Some in the antiwar movement have been reluctant to take up demands around the occupation of Palestinian lands, fearing it will alienate some of those who opposed the invasion of Iraq or who might today be won to opposing its occupation.
But the same political principles that led so many people to oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq lead naturally to the conclusion that the two issues cannot be separated.
We cannot fight against one unjust occupation (Iraq) while turning a blind eye to another, longer standing one (Palestine).
This is not only a matter of principle, though it is certainly that. It is also the case that the occupation of Iraq cannot be seen in isolation from U.S. imperial designs in the region as whole, in which Israel is a central player.
For several decades, since supplanting the former colonial powers France and Britain, successive Washington administrations have sought to extend U.S. hegemony in the oil-rich Middle East.
Since 1967, Israel has been an indispensable ally in the U.S. project, serving as an outpost of U.S. power, a bulwark against independent nationalist movements, and a reliable partner in operations not only in the Middle East, but beyond.
The role of Israel was perfectly described by the Israeli newspaper Ha’artez even before this relationship was fully cemented: “The West is none too happy about its relations with the [Arab] states in the Middle East. The feudal regimes there have to make such concessions to the nationalist movements, which sometimes have a pronounced socialist-leftist coloring, that they become more and more reluctant to supply Britain and the United States with their natural resources and military bases…”
“Therefore, strengthening Israel helps the Western powers to maintain equilibrium and stability in the Middle East. Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and Britain. But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.”
On numerous occasions, Israel has indeed fulfilled this role, with the United States “preferring” to close its eyes to abuses carried out by its client and protecting Israel from censure for its crimes.
Israel has long sought to prevent any “linkage” between its treatment of Palestinians and other issues in the Middle East, but the connections cannot be denied.
Today, Israelis are involved in training and advising US occupation forces in Iraq. According to an April 1, 2003, report in the New York Times by James Bennet, “As they prepared for war in Iraq, American military officers studied Israel’s use of helicopters, tanks and armored bulldozers to fight in the claustrophobic quarters of Palestinian refugee camps.”
Martin Van Creveld, a professor of military history and strategy at Hebrew University, visited Camp Lejeune, N.C., in September 2002 to discuss the brutal April 2002 Israeli assault on the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin.
Van Creveld said the marines were “interested in what it would be like fighting a guerrilla war, especially urban warfare of the kind we were conducting in Jenin.”
In the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States used specially modified Israeli bulldozers, that, as the Christian Science Monitor reported, “can cut wide swaths through alleys and clear the way for tanks.”
And today Israel is carrying out repeated assaults on Palestinians, including “targeted assassinations,” by using the cover of the Bush doctrine and the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism that has been given renewed legitimacy by the occupation of Iraq.
“Israel will not be deterred from protecting its citizens and will strike its enemies in every place and in every way,” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said recently, borrowing his words from the U.S. “war on terror.”
President Bush told the world that the invasion of Iraq would bring about a more democratic Middle East and would hasten the momentum toward a settlement of the Palestinian conflict.
But today the “road map” (aptly called the “road map to nowhere” by its critics) lies in tatters, and Israeli settlement building continues.
The illegal apartheid wall Israel is building continues to grow, cutting off more Palestinians from one another, from their lands, from their work, and from any hope of a future.
And Palestinians are farther away from any meaningful control over their lives than they have ever been.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.S. occupation authority (misnamed the “coalition”) is working to oppose direct elections, buying more time to ensure that the country’s investment laws are set in place on terms favorable to the West, that U.S. bases will remain long beyond the “end” of the occupation, and that a regime emerges that will operate within the overall framework of order dictated by the United States.
The new “forward strategy” announced by U.S. planners for the Middle East offers no solution for Iraq, Palestine, or beyond, and is a recipe for more wars, more occupations, and more conflict.
The only hope will come from resistance here and in the Middle East that can link together these issues and say No to the occupation of Palestinian land and to the occupation of Iraq.