Workers Vanguard No. 1021
5 April 2013
Hands Off Syria, Iran!
Obama in Israel: Stomping on the Palestinians
The overriding purpose of Barack Obama’s trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in late March was to further U.S. imperialist designs in the turbulent Near East. Reaffirming Washington’s commitment to its Israeli junior partners, Obama promised to extend—through 2027—the billions that the U.S. provides every year to the Zionist state. When Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a “credible threat of military action” to snuff out Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program, Obama reiterated that indeed “all options are on the table.” As Obama threw some bones to Netanyahu, he kicked the oppressed Palestinians in the teeth, issuing paeans to Zionism and laying a wreath at the grave of the movement’s founder, Theodor Herzl. Long forgotten was the call Obama had raised early in his first term for a “freeze” on new Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Obama won plaudits for a speech in which he told Jewish youth to see their society through Palestinians’ eyes. Obama himself got a taste of how Palestinians view him when he visited the West Bank city of Ramallah and was met by protesters, many of them carrying pictures of Obama in an Israeli military uniform under the words “No Hope.” In Ramallah, U.S. imperialism’s Commander-in-Chief tried to push Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas into the charade of “negotiations” with Netanyahu even as Zionist settlers, backed by the Israeli government and its military forces, continue to gobble up ever more Palestinian land. In return for unblocking $500 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority, Obama pressed Abbas to refrain from submitting any grievances against Israeli settlement expansion to the International Criminal Court. While Obama cynically invoked the goal of an “independent Palestinian state,” Zionist land grabs have hardly left enough territory for even the figment of a viable Palestinian state.
Since the Israeli state was founded in 1948, its very existence has been predicated on the displacement and brutal oppression of the Palestinian people. Today, well over half of the West Bank has been confiscated from Palestinians or closed off to them. This includes land occupied by murderous settlers, land cut off by the wall surrounding the West Bank and land used for “bypass roads” and military zones that are off-limits to Palestinians. With more than half a million settlers already occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Tel Aviv announced plans in November for the construction of more than 3,000 additional housing units that would essentially cut off access between East Jerusalem and Ramallah and the rest of the West Bank. When trying to get to work, school or a hospital, West Bank residents must contend with more than 500 military checkpoints and barriers where they are subjected to humiliation, fear and abuse. Teachers and health care workers recently struck over not being paid by the Palestinian Authority, which depends on Israel to collect and remit its taxes and customs duties.
While forcibly ghettoizing the West Bank Palestinians, the Zionist rulers long ago transformed Gaza into what is essentially a concentration camp for Palestinians, surrounded by an electric fence, a wall and the Mediterranean. Almost 80 percent of the population in Gaza is dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival. Infant mortality in the West Bank and Gaza is roughly seven times that in Israel, and life expectancy of those Palestinians is almost nine years less than that of Israelis.
The decades-long “peace process” that comes and goes under U.S. auspices has meant nothing but increased misery and oppression for the Palestinian masses. Some 4,500 Palestinians are locked away in Israeli dungeons, where torture is rampant. In February, protests erupted following the death of Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old father arrested for throwing stones during a protest. Jaradat died after being brutally beaten by his jailers. Demonstrators were also spurred by a long-term hunger strike carried out by four Palestinian political detainees. The men were imprisoned under the system of “administrative detention” by which Israel holds many Palestinians indefinitely, without a trial or even formal charges. Last month, one of the hunger strikers, a West Bank resident, was released to forced exile in Gaza; another, Samer Issawi, has continued his hunger strike and is reportedly in critical condition.
The Israeli state is backed to the hilt by the Democratic and Republican parties of U.S. imperialism and is supported as well by the rulers of Germany and other capitalist powers. To defend its interests in the oil-rich Near East, U.S. imperialism each year pumps some $3 billion in military aid to Israel and has long provided over $1 billion annually to Egypt, and is continuing to do so with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi at the helm. Workers internationally must demand: All Zionist troops and settlers out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem! Down with U.S. aid to Israel, Egypt!
The unexpected news during Obama’s trip was his orchestrating a phone call from the airport tarmac in which Netanyahu apologized to the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the May 2010 Israeli marine attack on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara that killed nine activists. The ship had been attempting to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza, which is squeezed by a blockade imposed by Israel (and abetted by Egypt) after Hamas militarily took control there in 2007. With Netanyahu’s apology and agreement to compensate the families of the marines’ victims, relations are being patched between these strategic allies of U.S. imperialism.
What drove Obama in brokering this deal was the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has now spilled over into neighboring countries. Turkey has been the staging point for transmitting arms and other material to the imperialist-backed Syrian rebels, many of them Islamic fundamentalists, who are fighting to overthrow the murderous bourgeois regime of Bashar al-Assad. Sunni groups from other Muslim countries, who often seem to be as intent on waging communal war against Syria’s myriad religious minorities as they are in combating the Assad regime, have gained increasing prominence in the rebellion. This has complicated matters for the U.S. and Israeli rulers, who do not take lightly to the prospect of jihadists getting their hands on Syria’s considerable weapons stockpile.
Many reformist outfits, such as the International Socialist Organization in the U.S., proclaim their solidarity with the “Syrian Revolution,” thus giving support to the imperialists’ attempts to oust Assad. The reformist Workers World Party, meanwhile, opposes the rebels but gives political credence to Assad, falsely portraying his and other Third World bourgeois-nationalist regimes as anti-imperialist. As we stated in “Imperialists’ Hands Off Syria!” (WV No. 1009, 28 September 2012):
“Revolutionary Marxists support neither side in this civil war, in which a victory of one combatant or the other would do nothing to further the cause of the working class and the oppressed. However, workers internationally do have a side in opposing military intervention by the imperialists. In the event of imperialist attack, we would stand for the defense of Syria while maintaining proletarian political opposition to Assad’s bloodsoaked rule.”
Since at least early last year, the CIA has been active in Turkey, helping to determine which groups of anti-Assad rebels will receive arms purchased by U.S. allies Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The Obama administration has been wary of directly intervening militarily into the conflict. However, when France and Britain last month sought (unsuccessfully) a green light from the European Union for arms shipments to the rebels, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that Washington “does not stand in the way.” No sooner had Obama left Jerusalem than Kerry showed up in Baghdad, demanding that Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated, pro-Iranian government block arms shipments from Iran to the Assad regime through Iraqi airspace.
Steadily increasing belligerence toward Iran has been a hallmark of the Obama administration’s policy in the Near East, together with withdrawing almost all troops from Iraq and drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan. American forces in Kuwait and the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf have been reinforced. In the name of stopping the Islamic regime’s purported drive to develop nuclear weapons, U.S. imperialism and its European allies have imposed ever more draconian economic sanctions on Iran, strangling its economy and exacting a devastating toll on the population. The imperialists have imposed similar sanctions on Syria in an effort to topple the Assad regime.
As Obama made clear during his trip to Israel, behind economic sanctions stands the threat of war. Whether or not Iran is moving toward developing nuclear weapons, it is surely not lost on Tehran that in today’s world, possession of nukes is crucial to deterring military attack and resisting imperialist diktat. It is the duty of the U.S. proletariat to oppose sanctions and all other means by which “its own” ruling class seeks to further its interests around the world. This includes standing for the defense of Iran against any military attack by the imperialists or Israel.
As Marxists, our defense of Iran or Syria in the military sense does not imply the least political support to those countries’ reactionary regimes, which enforce all-sided oppression and brutally repress labor struggle. But what must be understood is that it is U.S. imperialism that is the greatest danger to the working people and downtrodden of the planet. Nothing short of the overthrow of the capitalist-imperialist system through workers revolution will rid the world of this menace and open the road to a socialist future.
For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!
The dilemma of liberals in the U.S. who recognize and decry the desperate plight of the Palestinian people was well expressed by Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi in an op-ed piece in the New York Times (12 March). Khalidi aptly observed that “America for many decades has helped produce a situation where, pious invocations of support for a Palestinian state notwithstanding, there is, and for the foreseeable future will be, only one true sovereign authority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River: the state of Israel.” Yet his proposed solution is to call on Obama “to chart a new course” based on support for the “Palestinian right to freedom, equality and statehood.” Thus Khalidi counsels looking to U.S. imperialism, the very force that for decades has helped to ensure the Palestinians’ oppression.
A similar dilemma faces Palestinian youth who seek an alternative to the utter prostration of the Palestinian Authority before the Zionists and their U.S. imperialist backers. A number of activists who are politically disenchanted with the Palestinian Authority have initiated a movement of “nonviolent popular resistance” against the Israeli occupation. The Israeli-Palestinian film Five Broken Cameras, which was nominated for a best-documentary Oscar, recounts the weekly protests in the West Bank village of Bil’in against the “separation fence” that cut the village off from most of its lands as part of building a settlement.
The transformation of yesterday’s “freedom fighters” of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) into today’s enforcers for Zionist occupation is rooted in the logic of petty-bourgeois nationalism. Despite the “people’s war” rhetoric of Yasir Arafat’s PLO in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the Palestinian people have never had the social weight or the military strength to take on the nuclear-armed Zionist state. Yet the Arab regimes to which the PLO looked for support are no less the enemies of the Palestinian people than the Zionist oppressors. That has been repeatedly demonstrated, from the 1970 Black September massacre perpetrated by the Jordanian monarchy to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia following the U.S.-led “Desert Storm” war on Iraq in 1991.
In September 1993, the PLO signed the U.S.-brokered Oslo “peace accord” with Israel. We denounced that accord as a “grotesque bargain over the subjugated Palestinian people” that “would place the PLO’s seal on the national oppression of the long-suffering Palestinian Arab masses” (WV No. 583, 10 September 1993). Underlying that betrayal was the destruction of the Soviet Union through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. Without the diplomatic and financial support previously provided by Moscow, the PLO (like other Third World nationalist movements and regimes) quickly came to terms with U.S. imperialism. Today, if many among the historically cosmopolitan Palestinian people have been driven into the arms of anti-Semitic, anti-women Islamic fundamentalists like Hamas, it is precisely because of the utter bankruptcy of Palestinian nationalism.
There will be no justice for the Palestinian people short of socialist revolution in Israel and throughout the region. Israel/Palestine is a case of two interpenetrated peoples who lay claim to the same piece of land. Assuring the right of national self-determination for both the Palestinian and Jewish peoples requires the proletarian overthrow of the Israeli capitalist rulers and also those of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, which are home to several million Palestinians. Only through the creation of a planned economy in a socialist federation of the Near East can conflicting claims over land and resources be equitably resolved, and all discrimination on the basis of language, religion and nationality be done away with.
We have no illusions that it will be easy to break through the chauvinism that poisons the consciousness of the Jewish working people. However, like all capitalist societies, Israel is class-divided, with both Jewish and Arab as well as immigrant workers exploited by the same capitalist ruling class. It is the task of revolutionary Marxists to use every strike, every opportunity to widen the gap between Israel’s workers and rulers, to convince the Israeli proletariat that it is in its interests to defend the Palestinians and to oppose the Zionist ruling class.
Long ago carved up by the imperialists, the Near East is a cauldron of peoples competing at the expense of each other. At the same time, imperialist penetration has created strategic concentrations of the proletariat, from Egypt’s ports and textile factories to the Iranian oil fields. In the “Arab Spring” upheavals of the past two years, the dominant political players have been bourgeois forces—from military officers and liberals to Islamic fundamentalists—all of which are subordinate to imperialism and oppressors of their own population. The proletariat has not yet emerged as an independent force. What is needed is the construction of revolutionary internationalist workers parties, forged through irreconcilable struggle against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalism and religious fundamentalism and committed to the program of world socialist revolution.