The World Turned Upside Down: Is Egypt Heading for a Social Revolution?

Written for and originally published by the New Left Project.

Note: this article was published before the fall of Mubarak. I think it holds up pretty well, especially considering the current wave of strikes in Egypt.

By Asa Winstanley

The massive popular uprising in Egypt is already the most important event in the modern history of the Middle East. It will have wide-reaching reverberations for decades to come. Arab tyrants around the region are already announcing pre-emptive “reforms” in the hope of staving off what US Senator John McCain has called the “virus” of resurgent pan-Arab nationalism.1

Algeria on Thursday said that a state of emergency in place for 19 years will end. Jordan’s King fired his (appointed) government, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen claimed that neither he nor his son would run for president elections in 2013.

The prospect of a democratic Egypt means the climate in Israel is now “bordering on hysteria” and the Israeli government is “freaking out” according to Dr Shmuel Bachar of the Israel Institute for Policy and Strategy.2

What started in Egypt on January 25th quickly escalated from a Tunisia-inspired intifada (uprising) into a massive nation-wide revolution against the 30-year dictatorship of key US/Israeli client President Hosni Mubarak. Tens of thousands demonstrated on the streets of Cairo and in cities across the country. This culminated in the “Friday of Rage” on the 28th which resulted in comprehensive defeat of the riot police, exemplified by the already legendary Battle of the Qasr al Nile Bridge:

Continue reading The World Turned Upside Down: Is Egypt Heading for a Social Revolution?

Wikileaks: Insights on Palestine from the Cables

Written for the New Left Project Blog.

A guest post by Asa Winstanley*

One of the first things that struck me while reading the cables from the US embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv was how worried the Israeli government seems to be about the Goldstone Report into war crimes committed during Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on the people of Gaza. In cable 09TELAVIV2777 of December 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have named the report as one of three “principal threats” facing Israel—the other two being Iran’s alleged nuclear programme and “missile proliferation”.

Second, there are important insights into the high level of collaboration between Israel and forces that have been called the “Palestinian Contras” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Indeed, the first “cablegate” headline on Palestine was sourced from cable 09TELAVIV1177, in which Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is reported to have said he “had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to Operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas”. In other words, Fateh leader Mahmoud Abbas (whose term as PA president expired in January 2009) knew the massive Israeli onslaught was coming but said nothing. This was widely suspected, but to read confirmation of it from a confidential US government source is something new.

There’s more. Cable 07TELAVIV1732, which I like to call “War of the Puppets”, was released this week. To my mind, it’s the most interesting of the Palestine cables released so far. Written in June 2007 during Gaza street-fighting caused by the ultimately unsuccessful Fateh coup attempt, it details a meeting between then-ambassador Richard H. Jones and Yuval Diskin (head of Israel’s secret police, the Shabak—aka Shin Bet). It is a portrait of how divided Israel’s Palestinian collaborators really were. “[Gaza warlord Mohammed] Dahlan is trying to manage Fatah’s security forces by remote control. We are not even sure where he is… ” Diskin is quoted as saying. He continued: “[Dahlan’s men in Gaza] ask us to attack Hamas. This is a new development. We have never seen this before. They are desperate.” Again, this is all important corroborating evidence for things we already knew or suspected. Recent media reports of a power struggle between Abbas and Dahlan (whom Fateh elements close to the US now blame for “losing” Gaza) suggest little has changed in terms of Fateh infighting.

Diskin is also reported in 07TELAVIV1732 to have claimed the Shabak had “a very good working relationship with the [Palestinian Authority] Preventive Security Organization (PSO) and the General Intelligence Organization (GIO).” The most striking quote in the whole cable to me is this: “Diskin said that the PSO shares with ISA [Shabak] almost all the intelligence that it collects”.

There is also something of an overlooked smoking gun in this cable. Of Tawfik Tirawi, leader of the PA’s GIO: “Diskin said… he is trying to develop ties with the Dughmush family in the Gaza Strip.’” The Doghmush clan (aka the “Army of Islam”), you may recall, are the same group that in March 2007 kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston (he was rescued by Hamas in July). While a Fateh connection to the group has long been suspected, to my knowledge this is the first confirmation of it from official sources.

Overall, this is a Palestinian Authority acting as nothing more than an extension of the Israeli occupation forces – a relationship that has only deepened in the last three-and-a-half years. However, there is a lot missing in the cables: little on the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, nothing on the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai and little on the July 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. Despite some rather unlikely conspiracy theories currently doing the rounds on the internet, the likely reasons for these gaps are more mundane. First, none of the cables are rated “Top Secret”; second the inherent bias of US government personnel towards Israel; and third, only a small fraction of the leaked cables have actually been published so far. Indeed, during an interview with Al Jazeera this week, Julian Assange claimed they had thousands of cables on Israel still to come, including material on the al-Mabhouh assassination and the July 2006 war.

Also, of note is a graph illustrating the composition of the cables cache on the Wikleaks website. It appears to show that around 2000 cables from the US consulate in Jerusalem are still to come. These could be more interesting than the cables released so far (almost all from the embassy in Tel Aviv).

To be continued, in all likelihood.

* Follow Asa Winstanley on Twitter or visit his website:

The Receiving End of our Dreams: book review of “A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement”

Originally published on the New Left Project.

‘A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement’ by James Horrox (AK Press, 2009)

"Early members of ‘HaShomer’ at the beginning of the 20th Century"

In his seminal book Expulsion of the Palestinians, Palestinian scholar Nur Masalha writes of Israel Zangwill’s infamous slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land” that it was not intended as a literal demographic assessment: “[Zionists] did not mean that there were no people in Palestine, but that there were no people worth considering within the framework of the notions of European supremacy that then held sway” [1].

James Horrox’s book on anarchism in the kibbutz movement marginalises the Palestinian people in a similar way – they do not really exist in his narrative of how the Israeli collective settlements were established and then functioned. He is writing about Palestine, a country whose population was around 90% Arab (Christian and Muslim) when the first kibbutz was established in 1910, as if its primary importance was as a plaything for European experiments in group living [2].

The book is a strange attempt to blend Zionist mythology with anarchism. In the forward, Israeli anarchist Uri Gordon questions “the validity of applying anti-colonial hindsight to people that any progressive would otherwise consider economic migrants or refugees” (p. iv).

Gordon is, in part, referring to the Jewish refugees who fled the Russian Empire because of antisemitic pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Horrox similarly claims that “Palestine was rapidly becoming the destination of choice for Jewish refugees” with the rise of the Zionist Organisation (later renamed the World Zionist Organisation) and the pogroms of 1903-1906 (p. 14). In reality it was a relatively small minority of ideological Zionists who chose to go to Palestine. As Mike Marqusee points out in his extraordinary memoir, 1.7 million of the 2 million Russian Jewish refugees between 1881 and1921 in fact left for the USA [3]. Estimates suggest that from the mid-1850s to 1914, the number of Jews who fled Czarist Russia was about 2.5 million of whom about 50,000 (2%) emigrated to Palestine [4].

Continue reading The Receiving End of our Dreams: book review of “A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement”

Boycotting Israel – It’s Working

Originally published at the New Left Project

By Asa Winstanley

The global boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s apartheid system in Palestine has achieved many victories since it was launched by a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society in 2005. BDS victories seem to have flowed thick and fast in recent times, particularly since Israel’s vicious 2008-2009 assault on the civilian population of Gaza. A small sample: in September 2009 Norway’s pension fund divested from Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms systems company. In May of this year, hip-hop pioneer Gil Scott-Heron cancelled a prospective Tel Aviv gig after pressure to boycott from fans in London who also happened to be pro-Palestine BDS activists.

In what may yet turn out to be the biggest long-term BDS victory in Britain, the TUC voted in September to pass a motion calling for a boycott of goods from Israeli colonies in the West Bank. Although the initial motion put forward by the Fire Brigades Union called for a general boycott of Israeli goods, a General Council statement also passed at the September congress altered this to restrict the TUC campaign to settlement goods.

Despite this dilution, the motion was a clear sign of historical sea change in the British trade union movement – large parts of which tended to support Israel before 1967 because of their illusions about Zionist “socialism” (a “socialism” that happened to exclude Arabs). By now it is clear that the union grassroots overwhelmingly supports the BDS movement.

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