Middle East: Protests in Israel against Gaza onslaught

Tel-Aviv: Around 10,000 Jews and Arabs in a militant protest against the war

10,000s, mostly Israeli-Palestinians, demonstrate in Northern Israel

After what seems to be the deadliest week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 40 years, many have demonstrated around the world against the barbaric actions of the Israeli regime.

Two main protests have been organised in Israel, against a background of brutal anti-democratic moves by the regime to silence opposition to the war. These have included threats by the secret services and mass arrests in the recent week, mainly of Israeli-Palestinians – 300 are thought to be still held.

The police attempted to prevent the demonstration planned for January 3 in Tel-Aviv, claiming that waving the Palestinian flag in Tel-Aviv is a disturbance to the public peace. The Supreme Court, while approving the actions of the regime on the big issues, including what is defined by international law as war crimes, has nevertheless decided that this is too embarrassing, and approved the demo.

It became the most important joint Jewish and Arab demo since the beginning of the war, and took place under a very difficult atmosphere. The march was surrounded by a big police force, enforced by a special squad of the Prisons Authority. Also, about 300 right wingers (many of whom from Yisrael Beitenu (“Israel Our Home”), Liberman’s far right party) surrounded the demo, and from every corner of the streets, as the demo marched in the centre of Tel-Aviv, the tension and violent hostility was evident. Sometimes things were thrown onto the protestors, and curses were a background tone. But the demonstration was extremely loud, vivid, and lively, with red flags and drums, with around 10,000 taking part.

Many slogans in Hebrew and Arabic were shouted. Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel) members shouted along with many others: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”, “Jews and Arabs are fighting against the racists”, “In Gaza and Sderot, kids want to live”, “Barak, Minister of Security, you will not buy the rule with blood”, “No peace, No security, dismantle the Rule of Capital”, “No more walls and shelters – talks between residents”, “Money for education and jobs – Not for occupation and wars”.

We also shouted, and were joined by other around us: “Want Peace? We’ve gotta struggle! — Halt the bombings! * Stop the war! * No to the firing of the qassam! * Remove the siege! * End the occupation! * Bring down the wall * Dismantle settlements! * Terminate the separation * Crush racism * Terminate the system of exploitation and prestige * Terminate the system of capital and war * Want peace? We’ve gotta struggle!”

We also joined in the calls “All the ministers of the government are war criminals”, “Barak, Minister of Security, how many kids did you murder today?”, and “Fascism will not pass”. During the demo we distributed our Socialist Struggle Movement statement on the war which we have also been using in other demos and public activities in Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere. Hadash (the Communist party front) were also a very dominant force in this demo.

The institutional news media not only campaigned against this demo, afterwards it was downplayed. For example, Haaretz newspaper, which is an internationally known liberal paper, wrote as a side story title on its website: “Tel-Aviv: Thousands protested For [!] and Against the operation”. The same paper’s editorial began with the words: “Head of Government, Ehud Olmert, expects justifiably for the unifying of the Israeli public behind the IDF operation in Gaza”.

Just to clear the picture, the weekend state TV news programme, that lasts almost two hours, did not show even one picture from within Gaza, but it showed plenty of politicians and generals, and ended with a report on the chocolate industry in Israel! And that is not only media control. Even the international press that would like to cover the attacks find it very difficult, as it is practically forbidden by the military for them to get into Gaza. Two Al-Jazeera reporters were arrested as they came "too close" to the Gaza strip. The Israeli enlisted reporters would report anyway anything that the military spokespersons will tell them to believe. Mentioning of the Palestinian victims is very much marginalised. The Israeli media never even mention, for example, that the ratio of victims now is 1:100 – and sometimes, it is being simply put like Barak does: “Hamas and the Terror Organizations have about 400 killed”. The ruling elite’s propaganda and falsification machine is simply immense. Reports of the protests around the world are presented also in a very denunciatory manner, hinting sometimes that any international criticism of the Israeli regime means anti-Semitism.

Earlier on Saturday, in the northern city of Sakhnin, tens of thousands gathered in one of the strongest Israeli-Palestinian demos in years. While in some Israeli press it was reported “a few thousands”, it was closer to 100,000, with a few Israeli-Jews present. In some press sources they indeed described it as a mass event, but did so as a scare. Tens of right wingers (again, mostly of Liberman’s party) counter-protested around the city. The atmosphere was very militant, but also dominated mostly by the Islamic Movement (northern wing) and the Palestinian Nationalist party Balad. Slogans in Arabic were shouted, including solidarity calls with the people of Gaza, calling them not to surrender in face of the military tanks and machineguns and stand heroically. Some of the slogans called upon Hezbollah to act, and criticized the Arab League regimes for their traditional collaboration, especially with the USA. Some slogans unfortunately called implicitly for terror measures against Jewish population.

The fact that the Sakhinin demo was more dominated by rightwing forces such as the Islamic Movement did not fall from the sky. Hadash was scattered – a sign to both the immense national polarization developing, and the certain weakening of some of its base of support among Israeli-Palestinians in recent years, as was reflected also in recent municipal elections in that city and some other towns. This sign of despair is unfortunately due to the CP/Hadash role as a party that effectively trails behind events, focusing on getting minor cosmetic law fixes, and not building a movement. Now while some of these small reforms are very well, much more could be achieved with if Hadash had the approach of building mass struggle. There are sad examples of such opportunist conduct such as electoral collaboration with the Islamic Movement in some areas, instead of setting an alternative, and the most strikingly Hadesh’s collaboration with Liberman’s party ("Israel Our Home") in Haifa, where they sit in the same coalition. In Haifa they supported the election of the current mayor from the main government party Kadima, allegedly to prevent the Libermanist candidate from taking the job. This is the explanation for the big political vacuum, and the fact that such significant demos are influenced more by rightwing organizations.

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in just 9 days, 30 of them since the ground operation began. Thousands are wounded, and thousands of houses have been destroyed in the small strip of Gaza, and of course there are also the very harmful effects on the Arab and Jewish masses inside Israel. But yet, at the end of Saturday’s march in Tel-Aviv, we heard the horrific news on the beginning of the land invasion as an opening for a new week of butchery. It will also be a new week of protests. The demo in Tel-Aviv showed that the joint movement of Jews and Arabs against the war, can and needs to be expanded, firmly in spite of the repression.

The Israeli ruling elite exploits the fears of the Israeli-Jewish working class, and these attacks are incredibly explained in one voice by the whole establishment as a “war of no choice”. They do that in order to justify their desperate attempt to escape their deep political crisis, and to erase their own humiliation from the defeats of their own strategies during recent years. But working class people will also come to realize sooner or later that they are being viciously deceived, and dragged into a bloody conflict against their interest, and they will look in growing numbers for another choice. The movement against the war must try to reach these people as well, in spite of the very difficult mood. Based on ideas of solidarity and socialism, this can be achieved. And this is the only way forward.

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January 2009