Monday, 23 February 2009
Courtesy of Reprieve (www.reprieve.org.uk)
I hope you will understand that after everything I have
been through I am neither physically nor mentally capable
of facing the media on the moment of my arrival back to
Britain. Please forgive me if I make a simple statement
through my lawyer. I hope to be able to do better in days
to come, when I am on the road to recovery.
I have been through an experience that I never thought to
encounter in my darkest nightmares. Before this ordeal,
"torture" was an abstract word to me. I could never have
imagined that I would be its victim. It is still difficult
for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one
country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways - all
orchestrated by the United States government.
While I want to recover, and put it all as far in my past
as I can, I also know I have an obligation to the people
who still remain in those torture chambers. My own despair
was greatest when I thought that everyone had abandoned me.
I have a duty to make sure that nobody else is forgotten.
I am grateful that in the end I was not simply left to my
fate. I am grateful to my lawyers and other staff at
Reprieve, and to Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, who fought for my
freedom. I am grateful to the members of the British
Foreign Office who worked for my release. And I want to
thank people around Britain who wrote to me in Guantánamo
Bay to keep my spirits up, as well as to the members of the
media who tried to make sure that the world knew what was
going on. I know I would not be home in Britain today if it
were not for everyone's support. Indeed, I might not be
alive at all.
I wish I could say that it is all over, but it is not.
There are still 241 Muslim prisoners in Guantánamo. Many
have long since been cleared even by the US military, yet
cannot go anywhere as they face persecution. For example,
Ahmed bel Bacha lived here in Britain, and desperately
needs a home. Then there are thousands of other prisoners
held by the US elsewhere around the world, with no charges,
and without access to their families.
And I have to say, more in sadness than in anger, that many
have been complicit in my own horrors over the past seven
years. For myself, the very worst moment came when I
realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me
were receiving questions and materials from British
intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in
Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people
who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realised,
had allied themselves with my abusers.
I am not asking for vengeance; only that the truth should
be made known, so that nobody in the future should have to
endure what I have endured.
Thursday, 19 February 2009
Blackburn brothers are back on the road
Seven men from Blackburn set off today to join the Viva Palestina aid convoy to Gaza. These men were wrongly arrested on Friday evening on the M65 motorway as they drove to rendezvous with the convoy in London as it prepared to move off. They are taking three vans full of donations of clothing, medical equipment, nappies and children’s toys. The men have fundraised to pay for their vans, travelling costs and all donations and intend to leave the vans in Gaza as further donations.
Hailed as heroes for the efforts to join the convoy and their fundraising, the men met with Chris Chilvers, the North West organizer of the Viva Palestina aid convoy, before setting off for Dover at noon today. Dr Chilvers said, ‘They are very angry about their treatment at the hands of the police and concerned that, despite being released without charge, the police are still refusing to return donations from the vans, personal belongings and mobile phones. The police have offered no satisfactory reason for these violations’.
‘The seven expressed their determination to join the convoy and to keep the trust of all those that donated. Their effort is magnificent and reflects the power of this solidarity movement to support Palestine. By contrast, the police behaviour has been a disgrace’.
Due to the intercession of local councillors, notably Salim Mulla, and the Lancashire Council of Mosques, the Lancashire Police has agreed to meet the costs of getting the group to Tunis and offered safe passage to Calais.The men will cross from Dover to Calais tonight in vans decorated with posters and salutations such as ‘from Blackburn with love’. They will drive through France to Marseille to join a 24 hour ferry crossing to Tunis in Tunisia. Here the group will meet the Viva Palestina convoy as it arrives from Algeria on Saturday morning. George Galloway is overjoyed that the group has set off and looks forward to uniting them with the convoy in Tunis.
Friday, 13 February 2009
MIA accused of supporting terrorism by speaking out for Tamil Tigers
The London-born rapper may have been the star of the Grammys, but her comments have caused outrage in Sri Lanka, where she has been dubbed a cheerleader for 'terrorists'
To her fans, MIA, or Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam, is rap's belle de jour who performed while nine months pregnant with hip-hop's hottest acts at the Grammys. Sheathed in a black net dress, MIA stepped out – bump first – to the strains of her single Paper Planes, which features on the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, before seguing into Jay-Z's Swagga Like Us.
But in Sri Lanka she is nothing less than a cheerleader for "terrorists" – separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas – in the country's civil war. As the "only Tamil in the western media" MIA says she has a responsibility to say "what is going on" in the country.
In an interview with the Daily Beast website she described the situation in the north and east of the country, the scene of fighting between the rebels and the army, as "systematic genocide, ethnic cleansing ... it's just out and out Nazi Germany".
"I can't justify getting nominated for an Oscar or a Grammy, that to me wouldn't mean anything if I don't actually get to speak about this. It's not like I'm trying to sell records, I'm trying to stop the deaths of 350,000 people this month," she said.
Her politics, however, are beyond the pale in Sri Lanka where the majority of people view the rebels as "terrorists" who are the verge of being wiped out by government forces. Many musicians say they "respect her creativity" but are angry at "spreading blatant terrorist propaganda".
"I have a lot of respect for her creativity but there is no genocide here in Sri Lanka," said Santhush Weeraman, 31-year-old half of Sri Lanka's biggest pop group Bathiya and Santhush. "She is taking advantage of her fame and fabricating stories about Sri Lanka. It is basically lies and humbug."
MIA has not been afraid to take on her critics. When Sri Lankan rapper DeLon claimed she simply "wants war", MIA responded saying she did not "support terrorism and never has".
The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a homeland for ethnic Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, to protect them from discrimination at the hands of the ethnic Sinhalese majority, which is mainly Buddhist.
In recent weeks both sides have traded accusations over the killing of innocent civilians in the war zone – especially the shelling of a hospital, which is a war crime under international humanitarian law. The Sri Lankan army today denied responsibility for shelling a makeshift hospital on Monday, which the Red Cross said resulted in the deaths of 16 people. The Tigers meanwhile denied shooting dead 19 civilians trying to flee the conflict yesterday, a day after a suspected female Tiger suicide bomber killed 28 people.
Thirty-one-year-old MIA is herself a victim of a quarter of century of ethnic strife. Born in London, she was the daughter of a Tamil "revolutionary" who had trained with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Her childhood was spent in war-torn northern Sri Lanka, before spending time in southern India and then returning to Britain.
A budding artist, she turned to music and put out a critically acclaimed first album, Arular, named after her father. Delivered in an unmistakable London dialect, she took on war, poverty and consumerism.
Arular Arudpragasam, MIA's father who lived in India for many years, has quietly endorsed her music. He recently admitted that his "association with the armed conflict has to a large extent affected her as a singer and as a person. She is a very emotional girl, but she is very brave".
MIA quickly outgrew London and moved to New York, making headlines for her outspoken views and engagement to Benjamin Brewer, the rock star scion of the billionaire Bronfman family.
Her baby was due on Sunday and the performance at the Grammys raised eyebrows – especially those of her father. There were rumours that she had scheduled a caesarean section right after the ceremony. MIA's father told the Hindustan Times, "I am quite excited, but concerned about her health. She is heavily pregnant and I had advised her not to perform and not to take too much stress".
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
The Left and Support for Anti-Imperialist Islamist Resistance
Speech delivered by Nadine Rosa-Rosso* at the The
The key question in this forum is how to support resistance
against imperialism across the world. As an independent
Belgian communist activist I would like to focus on the
position of the European Left vis-à-vis this issue.
The massive demonstrations in European capitals and major
cities in support of the people of Gaza highlighted once
again the core problem: the vast majority of the Left,
including communists, agrees in supporting the people of
Gaza against Israeli aggression, but refuses to support its
political expressions such as Hamas in Palestine and
Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Left not only refuses to support them, but also
denounces them and fights against them. Support for the
people of Gaza exists only at a humanitarian level but not
at the political level.
Concerning Hamas and Hezbollah; the Left is mainly
concerned with the support these groups have amongst the
Arab masses, but are hardly interested in the fact that
Israel’s clear and aggressive intention is to destroy these
resistance movements. From a political point of view we can
say without exaggeration that the Left's wish (more or less
openly admitted) follows the same line as the Israeli
government's: to liquidate popular support for Hamas and
This question arises not only for the Middle East but also
in the European capitals because, today, the bulk of the
demonstrators in Brussels, London and Paris are made up of
people of North African origin, as well as South Asian
Muslims in the case of London.
The reactions of the Left to these events are quite
symptomatic. I will cite a few but there are dozens of
examples. The headline of the French website ‘Res Publica’
following the mass demonstration in Paris on the 3rd of
January read: "We refuse to be trapped by the Islamists of
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah!” The article continued:
"Some activists of the left and far left (who only turned
out in small numbers) were literally drowned in a crowd
whose views are at odds with the spirit of the French
Republican movement and of the 21st Century Left. Over 90%
of the demonstrators championed a fundamentalist and
communitarian worldview based on the clash of civilizations
which is anti-secular and anti-Republican. They advocated a
cultural relativism whose harmful tendencies are well
known, particularly in England.
Res Publica is neither Marxist or communist, but one would
be hard pressed to find even the most remotely positive
words about Hamas on Marxist websites. One does find
formulations such as “Whatever we think about Hamas, one
thing is indisputable: the Palestinian people
democratically elected Hamas to lead Gaza in elections held
under international supervision.” Looking further at “what
we can think of Hamas” one finds on the websites of both
the French Communist Party and the Belgian Labour Party an
article entitled “How Israel put Hamas in the saddle.” We
learn little more than the assertion that Hamas has been
supported by Israel, the United States and the European
Union. I note that this article was put online on January
2nd after a week of intensive Israeli bombardment and the
day before the ground offensive whose declared aim was the
destruction of Hamas.
I will return to the quotation of Res Publica, because it
summarizes quite well the general attitude of the Left not
only in relation to the Palestinian resistance, but also in
regard to the Arab and Muslim presence in Europe. The most
interesting thing in this article is the comment in
parentheses: ‘the Left and far Left (who only turned out in
small numbers)’. One might expect following such a
confession some self-critical analysis regarding the lack
of mobilisation in the midst of the slaughter of the
Palestinian people. But no, all charges directed against
the demonstrators (90% of the whole protests) are accused
of conducting a "war of civilizations."
At all the demonstrations I participated in Brussels, I
asked some demonstrators to translate the slogans that were
chanted in Arabic, and they did so with pleasure every
time. I heard a lot of support for the Palestinian
resistance and denunciation of Arab governments (in
particular the Egyptian President Mubarak), Israel's
crimes, and the deafening silence of the international
community or the complicity of the European Union. In my
opinion, these were all political slogans quite appropriate
to the situation. But surely some people only hear
Allah-u-akbar and form their opinion on this basis. The
very fact that slogans are shouted in Arabic is sometimes
enough to irritate the Left. For example, the organizing
committee of the meeting of 11 January was concerned about
which languages would be used. But could we not have simply
distributed the translations of these slogans? This might
be the first step towards mutual understanding. When we
demonstrated in 1973 against the pro-American military
takeover by Pinochet in Chile, no one would have dared to
tell the Latin American demonstrators "Please, chant in
French!” In order to lead this fight, we all learnt slogans
in Spanish and no one was offended.
The problem is really in the parentheses: why do the Left
and far Left mobilise such small numbers? And to be clear,
are the Left and far Left still able to mobilize on these
issues? The problem was already obvious when Israel invaded
Lebanon in the summer of 2006. I would like to quote here
an anti-Zionist Israeli who took refuge in London, jazz
musician Gilad Atzmon, who already said, six months before
the invasion: "For quite a long time, it has been very
clear that the ideology of the Left is desperately
struggling to find its way in the midst of the emerging
battle between the West and the Middle East. The parameters
of the so-called "clash of civilizations" are so clearly
established that any “rational” and “atheist” leftist
activist is clearly condemned to stand closer to Donald
Rumsfeld than to a Muslim.”
One would find it difficult to state the problem more
I would like to briefly address two issues which literally
paralyze the Left in its support to the Palestinian,
Lebanese, and more generally to the Arab and Muslim
resistance: religion and terrorism.
The Left and Religion
Perplexed by the religious feelings of people with an immigrant background, the Left, Marxist or not, continuously quotes the famous statement of Marx on religion: “religion is the opium of the people”. With this they think everything that needs to be said has been said. It might be more useful cite the fuller quote of Marx and perhaps give it more context. I do this not to hide behind an authority, but in the hope of provoking some thought amongst those who hold this over-simplified view,
“Religion is the general theory of this world, (…), its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. (…) The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
(Translation of Prof. W. Banning, Life, Learning and Meaning, 1960, The Spectrum (p.62-63)
I have always been and remain an atheist, but the rise of religious feelings is hardly surprising. In today’s world most politicians, including those on the Left, do little more then display their weakness on this issue: they do nothing against the military power of the US, they do nothing or almost nothing against financial speculation and the logic of profit that plunges billions of people on this Earth into poverty, hunger and death. All this is due we are told to “the invisible hand” or “divine intervention”: where is the difference between this and religion? The only difference is that the theory of the “invisible hand” denies people the right to struggle for social and economical justice against this “divine intervention” that helps to maintain the status quo. Like it or not, we cannot look down on billions of people who may harbour religious feelings while wanting to ally with them.
The Left does exactly the same thing as what it accuses the Islamists of: it analyses the situation only in religious terms. It refuses to disclose the religious expressions as a “protest against misery”, as a protest against Imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. It cuts itself off from a huge part of the masses. Gilad Atzmon expresses it best when he states: “Rather than imposing our beliefs upon others, we better learn to understand what others believe in”. If we continue to refuse to learn, we will continue to lament the religious feelings of the masses instead of struggling with them for peace, independence and social and economic justice.
But there is more. The fate of Islam is very different from that of Christianity. I have never known the Left to hesitate when showing solidarity with the Latin American bishops, followers of liberation theology and the struggle against Yankee Imperialism in the 70s, or the Irish Catholic resistance to British Imperialism. Nor have I known the left to criticize Martin Luther King for his references to the Gospel, which was a powerful lever for the mobilisation of the Black American masses that did not have political, economic or social rights in the U.S in the sixties. This discriminatory treatment by the Left, this systematic mistrust of Muslims who are all without any distinction suspected of wanting to impose sharia law on us, can only be explained by colonialism that has profoundly marked our consciousness. We will not forget that the Communists, such as the Communist Party of Belgium (KPB), praised the benefits of colonization that were enthusiastically spread by Christian missionaries. For example, in the 1948 program of the KPB, when the party had just emerged from a period of heroic resistance against the Nazi occupation, it stated the following about the Belgian Congo: “a) Establishment of a single economic unit Belgium-Congo; b) Development of trade with the colony and realization of its national resources; c) Nationalization of resources and trusts in Congo; d) Development of a white colonists class and black farmers and artisan class; e) Gradual granting of democratic rights and freedoms to the black population.”
It was this kind of political education of workers by the Party which meant that there was hardly any protests from these Belgian workers influenced by the KPB when Patrice Lumumba, Pierre Mulele and many other African anti-imperialist leaders were assassinated. After all "our" Christian civilization is civilized, is it not? And democratic rights and freedoms can only "gradually" be assigned to the masses in the
On the basis of exactly the same political colonialist reasoning, the Left is rather regretful in having supported democratic elections in
If we would agree to stop staring blindly and with prejudice at the religious beliefs of people, we would perhaps "learn to understand" why the Arab and Muslim masses, who today demonstrate for
And if the Left would formulate the issue in these terms, would they not partly regain the support of the people that formerly gave the Left its strength?
Another cause of paralysis of the Left in the anti-imperialist struggle is the fear of being associated with terrorism.
On the 11th of January 2009, the president of the German Chamber of Representatives, Walter Momper, the head of the parliamentarian group of ‘Die Grüne’ (the German Greens), Franziska Eichstädt-Bohlig, a leader of ‘Die Linke’, Klaus Lederer, and others held a demonstration in Berlin with 3000 participants to support Israel under the slogan ‘stop the terror of Hamas’. One must keep in mind that Die Linke are considered by many in Europe as the new and credible alternative Left, and an example to follow.
The entire history of colonisation and decolonisation is the history of land that has been stolen by military force and has been reclaimed by force. From
For Gilad Atzmon it is this context that constitutes the real significance of the barrage of rockets by Hamas and the other Palestinian resistance organizations: “This week we all learned more about the ballistic capability of Hamas. Evidently, Hamas was rather restrained with
What can be understood by an Israeli Jew, the European Left fails to understood, rather they find ’indefensible’ the necessity to take by force what has been stolen by force.
Since 9/11, the use of force in the anti-colonial and the anti-imperialist struggle has been classified under the category of ‘terrorism’; one cannot even discuss it any more. It is worth remembering that Hamas had been proscribed on the list of ‘foreign terrorist organizations’ by the
The capitulation on this question by a great part of the Western Left started after 9/11, after the launching of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) by the Bush administration. The fear of being classified ‘terrorists’ or apologists of terrorism has spread. This attitude of the Left is not only a political or ideological question, it is also inspired by the practical consequences linked to the GWOT. The European ‘Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on combating terrorism’ and its attached terror list who was a copy-and-paste version of the American terror list that has been incorporated into European legislation, which allow the courts to prosecute those who are suspected of supporting terrorism. During an anti-war rally in
In conclusion I have a concrete suggestion to make: we must launch an appeal to remove Hamas from the terror lists. At the same time we must ensure that Hezbollah are not added to the terror list. It is the least we can do if we want to support the Palestinian, Lebanese and Arab resistance. It is the minimal democratic condition for supporting the resistance and it is the essential political condition for the Left to have a chance to be heard by the anti-imperialist masses.
*Nadine Rosa-Rosso is a Brussels-based independent Marxist. She has edited two books: "Rassembler les résistances" of the French-language journal 'Contradictions' and "Du bon usage de la laïcité", that argues for an open and democratic form of secularism. She can be contacted at email@example.com
Thursday, 5 February 2009
zIONIST WAR CRIMINALS ON THE RUN - TIME TO INTENSIFY PALESTINIAN SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT/ANTI-zIONIST MOVEMENT
LIKE A TRUE TO FORM zIONIST COWARD
An Israeli colonel involved in Operation Cast Lead returned
to Israel in haste on Friday, fearing arrest on charges of
war crimes during a visit to the UK.
Col. (res.) Geva Rapp had arrived in London three days
before for appearances in which he was to explain Israel's
position and refute media representations of the
His trip had been cleared by Israeli security services.
On Thursday night, after news of his visit reached
pro-Palestinian groups, some 80 protesters demonstrated
outside the offices of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS)
in central London, where Rapp was scheduled to speak.
Calling for police to arrest him, the protesters blocked
public pathways, while one scaled the building's walls.
Police made several arrests.
The event was cancelled and the decision was made for Rapp
to return to Israel out of fear of a universal jurisdiction
arrest warrant for alleged war crimes.
A loophole in British law allows private criminal
complaints of war crimes to be lodged against military
personnel, even if they are not British citizens and the
alleged crimes were committed elsewhere. Pro-Palestinian
groups in Britain and other countries have been trying to
exploit the loophole against IDF officers and Israeli
Israel is working with the British government to change the
Before leaving Britain, Rapp addressed students at the
Hasmonean and Jewish Free (JFS) high schools in London. He
also spoke at events organized by the Jewish Agency and
Israel’s Gaza blitz
From Khalid Amayreh in Ramallah
5 February, 2009
The latest public opinion survey in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip has shown a dramatic rise in Hamas’ popularity among
Palestinians, with a significant decline in Fatah’s public
Moreover, the poll showed that a majority of Palestinians
believed that the advent of the Obama administration in the
U.S. wouldn’t make a big difference with regard to American
efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue.
According to the poll, Turkey, Venezuela and Iran as well
as Hezbullah are the most popular regional forces among
The results of the latest poll, conducted by the Jerusalem
Media and Communications Center (JMCC) from 29-31 January,
showed that nearly 48 % of respondents believed that Hamas
came out of the Israeli blitz against Gaza victorious.
Nearly 10 per cent opined that Israel won the war, while
over a third of respondents, 37.4% said that neither side
The poll, surveying a random sample of 1,198 respondents,
found a dramatic rise in the popularity of Hamas,
especially in the West Bank.
In contrast, the popularity of the Fatah movement suffered
a significant decline, especially in the West Bank.
When asked if general Palestinian elections were held
today, 28.6% of respondents said they would vote for Hamas.
Fatah’s standing declined from 34% last April to 27.9 in
According to the latest poll, trust in Hamas rose from
16.6% last November to 27.7 % in this poll. In contrast,
the percentage of those who said they trusted Fatah fell
down from 31.3% to 26%.
According to a press release by the JMCC, the rise in
Hamas’ popularity occurred mainly in the West Bank, which
is controlled by the Western Backed Palestinian Authority.
Similarly, the percentage of those who said they trusted
Ismael Haniya, the Prime Minister of the Gaza-based
Palestinian government, increased from 12.8% last October
to 21.1 in this poll. Trust in PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
went down from 15.5% last October to 13.4 in this poll.
The poll showed that the percentage of those opining that
the performance of the American-backed government of Salam
Fayad is better than that of the Gaza-based government
declined significantly from 36% last April to 26.9% in this
However, those who believed that the performance of the
Fayad government is worse than that of the Haniya’s
government rose substantially from 29.1 to 40% per cent.
The latest poll also found that support for military
resistance against the Israeli occupation rose from 49.5%
last April to 53.5% in this poll.
Moreover, the poll showed a rise in the percentage of
Palestinians opposed to peace talks with Israel.
Turkey, Venezuela and several other political and other
entities have also become more popular among Palestinians,
according to the latest poll.
Turkey received the highest point of 89.6 %, followed by
Venezuela (80.6 %) .
The International Committee of the Red Cross received a
satisfaction mark of (79.8) followed by UNRWA (78.6 %).
Qatar received a satisfaction mark of 68.3%, Hezbullah 66.9
%, the Muslim Brotherhood movement 57.6 % and Iran 55.9%.
The US received the satisfaction of only 2.8 of
respondents, Britain, 10.4%, Germany 14.4 % France was the
western country that received the satisfaction of the
highest percentage of respondents, at 21.5 per cent.
Egypt and Jordan received 35.1% and 41.7 % respectively.
Finally, when asked which entity you would prefer to assume
the task of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, respondents
gave the following answers: A majority of 30.6% said they
prefer an international mechanism under UN supervision to
assume this task. The second choice was for a Palestinian
national unity government to oversee the reconstruction.
More than 23% said they preferred the government of Hamas
to do the job, while a minority of 13.7 % said they prefer
the Palestinian Authority to assume the task.
The decline in Fatah’s popularity can be attributed to the
widespread public dissatisfaction with the Ramallah
regime’s lukewarm stance during the war.
Many Palestinians had the impression that at least some of
the PA and PLO leaders adopted a “conspiratorial stance”
during the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
Some PA officials had reportedly made remarks voicing the
hope that Israeli would destroy the Hamas government in
Some PLO leaders, such as Yasser Abed Rabbo, reportedly
criticized Israel for ending the war too soon without
“finishing off Hamas.”
Another important reason for Fatah’s dwindling popularity
seems to have to do with the widespread suppression by PA
security forces of public descent during the war.
PA security agencies prevented and in many instances
violently suppressed pro-Hamas protests during the war.
Dozens of Palestinians, mainly Hamas sympathizers, have
also been arrested by the PA security apparatus in the West
The latest opinion poll is not going to be a good news for
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas has been calling for early presidential and
legislative elections in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and
Gaza Strip in the hope of ending Hamas’ government in the
Monday, 2 February 2009
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 2 February 2009
|A mural in Derry, Northern Ireland commemorates solidarity between Palestinians and Irish nationalists. (Ali Abunimah)|
US President Barack Obama's appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as his new Middle East envoy is a good choice. Mitchell showed even-handedness uncharacteristic of US officials when he led a fact-finding mission to the region in 2000.
Had its recommendations been followed -- cessation of all violence and a full freeze of Israeli settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land -– the peace process might have made progress.
Before 1948, European Jewish settlers, newly-arrived in Palestine, wanted their own state once British colonial rulers withdrew. But because Jews were a minority, the only way to achieve this was a partition that the majority Arab Palestinian population, fearing dispossession, bitterly opposed. When Israel was established in 1948, most Palestinians were forced from their homeland, and those remaining became second-class citizens in a "Jewish state."
The modern conflict in Ireland began when Great Britain, facing resistance from Irish nationalists, decided to withdraw after centuries of rule. But the Protestant ruling class -– a quarter of the population -– descended from English and Scottish settlers, insisted that Ireland remain tied to Britain. These unionists refused to live in a state with a nationalist Catholic majority.
To appease the unionist minority, which threatened violent rebellion if it did not get its way, Britain partitioned Ireland in 1921, creating Northern Ireland, an entity whose legitimacy nationalists refused to recognize.
As Israeli Jews did to Palestinians, Protestants institutionalized their own culture and religion as the official creed and violently suppressed expressions of nationalist identity. In the words of its first prime minister, Northern Ireland's seat of government at Belfast's Stormont Castle was a "Protestant parliament for a Protestant people." Catholics faced systematic discrimination in jobs and housing.
Nationalists launched a civil rights movement in the 1960s inspired by the one in the US. Protestant unionists violently resisted demands to share power and reform, but the numerical growth and assertiveness of the nationalist Catholic population within Northern Ireland made such intransigence untenable.
In 1972, Britain sent in troops and imposed direct rule. During 30 years of "The Troubles," 3,700 people died at the hands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Protestant militias, British forces and others.
The Mitchell-led Belfast Agreement ended formal Protestant hegemony in favor of equality, mitigating partition's injustices. It promised that government power "shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people" and guaranteed "just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities."
Decades of bloody conflict left deep social divisions. But a framework for nondiscriminatory democratic governance has allowed nationalists and unionists within Northern Ireland to begin to shed their siege mentalities. While formal partition of Ireland remains, it is disappearing on the ground as anyone can live, work and move freely, and official cross-border bodies are integrating the infrastructure and economies of the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.
The power-sharing executive in Belfast, led by staunchly nationalist Sinn Féin (closely affiliated with the IRA) and the hardline Democratic Unionist Party, was once as inconceivable as a government made up of members of Hamas and Israeli politicians would be today. US diplomacy played a key role by putting pressure on the stronger parties –- the British government and Protestant unionists –- in favor of the weaker nationalist side. Instead of shunning Sinn Féin the US, prodded by the Irish American lobby, insisted it be brought into the process.
By 2010, Palestinians will outnumber Israeli Jews in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined. The two groups can no more be totally separated than Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists in Ireland.
Like Irish nationalists, Palestinians will never recognize the "right" of another group to discriminate against them. Like Protestant unionists did, Israeli Jews insist on their own state. Israel's "solution" is to cage Palestinians into ghettos –- like Gaza –- and periodically bomb them into submission just so Israeli Jews, their relative numbers dwindling, can artificially maintain a Jewish state.
If Mitchell is allowed to apply Northern Ireland's lessons, then there may be a way out. But he goes to Jerusalem with few of the advantages he brought to Belfast. The Obama administration remains committed for now to the failed partition formula of "a Jewish state" and a "Palestinian state" and maintains the Bush administration's misguided boycott of Hamas, which overwhelmingly won Palestinian elections in 2006. And the Israel lobby -- much more powerful than its Irish American counterpart -- warps US policy to favor the stronger side, an intransigent Israel committing war crimes. If these policies don't change, Mitchell's efforts will be wasted and escalating violence will fill the political vacuum.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse An abridged version of this article first appeared in The Detroit Free Press.