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Resistance in Israel undercuts settler regime

By Leslie Feinberg, Workers World,
5 September 2002

The settler state of Israel, imposed on historic Palestine by massive and sustained force of arms and an apartheid structure of racist segregation, could not last for a day without being shored up by its main pillars: Wall Street, the Pentagon and the Big Lie.

But a rising sea change is eroding that support foundation. After more than half a century of resistance to colonial occupation, the fortitude and endurance of the Palestinian struggle—from youth to elders—is inspiring a surge of solidarity around the world. Two prolonged Intifadas—Uprisings—have swept like waves across Palestine.

This determination to fight for freedom against all odds has motivated Israelis themselves to lay down their arms or to refuse to take them up against the Palestinian population.

It is difficult for anyone called into military service to refuse to fight, even in an unjust war. During the Pentagon war against the Vietnamese people, many heroic youths in the United States refused to enlist as soldiers and GIs overseas rebelled against their commanders. Their will to resist induction or even to frag their officers was roused by the indomitable resolve of the Vietnamese nation to oust imperialist occupation.

Today in the Middle East, Jewish youths and adults in record numbers are refusing induction into the Israeli Defense Forces or are balking at the order of their own commanders to shoot-to-kill Palestinians in the occupied territories. And while the Israeli military wages war against a people without an army—using Palestinian civilians as human shields—many people from around the world and across the U.S., including many Jewish activists, are voluntarily traveling to the occupied territories to enter the fray by defending the Palestinian people with their bodies.

This takes a lot of guts and a lot of consciousness to do so, because of the Big Lie. Zionism as a willing tool of imperial empires has always mantled itself in the cynical falsehood that it was creating a safe homeland for Jewish people. After the horrors of the fascist Holocaust, the idea of a haven was certainly appealing. The lie was sweetened with more mendacity: that Israel was a land without a people for a people without a land. This prevarication was accompanied by an orchestrated campaign of terror to force a mass exodus of Palestinians from their farms and homes, villages and cities.

The widening ranks of refuseniks in Israel objectively demonstrate the growing understanding that no people can free themselves from oppression by acting as an oppressor nation to subjugate another people. Israel has always been, and remains, an outpost for imperialist interests—financial, military and strategic—in the Middle East, not the interests of Jewish people, and certainly not in the interests of the masses of Arab people.

IDF soldiers have witnessed the death and terrible destruction wreaked by the treads of the Israeli military machine that bristles with weaponry made in the USA. They have seen firsthand the torture of Palestinian prisoners, humiliation and brutalization of Arab women, men and children in the grip of apartheid, and the destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure and widespread and organized military looting of Arab homes.

As a result, students as young as high school age are refusing to enlist, knowing that they face prison. Every Jewish male must serve three years in the IDF and then become a reservist.

More than 317 faculty members of Israeli universities have signed onto a letter to express our appreciation and support for those of our students and lecturers who refuse to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories. ... For 35 years an entire people, some three and a half million in number, have been held without basic human rights. The occupation and oppression of another people have brought the State of Israel to where it is today.

Soldiers from all ranks, including several hundred decorated officers, are refusing military service in the occupied territories. One of former Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's nephews is behind bars for refusing service because of Israel's oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people. (MiddleEast.org, Aug. 17)

Rami Kaplan, a 29-year-old major in the Israeli armored corps, is a leader in the Courage to Refuse group. He wrote in an April 30 International Herald Tribune article, Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip can in no way be considered democratic. It oppresses 3.5 million people, denying them their basic human rights. My refusal to militarily participate in this occupation, on the other hand, is most certainly a democratic act.

He continued, The refusal of the 435 signatories to the 'Courage to Refuse' letter is a refusal to fight for continuation of the occupation, or, more precisely, for continuation of the settlements. It is a refusal to fight in a war of choice fueled by an extremist messianic ideology.

Progressive Israeli activists from Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, warned pilots they were carrying out punishable war crimes after the Israeli Air Force dropped a 2,000-pound bomb from a U.S.-supplied Israeli F-16 into the center of densely populated Gaza City at midnight on July 22. The blast killed Sheik Salah Shehadeh, senior commander of the military wing of Hamas and 14 other adults and children, and wounded at least 176 others. In response, IAF Commander Major Gen. Dan Halutz angrily demanded the Gush Shalom activists be tried, possibly for treason. (gush-shalom.org)

The bottom line: Divest!

Divest from apartheid! Activists who immediately think about the brutal system of segregation in South Africa, backed up by bloody state repression, date themselves back to a multifaceted and fierce struggle in the late 1970s and 1980s against Pretoria's white supremacist rulers in the tip of Africa who enjoyed the deep-pocket backing of U.S. big business.

But today the demand is for Israel's corporate cronies in this country—from Wall Street to the ivy-covered halls of academia—to stop financing the apartheid occupation of Palestine.

Since Israel is not a viable economy that can stand on its own, it can only bloom because of the torrential river of U.S. patronage—an average of $3 billion to $4 billion a year in official aid and billions more in financial tributaries. The Pentagon and its adjunct military-industrial complex have built Israel into the world's fifth-ranking military power, despite its having a population of about 5 million people.

From Harvard, MIT and Princeton on the East Coast to the University of California on the West Coast, the demand to divest from Israel is rising on 40 campuses across the breadth of the United States. And, according to dyed-in-the-wool opponents of the pro-Palestinian activist effort, this is just the beginning. Jeff Rubin of the student organization Hillel—which strongly opposes divestment—told the Associated Press he expects the campaign to widen when the new school year opens this fall. We are taking it seriously, he said.

Widely circulated petitions list many demands, including a call to ratchet up the pressure on Israel to withdraw from Arab territory it seized in the 1967 war, return to the negotiating table and halt building settlements.

Demands for divestment are aimed at goliaths that prop up the Zionist settler regime—like AT&T, McDonald's, Hewlett Packard and GE.

Palestinian lawmaker Hana Ashrawi spoke optimistically about the struggle for divestment. It will begin to get people to question their assumptions, she said. And she pointed out that Jewish people in the U.S. were among the people of courage and wisdom who have added their names to the growing stacks of petitions.

From Berkeley to Ann Arbor, city councils are debating divesting their municipalities from Israel.

And speaking of Berkeley, a group of some 25 lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans activists from the group QUIT—Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism—took over a downtown Berkeley Starbucks on Aug. 17.

The imaginative and brave action used razor-sharp satire to slice through the Zionist claim to historic Palestine. They declared Berkeley a city without people for people without a city, vowing to continue to establish more settlements in future actions. They erected plastic palm trees to make the concrete bloom and signs reading, It works in Palestine, why not here? and, It's ours because we say so.

The Starbucks was an early target, the group explained, because founder and CEO Howard Shultz is a major backer of the Israeli state and this corporate coffee chain is one of the bull's-eyes of the divestment movement.

Since Mr. Shultz clearly believes it is okay for one group of people to grab land belonging to another and say they have a right to it, we figure he won't mind if we take some of his, QUIT's leaflet explained.

Parallels to South Africa

The parallels between the racist apartheid system of rule in South Africa and in Israel beg comparison. In a newspaper editorial published in the U.S. press in June, South African Nobel laureate and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu endorsed the call for divestment and drew parallels between the conditions of occupation that Palestinians endure and the segregated districts that Black people were forced into in South Africa during white supremacist rule.

Ian Urbina, associate editor at the Middle East Research and Information Project, pointed out in his article The Analogy to Apartheid that white-ruled territories in South Africa consisted of 87 percent of the country, including big cities and most of the arable land. Nominally independent bantustans, forming a horseshoe-shaped archipelago along the nation's outskirts, made up the remaining 13 percent of the land. (Middle East Report 223, Summer 2002)

The state of Israel sprawls over 78 percent of the original British-mandated territory, while Palestine makes up the remaining 22 percent. Urbina added, In early September 2000, Israeli activists organized a conference in Neve Shalom to announce a Campaign Against an Emerging Apartheid, which some on the radical left feel is an apt description of Israel's 'matrix of control'— composed of settlements, bypass roads, security zones and checkpoints—in Palestine.

Urbina also noted, Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, two Jewish heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle, recently published a letter titled 'Not in My Name.' Signed by several hundred other prominent Jewish South Africans, the letter drew an explicit analogy between apartheid and current Israeli policies. (http://merip.org/mer/ mer223/223_urbina.html)

Jewish Israeli political scientist Ilan Pappe told the Associated Press that he, too, sees clear parallels between the settler state and apartheid South Africa. The only thing that can end the Israeli occupation is outside pressure, he believes.

Palestinian rights activist Jabr Wishah recounts his discussion with Nelson Mandela when the former South African political prisoner visited the Gaza Strip three years ago. Wishah, who spent 15 years in Israeli prisons, said he and Mandela compared notes about Israeli and South African interrogation tactics. (AP, Aug. 19)

In a major embarrassment to the Tel Aviv settler regime, Mandela has agreed to observe the trial of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti—a lawyer, member of the Palestinian legislative council and secretary general of the Fatah movement in the West Bank. Barghouti, arrested in April on charges of murder and terrorism, is the first senior Palestinian to face trial in the two years of the Intifada.

Khader Shkirat, board member of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, quoted Mandela as having said, What is happening to Barghouti is exactly the same as what happened to me. The government tried to de-legitimize the African National Congress and its armed struggle by putting me on trial.