A wave of anger from below

June 29, 2010

Israel's murderous assault on a flotilla of ships carrying solidarity activists and humanitarian aid to break the U.S. and Israeli-imposed siege of Gaza spurred outrage around the world--and catapulted the international movement in support of the Palestinian people to a new stage.

At the Socialism 2010 conference in Chicago, four voices from that movement discussed the future of the struggle for a free Palestine and a free Middle East at a forum attended by nearly 1,000 people.

Tariq Ali is an author, filmmaker and veteran of the struggle for almost half a century. Among his many books are Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity and Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope.

PEOPLE ARE now beginning to realize, all over the world, what the Israeli state is and what it is capable of. It has taken a long time.

When the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 2006, on the say so of the United States, Britain and a number of European powers, there were demonstrations, but the reaction was not as strong as it should have been.

When Israel invaded Gaza, the reaction was much stronger. For many people, the attack and the siege of Gaza was one step too far. That went very deep, because people could see what was going on. And when I say people, I mean citizens--I don't mean governments, because the American government and the European Union government backed the wars on Lebanon and backed the siege on Gaza.

In the case of Lebanon, the Israelis said it would take them a week to wipe out Hezbollah. They couldn't do it. "Take another week," said the American president. "Take a few more days," said the Europeans. And still it didn't happen. They couldn't do it--it was a setback.

When people witnessed the assault on Gaza, there was a real wave of anger from below. But the governments didn't say anything--a few mealy mouthed words, but nothing more than that. Apart from the Norwegian government, which criticized the attack because there had been a one-day strike in Norway by the Railway Workers Union, and which ordered the country to stop doing everything at one particular time and think about what was happening in Gaza. I'm told by Norwegian friends that the whole country virtually came to a standstill.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

So with the attack on the flotilla, we've gone one step further. Everyone could see that this was illegal, that the Israelis had no right to do this, and it soon became very clear that it wasn't an accidental decision, just as the previous two decisions weren't accidental. They had been planned for some time.

We now know that Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu had planned this thing together carefully. Whether they had given orders to kill, we don't know as yet, and we will probably never know. In my opinion, they probably had given orders, because the ship on which they concentrated their fire was the Turkish ship--to teach Turkey a lesson.

One of the reasons they want to teach Turkey a lesson is not simply because they were angry about this issue, but they knew that behind the scenes, the Turkish and Brazilian governments were trying to mediate between Iran and the United Nations Security Council, without the permission of the United States and against its will. Which they did.

So relations between Turkey and Israel really have been harmed. But you know, I'm not very impressed when the Turkish government says it's no longer having military maneuvers with the Israeli army, because the question that comes up is: Why the hell were you having these maneuvers in the first place?

WHEN THE assault on Gaza took place, the only two countries in the world that withdrew their ambassadors from Israel and made very angry speeches were the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia, continents away. This had nothing to do with religion or anything--just old-fashioned internationalism and solidarity with an oppressed people.

They've done the same thing, and even Lula of Brazil has done the same, about the flotilla attack--made very sharp criticisms about what is going on. So as far as public opinion is concerned, there is a shift.

Even in the United States, though it's not registered openly, AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and others are extremely worried. The opinion polls being in the Jewish community in the United States suggest that between 40 and 45 percent of young people who are questioned, say they don't care a damn about Israel.

That worries them because if this continues to be the case, then in a couple generation's time, support for the style of activity that AIPAC carries out in the United States--blackmail and buying up senators and congressmen, will probably come to an end.

It worries them that this can't go on forever, because it's a fact that when the attack on Gaza was happening, 100 percent of the U.S. Senate voted its support, and virtually the whole of the U.S. Congress. That is an outrage. Because there were many dissenting voices--not among the governments of Europe, but within the parliaments of Europe and the European Parliament itself.

So where do we go now? The plans they had of pushing through in Palestine a fake two-state solution are over. The only meaningful two-state solution would where Israel withdrew to the 1967 frontiers--that wouldn't be a just solution, but it would be a meaningful solution. But they aren't going to do that--it's obvious and everyone knows it.

They aren't going to pull back to the '67 frontiers. They aren't going to share Jerusalem as they promised.

So all talk of a two-state solution is, in my opinion, meaningless today. A Palestinian state today would essentially mean three or four Israeli protectorates, not even united or linked together; permanently watched over by the Israeli Army; and essentially dependent on Israel, as the so-called Palestinian Authority is. This isn't an authority. It doesn't have any of its own authority, it is totally dependent on Israel.

That's the reality. What the Israelis and the United States succeeded in doing, which they had been dreaming about for years, was to split the Palestinian movement--when they unleashed parts of the PLO apparatus on the Hamas regime in Gaza. During the Gaza siege, the PLO didn't permit demonstrations in the areas they controlled. They were repressed--that's a fact.

We have to bare all this in mind to know the scale of the problem that confronts us. The attack on the flotilla and the siege of Gaza did unite Palestinians from below. But not at the top. The division of the Palestinian national movement has been a big blow--let's not pretend it hasn't.

So the obstacles are numerous. But the flotilla attack, for the first time, divided Europe--or at least large parts of Europe--from the United States.

There was politician after politician speaking out, then Sweden, which withdrew its ambassador, then Norway, and then Britian's Conservative prime minister, who said that the siege of Gaza should end. Even the German government, which has been blackmailed into silence so far, said it couldn't support the attack on the flotilla. And the German press, for once, was uniformly critical. It wasn't sharply critical, like parts of the British press were, but it was critical.

SO THERE is a shift. And without going over the top, we have to understand that this shift in public opinion means that the possibility of organizing a campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions is a very real possibility now. There will be many, many people not remotely sympathetic to the left who will be sympathetic to such a campaign because of what they have seen and witnessed with their own eyes.

This is a time to give that campaign a boost. And I say to you again--because I often say this to audiences in the States--that you have a heavy responsibility. You are citizens in an imperial country, and this is a country which could, if it wanted to, change the situation.

They say the problem in the Middle East is two implacable sides--that's nonsense. The old arguments that the Israelis used to use in the 1950s and '60s, that they'll be wiped out, they'll be driven into the sea--some stupid Arab politicians actually said that, but no one say that now. The notion that anyone can drive the Israeli army--the sixth-largest in the world and a nuclear power--anywhere is beyond belief. It's grotesque.

So the notion that Israel is a threatened country is nonsense. It isn't based on any reality whatsoever. It is Israel that threatens. It is Israel that blackmails. It is Israel that refuses to allow the Palestinian people any right of national self-determination at all.

Given this, we have to say: The Palestinians have tried everything. They have made many mistakes as well, which one shouldn't forget. But they have tried anything. The PLO, in particular, has been on its knees, desperate for crumbs from the Oslo Accords--and even those crumbs they weren't given.

Our task is to wage a campaign--a peaceful campaign, the BDS campaign internationally, that will genuinely be helpful. Have no doubt about it.

But as far as the Palestinians are concerned, in my opinion, there is only one solution now in Palestine, and that's a one-state solution. That is a solution in the interest of the Jewish inhabitants of that area, the Muslim inhabitants of that area, the Christian inhabitants of that region, all the minorities, and it's a position which those of us who are socialists and internationalists have always supported.

We do not want ethnic states. We want a unified Palestine with the same rights for everyone. And when that happens--and I think it will happen, if not in 10 years' time, then in 50 years' time--it will transform, once again, the prospects for the Middle East as a whole.

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