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Palestinians Protest Barak Visit

By Hatem Abudayyeh

Chicago, IL - More than 3,500 Palestinians and their supporters braved the bitter cold to protest the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak here Nov. 13. Barak, speaking at the national convention of the United Jewish Communities, tried to garner support for his country's military campaign against Palestinian civilians in the illegally occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem.

Barak spoke inside the Pavilion at the University of Illinois at Chicago while the demonstrators picketed and chanted slogans in a fenced-in parking lot across the street.

Many of the protesters were further angered by the preparations made by the Chicago Police Department, including the searching of cars and the confiscation of all wooden poles used to carry banners and Palestinian flags. Veteran observers said the police presence was the largest for any event in Chicago since the Democratic National Convention in 1996.

“They're treating us as if we're the criminals,” complained Mohammed Asaaf, 27, of the Committee for a Democratic Palestine. “It's Barak who should be searched and arrested.” Asaaf's complaints were indicative of the passions of most of the protesters. Wedged in between the fence enclosing the parking lot and the police barricades, the demonstrators shouted slogans such as “Barak is a war criminal!”, “Stop U.S. aid to Israel!”, and “Hey, Barak, whaddya say, how many children did you murder today?”

The Coalition for Justice in Palestine, who organized the protest, was pleased with the turnout and with the message delivered to the media and the American public. The major demands were an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, an end to the violence perpetrated by the Israeli military against the largely unarmed Palestinian population, an end to U.S. aid to Israel, and the institution of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Since the violence in Palestine began Sept. 28, and up to the time of the protest, Israeli authorities had murdered over 250 Palestinians. More than 10,000 Palestinians were injured. Many of the casualties are children and teenagers, who were demonstrating for basic human rights and justice, and armed only with stones. Amnesty International says that Israeli violence may be considered “war crimes.”

“We will not allow Barak to visit our city and not demand that he be held accountable for the actions of his government. What the Israelis are doing in Palestine is unconscionable, and all people who believe in justice should be here to tell him [Barak] that,” proclaimed Omar Al-Bishtawi of the Arab American Community Center.

Al-Bishtawi added that he was encouraged by the participation of communities of color and North American organizations. “The fact that others besides Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims are protesting side-by-side with us is a positive development and may help spread our message far and wide.”

Some Background and Analyses

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has its origins in Zionist organized, Western sponsored immigration to Palestine. Zionism is a racist ideology that supports building an exclusive “Jewish” state for Jews throughout the world. Zionists sought a “land without a people for a people without a land,” and that land was Palestine.

To establish this “Jewish” state, the dispossession of the native peoples, the Palestinian Arabs, had to be the Zionists' first priority. With the aid of the British, who controlled Palestine at the time, Jews from all over Europe illegally immigrated to Palestine and began seizing land from the Palestinians.

Understandably, this immigration created conflict between the newly arrived Jews and the Palestinians. Terrorist Zionist gangs, including the Irgun (whose leader, Menachem Begin, later became Israel's Prime Minister), established their settlements by force, attacking Palestinian villages and massacring civilians. 800,000 Palestinians were forced off their lands and out of their homes by the Zionist gangs-into refugee camps in neighboring Arab states, where most of them still reside.

When the British left Palestine in 1947, the Zionist leaders had already built a formidable army and were poised to establish a state. They did just that after the United Nations partitioned Palestine into two regions, one for the Jews and one for the Palestinian Arabs. This partition gave the Jews, who owned only 6% of the land at the time, control of 55% of historic Palestine.

In 1967, the Israeli army launched a strike against their Arab neighbors and conquered still more land. The West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and Jerusalem were illegally occupied by Israel, and Palestinians who live in those regions have been suffering under military rule ever since.

United Nations resolutions have called for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories since 1967, but 33 years later, the occupation continues, abetted by over $4 billion of United States military and economic aid.

Palestinians lack freedom of movement within the occupied territories. Israeli soldiers can stop and search any Palestinian at their whim, and the people live as third-class citizens. Homes are demolished and land is taken for the Israeli government to build illegal Jewish settlements.

The flawed 1993 Oslo accords were supposed to end the illegal occupation. The opposite happened. Illegal settlements have been built on an even greater scale. Palestinian refugees, who now number over 5 million, have not been granted the right to return to their homes and lands.

Administrative detention and collective punishment continue. The Israeli Army remains in the Palestinian territories.

The so-called “concessions” that the Israelis are offering are nothing but an imperialist ploy to force the Palestinians into Bantustans, surrounded by illegal settlements and lacking the basic, fundamental requirements needed for a viable state. [Bantustans were South Africa's fake “homelands,” used by the white minority government to rule the Black majority – ed.]

Behind this backdrop is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to resist this occupation, to fight for self-determination, and to live with dignity in an independent state of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital.

The young men and women who are demonstrating in the streets and demanding these rights, dying and spilling blood for their liberation, are an inspiration to oppressed and working people everywhere. They deserve the support of those who oppose imperialism, and all who fight for justice. Let us make every effort to assure that Palestine's martyrs do not die in vain, and that this current Intifada (uprising) leads to national liberation for all Palestinians.

Long Live Palestine!

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