Obama re-affirms support for Israel

Obama’s visit to Israel in March was designed to reassure Israel that they still play a central role in imperialism’s plans to control the Middle East and Central Asia. It was also an opportunity for Obama to point out to the Zionists that they won’t find a more pliant and servile Palestinian leadership than Abbas and the current Palestinian Authority (PA).

Obama’s speech in Jerusalem on 21 March was deliberately phrased in a pro-Zionist language. Full of distortions and outright lies, it praised the ‘achievements’ of Israeli democracy, equated Jewish culture with Israel and highlighted the shared interests of Israel and the US, only adding the plight of the Palestinians for liberal effect.

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Israel general election sees no change /FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

A few days before Israel’s general election on 22 January, Prime Minister Netanyahu appealed to the racism dominating Israeli society, guaranteeing that no Jewish settlement in the West Bank would be demolished if he remained in office. He declared that he would seek a ‘real and fair solution’ with the Palestinians but ‘that certainly doesn’t include driving out hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the suburbs of Jerusalem and… Tel Aviv, in the Ariel block’. The ‘suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv’ and the Ariel block are illegal colonial settlements built on stolen Palestinian land after driving out thousands of Palestinians from their homes.

Pre-election opinion polls showed Netanyahu’s newly-formed right-wing electoral alliance with Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteiu, losing support and in danger of being outflanked on the right by the Jewish Home party. Naftali Bennett, leader of Jewish Home and of the settler movement, opposes any form of Palestinian state; he called for the annexation to Israel of the 60% of the West Bank known as Area C, which contains all of the Jewish settlements, with remaining pieces of the West Bank placed under Israeli military control.

The polls also showed rising support for a new party representing the interests of the Israeli middle class, Yesh Atid, campaigning on economic issues. The Israeli middle class has faced a squeeze on its living standards, and previously expressed its dissatisfaction in protests in the summer of 2011. The party won 19 seats while Jewish Home doubled its support to 12 seats. This left the Likud-Beiteiu alliance with 31 seats, down 11. Netanyahu, as the leader of the biggest party, Likud, will attempt to form a coalition government which could include both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home, as they both support the illegal settlements in the West Bank and the occupation of Palestine.  

Zionist settlement construction accelerates

Since the United Nations General Assembly vote on 29 November 2012 to upgrade the status of Palestine to a ‘non-member observer state’, Israel has escalated its settlement construction and expansion plans. 138 nations voted in favour of the UN resolution, nine against while 41 abstained. The result allows the Palestinian Authority (PA) to join UN agencies, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), opening the door for the PA to take Israel to the court for human rights violations and war crimes. Britain abstained, demanding as a condition for support that the PA agree to an immediate unconditional return to ‘peace talks’ with Israel and a commitment not to join the ICC or to initiate legal action against Israel. The PA rejected these pro-Zionist conditions.

Responding to the UN vote, Israel announced that it would once more penalise the Palestinians by withholding tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA. This amounts to the theft of over $100m a month. The US Congress had already withheld $200m in aid to the PA in 2011 when the PA first put forward the plan to apply for UN non-member status. The US Senate is now debating measures to withhold large parts of US aid to the PA if it takes Israel to the ICC. Tightening the financial stranglehold over the PA has delayed wage payments to PA employees; it further undermines the Palestinian economy, forcing more people into poverty.

On 5 December the Israeli government announced the construction of 3,000 housing units in unspecified areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and 3,426 housing units in the area known as E1 between East Jerusalem and the largest colonial settlement in the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumim. If this project goes ahead the West Bank will be split in two. Plans were then agreed for another 6,600 housing units in East Jerusalem and two new settlement blocks north and south of Bethlehem. These would sever the connection between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The Zionists also announced the opening of tenders to build 84 new housing units in a settlement next to Hebron/Al Khalil. A Hamas Media Bureau report shows that 2012’s settlement construction plans were four times greater than in 2011: 6,932 housing units compared to 1,772. In 2010 it had been 569. 2013’s plans already far outstrip 2012’s figure.

The strategic aim of the proposed settlement expansion programmes is to accelerate the construction of ‘facts on the ground’, isolating areas of Palestinian population from each other, confirming the impossibility of creating a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Resisting this theft, Palestinian activists have set up protest villages on land under threat. On 11 January hundreds of Palestinians set up the tent village of Bab Al Shams (Gate of the Sun) in the E1 area near Jerusalem. A leader from the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements said, ‘We will not be silent while settlements and the colonialisation of our land continue… Israel has imposed facts on the ground for decades amid the silence of the international community, and the time has come to change the rules of the game. We are owners of this land and we will impose the reality on the ground.’ Israeli troops demolished the tent village within a few days but a week later a new tent village was erected on land that is being stolen from the Beit Iksa village in the north west of Jerusalem. The activists named their protest village Al Karamah (Dignity). Israel plans to completely surround Beit Iksa by the Apartheid Wall, cutting it off from Jerusalem and in the process annexing 96% of the villagers’ land. Again Israeli forces demolished the tent village within a few days but this form of protest is set to continue. Local activist Nabil Hababa said, ‘The demolition of Al Karamah does not mean the end of our stand. Activists will again occupy the site on which the village was built and they will rebuild their tents.’

The activists’ protest villages and confrontation with Zionist expansion contrasts sharply with the PA. Demonstrating against the Apartheid Wall in Budrus on 15 January, Israeli forces shot and killed 17-year-old Sameer Awad. Israel continues arresting and detaining Palestinians without trial using Administrative Detention Orders, fuelling further protests. Several Palestinian prisoners are engaged in hunger strikes. Samer Issawi has been refusing solid food for over 170 days. Protests supporting the prisoners continue. The PA has brutally suppressed any militant expressions of solidarity with the prisoners. On 20 January PA security forces used live ammunition to break up a protest that had blocked the road between Ramallah and Jerusalem, shooting three people. The protesters were mainly from the Al Amaari refugee camp near Ramallah. One activist said that a number of men from the camp were being held in the Eshel prison in Israel where they were being tortured.

Solidarity with the Palestinian resistance! Boycott Israel!

Bob Shepherd

Palestine: Gaza ceasefire setback for Zionists/FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

On 21 November, following eight days of Zionist bombardment of Gaza and the deaths of around 170 Palestinians, Israel and Hamas agreed to an Egypt-brokered ceasefire. BOB SHEPHERD reports.

The Israeli blitzkrieg began on 14 November with the assassination of Ahmad Al Jaabari, head of Hamas’s military wing, in a missile attack on his car. During the eight days’ onslaught, Israel claimed it had attacked 1,500 sites across Gaza. 300 Palestinian homes had been destroyed or damaged. Eleven members of the Al Dalou family, including four children, were massacred when a bomb flattened their house in Gaza City on 18 November. Two bridges linking north and central Gaza were destroyed, government buildings including the Prime Minister’s office were hit, and health, education and media facilities were also targeted. Two mosques were also blown up. All this took place under the grotesque banner of ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’.

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Israeli blitzkrieg: victory to the people of Gaza!

On the morning of 14 November, under the grotesque banner ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’, Israel launched yet another barbaric attack on the Gaza Strip. Its opening act was the assassination of Ahmad Al Jaabari, the head of Hamas’s military wing, the Izzedin Al Qassam Brigades, with a missile attack on the car in which he was travelling. Within the first five days of this onslaught the Israeli military claimed it had carried out 1,350 attacks on ‘terror’ targets: these attacks had claimed the lives of over 80 Palestinians including 11 members of the Al Dalou family, four of them children, massacred when a bomb flattened their house in Gaza City on Sunday 18 November. Over 700 were wounded in the same period, the overwhelming majority of the victims being Palestinian civilians As of the end of 20 November, the seventh day of the onslaught, 140 Palestinians have been killed (compared to five Israelis) and over 900 wounded. There is as yet no sign of agreement on a cease-fire.

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Palestinian Authority in economic crisis /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

At the beginning of September protests against the high cost of living and the rising prices of fuel and basic food items swept across the West Bank. The protests were directed against the economic policies of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and in particular of the Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and his subservience to the dictates of Israel. Fayyad is a former IMF economist and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the strategy put forward by Tony Blair and the Quartet of security cooperation with Israel and the cutting of public expenditure, under the guise of Palestinian state building. Fayyad had announced an increase in the level of VAT to 16% and an increase in the cost of fuel to the equivalent of over $2 a litre, while employees of the PA had still not received their salaries for August. This came on top of an inflation rate of 3.5% for 2011 which included a massive rise of 18% in electricity prices. On 4 September protests erupted in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin and other cities.

Thousands of people participated in the demonstrations; burning tyres were placed on roads in Hebron and an effigy of Fayyad was set on fire. One of the demands of the protesters was the ending of what is known as the Paris Protocol. This is an integral part of the Oslo Accords which ties and subordinates the Palestinian economy to the interests of Israel. Under the Paris Protocol, for instance, the difference between VAT levels in Israel and Palestine is set at a maximum of 2%. As wages and the standard of living are higher in Israel, this linkage can only have the effect of worsening living conditions for Palestinians. As the protests escalated with the demonstrators taking on the PA security forces in Hebron and Nablus and with strikes of public sector workers taking place, Fayyad and the PA were forced to backtrack. On Tuesday 11 September they announced a reversal of the price and VAT increases with VAT being pegged at 15%. On the same day Israel announced that it would advance $63m of tax payments to the PA to help it through the crisis it faced. Netanyahu declared that it was ‘in our joint interest’ that the PA overcomes its financial crisis. Most PA employees were paid half their August salaries at the beginning of September with the other half being paid out on 17 September.

The PA depends almost entirely on financial assistance from donor states, in particular the EU, US and certain Gulf States. Its tax revenues are collected by Israel and are either passed on or delayed depending on the political whims of Israel at that particular time. Whether PA employees receive their salaries on time at the end of September depends entirely on the speed of delivery of aid money from these donor states.

A report on the economy of Palestine by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released on 5 September describes how Israel uses the tax revenue it collects on behalf of the PA for its own political ends: ‘A key source of the PA’s fiscal instability is the channeling through Israel of Palestinian trade clearance revenue, which Israel collects on behalf of the PA as stipulated by the Paris Protocol. In May and November 2011, Israel withheld Palestinian revenue to further its political goals, as it did in 2002 and 2006.’

The report details some of the realities of the Palestinian economy and the deteriorating living conditions for the majority of Palestinians. The unemployment rate in Gaza is 33%; in East Jerusalem it rises to 40% for men and 85% for women. Poverty rates in East Jerusalem stand at 78%, which is higher than Gaza where 52% of households are deemed to be food insecure. Across Palestine 33% of all households are deemed to be food insecure with another 33% vulnerable or only marginally food secure. Wages are now on average worth 8.4% less than they were in 2006, the decline more pronounced in the West Bank. The report documents the destruction caused to the agricultural and fishing industries by the Israeli occupation in denying access to the land and to water and by restricting access to markets to buy and sell products. A graphic example is the decimation of the fishing industry in Gaza, where the number of fishermen has declined in number by 66% since 2000.

The report concludes that: ‘Prolonged occupation, and the socio-economic impact of confrontation with an expanding settler/colonial-type enterprise, is the main cause of the failure of Palestinian economic development efforts. Ending settlement and occupation is the sine qua non for sustainable development to take root. In the absence of a dramatic shift in the economic and political balance of power between the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian people, genuine economic recovery in the occupied Palestinian territories will remain elusive.’

This conclusion is also an indictment of Abbas, Fayyad and the PA; they represent the interests of a small layer of Palestinian capitalists whose privileged life styles depend on their continuing collaboration with the Israeli occupation forces and imperialism. Any successful struggle by the thousands of Palestinians who came out onto the streets will mean confronting not just the Israeli occupation but also these pro-imperialist Palestinian forces.

Bob Shepherd

Settler violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem

Incidents of violent racist attacks against Palestinians by settlers and other Israelis continue to rise across the West Bank and Jerusalem. In mid-August three Palestinian youths were attacked and hospitalised in Zion Square in the centre of West Jerusalem by a gang of Jewish youth who, according to witnesses, were looking for ‘Arabs to kill’. At the same time in the West Bank a taxi carrying a Palestinian family was attacked with a petrol bomb by settlers hospitalising all six occupants including the driver and a six-year-old child. At the end of 2011, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that attacks by settlers against Palestinians were up 32% from 2010 and 144% from 2009. These include attacks against Palestinians that result in injury or death as well as attacks against Palestinian property. So far in 2012 by 11 September there had been 117 recorded attacks.