Monday, January 12, 2009

Guest post by David Rosenberg - The Left need to keep the bigger picture in view

I am bumping this post up to the top. David kindly wrote it for us and it got a bit lost over the weekend . I hope it will spark a debate about how the left engages with the bigger picture and Gaza.

Thanks to David for writing this guest post for the blog .

While the Israeli bombardment continues unabated wreaking a terrible toll in human lives, there have been important developments on the Home Front too. Justifiable anger at Israeli actions and their total disrespect for civilian lives is being directed at soft targets. There are increasing reports of antisemitic incidents against Jewish institutions and individuals in Britain and France. Meanwhile the self-important and self-proclaimed political heads of the Jewish community – the Board of Deputies and the thoroughly unelected “Jewish Leadership Council“ are swinging into action calling a pro-Israel demonstration for Trafalgar Square on Sunday 11th January the day after the second National Emergency Demonstration of anti-war protesters parades through London.

Individual members of synagogues, most probably, holding a wide range of views on the conflict from acute embarrassment and dismay through to total unthinking support, have received letters from their synagogues demanding their attendance, with no hint that there is anything to debate. They are trying to corral a divided community into an “Israel right or wrong” straitjacket and seeking to present a united Jewish front in support of Israel’s policy to the outside world – a policy which continues to be, as the late Harold Pinter expressed it, both murderous and suicidal. They are in denial. Many Jews supported the anti-war demos in London and other cities last weekend. And the very night that Israeli forces began their ground invasion into Gaza, 10,000 Israeli marched to a very different beat through the streets of Tel-Aviv, damning the war, proclaiming solidarity with the victims and declaring that Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

There is a depressing symmetry among those who wish to blame any and every Jew for what is happening and those who wish to claim the support of any and every Jew for a war that, as well as taking a huge toll in civilian lives, has managed to make even long-suffering refugees in miserable refugee camps homeless again.

These developments have implications for the solidarity movement with the oppressed and targeted. In the way it politically engages with the conflict the Left has a responsibility to ensure that it does not fall into traps that benefit the Armageddon tendency in Israel and America. And it must avoid taking positions that can weaken those who wish to give maximum support to the Palestinians in the present, and who wish to further their longer-term aspirations for self-determination, statehood and equality.

If the left either by commission or omission does anything to entrench a view that this conflict is essentially one between Muslims and Jews it will only benefit the Israeli warmongers and give succour to antisemites. I was relieved that on the first big demonstration last weekend I only saw one banner proclaiming, "We are Hamas”. This contrasted considerably with the demonstrations around the Lebanon War and the widespread proclamation “We are Hezbollah” aided and abetted by George Galloway, who always chooses his words very carefully though sometimes very stupidly.

I was not Hezbollah and I am not Hamas. Neither are many of the people I know were marching last week. I am though fully cognisant that they are in the frontline of militarily trying to hold back the Israeli war machine. But they are a political tendency and they do not have ownership of the Palestinian people. And when you look at the bigger picture, this war is, in far greater proportion, a war against the Palestinian people and their aspirations than a war against Hamas. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Israel wants to completely destroy Hamas. It likes having a divided enemy, and is certainly keen to maintain, albeit in weakened form, a significant branch of the enemy that will utilise religious rhetoric and fall into the clash of civilizations and its local translation Islam versus Judaism to offset the secular branch of the enemy.

Hamas is a formidable body. They were smart enough to stand against Fatah politically by regurgitating traditional Fatah positions that it seemed to have been retreating from, rather than pose a fundamentalist religious challenge to Fatah’s politics. When Hamas won its election against Fatah (a significant victory in seats though much less so in popular votes) it stood on a determination to resist occupation; the demand that Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails without being charged, are released; the demand that Palestinian refugees have a right to return; and a call for the dismantling of settlements. And they could say it with a radical swagger from the streets that Fatah’s leaders mired in maintaining their own privileged positions could not.

But that does not mean that Hamas has abandoned its reactionary social agenda – homophobic, anti-women’s equality, antisemitic, anti-trade union, anti-left and more. Unlike some elements of the Left who think Hamas is now the only true voice of the Palestinian street, I won’t forget the fact that Israel had a major hand in encouraging Hamas to come into being. Nor will I ignore the reasons for it.

From the 1960s, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, secular rather than religious demands dominated Palestinian political life. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the “Peace Now” movement emerged within Israel calling for an end to the occupation, and more radical Israeli peace groups were opening dialogue with Palestinian representatives. The “war” camp and “peace camp” could not be divided simply by religion or ethnicity. Israel’s clandestine response, revealed later by former CIA officials, was to encourage the growth of religious groups among the Palestinians as a counterweight to the secular PLO.

Israel allowed funds to be channeled to them from outside, while blocking funds to the secular PLO. It was trying to divide the Palestinian movement. Hamas, which still prides itself today on its rhetorical refusal to recognise Israel, was actually legally registered in Israel in 1978, by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, as an Islamic association called Al-Mujamma al Islami. No doubt many ordinary Israelis see it is a Frankenstein monster, as does a tendency in the Israeli military-political establishment. After all, Yassin was assassinated by an Israeli helicopter gunship in 2004. But Israeli strategists also know that any compromise for peace by Fatah whch will require compromise by Israel too, will be torpedoed by Hamas rejectionists, leaving the status quo unaltered, except for Israel building more settlements and doing more land-grabbing.

Israel cries crocodile tears about towns like Sderot that suffer indiscriminate Hamas rocket attacks while undertaking the very actions in the Occupied Territories that will provide justification in the eyes of those launching the rockets. And Israel will not evacuate the children from the areas that suffer rocket attacks.

Fatah have been a no win situation for several years now and are walking a tightrope where they appear to be acquiescing, but the picture is undoubtedly more complicated and nuanced. They still have the allegiance of many Palestinians and still hold the prospect of a secular, human-rights based, politics for seeking a solution to the wider Israel/Palestine conflict. Instead of playing Israel’s game by accentuating the division between Hamas and Fatah, and in knee-jerk fashion saying “Hamas good, Fatah bad”, the Left should be doing all it can to enable the reemergence of a strong and united Palestinian movement able to resist and move forward while holding together differing and contradictory political tendencies.

Above all the Left needs to stand with the Palestinian people against this wanton destruction that is taking place, and ensure that the anger and political demands of the solidarity movement are focused on the right targets.

Hamas’s tactics of lobbing rockets against Israeli civilians (ironically those poorer Israelis originating in Arab countries treated as second class citizens in Israel) makes little impact in terms of winning back land. In comparison with a few days of Israeli fire power their efforts are pretty pitiful, but they have handed Israel a PR gift for seeking popular support for their war.

The real responsibility though for the carnage, 800 dead in two weeks, thousands wounded, tens of thousands homeless, lies with the Israeli military-political establishment who want to put off for as long as possible the inevitability of coming to terms with the demand for Palestinian self-determination, equality, and dignity. And it lies too with the British and American governments that are supplying the weaponry for the carpet bombings of Palestinians people and the destruction of Palestinian hopes.

That is where we should be directing our anger and our pressure.

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