It isn’t easy to construct a protest meeting about the recent U.S.-Israeli assault on Lebanon that provides details on the enormity of the aggression against that small Arab country and at the same time fills in the historical context so anyone can under stand what happened and why.
Photos: Roberto Mercado
Such a meeting could easily take an entire weekend and be called a “teach-in.”
Yet on the single evening of Aug. 30, the International Action Center hosted a variety of speakers at a meeting hall across from the United Nations. Their crisp and focused remarks went right to the heart of why both the Zionist regime and the U.S. government—the world imperialist power that has bankrolled and armed Israel since 1948—should be in the dock for war crimes.
The meeting didn’t go unnoticed by the powers that be. As the overflow crowd listened intently and applauded strong statements of support for the anti-colonial resistance in the Middle East, a Zionist group demonstrated outside. Neverthe less, every seat was filled. Scores more stood in the back and along the sides.
The audience was thoroughly multinational, with Black, white and Latin@ North Americans, including people of Jew ish background, as well as Palestinians, Leb anese, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and others from the Middle East and South Asia. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations was also in attendance.
A picture is worth a thousand words. The terrible destruction meted out by Israeli bombs and missiles to towns and cities in Lebanon was presented in still shots, as Leila Hamidi of Arab Women Active in Arts & Media and Ahmed Eid of Al-Awda: Palestine Right to Return Coalition gave eyewitness testimony.
Background of war
Much history was covered in the first section of the program: the role of British imperialism in promoting a Zionist state in the Middle East that would collaborate with the European colonialists against the Arab masses; the myths propagated by both Zionists and imperialists that denied Palestinian history in order to seize the land for a racist settler state; the imperialist powers’ carving up of the Middle East’s oil during World War I; and the many wars carried out by Israel against the Palestinians and their neighbors.
The youthfulness of the presenters was quite remarkable. None had been born when Israel invaded Egypt in 1956. Only one was an eyewitness to the 1967 war when Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Some may have been young children when Israel again fought Egypt and Syria in 1973, or when it occupied Lebanon in 1982 and allowed the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Nevertheless, these presentations were strong and factual.
LeiLani Dowell of the youth group FIST—Fight Imperialism, Stand Together—and Fatin Jarara of Al-Awda co-chaired with feeling and efficiency.
Dustin Langley of We Won’t Go addressed the continuity of U.S. imperialist policy in the Middle East, from Truman’s active role in setting up Israel to the Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957 to Bush’s doctrine of intervention today.
Charlotte Kates of New Jersey Solidarity/ Activists for the Liberation of Palestine challenged the legitimacy of a racist settler state in historic Palestine and pointed to the unbreakable struggle of the Palestin ians to be free.
Alex Majumder of LeftShift.org discus sed two important documents: the Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916 and the Balfour Decla ration of 1917. These codified the British imperialists’ aims to exploit the Middle East after World War I and control both its rich oil resources and a passage to Britain’s South Asian colonies.
Wael Mousfar of the Arab Muslim Ameri can Federation was the only speaker old enough to have witnessed the 1967 war. He criticized Arab regimes—Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt—that had collaborated with the Zionists and the United States. He pointed out how at that time the Jordanian army had withdrawn its troops from the West Bank, allowing Israel to walk in and take over. The only fighting was on the Syrian front, he said. The resistance in Lebanon this time, however, shows that “the future is with the people.”
The next section focused on the U.S. media. Anita Rosenthwite of the IAC summarized the enormous human rights abuses committed by Israel and asked: “Why don’t the corporate media ever call Israel war criminals? … Like the Iraqi resistance, we must not be shocked and awed.”
Arturo J. Pérez Saad of Workers World newspaper traced the connections among huge U.S. media conglomerates and the biggest military corporations in the world. General Electric, for example, owns NBC, CNBC, Telemundo, Bravo and msnbc. com. It also builds jet engines for the military and nuclear reactors.
In a videotaped interview, British Member of Parliament George Galloway, a boldly outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, talked about the political role of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire.
Trishala Deb of the Audre Lorde Pro ject, a center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirit, transgender and gender non-conforming people of color, topped off this section of the program. She debunked as “hypocrisy and deception” the argument that somehow U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan would “liberate” women and lesbian and gay people there. “The most dangerous fundamentalist forces are those driving the ‘war on terror,’” she said.
Undeniable war crimes
The subject of U.S. and Israeli violations of international law was briskly but thoroughly covered by the next group of speakers.
Armed conflict, according to the UN Charter, is only justified in self-defense. If not, “then everything that follows is a war crime,” pointed out attorney Abdeen Jabara of the Arab American Anti-Discri mination Committee. Israel has been allowed to get away with countless war crimes by its patron, the United States.
Attorney Julie Fry reminded the audience that collective punishment is a war crime. But Israel tried to punish the entire Lebanese people by attacking water supplies, power plants, roads and bridges, and forced over one-quarter of the population to flee their homes.
Mia Cruz of FIST then introduced a graphic slide show from Lebanon showing the scope of the death and destruction there.
Walter Williams of PeopleJudgeBush. org reminded people that cluster bombs and white phosphorus—used by the Israeli army in Lebanon—are aimed at civilians and hence illegal.
A former Israeli soldier, Michael Kramer, talked about the Golan, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967. When Kramer was stationed there in 1973, the Arab population had shrunk from 147,000 to 6,000. Now the area has 18,000 Zionist settlers, in violation of many UN resolutions demanding its return to Syria.
Karina Mellos-Schecter of FIST descri bed the illegal Israeli wall that runs for 408 miles, snaking through Pales tinian villages and farms and separating the people from their jobs, land and schools.
Noel Winkler of Al-Awda explained how U.S. “anti-terrorism” laws have devastating economic effects on the people of Palestine.
There were oohs of disbelief as Emelyn Tapaoan and Carol Holland of the IAC ran back and forth unrolling a voluminous scroll of paper until it crisscrossed the meeting hall many times. It was made of hundreds of UN resolutions, taped end to end, that had censured and condemned Israel but never been enforced.
Maria LaHood of the Center for Constitutional Rights addressed the 1996 Israeli attack on the UN refugee compound in Qana, Lebanon. After over 100 were killed by shells designed to explode in the air, maximizing civilian casualties, Israel said it had been a “mistake.”
The final section of the program dealt with U.S. accountability for Israel’s criminal acts. Reviewing the many UN resolutions on Israel that were disregarded, and the one that the United States used to launch its first war on Iraq in 1990, Samia Halaby of the Defend Palestine Com mittee concluded that “the UN provides a cover for U.S. imperialism.”
Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against the War detailed U.S. aid to Israel—which has amounted to $90 billion since 1948. This includes helicopters, jet planes, missiles, armored personnel carriers, and collaboration on Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program. Letwin decried the investment of union funds in Israeli bonds and pointed out that U.S. union leaders critical of the war and of Israel have been targeted and removed.
As always, Ramsey Clark received a standing ovation when he spoke. The former U.S. attorney general struck a somber tone, warning, “What makes the current situation so dangerous is that they [the Bush administration] see the current of history running against them.”
He characterized the attack on Lebanon as “a naked war of aggression with no possible justification—the supreme international crime.” Remarking on the effectiveness of the Lebanese resistance movement, he said wryly that “if Bush were serious about rebuilding New Orleans, he’d invite Hezbollah to do it.”
Clark urged the U.S. movement to act to prevent the very real possibility that Bush may use military force next “against Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela or Cuba.”
Sara Flounders of the IAC unveiled an ambitious plan to get more material—books, pamphlets, packets and online sites —into the hands of students, workers and the general public as part of a broad campaign against war crimes. She invited the audience to participate and support the project.
The hour was late but the hall remained full.
Ardeshir Ommani of Stop War on Iran Campaign detailed U.S. crimes against the Iranian people. He rejected Bush’s lying slogans of “Islamo-fascists” and an “axis of evil.” Dean Bardouka of Al-Awda descri bed the hardships confronting Palestin ians. Bill Doares of NYCLAW labeled Israel a “tool of corporate power” intended to prevent the emergence of an independent Arab nation.
The people’s resistance was the final topic.
Joyce Chediac of Workers World newspaper described how Hezbollah was built in the 1990s “by the Lebanese people’s struggle to evict Israel,” and contrasted its vigorous reconstruction of Lebanon to the crisis still facing Black people from New Orleans. Imani Henry noted the diversity of groups standing together and defending the right of the peoples of the Middle East to resist attack. Ahmed Eid of Al-Awda conveyed what it was like to grow up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.
Remi Kanazi’s recitation of a poem on Palestine brought many to tears.
The meeting was a strong affirmation that international solidarity can leap many barriers in the people’s struggle against imperialism and war.