pure nonsense.
Israel was able to achieve the objectives that U.S. policymakers had set for themselves--to smash Arab nationalism, Arab socialism and nonalignment.
So it's not really a question of a lobby, and yet we can't underestimate the Israel lobby. George W. Bush wants to be reelected, and I'm sure that was very much on his mind when he allowed his spokesperson to give the green light to Sharon for what Sharon has been doing. So the lobby cannot be underestimated by any means.
Yet it would be very wrong to say it's all a matter of the lobby. I think it's really more of a strategic equation. It so happens that the two countries share a similar worldview.
Anthony Arnove is editor of Iraq Under Siege and a member of the International Socialist Organization.
IT'S VERY important to situate Israel's location in the Middle East as the key to what it provides the U.S. as a military ally. In reality, the U.S. only imports 12 percent of its oil from the Middle East. But the oil in the Middle East is the world's most profitable oil by far.
And it's also geo-strategically the most important oil in the world. The United States sees control over Middle Eastern oil as leverage over its economic competitors, especially Japan and Germany and increasingly Europe as a whole.
I want to quote from the 2001 fiscal-year budget of the U.S. State Department and its aid to Israel: "The fiscal year 2001 foreign military financing request of $1.98 billion will enable the Israeli government to meet cash-flow requirements associated with the procurements of U.S.-origin systems such as F16 and F15 I-fighter aircraft, Apache [helicopter gunship] upgrades, field vehicles and advanced armaments. Israel's annual Foreign Military Financing level is expected to increase incrementally by $16 million each year to a level of $2.4 billion in fiscal year 2008."
This is just one line in the budget--worth $1.98 billion. Think of what that could be going toward in hospitals, schools and social programs.
It's important as we organize to immediately raise the demand of cutting off all aid to Israel. We are not for any apartheid state.
Once you understand the roots of what drives U.S. policy in the region, I think you begin to understand more broadly what a long-term alternative could be. Because as strong as U.S. imperialism may be, we've seen throughout history that every imperial power can be challenged through popular struggle. And we've seen that U.S. power can be challenged through popular struggle.
The Vietnam War didn't end because one day the leadership of our country decided that it was a morally unjust war. It ended because people in this country and people in Vietnam struggled and resisted.
If we end U.S. aid to Israel and other repressive regimes in the region, we can help provide more space for the people of the region to organize for their own democratic aspirations. I think someday--in our lifetime--people will look back on the U.S. relationship with Israel in the same way that they look back on the U.S. relationship with apartheid South Africa. Our job is to hasten that day.