Watch the nightly news, and the prospects for peace in the Middle East seem hopeless. The Israeli State is blatantly assassinating Palestinian leaders and the right of return for Palestinians who lived decades in refugee camps is off the agenda. Meanwhile, the Iraqi people are living under U.S. occupation. But the good news is that there are solutions which can bring about a lasting peace in the Middle East.
More than 60 people packed Melbourne’s Solidarity Salon on May 24 to hear a panel of radical Arabs and Jews discuss what is needed to achieve a just solution. The event, titled Occupation Ain’t Liberation, was jointly sponsored by the Australian Arab Association (AAA), Committee in Defence of Iraqi Women’s Rights (CDIWR), Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), Radical Women and the Worker Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI). The discussion, broadly about the whole region, focused on the challenges faced by Iraqis who are living under U.S. occupation and Palestinians who have lived for decades with Israeli occupation.
International voices. Anice Morsy spoke on behalf of the AAA. Morsy, who is also a consultant to the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, was born in Egypt. He explained Zionism — a political ideology based on expropriating Arab land to build an exclusively Jewish state — as being as dangerous for Jews as it is for Arabs. He pinned the blame for conflict in the region on Zionism — which is backed by the U.S. — and on economic factors. He described “oil as a magnet” for a variety of competing interests. Morsy’s experience of living in Egypt, where Jews, Muslims and Christians live in harmony, highlighted the fact that religious tensions are not pre-ordained.
Surma Hamid fled Iraq as a refugee. Since arriving in Australia, she has continued organising for the emancipation of workers, and particularly working class women in Iraq (see FS Bulletin #24 for an interview with Surma Hamid). Hamid is the Melbourne Organiser for the WCPI and coordinator of CDIWR.
The news about secular resistance to the U.S. Occupation presented by Hamid was inspiring. The WCPI “has organised scores of successful protests, strikes and sit-ins, including a protest by the workers at the General Cotton Industries company, a leather company in Baghdad and a teachers strike in Erbil,” Hamid said. In Kirkuk, workers in the oil industry have formed an organisation to demand their rights and, reported Hamid, just two days earlier the first women’s demonstration in decades was held in Baghdad. But, she warned, more was needed to prevent chaos and civil war or the installation of a “despotic, reactionary and puppet government.”
The featured international guest was Henry Noble, National Secretary of the U.S. Section of the Freedom Socialist Party and an anti-Zionist Jew who campaigns for Palestinian rights. He agreed with Hamid that more was needed to prevent the installation of a compliant, Washington-backed regime.
Noble explained how the U.S. is key to world revolution these days: “No revolution on the planet, despite the most intense dedication, will be secure while U.S. capitalism dominates.” Palestinians understand that it is the U.S. which funds and arms the occupation, even if many in the U.S. do not. Noble thinks this will change. “The bullies running my country propagandise their murderous assaults as ‘saving innocent lives.’ Just as they pronounce that the Palestinian terrorists are keeping the hapless Israelis from living in peace. Many in the U.S. seem to have bought it — with their own lives, jobs, childcare, healthcare and education. The truth has not yet dawned, but it will. Occupation is expensive and doomed to fail.”
Political agreement. Noble agreed with Morsy and Hamid about the role of oil, describing it as “the greatest treasure and misery of the Iraqi people. Oil is key to Israel’s rule as a U.S. surrogate over the occupied territories.”
Morsy was critical of how the U.S. uses rhetoric about democracy to justify its aggression, but has no real democracy at home. He pointed to Afghanistan to highlight that U.S. invasion cannot bring democratic reforms. Hamid said that “the U.S. cannot — and, most importantly does not want to — build democracy in Iraq and the region. Democracy in Western terms would not fit the U.S. plan for a New World Order.”
All three highlighted the critical role of women in shaping a new Middle East. Morsy said that women are the first victims of war, and he expressed equal compassion for the Arab or Jewish mother who has lost a child. Hamid and Noble both emphasised how this suffering sparks resistance. Noble said: “It is well known that the first Palestinian Intifada was led in large part by women. But with the return of Yassar Arafat and the PLO from Tunis and elsewhere, they were pushed out of the decision-making positions as the regime used their money to give jobs to men. But still today, women are the backbone of keeping society, culture, education and healthcare going during the terrible times they endure. The most solid, longest-lived anti-Occupation associations of Jews and Arabs are those in which women are leaders.”
All three speakers demanded the U.S. leave Iraq immediately and all three acknowledged that peace could not be achieved in the Middle East without justice for Palestinians, Arabs, Jews, Kurds and all the other people of the region.
Tactical differences. Despite the level of agreement, the WCPI and the FSP had divergent views about immediate demands to raise in Iraq. Both organisations recognised the very real threat of civil war and both saw that lasting peace could only be achieved through socialism. Hamid argued that “the victory of reactionaries in Iraq would be a defeat for the Left worldwide” and pledged that the WCPI would “struggle to build a socialist republic in Iraq.” Despite the impressive achievements of recent secular working class organising in Iraq, the WCPI does not think this can be achieved now and is looking for solutions. It calls for U.S. forces to be withdrawn immediately and replaced by an interim UN administration to restore the peace and social services. At the end of this period of provisional UN government, WCPI calls for a referendum to be held.
Noble argued that the UN cannot be a solution. He described how the UN has been an effective tool of U.S. imperialism, highlighting the 13 years of UN sanctions which led to many Iraqi deaths, and pointing to the UN’s failure over the last 50 years to do anything more than feed the Palestinians. Noble cautioned against “glorifying the capacities of the UN” and instead raised the call for the formation of workers and neighbourhood councils, organised on a national level, to convene a national assembly, charged with the role of writing a new constitution.
The key message was Occupation Ain’t Liberation! End the Israeli occupation of Palestine! End the U.S. Occupation of Iraq. As Anice Morsy argued, a just solution “cannot have winners and losers.” A united federation of Middle East countries based on socialist democracy and equality among nations will bring lasting peace to Palestinians, Jews, Arabs and Kurds alike.