10 years of Intifada

28 September 2010 marks ten years since the start of the Al Aqsa or second Palestinian Intifada. On that day in 2000, Likud leader General Ariel Sharon and his security goons invaded the area around the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in a deliberate act of provocation. During the next five days, 47 Palestinian protesters were killed and more than 200 wounded by Israeli forces. The ten years since have seen the deaths of over 6,500 Palestinians and the continued advancement of the Zionist project, with the construction of the Apartheid Wall and ongoing settlement expansion in the West Bank. But they have also seen the continued heroic resistance of the ordinary people of Palestine, a resistance that in part forced Israel to withdraw from Gaza. This unbroken struggle for Palestinian self-determination constantly threatens to ignite a wider battle of the poor and oppressed across the Middle East against the plans of imperialism for the region.

For imperialism, the crushing of the Palestinian resistance and the promotion of a pliant pro-imperialist Palestinian leadership have been the overriding objectives of their policies over the past ten years. In Mahmoud Abbas they have found their man. His recent characterisation of the Intifada as a ‘mistake’ which had ‘destroyed all that we built’ expresses his servility and that of a small coterie of Palestinian capitalists who exist as a parasitic layer on the backs of the mass of the Palestinian people. Bob Shepherd reports.

For the vast majority of Palestinian people, the Intifada was an outpouring of anger both at the expanding Israeli occupation and the failure of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) strategy for an independent Palestinian state. It was a continuation of the first Intifada in 1987, which was betrayed by the PLO leadership in the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. At Oslo, Yasser Arafat, Abbas and the rest of the PLO leadership renounced the Palestinians’ right to armed struggle against the suffocating and brutal Israeli occupation. The main issues for ordinary Palestinians, such as the status of East Jerusalem, the expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, were all fudged at Oslo, to be discussed and agreed on within a five-year period. As we wrote at the start of the second Intifada:

‘The [Oslo] Agreement was the diktat of a victorious colonial power, brokered by its staunchest ally, US imperialism. Arafat and the PLO not only capitulated, but worse, they proclaimed the disaster to be a victory, one which would guarantee the Palestinian people their own state. In reality…the Palestinian Authority (PA)…was a mechanism to get the PLO to police the Palestinian people on behalf of the Zionists. As Arafat was obliged to declare at the time, “PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance to prevent violations and discipline violators”. It was to be no empty promise; by 1995 he had built up a repressive apparatus with eight or nine different forces, numbering 50,000. Its cost of $500m per year left nothing to be spent on health or education. From the outset, the PA co-operated closely with the Zionist occupation forces, arresting and torturing Hamas and Jihad supporters as well as other opponents of the PA; many have died in PA custody.’ (FRFI No 158, December 2000/January 2001)

Seventeen years after Oslo and an endless succession of ‘peace talks’, East Jerusalem is still occupied, settlements are still expanding and refugees are still denied the right of return. The latest talks in this charade are still following an agenda set by the US in the interests of Israel, where nothing of any substance that benefits the Palestinians will be agreed.

Abbas and Fatah, pro-imperialist collaborators

As the second Intifada progressed, so the role of Fatah, the dominant force within the PLO, became more and more insignificant as a resistance force and more and more embroiled in corruption and collaboration with the occupying Israeli forces. Armed groups that were loosely associated with Fatah, the Al Aqsa Brigades and the Tanzim, were ‘beheaded’ by Israel through targeted assassinations or by detaining their leaders, the most prominent of these being Marwan Barghouti. The PA then did its bit by persuading remaining members to hand in their weapons and offering them jobs within the PA. Abbas, as the leader of Fatah following the death of Arafat, has led the organisation on the path to open collaboration with Israel. The PA in the West Bank is now nothing more than a Quisling government whose main job is to crush resistance.

The latest round of US-sponsored talks that began on 2 September 2010 has been condemned by almost all Palestinian groups that are not part of the PA. The response of Abbas and his security forces has been more repression. At the end of August, a conference in Ramallah of left and independent forces against the talks was broken up by PA thugs. On 31 August, four Israeli settlers were killed near Hebron, an action claimed by Hamas in opposition to the talks. Over the next week PA security forces arrested over 750 Hamas supporters in a clamp-down in the West Bank with many detainees claiming they were tortured. On 17 September Israeli forces assassinated Iyad Shelbaiya, a leader of Hamas’s armed wing in Tulkarm in the West Bank. His murder was condemned by all resistance forces. Islamic Jihad blamed both the PA and Israel, and said ‘a joint security campaign...waged against the  people and their fighters...ended with the Israeli occupation’s crime of executing fighter Shelbaiya, one of Al Qassam Brigade’s leaders in the West Bank.’

Since the Oslo Agreement a parasitic Palestinian bourgeoisie based in the West Bank has grown up which makes its money not from producing anything but from the importation and sale of goods from Israel. It is their class interests that the PA and Fatah represent. Palestinian writer Khalil Nakhleh perceptively describes in Al Ahram Weekly (2 September 2010) how this comprador capitalist class is completely dependent on the continued Israeli occupation:

‘The “Oslo-induced” national economy is, by and large, nothing more than a national warsheh (workshop) of consumption. Here, we are trained in the most effective methods of how to consume goods and products that have been produced by others and imported to us through a network of dealerships, fancy marketing schemes and the generous availability of credit… This is what Zionist Israel encourages, what donors and funding agencies push for and reward, and what our capitalists, big and small, old and new, welcome with open arms … A very dependent and empty miniature fiefdom of self-rule under continued occupation is where the profits are.’ (See also FRFI 170 December 2002/ January 2003: Class and the national liberation struggle in Palestine.)

Hamas, leading force of Palestinian resistance

As Fatah has become compromised by its collaboration with the Israeli occupation forces, so Hamas has been prepared to express the interests of the poor and become the leading force in the resistance. Hamas was formed by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in December 1987 at the start of the first Intifada, in part to bridge the gap between the role of the MB as a religious organisation which abstained from political activity and the need to represent its constituency of the poor who suffered under the Israeli occupation. The MB was mostly financed by Saudi Arabia, and its activities in Palestine had been tolerated and to a certain degree encouraged by Israel as a counterweight to the secular PLO. In 1986 the then Israeli Military Governor of Gaza, General Segev, said: ‘We extend some financial aid to Islamic groups via mosques and religious schools in order to create a force that would stand against the leftist forces which support the PLO.’

During the first Intifada, Hamas opposed the PLO-linked Unified National Leadership (UNL), which was leading the Intifada and organising popular committees, days of strike action and other actions against the occupation. Instead Hamas organised its own actions and sometimes attacked those called by the UNL. Following the Oslo Agreement, the left, secular forces in the PLO, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) proved unwilling to challenge the PLO leadership’s drive to collaboration, and Hamas filled the gap, evolving into an Islamic revolutionary nationalist organisation, which has been able to organise the poor and lead the resistance to the occupation. Its role in Gaza in defeating the pro-imperialist coup attempt by Fatah in June 2007 was a defining moment for the Palestinian resistance. The failure of the PFLP and other left forces in Palestine to unequivocally oppose the Fatah coup attempt further undermined their ability to build mass support amongst the poor and oppressed, and they remain marginalised.

British support for Israel

The 1997-2010 Labour government ensured consistent British support for Israel no matter what atrocities it carried out: ‘In the early days of the Intifada, Labour distinguished itself by refusing to condemn the extreme violence of the Israeli army when it came before the UN Security Council. In April [2001], Britain abstained when the UN Security Council voted on a motion to send an international observer force (armed with notebooks and pencils). Although the US vetoed it, the fact that Britain and other European countries on the Council abstained encouraged Sharon to believe he could escalate the war without fear of retaliation.’ (FRFI 161 June/July 2001)

In 2006, when Hamas won an overwhelming victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, Labour was in the forefront of implementing economic sanctions against the new Hamas-controlled PLC. Jack Straw declared that the EU ‘doesn’t want to punish the Palestinian people for their votes at all ... On the other hand the Palestinian people need to say to any Hamas government that democracy involves responsibilities and above all a responsibility not to get involved in violence’. Britain was also involved in the imprisonment of Ahmad Sa’adat, General Secretary of the PFLP, and the subsequent collusion in allowing Israel to attack the gaol in March 2006 to seize Sa’adat and four of his comrades.

In July 2006, when Israel invaded Lebanon, the British government, alongside the US, blocked the UN Security Council from passing any resolution calling for a ceasefire; it was to do the same after Israel launched its 2008-09 blitzkrieg on Gaza. When Blair visited Beirut in September 2006 Galeb Abu Zeinab, a leading member of Hizbullah, said:

‘Blair was a true partner in the killing of children and the destruction of thousands of homes, if he hadn’t fully supported the US-Israeli position the war would not have happened in the way it did…He is a full partner in the atrocities and I think he should be prosecuted as a war criminal alongside Bush and Olmert.’

Solidarity in Britain

From early on in the Intifada, large and militant protests took place in Britain in support of the Palestinian people, involving tens of thousands of young working class Muslims. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters organised pickets of Marks and Spencer up and down the country as a focus for a wider Boycott Israel movement. Yet the official solidarity movement – the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and Stop the War Coalition attempted first to control and then to undermine independent solidarity activity. The result has been the emergence of organisations like the International Solidarity Movement, Smash EDO!, the Free Gaza Movement and the Boycott Israel Network, all made up of people whose solidarity actions have been frustrated over the years by the PSC. The PSC also opposed our Boycott M&S campaign, often, like the Zionists, calling it ‘anti-Semitic’. More recently, the PSC has done nothing to defend the 100 or so overwhelmingly Muslim protestors who were arrested months after the January 2009 protests against the assault on Gaza, about 20 of whom have received gaol sentences of up to 30 months.

The position of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! is clear: the heroic example set by the Palestinian people in confronting the overwhelming odds of the imperialist-backed Israeli occupation demands that we build a militant solidarity movement calling for the complete isolation of the racist Zionist state of Israel. That movement must oppose the imperialist Labour Party, and cannot rely on the ineffective trade union movement in Britain for support. It has to go out on the streets and build amongst those who have an instinctive solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and those who will be feeling the effects of the growing economic crisis of imperialism.

10 years of Intifada: 10 years of repression, 10 years of resistance

• From 29 September 2000 to 30 July 2010 figures produced by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) show that the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has killed 6,545 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. 1,315 were children, 32 were medical personnel, 11 were journalists and 15 were international supporters. The IDF has also wounded 30,545.

• Figures produced by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) show that between 2001 and the end of July 2010 approximately 13,130 houses have been demolished by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian human rights organisation Al Mezan reports that, from the start of the Intifada up till the end of 2009, 5,687 homes were totally destroyed in Gaza, and 13,143 were partially destroyed by Israel, affecting a total of 181,505 people. ICAHD says that 4,247 houses were destroyed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, 6,261 heavily damaged and 8,501 suffered medium damage. PCHR shows that Israel has destroyed approximately 14% of Gaza’s farmland during the Intifada, a total of 48,052 hectares.

• In the West Bank there are now more than 200 settlements connected to one another and to Israel by an elaborate network of roads – over 500km – that Palestinians of the West Bank are not allowed to use. 65% of main roads in the West Bank are controlled by Israeli forces. There are 600 permanent road blocks staffed by the Israeli army and 60-80 flying check points as well. One third of the West Bank is inaccessible to Palestinians without a permit. Over 42.8% of the West Bank is now controlled by the settlements. The Apartheid Wall in the West Bank, begun in 2002, is now over 60% complete. In 2004 it was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.

• According to human rights organisation Addameer there were 6,408 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli jails in July 2010. 281 are children under 18 years. 200 are administrative detainees (including two children and five PLC members), held without charge or trial. Since 1967 over 800,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel, including 15,000 women (uruknet.info).

2006 Invasion of Lebanon

One of the greatest Zionist crimes during the ten years of the Intifada was Israel’s 2006 onslaught on Lebanon. After Palestinian resistance groups captured an Israeli soldier in Gaza in July 2006, Israel launched a deadly assault on civilians in Gaza and implemented the crippling blockade which is still in effect today. As a gesture of solidarity, Hizbullah forces launched an attack on Israeli forces along the border with Lebanon and captured two Israeli soldiers. The Zionists responded with a blitzkrieg on the people of Lebanon, bombing residential areas of Beirut where Hizbullah supporters, mainly poor working class Lebanese, lived. The murderous assault left over 1,300 Lebanese dead, over one million refugees and destroyed infrastructure in large parts of the Shi’a areas of Lebanon. However, imperialism’s attempt to restructure the Middle East in its own interests and destroy all resistance failed: Hizbullah forces were not defeated, and they forced Israel out of much of Lebanon. Hizbullah had mass support: ‘Palestinian militants from the refugee camps in Lebanon and fighters from Amal and the Lebanese Communist Party supported it militarily. Surveys showed that as the Israeli attack intensified support for Hizbullah rose to over 80% amongst all sections of Lebanese society.’ (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 193) As Israeli forces withdrew, they left hundreds of thousands of cluster bombs in the border area to prevent people they had forcibly displaced from returning to their farms and villages.

Mark Moncada

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

 

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