Palestine Takes Center Stage in the Antiwar Movement
The United National Antiwar Conference, attended by 850 people from July 23 to 25, 2010 in Albany, New York, marked a sea change in the attitude of the antiwar movement toward Palestine. For the first time a broadly representative, democratic national conference of peace activists adopted the demand “End All US Aid to Israel.” UNAC also endorsed the global BDS movement, committed itself to joining Palestine solidarity efforts around future flotillas, emergency responses to Zionist attacks, etc., and expressed its opposition to the US’s many-faceted complicity in Zionism’s various crimes. All of these positions were adopted in near-unanimous votes and in the face of attempts by a handful of delegates to water down or obstruct them.
This huge success follows on the heels of a similarly significant step forward at the US Social Forum. The resolutions passed at the USSF, which mirrored the positions adopted by UNAC, expressed the sentiment of the 15,000 activists in attendance from every social movement. But what is different about the UNAC votes is that they were taken on amendments to an omnibus Action Proposal calling for specific actions, foremost among them nationally-coordinated local antiwar actions in the fall, and national mobilizations in NY and SF in the spring. As such, UNAC has explicitly put Palestine at the center of those actions.
The victory for Palestine solidarity was made possible on the one hand by the organizing efforts of the conference’s Palestine Solidarity Caucus. The Caucus held several conference calls and extensive email exchanges before Albany to work out texts of the amendments to the Action Proposal and of a stand-alone Palestine resolution going into more detail on the context and goals of the struggle. The first night of the conference the Caucus held a meeting of over 60 people who enthusiastically and unanimously approved the texts to be submitted despite an appeal from Michael Eisenscher, head of US Labor Against War, who had asked to be allowed to address the caucus to urge that the texts not be put forward.
On the other hand, the success in Albany was a reflection of the universal experience of folks coming from dozens and dozens of local antiwar groups which had previously dealt only or mostly with Iraq and Afghanistan but, since the Gaza and flotilla attacks, have all realized that Palestine can never again be relegated to second-class status, much less ignored, as an issue by the movement (a phenomenon recently described by Noura Erekat in her ei article on the USSF). The depth and staying-power of this sentiment could be felt every time a speaker got up on the floor of the conference to call for solidarity with Palestine and was met with prolonged and repeated applause.
But even this universal shift among antiwar activists would not necessarily have found expression in Conference decisions were it not for the democratic nature of the conference. This is a product of years of careful organizing by the National Assembly. Founded in 2008 to unite a fractured antiwar movement, the Assembly held in 2008 and again in 2009 conferences open to all wings of the movement at which attendees made policy for the Assembly on a one-person, one-vote basis.
This year the Conference was held under expanded auspices. A few months ago, the biggest US antiwar coalition, United For Peace and Justice, voted to dissolve itself as a coalition and continue only as an informal network. As a result, the Assembly called for a United National Antiwar Conference to involve as many former UFPJ affiliates as possible as well as to involve all the forces which had operated outside UFPJ. Thus Palestine Solidarity Caucus members had an opportunity in Albany to address the broadest array of antiwar forces ever assembled.
What the Caucus Advocated
The Caucus included activists from Palestine solidarity groups around the country. Among the Caucus leaders were Nada Khader, Executive Director of Westchester’s WESPAC, and Marilyn Levin, one of the three Co-Coordinators of the National Assembly.
The Caucus’s success was also made possible by the work of Joe Lombardo of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace (which bore the bulk of the logistical burden of the Conference) in bringing Albany’s Muslim Solidarity Committee and Project Salam to center stage in the conference. These groups were part of a special plenary devoted to freeing political prisoners and ending pre-emptive prosecutions, and they organized the Conference’s closing act, a march of hundreds in solidarity with Muslim frame-up victims which proceeded from the hotel to the State Capitol and on to a local masjid. This political focus on Islamophobia and persecution of Muslims reinforced the notion among UNAC attendees that Washington’s wars and terror were all of a piece.
The Caucus proposed adding to the Preface of the Action Proposal wording explaining that the $3 billion a year given by the US to Israel was intended to maintain U.S. economic and strategic dominance in the region. This support sustains an apartheid regime engaged in land theft, discrimination, occupation and repression of Palestinians, including the refugees outside of Palestine, within the Occupied Territories, and within the borders of Israel proper. The U.S. supports Israeli acts of aggression, such as the attacks on Lebanon in 2006, the attacks on Gaza in 2008-9, and the murder of aid activists in the Free Gaza Flotilla.
To address these crimes, the Caucus’s main demands were: End U.S. aid to Israel – military, economic, and diplomatic. End U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza.
The second part of the Action Proposal listed actions to be organized in the coming year – actions which would include the above demands if the amendments were accepted. Such actions included local and regional protests from October 6 to 16, 2010; putting antiwar resolutions before city councils and town meetings and in referendums linking war spending to denial of essential public services at home; and bi-coastal mass spring mobilizations in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles on April 9, 2011.
The original Action Proposal included a pledge to mobilize against any US or Israeli attack on Iran. The Caucus amendments added a commitment that in the event of US-backed military action by Israel against Palestinians, aid activists attempting to end the blockade of Gaza, or attacks on other countries such as Lebanon, Syria, or Iran, a continuations committee approved by the conference will condemn such attacks and support widespread protest actions. It further pledged support for actions to end the Israeli occupation and repression of Palestinians and the blockade of Gaza
The political basis for linking Palestine with other wars and occupations was made clear in the Caucus’s stand-alone resolution, which noted that: When antiwar movements in the U.S. have been at their best, they have been motivated not only by opposition to the bloodshed and the money wasted in unjust wars, but also by opposition to the violation of the right of self-determination suffered by the peoples against whom such wars have been waged.
This principle requires the antiwar movement take further steps in putting the rights of Palestinians, and opposition to US support for Israeli violations of their rights and war waged against them, at the center of our discussions, our demands, and our activities.
Our government’s support for the apartheid regime in Israel is part and parcel of its war on terror, and more broadly of its centuries-long string of wars and occupations designed to extend and maintain U.S. economic and strategic dominance.
The resolution also made clear its opposition to all forms of oppression suffered by Palestinians:
$3 billion in U.S. aid go every year to maintaining a regime founded on the ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of Palestinians from their land and homes, who are still denied their inherent right to return. This aid also goes to permit continued land theft and ethnic cleansing, discrimination and imprisonment, and violations of civil and political liberties. And it goes for such military aggressions as the attacks on Lebanon in 2006, on Gaza in 2008-9, for the murder of humanitarian aid activists on board the recent Free Gaza flotilla, and the threats of military attack, including the possibility of using nuclear weapons, against Iran.
Movers of the resolution noted that Washington’s $3 billion in annual aid to Israel doesn’t go just to buy guns for checkpoint police in the West Bank. It goes in far greater amounts for the missiles, bombs and jets like the $3 billion multiyear purchase of F-35 jets signed the week before the conference for actual or potential use against all peoples in the region.
The resolution further noted the direct involvement of US military personnel, such as the training carried out by US General Keith Dayton of security forces used to repress dissent by Palestinians, and the technical and personnel aid given by US personnel to Egypt for its new wall aimed at blocking tunnels to Gaza.
It further denounced US diplomatic support for Israel’s defiance of international law and UN rulings, and its diplomatic cover for phony Israeli peace initiatives.
The resolution denounced Washington’s labeling of forces resisting occupation such as Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorists, and the call by 87 Senators for the Turkish charity IHH to be added to the terrorist list. Such labeling was denounced as a denial of self-determination, as a clear violation of the rights of the peoples of the region to decide for themselves who to support in their fight against aggression and occupation. It further warned of the very dangerous step [taken] by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Holder case outlawing virtually every form of contact, even promoting nonviolence or support for charitable work, with any group on the list.
On the basis of this political stance, the resolution repeated the demand for an end to all US aid to Israel, and in addition proposed:
– To condemn the murders of humanitarian aid activists on board the Mavi Marmara ship, the beatings and detention of flotilla activists, and the illegal seizure of ships in the Free Gaza flotilla in international waters. We further resolve to publicize and support future aid flotillas and convoys, and to strongly protest any aggression against them that may occur.
– To endorse the call of Palestinian Civil Society, as expressed in its July, 2005 Call, signed by hundreds of Palestinian refugees, human rights and cultural organizations and unions, to support a world-wide campaign of “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights”.
– To support the annual international Israeli Apartheid Week in March calling for Solidarity in Action: Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions.
– To urge all organizations and individuals to mobilize in protest against any military attacks launched by Israel, whether against Palestinians inside pre-1967 Israel, in the West Bank or Gaza; against Lebanon or Iran.
– To call for the release of all 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails. We further resolve to call for the release of all Muslim and Arab prisoners held on US soil or in US bases abroad (Guantanamo, Baghram etc.) who are victims of pre-emptive prosecutions as part of Washington’s anti-Muslim, anti-Arab war propaganda;
– To demand that Israel end its illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and E. Jerusalem, remove all settlements, and dismantle the Apartheid Wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.
– To reject the apartheid-like practices of discrimination against Palestinians, including denial of their right to return to their homes, both in the territories seized in 1967 and in pre-1967 Israel. We call for full equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, which means the dismantling of all laws that discriminate against non-Jewish citizens, and which violate international law and UN resolutions seeking to enforce that law on behalf of the Palestinians;
– To demand the immediate end of the siege of Gaza. This means a total end of all Israeli attempts to interfere in any way with the free movement of goods and people, no matter what or who they may be, in and out of Gaza, whether by land, sea or air, and no matter their destination or point of origin.
In a clear message that the antiwar movement’s previous sidelining of Palestine was a disservice to its own stated aims, the Conference voted: To encourage the antiwar and other social movements to continue education on the linkage between Washington’s anti-Palestinian policy and its other wars and support for occupation abroad and exploitation and oppression at home. In this regard we second the points made in the document approved by the 15,000 in attendance at the recent US Social Forum: for an end to U.S. interventions and occupations in Palestine, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Colombia, etc. We call on all organization and social movements to boycott, divest and sanction the Israeli apartheid state and the institutions the support it.
Finally, the Caucus decided to append as a friendly amendment to its own Resolution a motion to support the US Boat to Gaza which had been made by the Boat’s organizers (see ustogaza.org).
The Challenges Ahead
Another victory for Palestine solidarity were the two standing-room only workshops held in Albany, one on BDS and related strategies, the other on the one-state/two-state debate.
Supporters of Palestine made clear at UNAC, as expressed on the floor of the conference by several speakers and in the final votes, that the days of Palestine being relegated to second-class status as an issue or even excluded entirely are over, and that we are not going back.
But it’s also important to remember the context in which we operate, i.e. the current weakness of the antiwar movement. The 850 people who came to Albany did so in the hope and belief that we need a revival and unification of the movement. UNAC was possible in part because of the vacuum created by the dissolution of UFPJ but that very dissolution was symptomatic of the hard times facing all antiwar activists in recent years, manifested on the one hand in frustration that years of mobilizing have not yet ended Washington’s wars, and on the other hand in illusions – only just now beginning to break down that Obama would do the job for us.
In this context, the victory for Palestine at UNAC must be translated into hard, detailed, methodical work: to deepen the education of fellow antiwar activists about the issues, and to find clear and concrete ways to explain the issues to those only just now becoming antiwar activists. Coming very soon is a huge but challenging opportunity to do just that: the October 2nd rally called by the NAACP, AFL-CIO and other major civil rights and labor forces for jobs, peace and justice in Washington, DC, a rally which UNAC pledged to attend and to use to educate about the links between our issues.
– Andrew Pollack, Member, Al-Awda NY, and Coordinating Committee member, National Assembly to End US Wars and Occupations. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.