Sunday 18 January 2009

Palestine and the Unions

While I'm sure everyone shares my relief that Israel is temporarily stopping its bombing and open warfare in Gaza, we shouldn't get too carried away with that relief.

Israeli troops remain in Gaza, and the siege which has inflicted so much suffering on the Palestinians is tighter than ever. The open warfare could start again at any time.

I was delighted that my own MP, Gerald Kaufman, spoke out so forcefully against the recent Israeli atrocities, arguing against using the holocaust against Jews to justify today's brutality.

The contrast with the UK government stance could not be more stark. At a time when surely we should be imposing an arms embargo, boycotting goods and using diplomatic sanctions against Israel, our government's response is to offer the use of the British navy and other resources to tighten the siege on Gaza!

Much of the coverage of this one-sided slaughter focuses on Hamas as much as the actions of the Israeli state. It is easy to forget that one side of this fight is the occupier, while the other is resisting occupation with meagre resources. I am reminded of the scene in the film "The Battle of Algiers" when a journalist interviews one of the Algerian leaders:

Journalist: M. Ben M'Hidi, don't you think it's a bit cowardly to use women's baskets and handbags to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?
Ben M'Hidi: And doesn't it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.

In discussions at work, one point that comes out more and more strongly is the parallel with apartheid South Africa. Here we have a state founded on the principle that one racial group is treated worse than another, a state armed to the teeth and playing a major role in "policing" its neighbours. Now that he's treated almost like a saint, it's easy to forget that Nelson Mandela defended the ANC's use of armed resistance (terrorism) against the apartheid state. It's easy to forget that opposing apartheid was controversial - until we won.

To those who doubt that unions should get involved in contentious international issues, I suggest that we should take pride in the role the labour movement played in opposing apartheid, and that we must have the same courage today.

In that context, I was delighted that UNITE had a speaker on last weekend's demonstration against the Israeli attacks. I hope this will continue. I will be on today's demonstration in Manchester. There are demonstrations all over the country and another national demonstration in London on 24th January.

A good way to get people at work talking about Palestine is to do a collection for one of the charities such as Medical Aid for Palestine, Interpal or through TUC Aid.

We need to ensure that the tidal wave of support for the Palestinian cause is sustained beyond the immediate crisis, so that eventually they can secure justice and peace.

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