Workers Hammer No. 211

Summer 2010


Defend the Palestinians!

Zionist massacre at sea

All Israeli troops, settlers out of the Occupied Territories!

The Israeli army’s massacre of nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on 31 May has been greeted by outpourings of rage from activists around the world. From Istanbul to the US, Paris and London, thousands came out to protest, with some 20,000 marching in London on 5 June. Significantly, several protests have also taken place in Israel, including on 5 June when 6000 people marched in Tel Aviv. Undeterred by international condemnation, the Israeli military boarded another ship carrying humanitarian aid destined for Gaza , the MV Rachel Corrie, and detained its crew that same day.

New York-based documentary maker Iara Lee, who was on the Mavi Marmara, captured the sentiment of those onboard when she said “[The Israelis] came to kill” (Guardian, 11 June). Indeed, several eyewitnesses reported seeing the Israeli army firing live ammunition from a helicopter before any troops even boarded the boat. Autopsies carried out on the victims revealed that most were shot multiple times, some in the back of the head at close range. Another 48 activists suffered gunshot wounds during the attack. At a London meeting organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on 9 June, eyewitnesses vividly described how the ships came under attack from Israeli commandos using tear gas, rubber bullets and tasers as well as live ammunition. The wounded were refused medical help and activists were denied food, water and access to a toilet before being hauled off to prison in Israel and then deported.

Predictably, the Israeli government has rejected growing calls for an international investigation. Backed by the Obama administration, the Zionist rulers have instead brazenly declared they will conduct an “internal inquiry” of their own, without even the fig-leaf of international involvement. Grotesquely, according to the Israeli government, the scope of this inquiry will include examining “the actions taken by the organisers of the flotilla and its participants, as well as their identity”. This is a continuation of the Zionists’ policy of smearing anyone seeking to defend or assist the desperate Palestinian masses as “terrorists”. The Israeli government claims that its blockade of Gaza is being significantly eased. However the ban on crucial goods for industry and on exports remains in place as does the naval blockade. We demand: End the blockade of Gaza! Both Tony Blair in his capacity as Middle East representative for the Quartet — the UN, US, EU and Russia — and Tory foreign secretary William Hague have made clear their continued support for Israel’s “security” concerns. Britain is a long-time ally of Zionist Israel and shoot-to-kill of innocent civilians is nothing new for the British rulers: from the Bloody Sunday killings by the British Army in Northern Ireland in 1972 to the police killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in London in 2005 to the numerous massacres of civilians by imperialist forces as part of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

We reprint below in abridged form a 1 June statement which first appeared in Workers Vanguard no 960 (4 June), newspaper of the Spartacist League/US.

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“This was murder.” These three words, spoken by Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, captured the horror perpetrated by elite naval units of the Israeli Zionist state when they descended from Black Hawk helicopters onto a civilian ship in international waters and began blasting away at its 700 passengers, mainly Turkish citizens, in a pre-dawn raid yesterday. At least nine people aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara — the lead ship in a six-ship “Freedom Flotilla” carrying medicine, construction supplies and other goods to Gaza — were killed and dozens injured. Survivors of the attack were hauled off to prison in Israel or deported. We demand that the prisoners be freed, now!

The passengers aboard the aid flotilla were carrying out a courageous act of defiance of the Israeli embargo of the Gaza Strip, imposed in 2007 in order to collectively punish the Palestinian population for voting the Islamist Hamas into power. Gaza was already little more than a huge concentration camp, surrounded on all sides by an electrified fence, the sea or a fortified border with Egypt. But the embargo vastly deepened the misery of the 1.5 million people of Gaza, who now overwhelmingly rely on paltry food packages from United Nations relief agencies for survival. Israel slaughtered upwards of 1300 Gaza residents — many of them women and children — beginning in late 2008, as round-the-clock air assaults followed by a ground invasion of over 10,000 troops reduced much of the Gaza ghetto to ash and rubble. And just today, an Israeli airstrike killed three people in Gaza.

The Israeli government has denounced the flotilla participants as “violent extremists” and “terrorists”. The chauvinist capitalist rulers of the Zionist garrison state deem any defence of the subjugated Palestinian people as “terrorism”. In this, they also take a cue from their American imperialist patrons, whose “war on terror” has been used — by the US and other capitalist governments — to justify massacres and state terror against the oppressed around the world. In fact, the so-called “terrorists” in the flotilla included European parliamentarians and a retired US diplomat as well as prominent authors and filmmakers. Israeli claims that the commandos opened fire only after being attacked by passengers are countered by numerous eyewitness accounts and belied by video taken at the time of the assault. In any case, as Greta Berlin put it, “People had the right to defend themselves against soldiers armed with machine guns.”

From San Francisco and New York to Europe and the Near East, people took to the streets in outrage over the massacre. The Spartacist League is joining in the protests, as are sections of the International Communist League in Europe. In Istanbul, Turkey, demonstrators tried to storm the Israeli consulate. We say: Down with the starvation blockade of Gaza! Defend the Palestinian people! All Israeli troops and settlers out of the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem!

Unrestrained terror against the Palestinians by the Israeli ruling class and its fascistic “settler” auxiliaries has always been a given. But in recent years, Israel’s rulers have also made a point of targeting Western supporters of the Palestinians. In 2003, two activists of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) were killed at the hands of Israeli forces: 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie was crushed by a bulldozer as she tried to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home, and 21-year-old British photojournalist Tom Hurndall was shot in the head by Israeli troops as he tried to protect children in Gaza’s Rafah refugee camp. Yesterday in the West Bank, Emily Henochowicz, a 21-year-old American, had her left eye blown out by troops as she protested against the Mavi Marmara massacre.

Not surprisingly, the Israeli massacre has provoked condemnation from numerous governments, not least the Erdogan regime in Turkey, an unofficial sponsor of the flotilla. These same capitalist regimes have shown themselves equally as capable as the Israeli bourgeois rulers in perpetrating atrocities against ethnic, religious and national minorities. As for the imperialists, Britain and France laid the basis for the continuing misery of the Palestinians and other peoples of the Near East in the period between the two world wars, when they brutally suppressed anti-colonial uprisings and set one people against another.

For its part, the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama refuses even to slap Israel on the wrist. Washington has been the chief arms supplier to the Zionist state for decades, shelling out several billions of dollars a year. On the eve of the Israeli blitzkrieg in Gaza, then-presidential candidate Obama made clear in a visit to Israel that his administration would continue to give the Zionist state a blank cheque for its anti-Palestinian terror.

Israel’s attack on the civilian aid flotilla serves to underscore the futility of attempts by various reformist leftists to lobby the “democratic” imperialist powers, including the UN, to pressure Israel to tamp down its murderous repression. Suppression of the Palestinian people has been intrinsic to the Zionist cause from its inception in Europe in the latter half of the 19th century, as it set itself the ersatz messianic mission of conquering “a land without people for a people without a land”.

Notwithstanding the intentions of some of the earliest socialist-minded Jewish immigrants in Palestine, what the Zionist project has always meant in practice was the driving out of one people from the land and its replacement by another. Decades of land-grabbing were followed by the mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1947-48 and the ghettoization of those Arabs who remained in the new state of Israel. The conquest of the Occupied Territories in 1967 fuelled dreams of a “Greater Israel” and the further displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which is now surrounded by a wall and riddled with military checkpoints. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu includes such figures as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who openly advocates “transfer” — the genocidal expulsion of all Palestinian Arabs.

American anti-Zionist academic Norman Finkelstein captured something when he described Israel, in a 31 May interview with Russia Today TV, as “a lunatic state with between two and three hundred nuclear devices that is threatening war daily against Iran and against the Hezbollah in Lebanon”. It is notable that the massacre on the Turkish ship came only two weeks after the US and Israel denounced a deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil to provide Iran with fuel for its nuclear reactors. While Washington seeks to beef up the imperialist economic embargo against Iran, Israel continues to talk openly of bombing the country. Such threats underline that Iran needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the imperialists and their junior partners.

Israel/Palestine is a prime example of the genocidal logic of bourgeois nationalism, particularly as played out in the context of its interpenetrated peoples. The national emancipation of the Palestinian people — including the right of all refugees and their descendants to return to their homeland — necessarily entails workers revolutions to shatter the Zionist state from within and to sweep away the neighbouring capitalist ruling classes of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, which themselves lord it over sizable Palestinian populations. Only within the framework of a socialist federation of the Near East will the national rights of both the Palestinian Arab and the Hebrew-speaking peoples, as well as of the Kurds and myriad others, be ensured.

Notwithstanding the growing entrenchment of ultra-chauvinist and religious reaction among sections of the Hebrew-speaking population and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism within the Palestinian and other Arab populations, the countries of the Near East are class-divided societies. Notably, Egypt has witnessed a rising tide of workers protests and strikes in recent years. In the face of massive sympathy among Egyptians for the Palestinians, the regime of Hosni Mubarak, which has ruled under a state of emergency for decades, actively collaborates with the Zionist rulers in enforcing the blockade of Gaza.

The solidarity among the peoples of the Near East with the oppressed Palestinian people must be directed towards proletarian revolution against their own rulers, who, whether bourgeois nationalists or Islamic traditionalists, are fundamentally instruments of Western imperialism. Revolutionary struggle in Iran and the Arab countries would serve in turn to aid in breaking the Hebrew-speaking working class, which includes a large number of downtrodden and impoverished Sephardic Jews, from the intoxication of Zionist chauvinism. Meanwhile, fully one-fifth of the population of Israel consists of Palestinian Arabs who have been subjected to blatant discrimination since the birth of the Zionist state in 1948.

The class interests of the workers of Israel lie in smashing the Zionist capitalist state and sweeping away their exploiters. But for this to happen, the class principle must prevail. What is necessary is the forging of multinational, multiethnic Marxist workers parties throughout the Near East, built in opposition to all forms of nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Such parties are the indispensable instruments to lead a successful fight for socialist revolution, which, on an international scale, can finally open the door to human equality and liberation.