Paradox in Palestine: Ali Abunimah speaks in London

Ali Abunimah, executive director of the Electronic Intifada website spoke at a meeting organised by the Middle East Monitor in London on the 4th November. His latest book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine: The Case for a Single Democratic State in Palestine (2014) has been shortlisted by Middle East Monitor for their Palestine Book Awards. Sherrl Yanowitz and Neil Rogall summarise what Ali Abunimah said in his talk.

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Palestine is engulfed in a massive paradox. The situation has never been better and it has never been worse. Since the war on Gaza this summer, there is nothing but sheer, relentless awfulness. Ali recently stayed in Jordan while waiting for a visa to visit Gaza. The rain poured down relentlessly over both places. In Jordan everyone was warm and dry inside permanent structures. In Gaza 100,000 people are trying to survive out in the cold and rain wrapped in blankets next to the ruins of their entire neighbourhood. Ali saw piles of rubble where houses once stood. The broken concrete blocks were painted with the names of Palestinians whose bodies still lie underneath. But ‘the international community’ is doing nothing. There are no appeals, no aid, no international support systems. There are 100,000 people homeless.

Meanwhile the UN and the aid agencies are becoming complicit in the siege of Gaza. A monitoring system has been set up. Someone from the UN comes, does a ‘needs assessment’ of a family. ‘How much cement does Joseph need to rebuild his home?” The Israeli authorities have 48 hours to rule on whether or not ‘Joseph’ is a fit person to be granted the ten bags of cement. The cement comes from an Israeli supplier. Then everything is constantly monitored by cameras so ‘none of the cement goes astray’.

This is just like the UN’s ‘food for oil’ programme in Iraq prior to the Iraq invasion. It is calculated to inflict maximum suffering on ordinary people. Aid agencies like Oxfam are completely silent on this UN implemented plan. The plan is also approved by the Palestinian Authority. Basically the Gaza siege is being accepted by the aid agencies, the UN and the PA.

The situation in the whole of Palestine has never been more dire. Palestinian Bedouins are being evicted from their land in the Jordan Valley and in the Negev. They are receiving no support from the UN or the ‘international community’. The Jewish National Fund, a registered charity around the world, gets tax relief to ethnically cleanse Bedouin land.

There is the same story in the Galilee, in Acre and Jaffa where a process of ‘gentrification’ means ethnic cleansing. Palestinian communities that have been able to survive in Israel since 1948 are losing out to the Israeli state’s sectarian policies.

In Jerusalem, Israeli assaults are escalating. On July 2nd 16 year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burnt alive by 3 Israeli men. During the summer the mobs in Jerusalem attacking Palestinians were Israeli fascists, Now the mobs are the police and army. Palestinian youth are shot down in cold blood but no one is arrested or disciplined for it. This institutional violence mounts as the Zionists try to completely take over Jerusalem.

Yehuda Glick, an American Israeli rabbi, is a leader of a far right organisation that wants to demolish the Al Aqsa mosque and replace it with the ‘Third Temple’. He survived an assassination attempt in October. The western media treats him as if he is some sort of civil rights activist. This is a movement backed by the Israeli government that is using the crisis to advance the Zionists’ millenarian plans. This is similar to Hebron in 1994 after the American born Israeli Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque killing 29 worshippers and injuring 125. The Israeli government responded by partitioning the mosque, rewarding the settlers.

It is worth comparing this to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodyha, India in 1994. This was organised by the Hindu nationalists of the BJP and led to large number of murders around India. That carnage might be child’s play to what will happen if Al Aqsa is destroyed by the Israelis.

In the West Bank the Palestinian Authority is there to help Israel by preventing protests. But in Jerusalem there is no PA, so the Palestinians can protest.

There are no longer any safe places for Palestinians. In the West Bank the Jewish settlements are on steroids. In Syria half of the Palestinians living there have been displaced by the war. The regional wars mean there are no ‘safe places’ for the Palestinians.

Many hands help drive the bulldozers and drop the bombs. The USA is an enthusiastic partner in what Ilan Pappe calls an “Incremental Genocide”. Britain is totally complicit too. There was no motion put forward in the UK parliament for an arms embargo (only on a vote for a Palestinian state). The USA and UK give impunity to Israel. No one is holding the Israelis to account. Instead the British government has changed the law to make the UK a safe haven for Israeli war criminals. The media are complicit, particularly the BBC which has become a propaganda channel for Zionism. You can tell the same story around Europe. In fact those who most preach about human rights are the ones most complicit in depriving the Palestinians of their human rights. The so-called liberal peace process gives cover to Israel.

Let us now consider the other side of the ledger:

Israel has never been more isolated. The Israeli press are hysterical about this. Certainly US backing of Israeli murder continues. But at the same time US–Israeli relations are in deep crisis. This comes out of a growing realisation by the US elite that US imperial interests are being harmed by Israel. General Petraeus (in 2010) said that Israeli intransigence on Palestine was causing anti-American feeling to grow and strengthening Al Qaeda. John Kerry said much the same thing this year. Okay they withdraw their comments or deny them once the Israeli lobby gets to them but the record doesn’t vanish.

Israel has gone out on a limb in support of ISIS. At the UN, Netanyahu said ‘Iran is the problem not ISIS’. Israel keeps repeating ‘don’t focus on ISIS but focus on Iran’.

At the same time there is this incredible solidarity movement around the world. The Israeli government describes this as an existential threat on a level with the Iranian nuclear bomb. (There of course, is no Iranian bomb). You get bravado from Israeli financial figures: ‘trade is higher, investment is higher’. But the government is really worried. The economy minister said ‘the boycott is really bad, we will pay the price’. We know some of the settlement farms have lost 100s of millions of dollars since 2012.

This incredible activism is not just about Palestine. Everyone is talking about ‘the death of politics’ because very few people think elections can change anything. The Scottish referendum showed something very different – people could self organise to could change things.

This crisis of politics affects the Palestinians too. The PLO and the Palestinian Authority have become subsidiaries of Israel. We have to recognise the Palestinians have a right to resist and we should have no truck with condemnations of Hamas. But neither Fateh or Hamas have any political vision.

BDS is something new. It is led by Palestinians. It calls for 3 things: (1) An end to occupation (2) An end to discrimination against Palestinians in Israel (3) The right of return for all Palestinians. It is decentralised. It is self-organised. This causes Israel problems. There is no ‘BDS HQ’ to bomb. The BDS demands do not provide all the answers. What happens when the ‘South Africa moment’ arrives? But we are not there yet. BDS strengthens resistance to Israeli occupation

Where are we going? BDS is not aligned with any solutions. BDS is simply saying Palestinians deserve all rights. The clamour for a two state solution is mounting at the very point when it is not going to happen. It is not about 1 or 2 or 10 states. It is about decolonisation.

What then? Of course radical inequality can coexist in a single state. We see that in the US, in the UK or in post-apartheid South Africa. The ‘new’ South Africa was born into the high point of neoliberalism, the collapse of the so-called ‘communist’ bloc. London is the most branded city in the world. We are seeing that too in Palestine. A new Palestinian state (in whatever form) will be born into neoliberalism. Once the siege in Gaza is lifted all the direction will be from the crony capitalists in the West Bank and from Gulf capital.

We did not take full notes of the lively discussion. But there was a useful point made about the connection of Ferguson and Palestine. US police forces and military are often trained by the Israelis. What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is then done to the minorities in the US. Israel sells its weapons as ‘battle tested’.

Ali replied to one question relating the discovery of vast gas fields off Gaza to the recent Israeli assault on Gaza. He replied: Israel wants to ‘cleanse’ the land of Palestinians – it wants the Palestinians to go but the Palestinians are saying ‘we will not go away’.

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(The authors take responsibility for any inaccuracies, distortions or mistakes)

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