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`What we expect from President Obama on Palestine' (+COSATU solidarity message to the people of Gaza)

Joint statement by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (South Africa) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions

January 20, 2009 -- In a few hours, Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in as president of the United States of America, the largest and most powerful empire in recorded history. His inauguration comes at the end of a long and hard election campaign which rode on his campaign promise of ``Change'', a promise which captured the imagination of his voters and of people across the world. The change that Obama promised -- for the people of the United States and for the rest of the world -- is welcomed for the break that it suggests with the depraved capital-centred and imperialist policies of the George Bush administration.

We are confident that Obama will make some changes. We welcome his commitment to closing down Guantanamo Bay prison, an institution which makes a mockery of international law and human rights, and his commitment to eliminate torture techniques as a form of interrogation. We welcome his commitment to withdrawing troops from Iraq. We welcome his commitment to ensuring that the state, in the US, improves the health care provisions to its people. Our concern, however, is about those things that Obama is determined not to change.

What won't change?

Obama's intention to increase military personnel in Afghanistan and continue the military occupation of the country reflects both a commitment to sustaining an imperial agenda and a disrespect for the lives and choices of people in the Global South.

Obama also owes capitalism big-time for his election victory. During the US elections, the military-industrial complex donated huge sums of money to the various campaigns. Lockheed-Martin, for example, contributed US$10 billion to the campaigns. The largest recipient was Obama. His campaign received 30 per cent of Lockheed-Martin's contribution, $300,000 for his campaign personal use. Such donations have, in the past, ensured that US politicians are continually beholden to the capitalists and warmongers of the US.

Lockheed-Martin is also the manufacturer of the F15 and F16 fighter jets and the Apache helicopters which are supplied to Israel, all of which were used extensively in the past three weeks in the massacre of civilians, the attacks on schools, hospitals, mosques, universities and homes in Gaza. Obama's shocking silence during the savage genocide and his firm support for Israel pointed not to change but to more of the same and is morally reprehensible. Earlier last year, in an unguarded moment, Obama said, ``Nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people''. Why has he now changed his mind? Why does he now think the suffering Palestinian masses do not deserve his attention?

`Constructive engagement' immoral

We note that in 1981, as South Africans entered a decade of fierce repression by apartheid and brave resistance by our people, Obama was part of a courageous group of students who called for divestment from the apartheid South Africa. He knew that it was imperative to place pressure on a racist regime which shamefully oppressed people. The liberation movements were proscribed as terrorist movements, its leaders were imprisoned, tortured or killed, its guerrillas faced the overwhelming power of the South African army, much like the resistance movements of the Palestinian people. The sanctions movement in which he participated understood that the US policy of so-called "constructive engagement" was immoral and that isolation of the apartheid state was necessary to end the racist oppression.

Many of our leaders, from COSATU, the South African Communist Party (SACP), the African National Congress (ANC0, and others such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have stressed that occupation, colonialism and apartheid that Israel practices is worse than what we experienced in South Africa.

South Africa was a white state for white people; Israel is a Jewish state for Jewish people. Its non-Jewish, mostly Palestinian, citizens are discriminated against economically and civilly. The dispossessed and ethnically cleansed Palestinian populations, dispersed in the refugee camps of Gaza, the West Bank and other Arab countries, are denied the internationally recognised right of return. Palestinians have their lands and homes taken from them by armed force, are subject to collective punishment, prolonged states of siege, the absolute and deliberately destructive control of their daily movements. Illegal settlements, in contravention of international law, have proliferated across the West Bank, and have divided Palestinian territory into besieged Bantustans, intended to preventing a contiguous Palestinian state.

The Apartheid wall has cut Palestinian farmers from their lands and turned prosperous villages into isolated prisons. Regular Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities and refugee camps, and bombings from the air, have killed innumerable civilians, many of them children. Since the election of Hamas, in fair and open elections, Israel has subjected the civilian population of Gaza to a prolonged state of siege, designed to suffocate them into submission, depriving them of water and power, medical supplies and food, and access to the outside world. The recent assault on Gaza is a dramatic extension of an insidious policy of extermination of a people that refuses to disappear.

US support

All these acts are crimes against humanity. They constitute one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times. Almost alone among nations, Israel acts in flagrant violation of international law and UN resolutions and does so with impunity, mainly because of uncritical support from successive US administrations. Without the military and economic aid of the United States, which amounts to more than a third of all US foreign aid, Israel could not have mounted its violent offensives against the Palestinians or Lebanon, could not maintain its security apparatus, could not afford the illegal settlements that expand Israel into what remains of Palestinian territory. The United States continues to support Israel to the tune of billions of dollars every year at the expense of US taxpayers and at the expense of its moral standing in the world.

According to his statements and his web page, Obama will continue to do so because "our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America's strongest ally in the region". He and his vice-president, Joe Biden, "defend and support the annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel", and have advocated increased foreign aid budgets. In doing so, Obama lends his support to a regime no less criminal in its acts and in its policies towards its own minority population and its dispossessed Palestinian neighbours than South Africa was in the 1980s.

Then, it was argued, South Africa was the United States' strongest ally in the region, a bulwark in the war against communism, a prosperous Western-style democracy, if not the only democracy on the continent. It was argued that to destabilise the South African apartheid regime would be to create chaos in southern Africa, unleash a bloodbath, and pave the way for a communist regime. The divestment movement challenged those assumptions, changed the direction of US foreign policy, and placed pressure on the apartheid regime to begin serious negotiations.

No road to peace through injustice

Our message to Obama is that it is time for the US to place similar pressure on Israel. That Israel has been the United States' beneficiary, unchallenged in its war crimes and in its acts of terror, uncontested for its racist laws and illegal occupations, has been unjust and not been in the United States' interests. Change should mean taking the side of justice and of international law.

There is no road to peace through injustice. No solution for the Palestinian and Israeli people is possible until the world and the US hold Israel accountable for its criminal violence and its illegal acts, until the US ceases to supply it with the means to pursue domination and expansion, with arms and warplanes, with finance and diplomatic support. In wake of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, Obama's recent expression of "deep concern" is not enough. It is time for constructive disengagement from Israel, financial, diplomatic, military. What worked in the case of South Africa, divestment and pressure, may finally work in the Middle East.

Without such justice, there will be no peace.

Solidarity message to the people of Gaza

Presented by COSATU second deputy president Comrade Violet Seboni

January 21, 2009 -- On the occasion of the consignment of humanitarian supplies to the people of Gaza, assembled by the Gift of the Givers, we are delighted to take this opportunity to send a solidarity message to our comrades and friends in Gaza.

First, we would like to express our deepest condolences to the people of Gaza, and especially those who have lost relatives and loved ones in the recent bombardment unleashed on Gaza by the Israeli State. While we join others in condemning these indiscriminate attacks as a crime against humanity, we know that the heartache that must be felt in thousands of households must be immense, and our thoughts are with you
all at this most difficult of times.

However, we also know that the Palestinian people are characterised by resilience. Your fortitude in the face of such savage attacks has inspired many of us over the years. In South Africa we understand the
magnitude of the struggle before you. Our own struggle against apartheid at times seemed insurmountable, but by mobilising the mass of our people in the struggle for democracy, and by building international solidarity links with our friends across the world, the mighty apartheid regime eventually had to give way.

Many of the conditions that you experience today are identical in character to what we experienced under apartheid, and that is why we are proclaiming to the world that Israel is an apartheid state. We are in no doubt that your just struggle will eventually be won, and urge you all to take heart as you continue the

You will be pleased to know that in addition to humanitarian aid, we are also currently mobilising for two national demonstrations of support, on February 6, 2009, to coincide with the opening of our parliament, and
then on March 21 which is Human Rights Day here. In addition we are currently planning to extend a boycott of Israeli goods and all commercial and public linkages, and to persuade our own government to take decisive action. We are also extending our solidarity work to other parts of Africa, in order to build a continental movement in solidarity with the just struggle of the Palestinian people.

We have noted with interest the introduction of ceasefire arrangements, but also realise that it does not, unfortunately change the fact that your land remains occupied by Israel, hence our pledge to continue the
solidarity campaign until the historic demands of the Palestinian peoples have been met and justice is done.

With these few words, we send you our warm and fraternal greetings, and our very best wishes for the future.

In solidarity,

Issued by the Ad Hoc Coalition on Palestine convened by the Congress of
South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the Palestine Solidarity
Campaign (PSC).

Patrick Craven, COSATU national spokesperson.


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