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We can learn from Iraq when looking to the future in Palestine

May 26, 2021 at 10:48 am

Palestinian children light candles in memory of the Abu Hattab family killed in the Israeli air strikes on Gaza, on 23 May 2021 [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency]

Palestine, which lives in our hearts and souls, has within eleven days achieved a lot in the relentless struggle for freedom, albeit at a cost which we all know is extortionately high. In imposing such a cost, the Zionist enemy wanted the lives of children, women and the elderly to be the weight that finally dragged down the Palestinians’ sense of dignity and freedom. Civilians have been targeted in order to create despair and frustration among those who have fought against occupation and injustice for more than 73 years. The plan, though, has failed.

As well as its murderous military force, the enemy used propaganda, deception and falsehood. Thus, the media and political narrative has been that this is a “conflict” between democratic, Europeanised Israel and “Hamas terrorists”, rather than legitimate Palestinian resistance against a brutal military occupation. Allegations of anti-Semitism have been made, and the horrors of the Holocaust have been invoked, as if it was the Palestinians who led European Jews into the gas chambers, and not European Nazis, for which Israel must be allowed to burn the people of occupied Palestine.

The latest deadly bombardment of the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip over eleven days and nights demonstrated the fragility of this narrative, but did not completely erase it, as it is essential to enable Zionist continuity in the region. Some of it was, however, buried under the rubble of the residential buildings destroyed by Israel’s systematic bombing, along with the media-enhanced halo that the Zionists wear self-righteously as they proclaim Israel’s “right to self-defence” and the selective right of life for an entity built upon terrorism, ethnic cleansing and land usurpation. The days and nights of brutal killing have exposed Israel to the world for what it is: a racist, colonial power, supported by imperialists, feeding on exploitation and the support of tyrants.

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In response, voices are being raised with a call for justice, through massive demonstrations in cities around the world, as well as on social media. We have seen articles, interviews and seminars with those besieged in Gaza and facing ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah; children have been singing, smiling and laughing at those who want to kill all smiles and laughter. Moreover, resistance has not just sprung out of Gaza, and it is no longer the Palestinians’ only weapon. Everyone in occupied Palestine — including the land occupied since 1948 — has risen as one, put aside their differences and returned to the essence of the liberation struggle. In this they have been supported and given hope by the voices of freedom ringing around the world.

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, including many politicians, have taken to the streets of Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and the US, chanting “Free, free Palestine” in unison. With every voice and every act of solidarity the discourse of “anti-Semitism” and “Islamophobia” that casts Arabs and Muslims in general as terrorists and barbarians is weakened, and the fake Zionist narrative is exposed as a lie. This is what has been seen over the past two weeks. The issue now is to see how we can build on this solidarity so that it will continue to flourish. The seeds have been planted and watered, now how do we avoid a drought?

- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

No human rights in Gaza – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

I ask this with concern about consolidating what has been accomplished, not least because I still remember the million-man protests against the invasion of Iraq, and the astounding global solidarity that preceded the US-led invasion and occupation in March 2003.

At that time, 35 million people took to the streets around the world in protest and anger against the Bush administration’s plot to invade Iraq. Arabs and non-Arabs alike stood in solidarity with the Iraqi people. Demonstrators even occupied the streets in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia and Morocco. Clashes took place between protesters and “riot police” in Cairo and Jordan as efforts were made to approach the US and British Embassies. The US flag was burned in protest. Demands were also made in a number of countries, including Egypt, for the expulsion of the US, British and Israeli ambassadors. It was condemnation of the “Arab silence” that united the protesters; cities in the Gulf States were empty of protesters.

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Internationally, more than 200,000 people took to the streets of Athens, where students described US President George W. Bush as a “murderer”; Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is currently being described likewise. On the same day, protests were held in Pakistan, Australia, Indonesia, Ankara, Russia, France and Germany. Thousands of students went on strike in Denmark, Switzerland, Spain and New York, while trade unions declared a strike in Italy. Security at US embassies and consulates around the world was tightened, as was security at Israeli embassies.

The solidarity movement derived its strength from the Iraqi resistance to the US occupation. The cost, as in Palestine, was high, and the resistance, as in Palestine, was labelled as “terrorism”. A new colonial disease seeped into the national body, with poisonous sectarianism and ethnic clashes adding to rampant corruption and locally-recruited spies.

Despite the success of the Iraqi resistance in stopping the imperialist tide from reaching other countries, the prediction of then British MP George Galloway was fulfilled. “If Bush sends half a million soldiers to Iraq, all Americans, with only Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon supporting him, he will end up in hell, and many Americans will return home in body bags,” he told protesters. Moreover, the Iraqi resistance has not won.

The weakness of the resistance factions in Iraq is their failure to agree to work together for national liberation. The enemy took advantage of this weakness and appointed governments that owed their allegiance to Washington, not the people of Iraq. The absence of such a liberation agreement and the expansion of the circle of those benefitting from the corrupt sectarian regime led to two occupations instead of one. Iraq turned into an arena to display power and negotiate between the two occupations, while regime politicians put up a veneer of “democracy” in parliament, the media, conferences for donor countries, reconstruction programmes, leadership training workshops, the defence of human rights and efforts to combat terrorism. The Iraqi people paid the price for this toxic combination with the lives of more than a million citizens over eighteen years, and the final bill has not yet been settled. Citizens are still arrested, tortured, kidnapped and murdered, often while being filmed to serve as a warning to anyone thinking of removing the muzzle that is gagging them.

Of course the situation in Iraq — with its strengths and weaknesses; its resistance and its agents; the falsehood and lies used to justify the invasion and occupation; as well as its regional and international solidarity campaigns — is not identical to that in occupied Palestine. However, there are lessons to be learnt if we want to build on the recent achievements by the Palestinians until victory is assured, and justice and freedom become a reality with the end of the Israeli occupation.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 24 May 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.