From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 4 March.
It has been announced that Fatah and Hamas are to form a unity government, paving the way for both to participate in parliamentary and presidential elections due shortly in the Palestine Authority, and perhaps to the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza.
Negotiations to this end have been going on since last May and success has finally been achieved, with Hamas ceding the position of president to Abbas, and having to renounce violence, recognise Israel, and recognise all existing agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Qatar, which generally promotes western imperialist interests, has been actively brokering the arrangement, but it may nevertheless not be acceptable to Israel and the US.
Although Hamas has made what in many people’s eyes would be excessive concessions in the interests of Palestinian unity, Israel has announced that it is not prepared to talk about peace if Hamas (a ‘terrorist organisation’) is involved, and the US is threatening to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority (it has already shut off its contributions to Unesco because that organisation recognised the Palestinian state).
On 21 September, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with 100 leaders and representatives of anti-war, labour, alternative media and Iranian and Palestinian solidarity organisations in New York.
Among the participants were Sarah Martin, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Margaret Sarfehjooy, board member of the Minneapolis-based Women Against Military Madness, former attorney general Ramsey Clark, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Sara Flounders from the International Action Center, Brian Becker of the ANSWER coalition, Ramona Africa of the Free Mumia Coalition and Amiri Baraka, poet and activist.
The meeting was called by the president of Iran with the hope that a frank and honest exchange of views will help activists further the cause of peace between the people of Iran and the US.
Specific demands raised include to oppose war, occupation and hostility worldwide; oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries; support the right to nuclear energy for all, but nuclear weapons for none; and to support dialogue, justice and equality among all countries in the UN.
After listening intently to the statements of 22 of the participants, President Ahmadinejad said, “We have a treasure chest full of views. I agree with everything you have said and therefore you have spoken from my heart also. Now I will speak in my own way.”
He said that the source of war, capitalism, must be identified and pointed out. “Violent capitalism is based on superiority, hegemony and violation of rights.”
He went on to say that one reason capitalists start wars is to fill up their pockets. They must empty their arsenals so they can build more weapons. As he said at a UN meeting earlier in the day, “Capitalism has come to an end. It has reached a deadlock. Its historical moment has ended and efforts to restore it won’t go very far.”
Ahmadinejad spoke of the US wars in Iraq and deaths of over 1 million people for oil. He pointed out that in an Afghan village over 100 innocent people were killed just to get a few terrorists. He expressed anger that even with the floods in Pakistan, the US continues to bomb Pakistani villages.
He said it is hard to sleep at night after hearing the heart-wrenching stories of the Palestinians living under siege in Gaza with no medicines, no clean water and not enough food. He expressed solidarity with the activists’ goals of struggling for peace and justice at home and abroad and he pledged that Iran will stand strong to the end.
“Speaking with Mrs Ahmadinejad and hearing the president reinforced the importance of struggling against the US campaign to isolate and demonise Iran,” said Sarah Martin.
Margaret Sarfehjooy reported, “I think the meeting was important because we had the opportunity to meet with so many dedicated grassroots activists from all over the country and share our hopes for peace and justice with the Iranian people through their president and his wife.”
Five of the seven defendants in the EDO decommissioners trial in Brighton have been found not guilty of conspiracy to cause criminal damage by unanimous verdict given yesterday.
Clearly under pressure from the growing public anger against Israeli attrocities and British complicity, the judge directed the jury to remember the suffering of the Palestinians during the massacre, and pointed out to them that legal channels to oppose EDO-MBM had been exhausted.
The remaining two defendants await their verdict, which is likely to be decided on Friday by the jury at Hove crown court.
The defendants were on trial for decommissioning the EDO-MBM arms factory in Brighton during last year’s attack on Gaza by Israel. Six activists entered the factory on 17 January 2009 to sabotage the production of essential component parts for bomb release mechanisms in F16 fighter planes used by the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force.
The action caused over £300,000 worth of damaged and, most importantly, disrupted the supply chain of the Israeli war machine.
The defendants took the stand as the accusers not the accused, admitting they had deliberately sabotaged the factory in order to prevent Israeli war crimes from continuing in Gaza. As the trial proceeded, EDO-MBM was exposed as being complicit in these crimes through supplying parts for the F16 fighter jets.
This result follows the acquittal at the beginning of June of nine women for their part in the protests at the Raytheon armaments factory in Derry in January 2009, and the victory in 2008 of the Raytheon 9, who occupied the Derry plant during Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006.
Meanwhile, however, a large number of young people, mostly muslim, who demonstrated in London against the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2008/9, have been handed down outrageous and draconian sentences simply for showing their opposition to Israeli war crimes.
And Joe Glenton remains in prison after being court-martialled for his heroic and principled refusal to return to the illegal war in Afghanistan.
Full support needs to be given to the campaigns to free Joe and the Gaza protestors. We must show that such acts of intimidation will not deter our opposition to war crimes or stop the growing Palestine solidarity movement.
The vindication of the action taken by the EDO decommissioners is a victory for the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements.
Free Joe Glenton; jail the warmongers!
Free the Gaza protestors; jail the warmongers!
No cooperation with war crimes!
The BBC cannot be neutral in the struggle between truth and untruth, justice and injustice, freedom and slavery, compassion and cruelty, tolerance and intolerance.
Thus read a 1972 internal document called Principles and Practice in News and Current Affairs laying out the guidelines for the BBC’s coverage of conflicts. It appears to affirm that in cases of oppression and injustice to be neutral is to be complicit, because neutrality reinforces the status quo. This partiality to truth, justice, freedom, compassion and tolerance it deems ‘within the consensus about basic moral values’. It is this consensus that the BBC spurned when it refused to broadcast the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC)’s video appeal to help the people of Gaza.
The presumption that underlies the decision is that the BBC has always been impartial when it comes to Israel-Palestine. An exhaustive 2004 study by the Glasgow University Media Group – Bad News from Israel – shows that the BBC’s coverage is systematically biased in favour of Israel. It excludes context and history to focus on day-to-day events; it invariably inverts reality to frame these as Palestinian ‘provocation’ against Israeli ‘retaliation’. The context is always Israeli ’security’, and in interviews the Israeli perspective predominates. There is also a marked difference in the language used to describe casualties on either side; and despite the far more numerous Palestinian victims, Israeli casualties receive more air time.
Many of these findings were subsequently confirmed in a 2006 independent review commissioned by the BBC’s board of governors which found its coverage of the conflict ‘incomplete’ and ‘misleading’. The review highlighted in particular the BBC’s selective use of the word ‘terrorism’ and its failure ‘to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation’.
These biases were once more evident in the corporation’s coverage of the recent assault on Gaza. A false sense of balance was sustained by erasing from the narrative the root cause of the conflict: instead of occupier and occupied, we had a ‘war’ or a ‘battle’ – as if between equals. In most stories the word occupation was not mentioned once. On the other hand the false Israeli claim that the occupation of Gaza ended in 2005 was frequently repeated, even though access to the strip’s land, sea and airspace remain under Israeli control, and the United Nations still recognizes Israel as the occupying authority. In accepting the spurious claims of one side over the judgment of the world’s pre-eminent multilateral institution, the BBC has already forfeited its impartiality.
The BBC presented the assault as an Israeli war of self defence, a narrative that could only be sustained by effacing the 1,250 Palestinians (including 222 children) killed by the Israeli military between 2005 and 2008. It downplayed the siege which denies Gazans access to fuel, food, water, and medicine. It presented Hamas’s ineffectual rockets as the cause of the conflict when it was Israel’s breech of the six-month truce on November 4 which triggered hostilities. It described the massacre of refugees in an UNRWA compound in the context of Israel’s ‘objectives’ and ’security’. The security needs of the Palestinians received scant attention. Selective indices were used to create an illusion of balance: instead of comparing Palestinian casualties to those suffered by Israel (more than 1300 to 13) the BBC chose to match them with the number of rockets fired by Hamas. No similar figures were produced for the tonnage of ordnance dropped on the Palestinians.
A parade of Israeli officials – uniformed and otherwise – were always at hand to explain away Israeli war-crimes. The only Palestinians quoted were from the Palestinian Authority – a faction even the BBC’s own Jeremy Paxman identified as collaborators – even though the assault was described invariably as an ‘Israel-Hamas’ conflict, much as the 2006 Israeli invasion was framed as an ‘Israel-Hizbullah’ war. This despite the fact that Israel made no attempts to discriminate between the groups it was claiming to target and the wider population. As one Israeli military official bragged, Israel was ‘trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel’. Indeed, given the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths, it would have been far more accurate to describe the assaults as ‘IDF-Lebanon’, and ‘IDF-Palestine’ conflicts.
To be sure, Palestinian civilian deaths were mentioned, but only in terms of their ‘cost’ to Israel’s image. Where Israeli crimes were particularly atrocious, the BBC retreated to condemning ‘both sides’. Israeli civilian deaths were elevated to headlines; Palestinians relegated to the bottom. The aforementioned massacre of Palestinian refugees received the same amount of coverage as the funeral of a single Israeli soldier. A hole in an Israeli roof from a Palestinian rocket often received the same attention as the destruction of a whole Gazan neighbourhood. There was also no investigation of Israel’s widely reported use of White Phosphorus, and of the equally illegal Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions. The coverage of the unprecedented worldwide protests was also minimal. Critical voices were by and large excluded.
If there were no occupier and occupied in the conflict; no oppressor and oppressed, no state and stateless; then clearly assisting victims on one side would compromise ‘impartiality’. This view posits the Palestinian population as a whole as an adversary to the Israeli war machine. The BBC’s decision not to acknowledge the victims of the conflict is a function of its biased coverage. When it spent three weeks providing a completely distorted image of the slaughter carried out by one of the world’s mightiest militaries against a defenceless civilian population, it is unsurprising that it should fear viewers questioning how such a ‘balanced’ conflict could produce so many victims. And if the Israelis are able to look after their own, why should the Palestinians need British assistance?
When there is no mention of the violent dispossession of the Palestinians, or of the occupation; no mention of the crippling siege, or of the daily torments of the oppressed, viewers would naturally find it hard to comprehend the reality. For if these truths were to be revealed, the policy of the British government would appear even less reasonable. As a state chartered body, however, the BBC is no more likely to antagonize the government as a politician in the government is to antagonize the Israel lobby. Indeed, the BBC’s director general Mark Thompson can hardly be described as a disinterested party: in 2005 he made a trip to Jerusalem where he met with Ariel Sharon in what was seen in Israel as an attempt to ‘build bridges’ and ‘a “softening” to the corporation’s unofficial editorial line on the Middle East’. Thompson, ‘a deeply religious man’, is ‘a Catholic, but his wife is Jewish, and he has a far greater regard for the Israeli cause than some of his predecessors’ sources at the corporation told The Independent. Shortly afterwards Orla Guerin, an exceptionally courageous and honest journalist responsible for most of the corporation’s rare probing and hard hitting reports, was sacked as the BBC’s Middle East correspondent and transferred to Africa in response to complaints from the Israeli government.
But this decision to refuse a charity appeal has consequences that go far beyond any of the BBC’s earlier failings: as the respected British MP Tony Benn put it, ‘people will die because of the BBC decision’. It is so blatantly unjust that the only question the BBC management might want to mull over is just how irreparable the damage from this controversy might be to its reputation. The organization that only days earlier was reporting with glee a letter by Chinese intellectuals boycotting their state media is today itself the subject of boycotts across Britain, not just by intellectuals, but by artists, scholars, citizens and even the IAEA. Much like Pravda and Izvestia during the Cold War, today it is the BBC that has emerged as the most apposite metaphor for state propaganda.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a member of Spinwatch.org, and the co-editor of Pulsemedia.org. He can be reached at email@example.com
A group of 15 students are sitting at the back of the lecture theatre. Some are wearing scarves associated with the Palestinian movement, others hold the Palestinian flag. They are silent, apart from the few words one of them utters at the beginning of the lecture explaining why they are there: as part of a symbolic silent protest to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.
On the walls are photos of the conflict, showing men carrying blood-splattered children and posters calling for the massacre in Gaza to stop. In the corner of the room is a pile of sleeping bags and a table stacked with bottled water and cartons of fruit juice.
Over the last week, a storm of student protests has gathered over 16 universities across England, suggesting that students are awakening from the political apathy of which they are often accused. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye of ageing sixties radicals.
Starting at the School of Oriental and African Studies, occupations in protest at events in Gaza spread to King’s College London and the London School of Economics (LSE), then out of the capital to Sussex, Warwick, Newcastle, Oxford, Essex, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan, Bristol, Nottingham, Salford, and Kingston.
At Sussex, students have occupied the arts lecture theatre 24 hours a day sincea meeting with a controversial British Palestinian academic, Azzam Tamimi, on Tuesday night.
Simon Englert, 19, a second-year English literature and drama student from Belgium, is a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign on campus and one of the instigators of the 100-strong occupation. “It’s important for Universities to take a stand on this. We are told in history about the central role that students play in defending causes. So that is what we are doing today,” he says. “We invited LSE students along to our meeting and they helped to inspire this action.”
“The action has brought together socialists, Islamists and even students from the green movement who realise the detrimental effects of war on the environment,” says Gwen Wilkinson, a first-year psychology student from Newport.
A handful of Jewish students are involved in the protest, including Englert. “I don’t want to make a big thing about it,” he says, “but Israel doesn’t speak for the world’s Jewish community.”
The occupiers have issued the university with six demands including the issuing of a statement condemning the “atrocities perpetrated by Israel in the Gaza Strip” and calling on it to disinvest from “companies complicit in human rights abuses”. At night they are using the internet facilities in the lecture hall to contact groups in the West Bank and are hoping to get through to Gaza.
Eleanor, 20, a first-year English and history student, has signed their petition. Although she says many students are attracted to Sussex by its radical history, she is reluctant to get involved in the occupation. “There are two sides to the story and Hamas were firing rockets into Israel,” she says.
And the occupation has passed some students by entirely. May Lam, a second-year media studies student rushing from the library, says: “I don’t even have time to do my own thing. It’s remote, in another country and there’s nothing I can do about it. There are so many problems here in the UK with a recession.”
At the LSE, veteran campaigner and politician Tony Benn told students: “I don’t believe in protesting, because that looks like you’ve lost the battle and don’t like it. I believe in making demands. This is more important than you realise at the moment, but when people get together and do something, that’s when history is changed.”
The numbers involved are a tiny proportion of the 2.5 million-strong UK student body, but they appear to speak for many more, and to have caught a wider mood. So far the protests have been peaceful and treated gently by the authorities, though some Jewish students have complained they feel threatened.
King’s students see the university occupations as a resurgence of the kind of action that took place during the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s.
The zenith of British student political activism in the 1960s does not warrant a mention now, not even the protest by LSE students against Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), let alone those in 1968. Presumably for today’s students, many of whom were born in the early 1990s, the sixties are ancient history.
Unlike the anti-apartheid protesters, today’s students have the power of the internet at their disposal. They have put it to good use, publicising their campaigns through social-networking sites, making regular updates on blogs, and supporting one another through emailed messages of solidarity.
All the occupying students have issued similar demands: a statement from their vice-chancellor condemning the Israeli bombing of Gaza; severing university investment or links with companies supplying equipment used in the conflict; sending surplus computers and books to students in Gaza; scholarships for Gazan students – and no repercussions for their activism.
King’s students also want the university to remove the honorary degree it bestowed on Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, last November. In Oxford, students occupying the historic Clarendon building called on Balliol College to cancel a lecture series in Peres’s honour.
University officials have on the whole agreed to help students fundraise and send equipment to Gaza, but vice-chancellors have carefully sidestepped demands to issue political statements condemning Israel’s conduct.
So far, four of the occupying student groups have claimed victory: at the School of Oriental and African Studies and the University of Essex (after two days), and at Oxford (after just 10 hours), and the LSE. At the LSE, the student sit-in lasted a week but ended peacefully when the director, Sir Howard Davies, agreed to meet most of the students’ demands.
In a statement, he said he understood the students’ concerns and that the suffering of civilians in Gaza was “painful to observe”. But he refused to issue an official university condemnation of the conflict or to publish regular financial statements spelling out the university’s investment in companies involved in supplying arms to Palestine and Israel.
Michael Deas, a third-year environmental policy student involved in the LSE occupation, said students were “delighted” with the outcome. “It’s a real victory for student activism, particularly forcing the director into making a statement,” he said. Police evicted protesting students at the University of Birmingham after 12 hours.
In recent months, student activists have not limited themselves to sit-in protests over Gaza. They have boycotted careers fairs over university links with companies of which they disapprove – distributing badges, draping banners over displays and even dumping bags of coal to make their point.
The ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict has driven hundreds of students to act. But they still a tiny minority. Officials at Warwick – where students have demanded an end to links with BAE, GE Aviation, MBDA, Qinetiq and Rolls Royce – pointed out last week that more than 1,000 students had attended a careers fair where those companies were represented. Careerists, it seems, outnumber the idealists.
One nine-year-old boy said his father had been shot dead in front of him despite surrendering to Israeli soldiers with his hands in the air.
Another youngster described witnessing the deaths of his mother, three brothers and uncle after the house they were in was shelled.
He said his mother and one of his siblings had been killed instantly, while the others bled to death over a period of days.
A psychiatrist treating children in the village of Zeitoun on the outskirts of Gaza City, where the alleged incidents took place, described the deaths as a “massacre”.
Rawya Borno, a Jordanian doctor, said civilians, including children, were rounded up and killed by Israeli troops.
Israel has denied the claims, dismissing them as Hamas propaganda, but said that an investigation is being conducted into soldiers’ conduct in the area.
In interviews with ITV News, Palestinians claimed that Israeli forces knowingly killed civilians in Zeitoun on the morning of Jan 14.
Abdullah Samouni, nine, described the moment his father was allegedly “executed” by Israeli soldiers.
Holding his arms in the air, he said: “He was surrendering like this. My father came out and they shot him right away.”
A boy named Ahmed said he was trapped for days in the wreckage of the shelled Samouni family’s house.
He said: “My mother was dead beside me, she was clutching my brother Nasser and they were dead. My brother Itzaq was bleeding for two days and then he died. My brother Izmael bled to death in one day. My uncle Talal was bleeding for two hours and he died. God bless them.”
Dr Borno said: “It’s a massacre. They collected them from their houses. They knew that they were civilians. They were children.”
When asked if Hamas had been in Zeitoun, Dr Borno replied: “Suppose that there is one of the fighters around, what is it to do with all these? Is the price to kill the family as a whole? Is this baby carrying a machine gun?”
Israeli spokesman Mark Regev suggested the claims could be Hamas propaganda and said an investigation was under way. However, he said that Israeli troops had reported that Zeitoun was “full of Hamas” militants and that soldiers encountered booby traps in “every house” in the village.
He said: “When people live in an authoritarian regime, when it’s clear there is an official message and the message is to give out atrocity propaganda, [then] at least I think we should ask questions.
“Hamas has an interest in sending out this sort of atrocity propaganda.
“What happened in that village is under investigation. I know from speaking to IDF officers that there was very serious combat in that village, that every house was booby-trapped, there were guns. Very difficult military operation.
“If there is any Israeli solder that has done something inappropriate of course that will be discovered and there will be law, but I am very concerned about a situation where children are manipulated, where everyone is on the same message.
“We know that village was full of Hamas fighters. It’s against the rules of engagement of the Israeli army to shoot innocent civilians.”
The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) resolutely condemns Israel’s despicable and cowardly military onslaught against the people of Gaza, and it reaffirms its unreserved solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Israeli brutality and arrogance
Since the start of Israel’s bombing campaign, on 23 December 2008, several hundred Palestinians – including many children – have been killed, and thousands more have sustained critical injuries. Israel claims that its targets have been exclusively military, but this is manifestly false. For example, more than 50 people (including an entire family of seven young children) were killed when, on 7 January, Israel bombed a UN school being used as a refugee centre.
In the past few weeks, Israel has clamped down even further on supplies of medicines, food and electricity, further exacerbating the already vast humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. This is not ‘targeted action’; it is collective punishment. Israel has rejected international calls for a truce, and refuses even to let foreign journalists into Gaza. It wants to hide its brutal Nazi aggression from the rest of the world. Having for so long painted itself as a little jewish David in a sea of Arab Goliaths, Israel does not want the world to see the true nature of its “struggle for existence” – that is, murder and criminal occupation.
Israel to blame for breakdown of the ceasefire
Predictably, Israel has claimed that its actions are a legitimate response to Palestinian rocket attacks since the collapse of the ceasefire in late December. This sentiment has been implicitly (and in some cases explicitly) backed by the self-appointed ‘international community’, which has long relied on Israel as its policeman in the Middle East. As hi-tech bombs were raining down on Palestinian civilians, George Bush thought it appropriate to say: “I understand Israel’s desire to protect itself and that the situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas”. His successor, Barack Obama, stated on a recent visit to Sderot (an Israeli town near Gaza): “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
As we have said before, one cannot equate the violence of the oppressed with the violence of the oppressors. Israel is not under siege; it is not an occupied country; its citizens (at least its jewish citizens) are not denied their basic human rights; its water, electricity and medical supplies have not been cut off; it is not in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, Gaza has over the last two years been effectively turned into a giant concentration camp. Gazans cannot move in or out of their country; the supply of food, electricity, water and medicines has been cut off; frequent Israeli bombing raids take place; the unemployment rate exceeds 80 percent and the people are living a miserable existence well below the poverty line. Are the Palestinian people expected to simply give up their right to existence? The right to resist occupation is enshrined in international law, and the Palestinian military resistance to Israeli occupation is legitimate and laudable.
Still, one does not need to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian rocket attacks in order to condemn the massacre that is taking place in Gaza. According to detailed information released by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a grand total of 15 Israelis have died as a result of Qassam rocket attacks since these were first fired over seven years ago (in October 2001). Meanwhile, over 500 Gazans have been killed by the Israeli military in the last two weeks alone. These lopsided figures alone are enough to give lie to Israel’s claim that it is simply protecting its citizens from rocket attacks.
If Israel genuinely wanted to stop the Qassam rocket attacks, it could have done so very easily by complying with the terms of the ceasefire, under which it was supposed to lift the blockade against Gaza in order to end the humanitarian crisis there. However, deliveries from aid agencies have been all but completely blocked for several months. Observers from the Red Cross have noted the spread malnutrition across Gaza. Israel completely failed to respect the ceasefire terms, and therefore should not be surprised that the ceasefire has collapsed. As has happened many times before, Israel has violated the terms of a ceasefire and used the Palestinian response to ‘justify’ the unjustifiable.
Israel’s real agenda is clear enough: not happy with the democratic choice of the Palestinian people, it is seeking regime change in Gaza (having already effected regime change in the West Bank). Recently, Foreign Minister Livni stated: “The state of Israel, and a government under me, will make it a strategic objective to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza. The means for doing this should be military, economic and diplomatic.” It would be difficult to be clearer than that. Israel and its imperialist backers (including Britain) want to see a Palestinian administration that is willing to squash the struggle for an independent Palestine and that will accept a Palestinian ‘state’ composed of multiple disconnected Bantustans whose borders are controlled by Israel.
From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free
With its military attacks and its continued settlement activity in the West Bank, Israel has made the two-state solution unachievable. In so doing, it has created the conditions for a one-state solution, and with it the end to the whole racist idea of an ethnically cleansed jewish state.
We reiterate the call of Khaled Meshaal, leader of Hamas, for a renewed intifada against Israel. Only through the intensification of the Palestinian resistance will Israel be forced to recognise the right of the Palestinians to freedom from colonial occupation. We have full confidence in the ability of the Palestinian resistance to deal a heavy blow to the Israeli military. As the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine put it in a recent statement: “We will get out from underneath the rubble and fight until the last breath.” As Marx once wrote, “the nation that oppresses another nation forges its own chains”. The British working class must do everything within its power to support the cause of Palestinian liberation.
A new word emerged from the carnage in Gaza this week: “scholasticide” – the systematic destruction by Israeli forces of centres of education dear to Palestinian society, as the ministry of education was bombed, the infrastructure of teaching destroyed, and schools across the Gaza strip targeted for attack by the air, sea and ground offensives.
“Learn, baby, learn” was a slogan of the black rights movement in America’s ghettoes a generation ago, but it also epitomises the idea of education as the central pillar of Palestinian identity – a traditional premium on schooling steeled by occupation, and something the Israelis “cannot abide… and seek to destroy”, according to Dr Karma Nabulsi, who teaches politics at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. “We knew before, and see more clearly now than ever, that Israel is seeking to annihilate an educated Palestine,” she says.
The Palestinians are among the most thoroughly educated people in the world. For decades, Palestinian society – both at home in the West Bank and Gaza, and scattered in the diaspora – has put a singular emphasis on learning. After the expulsions of 1948 and after the 1967 occupation, waves of refugees created an influential Palestinian intelligentsia and a marked presence in the disciplines of medicine and engineering across the Arab world, Europe and the Americas.
“Education is the most important thing – it is part of the family life, part of your identity and part of the rebellion,” says Nabulsi. “Everyone knows this, and in a refugee camp like Gaza, every child knows that in those same schooldesks sat your parents and your grandparents, whose tradition they carry on.”
Schooling and university studies are the fabric of life despite, not because of, circumstances: every university in the occupied territories has been closed down at some point by Israeli forces, many of them regularly. However, the closures and arrests of students (more than 300 at Birzeit university in Ramallah, says Nabulsi) only strengthens the desire to become educated.
In the current offensive, Israel began attacking Gaza’s educational institutions immediately. On only the second and third day of air attacks last week, Israeli planes wreaked severe damage in direct strikes on Gaza’s Islamic University. The main buildings were devastated, destroying administrative records, and, of course, ending studies. The Ministry of Education has been hit twice by direct hits from the air.
The Saturday of the ground invasion was the day on which most students in Gaza sit their end-of-year examinations. In the majority of cases, these had to be abandoned, and it remains unclear whether they can or will be sat again. Other schools were also attacked – most notoriously the UN establishment in the Jabaliya refugee camp where at least 40 people were massacred on Tuesday.
On Sunday, another Israeli air strike destroyed the pinnacle of Palestinian schooling, the elite and private American International School, to which the children of business and other leaders went, among them Fulbright scholars unable to take up their places in the United States because of the Israeli blockade. Ironically, the same school was attacked last year by a group called the Holy Jihad Brigades, and has been repeatedly vandalised for its association with western-style education.
The school was founded in 2000 to offer a “progressive” (and fully co-educational) American-style curriculum, taught in English, from kindergarten to sixth form, and was said by the Israelis to have been the site, or near the site, from which a rocket was fired. A night watchman was killed in the destruction of the building.
The chairman of its board of trustees, Iyad Saraj, says: “This is the most distinguished and advanced school in Gaza, if not in Gaza and the West Bank. I cannot swear there was no rocket fired, but if there was, you don’t destroy a whole school.” He adds: “This is the destruction of civilisation.”
The school has no connection to the US government, Saraj says, and many of the 250 who graduate from it each year go on to US universities. “They are very good, highly educated open-minded students who can really be future leaders of Palestine.”
Young Palestinians playing in Daniel Barenboim’s celebrated East-West Divan Orchestra – which this week again brings Palestinian and Israeli musicians together to play a prestigious concert in Vienna – say that music schools in their communities and refugee camps are “not just educating young people, but helping them understand their identity”, as Nabeel Abboud Ashkar, a violinist based in Nazareth, puts it, adding: “And the Israelis are not necessarily happy with that.”
Ramzi Aburedwan, who runs the Al-Kamandjati classical music school in Ramallah, argues: “What the Israelis are doing is killing the lives of the people. Bring music, and you bring life. The children who played here were suddenly interested in their future”.
In a recent lecture, Nabulsi at St Edmund Hall recalled the tradition of learning in Palestinian history, and the recurrent character of the teacher as an icon in Palestinian literature. “The role and power of education in an occupied society is enormous. Education posits possibilities, opens horizons. Freedom of thought contrasts sharply with the apartheid wall, the shackling checkpoints, the choking prisons,” she said.
This week, following the bombing of schools in Gaza, she says: “The systematic destruction of Palestinian education by Israel has countered that tradition since the occupation of 1967,” citing “the calculated, wholesale looting of the Palestinian Research Centre in Beirut during the 1982 war and the destruction of all those manuscripts and archived history.”
“Now in Gaza,” she says, “we see the policy more clearly than ever – this ’scholasticide’. The Israelis know nothing about who we really are, while we study and study them. But deep down they know how important education is to the Palestinian tradition and the Palestinian revolution. They cannot abide it and have to destroy it.”
Demonstrators yesterday told how they feared they were going to die after riot police charged hundreds of people in an underground tunnel in London, which led to stampedes and panic.
The clashes came after protesters from Saturday’s march against Israel’s attack on Gaza tried to cross London to continue their demonstration.
Scotland Yard was criticised for the level of violence used by its officers and its tactics against hundreds of people ordered into an underpass as they tried to walk from Trafalgar Square to Israel’s embassy in west London.
People told of being trapped under each other and of hearing screams of fear as police charged the crowds three times in the confined space of the Piccadilly underpass on the edge of Hyde Park.
Scotland Yard said riot police charged after they were attacked and that their tactics were proportionate. People trapped in the tunnel said the police were not attacked.
Among several people injured was Asil Alrashidi, 23, a bank worker from Langley, Berkshire. She said she feared she and her sister would die after they were trapped in a crush of people as a stampede broke out when protesters panicked amid repeated charges by baton-wielding riot police.
She said she suffered bruising after being knocked to the floor. “I was petrified,” she said. “The riot police were charging and pushing people, hitting them with their batons. I was trapped with people coming at us. They were falling on us, trampling us.
“There was screaming and shouting, I thought I was going to die. I was holding my sister, our hands were separating and I could hear her screaming my name. I think there were 20 to 30 people on top of me.”
Chris Ninehams, chief steward for the march, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, said the level of police violence was unprecedented.
Scotland Yard said in a statement: “Officers made a 10-metre advance into the crowd to regain control of the protest, using recognised and proportionate tactics.”