Israel and the Future of the Antiwar Movement
Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians should be a moment of truth for the U.S. left. The fact that “about 55 percent of all casualties at the Beirut Government University Hospital are children of 15 years or less,” according to journalist Dahr Jamail, should dispel the myth that Israel’s latest incursions are acts of “self-defense,” as Israel’s many apologists claim.
The Bush administration’s rush shipment of precision bombs to aid Israel’s onslaught last weekend should be a wake-up call for those on the U.S. left who purport to follow antiwar principles, yet until now have failed to take a clear stand against the Israeli manifestations of the U.S.’s so-called “war on terror.”
To do so would require acknowledging that the U.S.’s wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were meant to be mere stepping-stones in a strategic plan aimed at establishing U.S. dominance over the entire Middle East.
With the U.S. occupation of Iraq rapidly descending into bloody civil war, Israel is providing an alternate route toward achieving those shared goals--for U.S. domination over the Middle East ensures Israel’s domination as well.
Look no further than the mainstream media to verify this revelation. The Washington Post argued on July 16, “For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East, U.S. officials say.”
This requires crushing Arab organizations fighting for self-determination in Gaza and Lebanon.
Acknowledging this simple fact, however, also requires admitting the crucial role played by Israel as the U.S.’s historic regional partner in enforcing its Middle East policy.
Yet United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the largest national antiwar coalition, argued in a July 18 “action alert”: “We condemn Hezbollah's attacks on Israeli civilians, and we condemn the Israeli assault in Gaza and Lebanon.”
The statement repeated the mainstream media’s depiction of Hezbollah’s seizure of Israeli soldiers and firing rockets into Israel as “irresponsible acts.” Echoing liberal commentators, UFPJ criticized Israel for its “disproportionate” response -- as if Hezbollah started the conflict and Israel is guilty only of over-reacting.
In reality, the conflict is many decades old and intricately tied to Israel’s historic role as the U.S.’s watchdog/attack dog in the Middle East.
Israel’s ridiculous claim that it attacked Lebanon to get its soldiers back is belied by Hezbollah’s repeated attempts to exchange the two Israeli soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel (a common practice in the past). But Israel has no interest in a prisoner exchange because the captured soldiers provide the excuse for using its full military might against Hezbollah.
Israel’s plan to attack Hezbollah has been in place for well over a year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the Chronicle, “In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal ... By 2004, the military campaign ... had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board.”
Israel’s goal was clearly articulated on July 22 -- by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who stated that the United States opposes a ceasefire until Hezbollah has been destroyed as a significant fighting force in southern Lebanon. “I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante,” Rice scoffed.
Democrats have been vocal cheerleaders for Israel, taking turns with Republicans at pro-Israel rallies across the country. At one such rally, Sen. Hillary Clinton condemned the “unwarranted, unprovoked attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah and their state sponsors,” calling them “the new totalitarians of the 21st century.”
These accusations are absurd. Israel invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in 1982 -- the last of its troops pulling out only in 2000. Hezbollah gained its legitimacy as a resistance movement by finally driving Israel out of Lebanon.
The violence of an occupying force cannot be equated with the resistance of an occupied population, as if both sides are equally responsible for the bloodshed.
But over the last two weeks, the antiwar movement has been reviving on a principled basis, despite the gaping absence of its largest national coalition.
Ten thousand came out to protest Israel’s war on Lebanon and Palestine in Dearborn, Mich. Two thousand came out on a weekday afternoon in New York City. Four thousand came out in Chicago on Saturday. One thousand came out in Boston. In each case, the demonstrators were predominantly Arabs and Muslims.
For these directly affected immigrant communities, no hand-wringing debate was needed to support genuine resistance against U.S. or Israeli war and occupation.
The connection between the U.S. war on Iraq and Israel’s war on Lebanon and Palestine was repeatedly made clear -- at the Chicago protest, for example, with chants such as “Free, free Palestine; free, free Lebanon; free, free Iraq”; “Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine!” and “No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East!”
The weakness of the mainstream U.S. antiwar movement toward Israeli war crimes is not a temporary aberration, but a long-standing phenomenon.
As journalist Laura Flanders observed, “On June 12, 1982, American activists massed in New York City to call for peace and nuclear disarmament. But the Central Park rally made no mention of the week’s own bombing -- Israel’s then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon had just sent Israeli forces into Lebanon two days earlier.” She continued, “A message sent then might have saved a generation of Palestinians and Israelis from 20 years of occupation, fury and fear.”
There are principles -- and thousands of civilian lives--at stake again today
Sharon Smith is a columnist for Socialist Worker and author of Women’s Liberation and Socialism, a new collection of essays that will be published by Haymarket Books. This article first appeared on the SW website: www.socialistworker.org. Thanks to Alan Maass.
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