THOUSANDS of people have rallied across Australia in the last week to protest Israel’s recent military bombardment and siege of the Gaza strip.
They are part of a global response of millions who are taking to the streets from Egypt to Mumbai to Washington, galvanised in response to the devastation in Palestine and determined to win justice for Palestinian people. Over sixty thousand took to the streets of London and protests of several thousand have been held in virtually every Middle Eastern capital.
The rallies held in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane demanded an end to the massacre of Palestinians, to Israel’s blockade of food and supplies to Gaza, and to the ongoing occupation of Palestine. More are scheduled for the coming weeks. The passionate protests have drawn huge levels of support from the Palestinian and Muslim communities in Australia, and are some of the biggest anti-war demonstrations here since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006.
Importantly, the rallies have criticised the Rudd government’s support of Israel and Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s shameful justification of Israel’s attack: ‘Obviously, [Hamas] have broken the ceasefire and engaged in an act of aggression against Israel. Israel has responded.’
It has been widely reported that the conflict began when Hamas broke the ceasefire with rockets. It was in fact broken when Israeli troops conducted a raid on November 4th, the day of the US election. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak asked the military to prepare an assault over six months ago.
Israel is the fourth-largest military power in the world, funded by an average of US $3 billion each year in military aid. Their strategy of annihilation of Palestine is also economic as well as political. As Joseph Choonara writes in the British Socialist Worker: ‘Since June 2007, Israel’s economic strangulation of Gaza has shut down 95% of industry and left three quarters of the population dependent on humanitarian aid for survival.’ Desmond Tutu has called the situation in Gaza ‘worse than apartheid South Africa’.
The resistance of a starved, imprisoned and oppressed population is now being used as a justification for more savage attacks. The leader of the Israeli defence force has boasted that his army aims to create the ‘maximum number of casualties’ that will send Gaza ‘decades into the past’.
Israel and US strategy
The attack is the latest in a long history of Israeli state violence and terror. It is an attempt by Israel to impose total dominance over the Palestinians and prove its might as an agent of US imperialism in the region. The state of Israel itself is racist — founded on the mass murder and expulsion of Palestinians. It was also intrinsically bound from the start to US interests in the Middle East. The US-led ‘war on terror’ has provided the ideological justification for this most recent assault.
US support for Israel is part of an ongoing strategy to dominate the Middle East. Mired in two unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the success of Israel is of supreme importance to the US ruling class. The destruction of Hamas would prove that the US and its allies still have the power to control weaker governments and resistance movements in the region. Obama’s complicit silence suggests continuity with this view, and will surely be one of the first disappointments of those in the US who voted for an end to a warmongering government.
Rudd and the ‘War on Terror’
Rudd’s response was equally as pitiful. His government retains Howard’s unflinching commitment to the US alliance, and support for the brutality that this entails. Despite the pantomime of ‘withdrawal’, hundreds of Australian troops still remain in Iraq and an increased commitment to Afghanistan looks likely. Rudd has enthusiastically embraced a ‘Deputy Sherrif’ role in the South Pacific, and wants to maintain Australian power in the region.
Increases in military spending budgeted under Howard are set to continue, quarantined from Rudd’s “razor gang” that will slash public spending in response to the economic crises.
And the anti-Muslim racism that characterised the Howard years lives on. ‘Anti-terrorism’ laws have seen Muslims in Melbourne convicted for thought-crime and nine Sydney men remain on trial. The government has refused to take any action against Federal police responsible for the persecution of Dr Mohamed Haneef.
Rudd’s recent calls for a ‘ceasefire’ represents two things: that he understands the level of opposition to the attacks coming from the Australian people, but also that he wants to portray the onslaught as a ‘battle between equals’, rather than a murderous assault by the US’s main ally in the Middle East. Israel used the last ‘ceasefire’ to build up military capacity and to tighten the blockade of Gaza. They also launched repeated raids that killed hundreds of Palestinians. The Israeli welfare minister said this week that ‘a humanitarian truce… does not contradict preparations for a military operation.’
The left in Australia needs to be at the heart of protests condemning Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and calling for an end to the Rudd government’s ongoing support of the ‘war on terror’, the US-Australia alliance and the state of Israel. We need to harness the energy of the protests defending Gaza to continue to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and begin to build a long-needed campaign to end the war in Afghanistan.
by Amy Thomas and Paddy Gibson
See here for details of further actions across the country.