The development and unity of the movement for solidarity with the Palestinian people ­ in Sweden and elsewhere

By Lasse Wilhelmson

Published in Palestine Chronicle and Palestine Think Tank, October 2006.

Let me start by saying that I have no intention of belittling the admirable work done for many years by the movement for solidarity with the Palestinian people, particularly the very successful, and internationally acclaimed projects carried out by the Swedish solidarity movement in Palestine. Not forgetting either, the ISM and its praiseworthy activities in Palestine and in Sweden. These are just a few examples.

But in hindsight, I think it could be said that there has not been a significant rise in the Swedish public’s awareness of the plight of the Palestinians, nor have the organisations that set out to accomplish this been out on the streets campaigning to an extent on par with the urgency of the Palestinian question. Not just for the Middle East, but for the whole of Western Asia. The ”tarred with the same brush” theory still dominates people’s thinking, that is to say you cannot blame just the one party when two people quarrel. Endorsement of the Oslo Agreement is, I think, responsible for this.

It is tempting to make a comparison to what many of us experienced during the Vietnam war and the Swedish solidarity movement, even though society’s mood was different then. At that time, ”Peace in Vietnam”, which was the slogan that dominated policy-making, did not differentiate between attacked and attacker. It was when the demand ”US out of Vietnam” was launched that the movement leapt forward, and solidarity work became a struggle for all nations’ right to their own territory and independence ­ even Sweden’s. Vietnam’s cause became ours and focus was on the attacker. Thus it was politics that laid the foundation for the development and unity of the movement.

But the issues of Palestine and Vietnam are different. In Palestine, we are dealing with permanent colonialism and ethnic cleansing of the native population, the establishment of a new state on stolen ground and a comfortable majority of colonisers who enjoy exclusive citizenship (”The Jewish State”). In Vietnam it was a case of getting access to Third World raw materials and setting up a puppet regime to allow this. The difference is fundamental and must be considered if strategies for solidarity movements are to be successful. It doesn’t mean that colonialism and imperialism do not go together, but every conflict has its own distinctive features. Algeria and the former South Africa could also serve as examples. South Africa’s solution was to exchange political apartheid for a system which made it possible for the colonisers to stay. In Algeria the colonisers were eventually forced to leave because they and their Western allies took too long opposing a similar solution. This should give food for thought in the Israel/Palestine conflict.

It is therefore no coincidence that the Palestinians have never wavered from their right to return to the land that was stolen from them, a right laid down by the UN in resolutions 194 and 3236, the latter entailing that the right is inalienable, that is not negotiable. Arafat never wavered, which is confirmed in the so-called Prison Manifesto, even though this was a compromise between different Palestinian movements. This is the reason why the Palestinians have given Hamas their support. They are justifiably worried that their former leaders will abandon this right, with on-going theft of land and escalating violence as the result. And it is exactly why the Zionists do not accept this right, as it means that ”The Jewish State”, in fact, would cease to exist demographically. If a ”South African” solution is to be reached, with equal rights for all who live in the land between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan, then this would be a necessity and the question of where boarders are set and where areas for different ethnic/religious groups are located would be of secondary interest. The least one can expect of a solidarity movement for the Palestinian people, is that the ”right to return” ­ the question that unifies the Palestinians ­ becomes a major issue.

Since the Oslo Agreement, the Palestine solidarity movement supports a two- state solution without demands for the ”right to return”. This implies, that the solution is purely tactical and that the next step is to endeavour to put an end to the racist apartheid system in Israel, a necessity since 23 percent of today’s Israeli citizens (mainly Palestinians) are treated as ”sub-humans”. A common argument in favour of this opinion, is that it is the national rights of the Palestinians that are at stake and, as this is fundamental to the solution, they must have their own state, just as the Jews have ”been given” theirs. Palestinians advocate this too, even though it is hardly compatible with the ”right to return”. This issue has obviously divided the Palestinians for a long time. It should be said, however, that there is nothing in human rights legislation that supports the theory that all ”peoples” have a right to their own state. It is the business of the Palestinians themselves to decide whether their struggle is primarily ”South African”, ”Vietnamese” or anything else, but the task of the solidarity movement should be to mould support so that it does not divide the Palestinians, or itself, this being the present case with the fixation on the so-called two-state solution.

A two-state solution that sustains a ”Jewish State” would, however, by legalising the theft of land and ethnic cleansing, be a distortion of human rights legislation. And who would benefit? It is naïve to imagine that it would then be possible to come back and say this was a first tactical step along the way. Hence, a correct policy for the solidarity movement should be to unite as many people as possible for the following platform:

Support the Palestinians’ inalienable right to return home from expulsion, and boycott the apartheid state of Israel.

This platform clarifies the core of the conflict and makes is possible to create a broad united front. The Palestinians’ cause becomes ours in the sense that it confirms equal rights for all regardless of race or religion while at the same time pointing to the reason for the conflict. The platform highlights thus the UN Charter’s membership requirements concerning equal rights for all people. Other justified and significant demands that support the platform are ”Tear down the Wall”, ”Abolish the Gaza ghetto” and ”End the Occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights”, and more. These demands can of course, in various contexts, be the platform for different united front activities. If those Jews and Palestinians involved wish to find a provisional two-state solution within the framework of equal rights for all, we may safely leave it to them.

The current policy of the Palestine solidarity movement precipitates the move towards an ”Algerian” solution. There is a case for this, but not one I advocate. Particularly because it would mean a step nearer the completion of the on-going genocide of the Palestinians.

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