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An open letter from the International Socialist Organization
The occupation of Iraq, Palestine and the antiwar movement

February 13, 2004 | Page 8

THE ISSUE of Palestine has emerged as a crucial question in the U.S. antiwar movement. In early January, more than 40 Arab American and Muslim organizations issued an open letter that supported the call for demonstrations against the U.S. occupation of Iraq on March 20--and challenged the antiwar movement to make opposition to the occupation of Palestine a central demand.

The open letter supported calls for ending "all colonial occupations from Iraq to Palestine to everywhere," for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and for opposition to "giving an international cover to the colonial occupation of Iraq."

The question of how to address Palestine became a central point in a dispute between the two largest antiwar coalitions--International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice--over the March 20 demonstrations. But as Socialist Worker went to press, it appeared that the forces in the antiwar movement urging unity had won an agreement between the two coalitions--and on the basis of Palestine being taken up as a main demand on March 20.

However the debate develops from here, it is clear that the issue of Palestine will no longer be left on the sidelines within the U.S. movement. Here, SW prints excerpt from an International Socialist Organization statement on this debate for our movement.

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IN RECENT weeks, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has been further exposed as a goal of the Bush administration from its first days in office. Moreover, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the administration's latest admission of a lack of connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda has provided further evidence--if any more were needed--that the global antiwar movement was correct to oppose this criminal war.

Nevertheless, the occupation of Iraq continues, with no end in sight--since the stated reasons for the war were simply pretexts to establish the occupation. The deaths and suffering by Iraqi civilians, and the deaths of soldiers from the U.S. and other nations, underscores the urgency of continued protests. This is a war for oil and empire--not liberation and democracy. The current U.S. resistance to direct elections in Iraq is only one indication of this.

The situation in Afghanistan--occupied by the U.S. and other nations--is another example of imperial conquest carried out under false pretenses of "fighting terrorism." Far from being "liberated," the country remains dominated by warlords. Women's' rights--a key justification for the war--exist only on paper.

For these reasons, we continue to oppose attempts to "internationalize" the occupation--whether under the umbrella of the U.S.-British "coalition," the United Nations, the Arab League or some other international body. The recent refusal of several Bulgarian soldiers to go to Iraq highlights the question. Their lives are worth no less than those of U.S. soldiers.

No one should be forced to take part in a military occupation of another nation for the sake of Washington's attempts to dominate the Middle East and the profits of multinational corporations. That is why we support the demand, voiced by military families and others, to bring the troops home now.

The U.S. invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are, however, not ends in themselves. These occupations are aimed at reordering the entire Middle East to better serve U.S. interests. The state of Israel is now--and has been since its inception--integral to maintaining U.S. dominance in the region. Those of us who are activists in the world's only superpower should be loudest in decrying this new "white man's burden" in which great powers carry out conquest and occupation under the banner of liberation and democracy.

The fact that the United Nations has legitimized the occupation of Iraq--and may play a role in a "transitional" government there--does not alter the imperialist character of the occupation. It is in this context that the question of Palestine must be seen.

It's no coincidence that the U.S., which has long provided Israel with military and financial aid, is now using the same tactics in Iraq that Israeli forces have used against the Palestinians: systematic house-to-house searches and mass roundups of suspects; bulldozing the homes of suspected resistance fighters; torture of prisoners; the use of bombs and missiles from planes and helicopters in residential areas, and more. Israeli military and intelligence officials have provided direct assistance to the U.S. in carrying out these tactics.

Indeed, the growing symmetry of U.S. and Israeli military tactics have exposed the common strategic aims of those two countries in "transforming" the Middle East--that is, eliminating all resistance to their economic, political and military dominance of the region. That is why the U.S. antiwar movement must confront the question of Palestine.

Virtually everywhere else in the world, the antiwar movement expresses support for the Palestinian struggle as a matter of course. In the U.S., the longstanding ties between the U.S. and Israel and the distortions of the government and the media have created a blind spot on these issues.

This must be overcome if the antiwar movement is to take up the challenge that the realities of the day have placed before us--military occupations that deny self-determination for the peoples of the Middle East.

In Palestine, the occupation is now taking the shape of the systematic exclusion of Palestinian communities through "security walls" while illegal Israeli settlements continue to be built in the Occupied Territories. If the wall and other "security measures" are carried through to their conclusion, they will create a powerless and impoverished series of Palestinian communities even more isolated than the so-called "Black homelands" established by apartheid South Africa.

Israel would continue to use the world's most advanced--that is to say, U.S.--military technology to maintain its dominance. Moreover, Palestinians still would be denied the right of return to lands from which they were dispossessed in 1948, perpetuating a monumental historical injustice.

For these reasons, the antiwar movement must take up the call for an end to the occupation of Palestine as well as of Iraq. The two are part of a single strategic drive by the U.S. to strengthen their grip on the Middle East, and they must be opposed as such.

Moreover, the Palestinians have for decades seen their struggle ignored or sidelined by antiwar and peace movements in the U.S. because it is deemed "too controversial." It should be recalled that this initially was true of the movement against the war in Vietnam--the issue was for years excluded from the civil rights and labor movements. But organizing, activism, education, along with the escalation of the war itself, eventually pushed the issue to the forefront.

Some in the antiwar movement claim that raising the occupation of Palestine as an issue will prevent us from "broadening" the movement in the U.S. Yet a movement that claims to oppose a military occupation in one part of the Middle East cannot afford to remain silent about another when precisely the same issues are involved--the denial of the right of self-determination by Arab peoples by military force and repression.

The U.S. attempt to dominate the Middle East not only hinges on the occupation of Iraq, but is ever more openly reliant on Israel's occupation of Palestine. The two occupations are central to Washington's imperialist project; our opposition to that project must face those facts squarely in order to meet the political challenges ahead.

Today, a wide range of Arab and Muslim groups have stepped forward to assert their issues. In this, they must be fully supported. Continued education, debate and organizing on this issue is essential for the movement to go forward.

Unfortunately, the issue has been sidetracked into competing plans for the March 20 International Day of Action against the occupation of Iraq. This has raised the possibility of separate demonstrations in some cities--some aligned with the International ANSWER coalition and others with the United for Peace and Justice coalition.

We support efforts to find common ground for united demonstrations across the U.S. on March 20. But the organizational rivalries must not obscure the essential issue: Antiwar and peace organizations that aim to continue to organize for justice in the Middle East can't ignore this issue.

We cannot allow the issue of the end of the occupation of Palestine to be postponed yet again; neither can we permit ultimatums and organizational rivalries to weaken the movement at a time when the challenges before us are so great. Our movement will be judged in large part over how we take up this issue--not just in the U.S., but around the world.

Given the distortions of the U.S. media and politicians about Israel and Palestine, we have a special responsibility for education and organizing around this issue. Organizational power plays have no part in such work.

Therefore, we call on all organizations in the antiwar movement to support the demand for an end to the occupation of both Iraq and Palestine. Our shared opposition to U.S. war aims and commitment to justice compel us to take up this issue. The tasks we face compel us to do so as a united movement.

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