Palestine and anti-semitism

The morning session held on 'Palestine and the struggle for freedom' was, unsurprisingly, well attended, says Mike Speed

Ariel Sharon's brutal campaign of repression against the entire Palestinian people is rallying activists across the globe behind their cause. Not least in Israel itself, where a movement from below that supports the right of the Palestinian people to form a state of their own is gaining momentum. Part of an international group of peace activists that went to the West Bank to resist and protest non-violently against Israeli aggression, Mortaza Sahib witnessed the barbarism of the recent incursion of the Israeli Defence Force at first hand. In his opening, Sahib detailed numerous human rights abuses - elderly men detained for days without adequate food or water, hospitals raided and denied access to supplies, homes bulldozed, etc. In short he paints a vivid picture of the terror inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians in a so-called 'war on terror'. Eventually, Sahib and his fellow activists were thrown out of the country - but not before the IDF had volleyed off a few live rounds in their direction to emphasise the fact that they were unwelcome guests. Jamal El-Shayyal, speaking on behalf of the Muslim Association of Britain, took issue with the term 'occupied territories'. The whole of Palestine is an occupied territory, he insisted. Implicitly, Israel will have to be destroyed and the national rights of the Israeli jews trampled on for Palestine to be freed. Unfortunately, though it approaches the question from a different angle, the economistic left's disregard for democracy ultimately leads it to the same conclusion. Ghada Karmi, from the Association of Palestinian Communities, focused on the question of anti-semitism. It is wrong to equate anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel with anti-semitism, she argued. Correct, but while anti-semitism was and is predominantly (though not exclusively) a "western problem"�, there is undoubtedly anti-semitic and Arab chauvinist sentiment among some sections of both the solidarity movement with and among Palestinian people themselves. In response, Helen from the SWP argued from the floor that "we should be the best fighters against anti-semitism"� in the movement. Quite right. Chauvinism in all its forms must be combated. Leila Khaled has, of course, done much to raise the profile of the struggle of the Palestinian people. During 1969-70 she participated in a series of spectacular plane hijackings as an activist for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine aimed at raising the plight of the Palestinian people on an international stage. Like other speakers, she linked their cause to a worldwide struggle against oppression and imperialism and emphasised the importance of solidarity in western nations. She also defended the right of the Palestinian people to use violence to resist Israeli aggression and win their national rights. This provoked a critical comment from one speaker from the floor (speakers were not obliged to give their names and occasionally did not), who suggested that violence would "achieve nothing"�. But what are the Palestinians supposed to do? Sit on their hands while their homes are bulldozed? Violence used by those resisting oppression is fundamentally different to that of those who use it to deny a people their rights. However, recognising this distinction does not mean that revolutionary socialists and communists support or alibi suicide bombings deployed against the Israeli-jewish population in the service of a reactionary and chauvinistic programme to 'persuade' Israeli-jews to leave Palestine. This is not a defence of fundamental rights, but a murderous attack on the rights of others.