Not a day goes by without reports of the Zionist assault against the Palestinian people, whether land confiscated, houses demolished, or youth imprisoned or assassinated. Not a square millimeter of historic Palestine – whether in pre-’67 Israel, in the West Bank, Gaza, or Jerusalem – is considered off limits to Zionist incursion.
It should come as no surprise then, even as it evokes our further outrage, that early Sunday, September 26, the Israeli military entered the West Bank towns of Jenin, Kufir Dan, Qabatiya and Burqin, as well as the village of Bidu, northwest of Jerusalem, where they hunted down and killed five Palestinians. It was a “field execution,” declaimed the Palestinian Authority, which normally cooperates with the Zionist security forces to contain Palestinian resistance.
It is in the context that on September 18, 2021, Socialist Organizer held a forum to discuss the “Palestinian Struggle: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” The written presentations to the forum are included here: Mya Shone on historical aspects of the Palestinian struggle and why it is essential to end U.S. aid to Apartheid Israel, Alan Benjamin and Ralph Schoenman on the meaning and significance of the call for a democratic secular Palestine, and further to that discussion Alan Benjamin’s paper on the relevance of the Constituent Assembly, specifically as it developed in Peru. [Mya Shone, Alan Benjamin, and Ralph Schoenman are on the editorial board of The Organizer.]
Other speakers at the forum included Lara Kiswani, Executive Director, Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), and Mondadel Herzallah of the Arab-American Union Members Council, who described the burgeoning solidarity efforts in the United States as well as the struggle within Palestine. Mehdi Kaci, organizer of the Algerian resistance in the diaspora, addressed the relationship between the Algerian revolution and the Palestinian struggle. Their remarks can be seen in the video of the forum, which is available upon request.
In March 1988, as the first Palestinian Intifada unfolded across the West Bank and Gaza, union members, professors, prominent cultural figures, political activists and leaders, as well as religious spokespersons across the United States and internationally published a statement in The New York Times which initiated a campaign that declared boldly: “The Time Has Come: End All Aid to Apartheid Israel.”
The statement read, in part: “Apartheid Israel cannot exist without the U.S. treasury. Since 1948, $92 billion of U.S. tax money — $6 billion in 1987 alone — have financed Israel, a state built on expulsion, dispossession and subjugation. The American people have no interest in subsidizing the world’s fourth largest military power or the torment of the Palestinian people. End all aid now!”
Thirty-three years later, following the successful May 18, 2021 general strike across all of historic Palestine, Palestinian trade unions issued an appeal signed by union federations and worker associations, representing the vast majority of organized Palestinian workers. It stated, in part: “In the spirit of internationalism and solidarity, we are calling on trade unions the world over to take immediate and concrete steps to ensure that unions themselves are not complicit in supporting and sustaining Israeli oppression.”
Unions across the U.S. heeded the call and are passing resolutions with some, such as that of UPTE-CWA 9119 — a union representing over 16,000 technical and professional employees at the University of California and other colleges — pointing explicitly to the role of the U.S. government.
UPTE-CWA 9119’s June 2 resolution states explicitly that, this “conflict would not be possible without the United States’ weapons and support,” noting further that, the United States has signed an agreement with the Israeli government in which the U.S. pledges to allocate $38 billion in military aid to Israel over the next 10 years, or $3.8 billion each year. This does not include the $2.96 million economic aid to Israel annually.
The time to end all aid is long overdue. There is much to be done to educate, organize, and mobilize. We hope these presentations contribute to that effort.
— By The Editors
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The Palestinian Struggle: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Presentation by MYA SHONE
Comrades and friends,
Our Socialist Organizer forum today will explore the dynamics of the Palestinian struggle over the years — which means understanding Zionist and imperialist objectives for the region. Palestinians have been in constant struggle for their self-determination for more than 100 years — since the imperialist division of the Middle East at the close of World War I. The creation of the brutal British Mandate control of Palestine, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, was accompanied by a commitment to the formation of the Jewish state in 1948 and the dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian people. The dynamic of the struggle unfolding against the Zionist state today has its roots in uprisings in Jerusalem in 1920, Jaffa in 1921, Hebron in 1929, and especially in the three-year struggle from 1936 through 1939 which flowed from an unprecedented six-month Palestinian general strike.
It is instructive for us to look at these early years as they figure so strongly in the evolution of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
The 1936-39 revolt assumed the form of civil disobedience and armed insurrection. Peasants left their villages to join fighting units which were formed in the mountains. Arab nationalists from Syria and Jordan soon entered the struggle.
The revolt began in Nablus on April 19, 1936, when a national committee was formed, soon to be called the Arab Higher Committee (AHC). By the next month, committees had been formed in all of the towns and some of the larger villages – that is, we see the self-activation of the Palestinian people and the formation of their democratic structure. The decision to withhold taxes was taken May 7, 1936 at a conference attended by 150 delegates representing all sectors of the population. It was endorsed by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, who himself had been imprisoned by the British previously for his support of the 1920s revolts. The Mufti declared May 16, 1936 “Palestine Day” and a general strike swept Palestine with the following demands: 1) prohibition of further Jewish immigration; 2) prohibition of the transfer of Arab land to Jews; 3) the establishment of a Palestinian national government responsible to a representative council.
Meanwhile, in the countryside, armed insurrection started sporadically, becoming more organized over time. One target was the Mosul-Haifa oil pipeline of the Iraq Petroleum Company, which despite its name was owned by foreign oil companies with headquarters in London. Other attacks were on railways and Zionist settlements.
British reaction was immediate and harsh; widespread repression was unleashed. Anyone suspected of organizing or sympathizing with the general strike or other resistance was detained. Houses were blown up throughout Palestine. A large section of the city of Jaffa was destroyed by the British on June 18, 1936, rendering 6,000 people homeless. Homes, as well, in the surrounding communities were demolished.
On July 30, 1936 Britain declared martial law in Palestine and sent in large numbers of troops (estimated at 20,000) to quell the revolt. By the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, however, British forces were losing control to the armed popular revolt.
It was at this point that the British began to rely on the Zionists who provided them with a unique resource that was highly mobilized against the indigenous population. If before this the Zionists had handled many of the tasks of reprisal, they now played a larger role in the escalated repression which was to include mass arrests, assassinations, and executions. In 1938, 5,000 Palestinians were imprisoned, of whom 2,000 were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment; 148 were executed by hanging and over 5,000 more homes were demolished.
Zionist forces were integrated with British intelligence and became the police enforcers of draconian British rule. A “quasi-police force” was established to provide cover for the armed Zionist presence encouraged by the British. There were 2,863 recruits to the quasi-police force, 12,000 men were organized in the Haganah (the Labor Zionists) and 3,000 in Vladimir Jabotinsky’s National Military Organization, the Irgun.
David Ben Gurion, the first president of Israel, called the quasi-police force an ideal “framework” for the training of the Haganah. Charles Orde Wingate, the British officer in charge, was, in essence, the founder of the Israeli army. He trained such figures as Moshe Dayan, who would serve as Defense Minister in Israel, in terrorism and assassination. [endnote 1]
Against all odds, and despite the massive use of force against them, the Palestinians persisted. However, it was not the combined brute force and terrorist operations of the British and the Zionists alone which led to the end of the revolt. The failure of feudal land owners, the nascent bourgeoisie, and religious leaders, including the Grand Mufti, to support the peasants and workers fully to the end, enabled the colonial regime and the Zionists to crush the rebellion after three years of heroic struggle. In this, the British were aided decisively by the treachery of the feudal Arab regimes, who were dependent upon their colonial sponsors.
With the armed revolt quelled, the British government expanded the infrastructure used to control the Palestinian people and to suppress their struggle. These are the draconian Defense Emergency regulations, 147 regulations and additional military edicts that regulated and impinged on every aspect of Palestinian daily life including whether one could dig a well for drinking water or irrigation, plant a fruit tree, build or even repair a house, publish books or newspapers or even print a leaflet. Military tribunals were created which could detain someone without trial indefinitely for supposed security reasons. Search and seizure, and house demolitions were a matter of course. Membership in specific organizations was banned, travel restricted, and Palestinians expelled permanently. Whole swaths of Palestine were declared off limits as “security” zones, whether it was a farm owned by a family, an inhabited village, or other land.
These Defense Emergency Regulations were incorporated by the Zionist state in 1948 and extended to the West Bank and Gaza after their seizure in 1967. By mid-December 1987, before the eruption of the first Intifada, some 300,000 Palestinians had been imprisoned under conditions of sustained torture.
I want to return briefly to the role of the general strike in the Palestinian struggle. You all are aware of the significance of the unified general strike that took place May 18 this year across pre-‘67 Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. I want to refer back 34 years to the catalytic uprising of the first Intifada which began in Jabalia refugee camp in the north of Gaza on December 9, 1987.
On December 21, 1987, shortly after the uprising of Palestinian youth swept across the West Bank and Gaza, a general strike engulfed every Palestinian community under Israeli rule — the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and pre-‘67 Israel where every shop was shuttered including in the Palestinian towns and villages in the northern Galilee. As well, 100,000 Palestinian laborers from the West Bank and Gaza who wait on tables, pick vegetables, haul garbage, work at construction projects, and perform virtually all of Israel’s menial work, stayed home.
Just as the British had done over a half century previously, the Zionist response to the uprising was swift and brutal. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered up the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.) — deploying some 80,000 troops — with express orders to assassinate the youth. “They can shoot to hit leaders of disorders,” the San Francisco Examiner cited Rabin as declaring. House-to-house searches were carried out. By December 27, six days after the effective general strike, 2,500 Palestinians had been seized, many of them as young as twelve. By the end of January, the number reached 4,000 and kept on rising. Israeli high-security jails and detention centers were overflowing but the struggle continued.
The Palestinian leadership of Chairman Yasser Arafat (Abu Amar), those close to him, such as Khaled Al-Hassan who had been in discussions for many years with U.S. Secretaries of State and the C.I.A. as well as the wealthy Palestinian businessmen in exile who gave guidance and support to the P.L.O., were threatened by the mobilization of the Palestinian people moving outside the control of the P.L.O. as were the Arab states who could see in the unfolding of the Intifida the writing on the wall for their own regimes.
Pointing to the massive terror response launched by the Zionists and a supposed commitment from U.S. imperialism — which Arafat knew full well had betrayed the Palestinians time and time again — Arafat still pushed through a policy of capitulation to the Zionists at the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers in mid-November 1988. Here he won a majority for the decision to abandon the P.L.O. charter, recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, and to recognize U.N. resolutions going back to the November 29, 1947 partition of Palestine with the expectation that the imperialist powers (primarily the United States) would ensure that a Palestinian state would be recognized in whatever remnant of land remained.
This was the pre-condition for the Madrid Peace Conference, October 30-November 1, 1991, the Oslo Accords signed in Washington D.C. in Washington September 13, 1993 by P.L.O. Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and later the 1994 Cairo Accord, also known as the Gaza-Jericho Accord, which established the Palestinian Authority and its fig leaf of autonomy over a heavily controlled and guarded swiss-cheese of non-contiguous barely connected Palestinian cities, towns, and villages. Above all, a primary function of the Palestinian Authority was and has been to guarantee security for the Zionist state.
We all have witnessed and seen the results as the Zionist state in its pursuit to occupy more land through a vast network of settlements created Palestinian ghettos with a massive network of walls, roadblocks, and checkpoints in the West Bank, and Israeli-only roadways. [endnote 2]
Nor would the Madrid, Oslo, or Cairo Accords come to terms with the Right of Return for the over 5 million Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the world, including in 58 refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
The Palestinian right of return had been one of the issues whose solution had been deferred until the “final status agreement” of the Oslo Accords of 1993, an agreement which never will be reached. In 2003, during the so-called “Road Map for Peace,” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom stated unequivocally that having the Palestinians waive the right of return was a condition for even a rump state. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was more explicit. In calling the Palestinian demand of the right of return “a recipe for Israel’s destruction,” Sharon echoed all Zionist leaders both before and after him. (“Israel: ‘Right of Return’ is a Non-Starter,” Arutz Sheva, May 8, 2003) [endnote 3]
I want now to go back in time again as today marks the anniversary of the September 16-18, 1982 massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila on the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon. The numbers of Palestinian and Lebanese children, women, and men hacked to death with their throats slit and faces sliced off as well as those who were shot at point blank range will never truly be known. It has been said that one would have to build a subway under Beirut to count the numbers but the estimates range from a low of 450 to 3,500.
This massacre while ostensibly carried out by the Lebanese militia — the Phalange — was orchestrated, staged and overseen by the Israeli army under Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.
It is not only to honor the dead that we revisit this moment. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon on June 4, 1982 — which laid waste to large parts of Lebanon, particularly in Beirut and the refugee camps inhabited by Palestinian refugees from 1948, as well as Israel’s occupation of large parts of southern Lebanon until 2000 — is at root the story of the role of U.S. imperialism — not only its role in the creation of the Zionist state but how it uses the Zionist state to suppress the Palestinian people and the development of revolutionary struggle in the Arab world.
As we focus today on the Palestinian struggle itself we have to take note of the resistance to the 60-day Israeli unrelenting bombardment and siege of Beirut as another valiant example of the courage and resilience of the Palestinian fighters of the P.L.O. who with limited munitions kept the Israeli forces from entering Beirut. It was only with their departure to Tunis, orchestrated and imposed by U.S. imperialism, that the Israelis could enter and gain control of Beirut, with their tanks and troops streaming past the passive Multi-National Force (British, French, Italian, and U.S.) which had guaranteed the P.L.O that it would protect the now-unarmed Palestinian population. The massacre in Sabra and Shatila is the direct result of this imperialist betrayal.
Let us not forget that the tonnage of bombs dropped by Israel on Beirut are estimated to be the equivalent of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. On August 1 alone the Israelis fired 155,000 projectiles, averaging 3 per second and flew 300 bombing sorties over a 14-hour period.
Let us not forget Ain El-Helweh — which means Sweet Spring — situated on the outskirts of the port city of Sidon in southern Lebanon. Ain El-Helweh is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon with over 80,000 people. Over ten days in June the Israeli Air Force bombed Ain El-Helweh. This was followed by ten more days of unrelenting shelling from the sea and the mountains. But that didn’t end the plan to obliterate Ain El-Helweh. The occupying forces entered Ain El-Helweh dynamited and bulldozed the remaining houses for the last stages of a quintessentially genocidal campaign.
Let us remember that $2.5 billion of weaponry although wielded by the Zionist forces was supplied by and paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Concussion bombs, fragmentation and cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs which burn the skin off victims as well as missiles were made in the United States and purchased with grants or loans then forgiven. So were the fighter jets and attack helicopters manufactured by Boeing, Northrup Grumman, McDonnell Douglas and U.S. other corporations.
The war in Lebanon provided a convenient laboratory for testing new U.S. weaponry including an implosion bomb which leveled a ten-story building. Tremendous air pressure from the rocket sucked up the air in the building and collapsed the walls. Two hundred fifty people were killed with only two survivors, one of whom was a 75-year old man, Gibra Mahresh, who survived miraculously after sliding off his balcony. His wife, three sons and a daughter were killed in the explosion. (Interview with Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone, Beirut, August 1982)
Thus, it is here in the United States that the battle is to be waged. We must join together to end aid to apartheid Israel. That is why in March 1988, with the upsurge of the Intifada, we organized an international campaign to End All End to Apartheid Israel and for a Democratic Secular Palestine. Today, more than ever as the Democratic Party endorses ever more military funding to Israel it is crucial to educate, organize, and mobilize.
- Zionist forces carried out atrocities against the Palestinian people throughout Palestine pre-partition and afterwards: Tiberias, Safed, Haifa, Jaffa, Beisan, Acre, Jerusalem, Deir Yasin to name but a few. The list of Zionist assassinations of P.L.O. and Hamas leaders, as well as the 1980 assassination attempts against West Bank mayors and leaders in the popular movements is lengthy. Let us look, however, at some of the Zionist terror attacks against the British who had trained them. Nov. 6, 1944, the British minister Lord Moyne was assassinated by Lehi forces in Cairo. Letter bombs were sent to British officials in 1946, including Foreign Minister Ernst Bevin. On July 26, 1946 the British administrative headquarters at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed. Ninety-one people were killed and another 45 injured. Then, on September 17, 1948, less than a year after the U.N. partition of Palestine and only four months after David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, a Zionist terror squad assassinated U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte after he endorsed the Palestinian right of return.
- Since 2002, Israel has constructed more than 700 kilometers of eight-meter high concrete separation walls, 85 percent of which falls within the West Bank. As of the beginning of 2021, there are 250 Jewish-only settlements (130 official and 120 unofficial) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to between 600,000 and 750,000 Jewish settlers. Israel has erected 700 road obstacles to impede Palestinian travel and controls 140 checkpoints within the West Bank as well as between the West Bank, Gaza and pre-‘67 Israel. Then there is the capture of Palestinian land through “security” restrictions (such as along the Jordan Valley) and elsewhere. Israel has maintained a militarized barrier with Gaza since 1996 with only one crossing into pre-’67 Israel through the Erez crossing. The Gaza Strip has been under Zionist sea and air blockade since 2005. In addition, Israel has waged four genocidal wars against the people of Gaza (2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021).
- Refugees: There are 1.5 million Palestinians living today in 58 official U.N. camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem while another 5 million registered Palestinian refugees live outside the boundaries of the specific camps.According to U.N.R.W.A. there are 1.4 million registered Palestinian refugees in Gaza; 858,000 in the West Bank; 2.2 million in Jordan; 476,000 in Lebanon; and 562,000 in Syria. There are 400,000 living in Saudi Arabia, 295,000 in Qatar, 80,000 still remaining in Kuwait [see “The Ongoing War Against the Palestinian People” by Ralph Schoenman]. It is estimated that there are 255,000 Palestinians living in the United States and 100,000 Palestinians resident in European Union countries. The largest concentration of Palestinians outside the Middle East is in Chile with estimates between 450,000 and 500,000 people. Let us note as well: Within pre-67 Israel, 1.89 million or 21 percent of the Zionist state’s population are counted as Arab – the majority of whom identify themselves as Palestinian. While ostensibly Israeli citizens, Palestinians in pre-’67 Israel live under apartheid rule. ________________________________________________________________________________________
Mya Shone has been active in the Palestinian struggle since 1982. She is the co-author with Ralph Schoenman of “Prisoners of Israel” and “Homage to Palestine.” Her slide show, The War in Lebanon: An Inside View has been screened internationally. She, along with Ralph Schoenman, provided eyewitness testimony about the massacre of Sabra and Shatila before the United Nations and international tribunals. She was the coordinator of the 1988 Palestine Campaign — End All Aid to Apartheid Israel; For a Democratic Secular Palestine.
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The Call for a Constituent Assembly and the Fight for a Democratic and Secular Palestine
Presentation by ALAN BENJAMIN
This coming November 29 will mark the 74th anniversary of the Partition of Palestine by the United Nations (UN) in 1947.
The Fourth International at that time published two statements in opposition to the Partition. It was the only political current to take such a stance. It called for rejecting the Partition and all forms of imperialist interference. It called to support the Palestinian people’s unconditional right to decide their own fate, and it called for a Constituent Assembly to forge a single, secular and democratic State covering the whole of the historic territory of Palestine in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews as well as non-believers could live together with equal rights for all.
The Partition and the State of Israel
The State of Israel was established in 1948 within the framework of Partition. From 1948 to the present day, it has obeyed the “logic” which the Zionist leaders always envisaged: the permanent drive to expel and eliminate the Palestinian people. This was pointed out as early as 1940 by Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department in Palestine, who wrote:
“Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples. … We shall not achieve our goal of being an independent people with the Arabs in this small country. … The only solution is a Land of Israel, at least a western Land of Israel [i.e., Palestine], without Arabs. There is no room here for compromises. … There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer all of them, save perhaps for [the Arabs of] Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one tribe.” (“A Solution to the Refugee Problem,” reprinted in Davar, Sept. 29, 1967)
In such a context, the Fourth International put forward as early as 1947 two pre-conditions for the convening of a Constituent Assembly that would establish a new Palestinian nation: (1) the right of return of all Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes and villages (a pre-condition that would become more necessary after the massive expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, 1967, and today), and (2) the rejection by the Jewish working-class population in Palestine of the Zionist theocratic State of Israel — in keeping with Marx’s old adage: “A people that oppresses another people cannot be free.”
“The Jewish immigrants in Palestine could only hope to become Palestinian citizens in equality with their Arab brothers and sisters,” the Fourth International stated at the time, “if they renounced the status of privileged settlers, in other words if they broke from criminal Zionism.”
The PLO Calls for a Democratic and Secular Palestine
In 1968, a leadership wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Fateh, put forward the program for the establishment of a “democratic, secular Palestine.” This slogan called for the dismantling of the Zionist Israeli state and the establishment of a new state in Palestine in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews would live as equals without discrimination.
What was notable about this brave proposal was that (1) it categorically rejected any accommodation with or recognition of the Zionist state; and (2) it rejected the proposal of a Palestinian “mini-state” on the West Bank and Gaza.
PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat described his proposal as follows in a biography written by journalist Alan Hart:
“We were saying ‘no’ to the Zionist state, but we were saying ‘yes’ to the Jewish people in Palestine. To them we were saying: ‘You are welcome to live in our land, but on one condition. You must be prepared to live among us as equals and as friends, not as dominators’.” (quoted in “Arafat: Terrorist or Peacemaker,” Sidgwick and Jackson, 1985, p. 275)
A document submitted by Arafat’s Fateh organization to the Second World Congress on Palestine in September 1970 spelled out the profile of a democratic and secular Palestine even more clearly. The 1970 Fateh document stated:
“‘Pre-1948 Palestine — as defined during the British mandate — is the territory to be liberated. … It should be quite obvious at this stage that the new Palestine discussed here is not the occupied West Bank or the Gaza strip or both. These are areas occupied by the Israelis since June 1967. The homeland of the Palestinians usurped and colonized in 1948 is no less dear or important than the part occupied in 1967. … Any arrangement accommodating the aggressor settler-State is unacceptable.”
The Palestinian Revolution and the Arab regimes
The realization of such an objective, one based on democracy and the rights of people to self-determination, can only be the work of the masses themselves. Such an objective, moreover, is incompatible with the preservation of imperialist domination in Palestine and throughout the Middle East.
The Israeli State from its very inception was a colonial and colonizing power, an oppressor power in the strictest sense of the term. It is an artificial creation of the big imperialist powers, primarily the United States, without whose continued financial and military support the Israeli state could not exist.
From the very beginning, the entire imperialist scheme for the Middle East did not rest solely on the State of Israel; it also rested on the bourgeois-comprador Arab regimes and feudal potentates of the region linked to imperialism. Under these conditions, therefore, the struggle of the Palestinian people for their national rights was pitted against all the forces in the region aimed at maintaining the imperialist order.
The central axis of the struggle of the oppressed peoples of the Middle East is the struggle of the Palestinian people. For them, solidarity with the Palestinian cause is synonymous with the struggle to break with imperialist domination, for national independence, for the expropriation of the large holdings of the feudal-capitalist owners. That is why the struggle of the Palestinian people for their national rights has been and will remain one of the main levers of the revolution across the Middle East – and worldwide.
“Stop Israel’s Apartheid!”
The call for a Constituent Assembly is not pie in the sky. [See sidebar article on “The Struggle for a Sovereign Constituent Assembly in Peru in the 1970s.]
More and more Palestinians and Israeli Jews are raising the question of a democratic and secular Palestine and a Constituent Assembly in one form or another when they call for building a new democratic Palestine on the ruins of the colonial Apartheid system, or when they call for decolonizing Palestine. One of the groups that has surfaced in Palestine concludes a recent statement as follows:
“The One Democratic State Campaign presents its vision for the future Palestine as a democratic country based on the ruins of the colonial system, Apartheid, and internal tyranny; A free homeland and a free human being. Our vision is a pluralistic society, in which citizens are equal, freedom of expression is preserved, human dignity is preserved and women’s freedom is preserved. This is because freedom is indivisible, and it does not accept any violation of the rights of an opponent, or the freedom of citizens in general, under any of the obsolete pretexts and slogans such as “national security”, “warding off strife” or “no voice is louder than the sound of battle,” which are still being used by most Arab regimes.”
Another important development is the Open Letter to the International Community by 1049 Israeli Jews calling to “Stop Israel’s Apartheid!” It reads in part:
“We, Jewish Israelis, … refuse to accept the Jewish-supremacist regime. … Jewish supremacy is the cornerstone of the Israeli regime, and its consistent objective is to transfer and obliterate the Palestinian people, their history, and their national identity. This objective manifests in continued acts of ethnic cleansing by means of evictions and home demolitions, brutal military occupation, denial of civil and human rights, and legislation of a series of racist laws culminating in the Nation-State Bill, defining the State as ‘the Nation State of the Jewish People’, and them only.
“All the above effectively form an Apartheid regime creating Bantustan-like and Ghetto-like areas for Palestinian native communities. We believe that Zionism is an unethical principle of governance that inherently leads to a racist Apartheid regime that has been committing war crimes and denying basic human rights from Palestinians for over seven decades. …
“As individuals who belong to the side of the oppressor, and that have tried for years to shift public opinion in Israel in order to change the foundations of the current regime, we have long come to the conclusion that it is impossible to change the Jewish supremacist regime without external intervention.
“We call upon the international community to intervene immediately in order to stop Israel’s current aggressions, to adopt the demands of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement; to work towards the actualization of the Palestinian Right of Return and to bring about historic justice; to reach a just and democratic solution for all, based on the decolonization of the region and founding a state of all its citizens.”
This is why we must actively support the campaign to end all U.S. aid to Apartheid Israel. It is why we must promote the demands of the BDS movement, demand an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza, and call for the right of return for all Palestinians expelled from their homes and villages from 1947 onward.
It is also why we must open the widest discussion among trade unionists and activists about the need for a democratic and secular Palestine!
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Peru in the 1970s: The Fight for a Sovereign Constituent Assembly with Full Powers
Addendum by ALAN BENJAMIN
In the mid-1970s, the military government of Morales Bermudez in Peru called for convening a Constituent Assembly to “forge a transition to democratic governance.” In June 1978, elections to the Assembly were held. The Assembly was tasked with writing a new constitution and holding elections two years later. The aim was to preserve capitalist rule but with more “stable” institutions,
A coalition of four Trotskyist parties, left-wing intellectuals and personalities, community organizations, and prominent trade unionists (including some mineworker and farmworker unions) came together under the banner of FOCEP (Front of Workers, Peasants, Students and People) to run candidates to the Assembly on a platform centered around the call for a Sovereign Constituent Assembly with Full Powers.
The goal of this Constituent Assembly, the FOCEP candidates explained, must be to establish a workers’ and farmers’ government responsible to this Assembly, a government that would nationalize the oil and mining industries, as well as the huge agricultural plantations. The government also would cancel the foreign debt and break with the IMF and World Bank.
The FOCEP’s call for a Constituent Assembly was bound up with the call for national liberation and agrarian reform – the two central tasks of the proletarian revolution in the impoverished countries worldwide.
The FOCEP call gave a social content – a revolutionary content – to the call for Constituent Assembly convened by the military government. It created a revolutionary dynamic that was unstoppable. Workers, peasants, youth created Popular Assemblies (much like the soviets in Russia or the cordones industriales in Chile at the time of the Allende government) in which, spurred by the speeches and declarations of the FOCEP, they discussed and voted on their specific demands – demands that they wanted the Constituent Assembly to address.
The Popular Assemblies, in turn, began to take the form of organs of self-organization and political power. In Iquitos, in the Amazon jungle, the Popular Assembly voted to abolish the standing police and create its own popular militias for self-defense. Such was the depth of the support for the Popular Assembly that even the military government did not dare intervene.
In Chimbote, a city in the coastal region with heavy (steel) industry, the Popular Assembly created a citywide soup kitchen for the striking workers and served notice to the bosses that they had to meet the strikers’ demands, or the workers would occupy the plants. Again, worker militias took responsibility for ensuring the safety of the people. The bosses immediately agreed to the workers’ demands.
Throughout Peru, a revolutionary situation unfolded with the proliferation of Popular Assemblies; those on top could not govern as before, and those on the bottom could no longer accept the living and working conditions of the old regime, of capitalism.
The night in 1978 that the Constituent Assembly was formally convened in Lima’s legislative chamber, the FOCEP delegates submitted the Moción Roja, the Red Motion, which called on the Assembly to adopt full legislative and executive powers. The Motion demanded that the military government step down immediately – not in 1980. The Red Motion gave voice to the working-class majority, which demanded all power to the workers, peasants and youth — right now!
When the FOCEP delegates walked out of the rump Constituent Assembly after the Red Motion was voted down by the bourgeois parties, which had won a majority in the new assembly, they were met with a loud ovation by the tens and tens of thousands of working-class people gathered in the streets. Lita, my partner, and I were in that crowd; it was thrilling to witness an unfolding proletarian revolution.
This could have been the moment for the FOCEP delegates to expose the rump assembly and to call for All Power to the National Popular Assembly – that is, a call for dual power. But the tragedy of the Peruvian Revolution is that the FOCEP leaders, including some of the Trotskyist organizations, hesitated and failed to convene the National Popular Assembly, which had been set to meet one month before the opening session of the Constituent Assembly.
They failed to carry through with the call to assemble representatives from the hundreds of citywide and regional popular assemblies in a National Popular Assembly. The reasons for this failure were many, but the main reason was an unwillingness by the FOCEP and trade union leaders to seize the reins of power and turn those reins over to the people. Their rationale was that the movement had gone as far as possible for the time being, and it was now time to accept the military regime’s timetable and run FOCEP and UDP (another left-wing coalition) candidates for office in the 1980 elections.
The failure to establish people’s power through their own democratically elected National Popular Assembly created a political void on the left that would soon be filled by Sendero Luminoso, an ultraleft Maoist guerrilla group whose main targets included trade unionists and leaders of the popular organizations. What followed were decades of bloody civil war. It was a lost opportunity with grave consequences for the workers and peasants throughout the continent.
Having said this, the Peruvian experience with the Constituent Assembly is a total confirmation of what Leon Trotsky wrote in 1938 in the “Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution” on this question.* In the chapter on “Backward countries and the program of transitional demands,” he stated the following:
“It is impossible merely to reject the democratic program; it is imperative that in the struggle the masses outgrow it. The slogan for a National (or Constituent) Assembly preserves its full force for such countries as China or India. This slogan must be indissolubly tied up with the problem of national liberation and agrarian reform. As a primary step, the workers must be armed with this democratic program. Only they will be able to summon and unite the farmers. On the basis of the revolutionary democratic program, it is necessary to oppose the workers to the “national” bourgeoisie. Then, at a certain stage in the mobilization of the masses under the slogans of revolutionary democracy, soviets can and should arise. Their historical role in each given period, particularly their relation to the National Assembly, will be determined by the political level of the proletariat, the bond between them and the peasantry, and the character of the proletarian party policies. Sooner or later, the soviets should overthrow bourgeois democracy. Only they are capable of bringing the democratic revolution to a conclusion and likewise opening an era of socialist revolution.“
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*The Transitional Program, originally titled The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (The mobilization of the masses around transitional demands to prepare for the conquest of power) is a political platform adopted by the 1938 founding congress of the Fourth International.
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A Democratic Secular Palestine
Presentation by RALPH SCHOENMAN
There should be no doubt at this point in history, if ever there had been, that a self-governing Palestinian state on even one square mile of Eretz Yisrael will ever be tolerated by the Zionists – either Revisionist or Labor.
The Zionist vision for Israel reaches from the Nile up to the Euphrates. This includes all of Palestine, Jordan, southern Lebanon as well as parts of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
Shortly after the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference — the predicate of which was that the Palestine Liberation Organization recognize and guarantee the security of a Jewish state in 80% of Palestine — Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared brazenly in an interview with the Los Angeles Times:
“There has never been a Palestinian country in the Middle East. Therefore, we have never occupied territories that do not belong to us. We don’t recognize and we don’t accept the term ‘occupied’ territories. … The issue is to whom does this land belong. The moment you understand this there will be no talk about ‘settlements.’”
The Zionist enterprise has been a project for Armenianizing the Palestinian people, for destroying their identity as a people, for eradicating their social structure, their culture, their history, even their existence.
Where, anywhere, today does one hear open justification for a nakedly expressed colonial enterprise which sets forth as its objective the elimination of a people, an indigenous people, and then claims for itself entitlement to recognition of its conquest and, further, the guarantee of its security by its victims?
Did we demand of the Azanian masses that they first accept an exclusively European state on South African soil, that they ensure its preservation and subjugate themselves to it as a precondition for having the right to exist on their own land?
Did we say to the people of Algeria after 130 years of French colonial occupation that they must first embrace an exclusively Franco-European state in Oran, and guarantee its existence, preserve it and protect it.
Did the Rhodesian enterprise have first to be legitimized by the peoples of Zambia or Zimbabwe in order for them to assert their right to exist as people?
Why then this indecent exceptionalism in the case of the racist apartheid Zionist colonial settler state known as Israel?
A dependent Bantustan alongside an apartheid state is a mockery of self-determination — whether in South Africa, colonial Rhodesia, Algeria — or apartheid Israel.
We are talking here today about an elementary democratic issue.
In Israel, no less than in South Africa, minimum justice requires dismantling the apartheid state and replacing it with a democratic secular Palestine where all live together with equal rights and opportunities.
The call by the P.L.O. in 1968 for a democratic and secular society in all of historic Palestine was the minimum and transitional demand of a movement for national liberation. The uprisings of the Palestinian people in the Intifadas and the subsequent resistance as well as the growing movement among Israeli Jews demonstrates clearly that the way forward is with the struggle for a democratic secular Palestine.
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The Ongoing War Against the Palestinian People
By RALPH SCHOENMAN (July 1991)
(Published in July 1981 in The Organizer and “Iraq and Kuwait: A History Suppressed”)
In the aftermath of the Gulf war, an all-out assault has been launched against the Palestinian people. Centered initially in Kuwait and the Gulf Emirates, Palestinians find themselves under siege not only in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, but throughout the Arab world.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times (July 5 and 6, 1991), Kim Murphy describes what has befallen the Palestinian diaspora. Under the heading “Palestinian Hopes at Dead End,” Murphy describes the vast pogrom unfolding against the Palestinian inhabitants of Kuwait.
“Palestinians compare the occupation and subsequent deportation, arrests, torture, and harassment that are driving Kuwait’s roughly 400,000 Palestinians from the Gulf, to the ‘catastrophe’ (al-Naqba), the Palestinian exodus from Israel when the Jewish state was created. … A senior Kuwaiti official vowed, ‘Let them be relegated to the forgotten. … Every one of them is a ticking time bomb.’”
“Chamber of Horrors”
Mohamed Merzoug, a Palestinian diplomat who had been in charge of “general affairs” of the Palestinian population in Kuwait, depicted the secret militia and death squads set up in Kuwait under the guidance of U.S. special forces after the return of the emir.
Under the direction of former Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh As Sabah El Ahmed and another senior member of the royal family, Djerrah As Sabah, these “militia” operate in police stations and schools.
“All forms of torture have been carried out against Palestinian youth,” Merzoug told the Algerian daily El Moujahid (June 17, 1991). Palestinian women and their infants have been taken to police stations and then produced before family members “completely disfigured by torture.”
In the police stations, 50 Palestinians are held in cells 15 by 15 feet. The heat is suffocating, the air unbreathable. Women with infants are packed in these cells. “Each time an infant cries, the mother is automatically tortured. … Palestinian youth are sodomized.”
Nor are the prominent spared. Kim Murphy tells how Kuwaiti senior ranking army officers “stormed the home of Ali al Hassan, brother of Hani al Hassan (Yasir Arafat’s close adviser). They shot him in the legs and ribs. Fifteen young Palestinian supporters have not been seen since.” (Ibid)
The home of the widow of recently assassinated Palestinian leader Abu Iyad was raided and destroyed. Bearing all the features of a pogrom, these savage attacks have not been confined to Palestinian political leaders. One prominent Palestinian businessman was assaulted in his home at 3:00 a.m. by ten militia “soldiers” who “took his three-year-old daughter and beat her hands with a rifle until they were broken.” (Ibid)
Describing the systematic raids under the orders and command of the brothers of the Emir, Murphy concludes: “Kuwait, home of the richest community of the Palestinian diaspora … has become a virtual chamber of horrors for Palestinians.”
A War of Attrition
The reign of terror against Palestinians in Kuwait has been replicated throughout the region. Qatar has expelled virtually its entire Palestinian community. Five of the six Gulf states have prevented Palestinians from remitting earnings to the West Bank and Gaza and have suspended aid that had exceeded $1 billion over a decade.
Saudi Arabia has removed Palestinians from key government ministries. Foreign Ministry officials in Egypt announced that Arafat “has not been and will not be invited to Cairo.”
Bishara A. Bahbah disclosed in a document titled “Economic Consequences for the Palestinians,” a hidden agenda underlying the war of attrition being waged against Palestinian inhabitants of the Arab states, notably in the Gulf.
“The … final blow came with the crisis in the Gulf and the loss of substantial Arab aid to the Occupied Territories. … At the outset of the Intifada, per-capita income in the West Bank and Gaza was $1,600; now it is no more than $800.”
A drop of 50 percent in earning for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is only the initial effect of the cut-off of funds from the exiled Palestinian population to Palestinians under Israeli control. The more than 200,000 Palestinians who have fled from Kuwait have lost $150 million. Palestinians remaining in Kuwait have lost $270 million, seized by the authorities.
Bahbah estimates that total annual losses in income to the Palestinian population exceed $1.4 billion. These figures do not include $12 billion of lost property, securities, stocks, and other assets plus an additional $5 billion of Palestinian deposits in Kuwaiti banks, which have been seized.
In addition, the economic pressure on Jordan led to an immediate 20 percent drop in the value of the dinar, crippling, thereby, the purchasing power of Palestinians in both Jordan and the Occupied Territories.
The pogrom against the Palestinian people has been carried out against a backdrop of seizure of property and assets comparable to the wholesale confiscation of Palestinian property, land, and assets carried out by the Zionist movement in the wake of its own forced expulsion of the Palestinians.
“Bringing the Resistance to its Knees”
Kim Murphy makes clear that the purpose of this assault is to bring the Palestinian resistance to its knees inside the territory occupied by Israel. Under the heading “Gulf War Still Rages for Arabs in Occupied Lands,” Murphy writes:
“An estimated 60 percent of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have lost their jobs. … For those still working, the answers, are wait and see. ‘Our life is like the life of a dog, and the lives of dogs are better than ours now.’ Said Ahmed, 35, an agricultural worker who stood on the roadside on a recent morning to see if any farmers needed help that day. He supports a family of 12 living in one-and-a-half rooms in Gaza’s legendary Jabaliya refugee camp, the birthplace of the Intifada.”
The cut-off funds from outside have been matched by a concerted effort by the Israeli authorities to starve out the Palestinian population. “The Gulf War is still being waged in the West Bank and Gaza. Massive unemployment, sharply reduced agricultural production, a cut-off of wages sent home from family members in Kuwait … have threatened to strangle the three-year-old Intifada more effectively than the Israeli armies’ attempts to stamp it out. (Ibid)
All 1.75 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were under curfew during the war. Factories have shut down, employees have been prevented from going to work and crops have been abandoned, decaying in the fields.
“The result: more than half the workers from the West Bank and Gaza have lost their jobs. Travel restrictions between cities have made it difficult for factories to start up again. Total agricultural production is down 80 percent. Several West Bank economists have estimated the total loss to the Palestinian economy … is about $600 million, more than a third of their annual income.” (Ibid)
In many villages unemployment has reached 90 percent. Families are surviving on flour and oil. “There has been almost no meat or vegetables since the war began. Water is pumped only twice a week. Raw sewage runs along paths. Most villagers now drink from buckets.” (Ibid)
These conditions in the West Bank and Gaza are being replicated in Israel. Soviet immigrants are given jobs that had been performed by Palestinians. Whole villages are without work or income. “’The problem is, the Israeli authorities are trying to starve the Palestinians. … The Israelis think, because of this policy, they can impose any solution on us,’ said Said, a Haifa construction worker whose job went to a Soviet émigré.’” (Ibid)
“War on the Camps”
On March 8 a secret meeting took place in Damascus between officials of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and the United States, where it was decided that the 20,000 Palestinian fighters in Lebanon who protect the refugees camps would be disarmed.
The decision to wage yet another “War on the Camps,” targeting the only sector of the Palestinian diaspora capable of self-defense, is explained by Youssef M. Ibrahim in the July 8 New York Times. Ibrahim concludes that it is not only Israel which is seeking to destroy the Palestinian movement, but also “leading Arab countries, including Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.”
The armed attack on the Palestinian camps in Lebanon is inseparably linked to the war being waged against Palestinians in the Gulf and within Israel. Nor was the attack directed against “guerrillas.”
“The economic standards, education, and living conditions of Palestinians, be they inside the Occupied Territories or in exile, have seriously deteriorated,” Ibrahim writes. “In the Gulf, those who used to make up the wealthiest segment of the estimated 4 million dispersed Palestinians are being chased out of Kuwait and other oil-producing Arab countries.
“In the Occupied Territories, formal education has come to a virtual halt, merchants have gone bankrupt as the price paid for continuing the Intifada. Finally, the flood of Soviet Jews to Israel is changing the balance of population.” [emphasis added]
Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister “plans to ask for U.S. guarantees on $10 billion in loans it needs to fund housing and jobs for Soviet immigrants.” (Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1991)
Prison conditions in Israel were described in 1978 by Israeli investigative reporter, Yair Kutler, as “hell on earth.” Their dramatic worsening since the Gulf War is but a component of the coordinated, if undeclared war upon the entire Palestinian population. The unprecedented hunger strike with which 17,000 Palestinian political prisoners have answered their Israeli tormentors, expresses that indomitable spirit which has sustained the Palestinian people throughout their long ordeal.
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[To learn more about the Zionist plans for Palestine and the Middle East, see “The Hidden History of Zionism” by Ralph Schoenman at http://www.takingaimnow.com/hhz/index.htm and available in book form from The Organizer Newspaper at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.]