U.S. Labor and Gaza
To endorse the following statement, please go to: www.petitiononline.com/Gaza/petition.html.
New York City Labor Against the War joins the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions in denouncing Israel’s recent massacres in Gaza, the victims of which include at least 130 Palestinianshalf of them civilians, including dozens of women and childrensince February 27.
Who are the terrorists?
Israel claims that it is fighting “terrorism” in Gaza. This is the same hollow excuse with which the U.S. seeks to justify war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the erosion of civil liberties and labor rights at home.
In fact, Israel’s attacks are part of a relentless, U.S.-orchestrated campaign of collective punishmentwith complicity of the corrupt Palestinian Authorityto overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government.
Long before its latest massacres, Israel had turned Gaza into the world’s “largest open air prison,” assassinating activists, and cutting off essential goods and services to 1.5 million people. Only as a result of this did Hamas abandon a unilateral two-year truce. Even now, Israel seeks to derail Hamas truce offers by escalating arrests, home demolitions, settlements, and murder in the West Bankfrom which no rockets have been fired.
Despite media portrayals, this violence is overwhelmingly one-sided against Palestinians, who have no aircraft, artillery, or tanks. Thus, while rockets launched from Gaza since May 2007 have killed only one Israeli, Israel’s modern arsenal killed 60 Palestinians on March 1 alone.
On February 29, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Valnai, threatened a bigger “Shoah”a reference to the Nazi Holocaust. As UN official John Dugard has pointed out, Palestinian rockets are not the cause, but the “inevitable consequence,” of Israeli state terror in Gaza, the slow-motion genocide which human rights organizations describe as “worse than at any time since the beginning of the Israeli military occupation in 1967.”
Following the latest attacks, a Council on Foreign Relations expert explained, “You have Palestinians who wouldn’t necessarily support the violence but they are saying, ‘Well, what choice do we have?’”
Sixty years of ethnic cleansing and genocide
Israel’s war on Gaza can only be understood as an attempt to stamp out all resistanceincluding nonviolent protestto Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Indeed, most of Gaza’s population are survivors of Zionist expulsions since the Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948, when 13,000 Palestinians were massacred, 531 towns and villages erased, 11 urban neighborhoods emptied, and more than 750,000 (85 percent) driven from 78 percent of their country.
In 1967, Israel seized the remaining 22 percent of Palestineincluding East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gazawhich, in violation of UN resolutions, remain under Israeli military rule. Today, as a result of these policies, at least 70 percent of the 10 million Palestinians are refugeesthe largest such population in the world. Despite other UN resolutions, Israel vows that it will never allow them to return.
Palestinians who managed to remain within the 1948 areastoday, 1.4 million (or 20 percent of the population in Israel)are permanently separated from their families in exile, subject to more than 20 discriminatory laws, treated as a “demographic threat,” and threatened with mass expulsion.
In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, 140 illegal, ever-expanding Jewish-only settlements and road systems dominate the water resources and control 40 percent of the land. Palestinians are confined, separated, denied medical treatment, and degraded by an 8-meter-high separation wall, pass laws, curfews and 600 military checkpoints.
From 2000-2007, 4,274 Palestinians in these 1967 territories were killed, compared with 1,024 Israelis. The military has seized 60,000 political prisoners; it still holds and tortures 11,000.
All of these conditions have dramatically worsened since the Annapolis “peace conference” in November.
Israel’s war on Palestine depends completely on U.S. money, weapons, and approval. Since 1948, Israelthe top foreign aid recipienthas received at least $108 billion from the U.S. government. In the past ten years alone, U.S. military aid was $17 billion; over the next decade, it will be $30 billion.
Israel’s recent assault on Gaza was endorsed by a Congressional vote of 404-1. Democratic and Republican presidential candidates fall over themselves to offer more of the same.
On March 22, Dick Cheney reassured Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of “America’s...commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats,” and that the U.S. and Israel are “friendsspecial friends.” This “special friendship” means that, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is U.S. aircraft, cluster bombs, and bullets that kill and maim on behalf of the occupiers. Just one of many targets was the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions headquarters in Gaza City, destroyed by F-16s on February 28.
Such support bolsters Israel’s longstanding role as watchdog and junior partner for U.S. domination over the oil-rich Middle Eastand beyond. In that capacity, Israel was apartheid South Africa’s closest ally.
After 9/11, it helped intensify the demonization of Arabs and Muslims. It has 200 nuclear weapons, but helped manufacture “evidence” of Iraqi WMDs. With U.S. weapons and support, it invaded Lebanon in 2006. Together, these wars and occupations have killed, maimed, and displaced millions of people, thereby creating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Now, Israel is the cutting edge of threats against Syria and Iran.
In other words, oppression and resistance in Palestine is the epicenter of U.S.-Israeli war throughout the Middle East. These stakes are reflected in the ferocity of Israel’s attacks against Gaza.
In Palestine, South Africa, Britain, Canada, and other countries, labor has condemned Israeli Apartheid. Workers in the United States pay a staggering human and financial price, including deepening economic crisis, for U.S.-Israeli war and occupation. But through a combination of intent, ignorance, and/or expediency, much of labor officialdom in this countryoften without the knowledge or consent of union membersis an accomplice of Israeli Apartheid. Some 1,500 labor bodies have plowed at least $5 billion of union pension funds and retirement plans into State of Israel Bonds.
In April 2002, while Israel butchered Palestinian refugees at Jenin in the West Bank, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was a featured speaker at a belligerent “National Solidarity Rally for Israel.” In 2006, leadership of the American Federation of Teachers embraced Israel’s war on Lebanon. These same leaders collaborate with attempts by the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) to silence Apartheid Israel’s opponentsmany of whom are Jewish.
In July 2007, top officials of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win signed a JLC statement that condemned British unions for even considering the nonviolent campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Just days ago, the JLC and the leadership of UNITE-HERE bullied a community organization in Boston into revoking space for a conference on “Zionism and the Repression of Anti-Colonial Movements.”
Even the leadership of U.S. Labor Against the War, which receives funding from several major unions, remains adamantly silent about U.S. government, corporate, and labor support for Israeli Apartheid.
Labor leaders’ complicity parallels infamous “AFL-CIA” support for U.S. war and dictatorship in Vietnam, Latin America, Gulf War I, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. It strengthens the U.S.-Israel war machine and labor’s corporate enemies, reinforces racism and Islamophobia, and makes a mockery of international solidarity.
A necessary stand
More than forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came under intense public attack for opposing the Vietnam War. Even within the Civil Rights Movement, some dismissed his position as too “divisive” and “unpopular.” In his famous speech at the Riverside Church in April 1967, Dr. King answered these critics by pointing out, that “silence is betrayal,” and that “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today...[is] my own government.” At the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace in November 1967, he reiterated the most basic principles of labor solidarity: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.... Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
These principles are no less relevant today.
Yes, the Israel lobby seeks to silence opponents of Israeli Apartheid. All the more need for trade unionists to break that silence by speaking out against Israeli military occupation, for the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and for the elimination of apartheid throughout historic Palestine.
Therefore, we reaffirm our support for an immediate and total:
End to U.S. military and economic support for Israel.
Divestment of business and labor investments in Israel.
Withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces from the Middle East.
Other affiliations listed for identification only:
Larry Adams, Former President, NPMHU Local 300
Michael Letwin, Former President, UAW Local 2325/Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys
Brenda Stokely, Former President, AFSCME DC 1707; Co-Chair, Million Worker March
NYCLAW, with Al-Awda-NY. The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, is a cofounder of Labor for Palestine.
NYCLAW, March 23, 2008