From Palestine to Perama: Struggle Crosses the Mediterranean

The Greek government has acted to extend Israel’s blockade of Gaza all the way to its own shores by blocking the departure of boats in Freedom Flotilla 2 from the ports of Perama and Piraeus. In this, the Greek ruling class and its “Socialist” Prime Minister George Papandreou demonstrate their class solidarity with the rulers of Israel and the United States.

Papandreou obviously feels it’s impossible to refuse their bidding, given the pressure that Athens is under from global capital, which is demanding the most extreme austerity measures in exchange for not forcing the country into bankruptcy. Greece’s complicity in halting the flotilla has also been reinforced by Israel’s efforts to curry favor with Athens during the past year. Israel swung closer to Greece after its relations with Greece’s rival Turkey had deteriorated following the murderous attack by Israeli commandos on the Turkish-flag Mavi Marmara during last year’s flotilla.

Greece has issued a blanket ban on any boat sailing from its ports to Gaza. One boat, the Audacity of Hope from the United States, attempted to defy the ban by leaving the port of Perama, and was turned back only after masked Greek commandos on two Coast Guard cutters pointed their guns at flotilla participants. Upon returning to shore, the boat’s captain was arrested. Dozens of emergency protests have been held around the world, and as we go to press all boats are still under armed guard in Greece—but looking for an opportunity to try again.

The class solidarity shown among Greek, Israeli and US bosses has its mirror opposite in the bonds being tightened between Greek and Palestinian workers. We say tightened rather than forged because Greek workers have on repeated occasions shown their solidarity with their Palestinian sisters and brothers, from mass demonstrations, to dockworkers refusing to load boats with arms bound for Israel in January 2009, to the decision of unions to exempt dockworkers needed to work on Freedom Flotilla boats from the general strike held as the boats were loading this past week.

And this solidarity is the logical outcome of common suffering caused by the global economic crisis and the resulting worldwide offensive of capital. The austerity that the IMF, EU, and the U.S. hope to impose on Greek and other European workers is on a par with that imposed on Arab workers throughout the region from the 1970s on. That process unfolded as one Middle Eastern regime after another opened wide the doors to global capital after a period of pseudo-socialist economic policies (in reality, the nationalization of a handful of industries for the benefit of the Arab countries’ ruling classes, from which some crumbs were used to pacify working-class discontent).

The combination of that austerity, increasing inequality, and the outbreak of the world economic crisis in 2007 helped fan the flames of popular revolts against dictatorships friendly to global capital from Tripoli to Cairo to Damascus (and, considering the Middle East more broadly, to Tehran). These revolts have given breathing room and new hope to Palestinians seeking to revive their own struggle against colonialism.

The effort by Freedom Flotilla participants to ask their Greek allies once again for aid occurs in an objective situation that is tailor-made for such an appeal. (And just minutes before this article went to press we learned that activists in Syntagma Square in Athens, nerve center of the Greek revolt, have voted to march to the ports on July 3 in solidarity with the flotilla!)

What’s more, such an appeal has in its favor the ever-deeper disdain in which Israel is held by billions around the globe, as its U.S.-funded crimes gain ever more exposure. The heroic Marches for Return of refugees to the borders of historic Palestine on May 15 and June 5 increased Israel’s isolation and helped bolster international recognition of the simple but profound justice of Palestinian demands. Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in the marches, which were both attacked with murderous violence by the Zionist government.

Washington, of course, called this violence an act of “self-defense” on the part of Israel, despite years of hypocritical lecturing by the U.S. (and its liberal dupes in the media) for the Palestinians to do exactly what the marchers had done—to mobilize peacefully for their cause. And Washington gave its blessing ahead of time to any murders that Tel Aviv might feel compelled to commit against Freedom Flotilla 2 participants, replicating their murders of nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara last year (murders that Washington also called self-defense).

What’s more, the United States increased the likelihood of such murders occurring by repeatedly calling the flotilla a “provocation” (a common accusation made against civil rights activists in the U.S. South in the 1950s and ’60s), and responding to pleas for support and protection from its own citizens on board the Audacity of Hope by telling them they were on their own. The Obama administration even threatened flotilla participants with prosecution under “material support” laws—which are used to frame up activists who have any kind of interaction, even educational, with groups on Washington’s terrorist list.

Palestine solidarity activists state that Israel has already sabotaged two boats, damaging their propellers in a way that would ensure they broke and punctured the boats’ hulls when they were far offshore. Israel also got Zionist activists to file spurious complaints of the boats’ being unseaworthy, and to issue threats to insurers.

Nonetheless, even if the flotilla never leaves Greece, a big propaganda victory has been won. The flotilla has drawn attention of huge numbers of people to the Palestinians’ cause; many have been already been riveted by the border marches, and sickened by Israel’s violence against them. They have been sickened too by the sight of a country willing to commit murder and disregard international law in its attempts to continue to exist as a racially exclusive, inherently discriminatory state.

The propaganda victory of the boaters comes as Washington and Tel Aviv work together to sabotage a projected September vote at the UN on “recognition” of Palestine. While the move for such a vote is just the latest maneuver by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority to avoid a real struggle to win liberation, the vote itself will be used as a rallying point by the Palestinian masses.

This contradiction between the PA’s maneuvers and the needs of the masses is the main motivation behind the campaign of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network to call Palestinian Movement Assemblies. These assemblies, being held this summer, will allow Palestinians living in exile in the United States to come together to assert their right to participate in long overdue elections for the leading bodies of the movement—first and foremost the Palestinian National Council.

In the U.S., discussion has begun about a September march on the UN building in New York, which could draw the attention of people whose eyes have been newly opened by the return marches and the flotilla to longstanding movement demands for an end to all U.S. aid to Israel and for the right of return of refugees. We can be sure the vote will be the occasion for mass outpourings in historic Palestine itself. In fact, Zionist officials are already predicting that if their government and the U.S. succeed in getting recognition rejected (or nullified by a U.S. veto), angry masses will turn out in numbers so large that they might have a hard time repressing them.

This is not to say that they won’t try to do their worst. Certainly we will see a repeat of the tear-gassings, the mass incarcerations, the brutal beatings, and the frequent murders of protesters that occurred during the first Intifada despite the almost total participation of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. And the Israeli regime’s use of violence by Zionist settlers in the West Bank will likely be turned up several notches.

But the momentum is on the side of the Palestinians and their allies. And as they try to increase that momentum in the coming months, their efforts will no doubt be bolstered by a deepening of the working-class fightback against the global economic crisis—in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, and in Egypt, Syria, the rest of the Arab countries, and far beyond. And of course the fight of Palestinian workers and farmers to reclaim their right to live and work in the homes, lands and workplaces from which the Israeli colonial-settler state expelled them is part of the struggle of all working people worldwide.

Let the boats sail! Let the refugees return!

> The following article is written by Andrew Pollack is from the on-line edition of Socialist Action newspaper, dateline July 2, 2011.