For a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle

Philip Ferguson, national organiser, Workers Party

The Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip at the start of 2009 brought home to many people around the world the brutality of the state of Israel. Hopefully it spurred a lot more people to get involved in supporting the cause of Palestinian liberation. In New Zealand, although there are activists campaigning around issues in Israel/Palestine, the campaigning remains both numerically and politically weak.

There is a strong tendency in New Zealand, for instance, to emphasise justice for Palestinians rather than solidarity with Palestinians. The differences between these few words , which may seem trivial, are actually immense at a political level.

If you are in favour of something for people, it suggests that they cannot fight for it themselves and so you are campaigning for it on their behalf. This essentially portrays the oppressed as passive victims. But the Palestinians are not passive victims – they are an oppressed people and they are fighting every day for their liberation, regardless of what people sitting comfortably in the West are doing or not doing. The notion of doing something for people is essentially condescending.

On the other hand, if you are in solidarity with people, it suggests that these are folks struggling for their rights and you are providing active support for their struggle. You are not replacing their struggle, you are not the struggle, you are carrying out your own struggle as a form of active support of their struggle.

These differences in perspective have been continually manifested in New Zealand in political activities around the Israel/Palestine conflict since the invasion of Gaza – a period in which several new groups have sprung up challenging various policies pursued by the Israeli state and opposing the re-establishment of an Israeli embassy in New Zealand.

The Workers Party stands in the solidarity with camp. In fact, we are probably the main political force within that camp. We participate to varying degrees in a number of other groups campaigning around issues of Israeli repression, including groups based on the politics of justice for, but both there and in our own specific WP campaigning, we emphasise the importance of not seeing the Palestinians as helpless victims but as the active agents of their own emancipation. Indeed, the problem with the justice for perspective goes beyond condescension; often these campaigners, however genuinely-motivated, leave out the Palestinians altogether.

A good example of this (perfectly logical) consequence of the justice for perspective has been the political platform adopted by and press releases issued by the NIEW (No Israeli Embassy in Wellington) group. The original platform of this group focussed on attacking some policies of the Israeli state, while leaving out the Palestinian resistance altogether. It is as if the Palestinians, or certainly the Palestinian resistance, did not exist at all. Press releases by NIEW in the lead-up to the re-establishment of the Israeli embassy compounded this problem – not only was the Palestinian resistance left out, the United Nations, the very body which voted to hand over Palestine to the Zionists, was called upon to intervene to impose a ‘just’ settlement. The Palestinians, it would seem, have no role to play other than as helpless victims who then become supplicants of the United Nations’ supposed kindness and generosity.

The other weakness of the justice for wing of the movement is that it fails to face up to the fact that the problem is not this or that Israeli policy, but the very existence of the Israeli state. It’s fair enough if new people coming into activity on the Israel/Palestine issue haven’t yet joined up the dots – none of us have joined up the dots when we first get involved in progressive politics. Unfortunately, however, there seems to be a wilful resistance to joining up the dots coming from people who have been active on the issue for some time now. For these folks, it is OK to criticise Israel for this or that abuse of human rights, but the critique is only allowed to go so far and no further. The critique is cut off artificially, rather than being allowed to take its logical course and show that the Israeli state, by its very nature, cannot be other than brutal and repressive in relation to the Palestinians. There never has been a liberal Israeli state in relation to the Palestinians and there never can be, because the state itself, in fact the country itself, is based on the dispossession of the Palestinians and this dispossession is not simply historical but both continues and expands today. And logically so.

It’s interesting to compare the development of a small but important movement in New Zealand around the Palestine/Israel conflict with the development of the anti-apartheid movement in New Zealand. In 1960 the slogan was “No Maoris, No Tour” – in other words, if the South Africans didn’t accept Maori players in the All Blacks, then the All Blacks shouldn’t go to South Africa. A good demand, but also woefully inadequate because it entirely left out of the picture the black masses of South Africa, people who at that very time were actively struggling for their emancipation. The period from the end of WW2 until the Sharpeville massacre in February 1960 was one of intense struggle in South Africa, with big mobilisations of black and other South Africans against apartheid.

Later, the anti-apartheid movement in New Zealand emphasised this country’s international reputation as a reason there should not be sporting contact with apartheid South Africa. Such contact, many anti-apartheid activists suggested, tarnished NZ’s good image abroad. Again, what about those being oppressed in South Africa by apartheid?

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the notion that the main reason to oppose sporting, and other, contact with apartheid South Africa was to show solidarity with the liberation movement in South Africa. This was a huge political advance, albeit one that came far too slowly. Activists today should be standing on the shoulders of the experience of the anti-apartheid movement, rather than starting from scratch politically, ie being back where the movement here was in 1960 in relation to South Africa.

Building an effective movement in New Zealand against Israeli injustice requires understanding of several key political points.

One is that the people who the Israeli state oppresses are neither invisible nor powerless. They are the Palestinians and they are perfectly capable of resisting everything that the Israeli state throws against them. Our job is to be in solidarity with them – ie to assist them however we can, including materially.

Another key point is that the problem is the very existence of the state of Israel. All the abuses of human rights, all the repression and brutality, is the logical consequence of the existence of Israel. It is pointless calling on the Israeli state to behave itself, as if it actually could do so. The state of Israel has to be dismantled – and, of course, the only people who can do that are the Palestinians, hopefully in alliance with progressive forces which emerge in Israel in opposition to Zionism.

Thirdly, calling for imperialist institutions, whether the United Nations or the US or British or New Zealand governments, to broker some kind of new peace deal, or make the Israeli state see the error of its ways, simply compounds the obstacles faced by the Palestinians and gets in the way of building an effective solidarity movement based on the principle of support for Palestinian self-determination.

Fourthly, we can best show solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement by exposing the nature of the Israeli state and providing political and material support for the most progressive sections of the Palestinian movement, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Lastly, we need to explain to workers in New Zealand that supporting the Palestinian struggle is in their interests. It’s not a matter of feeling sorry for the “poor Palestinians”; it’s a matter of class solidarity. Workers here are part of a global class and our class will not be liberated anywhere without an understanding that we need to be liberated everywhere.

If you agree with us, come and get involved in the campaign the Workers Party has launched in support of the Palestinian struggle and the PFLP.

2 Responses to For a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle

  1. Matt says:

    Islam is not peace! The very teachings of Islam condone the killing of Jews and Christians. This is not a battle for land (even though the Jews have a legal and moral right to occupy and in fact own the west bank and Gaza) but a battle of one religion hating a race! Giving land to the Arabs will not solve any problems! How can it when these people claim they will wipe Jews off the face of the earth. This is religious hatred and all casualties that arise from the conflicts are the result of palestinian terrorism.
    Glorifying pictures of hijackers on your website is criminal!
    It seems this website has such hatred or at least distain for Israel and the Jewish people. This is a NZ political party website why do you have such strong views on something that you don’t have a full understanding about? Please remember the Jews as a people had no homeland before 1948 and were given far more land than they currently own now. Under international law if one country attacks another and the defending country gains land from the attacking country (1948 war) they have the right to retain that land. So if we want to be legal and moral here the Arabs have to give land back to the Jews!

  2. WP Admin says:

    I think it is you Matt who is speaking of something you know little about. In 1947, the newly formed UN agreed to give 55% of British Mandate Palestine to the Jewish people (without consulting the Palestinians who were living there), in order to solve a European dilemma - Europeans had perpetrated the holocaust but didn’t want to deal with the problem of Jewish refugees. Giving away someone else’s land seemed like an easy solution, especially since the Zionist movement was seen as a potential ally in the heart of the Arab world. Not surprisingly, the Arab nations did not accept that partition and dispossession so they fought and lost the 1948 war against the militarily superior Israelis. By the end of that war, Israel comprised 78% of Mandate Palestine.

    After the 67 War, Israel comprised all of Palestine, plus the Golan Heights (stolen from Syria, subsequently annexed and settled, and still occupied to this day) and the Sinai Peninsula (stolen from Egypt, but subsequently returned). The current 2 state proposal is for Palestine to comprise 22% of the original Palestinian territory (the post 67 borders), with that 22% being fragmented, crisscrossed by Israeli-only roads, and with the best and most strategic locations largely under Israeli control. How you can claim that they were given more land than they now possess is beyond me, unless you believe they were given it by God.

    As for International Law, you just made that “law” up. There is no such law. But if you want to cite international law, it is illegal to drive people from their homes. It is illegal to deny refugees the right of return to their homes. It is illegal to build settlements on occupied land.

    Read the declarations of the Zionist leaders themselves. They knew perfectly well what they were doing. They have been remarkably candid about their actions over the years, presumably because they had supreme confidence that the West would protect them, or that God would. Israel’s leaders make it perfectly clear themselves that they have stolen Palestine from the Palestinians and that they intend to keep it that way.

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