Africa and Palestinian statehood at the UN
Lessons for decolonisation
2011-09-22, Issue 548
AFRICA, PALESTINE AND THE WORLD CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM
It was ten years ago in September 2001 at the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) when the collaboration between the anti-racist forces of the world and the anti-colonial forces came together in Durban. This WCAR brought the issues of racism, reparations and the oppression of the Palestinian peoples to the centre of the international agenda. A clear programme of action had been developed to reverse colonialism and for the repair of the harms done to humanity by colonialism, racism and all forms of oppression. Indeed, the full title of the conference was the Third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances.
No programme of action could be carried out because very soon after the conference on 11 September 2001, the world was carried into a new period of militarism and imperial aggression. Questions of the injustice of capital and neoliberal exploitation took a back seat at UN meetings.
Now ten years later, the questions of the rights of the peoples of Palestine are again on the international agenda. This question is now being posed in the context of the recognition of the right to statehood for the Palestinian people and full UN membership. The president of the Palestinian State, Mahmoud Abbas, is at the present session of the UN General Assembly in New York pressing the historic claim by the Palestinian people to be recognised. His intention to go ahead with the request for recognition of statehood is on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital.
Palestinians currently have permanent observer entity status at the UN. The people of Palestine at home and abroad now want an upgrade so a state of Palestine has full member status at the UN. At present, the State of Palestine is recognised by 122 governments around the world (mostly from among countries in Africa, the Arab League, China and the progressive states of Latin America). For decades, those forces fighting for freedom in Africa have identified with the struggles of the Palestinian peoples. When many of these movements became governments, they fully recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and opened diplomatic missions for the Palestinian peoples. This article is a statement of solidarity from the forces of the Global Pan African and peace forces in support for the right of the people of Palestine to be recognised by the United Nations.
AFRICANS AND THE PAN AFRICAN MOVEMENT RECOGNISE THE STATEHOOD OF THE PEOPLES OF PALESTINE
I remember during our years of work in the Liberation Committee at the University of Dar es Salaam, the question of solidarity with Palestine was front and centre with support for the liberation movements fighting against colonialism and apartheid. Ambassador Ali Halimeh of the PLO brought to the liberation movements his experience in order to enrich the general level of debate on liberation. In 1982, with the massacre of the innocent peoples at Sabra and Shatillah, the full nature of Israeli oppression became clearer to the exploited in Africa. From the period of Sabra and Shatillah to the recent siege of Gaza in 2009, the actions of the Israeli state against the peoples of Palestine mounted crimes upon crimes. These crude experiences of death and destruction clarified the expansionist and militarist nature of the Israeli project in North Africa. Ambassador Halimeh went on to become the PLO ambassador in Zimbabwe and is currently the PLO ambassador in South Africa. He has worked tirelessly to bring progressive Africans together with the peoples of Palestine
African peoples from the progressive sections of the movement for freedom have always opposed the apartheid conditions of Palestine. Long before Uri Davis published his famous work, ‘Israel: An Apartheid State’, Pan-African revolutionaries such as Malcolm X and the civil rights activists of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had articulated the linkages between Zionism and racism. Stokely Carmichael was demonised by those who were afraid to speak the truth about the true role of Israel in Africa as a junior partner of US imperialism. It was therefore not coincidental that the issues of Zionism and racism would split the United States and the United Nations because there is always discomfort with a serious discussion of racism. There will be discussions of prejudice and discrimination but capital does not want a systematic discussion of how racism is crucial for the exploitation of those who are deemed inferior and under the heel of capital. The Palestinian question at the UN brings back questions of institutional racism in international relations.
Palestinian affinity with the African freedom struggle did not come out of a vacuum. African and Palestinian freedom fighters were fully aware of the levels of cooperation between the Israeli state and the self-declared apartheid state of South Africa. Whether it was collaboration in the development of the apartheid nuclear capability or cooperation in biological and chemical warfare, the full gambit of the twin apartheid cooperation had come out during the anti-apartheid struggles. It was during this period when progressive sections of the Jewish community in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa came out forcefully against apartheid.
In June 2001, within the context of the intellectual and political struggles of the World Conference against Racism, Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, two major Jewish freedom fighters from South Africa published a letter in a South African Newspaper comparing Israeli’s occupation of Palestine and South African apartheid. This position was supported by hundreds of prominent Jewish leaders and although the letter was written in 2001, the contents still ring true today, ten years afterwards. The statement entitled, ‘Not in My Name’, called for an immediate end to the occupation and sparked a healthy debate within the context of developing the lines of debate for the World Conference against racism.
Those who opposed the discussion of Palestine within the context of the United Nations also came out in full force to oppose the holding of a full review conference of the WCAR. After every major UN conference there is a review after five years. Because of the pressure from the Israeli lobby, there were such intense pressures from the US Congress that a watered down review was held in April 2009. It is from among the African descendants of Latin America where there is still pressure to address the questions of racism at the international level and to continue to link the issue of Palestine to global apartheid.
More recently one of the most prominent South African cartoonists Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) has pointed out why he is opposed to the occupation of Palestinian lands. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has not only joined in speaking out against the apartheid conditions in Palestine, he has been a strong supporter of the divestment campaign within North American universities calling on universities to divest from companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights. In a letter to students at the University of California Berkeley, (who have been at the forefront of this divestment campaign) he wrote, ‘Principled stands like this, supported by a fast growing number of US civil society organizations and people of conscience, including prominent Jewish groups, are essential for a better world in the making, and it is always an inspiration when young people lead the way and speak truth to power.’
These voices are essential for a period of repair and renewal in Africa and the Middle East. The debate in the United Nations is once again bringing back attention to the mischief making of Israel in Africa. On top of the alliance with apartheid, the Israel role in imposing Idi Amin on Africa (with the long term devastating consequences) and the role of Israel in counter-revolution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya is still to be fully elaborated. Israeli’s role in the blood diamond business is also a story that requires full exposure. Nearly every mineral producing state in Africa, especially those producing precious stones and diamonds have developed exploitative relationships with Israeli business people and state personnel. The Egyptian revolution of January 2011 has reopened the entire debate on Israel in the Middle East and North Africa and no counter-revolution or war can stifle the need for a new direction in North Africa and the Middle East. Those intellectuals from Africa and the Middle East who support peace and social justice must now do the kind of work that can speed up the demilitarisation of Africa and the Middle East. Without this de-militarisation, the authors of militarism will plunge the entire region into even more bloodshed than we have witnessed in the past 30 years
VOICES AGAINST OCCUPATION IN NORTH AMERICA
At the World Conference against Racism in Durban in 2001 there were calls for a rigorous examination of the apartheid conditions in Palestine. The supporters of Israel vigorously opposed this designation of Israel as an apartheid state occupying the lands of the people of Palestine but the resistance of the Palestinian peoples kept the question of apartheid firmly on the international agenda. Former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter who during his presidency worked hard to bring peace in the Middle East was one of the most senior persons in the US political establishment to highlight the truth about the Israeli expropriation of Palestine and brutalisation of the Palestinian people. His book, ‘Palestine, Peace not Apartheid’ was a modest effort by a US leader dedicated to peace to bring to the Christian community in the world the unchristian and militaristic behaviour of the Israeli state.
President Jimmy Carter who is a supporter of the state of Israel was seeking to win those in the US political establishment to the view that Israeli sovereignty and security can coexist permanently and peacefully with Palestinian nationhood. The militaristic forces in the US establishment would not want to hear and Jimmy Carter was vilified. The US media and cultural institutions wanted to cover up the real ugly facts of confiscations, jailing, group punishment, economic strangulation, systematic colonization, extraordinary PR, expulsions, killing, land theft, water theft, religious fanaticism, gradual takeover of the whole country and the attempts to imprison an entire peoples. This information is known all over Africa and the Middle East but we are again confronted with the realities of Palestine with the discussions of statehood at the United Nations.
The Palestinian peoples are using the forum of the United Nations to bring to the fore the questions of decolonisation. The United States, a country that fought for its independence against British colonialism, is taking the lead to block the application of the Palestinians for full recognition. Those who have written extensively on the Israeli lobby in the United States have clarified the merging of interests between the militarists and imperial forces in the United States and the militarists in Israel. In the book, ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’, the authors, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, outlined the negative impact of this lobby on the foreign policy of the United States. The authors asked a question that many academics in the US did not want to pose, why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?
The authors noted that:
‘Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.’
Although the writers correctly spelt out the negative influence of the conservative Israeli lobby and the deformed discussions within the US body politic, these writers did not have an operational understanding of modern imperialism and the deep integration between the barons of Wall Street and the military/financial/military complex. The reality is that the interests of Israel and the USA are identical when it comes to colonialism. In 1948 when the state of Israel was implanted in Palestine there had been residual sympathy for Israel in the wake of the crimes against humanity committed against the Jews during the Holocaust. Yet, the same peoples who suffered under the Nazis have allowed social forces with Nazi ideas to come to dominate the politics of the state of Israel. These social forces within Israel have become so dominant that their alliance with neo-conservatives in the United States and Europe provide a social base for militarists and the modern crusaders.
The forces within the peace and social justice movement in the United States have for decades understood the convergence of interests between the militarists in the USA and the militarists in Israeli. Oil companies have also understood the usefulness of support for Israel as a police for international capital in the Middle East. Today, in the moment of revolutionary uprisings when the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East are fighting to throw off the yoke of dictatorship and oppression, the question of the rights of the Palestinian people is central to the question of the rights to self-determination of all peoples. Decolonisation is also linked to popular control over national resources. The recolonisation of Africa by imperial armies is now concentrating the minds of democratic forces internationally.
Currently, there are close to 35 remaining colonies in the world. Just as how the United States is energetically blocking the statehood of the Palestinian peoples, it is also blocking the question of self-determination of other colonial peoples. Whether it is the question of Puerto Rico or the issue of the decolonisation of the Western Sahara, the US uses its diplomatic clout to support colonial oppression. In fact, this convergence of militarism has been so extensive that for the past 40 years the conservatism of the Israeli militarists became more and more extreme at the same moment when neoconservativism was taking hold of the US body politic.
The War on Terror supported these conservatives and all over Africa governments and security services became de facto allies of the US and Israel. Leaders such as Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt who used the War on Terror as the basis of their alliance with Israel and the United States have been removed. It is the new political reality that has emboldened the leaders of the Palestinian authority to again seek to rally the Palestinian people to press their claims on the world. The question of the debate of the statehood of the Palestinian people is bringing back to the centre stage questions of colonialism and illegal settlements. African peoples are seeing the full impact of land grab from the Palestinian people as there is a new land grab going on in Africa.
Peace and justice forces will have to intensify work to ensure that the militarists do not use this moment of crisis to push the Middle East and North Africa into another period of war. The questions of decolonisation, reparations, peace and justice are interwoven and the global Pan-African movement must vigorously support the statehood claim of the Palestinians. Some may claim that statehood will not change the reality and others will point to the reality that some sections of the Palestinian authority are as backward as some nationalist leaders in Africa. However, the issues of the colonial occupation of Palestine are more important than any section of the leadership of Palestine. What is urgent is for all the experiences of the anti-apartheid struggles and the struggles for peace to be rekindled with the new techniques of political organising in the 21st century.
The right wing government in Israel has turned its back on peaceful negotiations and is continuing the expansion of settlements. The recent uprisings all over North Africa and the Middle East have exposed the objective alliances between the dictators, monarchs, the settlers in Israel and the militarists in Israel. Recently sections of the population of Israel have come out in demonstrations against the conservative and ultra conservative political leadership in Israel. President Obama and those in the US who are opposing statehood for the Palestinians are also opposing those who want peace in Israel.
The grovelling of President Barack Obama before the Israeli lobby has diminished his standing in the world and is forcing progressives to take the peace question into their own hands to mobilise and organise to end this obscene era of wars and militarism. Obama has promised to use the veto power of the United States to block the application for statehood of the Palestinians and it is more than likely that the imperial position will prevail, but it should be on the record that the Pan-African movement supports the right of the peoples of Palestine to be fully represented at the United Nations.
Additionally, progressives must intensify their efforts to work within and outside the organs of the United Nations such as UNESCO, the ILO, WHO and UN Human Rights agencies to support the exposure of Israeli crimes of occupation and illegal settlement. In the aftermath of September 11, many Arabs faced rejuvenated discrimination and the realities of racism and Islamophobia. Today, some of those who call themselves Arabs in Libya are killing and butchering innocent black Africans in Libya. Others who support a racist Pan Arab project are supporting war, chauvinism and instability in Sudan. The progressive Pan-African forces support the statehood of the Peoples of Palestine and want to link the cause of Palestine solidarity with the global struggles against racism and colonialism.
It is not only peace with the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbours that is incompatible with support for the militarism. Peace is also incompatible with the work of religous fundamentalists (Christians, Jewish and Islamic) who use religion to promote war. The opposition to the statehood for the people of Palestine is also opposition to those who want peace in Israel. Social justice and transformation in Africa and Palestine are inextricably linked and the demilitarisation of the region can only be secured by uniting the peace and justice forces in all parts of the world.
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* Horace Campbell is professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’. See www.horacecampbell.net.
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