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Latest Ceasefire column: on popular resistance in Palestine

After a bit of a hiatus, my Ceasefire column returns with this series of notes on what I saw at the demonstrations during my recent stay in Palestine:

Although now partly dissipated after the agreement to end the hunger strike was reached in May, according to the latest information from Palestinian prisoners’ right group Addameer, there are signs that Israel has already reneged on the deal. So the movement is likely to be rekindled soon, especially as several long-term hunger strikers have resumed their campaign of refusing food.

Read the full article here.

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Palestine is Still the Issue | Interview – The Angry Arab on Zionism, Syria, and more

Published by Ceasefire magazine. Protected by copyright and republished with permission.

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Originally from Lebanon, As’ad AbuKhalil is professor of political science at California State University, a well known commentator on Arabic TV stations such as Al-Jazeera, and runs a popular blog, which he writes in English, called The Angry Arab News Service.

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Palestine is Still the Issue | The Question of Palestine: liberation or independence?

My monthly column for Ceasefire Magazine, 26 November.

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I was interested this week to read on The Electronic Intifada two articles about the recent Palestinian “Freedom Ride”. This was the recent attempt by six activists to ride segregated Israeli buses all the way to Jerusalem.

Due to the system of Israeli apartheid in effect in the West Bank, they were dragged off the buses by the Israeli occupation forces at a checkpoint. But the appeal to drawing a parallel with the US civil rights struggle of the 1960s seemed to generate a large amount of media coverage (a fact that sent the Zionist fanatics at “Honest Reporting” into a rage, much to my amusement).

The first opinion piece was by Nour Joudah, a Palestinian-American who grew up in Tennessee, praising the action and explaining its resonance for her – “my histories and my homes merged in a new way.” The second was by Palestinian blogger and recent graduate Linah Alsaafin (who is also a fellow-blogger of mine at Electronic Intifada). While commending the Freedom Riders for their courage, Alsaafin asked some tough strategic and tactical questions. At the core of her critique is the idea that: “our struggle is not a civil rights one. It is a struggle against a foreign occupation… [and] for the liberation of an indigenous population under a devastating settler-colonial rule.”

This key point actually goes to the heart of the current cul-de-sac that the divided Palestinian political leadership finds itself in. Fatah, ruling the West Bank, has put armed resistance aside in favour of fruitless “negotiations” with Israel that have now dragged on intermittently for 20 years. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas too now enforces a ceasefire with Israel – to the point of arresting rival groups of fighters who have challenged Hamas’s interpretation of the ceasefire by launching home-made rockets into Israel.

On Thursday, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas met Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal in Cairo for talks on a unified leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Meshaal told AFP that Hamas would now start to focus on peaceful popular resistance, while reserving the right to armed resistance. “We believe in armed resistance but popular resistance is a programme which is common to all the factions,” he said.

Time will tell whether or not this is as much empty rhetoric as Abbas and unelected Prime Minister Salim Fayyad when they make similar noises about popular resistance. Nevertheless, the fact that Mehshaal even seems to think such statements will increase his popularity is important. It is indicative of a rising tide of popular Palestinian resistance.

Aside from the false Fatah-Hamas dichotomy, the wider Palestinian liberation movement is facing existential questions about its nature.

While it’s true that, as an anti-colonial struggle, the situation is not the same as the US civil rights struggle, I humbly submit that there is a civil rights aspect to it. Alsaafin notes correctly that “the indigenous population of Palestine is occupied by a colonial settler population”. She says this is a crucial difference – Native American activists might justifiably disagree this factor is so different from the USA.

Nevertheless, real structural differences remain, and cannot be brushed aside. Furthermore, Alsaafin’s critique of appeals to the sensibilities of western liberals is an insightful one. Some Palestinians in the first intifada raised the slogan of American revolutionary colonists who split from Britain: “no taxation without representation”. But this appeal was mostly unsuccessful in generating new allies in the US.

This is not to argue against Palestinians making grassroots connections in the West (after all, many Palestinians in exile actually live in the West). But it does mean that only hypocrites or racists would insist that the Palestinians rely on begging for outside help to save them. The task for those in the West who would express solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is to follow the Palestinian lead.

While it’s true this is made more difficult by a lack of unified leadership, it is no less of an important principle. Furthermore, the lack of a single political leadership actually has an advantage: resistance to political co-optation.

The question that Alsaafin raises is both a new and an old one. In his insightful memoir “My Life in the PLO” the late Shafiq al-Hout wrote that the first intifada was the culmination of a long process that had changed the Palestinian national movement “from a national liberation movement to a national independence movement” (p. 234).

With the long-dead Oslo process still being periodically disinterred from its ever deeper grave, Palestinians are now more and more questioning the relevance of “national independence” in ever-shrinking parcels of land in the West Bank – to say nothing of the Gaza Strip ghetto.

The logic of new trends such as the energetic boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – while being agnostic on the exact contours of a political solution – tilts the balance back towards national liberation once again. The emphasis is on three key principles: the end of occupation, the return of the refugees and full equal rights. Whatever the political solution, and whatever a joint Palestinian programme would look like, these three points are immutable.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” has been published by Pluto Press. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears monthly. His website is www.winstanleys.org.


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Palestine is Still the Issue: Pro-Palestinian activist…or police spy?

My monthly column for Ceasefire Magazine, 22 October.

In Thursday’s Guardian (20th Oct) there was an important feature article describing a “mounting crisis” in the Metropolitan Police’s spying outfit targeting activist groups. This comes on the heels of a series of dramatic journalistic revelations this year that have unmasked several police officers who had infiltrated environmental, anti-fascist and anarchist activist groups.

The revelations began late last year when former friends of activist “Mark Stone” became suspicious of his conduct, eventually confronting him. He was, it turns out, Mark Kennedy, an undercover police officer sent to disrupt non-violent activist groups. His former friends published their findings on Indymedia and, not long after, the mainstream media got wind of the story and, in an attempt to catch up, started to do more digging.

The Guardian‘s article sums up the current state of what has been uncovered thus far. Again, several secret police agents who had posed as activists were named: as well as Kennedy, there was Jim Boyling, who operated undercover within Reclaim the Streets, as well as “Mark Jacobs”, “Lynn Watson”, “Pete Black” (all three are fake identities) and Simon Wellings.

These people went to extraordinary lengths to subvert perfectly legal protest groups. Kennedy even had a long-term activist girlfriend while Boyling married a fellow campaigner. Some have stated that Kennedy, far from being a mere passive observer, had in fact acted as an agent provocateur, trying to goad activists into more assertive direct action in order to entrap them into offences they could be prosecuted for.

It seems Kennedy’s sham came to light after suspicions were raised when a trial of activists had, somewhat unexpectedly, collapsed – police presumably did not want to reveal how they knew so much about the protests in question. The latest revelations in the Guardian is that Boyling allegedly committed perjury in court by giving false testimony under oath.

But the name that most caught my eye in recent police spy revelations was Robert Lambert. For the past few years, Lambert has been an academic, with particular expertise in Islamophobia, at the University of Exeter. He had previously been head of the Muslim Contact Unit, an anti-terrorist unit set up to “build relations” with the Muslim community after 9/11.

However, last weekend, the Guardian named him as a spy who’d infiltrated Greenpeace in the 1980s, later becoming head of the unit which worked on such infiltrations.

This caught my attention, because of Lambert’s connection to the case of Sheikh Raed Salah, the Palestinian leader who the UK is currently attempting to deport. On Electronic IntifadaI have been closely covering Salah’s case, exposing the bizarre way the UK government has been acting towards him.

In Salah’s appeal against deportation, his lawyers called Lambert as an expert witness. Lambert duly testified to the unreliability of the Community Security Trust (CST) when it comes to Muslim criticism of Israel. The CST seems to have provided the vast majority (if not all) of the material used by Theresa May to secretly ban, and then order, the deportation of Salah. The CST’s secret reports to the government on Salah are often based on dubious sources – including highly hostile Israeli sources.

Lambert’s supporters point to the fact he had never made a secret of having been part of Special Branch before his retirement and subsequent move into academia. This is of course true, but for many it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions, the first of which is this: who are the active spies today?

Indeed, although we now know a lot about police subversion and infiltration of the protest/activist movement, virtually nothing has emerged so far on whether UK pro-Palestinian groups had, or have, been similarly infiltrated. In theory, it seems a likely possibility. For example, London is regarded by influential Israeli thinktank the Reut Institute as a global “hub of delegitimisation”.

From talking to activists in Palestine solidarity groups, many have for years suspected the presence of spies within the movement, presumably working in a similar way to Kennedy and the rest: mostly engaging in low level disruption and intelligence gathering. The Guardian says the spies named above were involved in infiltrating Stop the War (although so far they’ve not gone into much detail on that aspect). Considering STW’s considerable involvement in the Palestinian cause over the years, I would certainly like to know more, notably whether similar infiltrators are currently moving in pro-Palestinian circles right now.

Having said that, it’s clearly important for campaigners and activists to bear in mind that paranoia (however justified it may prove to be in some cases) can be paralysing, and getting too obsessive about “alleged” spies cannot be healthy. Of course, should proof of cases similar to Kennedy’s come to light, it would be yet another telling indictment of the state and its often immoral methods.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” has been published by Pluto Press. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears monthly. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

 

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Palestine is Still the Issue: The Zionist left in theory and practice

My regular column for Ceasefire Magazine, 3rd September.

By Asa Winstanley

Since its inception in the latter half of the 19th century, Zionism has always been a schizophrenic ideology. It is supposedly a secular nationalist movement: yet on establishment its offspring, the state of Israel, handed the Orthodox rabbinate sweeping powers over civil affairs. To this day, non-Jews are barred from marrying Jews in Israel.

A more frequently cited division in the Zionist movement is between its “left wing” and its right wing. But in reality this division is largely an illusion.

To the extent that they even think about Palestine/Israel, people in the West often hold out hope for change happening within Israeli society itself, and earnestly point to the existence of Israeli hippies, liberals and left-wingers.

In a recent tirade against “Palestinian right-winger[s]” and the “international left” for failing to support the ongoing tent protest movement in Israel (known as J14), the normally sharp Israeli blogger Yossi Gurvitz wondered “just what sort of a leftist spends so much energy on opposing a protest intended to bring about a social-democratic regime”.

With that quote in mind, I shall very briefly review the historical reality of what “social-democratic” Israeli regimes have meant for Palestinians (though not before mentioning that Max Blumenthal wrote an excellent reply to Gurvitz on his website).

The first phase of Zionist colonisation of Palestine occurred in the 19th century. That first wave came with vague dreams about “going back to the land” (a land these mostly European and Russian Jews had in reality never lived in, since most were descendent of converts to Judaism).

Upon arrival, they found the reality of agricultural life in Ottoman Palestine tough and, more often than not, ended up re-employing Palestinian fellahin. Many of them left for Europe or America. As Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi has put it “They disappropriated the fellahin, but in most cases they did not fully dispossess them” (Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, Columbia University Press, 1997, p. 100).

The second wave of Zionist colonisation of Palestine (1904-14) showed qualitative differences. The settlers were more firm in their Zionist ideology, and many claimed to be socialists, often those from Russia. They arrived with the new ideology of “Hebrew labour” and “redemption of the land” (i.e. from its Palestinian inhabitants). What this meant in practice is that the Palestinians were thrown off the land so the colonists would be free to embark on their experiments in “socialist” communal living. And so the first kibbutz was founded in 1910.

As I have outlined in detail elsewhere, one academic, sympathetic with Zionism, even argues in a book that some of these early settlers were influenced by anarchism (Asa Winstanley, “The Receiving End of our Dreams”, New Left Project, 7 October 2010).

In the 1930s David Hacohen was the director of the construction company owned by Histadrut, the Zionists’ racist “trade union” federation (only Jews were allowed as members). He later recalled arguing in favour of racial segregation during his student years in London, not long after the First World War. I quote him at length because it illustrates well the schizophrenic nature of the Zionist “left”:

“When I joined the socialist students – English, Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Indian, African… I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism, to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs into my trade union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there… To pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash the Arab eggs they had bought; to praise to the skies to Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] that sent [Zionist Organisation agent Yehoshua] Hankin to Beirut to buy land from absentee effendis [landowners] and to throw the fellahin off the land… to do all that was not easy.” (David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, Nation Books, third edition 2003, p. 185.)

Artzi, one of the main kibbutz federations, nurtured the Palmach – the elite units of the Haganah militia, which were often based in kibbutzim. Both the Palmach and the rest of the Haganah were essentially the armed wing of leftist Zionism. And in 1947-8, both these “leftist” militias were massive perpetrators of war crimes as they ethnically cleansed Palestine of its native inhabitants – the Palestinian Nakba, or Catastrophe. You can read about this in Ilan Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited by right-wing Israeli historian Benny Morris.

So the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was done under the auspices the Zionist left. But so was the occupation of 1967. The Israeli aggression that led to the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 was initiated by a government dominated by the Zionist leftist parties – who indeed were a “social-democratic regime” for its Jewish citizens only.

The first illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank were not planted by the Likud but under Labour/Alignment governments. The Likud, traditionally understood as Israel’s right wing, did not reach government until 1977, but Israeli colonization of the Jordan Valley started soon after the conquest of the West Bank.

“Operation Grapes of Wrath”, the 1996 aggression on Lebanon was undertaken by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres. The Israeli minister of war in 2006 when Israel again embarked on a massive bombing campaign of Lebanon was Labour leader Amir Peretz – at one point held out as a great hope for “change”. I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point.

Almost from its inception, Zionism has been a movement based on the premise of “transferring” the native population from Palestine. In this respect, it is little different from other settler-colonial movements. The fact that the gunmen killing and expelling Palestinians could later go home and vote in their kibbutz’s internal democracies makes no difference to the material facts of their violent colonial nature.

In fact there is much to the argument that such pretensions, beautifying Israel’s image in the West actually make the Zionist left more of a threat than the openly fascist Zionist right-wing (represented by people like Israel’s current foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman) because they are more easily able to rally international support.

For all these reasons, Gurvitz shows plenty of chutzpah in expecting Palestinians and their international supporters to rally to the cause of building an Israeli “social-democratic regime”. AsPalestinian poet Dina Omar has put it “The paradox of this new movement for social justice is that the organizers understand full well that as soon as they speak about the Palestinians (the people most abused by Israeli society’s power) popular support is sure to plummet. What does social justice even mean when it is divorced from the equation of social equality?”.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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Palestine is Still the Issue: The projection bias of Israeli war crime apologism

My column for Ceasefire Magazine, published 20 August

By Asa Winstanley

Sigmund Freud defined ‘projection bias’ as a form of defence in which feelings are displaced onto another party, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. This is a phenomenon that you come across quite often when studying Israel’s apologists. Like the partisans of other colonial movements, Zionists are quite prone to denying their own crimes while at the same time projecting them onto their enemies.

Take “human shields”. This is a trope you come across quite a lot in the propaganda of the Israeli army when it is trying to explain and apologise for its war crimes. As in the case of their 2008-2009 attack on the civilian population of Gaza, they claim the civilian casualties were not their fault because Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups used Palestinians as ‘human shields’.

In fact, as Norman Finkelstein often underlines, multiple reports on the 2008-2009 attacks on Gaza, issued by respected human rights groups (such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International), as well as the UN’s Goldstone report, say otherwise. They found no evidence that any such thing took place – despite being highly critical of Hamas and other groups for armed attacks on Israel.

Yet the same human rights groups often document many cases of Israeli soldiers using Palestinian civilians as human shields to discourage armed resistance. There have been numerous instances of Israeli soldiers forcing Palestinians, often no more than children, to walk at gunpoint into houses which they then ransack and search. They sometimes take over such homes and hold the families inside hostage (see, for example, Amnesty International, “Gaza civilians endangered by the military tactics of both sides”, 8 January 2009).

The armed attack near Eilat (far in the south of Israel-Palestine – a long distance from Gaza,) on Thursday (18th Aug) reminded me of this phenomenon too. Although some Israeli press reports referred to an attack on a civilian bus, it seems from what evidence is available that the bus was full of Israeli soldiers moving from a base. The very first reaction the Israeli army press office put out on its official Twitter account was “5 #IDF soldiers injured from shooting @ #Israeli bus”, though this line soon changed. Press photos of the wounded, however, clearly show the casualties wearing Israeli army uniforms.

The Egged Bus company (who it seems operated this line) does run public transport in Israel. But you might well ask what the Israeli army was doing transporting its soldiers down to Eilat using the public transport system.

This is a common Israeli practice. When I lived in Palestine, on the few times I had to travel to Tel Aviv from the West Bank (via Jerusalem,) walking around the public bus stations I was struck by the sheer number of armed, uniformed soldiers who used the public bus system. Anyone who has used buses in Israel for any length of time will tell you they often have more soldiers than civilians on them.

The phenomenon is so widespread that it can only be a deliberate policy. Does some $3 billion a year in military aid from the US government not provide it with enough funding for its own troop transportation? So Israel not only uses Palestinians as human shields, but it even “hides” its soldiers amongst its own civilian population – exactly what Israeli spokespeople accuses Hamas of. Talk about projection.

Let us be clear: any attack on civilians, by any party, is against international law and morally wrong. Israel is the prime perpetrator of targeting Palestinian and other Arab civilians. Indeed, its very first instinctual “reaction” Thursday night was to bomb civilian targets in Gaza (including one home Israel said belonged to a fighter from the Popular Resistance Committees,) killing six Palestinians including at least one child.

The PRC have denied involvement in the Eilat attack: “The occupation wants to pin this operation on us in order to escape its own internal problems” a spokesman told the AFP agency. It is worth noting that the spokesperson also defended the Eilat operation, so it seems to make little sense that he would lie about any involvement.

The attacks on Palestinians go on, and the death count is rising as I type. Israel regularly bombs Gaza, just a few days ago, it invaded the central Gaza Strip and killed a teenager, shooting him “more than 10” times in the head and body, according to medical officials, but the Western press seem not to notice it, unless and until they have Israeli casualties to report too.

The conflict over Palestine will only end once Israelis face up to the reality that they are occupiers running an apartheid state, and stop projecting their own image onto the natives they are occupying. This change will not come from within Israeli society: there are no examples in history of an occupying power voluntarily giving up on colonialism.

It will only come about through Palestinian resistance, of various forms. Armed resistance against military targets is legal under international law, a right that everyone living under occupation can exert. Edward Said once said: “I think it’s important to attack occupation forces… occupation, apartheid has to be resisted”. Of course, the Palestinians also have, contrary to persistent Western illusions, a very long and remarkable history of non-violent, popular resistance, which we in the West can continue to sustain and support through the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’movement.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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Palestine is Still the Issue: The meaning of the Norwegian terrorist’s love for Israeli war crimes

My fortnightly column for Ceasefire magazine, 6th August

By Asa Winstanley

Since Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway two weeks ago, much of the Islamophobic right has been ostensibly scrambling to distance themselves from his terrorist act. English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) appeared on Newsnight pointing out that Breivik called the EDL “naïve fools” in his 1500-page political manifesto, distributed over the internet on the eve of his “martyrdom operation” (Breivik’s term). Jeremy Paxman, outrageously soft-balling, failed to point out that Breivik also said of the EDL that “although having noble intentions [they] are in fact dangerously naïve” because they did not support his particular form of violence.

Another mass killer that right-wing Islamophobic zealots around Europe have certainly not distanced themselves from is the state of Israel. Breivik himself is clearly a big fan of Israel, having a free hand to regularly slaughter Muslims as it does. His rambling online book is full of flattering references to Israel: “So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists,” he wrote, “against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists”. This is from page 1163 of his “compendium”, large chunks of which were reportedly copied from other Islamophobic sources.

Breivik’s extreme Zionism has led to some media attention on the gowning links between Israel and extreme right-wing, and fascist groups from around Europe. Die Spiegel recently ran an article on the subject (“Europe’s Right-Wing Populists Find Allies in Israel”, 29 July). But this has been a growing trend for years now, and still not enough attention is being paid to it.

The British National Party these days of course supports Israel. Their leader Nick Griffin during this controversial 2009 Question Time appearance boasted of his support for Israel saying the BNP was now “the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists”. The EDL is notoriously pro-Israel, waving Israeli flags during their thuggish demonstrations, even establishing a (failed) “Jewish Division”.

Blogger Richard Silverstein has paid a fair amount of attention to Israel’s growing links to European fascists. He recently wrote about a visit of Russian neo-nazis to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) – a story even I couldn’t quite believe until I read past the headline (Settler MKs Welcome Russian Neo-Nazi Holocaust Deniers to Knesset, Yad VaShem, 28 July).

So what is going on here? The common denominator all these right-wing parties and groups have is of course fanatical and bigoted hostility to Muslims. Many commentators have been perplexed by Anders’ Zionism, and have tried to analyse it as if it were some sort of contradiction. But it’s not. The BNP was notorious for anti-Semitism in its past and Griffin is often accused of Holocaust denial. Breivik also clearly has some anti-Semitic ideas, implying that the German Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves: “Were the majority of the German and European Jews disloyal? Yes, at least the so called liberal Jews, similar to the liberal Jews today that opposes nationalism/Zionism and supports multiculturalism” (page 1163 again).
Zionism and anti-Semitism are not contradictory: in fact they often complement each other and have a history of alliances. Tactical synergy led to the Zionist-Nazi Ha’avara (“transfer”) agreement of the 1930s.

German Jews were allowed to remove some of their funds in the form of German-produced capital goods which were then sold in Palestine (as well as in the US and Britain), and part of this investment would then be recouped later (you can read about that in Mike Marqusee’s brilliant political memoir “If I am Not For Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew”). There was also the attempt by the Lehi terrorist group of Yitzak Shamir (later prime minister of Israel) to establish links with Hitler during Second World War.

But there are deeper ideological links between Zionism and other ethnocentric right-wing reactionary nationalist movements. They share the same goal: Hitler wanted to get rid of Jews from Europe and the Zionist movement wanted to bring as many European Jews as possible to colonise Palestine. Zionism is “united with anti-Semitism in its retrograde tenets”, as Yasser Arafat said in his famous first speech to the UN in 1974 – “another side of the same base coin”.

To understand this seeming contradiction, we need to understand that, in a similar way to the Nazi hatred of Jews, the bile of the the Islamophobes is not based on any logical thinking or rational opposition to Islam. It is bigotry plain and simple: hatred of The Other. Whip up enough irrationality and politicians can distract you from their schemes – all while you are busy picking on the most vulnerable in society.

While the EDL weakly distances itself from Breivik’s particular form of terrorist violence, it has no qualms about using racist abuse, street violence and intimidation aimed at Muslim communities around the country. Blaming the victim, the EDL outrageously tried to lay the guilt on Muslims for Breiviks’ terrorist attack: “what happened in Norway is a wake-up call. The fact that so many people are scared – people have to listen to that,” says it’s leader (“EDL leader brands Norway gunman Anders Breivik a ‘ horrible monster’”, Evening Standard, 27 July).

At the same time, Breivik’s was clearly not some insane lone gunman, as his lawyer now claims. Read his manifesto and you can see that. It is very deliberately put together. He claims to have spend nine years compiling it, and details the whole process of the how is funded and carried out his terrorist murders. The book contains long, elaborate descriptions of how he built the bomb, and how he prepared for his “martyrdom operation” (although he survived, it appears that he had been willing to die).

It is reported that at his first court hearing Breiviks claims there are other cells of like-minded “cultural conservatives” ready and able to carry out similar attacks. This is probably another one of his fantasies – but if so (and the possibility should still be investigated) it is a calculated fantasy. He is hoping to inspire others to carry out similar acts. That is clear from the detailed instructions in his book. He seems to have spent months “email farming” on Facebook so that he would have a solid list of “nationalists in all European countries” to send is completed manifesto to.

Although the large budget he claimed to have amassed from playing the stock market means it would not be easy to imitate him, we cannot rule out the possibility he will inspire other racist fanatics.

All this only makes combating groups like the EDL, who directly and viciously build on the growing climate of Islamophobia, ever more important. The EDL says it is going to “march into the Lions den” of Tower Hamlets on the third of September. In the spirit of Cable Street, it’s vital to stop the hate-mongers in their tracks once and for all.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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Palestine is Still the Issue: Why Britain should thank Sheikh Raed Salah

My fortnightly column in Ceasefire Magazine.

By Asa Winstanley

Sheikh Raed Salah is a Palestinian activist and religious leader famous in the Arab world for leading non-violent demonstrations against Israeli abuses and discrimination in Jerusalem. As leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, he politically represents a significant proportion of the 1948 Palestinians – i.e. the 1.5 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship.

Despite numerous attacks on Salah by the Israeli state, including political arrests on trumped-up charges and even – he alleges – an assassination attempt, the Islamic Movement has never been proscribed in Israel since it is a purely political movement. Salah refuses on principle to take part in the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) but one faction of his movement does (usually referred to as the “southern branch” of the Islamic movement).

But you would not have known any of this from the hysterical reaction from the British press when he entered the country for a speaking tour last month. He has been demonised by most of the British press – led as usual by the Daily Mail in their never-ending quest for an Islamic immigrant bogeyman. They probably wish he had a hooked hand or an eye patch, but I guess the beard was enough for them.

Salah was arrested on the personal order of Home Secretary Theresa May, despite entering the country legally, with no problems at Heathrow.

Although Zionist bloggers such as Michael Weiss (of the Henry Jackson Society and the pro-Israel propaganda outfit “Just Journalism” – which was apparently named with a straight face) accused Salah of anti-Semitism, his accusations rested on Israeli sources such as discredited translations group MEMRI which was founded by Colonel Yigal Carmon, formerly a high-ranking member of Israeli intelligence. MEMRI refuses as a point of policy to translate from the Hebrew press, preferring instead to select clips that make Arabs and Muslims look bad.

Predictably enough considering the source of the anti-Semitism accusations were Israeli, most of the British press repeated them uncritically and seemingly without checks. Few even bothered to report that Salah denied having made the anti-Semitic statements attributed to him. Because who cares what Muslims say about themselves? Apparently.

But this week a High Court judge released Salah on bail. Not only did Mr Justice Stadlen comment that Salah had entered the country legally, since the Home Secretary’s told no one about her exclusion order until after Salah’s entry (although she now claims she signed it two days prior,) but the Home Office’s barrister admitted as much in court.

What I seemed to be witnessing in court while reporting on the case for Electronic Intifada was the government’s case falling apart. Their list of “unacceptable behaviour” seemed to be either based on anti-Semitic statements uncharacteristic of Salah (statements he strongly denied having made) or farcically lifted from half-hearted Israeli press releases. Indeed: I couldn’t help but suspect that Israel had encouraged the Home Secretary to arrest Salah, and provided material for the list, so flimsy were their “accusations” against him.

For example, they “accused” Salah of being linked to Turkish charity IHH. IHH is a totally legitimate Turkish aid group but it started to be attacked by a barrage of unfounded Zionist smear campaigns after it participated in the first Freedom Flotilla to Gaza last year. Another example of alleged “unacceptable behaviour” strong enough to bar Salah from the country which the government cited was an interview that the Middle East Monitor conducted with Salah in June in which he discussed the Palestinian right of return and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

Unsurprisingly (or perhaps surprisingly for those of us who have no faith in the British justice system) the judge found this all unconvincing. He didn’t make a judgement either way on whether or not Salah had actually said the anti-Semitic statements which he denies, since that is for the full judicial review set to take place in September. But he did say he was satisfied Salah’s legal team has a good case.

Despite being unjustly imprisoned for three weeks, despite being wrongly accused of entering the country illegally, and despite being demonised by the British press, Salah is staying in the country to clear his name. He is now free on bail. There is nothing stopping him from returning to Palestine, except for principles. Instead he has chosen to stay in the country under bail restrictions that prevent him from speaking to the public, force him to wear an electric tag, observe a night time curfew and report daily to immigration authorities.

If in the end he manages to clear his name it will be a blow to the government’s claim to a right of political detention. Salah will have done us all a favour by landing a blow to both draconian government measures and media scare-mongering.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

 

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Palestine is Still the Issue: The Freedom Flotilla, Raed Salah, and Israel’s myth of invincibility

Originally published in Ceasefire

By Asa Winstanley

The second flotilla of activists intent on reaching Gaza by sea has so far been prevented from sailing by the Greek authorities. The Greek coast guard boarded two ships attempting to make a break for Gaza and forced them back to port. The reason given was unconvincing: they feared for the safety of passengers in light of what happened last year when Israel killed nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara. So why, then, did they not instead pressure Israel to allow the ships to sail safely?

In Britain last week, Raed Salah, a prominent leader of Palestinian popular resistance in Jerusalem was arrested by UK border police. Home Secretary Theresa May had apparently banned Salah from the country – although no one seemed to have been told about the ban before he flew into Heathrow airport, entering legally on his Israeli passport.

Salah is an Israeli citizen, elected three times as the mayor of Um al-Fahm, one of the largest Palestinian towns in the 1948 territories. Salah is currently challenging the deportation order in the courts, and his lawyers have started libel actions against several British journalists who had accused him of anti-Semitism.

These events do seem to demonstrate Israel has a degree of control over the policies of other countries. But I argue these are in fact symptoms of shared economic interests (or perhaps we could say desperation in the case of Greece), and common ideologies of racism and colonialism in the case of the US and Britain.

For example, the British press furore that surrounded the entry of Salah did not focus on any alleged “threat” to Israeli interests. In fact the tabloids were generally hazy about where he even comes from. Instead the picture they put forward was along the lines of “isn’t it disgraceful this scary bearded Muslim extremist managed to sneak into our country?”

Considering that Israel has for years tried and failed to find some way of silencing Salah, it would not surprise me if it turns out they had some hand in his arrest (Salah himself said from prison that Israel bore the responsibility). But a British political and media establishment which so often uses Muslims as scapegoats has its own reasons to generate irrational fear about Salah.

Pro-Israel lobbyists like to talk about the “shared values” of Britain and Israel. They, of course, claim these are nice things like democracy and human rights. But in cases like the unjustified arrest of Raed Salah, we start to see the real shared values of Israel and Britain: in this case racism and Islamophobic scare-mongering.

We also see the reality of shared interests and common methods when comparing Israeli and British wars (such as in Afghanistan). Israel and Britain use similar justifications when killing civilians: they were just “collateral damage”. Torturers in the respective armies were just a few “bad apples”. Fighters on the other side use “human shields” (an accusation which in the case of Israel is a matter of projection bias: Israel’s genuine use of Palestinians as human shields is well documented by human rights groups).

With Greece, we should perhaps be more surprised. The country has a history of stormy relations with Israel. In 2009, Greece actually blocked an arms shipment during the Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip.

But the recent financial meltdown seems to have changed things. There have been reports of increased Greek-Israeli ties, such as tourism links, a joint air force drill, a proposed natural gas pipeline project and even the sale of large amounts of riot gear to Greece. It seems the tear gas reserves are being depleted by Greek police attempting to put down the popular Greek protest movement against IMF austerity measures.

For those who want to act in solidarity with Palestinian human rights, such ties can seem like formidable obstacles. But we should bear in mind that Israel is very much in the business of talking up and exaggerating its own power. It wants to re-build its myth of invincibility, so damaged by the 2000 and 2006 military defeats by volunteer resistance fighters in Lebanon. Now Israel is increasingly moving into the the arena of talking up its diplomatic power.

In this context, having to lean on a state in as dire financial straits as Greece is perhaps more of a sign of weakness than anything else. The very first Free Gaza boats in 2008 were allowed through with very little publicity. By demonising simple solidarity actions like the flotillas to Gaza and the “Welcome to Palestine” fly-in to Tel Aviv airport yesterday, Israel is humiliating itself in front of the world.

The act of attempting to deliver a cargo of letters to Gaza has led to a massive military, diplomatic and financial counter-operation – in a climate of near hysteria, with Israeli politicians talking as if they are in some sort of war. Speaking about the fly-in, one minister even invoked the 9/11 attacks: “We should… keep in mind what happened in the Twin Towers disaster”. A regime that resorts to such ridiculous, oxymoronic terms for its critics as “human rights militants” is very much on the wrong side of history.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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Palestine is Still the Issue: On American Principles for Negotiating With Official Enemies

My fortnightly column published by Ceasefire.

By Asa Winstanley

This week Barack Obama confirmed something the US government had been moving towards for a long time: opening negotiations with the Taliban. “America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban,” Obama said in a speech Wednesday. This has been in the works for a while. On Channel 4 News Thursday, minor celebrity soldier Captain Doug Beattie said that British forces had been talking with the Taliban “on a local level in Helmand since 2007”.

The US military, along with satellites such as Britain, are being defeated by the Taliban. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the fact that, at exactly the same time negotiations were being made public for the first time last week, Taliban military activity was very much ongoing. Indeed, as reported by AP Saturday, quasi-puppet Afghan president Hamid Karzi announced to the world the US was in talks with the Taliban “even as insurgents stormed a police station near the presidential palace, killing nine people.

And yet, we are dealing with the very same United States establishment that absolutely rules out any talks with Hamas, despite the fact that the Islamic Resistance Movement forms the elected majority of the Palestinian Authority’s parliament; and despite the fact that Hamas has by now presented multiple offers to Israel of long term negotiated ceasefires.

In Gaza Hamas has even, at times, enforced truces with Israel, imposing them on smaller armed factions that had continued to fire rockets at Israeli positions – and even arresting Al-Aqsa Brigades fighters (members of the rival Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, lately propped up by the US).

Ideologically, Hamas is a conservative movement which has much in common with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (indeed they share historical roots). Reactionary as they have proven to be, both of these Arab movements are a world away from the Taliban.

The Taliban is far more reactionary and brutal and has zero democratic legitimacy. Hamas on the other hand is essentially a popular resistance movement – a Palestinian nationalist movement with Islamist tendencies.

It is true that the corruption of the Fatah-dominated PA was an important factor behind Hamas’s 2006 election victory, but I find this is usually over-emphasised. The movement’s reputation for resistance to Israeli occupation was the main reason. Since then, it has more and more moved away from armed resistance and tried to make itself appealing to the West.

Instead of negotiating with Hamas when they won the elections, the US initiated a proxy conflict that sparked a mini-civil war in Gaza, until Hamas fighters ejected what had been termed the “Palestinian contras”.

It is quite instructive that even while the Taliban continues to fight America it gets negotiations. Hamas stops fighting Israel (a US client state by any definition), reconciles with Fatah, increasingly moves towards the “two state solution” – and yet is still shunned by the US government. It follows then, that the stated pretexts of Empire – pious declamations about democracy, freedom and women’s rights – cannot possibly be the real reasons for shunning Hamas.

It looks very much like the Taliban have forced America to sit at the negotiating table. The US are essentially trying to save face, because they know they can’t stay in Afghanistan forever: the American people simply do not support it any more. By now the war is so unpopular that even some Republican presidential candidates have started to call for American troops to come home. The message this “softer” American strategy sends is, in effect: if you want America or its regional clients to back down, do NOT stop fighting.

Indeed, the only meaningful negotiations Israel has ever had with Hamas have been over an occupation soldier captured by Hamas in Gaza, in 2006, and still held prisoner. Should the long-discussed prisoner exchange for him eventually go ahead, it would be proof that armed resistance by liberation struggles can still achieve concrete gains despite the military odds.

However, the Hamas government’s “morality campaigns” in Gaza in recent years have led to a decline in its popularity. At the same time, Fatah’a “security coordination” with Israel, corruption and a succession of scandals have meant they too remain unpopular. Recent polls show low approval ratings for both, with a majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories favouring no political party at all.

The fledgling Arab revolutions have changed the rules of the game. The Palestinian people are unlikely to tolerate Hamas and Fatah’s mutual delay in implementing the April deal to form a unity government and prepare for new elections.

Although Fatah and Hamas probably think they have diffused popular Palestinian discontent by signing their unity deal, the way things are going the third Palestinian intifada, an increasingly plausible prospect, is highly likely to cast them aside for a better, more unified strategy, transcending party politics.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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Palestine is Still the Issue: Arab Revolutions and the Recognition of Israel

My fortnightly column published by Ceasefire.

By Asa Winstanley

Last week French so-called philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was in the press again making extraordinary claims about Libya. He insisted that the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) led by Mustafa Abd al-Jalil was looking to recognise Israel. The TNC intends to “maintain normal relations with other democratic countries, including Israel” Levy said. He even claimed to have delivered a message from the TNC conveying as much to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu himself.

This was immediately denied by a TNC representative in Benghazi. Algerian paper Echorouk said the TNC vice-chairman had denounced Levy’s allegation as “baseless” and insisted they had never asked Levy to convey such a message “to the Zionist entity leaders”, as the paper put it.

He also said the TNC would never recognise Israel and that “such groundless assertions were being propagated by the despotic Gaddafi regime and its henchmen” to tarnish “the image of the national transition council in the eyes of the fervent supporters of the legitimate Palestinian cause in the Arab world and elsewhere.”

This tells us a lot about the nature of the Zionist state and its crimes. The TNC was established to take control of the popular Libyan uprising against the despotic and sadistic Gaddafi regime which broke out in February. Abd al-Jalil himself is a former Gaddafi loyalist and minister. Since the the Libyan intifada was taken over by such elements, the TNC has been doing its best to show deference to its new funders in the EU, the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

This week I even saw Abd al-Jalil on TV making excuses for Qatar’s deportation of Iman al-Obeidi. Obeidi is the woman who was allegedly gang-raped by Gaddafi troops and famously appeared on TV screens around the world when she was dragged away by Gaddafi thugs after approaching international journalists at breakfast in a Tripoli hotel.

She was later able to flee to Tunisia, and then onto Qatar. She is now reportedly headed to the US after being deported by the Qatari regime (Channel 4 News has more on on recent developments in her story, alleging the TNC have treated her badly by “using” her in media appearances she was uncomfortable with). After Qatar deported her, Abd al-Jalil bizarrely told al-Jazeera that he “understood” Qatar’s position.

So the TNC is starting to look like a US-Saudi puppet regime along the lines of Iraq (or indeed the previous Gaddafi regime of the last decade). Despite that, it is highly unlikely to recognise Israel. The Libyan people would not allow it, even if the TNC wanted to.

One of the most striking images in the wave of Arab revolutions since the start of the year has been the presence of Palestinian flags on demonstrations throughout. From Tunis to Cairo to Benghazi, expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians have been there all along, represented in such slogans as “the people, demand, the liberation of Palestine” – a play off the most common chant of the revolutionaries: “the people, demand, the fall of the regime”.

The comparison with the puppet regime in Iraq is apt. The Levy episode reminds me of the time in 2008 when members of the US Congress were dismayed to discover that Iraq offered no flights to Israel, because of its lack of relations with the Zionist state.

They had been in Israel for the 60th anniversary celebrations of the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from Palestine (al-Nakba, The Catastrophe, in Arabic – what Israelis sadistically call “Independence Day”). They decided to visit Iraq for a day but found they had to return to occupied Palestine via Amman. Outraged that billions of dollars in US taxpayer’s cash, was still not enough to buy normalization with Israel, they put forward a congressional resolution demanding Iraq recognise Israel or have its funding cut. But apparently, the resolution was non-binding. I imagine it was never heard from again.

If the US can’t even force puppet regimes like Iraq to recognise Israel, it has no chance should anything resembling democratic states begin to emerge in revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt. Israel relies on kings and other dictators to force through agreements with Arab states against the wishes of their people. And even then there is only Jordan and Egypt, with the latter agreement increasingly being challenged by Egyptians on the streets calling for cancelation or at least amendment of the unequal peace treaty with Israel.

Israel is a state founded on ethnic cleansing and war crimes. Its maintenance relies on a military regime in the West Bank, racial and sectarian segregation policy and law throughout historic Palestine, periodic festivals of massacres against Palestinians and Arabs such as in Gaza, and wars of aggression against country after country. Such a colonial entity implanted in the heart of the Arab world, will never be recognised as “legitimate” by the Arab masses.

It has been quite amusing all year to see Western supporters of Israel in total denial about the nature of the Arab revolutions. They tell themselves tall tales about how people in the region supposedly only resent Israel because of state propaganda that was used to distract attention away from regime crimes to external enemies.

But the reality now and through history has been the opposite: the Palestinian and Arab masses have always had to push Arab regimes into taking any action, however limited, against Israeli war crimes and occupation. It has been the people of the region themselves who have ensured that Palestine is still the moral issue of our time.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He is the co-editor of “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” published by Pluto Press in October (with a foreword by Alice Walker).

His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org .

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