Time for a cross-border Intifada

The terror attack on southern Israel launched from Sinai in August is increasingly looking like a “black ops” initiative to divert attention away from Israel’s social crisis and stifle the popular uprising that brought 200,000 people on to the streets. Penny Cole reports.

The Israeli government offered no proof that the Popular Resistance Committee, based in Gaza, was behind the attacks on Israel in August. But that didn’t stop a ferocious bombing campaign in Gaza as Israel delivered its standard, knee-jerk reaction.

And of course, in response there were further rockets fired from Gaza into Israel and the confrontation escalated. It was just what the Netanyahu government could have hoped for and may well have planned or provoked itself.
The terror attacks came just as the opposition movement inside Israel itself was reaching tipping point, drawing in Jews and Israeli Arabs in a united front against the government. To give an idea of the scale of the protests, if a similar percentage of the UK population protested, there would be 3 million on the streets.

Behind the protests is the impact of globalisation on Israeli society. It put an end to the social democratic dreams of those who launched the Jewish state. The founding Zionists used terror against the Palestinian population, but promised Jews arriving from Europe that this would deliver a state where they would enjoy eternal protection and the highest level of social support.

Just as social democracy in Britain became New Labour, and the Democrats became the party of attacks on welfare under Clinton, so the social democratic consensus in Israel has been smashed. “Modernisation” became official policy during Netanyahu’s first period in office in the late 1990s and speeded up during his period as finance minister from 2003.

Illegal West Bank settlements were transformed into a corporate cash cow. Settlers became an economic vanguard, stealing land and resources and creating factories and farms using cheap Palestinian labour. The security industry of checkpoints, drones, and scanners has put Israel in the lead in selling new technology of repression. A small group of Israeli oligarchs with US connections dominate the economy and for them, and their partners in the corporations, the continuing occupation is an economic necessity.

In Israel itself, a huge privatisation programme ended the power of one of the main founding pillars of the Zionist state, the Histadrut state-sponsored trade union movement. Histadrut not only represented workers but also delivered social insurance and operated the largest industries and several banks.

In the 1960s, Histadrut had 1,600,000 members, one-third of the total population of Israel and about 85% of all wage earners. It directly employed approximately 280,000 workers. Membership today is down to 650,000. Histadrut had no role in initiating the recent protests, but joined late in the day with a view to diverting them back into official channels.

The anti-government social movement, which appeared to come out of the blue, is the expression of a deep and growing sense of social injustice and insecurity which had no other avenue of expression. It soon established itself in every city and town, and included Israeli Arabs and non-Jewish migrants amongst its numbers. Bedouins pitched their tents alongside the tent cities in scenes that many would have said were impossible just weeks before. There were Arab speakers and speeches were translated into Hebrew and Arabic. The Zionist state looked on in horror, until the terror attacks conveniently began.

Official quarters insisted that in the interests of security, the protesters should go home but it isn’t working out like that. Some protesters in Eilat, Sderot, and other areas where rockets could reach from Gaza just stayed put in their tents, running for cover when the sirens sounded.

"We'll need to find new and creative ways to protest," said Stav Shafir, one of the leaders of the main protest camp on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. "The people in the tents agree that you can't separate social rights and national security. It's the same thing, and any division is artificial." She added:

"For many years, Israeli society got used to giving in due to security issues… Because the protest is so strong, fierce, and affects all layers of society, we understood that if we don't continue, things will be worse. Weaker sectors of the population in Sderot are talking about a class conflict. The protest has unified conflicting classes – Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, right and left."

Shafir criticised calls by ministers including Ayoub Kara (Likud ) to end the protest due to the terror attacks. "The fact that the government is calling on us to halt the protest because of the terror attacks is an attempt to use our pain as citizens hurting for their friends and families to make us bow on the social front, and that's sad for several reasons," she said. Meanwhile, protesters have chanted, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”.

When the Israeli population, as much as the Palestinians, are in conflict with the Zionist state, the potential for historic change is clearly present. The whole raison d’être of Zionism is its promise to look after all Jews. That is clearly no longer the case in Israel and the state’s historic claim to legitimacy is thus threatened.

So far, the Palestinian leadership is not rising to the occasion, however. Hamas is increasingly confused, and is now under attack in Gaza from forces who want to impose even harsher Islamic rule on the population, an unbelievable situation when people are suffering from bombing, starvation and homelessness.

The Western-backed Palestine Authority is equally immune to the revolutionary spirit sweeping the region. The West Bank government is focusing all its attention on an empty diplomatic campaign to have the scattering of towns and villages where they have some power, recognised by the United Nations as a “state” – a state with no control over power, water, currency, travel or economy.

In any case, an actual state cannot be created in September, as Israel's occupation continues. And the Americans have said they will veto any decision that comes before the Security Council.

Instead of finding common cause with the Israeli protests, the Palestinian team headed by Saeb Erekat is concentrating on a meaningless manoeuvre which could seriously weaken the cause of self-determination.

An independent legal opinion warns of risks involved with the plan to join the UN. The opinion says that transferring the Palestinians' representation from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to a state will terminate the legal status held by the PLO in the UN since 1975 that it is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. 

Representation for the right to self-determination will be gravely affected, as it is a right of all Palestinians, both inside and outside the homeland, the opinion says. A change in status would severely disenfranchise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties from which they were displaced.

The seven-page opinion, obtained by Ma'an news agency, was drawn up by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of public international law at Oxford University. The majority of Palestinians are refugees, and all of them are represented by the PLO through the PNC. The legal briefing says:

"They constitute more than half of the people of Palestine, and if they are 'disenfranchised' and lose their representation in the UN, it will not only prejudice their entitlement to equal representation ... but also their ability to vocalise their views, to participate in matters of national governance, including the formation and political identity of the State, and to exercise the right of return". 

Youth in Gaza, who recently led a unity campaign to bring Fatah and Hamas together, are also sceptical of the move, according to a video made for the Electronic Intifada.
In practice, the two-state strategy has failed and the moves at the UN are a last desperate attempt to force the Israeli government to negotiate a settlement. The reality is that only joint action by Israelis and Palestinians working together can bring peace, security and social justice for both populations.

The last thing the Zionists want is popular unity, but it is in the interests of the masses of every part of the land of Palestine/Israel. In a democratic, secular state both populations can live together, with equal rights for all under the law.

The “new and creative ways to protest" that Stav Shafir is so rightly seeking, could be a new intifada on all sides of the borders, and the formation of popular People’s Assemblies to open up a direct dialogue. They can debate their shared future, the formation of a new state for all, and work towards replacing all the undemocratic rulers and structures that deny them economic and social justice.

26 August 2011

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