Egypt’s military rulers help to imprison the Palestinians of Gaza

The online magazine Common Dreams carried the following incisive article about the situation on Egypt’s contribution to the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip:

Egypt joins Israel as Gaza’s jailer

The article, co-authored by Medea Benjamin and Pam Bailey, focuses on how in the past, Israel was the specific target of condemnation by human rights and activist groups for its ongoing blockade of Gaza. While the Israeli state still receives its fair share of criticism for its role in economically strangling Gaza and inflicting suffering on the Palestinians, the Egyptian militarist dictatorship should also by the target of stinging criticism. The Egyptian generals have not only continued to block off Gaza, the critical lifeline for the Palestinians through Rafah, previously open to humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, will also be restricted by the Egyptian military.

The article quotes from the Washington Post;

“As The Washington Post reported, “with Egypt’s military-backed interim government shutting down the tunnels and largely closing its own pedestrian crossing at Rafah, Gaza is increasingly shut off from the world”.

Egypt’s new military rulers are closely aligning themselves with Israel’s strategic objectives in the region. Shutting off access to the Gaza strip and isolating the Palestinians is one such objective with which the Egyptian military is fully cooperating with Israel. Activist groups such as Gaza Ark are deliberately including Egypt in their activities to lift the ongoing siege of the Palestinians in Gaza.

The Egyptian military is militarizing the border with Gaza, blowing up houses, and bulldozing properties on its territory. This is aimed at creating a no-man’s land buffer zone on its side of the border. Egyptian naval forces have also opened fire on fishermen from the Gaza strip, off the coastal waters of Rafah.

The situation inside Gaza is dire, with the following report that;

“On September 5, the Palestinian Energy Authority warned that the Gaza Power Plant is in danger of shutting down completely due to lack of fuel. If the plant shuts down, the result would be power outages of 12 to 16 hours-a-day, up from the current 8 to 12 hours, disabling water and waste-disposal systems as well as crippling many businesses.”

With the current focus on Syria, Iran and North Korea, the Egyptian military has been quietly and consistently building its alliance with the Israeli state to suppress the Palestinian population of Gaza. It is time to refocus the priorities.

Since the Egyptian military seized power in a coup back in July this year, Egypt’s President General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi has acted as a jailer of the Palestinians in Gaza. At least former Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, attempted to play the role of a mediator, allowing humanitarian aid to get through Rafah, and negotiating with various Palestinian political groups in order to reach a common solution. This did not necessarily mean that Morsi broke completely from the US-Israeli orbit – far from it. He maintained his relations with all the major imperialist powers and institutions. However, with his ousting in July 3 this year, the positive role that that Egyptian political leadership played with regard to the Palestinians has ended. General al-Sisi is marching in lock-step with Israeli strategic interests.

It is vital to highlight the increasing complicity of the Egyptian militarist rulers in the continuing blockade of the Gaza strip, because this month marks twenty years since the signing of the Oslo Accords and the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Richard Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and currently the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, gave a talk in Sydney this month, the contents of which are summarised in an article in Green Left Weekly. Falk’s presentation consisted of examining the current Israel-Palestine talks, but also providing some necessary historical background to the Oslo Accords peace process. The author of the Green Left Weekly article, Jim McIlroy, recapitulates the main points of Falk’s overview. The Oslo Accords come in for a stinging rebuke from Professor Falk. To quote Falk himself:

“The continuous expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank clearly abrogates international law. The Israeli separation wall should be immediately dismantled and reparations paid to the Palestinian people.

The most serious deficiency in the Oslo framework was the lack of acceptance of the Palestinian right to self-determination. Since then, we have seen the increasing influence of right-wing settlers in Israeli politics.

Israel has effectively succeeded in excluding international law from the current peace process. Moreover, the US, Israel’s strongest backer, is being presented as an ‘intermediary’ in the process.”

So the Oslo Accords, rather than being a platform for the construction of a Palestinian state and fulfilling Palestinian self-determination, is actually a mechanism for the ongoing imprisonment of the Palestinians in Bantustan-style cantonments, cut off by increasing numbers of semi-militarised Israeli settlements. As Kim Bullimore from the Red Flag newspaper notes in her article ‘The farce of Oslo 20 years on’;

“The Oslo Accords were in part an attempt by the Israeli and US ruling classes to defuse and undermine the Palestinian popular uprising (Intifada) that erupted in 1987.”

As Bullimore explains, the Oslo Accords institutionalised the abandonment of historic objectives of the Palestinian self-determination movement; the Palestinian political leadership at the time renounced claims to historical Palestine, postponed negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem, no mention of ceasing Israeli settlement activity, and the Palestinians were to remain in economically-isolated regions which are afflicted by poverty and unemployment. To quote from Bullimore’s article:

“While Israel’s signing of the Oslo Accords has often been depicted as the Zionist state being committed to peace, the Accords in fact simply provided a more efficient way for Israel to achieve its long-held strategic goal of controlling the occupied West Bank and other Palestinian territories.”

This views accords with the evaluation of the Oslo Accords offered by Ali Abunimah, co-founder and editor of ElectronicIntifada.net and author of numerous articles on the Palestine question. In an interview entitled How Occupation was dressed up as peace, Abunimah elaborates that the Oslo Accords were never intended as a stepping stone to a viable Palestinian state. While then Israeli Prime Minister recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole authentic representative of the Palestinian people, the Israeli side never gave an inch on anything else. As Abunimah explains, Rabin did not concede anything substantive:

He didn’t renounce violence. He didn’t renounce settlements. He didn’t recognize any Palestinian rights. He didn’t recognize the right of Palestinians to exist in peace and security. So from the very beginning, the dynamic where Israel gives up nothing, and in fact continues to take, while Palestinians act as the enforcers of the occupation, the glove on the Israeli hand, was built in from the start.

From the beginning, the Oslo Accords were meant as an instrument for continuing the Israeli domination of Palestinian lands, albeit in a different form to direct military occupation. Instead of Israeli soldiers directly patrolling the streets of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel economically and political dominates these regions, forcing the Palestinians into a situation of exclusion and destitution, much like the tactics of the former Apartheid regime in South Africa. To quote Ali Abunimah again;

I think it’s important to understand that the Oslo process was never intended to end in self-determination and liberation for the Palestinians. What it became was a structure of permanent Israeli control and domination under the fig leaf of the so-called “peace process.” But it’s very important to understand that was built into it from the start.

The direct siege of the Gaza Strip was begun by Israeli authorities back in February 2006, with the surprise election of the Islamist party Hamas to the leadership of the Palestinian government. Ousting the long-term nationalist Fatah party that dominated Palestinian politics for much of the last fifty years, the democratic election of Hamas was greeted by Israel with a form of collective punishment. The entire territory of Gaza has been sealed off, and economic life in the state has all but ground to a halt. Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, combines religious piety with Arab nationalist demands to articulate the aspirations of the Palestinian people. And yes, Hamas did actually drop its demand for the ‘destruction of Israel’, an anti-Zionist position that demands the repeal of the Apartheid-like laws that underlie the Israeli state. This demand is usually conflated and slandered by Hamas’ opponents as advocating the physical liquidation of the Israeli population.

During World War Two, when the Nazi German forces occupied Poland, they corralled the Polish Jewish population of Warsaw into a ghetto, a zone of economic privation and exclusion which left the Jewish population underfunded, starving and vulnerable. This was a form of collective punishment. When the Israeli state imposed a blockade of Gaza in 2006, it imposed collective punishment, economically strangulating the Palestinian population inside the largest open-air prison in the world. The German military officers that ordered and carried out the siege of and eventual destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto were put on trial after the war ended and found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is time to consider similar proceedings against the Israeli leaders that have ordered and implemented the criminal siege of Gaza.

The online magazine Media With Conscience (MWC) published a critique of the two-state solution borne of the Oslo Accords. The author, Lawrence Davidson, elaborates that this two-state solution, rather than resulting in an equal partnership, has actually institutionalised the subordination of the Palestinian side to Israeli occupation. Davidson summarises the viewpoints of Professor Ian Lustick, a political science expert from the University of Pennsylvania, who published an article entitled ‘The Two-State Illusion’. Lustick describes the two-state solution as a political fraud that has left the Palestinians excluded and denied any chance of building a viable, independent state. The Israeli state, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United States government all have a vested interest in maintaining the charade of the Oslo Accords. To quote Davidson;

‘For instance, the Palestinian Authority (PA) keeps this hope alive so that it can “get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidizes the lifestyle of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants.” The Israeli government keeps this hope alive because “it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.” Finally, the U.S. government maintains the hope of a two-state solution to “show that it is working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.”

The long-term solution resides in a world-wide, boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), launched by Palestinian human rights organisations, trade unions and activist groups in 2005, to sustain a campaign of civil resistance against the Apartheid Israeli state, much like the boycott campaigns against the previous Apartheid regime in South Africa. Divesting from the Israeli state economically undermines the ability of that state to carry out its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. An economic and cultural boycott will send a strong signal to the Israeli authorities that they cannot continue to operate as a regional gendarme for the United States.

Let us end at the point where we began; at the Egypt-Gaza border. Officials in the Egyptian military and political hierarchy have admitted that they are receiving weapons to destroy the Gaza tunnels – from the United States. The Egyptian military spokesperson conceded that the US, Egypt and Israel are working closely together to close down the tunnels that provide humanitarian access to the Palestinians locked in the Gaza strip. By blocking the Gaza tunnels, the Egyptian militarist regime is actively assisting the Israeli state in isolating the Palestinians, aiding and abetting the expansionist designs of the Zionist rulers. It is impossible for the United States to present itself as an honest broker in the stalled ‘peace process’ when they are actively arming the regimes that imprison and economically impoverish the Palestinian population. The Egyptian military rulers are demonstrating to the world which side they are on; let us unite the Palestine solidarity activist movement to show the world that we stand on the side of the oppressed.

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Obama regime is the direct opposite of the values for which Martin Luther King stood

August 2013 was the fiftieth anniversary of the now-celebrated March on Washington. In 1963, African Americans in their hundreds of thousands marched right up to the capital, as part of the growing antiracist civil rights movement. Thousands converged on Washington from around the country, organised by human rights groups, socialists, religious groups, the National Associated for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), union organisers and other social justice activists. The march was billed as a convergence for jobs and freedom, and one of the keynote speakers was a young Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King.

Dr. King gave arguably his most famous speech, “I have a dream.” In it, he articulated the social, civil, political and economic grievances of the African American community, and explained his vision for a socially just system. In August this year, American President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and other keynote speakers, African American celebrities, politicians and ex-presidents gathered to speak at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the March on Washington and remember Dr King and the countless other who gave their lives for the cause of civil rights.

Dr King represented a social movement for equality, economic justice and political accountability. President Obama embodies the very opposite of these ideals. Norman Pollack, one of the participants in the 1963 March, wrote in an article in Counterpunch that:

It befouls the memory of Dr. King to have invited Obama to speak. He represents the antithesis of everything Dr. King dreamed of and worked for. Yes, I was there in 1963, where the air was filled with the spirit of justice, justice not as an abstraction, not as a catchword deceive about interventions abroad and entrenched poverty at home, but justice as the full democratization of America, in which racial segregation conveyed the salience of a structure and society grounded in wealth-inequality, ideological themes supporting aggression against the weak, veneration of wealth, and extreme loathing of dissent, and the arrogance of militaristic preeminence as the basis for global leadership.

Dr King spoke out against economic inequalities and racial discrimination; he opposed US militarism and war. He courageously challenged the systemic injustices of the American capitalist system. Dr King began as an opponent of racial segregation in the early 1960s, and evolved into a critic of US capitalism, the injustices of social exclusion, and vigorously opposed the American war in Vietnam. In 1967, Dr King labelled his country’s ruling elite as ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.’ Just prior to his assassination in March 1968, Dr King met with sanitation workers in Memphis Tennessee, to support their struggle for a living wage. Today, fast food workers across the United States are undertaking strike action to demand a living wage.

Obama represents the forces of militarism, corporate welfare and domestic surveillance. His regime has escalated the use of drones and spy satellites for the purpose of monitoring dissidents and carrying out US wars overseas; has imprisoned people without charge or trial in secret prisons and failed to close Guantanamo Bay detention facility; has provided billions in welfare for the failing banks and financial institutions that brought the capitalist system to the brink of collapse, and has further eroded the living standards and wages of ordinary workers. Just a few days after the August 28 official commemoration of the March on Washington, Obama further dishonoured Dr King’s legacy by announcing plans for a purportedly ‘limited’ military intervention in Syria. This will be another overseas war begun by the violently militaristic Obama regime, totally repudiating the message of non-violence and peace advocated by Dr King.

Obama made the ridiculous claim that military action against Syria, will not constitute an act of war, but will consist of limited military strikes with ‘no boots on the ground.’ Yes, just like the following limited aerial strike with no soldiers on the ground;

The Limited Air Strike
The Limited Air Strike

One of the main achievements of the civil rights movement, and a goal for which Dr King fought ceaselessly, was the desegregation of the political system. African American communities in the deep South had been denied the right to vote by racist political systems and county chiefs. Since the 1870s, the efforts to racially integrate American economic and political life had been resisted by racist politicians, businesspeople and a counter-revolutionary system of ‘Jim Crow’ segregation had been in place for decades by the time of the civil rights movement. Segregation in public life had been normalised since the 1870s, and voting was also racially barred from the African American communities. To redress this imbalance, the civil rights movement fought for the removal of racially discriminatory laws, one of the results was the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the Johnson administration.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act contained a crucial clause which prohibited discrimination in matters of voting on the basis of race or colour. With federal jurisdiction over voting and elections administration, the states with a long history of racial exclusion, especially the South, were now required to submit any electoral changes they wished for ‘pre-clearance’ by the federal authorities. In this way, the previously racially discriminatory authorities in the southern were prohibited from deliberately excluding from the vote communities made up of African American populations. This legislation basically enforced the Fifteenth Amendment, which had previously remained a dead letter in the southern states.

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of deciding to strike down the crucial enforcement clause of the Voting Rights Act, thus removing the southern states from any need to submit any changes to their electoral laws without federal government pre-approval. This means that the Fifteenth Amendment, one of the greatest democratic gains of the US civil war, returns to being a dead letter. The US Supreme Court, with a 5-4 decision, struck down the heart of one of the most important achievements of civil rights legislation, under Obama’s tutelage

Dr King fought all his life to advance the democratic rights of the African American community; under Obama we are witnessing an all-out assault on the civil liberties of the wider working class community, and the striking down of the key portion of the Voting Rights Act is just another example of Obama’s deep commitment to extend corporate rule. Obama is the US president who asserts that he has the right to target any American citizen deemed to be a ‘security threat’ to the United States, so it is not surprising that a key plank of civil rights legislation has been gutted. The US Supreme Court may have acted boldly, but only because Obama has created a climate of ultra-right backlash in which reactionaries can lash out. The Democrat party has demonstrated either extreme complicity, or extreme cowardice, in failing to strongly challenge any of these moves attacking basic democratic rights.

The political writer and activist Eugene Puryear summed up the reaction to the official commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington thusly;

‘War criminals shame King legacy.’

The original 1963 March represented a rising social movement, articulated the grievances of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, and sought to mobilise people in mass actions to challenge the political and economic injustices of the capitalist system. In contrast, the 2013 commemoration is being used by a reactionary political establishment to sully and denigrate the great legacy of Dr King and the civil rights movement. As Puryear elaborates in his article;

President Barack Obama is not a continuation of King’s legacy, he is its negation. The president seeks at every turn to accommodate the rich and powerful, to conciliate the right-wing obstructionists, who answers the murder of Black youth with statements about the solidity of the nation’s legal system. He has waged war and killed children, conducted a massive spying campaign and ordered his minions to lie about it before congress. The list could go on for hundreds of words, because just like the presidents before him he has managed the imperialist system that needs King’s three evils to survive.

As Puryear explained, Dr King regarded poverty, militarism and racism as the three evils which sustains the imperialist power structure. Dave Zirin, writing about the official 50th anniversary commemoration, noted the sharp disconnect between the official political speakers and the concerns and grievances of the attendees. For instance, one of the official speakers was Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey, a man who has been quite friendly to Wall Street interests. As Booker was speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Zirin made the point that it was important to recall Dr King’s words that;

The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.

To honour the legacy of Dr King, and the thousands of activists that participated in the March on Washington, we need to fight the three evils of poverty, endemic racism and imperialist militarism. It is appropriate to conclude this article with the closing words from Eugene Puryear’s scathing critique:

The real heirs to the March on Washington won’t be the warmongers on stage, but the activists fighting against war, poverty and mass incarceration: The workers making poverty wages striking across the country, the people putting their bodies on the line against environmental exploitation—all those who dare to stand-up to power in the face of injustice. Let’s honor Dr. King by continuing that fight.