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Tied together by the U.S. drive to control the Middle East
Palestine and Iraq: The tale of two occupations

March 19, 2004 | Page 8

ON MARCH 20, antiwar demonstrations called to mark the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq will take up the issue of Israel's occupation of Palestine. This development is the result of a discussion that has played out over recent months inside the antiwar movement--driven by calls by Palestinian and Arab American organizations which argue that Israel's war on Palestinians is central to the U.S. government's imperialist agenda in the Middle East.

What are the connections between the two occupations? TOUFIC HADDAD--coeditor of the left-wing magazine Between the Lines and a Palestinian American who lived in Ramallah for several years--looks at the occupations of Palestine and Iraq.

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THE STRUGGLES of Palestinians and Iraqis to liberate themselves from occupation cannot be understood outside the context of the long-term goals of U.S. imperialism. For decades, the U.S. has lavished money and weapons on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza--at a current cost to U.S. taxpayers of about $5 billion a year. The occupation of Iraq must also be seen as a long-term endeavor.

"One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with [the Iraqi authorities]," retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner, who oversaw the occupation of Iraq until last May, said in a recent interview. "Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century," Garner said. "They were a coaling station for the Navy...That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East."

All occupying armies, if their occupations are to last, must inevitably develop certain techniques of "counter-insurgency," and in the case of Iraq, the active cooperation between Israeli military advisors and the U.S. military means that the techniques themselves bear a strong resemblance to Israeli techniques used in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

They include the use of aggressive urban warfare, house-to-house searches, wide-scale arrest campaigns (almost 14,000 Iraqis are now in prison), torture, the erecting of an elaborate system of watchtowers and checkpoints, the clearing of wide swaths of land next to roads, the use of armored bulldozers against the houses of suspected militants and the attempt to develop collaborator networks to solicit information from the local population about resistance activities.

But important differences exist as well. Both occupations play a distinct role in U.S. imperial objectives, and simply attaching the term "occupation" to each does a disservice to what is actually taking place on the ground in both cases.

To start with, the word "occupation" is commonly used to refer to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that began in 1967. To be sure, Palestinians actively resist this occupation, but there's also an active resistance--today and historically--to the occupation of land taken by Israel at its founding in 1948. In fact, the Palestinian national liberation movement began in the Ottoman era prior to the First World War and crystallized during the years of the British mandate from 1920 to 1948.

The modern national movement--embodied in the Palestine Liberation Organization--was established in 1964, three years before the 1967 occupation, and began as a movement of refugees expelled from Palestine in 1948. In recent years, there's been an explosion of struggle among the more than 1 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel--the "non-Jews" in the Jewish state struggling for equality and national collective rights as the indigenous people of Palestine.

At the beginning of the new Palestinian Intifada (or uprising) in 2000, Israeli police shot dead 13 "Israeli Arabs" demonstrating in solidarity with their 1967 brethren resisting the brutality of Israel's assassinations, imprisonment, torture and home and land demolitions. This underscores the point that Israel is engaged in an all-out war against the entire Palestinian people, located across historical Palestine.

Minimally, this war aims at erecting an overt form of apartheid. In the worst-case scenario, it could result in "transfer"--the Israeli expression used for ethnic cleansing--whether it comes through physical expulsion or a scale of economic strangulation that forces Palestinians to leave.

To get an idea of the enormity of devastation taking place, consider that at least 39,000 Palestinians have been wounded and 2,948 killed since 2000. In proportional terms, that would amount in the U.S. to more than 3.5 million wounded and 265,000 deaths--more than four times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam.

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THE FOUNDERS of Zionism--the late 19th century movement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine--promised, in the words of Theodor Herzl, that Israel would be part of "the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism." And Israel has done precisely that, helping the U.S. and U.S.-backed dictatorships in the Middle East to hand Arab nationalism a series of historic defeats during the last 30 years--in the name of "civilization as opposed to barbarism."

The occupation of Iraq is the most recent chapter in the U.S. effort to pursue its economic, political and social objectives in the Middle East. "Let's look at it simply," said Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz when asked why the U.S. didn't invade North Korea because of its weapons of mass destruction. "The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

What's more, the display of enormous U.S. military power was designed to deter any and all who might think to resist. It's no coincidence that this comes at a time when the Arab political left is in shambles and when resistance to American ambitions throughout the Middle East exists largely in the form of various Islamic movements, seemingly easily disqualified (and in a racist manner) as an "unacceptable alternative" by large parts of the U.S. establishment, including large parts of the antiwar movement itself. It's critical that this hesitation among antiwar activists be quickly overcome.

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AT THE same time, it is our responsibility to wage a daily battle against a behemoth that takes victims throughout the world, as well as within the entire U.S. working class. Indeed, it is an illusion to think that the American people do not pay a price for this war.

Take Halliburton, for example, the company that has been awarded some of the most profitable contracts in Iraq to build U.S. military bases and develop the oil infrastructure. Halliburton is the same company that aggressively pushed its tort reform plan designed to cap asbestos lawsuits in the U.S. because it had used the cancer-causing substance in its buildings.

Caterpillar, the same company that produces bulldozers used today in the demolition of Palestinian and Iraqi homes, is the same company that bulldozed union workers in strikes in the mid-1990s in Peoria, Ill., and threatens to shut down its plants to this day. It is not enough to calculate the price paid in lives lost and tax money spent on the military-industrial complex instead of on education and health care.

Nor is it enough to single out a handful of corporations who are profiteering off the death, destruction and rapacious exploitation of the world's working classes and the earth's resources. Rather, our resistance must go deeper--to the very fabric of the capitalist system that alienates and exploits, imprisons and excludes, bombs, kills and lies.

In this regard, we must accept nothing less than the wholesale rejection of this system, supporting the full self-determination of the people in Iraq, Palestine and around the world. The only justifiable alternative must set as its goal the end of exploitation and the equality, freedom and fulfillment of human kind. A socialist world is possible--and necessary.

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