Archive for the ‘Israel – Palestine’ Category

The Promise: Review

February 25, 2011

To make a TV series about the origins of the state of Israel is to walk into the lion’s den, so inevitable are the criticisms made by supporters, armchair and actual, of each ‘side’. It is then no small achievement that Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise (Channel 4) largely succeeds in drawing out the key themes of the conflict through a compelling drama which gives the conflict a human face.

 The four part series is split between two moments in history, the twilight years of the British mandate of Palestine in 1946 and the second Intifada of 2005. To tie the two the narrative is divided between Sergeant Len Matthews, part of the British occupying force, and his granddaughter Erin.

The opening shots reveal that Len, a paratrooper, took part in the Liberation of Bergan Belsen concentration camp, unflinchingly showing footage of the camps to highlight the huge role that the industrial slaughter of the Holocaust played on the collective memory of the Jewish people post-1945.

From Belsen Len is moved to Mandate Palestine, where he is forced to guard camps of Jewish refugees that are teeming off ships such as the Exodus, carrying refugees from Europe to their promised land. To say Len is pro-Jewish or pro-Zionist at this point would be too clear cut, but it is clear that after witnessing the horrors of Nazism he believes the survivors deserve something better.

From here Len is thrust into the developing Jewish insurgency, led by the underground Irgun. As the series develops he survives the bombing of the British HQ at the King David Hotel, an ambush by guerillas, and a betrayal by his Zionist girlfriend before he is finally held hostage while his friends are executed.

For Len the story arc is clear, his sympathies great as they were for the Zionist cause turn to hatred of the Irgun and leads to his own tragedy, which isn’t revealed until the final part.

As an example of storytelling The Promise falls to some of the predicable plot devices which beset many historical dramas. Characters inevitably fall in love, discover unknown historical connections and consistently find themselves at the centre of unfolding events.

From a historical perspective it also sidesteps some hugely significant aspects of the conflict. The central story arc throughout the Mandate section of the drama frames the conflict between the Zionist guerilla group, the Irgun and the British occupies. This ignores the fact the British army initially armed and trained the official Jewish defense force, the Hagganah and that the Jewish Agency of David Ben-Gurion operated as a semi-open shadow government, while it was the more extreme groups such as Irgun and the Stern Gang which carried out terror attacks, such as the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946.

The most important aspect of the conflict from this period which is missing is of course the Palestinian Arab population, portrayed by a single family. This not only ignores the fact that the Arab population formed the overwhelming majority of Palestine at this time, but similarly overlooks the role Arabic groups played in the struggle against both British occupiers and the Zionist movement. Indeed the British decision to limit Jewish immigration in 1946 was not, as the film implies, a decision taken in London alone, but was a concession to Arab rioting. The story also ignores the Arabic guerilla movement which carried out attacks on both British forces and the Jewish Agency, revealing that like their Jewish adversaries, the Arabs played the roles of victim and fighter both.

In the modern scenes the major flaw, beyond the contrived relationships and coincidences used to drive the plot, is the character of Erin, who seems at best indifferent to her environment and at worst willfully ignorant to its complexities as she shops in Tel Aviv and stomps around the West Bank.

Erin’s story begins with the discovery of her now ailing grandfather’s diary, days before she is to take a tenuous journey to Israel to spend her gap year living with the parents of her best friends, who has been called up for national service with the IDF.

From start to end Erin is intent to strop her way through cultural and political sensitivities; inviting a former Palestinian prisoner to dine with her host, who is a retired general; forcing an elderly Palestinian man to visit the home he left 60-years before and of course becoming romantically connected to both the former militant and an Ex-soldier.

She, perhaps inevitably, is also witness to the suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv cafe, making the not at all subtle, but important, demand for the viewer to consider the parallels between the Irgun terror campaign, and that of Hamas. Thankfully Kosminsky doesn’t use the parallel to justify the latter, but to condemn both.

The set up of Erin’s story, based around her discovery of Len’s diary, is quite a jarring cliché, already done in numerous novels and more successfully in Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom. In Land and Freedom the entire story of the International Brigader is told through the diary, which is being read by a granddaughter after he has died.

In Erin’s case however the diary is used more like a treasure map, making her travel throughout the West Bank to piece the story together, allowing the viewer to see the modern repercussions of the mandate era. The obvious flaw here is that you’d be forgiven for thinking Eric could simply read the entire diary or just call up and talk to Len, who we’re told has been making a fine recovery in her absence. Of course this wouldn’t allow for the slowly developing narrative.

These flaws however are forgivable, used as they are to help signpost key points or explain context. Indeed it would take a writer/director of some genius to explain the Arab-Israeli conflict to a new audience without them. Only the harshest critic would condemn the director for making a film which doesn’t pander to the purest political analysis, but is able to frame the conflict progressively, and more importantly, with a human face.

Throughout four episodes Kosminsky succeeds in drawing out the key themes of this unending modern tragedy; the post-war decline of Empire, the gradual transformation of a brutalised people from the role of victims to oppressor, and the fact that no matter the side or allegiance the people of each side play the roles of victim and fighter both.

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CWI In Lebanon Release Statement on Flotilla Attack

June 2, 2010

Peace activists murdered by reactionary Israeli army

www.socialistworld.net, 01/06/2010
website of the committee for a workers’ international, CWI

Build a mass movement to break the sanctions on Gaza!

Aysha Zaki, CWI Lebanon

The following is the translated text of a leaflet (in Arabic) that is being distributed in Beirut today by supporters of the CWI in Lebanon during a mass protest against the massacre of peace activists by the IDF last weekend.

Socialistworld.net

The Committee for a Workers International (CWI) in Lebanon, and internationally, offers sincerest condolences to family and friends of the activists murdered by the reactionary Israeli army while on a humanitarian aid mission. We salute the courage of all those activists, who organized this aid intervention, and we demand a safe passage through to Gaza for the 750 people from 40 different countries intent on breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

The boats that the Israeli soldiers attacked were carrying food, medicines, and materials to build prefabricated homes for the people of Gaza. One and a half million Palestinians remain prisoners of the largest open-air jail on earth, since Israel’s siege on Gaza began in December 2008. The blockade of Gaza has meant unemployment rates of over 50 percent. The World Bank has stated that 90 per cent of water in Gaza is not suitable for human consumption, 80 per cent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day and 70 per cent depend on charity for food supplies. Chronic malnutrition affects 15 per cent of Gaza’s children and its serious consequences for their cognition and growth will be felt for years to come. Israel’s army has demolished 15,000 homes, destroyed schools, factories and services, and even demolished minarets from mosques. The illegal weapons used against the people of Gaza have killed hundreds and wounded thousands of civilians, including children.

The attack on the freedom boat is just the latest act of the Israeli regime’s violence and more evidence of the mad aggression of the Israeli government. Now there are angry protests in the streets of Gaza, Palestine and all over the world by many thousands of people demanding an end to the Israeli regime’s brutal oppression of Palestinians. The CWI is participating in these protests internationally and is part of building a mass movement against the racist, repressive and vicious Israeli regime. This capitalist government is supported by many regimes, both Arab and Western, in its repression and exploitation of the Palestinian masses and in its continuous military occupations and economic sanctions.

Arab regimes fail Palestinians, again

For Palestinian workers and the poor, this is the time to be united, in an independent mass movement of workers and the poor, inside and outside of Gaza. Such a movement is the only force able to break the siege and to open the borders. It would appeal to workers and the oppressed in the region to join the struggle for liberation and for an end to capitalism and barbarism. The Palestinian political factions have show, once again, that they are incapable of leading the Palestinian masses to liberation and workers and the poor, those paying the price for the policies of the ruling elites; need to rise up against the system of colonial wars and mass poverty. All Arab regimes, and all mainstream parties, are unwilling to call for the masses to break the siege on Gaza, as they fear that this will lead to an independent mass movement that will swipe them away from power. They are unstable and unpopular regimes, which are tied to the political and economic pressure of the big corporations.

The slaughter carried out by the Israeli armed forces on the freedom boats has drawn condemnation around the globe. But statements made by embarrassed UN diplomats and politicians all fall short of forcing an end to the siege, as they all, including the outspoken representatives of Turkey and Lebanon –two countries in conflict with Israel – are ruled by big capital and await a green light from US imperialism.

Protests erupted on the morning of this brutal slaughter, with hundreds of people in Lebanon, and tens of thousands across the region, taking to the streets, horrified by the senselessness of the Israeli regime. And while many feel that a war is unlikely at this moment in the region, during ‘negotiations’, most people would still not rule out the risk of another Israeli military attack on any resisting force in the region. What is clear is that the weakened Israeli government is trying to re-establish itself as a military might in the region, and for domestic reason, sending a message out that no one can break the sanctions which are aimed at Hamas and which are punishing civilians for supporting Hamas.

While Hamas’s popularity has been decreasing recently because of their domestic policies (mainly economic but also social), these sanctions and this new slaughter will, if no mass movement is built and no socialist alternative is on offer, lead a number of desperate youth to look to the policies and methods of Hamas. This shows, once again, the urgent need for a socialist alternative to help build a mass workers’ movement to break the siege and for the overthrowing of the brutal capitalist system in the region and internationally.

We say:

Release the detainees now!

End the sanctions on Gaza – Open the borders!

For a mass movement of workers and the poor in the region against capitalism

For an end to war and poverty – for world socialism

Gaza: Stop the killing of demonstrators, lift the blockade immediately

June 1, 2010

[Ed: this is a quick translation and slight edit of an initial response to the killing of protestors on the international aid ship, posted on the website of the sister party of the Socialist Party in Israel, the Socialist Struggle Movement, (the Committee for a Workers’ International in Israel) at http://maavak.org.il/maavak/?article=664 . It was posted on 31/05/2010.]

The Socialist Struggle Movement in Israel brings here an initial response following the killing of protesters during the IDF takeover of the international aid convoy last night. We call on everyone to participate in demonstrations and protests to be held tonight at the weekend.

Close to 20 protesters were killed and others wounded last night during a violent, right-wing government initiated raid against the protestors on the international aid flotilla on Monday, [bringing aid to the besieged Gaza Strip]. Like previous protests, the demonstrators did not endanger in any way the security of Israeli residents. This time, helicopters were sent… missile boats, commando forces, and 200 officials were waiting for them, outside Israel’s official territory, to drive them from Gaza.The Israeli government cynically disclaims responsibility. But we do not need a commission of inquiry to understand that the responsibility for the killing of protestors lies on the shoulders of ministers and senior officers. While there is a media blackout on the details, the press tells us that soldiers were attacked in one of the ships using various objects.

But the IDF soldiers did not have to be there. In reality, the army is used to… trample the right to protest. Ministers, their generals and their kept journalists, are trying to divert attention from the policy of aggression by the destructive, oppressive government of Bibi – Barak – Lieberman, including the siege and occupation of Gaza itself, as well as the wild and racist incitements against the Arab – Palestinian people in Israel. The government of Israel, a warmongering government which suppresses the Palestinians, also damages the long-term interests of the residents of Israel.

 The Socialist Struggle Movement in Israel proclaims that the only way out of such disasters and other horrors of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is the construction of a broad social movement of Israelis and Palestinians unifying Jews and Arabs, against the instigators of “divide and rule”, against the siege and occupation, against all oppression and discrimination, and which stands for democratic national rights equal for all, and for the overthrow of the corrupt capitalist elites in the region.

The Socialist Struggle Movement supports the expansion of the socialist struggle and will participate in / calls for participation in the protest demonstrations to be held tonight at 19:00 in Tel – Aviv (in front of the Ministry of Defense base Ono), Jerusalem (Paris Square) and Haifa… More demonstrations are expected over the weekend.

We urge you to share with us, Jews and Arabs, the following protests/chants:

  • Protest is not terrorism – remove the siege
  • Security is not built on demonstrators’ bodies
  • Racist government – security threat
  • It’s not safe, it’s a disaster – the government lies…
  • Generals and ministers – Stop the killing of demonstrators
  • End the use of soldiers against civilians
  • No cover-up …
  • Jews – refuse to be enemies of the Palestinians
  • Invest in education – not siege and occupation
  • Yes to rehabilitation medicine – no more wars
  • To remove the siege / dismantle settlements / overthrow the wall / eliminate the separation / smash racism /
  • End the occupation

Israeli Forces Storm Aid Flotilla: A Socialist Response

May 31, 2010

Israeli Forces Storm Aid Flotilla: A Socialist Response

In the early hours of Monday morning Israeli commandos stormed the flotilla of aid ships which was attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza. While details are continuing to emerge it is believed that at least 19 of the activists on board the ships have been killed, with at least 20 more injured. 10 Israeli soldiers are also thought to have been injured.

While any socialist must condemn this violence and express solidarity for the family of those killed, this action raises urgent questions about how the Palestinian solidarity movement, including socialists, should express that support and solidarity.

The eight ships, which carried over 600 activists made up mostly of peace campaigners, including politicians, children and the elderly, was intercepted in international waters, at least 65km from Gaza. Israeli commandos stormed the lead ship Mavi Marmara, which sailed under a Turkish flag. It is unclear if the Israelis faced resistance, IDF sources have claimed some activists attempted to fight with ‘sharp objects and knives.’ (Update: Footage on the BBC and Al Jazerra reveals individual acts of resistance on board the ships, with organisers on board appealing for calm.)

Each of the eight ships were boarded, injured activists were flown to a hospital outside Tel Aviv for urgent treatment, while the fleet is being sailed to the northern Israeli port of Haifa where it will be impounded, and the activists will be immediately deported.

A Tragedy Exploited?

As soon as news of this tragedy broke it became inevitable that the airwaves would be filled with propaganda and spin from all sides as attempts are made to exploit the tragedy for political advantage.

From the Israeli side from the apparently omnipresent government spokesman Mark Regev was swift to state that the flotilla was an “armada of hate and violence”, while claiming the organisation has links to jihad movements with a history of terrorism and conducting smuggling operations.

While sources from the government, the IDF and Israeli media have differed in their details the theme has been the same: Israel was upholding the blockade against the terrorist organisation Hamas. The flotilla aimed to break the blockade, which therefore supports Hamas and therefore the IDF were within their legal rights to take action. The fact this violence happened in International waters has been ignored.

In contrast Hamas have also been quick to exploit the situation calling for all ‘Muslims to rise up against Israel’, while issuing similar inflammatory statements to heighten tensions. Clearly all socialists and progressives do not identify with such calls.  

Who is to Blame?

While the Israeli authorities should be condemned for the violence and should be held accountable it is clear that the organisers of the flotilla must also face stark questions about their role in this tragedy.

The naval blockade of Gaza is a military operation in an extremely dangerous area, so should the fleet of aid ships have included hundreds of activists, children, politicians and elderly campaigners? What constructive role could such people have played on this fleet? 

The question must be asked: Did the organisation want aid to reach Gaza, or did they want the aid to be seen to reach Gaza? Organisation spokesmen have already stated that the 10,000 tonnes of aid on board the flotilla was ‘a drop in the ocean’ of the aid needed in this humanitarian crisis zone, acknowledging that the fleet was a largely symbolic operation, an act of solidarity and defiance.

While such action is clearly well intended and commendable, it meant the project was either inevitably going to either fail, or result in violence. The Israeli authorities stated clearly, from the moment the flotilla left Turkey, that the naval forces would not allow the ships to pass and if they did attempt to break the blockade they would be intercepted. This warning was so clear that Turkish politicians, NGOs and humanitarian organisations, acknowledging this threat, urged the Israelis to show restraint.

If the organisation wished to truly break the blockade, then a hugely publicised effort with 8 ships filled with 600 peace activists was clearly not the way to achieve this. If the aim of the organisation was the get aid, no matter the quantity, into the Gaza strip, a clandestine smuggling operation, with no direct publicity, would have been a more sensible, if illegal, approach. Indeed groups of Egyptians and Palestinians, illegal and not, have been smuggling material into the strip through tunnels from the Egyptian border since the blockade began. 

If, as is more likely, the aim was to be a symbolic gesture of defiance, the organisation should have learnt from its previous efforts. The first three attempts to break the blockade, using one small boat, were successful. While the last three, using larger well publicised, convoys or fleets, had been turned back.

While the Israeli authorities are ultimately to blame for the deaths and injuries through their disproportionately violent response, the organisation must accept that sailing 600 peace activists, including children and the elderly, through a naval blockade in an active war zone was either reckless, negligent or naïve.

How should Socialists Show Solidarity? 

 For Socialists the position is clear, the working class, in both Palestine and Israel, is the only section of society able to end the blockade of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank and the Israel-Palestine crisis as a whole.

Firstly the crisis must be approached from the clear class perspective that a socialist should approach any other scenario. The Israeli – Palestine question can not, and must not, be seen as a conflict between “aggressor Israelis and victim Palestinians”, or “Terrorist Palestinians and Victim Israelis” and it certainly must not be seen as “Muslims against Jews”. The crisis is not as clear cut as that, it is a crisis where both the Israeli and Palestinian people are made to suffer due to a right-wing ruling class in Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and the corrupt Palestinian leadership of Fatah in the West Bank and the reactionary and violent extremists of Hamas in Gaza.

The Israeli leadership are responsible for grave war crimes, as seen during last years invasion of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. During both conflicts the Israeli army (IDF) attacked civilian targets causing huge loss of life.

The blockade of Gaza has created a humanitarian crisis, as has the partition wall built through the West Bank. Both actions must be recognised as war crimes, yet both are crimes of the leadership, not the Israeli people. In the United Kingdom we know that governments act against the wishes of the people, in 2003 2 million people marched against the invasion of Iraq, yet the Blair government took the country to war. In Israel there is an anti-war movement, the people are not war hungry, the IDF is a conscript army, and yet the war continues.

In the West Bank Fatah, the founders of the PLO, have become a corrupt clique of a party, which is why they lost their mandate to govern in the Gaza strip. In Gaza the Islamist Hamas government is an ultra-right wing militia group who openly target Israeli civilians and actively suppress genuine Palestinian democracy in the Gaza strip.

Clearly Socialists can not support any of these groups, but must support the Israeli and Palestinian working class, union movements and Socialist organisations. Israel is one of the only nations in the Middle East where workers can organise trade unions and political parties openly without police brutality and suppression. Indeed the Mavak socialist party has organised anti-war campaigns linking up Israeli and Palestinian workers, and it is only initiatives such as these which can end the crisis.

For a Socialist Middle East

Socialists, and the Palestinian solidarity movement as a whole, must reject the rhetoric of either leadership and must not be duped into supporting a ‘national side’, but must support the people in both countries. We must support the building of a strong Israeli and Palestinian trade union movement, and call for the creation of a genuine mass workers party, which will unite the people of both Israel and Palestine to replace the corrupt, aggressive leaderships with a genuinely democratic socialist state.

In the short term the call for two states, with the working class at the helm, is the only solution. As the right to self determination is a key right for socialists the long term solution can be two states – a Socialist Israel and a Socialist Palestine, in a wider Socialist Federation of the Middle East. 

As this latest tragedy, and its political ramifications, are watched around the world, it is imperative that Socialists and progressives are not drawn in by the propaganda of either side, but maintain a principled socialist position, pointing to a genuine alternative and a real solution to this sixty year crisis.