Welcome initiative

The Worker-communist Party of Iraq organised a meeting in Manchester around the theme, 'Solidarity with Palestine and Iraq'. A range of left groups across Britain were invited to speak. This reaching out by the WCPI comrades in Britain towards British socialist organisations, accompanied as it was by a clear call for the development of joint work, is very welcome indeed. Comrade N from the central committee of the WCPI opened by denouncing in the strongest terms the murderous attack by the Israeli state on the Palestinian people. It appeared that at least 500 Palestinians had been killed in the refugee camp of Jenin alone. Another 800 had been driven from their homes, which had been destroyed by the Israelis. There had been mass arrests of men between the ages of 14 and 45, who had later joined those Palestinians already detained in being forcibly branded, on their foreheads, as if they were animals. The Israeli prime minister, Sharon, had acted in this calculatedly brutal way in order to definitively end nine years of so-called 'peace process'. Islamist terrorists had, by their suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, served Sharon's war-mongering, the comrade continued. The Israeli people had the right to be safe from such terror and the WCPI condemns both Israeli government terror and the suicide attacks. However, this dual condemnation does not equate the violence of the oppressor with that of the oppressed. It has to be made clear that Sharon's state bears responsibility for all of the violence, she stated. We must demand an independent state of Palestine, free from all Israeli intervention and the trial by an international tribunal, as a war criminal, of Ariel Sharon. International protest can defeat the Israeli government, she concluded. Comrade Hussein, of the Manchester-based Coalition Against Sanctions and War on Iraq, stressed that the issues of Palestine and Iraq must be linked. The 11-year sanctions campaign against an Iraqi people already suffering the devastation wrought by the second Gulf War had led to over half a million infant deaths and to the most miserable poverty for millions - primarily the working class, whose jobs had been wiped out. Again, responsibility for the tragedy of Iraq must be firmly placed where it belongs - on the shoulders of United States and United Kingdom imperialism, Hussein insisted. He reminded us that Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, had been installed by US imperialism and that, just two days after the infamous chemical attack by the regime upon the Iraqi Kurdish village of Halabja, the then British foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, was in Baghdad signing armament deals. Expressing solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, the comrade recounted the horror he had felt as a boy, when he heard of the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps at Shabra and Shatilla in Lebanon, at an earlier stage of Ariel Sharon's career. That this criminal was now leading the Israeli state and still behaving in the same way, underlined for Hussein that here we had a state which, alone with its US sponsor, acted with impunity on the world's stage. That state must be defeated and the US and UK attack on the people of Iraq must be simultaneously defeated, he concluded, calling for support in both aims. Comrade M of the political bureau of the WCP-Iran, described how the actions of the Israeli government was pushing the Middle East to the brink of all-out war. Political islam in the region, previously a waning force, is undergoing a revival as a result of the Israeli attacks. Only an extensive, secular, progressive movement can bring peace. The first demands of this movement must be for an independent and equal state of Palestine and for an immediate end to the sanctions and threat of war on Iraq, in order that Iraqi progressives can develop as part of that movement and, in the process, overthrow Saddam Hussein. Comrade Baxter, for the SA, expressed solidarity with both the Palestinian and Iraqi struggles. The Socialist Alliance membership has differences over Palestine, primarily over whether the solution should be a unitary, democratic, secular state or two states of Israel and Palestine, he reported. However, the alliance was united in its horror at the Jenin massacre. The use of tanks and helicopter gunships against a people armed only with handguns and rifles was sickening. Agreeing with the previous speakers, he stressed his own belief that there can be no equating the violence of the oppressor and the oppressed. Suicide bombings are an attack of desperation. The enemies of the Palestinian people though, as well as the Israeli state and its US and British backers, include the ruling classes of states such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. All these had played a significant role in oppressing the Palestinians. The only solution for the Middle East is a secular one, he also agreed. The comrade concluded by stressing the important role that can be played by a solidarity movement here in Britain, with demonstrations and campaigns such as that for boycotting Israeli goods. The British working class does not like what is happening to the Palestinians, he stated. Petitions on the issue had proved more popular than ones against privatisation during the street work done so far. Disappointingly, comrade Baxter did not link solidarity with the people of Palestine and Iraq with the SA's electoral campaign. Nor did he make an appeal to the audience to support the SA in the elections. It fell to CPGB and SA member John Pearson to point out that, although demonstrations and boycotts were important, the first priority of British socialists must be to organise to defeat our own state and government. The Socialist Alliance campaign in the council elections of May 2 is an important step towards the objective of building a working class challenge that can overthrow the government of Tony Blair and prepare the way for a socialist revolution. This was the surest way of delivering solidarity to the oppressed peoples of the world, he insisted. It is to be hoped that Socialist Alliance activists in Manchester will realise the importance of this principle - the main enemy is at home - and deliver a militant and enthusiastic election campaign, at least for its final weekl John Pearson * Ta'ayush - Arab-Israeli Partnership * Gush Shalom