May 2007

Mobilizing for June 10 - March for Liberation and Return!

In 1948, 59 years ago and the same year as the implementation of Apartheid laws in South Africa, zionist invaders waged war against the indigenous population of Palestine, killing 13,000 Palestinians, displacing 750,000 inhabitants who would become refugees, depopulating and destroying over 400 villages, and illegally occupying the land of Palestine. To this day, this injustice has never been rectified, and today over 6 million refugees are prevented by Apartheid Israel from returning home.

In 1967, Apartheid Israel launched another all out war, expanding its occupation into Gaza, the Sinai, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and displacing another 200,000 Palestinians. Although eventually withdrawing from the Egyptian Sinai in 1979, the zionist invaders illegally annexed the Golan Heights in 1982, and continue to militarily occupy the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to this day.

The expansion of occupation in 1967 is certainly a significant and even standout event in the ever-growing list of Apartheid Israel's crimes. As a movement, it is appropriate for us to commemorate the 40th anniversary of this major invasion. However, we must always make clear that the military occupation that began in 1967 is in fact an expansion of the total occupation of historic Palestine which began in 1948. Even Apartheid Israel likely did not anticipate that its aggression in 1967 would win support for its initial injustice in 1948. But many groups and individuals working to support Palestine seem to suggest this effect by placing an emphasis on "40 years" rather than "59 years" of occupation. In many cases, this habit probably reflects nothing other than a lack of careful analysis, and comes about by mirroring what others say. But in some cases, this practice is intentional, whether it reflects outright support for a zionist state, or a defeatist belief that the Right to Return is not "practical" and should thus be left out of demands, or for "negotiation."

Demonstrators at the April 7, 2001 New York City march for
the right to return organized by Al-Awda.
Just as Apartheid Israel's many subsequent invasions, assassinations, abductions and expulsions have not made right the military occupation of 1967, neither did the 1967 invasion make right the conquering of the land and expulsion of its indigenous inhabitants in 1948. Justice in Palestine means liberation, and liberation begins with self-determination and the implementation of the Right to Return. We must challenge those who seek to mitigate the Palestinian struggle to an issue of 40 years of military occupation without unequivocally advocating for the core issue which is the Right to Return.

On June 10-11, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and United for Peace and Justice are sponsoring a "protest, teach-in and lobby day" in Washington D.C. According to UFPJ's email promotion on May 10th, the two-day mobilization is planned "to protest the 40th anniversary of Israel's illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip." The U.S. Campaign takes a more narrow approach in its May 8th email promotion, putting forward that the action is to "protest US support for Israel's 40 year-old military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip." This nuanced difference of protesting U.S. support for occupation rather than protesting the occupation itself is actually reflected in the points of unity for endorsement, as published on the U.S. Campaign website:

* An end to US military, economic, diplomatic, and corporate support for Israel's illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

* A change in US policy to one that supports a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis based on equality, human rights and international law, and the full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions.

The success of the U.S. Campaign in winning UFPJ's co-sponsorship of the June 10-11 actions is notable. After all, UFPJ has a history of silencing and sidelining discussion of Palestine in the antiwar movement. In early 2004, UFPJ struggled long and hard to keep Palestine out of the March 20, 2004 mass mobilization in New York to mark the first anniversary of the expansion of U.S. war on Iraq. Even after agreeing to unite with ANSWER to organize one united march and demonstration, UFPJ organizers were seen ripping down Palestinian flags from the stage, and a senior member of UFPJ's leadership lambasted the speaker from Al-Awda New York for initiating chants of "Free Palestine!" during her speaking slot. Again in 2005 UFPJ battled the antiwar movement to keep Palestine, and specifically the central issue of the Right to Return, out of the September 24 mass rally and demonstration in Washington DC. After that, in part to avoid debates over including or excluding Palestine, UFPJ issued a proclamation that it would no longer work with ANSWER. In practice, UFPJ goes a step further by calling alternative/competing actions after ANSWER announces a national action that includes support for Palestine - a tactic most recently employed against the March 17th, 2007 march on the Pentagon.

In this context, it is therefore a positive development that UFPJ is lending its name to a demonstration that addresses an aspect of the Palestinian struggle. In fact, despite UFPJ's usual disclaimer that it "does not take a position" on the Palestinian right to return, the June 10-11 Call to Action acknowledges Palestinian refugees' "internationally guaranteed right of return." The action call additionally states: "Both in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Palestinians are subjected to a system of apartheid." These are advanced positions usually absent from UFPJ discourse.

It is thus commendable that the U.S. Campaign and UFPJ are organizing, regardless of nuanced points of unity wording, what many protesters will quite simply think of as a pro-Palestine demonstration. Although the organizers are planning two days of actions, the event logically likely to draw the largest numbers will of course be the rally and march on Sunday, June 10th. Palestinian and solidarity activists should mobilize to attend this demonstration and promote the Right to Return.

Right to Return activists are correct in their criticism of the discourse which seeks to place an emphasis on 40 years rather than 59 years of occupation. Similarly, Right to Return activists should also be cautious in their expectations of the discourse likely to be presented from the stage and at teach-ins on June 10th.

Despite the positive political advances suggested by the U.S. Campaign and UFPJ in the June 10-11 Call to Action, an examination of their public open letter exchange with Michael Lerner of Tikkun - a member organization of both the U.S. Campaign and UFPJ - reveals their willingness to retreat to a reactionary position. It also provides a demonstration of the role played by so-called "progressive" zionists in the movement.

Lerner initiated the exchange with his article "How the Anti-Israel Left Helps Perpetuate the Occupation" by speaking against the activities - and their organizers - planned for June 10-11. Speaking of political principle he writes, "It [unity] can't be around the dissolution of the State of Israel envisioned by many who are currently planning a set of demonstrations against Israel June 10-12 coordinated by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the United for Peace and Justice." Lerner suggests that only a "two-state solution" ought to be promoted.

In less honest language, Lerner essentially points out that the oppressor apartheid zionist society really, really likes its privilege, really, really likes having a state on stolen land, really, really likes having economic and military superiority over Palestinians, and is not going to just want to give all of this up. Therefore, to follow this logic, advocating for a single democratic state with equality under law for all of its citizens is a bad idea, because that is not what zionists want. In fact, advocating for anything other than two states "plays into the hands of those who seek to perpetuate the occupation." This absurd logic could be used against any struggle for justice on the basis that those with power do not wish to relinquish it.

Of course, this is all a straw man argument on the part of Lerner, because the June 10-11 Call to Action says nothing about any number of states. However, Lerner probably did not believe his own mischaracterization of the political positioning of the rally organizers. Rather, he was setting them up, and they played right into his hands.

The U.S. Campaign and UFPJ issued a "Letter of Response to Tikkun" on April 30th. In it they remind Lerner that the June 10-11 points of unity specifically speak to influencing U.S. policy. They also rely on their "we don't take a position" approach to refute his assertion that "many" organizers are united around the "dissolution of the State of Israel". They take such strong exception to Lerner's claim, in fact, that they suggest that "powerful organizations on the pro-Israeli right - those organizations which actually are working to perpetuate Israel's military occupation - do not even go so far in their condemnations of this mobilization."

The problem with their response to Lerner is that they treat what is a mischaracterization instead as an allegation, and this serves his purpose. It is true that neither the U.S. Campaign nor UFPJ advocate for the dissolution of racist Apartheid Israel. However, just as many groups and individuals called for an end to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, so too do many today proudly and justly call for the same fate for Apartheid Israel. Zionists make many unfounded, intentionally misleading claims in their propagandizing against those who advocate for justice for Palestine. Lerner succeeded in prompting the U.S. Campaign and UFPJ to treat what is in fact a call for justice in Palestine instead as a position from which to vociferously distance oneself.

Having achieved more than he probably hoped for, Lerner posted a response "apology"/book plug to the Tikkun website. Ostensibly apologizing to June 10-11 organizers for "clumsy wording," Lerner instead digs in deeper, pushing his agenda of setting the discourse. Though placing U.S. Campaign and UFPJ outside of this attack, he accuses advocates of a "one-state solution" of anti-semitism. By the same logic, Lerner would argue that advocacy for the Palestinian Right to Return is anti-semitic. And given that every Palestinian has a Right to Return, it follows that Lerner would suggest that to be Palestinian is to be anti-semitic. Lerner includes this frightening advice for the organizers: "I think it is a huge political mistake to allow demonstrators to be portrayed as supporting (directly or indirectly) the elimination of the State of Israel as one of the possible options for speakers and for signs being carried and slogans being chanted."

Lerner should easily be dismissed as a zionist with no place in movements for justice. But instead he masquerades as a "peace activist" and is allowed membership to coalitions such as the U.S. Campaign and UFPJ. As a member organization issuing statements against the work of the coalition, it is clear that Tikkun does not benefit the U.S. Campaign, but instead plays a subversive role. Tikkun's self-serving aim within the U.S. Campaign is to constantly push the discourse to the right, away from support for Palestinian justice. Lerner is lashing out because, fortunately, he is failing. The U.S. Campaign and UFPJ, regardless of any real or perceived shortcomings, have instead moved to the left. Perhaps Lerner's latest pronouncement will have isolated him to such an extent that the U.S. Campaign will revoke Tikkun's membership.

Demonstrators march for the right to return in a march commemorating
the 58th anniversary of Al-Nakba in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
While many Right to Return movement activists may choose not to sign on to the narrowly defined points of unity for the June 10th demonstration, this important demonstration still must not be ignored. Most attendees will not be arriving with a preconceived notion that the correct resolution to the conflict is the establishment of a multi-bantustan state alongside - or surrounded by - Apartheid Israel. Therefore, Right to Return activists should mobilize to form "Liberation and Return" contingents.

There is no justifiable reason that the central issue to the Palestinian struggle for liberation, the Right to Return, be left out of the primary demonstration demands. The U.S. Campaign voices support for the right of return in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of its website (and elsewhere if one spends enough time searching), and this is positive. Indeed, in a May 15th email announcement about its admirable Washington, DC Metro Station advertisement campaign, the U.S. Campaign states:

"May 15, marks another important date: al-Nakba Day, commemorating the 59th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing and dispossession that Palestinians suffered when Israel was founded. The effects of this catastrophe still linger today as Israel refuses to recognize the internationally-accepted right of return of Palestinian refugees who were exiled from their homeland."

Commendable language indeed, though the ads themselves make no mention of the Right to Return, nor of the original dispossession in 1948. Instead, the poster refers only to the "40th anniversary of Israel's illegal military occupation." The U.S. Campaign suggests that advertisements will be seen 9 million times over four weeks leading up to the June 10th march and rally. The execution of the ad campaign is quite remarkable, but an opportunity was missed to address the core issue.

It is time for the U.S. Campaign to unequivocally advocate for the Right to Return as a primary point of unity in all of its actions, and in its core "Principles and Purpose." They would be justified in doing so even within their limited scope and focus of working to affect U.S. policy. Indeed, they already do put forward support for the right of return. Now they must prioritize and emphasize the Right to Return. The U.S. Campaign should stand up to their internal detractors, taking from this experience that it is better to appease advocates for justice than defenders of Apartheid Israel.

Al-Awda New York, a chapter of the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, is sponsoring a bus organized by Palestinian youth in upstate New York. Other groups are organizing buses for activists leaving from the New York City and New Jersey area. The U.S. Campaign website promotes buses leaving from four additional states. And certainly the U.S. Campaign will be drawing out local DC area activists. Al-Awda New York and New Jersey Solidarity - Activists for the Liberation of Palestine call on Right to Return activists to march in a "Liberation and Return" contingent.

Let us carry signs and chant slogans, directly and indirectly calling for the elimination of apartheid, and for the unequivocal non-negotiable Palestinian Right to Return to original lands and properties!

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