End the occupation: Global movement must win a just solution for the people of Palestine!

Unionist contingent at the weekly Palestine rally in Melbourne on 24 December 2023. Photo by Alison Thorne.
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It’s early February 2024, 17 weeks since Israel began its deadly assault on Gaza. More than 27,000 Palestinians have been massacred and the number keeps rising as the assault of Rafah looms. By mid-January, Oxfam declared the average of 250 deaths per day as the highest of any conflict this century. Seventy percent are women and children. More than 66,000 Palestinians have been wounded, left with excruciating pain and a poor chance of recovery because the medical system is also a casualty of this war. Israeli tanks opened fire at the Khan Younis hospital in southern Gaza, where 8,000 displaced Palestinians were sheltering. Schools and ambulances are also targets.

Israel uses another deadly weapon: starvation. Michael Fakhri, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, tweeted, “It’s unprecedented to make an entire population go hungry this completely and quickly.” Whether or not this is the worst case of mass starvation in history, its brutality is breathtaking. Fakhri accuses Israel of “intentionally imposing a high rate of disease, prolonged malnutrition, dehydration and starvation by destroying civilian infrastructure.”

About one million Palestinians — more than half the population — are living in tents along the Egyptian border. Surviving a bitterly cold, wet and windy winter without heating, hot water or enough blankets is, in the words of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, “worse than anything you could imagine.”

In late January, Australia, the U.S. and U.K. suspended funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees, based on Israel’s claim that a handful of its staff were involved in the Hamas assault on October 7. UNRWA is the only organisation that provides urgently needed humanitarian aid to the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel claims it’s acting in self-defence and its sole objective is to destroy Hamas. But its actual aim is beyond doubt: to empty Palestine of Palestinians and complete the Zionist project.

Explosion of solidarity. The Zionist propaganda machine is working at full throttle — its lies channeled via capitalist media worldwide and complicit governments such as Australia. By demonising Palestinians as terrorists and smearing any defence of Palestinians as anti-Semitic, it hopes to browbeat the solidarity movement into silence. But the opposite has happened. Millions across the world keep coming out to say “We are all Palestinians” and to demand a “Free Palestine.” People understand that Israel is on a genocidal rampage. One that has been going on for 75 years.

From the outset, this eruption of solidarity has been internationalist and intersectional. First Nations, refugees, queers, transpeople, Jews, unionists and radicals — many young — are highly visible. At Melbourne’s massive weekly rallies, Jewish and Palestinian speakers demolish the lie that opposition to Zionism is anti-Semitic. From First Nations speakers comes an understanding that the solidarity between Palestinians and all Indigenous peoples is forged through a common experience of colonisation and struggle against imperialism.

The Gaza war triggered an upsurge in the union movement too. Rank-and-file unionists responded to the bureaucratic silence coming from their officials in the wake of Israel’s onslaught. Within days, a sign-on letter for unionists, initiated by New South Wales members of the National Tertiary Education Union, hit social media. Signatures rapidly grew into the thousands demanding “an immediate suspension of all hostilities,…an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza,…an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian land and an end to apartheid and ethnic cleansing.” From across the country unionists declared their “solidarity with all people who support the cause of peace, equality and justice for Palestinians, Israelis, and everyone in the Middle East.”

Union-based Palestine solidarity groups soon appeared: ASU4Palestine, CPSU Rank and File for Palestine, Teachers and School Staff for Palestine (TTS4P), Healthcare Workers For Palestine and so on. Members are stepping up to do what their officials, rusted onto the pro-Israel Australian Labor Party (ALP), won’t: organise!

Unionists For Palestine rally demands the complaint against Jason Wong be dropped now! Photo by Alison Thorne.

Liberate Palestine! Israel and its imperialist protectors have good reason to be very worried. Workers around the world are mobilising. In Australia, unionists are voicing anger at the sheer cowardice of their officials and calling them to account. They’re reaching outside their industrial silos, where they’ve been kept for so long, to strategise and organise as unionists across the economy. Trade Unionists for Palestine is cohering into an umbrella of the industry-based groupings, strengthening the prospects for well-orchestrated actions. This bodes well for forging unity around demands aimed at stopping Israel’s aggression, ending its occupation and liberating the Palestinian nation.

But the solidarity movement needs to be clear about what it calls for, or else it can be derailed. The global movement, shocked by horrific statistics and images of Israel’s barbarity, want the assault stopped. This desire drew the global movement toward “Ceasefire Now,” which quickly became its key demand. Israel must indeed be stopped, but not through a ceasefire, or truce, which is premised on Palestinians and Israel being equal belligerents in this war. One is a powerful, well-armed occupying state backed by the U.S. The other is a stateless oppressed nation displaced since 1948. Palestinians would be bound by the terms of a ceasefire brokered by Israel, the U.S., Egypt and Qatar, which would restore things to where they were before October 7 — namely the conditions that led to this war. And a permanent truce is a complete retreat, because it means perpetuating this status quo.

Palestinians are calling for self-determination as a free people. This requires the global solidarity movement, right now, to take concerted action aimed at forcing Israel to unconditionally cease its aggression and end its occupation. These demands should be front and centre of the global wave of solidarity. This is how the movement can break new ground, move past the ceasefire stalemate and advance the struggle toward a just solution.

We can do it! At a recent protest outside the Preston office of ALP member of parliament Ged Kearney, Arrente man and Black People’s Union speaker, Declan Fuber-Gillick, and Palestinian nurse, Riyad Aladassi, called on unionists to use our power to disrupt the economy. Right on!

Disgusted with their officials’ silence, union activists for Palestine are beginning to self-organise. Where they see their solidarity initiatives blocked by bureaucracy, they build up delegate and rank-and-file networks to push from the “shop floor.” In the rising cases of management bullying workers who express or organise solidarity in the workplace, they are organising. An example is the Teachers and School Staff for Palestine campaign to defend high school science teacher, Jason Wong. Targeting Wong for his activism, Zionists are using his speech at a rally outside the Department of Education to pressure the department to sack and de-register him. Harassment is also occurring in the media. Lebanese Australian journalist, Antoinette Lattouf, also targeted by Zionists, is fighting an unfair dismissal case against the ABC. Her union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), is backing her case. A fightback against management censorship is also happening in the community sector. TTS4Palestine, MEAA4Palestine and ASU4Palestine are arming and supporting members. ASU community sector members are challenging anti-worker laws with an “unprotected” walkout. Union members are taking charge!

When unionists build their collective muscle, they feel their power. This can lead to industrial disruption, including strikes. Workers in Australia have their own history to draw from — the Builders Labourers Federation and Victorian nurses, who stood up to persecution by the state, spring to mind! The world offers many contemporary examples, such as the U.S., where teachers led wildcat strikes for substantial pay rises in 2018 — in defiance of anti-strike laws and compliant officials. And super-exploited workers — mainly young and of colour — are unionising inside corporate giants like Amazon and Starbucks. This kind of militant action, when unified across industries, could force the Australian government to break with Zionism. We’re seeing this begin at blockades of Zim, the Israeli shipping line, in ports around the country — which are facing heavy police retaliation in a crackdown on the right to protest.

More and more, solidarity with Palestine deepens as workers experience direct confrontation with bosses and the capitalist state in our workplaces and communities. The fight for justice in Palestine and struggles for union democracy, free speech and the right to protest have become indivisible.

This is making activists even more determined! And there are opportunities for bold organising, right now. South Africa’s case of genocide against Israel in the International Court of Justice is historic. Make the Albanese government submit a Declaration of of Intervention supporting South Africa’s claim. Spread and deepen the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement into workplaces and communities. By building on blockades against Zim and extending the BDS campaign, force Canberra to cut all ties — military, economic and cultural — with Israel. Restore Australia’s funding to UNRWA. And replace the money from armaments deals with aid!

The ultimate solution to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East is a secular, democratic, socialist state with equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis — integrated into a federation of socialist republics of the Middle East. As Gaza-based feminist and BDS activist Rifka Al-Amya argues, “the one democratic state solution is the only answer that can guarantee basic human rights, including the right of return and the right of self-determination. This solution can be achieved through an alliance of Palestinians and anti-Zionist Israelis … sharing the struggle for a better future of all of us.” The future of all working and oppressed peoples throughout the world are interlocked — free Palestine, and liberate the world!

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