||Issue No. 133||26 April 2002|
The Struggle Continues
Interview: If The Commission Pleases
History: Protest and Celebrate
Unions: A Novel Approach
Industrial: Hare Tony, Hare Tony
International: Never Forget Jenin
Politics: Left Right Out In France
Health: Delivering A Public Health Revolution
Review: The Secret Life of U(nion)s
Poetry: May Day, May Day
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Gold Star Student
Time for a General Strike?
Never Forget Jenin
I was glad to read Andrew Casey's account of how horrified he was at the news of the Passover bombing. I feel that perhaps now he and others can get an insight into what it feels like to be a Palestinian watching the news. He has now gained a small insight into what it feels like to hear that families have been living with the corpses of their loved ones for days because an Israeli curfew is prohibiting them from burying their dead.
Perhaps now the news of mass graves being filled with Palestinian bodies will not fall on deaf or unsympathetic ears. Perhaps now Mr Casey gets a deeper sense of what it feels like as a Palestinian to be sitting down at work breaking down almost daily because the enormity of the crimes being committed against his or her people are totally overwhelming. Perhaps now, more people have an insight into the notion of Occupation. Dispossession. Of War Crimes and who is capable of perpetrating them.
I have no issues with the Israeli peace movement, other than they are fighting a losing battle alongside with many Palestinians. Furthermore, I have no issue with the diversity of Israeli public opinion. However, I return to one thing and one thing only whenever I consider the opinions of the Israeli street: Ariel Sharon is enjoying 70-80% support according to the latest poll in Israeli newspapers. So for all the nice talk about opposition in Israel, they are faced with the same issues as the Palestinians: a racist Prime Minister with quite a few massacres under his belt, a Labour opposition (currently allied with Sharon in his national unity government) that is responsible for a few massacres themselves, not to mention the collusion in the current massacres taking place, an unshakeable alliance with the United States of America that pretty much gives carte blanche to the Israeli government to do as it pleases, and illegal Israeli settlers armed to the teeth acting as vigilante groups in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Now before dealing with the core issues that I believe we, as workers, should be most aware of, I would like to address one particular issue that was raised in Mr Casey's 'lighting of the darkness'. Most offensive of all that Mr Casey penned is the notion that the Palestinians have only themselves to thank for the election of Ariel Sharon. Mr Casey's comment that the second Intifada "helped to bring down the Barak Labour government and install Sharon as Prime Minister" is a classic case of blaming the victim for the mess in the oppressor's home. What helped bring down the Barak government was that he totally failed in bringing about a decent peace plan. What helped install Sharon as Prime Minister were the basic demands of the Israeli electorate to adopt a "hard and violent line" with the Palestinian people. The second Intifada is a mere accessory in this fashion disaster known as Israeli domestic politics.
Now on to the other attempts at shedding light.
CAMP DAVID II
First and foremost, we must always remember that the Camp David II offer was little more than a renegotiation of the terms of the occupation. It did not effectively address the Palestinian issues, nor did it offer anything of real significance. It was not even going to be written down! This being the most generous offer that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak could muster up says more about Barak than it does about Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. If we say nothing good about Arafat, then we must at least commend him on rejecting Camp David II.
With that said, I will summarise the Camp David II offer, hopefully once and for all dispelling this myth of generosity that even Mr Casey, in his enlightenment and progressive union politics, has failed to reject. The Oslo Agreement was signed on the basis that the Palestinians would get 22% of their historical homeland in order to form a Palestinian state. Conceding 78% of historical Palestine was obviously not generous enough for Mr Barak nor Mr Casey, it would seem. Barak proposed, as part of the deal, that 69 Israeli (illegal) "settlements" - more like militarised colonial camps - populated by 85% of the West Bank's settlers would be annexed as blocs to Israel. If you do the math, this would leave the Palestinians 10% less of their 22%. These settlement blocs - and the "Jews Only" roads that have been built for them - would have effectively divided up the remaining territories into three bantustans. The word 'cantons', just like the word 'settlements', is extremely benign in describing the actual reality on the ground and therefore I reject both. The third aspect of Barak's generosity came in the form of a unique notion: "Temporary Israeli Control". Effectively, Israel would control a further 10% of Palestinian land for an indefinite time. The remaining 17.6% of the land would also have its borders controlled by Israel; even the roads designated for the Palestinians would be riddled with check points and Israeli soldiers with the full power to control who comes and who goes.
This brings us to the issue of Jerusalem and the so-called sharing of the city. East Jerusalem is, according to international law and UN resolutions, an occupied area. Barak's Camp David II offer gave the Palestinians minimal control over a few streets in Occupied East Jerusalem, but refused to permit the Palestinian Parliament to be placed in Jerusalem. Generous? For the Israelis, maybe. For the Palestinians, never. (For an excellent presentation detailing and demonstrating the full effects of the Camp David II proposal, check out the website of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom (http://www.gush-shalom.org/media/barak_eng.swf)).
And so Mr Arafat took the only option available to him: to reject this fig leaf peace plan. He did not endanger his equal status with Barak when he did so. That's an absurd assertion. Neither Arafat, nor the Palestinians, have EVER been placed on an equal playing field with Israel. Israel is the region's most powerful military. Israel is the region's ONLY nuclear power. Israel has the full backing of the United States of America. Israel has been acting with impunity for decades, despite countless UN resolutions that have been passed and never implemented.
This is not a war amongst equals. This is a war between two unequals. Israel, all-powerful, Palestine weak, but with a determination that goes along with all liberation struggles. And so we, as trade unionists, must always have this in mind whenever we see anything to do with the Palestine-Israeli conflict. That the violence is coming FROM both sides does not mean that violence is equal ON both sides. We must all feel horror when we hear of a suicide bombing, but we must feel ten times as much horror when we hear of Israeli atrocities. The Israeli Occupation Forces have been using American made and funded tanks, helicopters and battle ships to subdue a rag-tag guerrilla army and almost 3 million civilians. There is no equality in the negotiations, and there certainly is no equality in military power.
THE CONFLICT TODAY
We must never forget the word "Jenin". It is now what defines Palestinian demands for justice, Palestinian struggles for freedom. The massacres that have taken place in Jenin have a horrible story to tell. And it is quite possible that it will never be told. Just this morning, I have heard on the news that Israel is refusing to let in the UN investigative team because they have "issues" with some of the investigators. It is clear to anyone who has seen glimpses of the news that Israel has a lot to hide. It is clear to anyone who wants peace that what took place in Jenin must be told to the world so that we may cross the impasse we find ourselves in.
It is important for all of us to take away something from this message. My message today isn't about essentialising either one side or the other. I have no problem with standing side by side with Israeli brothers and sisters who support a free Palestine based on justice, equity and freedom for all. All the more power to the refuseniks! The more refuseniks there are, the less bullets flying out and hitting Palestinian civilians. However, I do not wish to be distracted from a few major points. The first point is: (1) This is a War of Terror, not a War Against Terror. (2) Palestinian civilians are paying the ultimate price: having homes demolished (sometimes while they're still in them), living under curfew, enduring extreme humiliation and being presented with peace proposals that do not address any of their core issues.
What we have now is a direct result of decades of being on the receiving end of Israeli angst. We are currently witnessing a situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories that goes beyond the simple Left / Right division of politics. We have Palestinian workers that are little more than a steady supply of cheap slave-labour to the Israeli industries. We have the Histradut that absolutely refuses, point blank, to even raise its voice in any effective way against the bombing and besieging of "fellow workers". Let us not be taken up in this socialist democratic Shangri-Lah that Mr Casey wants us to believe Israel is. Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel are second-class citizens, according to studies conducted by B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights (http://www.btselem.org/). There is no equality in the status of Palestinians and Israelis ANYWHERE in Israel, whether they live under occupation, or if they live in Israel proper. We must struggle through all the jargon and myths presented in order to get to the truth. It will set us all free!
The second Intifada is the most public expression of Palestinian frustration with the ongoing humiliation at the hands of the Israeli Occupation Forces. The second Intifada is the ultimate rejection of all these fake peace plans and proposals that have done little more than legitimise Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, Palestinian homes, Palestinian lives. It is our responsibility, as active members of the trade union movement, to begin to understand this conflict with a level of analysis and depth of understanding that does the issue more justice. It is no longer good enough for anyone in the Australian trade union movement to simply surrender their responsibility to Know and Understand in the face of shallow propaganda and spin doctoring. This conflict is not about one side hating the other and that's all there is to it. This is about people struggling for basic human rights. And we must do all in our power to support this struggle. This does not mean alienating our allies in the Israeli camp, but it should not mean that we sacrifice our message and our support for justice and human rights so that we can keep a few people happy. We must once and for all embrace courageously the need of the Palestinian people to be free from military aggression, occupation, humiliation, arbitrary killings and arrests, curfews and racism. Do not simply read and accept. Find out for yourself. Read. Listen. Ask. But never...ever...forget the word Jenin.
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