Build on success

Last Saturday's militant and often inspiring demonstration should be seen as the start of powerful solidarity campaign demanding justice for the Palestinians, and a democratic settlement based on two states for two peoples. Over 25,000 people marched through central London on May 19 in an event organised jointly by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Muslim Association of Britain. A wide range of political and religious groups and individuals of various nationalities marched from Hyde Park and a similarly broad array of speakers were assembled on the platform for the Trafalgar Square rally. Of course, in order to keep everybody on board, the organisers had agreed to limit official slogans to the uncontroversial, ambiguous and downright vacuous: "No justice, no peace', 'Palestine will be free', 'Occupation no more', 'Palestine demands a state'. The state concerned could be a secular, democratic entity, enjoying equal status with Israel, or it could be an exclusivist, possibly muslim, formation that merely reverses the poles of oppression. Although invited pro-Palestinian Conservative MPs refused to attend, there were a good number of pacifists and liberals who joined the left, Palestinian, Israeli and other organisations, who were united in their opposition to the brutal occupation. There were many muslim contingents, mostly from the mainstream, who were at pains to distance themselves from the hard-line islamists of the Hamas/Al Qa'eda type. For example, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth handed out leaflets explaining the peaceful nature of islam, while those of the Friends of Al Aqsa highlighted the discrimination and hardship suffered by Palestinians. The Islamic Human Rights Commission called for a boycott of Marks and Spencer. Its leaflet claimed: "Our concern is not with M&S's jewish roots, but its historic and continuing support for Israel." Some groups went further, demanding a boycott not only of Israeli goods, but of everything made in the USA too: ""¦ if you continue to buy them, you are buying the bullets to kill children, women and innocent people in Palestine". None of these groups called (openly at least) for the destruction of the state of Israel. It was a different story though for the ultra- reactionaries of such organisations as Al Muhajiroun, who held placards reading, 'Palestine is muslim'. They chanted, "Skud, Skud Israel" and "Gas, gas Tel Aviv", along with their support for bin Laden. Two would-be suicide posers were dressed in combat fatigues with a 'bomb' strapped to their waists. This section accounted for no more than 200-300, but they made a noise far out of proportion to their numbers. In Trafalgar Square they hurled abuse (and a few missiles) at Tirza Waisel of the Israeli group, Just Peace, who, after calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and a settlement based on a viable Palestinian state, had the temerity to point out that "the suicide bombings are not helping" and are "a waste of young lives". The treatment of this courageous woman reflects badly upon the whole movement. The islamist fundamentalists attempt to sabotage any possibility of Israeli-Palestinian unity around a democratic programme - both on the ground in the Middle East and in solidarity movements abroad. They ought to have no place on our demonstrations - we must organise to exclude them. Even the Socialist Workers Party - which pretends to believe that to oppose the fundamentalists is to oppose all muslims - was distinctly uncomfortable with the anti-semitic chants in Hyde Park. The SWP response was to organise some counter-chanting by a handful of comrades who, unlike Al Muhajiroun, were not even armed with megaphones. And of course 'George Bush, shame on you. Daddy was a killer too' was not exactly a devastating riposte. In truth the SWP, along with most of the left, are disarmed in the face of the reactionary islamists. They insist on seeing something progressive in their 'anti-imperialism'. Their suicide attacks, viewed as the actions of the oppressed pure and simple, must, it seems, not be condemned despite the overtly anti-working class, anti-jewish nature of the programme which inspires them. So Terry Conway of the International Socialist Group could write of the attack on Tirza Waisel: "I think what she said could be rather easily interpreted as drawing an equals sign between the suicide bombers and the Israel state" (Socialist Alliance discussion list, May 21). True, comrade Conway was "horrified" at the incident, but she, along with other comrades, stated their disagreement with the Peace Now representative's assertion of the rather obvious fact that the suicide bombings were, to put it mildly, counterproductive. Despite the unwelcome presence of Al Muhajiroun, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive. Weekly Worker sellers encountered no hostility from islamic, Arab or Palestinian marchers. The only people to object to our 'Two states for two peoples' headline were members of other left groups. By contrast our comrades were approached by many people of Middle Eastern origin who wanted to read what we had to say. The occasion was hardly a "race-hate march", as one comrade from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty absurdly described it (Jim Denham, SA discussion list, May 20). Israeli contingents, including comrades from the Matzpen socialist group, were by and large warmly received. Jewish and Israeli speakers in Trafalgar Square were applauded for their expressions of solidarity. Leading SA activist Mike Marqusee (introduced as representing the Stop the War Coalition) said he was "proud to be a jew", and added to cheers: "All religious backgrounds are outraged at what Sharon is doing." Naomi Wayne of Jews for Justice was also applauded (and heckled by Al Muhajiroun) for a speech in which she demanded an end to the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state: "We want Israel to have a secure future, but not at the expense of the Palestinians," she said. A group of ultra-orthadox religious jews (for whom the state of Israel is a 'blasphemy') waved Palestinian flags from the platform and were praised by the PLO speaker. The rally was also addressed by Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway, and by union leaders Paul Mackney (Natfhe) and John McFadden (Unison), but there was no speaker who put forward a democratic solution based on the independent working class. This is where there is much work to do. Our Socialist Alliance comrades are, for the most part, steeped in economism and have no grasp of the necessity of a consistently democratic approach. The SA must end the disastrous policy of tailing the fundamentalists. Our programme must be based on the leadership of the working class - the only class that can ensure a genuinely democratic solution. Peter Manson