Interview with Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy
Paul Murphy, Socialist Party MEP for Dublin will shortly attempt to sail to Gaza as part of the ‘Freedom Flotilla II’ to try to deliver humanitarian aid to people in the Gaza strip. Last year’s ‘Freedom Flotilla I’ was brutally attacked in international waters by the Israeli Defence Forces, with 9 human rights activists killed.
Below we publish an interview with Paul about the Flotilla and the situation in the Middle East.
Why did you decide to join the Flotilla?
Above all, my decision to join the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ is based on the conditions faced by the people in Gaza and an attempt to alleviate their suffering. The Israeli state does not allow essential medicine and construction materials into Gaza, with devastating impacts on living conditions. The aim of the Flotilla is to break that siege by delivering vital medical supplies and construction material and to highlight the ongoing blockade and impact on the population.
The Gaza strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 1.6 million people crammed into an area of 360 square kilometres. Conditions there are horrific and have worsened dramatically as a result of the Israeli blockade. According to the UN, the unemployment rate in Gaza reached 45.2 % in late 2010. The number of people living on less than $1 a day has tripled to 300,000 as a result of the blockade and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said that wages have dropped by one third during the blockade.
The blockade of Gaza is now entering its fifth year, having been imposed by the Israeli state after Hamas won the elections. This amounts to a collective punishment of the population in Gaza for the decision to elect Hamas. It is an outrageous abuse of human and democratic rights to impose such suffering on the civilian population of Gaza because they voted ‘the wrong way’!
What is your reaction to what happened to last year’s flotilla?
Last year’s assault by the IDF on the Freedom Flotilla I demonstrated the impunity with which the Israeli establishment feels able to act, without any regard to international law, never mind human rights. I recently saw video footage from last year’s raid on the flotilla and had the chance to talk to some of the participants who witnessed the killing of 9 peaceful activists. The brutality of the IDF was extreme, as was the whole approach of the Israeli government who callously decided to launch attacks on these human rights activists.
I have huge respect for the determination of many of the activists in wanting to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged population of Gaza. When I heard that the Flotilla was sailing again and that they were looking for public representatives to travel, I felt it would be a very good opportunity to express my solidarity with the Palestinian people as well as hopefully give some level of protection to the other activists on the ship.
Who is travelling to Gaza?
Hundreds of activists will attempt to break the siege of Gaza in a few days time. These people come from different Palestinian rights groups and of course from different political organisations. One other MEP from the European United Left group will travel, Willy Meyer from the United Left in Spain. There are 25 participants on the Irish boat including rugby player Trevor Hogan and People Before Profit & United Left Alliance Councillor, Hugh Lewis. The Irish ship is organised by the Irish Ship to Gaza (irishshiptogaza.org) which is part of the international coalition for Freedom Flotilla II.
Do you think you will succeed in getting to Gaza?
I think that is something that is almost entirely in the hands of the Israeli establishment and defence forces. If they decide to attack the boats again, which I think is most likely, it will not be possible to out-run them. However, if they take that course they risk igniting a major movement of protest across the world, as occurred at the time of their attack on the last flotilla.
If we do succeed in getting to Gaza, we will deliver our humanitarian aid and then stay for a few days to engage in a series of “civil society to civil society” meetings, including meeting with human rights and other activists within Gaza. I would be particularly interested in meeting with trade unionists who have led major strikes in the last number of years.
Does the opening of the Rafah crossing (between Egypt and the Gaza strip) mean that the Flotilla is no longer necessary?
No, for two reasons in my opinion. The first is that the Rafah border is not genuinely open. The Egyptian authorities announced the opening at the end of May. They allowed civilian crossing but no trade in goods. Still, the opening of the border meant that people could buy goods and medication etc in Egypt. However, at the beginning of June, Hamas announced the closure of the border, allegedly out of protest against delays at the checkpoint and against Egypt’s unannounced closure of the border on a previous day. Whatever the true motivation of Hamas is, it is clear that the issue is not resolved and that the purpose of the Flotilla remains valid.
Secondly, even if the Rafah crossing was completely open, the Flotilla would still retain its validity. The people of Gaza should not be forced to be reliant on one crossing alone as a result of the Israeli blockade and should be able to use their sea ports freely without Israeli interference.
What impact do you think the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East will have on developments in the region?
It is obvious that these revolutions have an impact on the situation in Israel/Palestine. Across the region, there have been demonstrations and protests in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian masses. At the same time, the Palestinian people have been inspired by the revolutionary events in the region. It is no surprise that the demonstrations to mark Nakba (“the catastrophe” in Arabic –the establishment of the state of Israel with the expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians) which were held in Israel proper and in the Palestinian occupied territories were particularly well attended. The revolutions also had an impact in building pressure on Hamas and Fatah to discuss forming a national unity government.
Significantly, these protests were mainly made up of a new generation of Palestinian youth and appear to have momentum. The 15 March saw massive protests on the streets of many towns in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Nakba Day, 15 May, also saw large protests, as already mentioned, and the added factor of the beginnings of a mass movement of Palestinian refugees in the Arab countries. Near the Golan Heights, on 5 June, clashes at the borders saw brutal attacks by the Israeli army (IDF), with over 20 Palestinians killed and hundreds wounded.
On the other hand, the Israeli government has tried to use the revolutions to strike fear into Israeli Jews, by scaremongering about the threat of the forces of political Islam. This is a traditional tactic of the Israeli capitalist establishment, which emphasises Israel being surrounded by hostile countries, and therefore the need for ‘national unity’ within Israel and a focus on the question of security. The Israeli regime has been very worried about losing important allies such as the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. At the same time, they will find it more and more difficult to portray themselves as the only “democracy” in the region that needs to defend itself against the dictatorships in the region.
It is clear, from my own trip to Tunisia and the experiences of CWI members in Egypt and elsewhere that the future of the revolutions still lies in the balance. Across the region, the forces of counter-revolution are re-organising and attempting to consolidate power. Unless the revolution moves forward and the working class and poor masses take full democratic control of the running of society and the economy, unfortunately the aspirations of the people who have bravely overthrown brutal dictators will not be met.
What is your attitude to Hamas?
I have always accepted the legitimate electoral victory of Hamas in Gaza in 2006 and opposed the blockade imposed by the Israeli state. In my view, Hamas was able to win support as a result of increased frustration and disillusionment on the part of the Palestinian masses with the failed Oslo peace process which was brokered by the Fatah wing of the PLO under Arafat. On top of that, the Palestinian masses were increasingly dissatisfied with the corruption and nepotism under the Fatah led Palestinian Authorities.
However, I do have very serious disagreements with the political leadership of Hamas. Fundamentally, Hamas is a right-wing organisation, with policies that are against the interests of the workers’ movement, trade unionists and genuine socialists. It does not offer a real way forward that can deliver an independent and sustainable Palestinian state.
I disagree with Hamas’ strategy and tactics in trying to bring about an independent Palestinian state. I unconditionally support the right of the Palestinian people to self determination and self defence against the Israeli state but I am absolutely opposed to the methods of suicide bombings, firing rockets on Israeli civilians etc.
In my opinion, those types of actions play into the hands of the right wing political establishment in Israel and the Israeli state machine and will not bring the region any closer to lasting peace or an independent Palestinian state. That is because they enable the Israeli establishment to further whip up fear within Israel and tie ordinary Israeli workers to the right-wing parties who constantly propagandise around the theme of security.
How do you think that a Palestinian state can be achieved?
The so-called “Arab Spring” – in reality, revolutions and revolutionary movements and uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East – demonstrated, once again, that mass resistance, collective action by the oppressed against their oppressors are the most effective tool in bringing about substantial change. The first Palestinian mass uprising in 1987 – the first Intifada – shook the Israeli ruling class and imperialism and forced the Israeli regime into ‘peace negotiations’ which however led to the fraudulent Oslo agreement, in 1993, a cruel cul-de-sac for Palestinians.
A re-development of mass struggle is vital, in my opinion, to bring the struggle forward. To achieve that, no trust must be placed in the various Western powers, which, on occasion, may pretend to be ‘favourable’ to the Palestinian people.
Instead, what needs to be built, in my opinion, is mass revolutionary movements of the Palestinian masses, the risen masses of the Arab world as well as the working class and poor in Israel itself. Such movements could complete the overthrow of the corrupt elites in the Arab world, as well as kick out the right-wing Israeli establishment, and fight to create a socialist Palestine, alongside a socialist Israel, as part of a socialist confederation of the Middle East.
At the moment, there is a lot of discussion of a possible declaration of an independent Palestinian state in front of the UN General Assembly on 1 September. Quite understandably, there are a lot of hopes amongst the Palestinian people that 1 September will at last bring about an independent Palestinian State.
However, while it is possible that 1 September will see some sort of recognition for the Palestinian cause, it is unfortunately not going to meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people. The Israeli regime will not allow the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as a joint capital. Despite the fact that Israel seems to be more isolated at the moment, the US and other Western powers still need Israel as an important ally in a region whose make-up is still not secure for Western imperialists’ interests.
In order to achieve a real solution, the current political regime in Israel needs to be overthrown. To achieve this, the Israeli working class is a vital potential ally. I think it is very important to emphasise the fact that is often forgotten by many on the left – that despite the massive propaganda within Israel and militarised nature of society, Israel is a class society.
This was demonstrated recently by protests against price rises, by important strikes by the social workers, doctors and railway workers, and the strike by chemical workers in Haifa. These struggles involve Israeli Jews and Israeli Arab-Palestinians. My Palestinian and Jewish comrades in Israel/Palestine in the Socialist Struggle Movement (www.maavak.org.il) are playing an active part in building support for the `Haifa` strike, as well as other struggles, and take an active part in the struggle against the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinians. They work to unite Jewish and Arab workers generally in a struggle against the Israeli capitalist class. I believe that with a class appeal, a majority of Israeli workers and poor can be won to a united struggle against this common enemy. I also applaud the courageous demonstration at the beginning of June in Tel Aviv against the occupation, where the CWI participated prominently.
How can supporters of the Palestinian people internationally assist in this struggle?
One of the debates amongst those who support the rights of the Palestinian people is over the call for BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Those who advocate BDS as a major tactic advocate that encouraging people to boycott Israeli goods and institutions internationally is an important activity that people can carry out around the world. I of course understand why some activists advocate this campaign but I don’t think that tactically a general boycott represents the best way forward for campaigning for Palestinian rights and a Palestinian state.
Some types of boycott or sanctions, such as against arms that are being used in the occupied territories, or goods made in Jewish settlements – especially if organised by trade unions – can play a useful role in the struggle.
But I believe that the Israeli political establishment would use the further development of a general BDS campaign as a propaganda tool to try to further alienate the Israeli working class from the Palestinian masses. It would allow the Israeli state to go further with the propaganda that the Israeli Jews stand alone in the world and therefore they need to stand together to defend their interests. For this reason, while I am of course sympathetic to those who call for a BDS, I believe that this demand could strengthen the chauvinist right-wing in Israel, making it more difficult to win over Israeli Jewish workers, who I think are vital to a long-term solution in the Middle East.
Instead of pursuing a BDS strategy, I would encourage people to take the opportunity of the Freedom Flotilla II to engage in major protests against the Israeli treatment of the people in Gaza and to support the right of the Palestinians to a genuinely independent state. In particular, I would encourage workers to pursue this issue within the trade union movement, seeking to get motions passed and similarly students in the student movement.