Know your enemy

Tony Greenstein looks at the obstacles placed in the way of the pro-Gaza mobilisations by Egypt and Hamas

In the past two weeks, two large international mobilisations have sought to break the western media’s silence regarding the siege of Gaza. I am no believer in conspiracy theories, but does anyone believe that if China were to lay siege to part of Tibet and refuse access for medicines and food, having just waged war against a civilian population, killing 1,400 of them, that there would be next to no publicity in the western media?

The Gaza Freedom Marchers arrived in Egypt intent on entering Gaza and bringing a message of solidarity to their inhabitants. Amongst them there were some 400 Americans. Likewise the second Viva Palestina convoy, with some 200 vehicles, containing medicines and other humanitarian relief.

Both initiatives ran up against the Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak, a vicious police state, which is also a key American ally in the Middle East. In the name of defending Egyptian sovereignty, Mubarak’s goons and police repeatedly attacked and harassed the marchers. All without so much as a word of protest from Obama, Brown or Sarkozy. Indeed the US embassy called upon the Egyptian police to protect them from their own nationals! This culminated on January 8 with the deportation of George Galloway MP and his aide, Ron McKay, as they crossed from Gaza.

When the convoy reached the Jordanian port of Aqaba, they expected to sail immediately down the straits to Egypt and then drive across to Rafah and Gaza. Instead Mubarak demanded they sail to Rafah from the Syrian port of Latakia. Why? To try and wear down members of the convoy. Finally on January 7, having been viciously attacked in Rafah by members of his security forces, with a number of members injured, the convoy was finally able to enter Gaza. Or at least about 150 vehicles were allowed to do so. Having no shame, Mubarak demanded that the remaining 50 vehicles be routed via Israel!

Likewise the Gaza Freedom Marchers were denied access to Rafah or Gaza, but eventuallyin an attempt to divide and rule 100 of them were given permission to go. As a result of a prolonged dispute within the ranks of the GFM less than 60 in the end chose to cross into Gaza, as Heddy Epstein, an 85-year-old survivor of the holocaust and one of the marchers, began a fast in protest.

And those who did in fact make the journey to Gaza found that it was very different from what they had been led to believe. Like Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, Hamas too is afraid of its own people. The GFM were isolated from the people in civil society with whom they had planned the march in the first place.

Israeli journalist Amira Hass, writing in the Israeli liberal newspaper Ha’aretz, cited the experiences of the marchers in her article, ‘Pro-Gaza activists under siege - imposed by Egypt and Hamas’:

“At midnight, about 12 hours after leaving Cairo, we arrived at a hotel in Gaza. There the first surprise awaited us: a Hamas security official in civilian dress swooped down on a friend who had come to pick me up for a visit, announcing that guests could not stay in private homes.

“The story gradually became clear. The international organisers of the march coordinated it with civil society, various non-governmental organisations, which were also supposed to involve the Popular Committee to Break the Siege, a semi-official organisation affiliated with Hamas. Many European activists have long-standing connections with leftwing organisations in the Gaza Strip. Those organisations, especially the relatively large Popular Front, had organised lodging for several hundred guests in private homes. When the Hamas government heard this, it prohibited the move. ‘For security reasons.’ What else?

“Also ‘for security reasons’, apparently, on Thursday morning, the activists discovered a cordon of stern-faced, tough Hamas security men blocking them from leaving the hotel (which is owned by Hamas). The security officials accompanied the activists as they visited homes and organisations.

“During the march itself, when Gazans watching from the sidelines tried to speak with the visitors, the stern-faced security men blocked them. ‘They didn’t want us to speak to ordinary people,’ one woman concluded.”[1]

Amira Hass, incidentally, is not a normal Israeli reporter. She is unique in having lived amongst those she has reported on, both in Gaza City and Ramallah. Her parents survived the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp and she was arrested and fined for having gone on a protest boat to Gaza when she re-entered Israel.

In the two weeks since the arrival of the Viva Palestina convoy and the Gaza Freedom Marchers, one thing has been abundantly clear. That the Palestinians do not simply face a Zionist enemy intent upon expelling them from the Greater Land of Israel. Their enemy includes imperialism in all its manifestations - from the Mubarak regime, the prostitute of the Nile, so abject is this regime in its servility to the west (for which it receives $2 billion aid from the USA - the largest such subvention after Israel itself), to the Palestine Authority in Ramallah on the West Bank.

There would, of course, be no siege of Gaza, but for the complicity of the Egyptian regime. Israel controls three of Gaza’s borders, but the fourth is shared with Egypt, which has faithfully carried out the orders of Obama and Netanyahu.

Throughout the siege of Gaza one thing has been clear. And that has been the complete silence of Israel’s Palestinian partners in the PA in Ramallah. Not a word has been spoken criticising the Egyptian regime’s attack on the GFM or Viva Palestina. Quite the contrary. Mahmoud Abbas and his underlings completely approve of what Mubarak has done. Because the aim of these quislings is to oust Hamas, as the elected government in Gaza, and replace them with another quisling leadership.

In much the same way Abbas did not criticise the attack and invasion of Gaza in December 2008, so this corrupt group of gangsters did not breathe a word this time around either. There are those, not least the Socialist Action leadership of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, whose support for the ‘national bourgeois leadership of oppressed peoples’ is such that they cannot deign, in any circumstances, to criticise them. The idea that different classes amongst the oppressed might have different interests, which also impinge on the national struggle, is alien to these ex-socialists.

But although, in the best traditions of Stalinism, it is convenient to ignore the truth, one year ago it was staring you in the face. As Curtis Doebbler wrote in Al Ahram, the most prestigious newspaper in the Arab world, “From the Palestinian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva - where the UN’s main human rights bodies sit - has come an ominous silence. The mission did not even respond to requests for any statement they might have made in relation to the situation in Gaza, and none could be publicly found a week into the Israeli aggression. A week into the worst aggression ever carried out against the Palestinian people in such a short period of time, there was no call for a special session of the Human Rights Council, no harsh condemnation of Israel’s actions. The diplomats in Geneva were possibly busy enjoying the holidays.

“… Informed observers within the UN have wondered out loud why the Palestinians have not pushed for quick general assembly action. Even the newest ambassadors to UN headquarters know that the US will block any action against Israel, as they have done in the past in relation to Israel’s use of force against US assets.”[2]

As Doebbler also noted, “According to a Lebanese newspaper, Abbas has ordered 2,000 Fatah militants to the border with Gaza, apparently with Israeli and Egyptian permission, to overrun the elected government of prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza.” That is why the term ‘quisling’, when applied to Abbas and his cronies, is not inappropriate. The Palestine Authority is the fruit of the Oslo accords of 1993. The accords have, as I predicted, been a big disaster for the Palestinians. They replaced the Israeli military and police with those of Palestinians. But apart from that there has been little change.

Indeed it was an open secret that one of the reasons for the PA withdrawing its resolution to the UNHCR endorsing the Goldstone report was because of a tape which Israel threatened to disclose revealing that Abbas’s closest aides had urged Israel to prolong the attack on Gaza last year.

It is also revealing that the Socialist Action leadership of PSC in Britain, on learning of the news of Abbas’s actions, was not only mortified, but acted like rabbits caught in the headlights of a car. In the end they solved their dilemma by linking to an anti-Goldstone article in Ha’aretz -‘Israel to UN body: come to your senses on Goldstone report’: “Israel on Thursday urged a key United Nations human rights body to ‘come to its senses’ and reject a controversial report accusing the Israel Defence Forces of war crimes during its military offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter”[3]

But there is one group of Palestinian ‘supporters’ who went one worse than PSC’s leadership. The anti-Semitic Palestine Think Tank website, set up by Gilad Atzmon and Mary Rizzo, deplores these criticisms of an Arab regime. We should only criticise Jews or Israel! We must pay heed to Arab national unity and like Socialist Action ignore class divisions. Indeed for failing to give due respect to the Egyptian dictator Viva Palestina should apologise to Mubarak! Never mind the iron wall that Mubarak’s regime is building, courtesy of the US Corps of Engineers, to seal off Gaza entirely. Thus wrote Haitham Sabbah.[4] Such is the logic of those who reject an anti-imperialist analysis of the situation in Palestine in favour of a racial one.

The question arises as to what strategy the Palestinian people should adopt. In the short term there is no doubt that they should heed the advice of the late professor Israel Shahak of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, a noted civil rights activist and anti-Zionist. A childhood survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and Belsen-Bergen, Shahak recalled the beginnings of the Jewish Resistance Organisation (ZOB) and how its first task was to eliminate the spies and collaborators with the Nazis:

“In late winter 1943, [in fact it was 1942] a well-known Jewish spy for the Nazis was killed by the Jewish resistance in one of the entrances of the double block of flats [in Leszno Street, Warsaw] which we then inhabited. This was a necessary part of the preparations for the Jewish revolt which followed not long afterward.”[5]

Until the Palestinians eliminate the quisling regime that governs them there can be no liberation. But equally, although Hamas has managed to retain its independence, as opposed to abjectly surrendering like the Fatah leadership, it also seeks an agreement with Egypt and Israel. Behind its bombast about a unitary Islamic state stands its readiness to accept a two-state solution. As the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas also seeks to impose a repressive Islamic rule over the Palestinians, one of the most secular parts of the Arab people, not unlike that of their Iranian supporters.

The experiences of the GFM, in their own small way, demonstrate that Hamas does not trust ordinary Palestinians. We should only support Hamas (not because of, but despite, their politics), in so far as they oppose the attacks of Israel and its Arab partners, but without illusions as to their reactionary social and economic policies.

But the present attack on the Palestinians demonstrates, more clearly than anything else, that it is impossible to remove the rule of Zionism and the threat that it poses of ‘transfer’ from the entirety of Palestine, by relying on their own resources and support from the Arab states. It is only when revolution threatens the Arab sheikhs and kings, princes and presidents, as the junior partners of the USA, that Zionism, its regional ally, will also be forced to contemplate the abandonment of its policy of apartheid and ‘transfer’.

The attacks on Viva Palestina and the GFM, in their own small way, demonstrate who are the enemies of the Palestinian people.


  1. Ha’aretz January 8 2010.
  2. Al Ahram January 8-14 2009.
  3. www.palestinecampaign.org/Index7b.asp?m_id=1&l1_id=2&l2_id=14&Content_ID=862.
  4. http://palestinethinktank.com, December 29 2009.
  5. www.connexions.org/CxLibrary/Docs/CX5019-LifeOfDeath.htm.