Month: July 2014

Fear and Loathing in the Gaza Strip

by Cygnus

The Israeli state is now responding obediently to the rabid colonist chants of ‘Death to the Arabs’ and to the graffiti around al-Quds that in English and Hebrew reads ‘Gas the Arabs’. In a backdrop of systematic starvation, a ground invasion of tanks, assisted by the deployment of toxic gas has begun this week, with homes and hospitals being destroyed and entire families being wiped out.

As expected, the corporate media have buried any mention of the Palestinian experience of colonisation: the ongoing Nakba remains absent, resistance is terrorism, and the Israeli state is merely ‘responding’ to rockets from Palestinians who break ceasefires they didn’t even hear about. Thankfully, Palestinians in Gaza have challenged the imperial and colonial narratives by using social media, such as Twitter, and writing on news/analysis sites, such as Electronic Intifada. Without this, many people in the world would remain lost in the undignified and distorted world of the Zionist narrative.

Sadly, there one notably unsavoury character who has modelled himself as a promoter and defender of the ‘Palestinian perspective’, while in reality expertly fashioning himself into an institution. Harry Fear is a beneficiary of Palestinians being denied – as Edward Said termed it with clinical accuracy – “permission to narrate”. He has carved out an orientalist niche somewhere between the unabashed, self-congratulatory rich kid talking about his gap year volun-tourism shit with ‘the poor’, and the embedded war-reporter who pretends to give a fuck about the whirlwind of carnage prop that makes his 5-minute report for the evening news so “oh, dear” inducing for his audience.

He made this niche during the Zionist slaughter of Gaza in November 2012, and subsequently went on a world tour to talk about Gaza. At the outset, many of us watching his reports thought he was a welcome alternative to the corporate media coverage. This was quickly proved false. He describes himself as a “documentary maker & activist” – a slightly ambiguous description of someone who simply actively documents his white male self amid a colonial ethnic cleansing campaign of Arab people.

Look at his website. It is exhaustingly hard to believe that this site is about anything other than him. Gaza is the background to his show. No links to activist groups. No reblogging of or reference to works by Palestinians (or any other people, for that matter). No reference to Palestinian organisations or individuals working with him. There are two different links take you to the same page – his blog. Five different tabs on the left, with his smug, pasty face looking back at you from the right side of the page. He’s even got his own fucking logo – an ‘H’ next to an ‘F’, because these are the initials of his name. Harry Fear. HF

Harry got invited to do a TEDx talk in Copenhagen. The theme was ‘challenging realities, the mainstream media & you’ – because he is the alternative to mainstream, remember? He does not come across as a passionate activist or documentarian. He is self-indulgent, and well warmed and nurtured by his white, male, upper-class privilege. His body language and speaking style convey an absurd degree of self-satisfaction, with his annoying pursing of lips, and sharp intake of breath to punctuate points, like a 1960s BBC reporter, doing a piece on the monarchy, and trying to make it seem acceptable to the proles. If viewed for the first time, having never heard of him, in the context of a pub, for example, he’s what you’d call a wanker.

Indicating the point where he left Gaza for an extended trip up his own arse, Harry makes a video entitled ‘Harassed in Gaza: Internationals Under Threat’. Basically, it’s 2 minutes 47 seconds of him walking up to an Israeli state controlled border and getting warning shots fired at him. He stoically concludes “all in a day’s work for an international journalist.” Harry has the luxury of entering and leaving Gaza when he wants. A “day’s work” is choosing to use the IOF to show how dangerous Gaza can be for ‘Internationals’ (ie. Harry) in an unnecessary provocation of Zionists (who, admittedly, shouldn’t be there anyway).

Harry’s suspect motivations and ideology have already been identified by Palestinians and other (decent) international activists. Last year, he put up a list of books on his facebook page about Palestine that he recommends people to read, because he is an authority on the matter, after all. This list of books included one Palestinian and no women. Comments on his page highlighted this but he deleted whole lot. Fortunately, some comments were saved here: https://o.twimg.com/2/proxy.jpg?t=HBgpaHR0cHM6Ly90d2l0cGljLmNvbS9zaG93L2xhcmdlL2NuMGljZS5qcGcU-AgUrgoAFgASAA&s=mLosYlbJ0EadOdVNiu6oat7M0Dhi2YnAx75GcNUjpI0 (copy & paste into address bar to read). Speaking at the Islamic University of Gaza, he is challenged by a young woman about this. He responds with the usual condescending style, chiding the woman, saying, “firstly, I want to say that I don’t appreciate the confrontational tone.” He then goes on to expound a bit of orientalist theory with: “I do not believe in freedom of speech 100%… and judging by the hijab on your body, you probably also don’t, because neither does Islam.” Muslim women: Harry can identify your political ideology just by gazing at your head.

A succinct summary of the deeply problematic nature of Harry’s comments, approach and behaviour is given by Maha Rezeq here. “As Palestinians,” she writes, “many of us are extremely offended by his inaccurate accounts and exaggeration, presumably to simply boost careers potentials.” Despite these very serious problems, expressed by Palestinians, Harry continues to gain media coverage. In its coverage of the recent spate of massacres in Gaza, Russia Today has been praised by activists for its anti-Zionist angle. However, they invited the self-promoting, one-man-institution for an interview, as they have done many times before. There are 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, but they choose the white upper-class Englishman.

It has been established that the corporate media values an Israeli life over a Palestinian life. Looking at the comments on Harry Fear’s videos, it would seem that for some people, a privileged white voice is of more value than a Palestinian voice. Comments on his videos regularly feature gushing praise and sycophantic compliments, from people of all backgrounds. What really is the appeal here? Harry is offering nothing in terms of news and analysis that Palestinians in Gaza cannot. Is it perhaps that people, realising the very real danger the Zionists pose to Gaza, find some sort of muted amusement in the fact a white posh kid with a comically over-inflated ego is actually in the besieged enclave? Or, perhaps more likely to western viewers, the boy deserves kudos for ‘reporting’ (read: vlogging on himself) in Gaza while being more ‘like them’ than a Palestinian?

Those who identify as activists no longer have any excuses for behaving like a Harry Fear (not that he qualifies as an activist). A good start for those who are still lost would be Ramallah Bantustan blog by Mariam Barghouti. Written with such clarity, empathy and political nous, one article methodically works through the various political and cultural problems and issues that have emerged with westerners becoming involved in Palestine solidarity activism. Harry Fear epitomises virtually all the negatives enumerated by Mariam.

Harry is back in Palestine again. Zionist oppression of Palestinians is again another few lines on a curriculum vitae. There are many activists and international ‘journalists’* who have in fact heeded the guidance of Palestinians. They see them as intellectual and moral equals, and respond to their demands accordingly. They do not need to do a world tour and they do not need a logo. The work for the liberation of Palestine as a secondary, complementary element of the struggle, led by Palestinians themselves.

*In Palestine, code for any white person with a camera, ability to use a word-processing document, and internet access.

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The Legal and Moral Right of Palestinian Resistance

By Cygnus

 

Well I hate it when the blood starts flowin’

But I’m glad to see the resistance growin’

– Gil Scott Heron, Johannesburg

 

The majority of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are refugees from the 1947-49 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Since 1967, the tiny enclave of (now) 1.5 million people has been under belligerent occupation. The most recent spate of attacks on the defenceless, highly populated area were in the form of aerial and naval bombardment, using hundreds of tonnes of high explosives. The bombing by the Israeli state of the besieged Palestinian territory is congruent with the history of colonial oppression from Zionist forces. Resistance against the Israeli state by Palestinian groups occurs to varying levels of intensity, from symbolic attacks with no military gain, to self-defence through damaging Zionist machinery and weapons. Nonetheless, Palestinian acts of resistance are not viewed as such in the west, with the word itself virtually remaining absent in the lexicon of western journalists and political commentators.

The very idea that Palestinians using force against the Israeli can be considered ‘resistance’ is alien to the corporate media and the western public generally, the former having a clear and direct influence on the opinion of the latter. The BBC prefers to adopt a narrative that presents those fighting against Zionist oppression as militarily and politically equal to the 4th largest army in the world. This narrative omits to mention that the state is an occupying power, and that Palestinians have no navy, no army and no air force to defend themselves.[i] Unabashed, the BBC stands with the aggressor: one of their journalists, Jonathan Marcus, dedicated an article to cogitate over the military limitations of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. “The Gaza Strip,” he sagely observes, “is a tiny-cockpit – especially for mechanised forces.” He then goes on to describe the Operation Cast Lead massacre (2008-09) as “a bitter three-week struggle.”[ii] The Israeli defence minister at the time chose to describe the campaign as a “Holocaust”.[iii]

At the time of writing, 100 Palestinians have been killed in four consecutive days of bombing – the vast majority being civilians. At 18 months old, the two youngest victims were Mohammad Malakiyeh and Ranim Jawde Abdel Ghafour, while the oldest is 80-yea-old Naifeh Farjallah.[iv] UN OCHA reported that “the targeting and destruction of residential properties in Gaza is the main cause of civilian casualties.” The people of Gaza live permanently in the crosshairs. There has been resistance to this latest bout of ethnic cleansing, by Hamas, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad. Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas) fired a number of rockets at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Nevatim military airport in the south of 1948 Palestine. The al-Quds Brigades (IJ) claimed responsibility for rockets fired at Israeli town, Nir Oz. The Ali Abu Mustafa Brigades (PFLP) fired a combination of home-made projectiles and rockets at Israeli towns surrounding Gaza.[v] On the 8th and 9th of July, Palestinian fighters swam from Gaza to an Israeli military base in 1948 Palestine, only to be killed in short fire fights. Five were killed on the first day, and two on the second.[vi]

It must be emphasised that according to customary international law, armed resistance is not controversial, but is in fact a right of all peoples fighting colonialism or occupation. The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed this on a number of occasions, the most explicit and significant being the following two.

UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/3246 of 29 November 1974:

2. Renews its call to all States to recognize the right to self-determination and independence of all peoples subject to colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation and to offer them moral, material and other forms of assistance in their struggle to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence;

3. Reaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation form colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle;

7. Strongly condemns all Governments which do not recognize the right to self-determination and independence of peoples under colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation, notably the peoples of Africa and the Palestinian people;

UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/23/34 of 29 November 1978:

2. Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle;

3. Reaffirms the inalienable right of the peoples of Namibia and Zimbabwe, of the Palestinian people and of all peoples under alien and colonial domination to self-determination, national independence, territorial integrity, and national unity and sovereignty without external interference;

As the resolutions show, the right to armed resistance is subsumed under the fundamental right of all people to self-determination. The Zionist project has aimed, since its inception, to not only deny Palestinians this right, but to exile them from their homeland, through various military, political and legal means, or exterminate those who remain.

Speaking in the context of the al-Aqsa Intifada (2000-05), UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Richard Falk, argues the legal angle regarding Palestinian rights and resistance. As the occupying power, the Israeli state is obliged by the 4th Geneva Convention to protect the human rights of Palestinians and their prospects for self-determination. Instead, it has defied international law by refusing to withdraw from the occupied territories, and has continued to ignore UN resolutions and to violate the fundamental rights of Palestinians. The military occupation itself has engendered the Palestinian right of resistance.[vii] It is the structural violence of the occupation that dictates how individuals and groups see themselves and the oppressor. This perspective shifts the understanding of resistance from a legal question to a moral one.

It is elemental to the success of a settler colonial project that violence is used: the replacement of one people (the indigenous) with another (the colonists) requires ethnic cleansing by definition. Frantz Fanon, writing in 1961 on the Algerian Revolution, points out that “the colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time tries to hide this aspect of things.”[viii] Conversely, the Palestinian resistance can derive its legitimacy from international law and from – by virtue of undergoing colonial occupation, moral norms. The coloniser and the colonised can never be morally equal and must be seen as opposites; the uprooting and genocide of a people is an inherent wrong in any decade or country, and has no moral foundation, although the settlers will use any religious, ethnic or historical pretext for it. Resistance against Zionism does not need a legal text for justification – this is a purely human phenomenon of land, violence and belonging. It would demean the people if we were to urge those resisting to consult the law before deciding to defend themselves against colonists. Fanon captures the root of the issue in its entirety: “National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonisation is always a violent phenomenon.”[ix]

Armed resistance has legal and moral justification, and the UN calls upon states to assist oppressed people in their struggle for self-determination. For western states to acquiesce to this call, a paradigm shift would have to occur. Were they to do this, they would be undermining their diplomatic support for Zionism, and would – to avoid contradictory policy – have to cease the funding and arming of the Apartheid state. This would also hinder their own neocolonial projects by legitimising the resistance in Iraq, for example. Undeniably, Palestinian resistance will not receive any support – tacit, symbolic or concrete – from any western state. However, the support from the grassroots campaigns and civil society in imperial countries is growing.

 

[i] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28241273

[ii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28214803

[iii] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/mar/01/israelandthepalestinians1

[iv] http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/victims-gaza-list-palestinians-killed-israels-ongoing-assault

[v] http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=711161; http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=711410

[vi] http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=711522

[vii] http://www.merip.org/mer/mer217/international-law-al-aqsa-intifada

[viii] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 66

[ix] Fanon, p. 27

An alternative to Partitionist thinking in the Post-Good Friday era

by Pádraig Ó Duirnín

Writing just over a century ago in March 1914, James Connolly, with a canny farsightedness, predicted that the partition of Ireland would lead to a ‘carnival of reaction both North and South, would set back the wheels of progress, and would destroy the oncoming unity of the Irish Labour movement and paralyse all advanced movements while it endured’.[1] The primary determinant of partition was not the Protestant Unionist population in North-East Ulster, largely reactionary as it might have been, but the over-arching role of British Imperialism in Ireland. The Anglo-Irish Treaty which institutionalised partition was agreed upon in London, and the British negotiating party faced by the representatives of the incipient Free State included Lloyd George, Austen Chamberlain, and Winston Churchill, not Carson or Craigavon.

Connolly’s ‘carnival of reaction’ of course came to pass, with the establishment of a deeply conservative, ultra-Catholic agrarian state in the South, the ideological remnants of which have yet to be fully overcome, and a sectarian ‘Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people’ in the North. The forward march of Irish Labour was well and truly halted. The violent suppression of the Civil Rights movement amongst the Catholic Nationalist community in the Northern six counties led into the conflict euphemistically known as ‘the Troubles’ between 1969 and 1998. For thirty years, the British state did not hesitate to deploy a force of over 20,000 troops to streets which were supposedly as ‘British’ as Birmingham or Liverpool.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, amidst the height of the conflict, [Provisional] Sínn Féin adopted a political programme known as ‘Éire Nua’ (New Ireland), which called for a ‘federal, democratic socialist republic based on the Proclamation of 1916’. The federal system envisaged would include the establishment of four Parliaments based upon the traditional provinces of Ireland, including Ulster, but on a nine-county basis (also including Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan, then and now part of the South). Various political criticisms can be made of Éire Nua – in an article for The Blanket written in 2002, Seaghán Ó Murchú bluntly described it as a document deeply coloured by corporatist-Christian socialist thinking, a document ‘not red enough for the Marxists, certainly green enough for the left, but too nationalistic for the peaceniks’.[2] Nonetheless, it represented a relatively progressive, reasonably coherent Republican political alternative not just to partition but to existing economic doctrine North and South of the border, the likes of which have not been seen since.

Éire Nua was eventually supplanted as the Southern-based leadership of Sínn Féin was replaced by the Northern-based group around Gerry Adams in the early 1980s, a leadership for which ‘the military domination of the republican strategy drowned out the calls for political alternatives in a post-British island-wide government’.[3] It can be argued that the present position of Sínn Féin as the administrators of a reinforced, albeit slightly more generous partition settlement is in part due to the lack of a coherent, developed political programme within the Republican movement once the military avenue had reached inevitable exhaustion.

Sínn Féin and the Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) brought an end to a conflict which had undoubtedly run its course, but nonetheless, neither the agreement nor Sínn Féin’s policy approach since have succeeded in addressing the fundamentals of the issue of partition; the GFA was an attempt to deal with what is seen as an inter-communal problem in the North, rather than a matter between the British state and the Irish people as a whole. With the GFA, the political concession gained by Sínn Féin was recognition by Westminster that their political position in the North could become that of state-legitimated representatives of a particular community in the Stormont Assembly. Given the nature of enforced coalitions within the Stormont system, –which exist in order to prevent a return to the sectarian one-party state which existed before 1972 – Sínn Féin in the six counties, like the SDLP, UUP, and DUP, cannot be voted out of power, therefore operates politically with two core purposes:

a)     Seeking dominance of the Nationalist ‘side’ against their primary community rivals, the SDLP. This goal was accomplished at the 2003 Assembly elections and was maintained after restoration of Stormont in 2007. Sínn Féin have finished second to the DUP at every Northern election since.

b)    the demographic game, with the eventual expectation that the Nationalist ‘side’ will one-day outnumber the Unionist, at which point a border poll can be called with the agreement of the Northern Ireland Office at Westminster, reuniting Ireland through the achievement of a particular majority in that part of the country which remained under British control in 1922. The British Northern Ireland Secretary still maintains the right to over-ride the result of any poll.

Whilst the SDLP are in decline as a political force, having lost over 80,000 votes in the North since 1998 (indeed, British intelligence described them as an ‘aging party’ as early as 1983)[4], of late an electoral challenge has begun to arise at a local level, with the election of ‘dissident’-aligned Republicans such as Gary Donnelly in Derry, and more conventional left-type groups such as People Before Profit in Belfast, amongst several other independent Republican and/or Socialist candidates. Lack of progress after sixteen years of the GFA over resolving the issue of partition has gone hand in hand with Sínn Féin’s administration of the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition’s cuts in the North, whilst it postures as the ‘anti-austerity’ option south of the border.

The 1916 Societies and ‘One Ireland, One Vote’

In recent years, Republicans in Tyrone frustrated at these developments and in the political direction of Sínn Féin have formed a group known as the ‘1916 Societies’ – grassroots, autonomous local branches of which now exist across Ireland, and to which the Scotland-based James Connolly Society are now also affiliated. Rather than looking towards short-term electoralism, the Societies have worked on in areas such as anti-eviction campaigns, providing direct assistance to some of the nearly 200,000 families in the twenty-six counties threated with foreclosure since the Irish economic crisis, as well as in campaigns against internment and sectarian parades in the North. Whilst the Societies have arguably not entirely broken free of the under politically developed communalism rife in the North, (as critiques from the Anarchist Workers’ Solidarity Movement suggest)[5], they have nonetheless moved a Republican perspective back towards a decommunalised understanding of partition, one in which the relationship between the Irish people as a whole and British imperialism is the key dynamic.

At present, and particularly important in the context of the Scottish independence referendum on the 18th September, the Societies have launched a campaign calling for ‘One Ireland, One Vote’. ‘One Ireland, One Vote’ is of interest particularly because it represents a break from the Westminster-approved politics of Good Friday, in that it does not accept partition as a fait accompli, but also from the blinkered militarism which led the Republican movement into that corner: the all-Ireland referendum it calls for is fundamentally a citizens’ initiative. Whilst a new political programme for a united post-partition Ireland approaching the depth of ‘Éire Nua’ does not yet appear to be on the Societies’ agenda, the ‘One Ireland, One Vote’ campaign provides fruitful circumstances for the development of such a programme, as the upcoming Scottish referendum has produced a variety of such visions on the other side of the Irish Sea. Even if the prospect of immediate success is somewhat limited, the framework the campaign presents should nonetheless be given attention by Republicans and Socialists interested in moving towards an Ireland which can overcome both the geographical and social consequences of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

 

 

[1] James Connolly, ‘Labour and the Proposed Partition of Ireland’

[2] http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/cidecenen.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-25465593

[5] http://www.wsm.ie/c/republican-publication-1916-societies-sectarian-agenda

 

Author can be found on twitter: @fernetower