Belgium: Tensions in Middle East lead to clashes

Today the tensions in Antwerp (Belgium) have led to several acts of violence. Antwerp is a city with a large Jewish community and a large community of immigrants from North Africa and other Muslim countries. A Jewish synagogue two streets away from my workplace was attacked with molotov-cocktails this morning.

Tonight a demo of about 3000 took place in Antwerp, mainly with immigrants. We saw hardly any Belgians at the demo. The ideas present were very confused. We were present with a small group of CWI members and saw how some demonstrators only shouted slogans against Sharon while a rather big group also shouted the slogan "Hamas, Jihad, Hezbollah". A lot of them held a poster distributed by the maoist PVDA saying "One country: Palestine. One Capital: Jerusalem". Other demonstrators were rather talking about the need to resist the imperialist policy of the US and Israel and the need to defeat all Jews.

The demonstrators met at the Meir (a central shopping street, not far away from a Jewish dominated neighbourhood where there are a lot of shops selling jewelery). The police were present in big numbers even though it was clear they hadn’t expected that many demonstrators. They pushed the demonstrators backward and surrounded them. The tension was growing as the demo couldn’t go anywhere. The stewards of the demo had difficulties to keep the young masked demonstrators under control, we even saw some fighting between them. The police however refused to allow the demo to go through the city, not even in the direction away from the Jewish area.

At the end the demo could leave as the police was getting surrounded because of new people arriving at the demo, at the other side of the police blockade. The demo left and was followed by a massive police force which used its water cannon and attacked the demo on several occasions. We saw how a young immigrant was violently arrested and brought forward to show this young person being beaten up to a small group of demonstrators standing in front of the police.

The demonstrators tried to get near the Jewish area, but everything was blocked. Groups of 15 – 16 year old youth started to throw stones at the police and through windows of shops in this area.

The strongest resistance against the scandalous attacks of the Israeli army in the Palestinian areas would be a united answer of the oppressed both in Palestine and Israel, supported by workers and youth all over the world. This potential is present given the economic crisis in Israel and given the enormous anger all over the world against the extreme nationalist strategy of Sharon.

The absence of Belgian people at the demo, let alone of progressive Jewish activists, was a crucial weakness which made it possible for the islam fundamentalists to abuse the Antwerp demo. It also made police provocations easier. This weakness therefore is one of the main reasons for the violence which occured in the city today and it opens the way for continuing tension in the coming days. A clear class policy is necessary, not only to be able to raise a serious alternative to the Middle East conflict, a socialist alternative, but also to build a resistance movement in Western Europe which is able to link its struggle with the workers and youth.

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April 2002