Issue 255 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review

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MIDDLE EAST

Rage against the war machine

Face to face with the Israeli army...once again
Face to face with the Israeli army...once again

Any remnants of the so called Middle East 'ceasefire' collapsed in early August as Israel used the suicide bomb in Jerusalem as the trigger to seize nine Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, including the PLO headquarters, Orient House.

Similarly, it responded to the suicide bomb in Haifa by launching its deepest incursion of the intifada into Palestinian-controlled territory, using tanks and bulldozers to destroy the police station in the West Bank town of Jenin and commandeer the governor's house. Again Israeli tanks surrounded Bethlehem, with implicit threats of invasion, to defend the illegal settlement of Gilo--under fire from Palestinian militia.

Opinion is divided on the significance of these events. The usually perceptive and progressive writer Graham Usher is deeply pessimistic. In the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram he argues that Ariel Sharon is winning the war of attrition: 'Against such a battering the Palestinian Authority resembled a boxer who knows neither what has hit him nor where the next blow is coming from.' Usher repeats Sharon's statement that the Palestinians are paying a political price for taking the path of 'terror' and comments, 'The first part...is certainly true--and the price is becoming steeper by the day.'

Yet the Israeli press is hysterical about the successful impact of the intifada. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz argued in mid-August that the intifada was turning Jerusalem itself into an isolated settlement: 'The capital is increasingly cutting itself off from the centre of the country and moving to the territories beyond the 1967 borders.'

The paper quotes cab drivers who are afraid to enter the city. It describes how the night time bus service into the city has stopped after drivers refused to use the main route because of the danger. It tells of Jerusalem residents who say that their friends from the coastal plain refuse to visit them, as fashionable restaurants stay empty. The paper even thought it significant to quote a young hairdresser who lost his lover because she refused to visit him in the city! 'I feel like a settler,' he said.

This view echoes the analysis of veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, who has recently argued that the intifada was slowly but surely demoralising the whole of Israeli society. He described the highly successful blockading of the settlements on the West Bank where central roads have ceased to be used altogether, and said that 'beautiful bypass roads, in which enormous sums have been sunk, are desolate'. He noted the failure of industrial enterprise parks in the settlements because truckers and maintenance personnel refuse to go there. In the wider Israeli society he reports on the collapse of tourism and sees the beginning of a reverse migration trend, potentially devastating to Zionism, where Jewish emigration not immigration becomes the norm.

The real problem the Palestinians face, as always, is lack of organised support in the rest of the Arab world. This was illustrated particularly harshly in response to the call for a 'Day of Rage' across the region after the closure of Orient House. 'The Palestinian day of anger did not witness any marches of anger in the Arab and Islamic world,' wrote Hafez Barghouti in the Fatah newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. 'We have lost hope in people on earth, but we still have faith in god.'

It has to be said too that the solidarity movement in Europe has been very slow. This is particularly important in Britain, where even the diplomatic editor of the Guardian has accused Blair of being Sharon's best friend in Europe (Guardian, 14 July). Following Sharon's visit to London, the Jerusalem Post's front page headline was 'Blair Favourable to Sharon's Anti-Terror Stance'.

The solidarity campaign here needs an injection of urgency. Much greater numbers should be built up at the now regular protests at the Israeli embassy. This autumn should see the launch of a much more formidable campaign in the universities, colleges and trade unions.

The college lecturers' union Natfhe is now officially backing the Campaign for Palestinian Rights. The campaign for a consumer boycott of Israeli goods needs to root itself effectively. The anti-globalisation movement should adopt the Palestinian cause. A good place to start would be at the mass demonstration outside the Labour Party conference in September.
John Rose


BETWEEN THE LINES

  • According to the GMB union, between £1.5 billion and £3.4 billion is set to go to the private sector over the next 30 years from hospital PFI schemes. John Edmonds, the union's general secretary, claims privatisation is creating 'a new breed of National Health Service loan sharks'.
  • The government could push through controversial schemes such as Heathrow's Terminal Five without being subjected to public questioning. Public inquiries are to be 'streamlined' by New Labour. Proposals by Stephen Byers could mean the power of inquiries will be handled by MPs. Friends of the Earth thinks this will spark bigger protests.
  • A blacklist of workers is due to be set up, courtesy of the government. The DTI plans to post on the internet names of all workers with a grievance who formally apply to an employment tribunal. Employers could use the list to look for 'troublemakers'.
    In the past the Economic League compiled a list for employers which identified trade union activists.
  • Demonstrator points to grim future
    Demonstrator points to grim future

    Tony Blair stopped off on the way to Cancun in Mexico for one of his three holidays to give his blessing to the Argentinian government's attempt to cut pensions and public sector wages by 15 percent. He was joining in a concerted campaign by the US government and the major sectors of the world capitalist class to make the cuts stick in the face of workers' opposition. For Argentina has become the first big test case as to which class is to pay for the developing world recession.

    Not so long ago Argentina was the toast of neoliberal apologists. In 1991 the government of President Menem and his finance minister Domingo Carvallo undertook a massive programme of privatisation. They passed a law making the Argentinian peso equal to one US dollar. They had turned the country, wrote the Financial Times, 'into an economic region of the US'.

    For a time the policy seemed to work. Inflation dropped into single figures. Some of the $40 billion the Argentinian rich had secreted abroad flowed back home, as did a growing portion of international investment. Production rose, as did real wages. Neoliberal ideologists everywhere were ecstatic.

    They hardly noticed some obvious flaws. The government was holding down taxes on the wealthy in order to attract investment. But that meant it could only finance its own expenditure by borrowing abroad and selling off previously nationalised sectors of the economy. Exports rose more slowly than imports. What kept the whole economy booming was the willingness of banks, foreign and domestic, to go on a lending spree.

    The Asian crisis of three years ago put paid to that. The funds which had poured in to the country now poured out, while the government could no longer balance its books since it had nothing left to sell off. The economy was forced into recession. Unemployment rose to 15 percent, and around 40 percent of what was once the wealthiest society in Latin America fell below the poverty line. Not surprisingly Menem's party was defeated electorally by a left of centre coalition.

    The crisis did not, however, go away. Under the new government it got worse, since declining output reduced government tax revenues still further and made interest payments on past debts even more onerous. After attempts to slash the education budget were beaten back by strikes earlier this year, the president, de la Rua, effectively did a deal with the discredited former government and brought Cavallo back as finance minister.

    His 'solution' to the crisis is to keep paying the bankers while further impoverishing the mass of the population. Hence the wage and pension cuts. Hence too a refusal to give state governments money to pay their employees' salaries. The peso is being replaced in wage packets by bonds which are supposedly redeemable at some point in the future. In practice, however, people are only going to get about half their supposed value if they try to spend them--with McDonald's the only big company keen to accept them.

    No wonder most of the country's teachers have been on strike--there have been repeated strikes of the whole public sector, and unemployed 'pickets' who blockade major roads are able to do so because of massive sympathy from employed workers. No wonder, too, that the government is desperate to engage the country's highly bureaucratised trade union leaderships in 'dialogue' over 'sacrifice' to deal with the crisis.

    No wonder, too, that Blair, Bush and the IMF are backing de la Rua and Cavallo to the hilt. Success for Argentina's workers would deny the bankers their pound of flesh and set an example for people elsewhere as the crisis spread. The workers are in the front line of a battle which many others are likely to join in the period ahead. And there are signs that, if they hold firm, some sort of victory is possible. The Financial Times has been suggesting that the bankers may have to accept some debt write-off if they are not to lose everything.
    Chris Harman


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