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Israel clearly learnt nothing from France's blood-soaked occupation of Algeria

November 29, 2023 at 9:38 am

A woman holds a placard ‘Algeria prevailed, Palestine will prevail’ on November 18 2023, in Toulouse, France [Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

It was sheer barbarism and savagery that brought an end to France’s brutal 132-year-long occupation of Algeria, and it is the same destructive force that will end Israel’s war against the Palestinians in Gaza. At the moment, though, it is clear that Israel has learnt nothing from France’s blood-soaked occupation of Algeria.

Like the ongoing fight for the liberation of Palestine from Zionist rule, history still has much to write about the atrocities committed by French colonialists in Algeria during the occupation from 1830 to 1962. At least five million people were killed and hundreds of thousands were wounded in the struggle for independence.

In 1959, French President Charles de Gaulle declared that the Algerians had the right to determine their own future. Despite so-called terrorist acts by French Algerians opposed to independence and an attempted coup in France by elements of the French army, an agreement was signed in 1962, and Algeria was finally independent.

Algeria is still known as the Land of a Million Martyrs, a figure far too conservative, according to those who live in Africa’s largest country today. As for France, it has learned little or nothing from its legacy as a brutal occupier and the terrorism that its occupation of Algeria fostered.

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I now wonder if Gaza has reached its “Algeria moment” in a 75-year conflict which ultimately created the conditions for the 7 October attack against the brutal and rapacious Zionist occupation state. The scale of the attack has traumatised Israel and many within the Jewish diaspora. The ferocity with which the Hamas-led resistance fighters hit back has destroyed the arrogance and confidence of the Zionist State and its supporters in the same way that 9/11 knocked the stuffing out of the American swagger.

Sadly, neither the US nor Israel took the time to catch their breath and ask why these events happened. The question was never asked and America’s response, as Israel’s will, went on to radicalise a generation of young people around the world.

The so-called “War on Terror” crushed any semblance of respect for human rights, international law and the Geneva and Vienna conventions. Officially-sanctioned kidnapping and torture gave us the new 21st century euphemisms of “extraordinary rendition” and “enhanced interrogation techniques”. To their eternal shame, European countries looked the other way as the US intelligence agencies installed black sites for ghost detainees and tortured them on an industrial scale.

US President George W Bush probably had no idea that he was about to embark on America’s longest ever war in his blind fury to get revenge by attacking the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which, incidentally, played no part in 9/11. Twenty years and four presidents later, the war ended as spectacularly as it had started, when the biggest and most powerful army in the world fled, Vietnam style, and the Taliban returned to power in Kabul.

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There are fears that Israel has been lured into a similar trap by Hamas, which is believed to have invested two years in planning the attack on the apartheid occupation state. The raging fury which erupted in Tel Aviv on 7 October was entirely predictable and probably had a lot to do with the catastrophic intelligence failure by the Israeli military which was caught napping by the audacious, daring breakout from the Gaza concentration camp by Hamas fighters belonging to the movement’s military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seen strutting around in his army fatigues like some aging Volodymyr Zelenskyy, threatening revenge of Biblical proportions on the Palestinian people. At times he still seems confused about who he is waging his bitter, vindictive war against: Palestine, its women and children, or Hamas; or all of them. One unhelpful government minister expressed the desire to “nuke” Gaza — he let the cat out of the bag and basically confirmed that Israel has nuclear weapons — so it’s little wonder that no one is focused on an end game. We need to know who will govern Gaza after the war and how it will be governed. This should be decided by the people of Palestine, not corrupt politicians in Israel and the West.

World leaders have been bullied into silence while Israel commits war crimes as a matter of routine, bombing hospitals, UN schools and civilian infrastructure, and cutting off all water and power supplies to the civilian population. Thank God Queen Rania of Jordan stood up and spoke out for the Palestinian people; she exposed the “strongmen” across the Arab world as the cowards that they are.

The cack-handed Americans took “shock and awe” to Iraq, leaving us incredulous that no one seemed to have given any thought to what was going to happen the day after the war. But no one had and the dire consequences remain today, along with one million widows and orphans dependant on humanitarian aid. The anger vented by film and TV writer Armando Iannucci was palpable when he wrote about this earlier in the year.

Without a thought for the future, the US sacked all of Iraq’s civil servants, everyone in the Ba’ath Party, and anyone in charge of the civil police. It was all done in such a rush that no one thought about disarming the military, leaving hundreds of thousands of angry Iraqi army veterans to roam around with their weapons.

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I’ve seen the work that Hamas does in Gaza. Its military wing came along after its social, political and welfare arms were established. You only have to be there for a few days to understand how the country works, and that it couldn’t work without Hamas.

The leadership has as many PhDs in government as any Western cabinet, and is loved by the people because they live alongside them and share their difficulties, hopes and dreams. There’s virtually no corruption in Gaza, which makes it increasingly difficult for the corrupt Israeli government to do business with Hamas in the way that it buys the “security cooperation” of those in charge of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Even charities wishing to operate in areas controlled by the PA have to cross palms with silver.

The angry, vengeful Israeli narrative adopted without question in Washington, Westminster, Paris and Berlin overlooks the fact that Hamas was persuaded against its own judgement to take part in the last Palestinian legislative election in 2006 and that, much to everyone’s surprise, including its own, it won, and was immediately boycotted by Israel and its allies. The election was described by international observers as “free and fair”, but the result of that exercise in Palestinian democracy was rejected by the so-called democratic nations of the West. The Palestinians in Gaza have been paying a cruel price for voting the “wrong” way ever since, with an Israeli blockade which was tightened post-7 October.

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Hamas isn’t everyone’s cup of tea — no political party is, anywhere — but it has the support of most Palestinians in Gaza and many in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Ismail Haniyeh didn’t move into a sea front mansion when he was elected as prime minister of the PA; he continued to live in his humble house in the Beach Refugee Camp where he grew up. The same was true of his cabinet ministers. With finance under siege in extremely short supply, the workers were paid first, followed by the middle managers; if anything was left after paying the bills, the ministers got something. There was no “us and them” as we see in Westminster or Washington, where the rule is “do as we say, not as we do”. In Gaza, the people and the politicians suffer equally from food shortages, the lack of medicines and other daily hardships.

The pain of loss is something felt probably more acutely within the ranks of the Qassam Brigades, 85 per cent of whom are orphans. While Israel has the blood of tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children on its hands, it knows that the survivors will never forgive or forget what the Zionist State has done to them and their families over the decades. Recruits for the brigades or whatever takes their place will not be in short supply, so if ever we needed the world to show leadership and learn from past mistakes it is now.

Extraordinary numbers of courageous people have marched around the world to show solidarity with the people of occupied Palestine. The Global South looks at us in the West with disgust and anger, and we can only look down in shame that our governments support Israel’s genocide in Gaza. And yes, it is genocide. Srebrenica was a genocide which saw 8,000 Muslims killed systematically. The death toll has exceeded that in Gaza, and Israeli officials and citizens alike have signalled their intent to get of the Palestinians once and for all.

If we don’t stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, the world will become a more dangerous place for everyone, with international laws and conventions treated with contempt. No one wants to live in a fortress and if history is not to repeat itself then we must learn from it. For the love of humanity, we must stop this insanity now.

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