|For five days around the turn of the new year, protests involving tens of thousands of people took place in a number of Iranian towns and cities. It seems that these were prompted mainly by unemployment and high prices, following the leaking of a proposed budget that would end cash subsidies for millions of citizens, increase fuel prices and privatise public schools, while at the same time increasing the budgets of the clerical elite.
Given that unemployment among the youth, who constitute half the country’s population, is running at 40 percent, it is hardly surprising that people were angered at these budget proposals, although it would appear that they were only proposals and not a finalised budget.
Iran’s difficulty is the US’s opportunity
As Iran is acting as an anti-imperialist bastion against US attempts to establish its domination over the entire middle east, its internal difficulties are greeted with great enthusiasm by imperialism’s henchmen. Donald Trump was predictably at the head of the queue of imperialist vultures gloating at Iran’s problems. On 3 January, for instance, Trump tweeted about the protests:“Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government,” he wrote. “You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!”
Imperialism is happy about Iran’s internal problems. Indeed, it has done all it can to exacerbate them through years of sanctions. The nuclear accord signed in 2015 did lead to United Nations sanctions being lifted, but US sanctions still continue.
The imperialist hope is that internal problems will force Iran to withdraw from the support it is giving to the Assad government in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, and independence-minded Iraqi forces, and force the hand of the Iranian government to allow more participation in decision-making of pro-imperialist elements, prepared to conciliate with imperialism.
Like many other progressive anti-imperialist countries around the world, Iran is still a capitalist country, and is, therefore, in no position to abolish the ills of capitalism, including unemployment and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, which inevitably gives rise to legitimate discontent.
A firm rebuff to imperialist plans
However, contrary to the allegations of the bourgeois media, the Iranian people are free to express that discontent. As President Rouhani has pointed out: “We are a free nation and based on the constitution and citizenship rights, people are completely free to express their criticism and even their protest” – so long as they do so peacefully.
Nevertheless, in the course of the protests, several people were killed and hundreds were arrested, which has been presented in the bourgeois media as ‘evidence’ that there is in practice no right to protest. What is left out of account, however, is the behaviour of some of the protesters.
Those who take instructions from imperialism, which seeks to use them to advance its domination agenda, are encouraged to initiate violence in order to provoke a violent response from state forces – as was, for example, the case with the imperialist-backed Maidan protests in Ukraine, where fascist sympathisers were imperialism’s willing tools. This is a standard tactic for imperialist-backed demonstrations. The response is then presented to the world in the imperialist media as evidence of the ‘fascistic’ nature of the government, supposedly ‘justifying’ imperialist intervention.
The presence of serious numbers of provocateurs among the Iranian protestors cannot be doubted. US imperialism makes no secret of its hatred of Iran, as a result of which the country cannot but be a target for the CIA’s dirty tricks. Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s top security official, has correctly stated that the protests were a proxy war through social media guided by the US, Britain and Saudi Arabia against Iran.
For imperialism to be condemning the use of force to suppress violent demonstrations is the height of hypocrisy. Who can forget the mass arrests that took place in Britain at the time of the youth uprisings in 2011, and the long prison sentences that followed? If nobody was killed, it was only because the demonstrators were not armed with lethal weapons. But it will be recalled that the disturbances erupted precisely because a young man whom the police claimed was armed with a lethal weapon was shot dead.
In the various terrorist attacks that have taken place in Europe and America recently, the police response is to shoot – not to maim and arrest, but to kill. Why would imperialism therefore condemn Iran for doing exactly what it does itself, and usually with far less provocation?
In actual fact the Iranian government has been comparatively restrained. What it was certainly anxious to do was to make it quite clear that it will not brook the establishment of any ongoing Maidan-style violent protest, aimed at regime change and opposed to the interests of the Iranian masses.
Divisions among the Iranian ruling class
Another issue that Trump’s welcome of the Iranian demonstrations failed to take into account is that they were demonstrations against the kind of neo-liberal policies that imperialism is everywhere trying to force through in order to maximise profiteering opportunities for imperialist concerns, policies that are also favoured by some sections of Iran’s big bourgeoisie.
However, there are many ruling class elements in Iran, especially among those that the imperialist media insist on referring to as ‘hardliners’ – an example being former President Ahmadinejad – who oppose neo-liberal policies, having, among other things, had the experience under former President Rafsanjani of borrowing money from the World Bank and IMF on condition of neoliberal reform, which resulted in 50 percent inflation and a near doubling of imports at the expense of local producers.
It is even possible that these ‘hardliners’ could have been responsible for leaking the proposed budget precisely with a view to demonstrating to the government that such measures would never be tolerated by the masses.
This has certainly been the effect of the leak, but it also demonstrated the great danger of hostile foreign interests taking advantage of internal unrest to try to effect regime change in favour of some quisling government acceptable to imperialism, something which is no more welcome to the hardliners than the ‘softer’ elements currently in government, such as Rouhani.
Be that as it may, the Iranian authorities were soon able to restore order. Huge demonstrations were held in several towns and cities to support the government, showing public disapproval of the violence associated with the anti-government protests.
Nevertheless, the government has received a salutary warning of the fact that imperialism will have no hesitation to try to have it overthrown, and it is therefore important that no measures should be taken likely to alienate the popular masses, who are already bearing a disproportionate part of the burden of capitalist crisis and imperialist sanctions.
Iran is playing an exemplary role in the middle east’s resistance to imperialism, which could be at risk if the government fails to pay suffi Trump’s announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has done nothing to strengthen the imperialist hand. All it has achieved is the short-term strengthening of the president’s evangelical-zionist base.
The announcement itself will have pleased those core supporters, but failure to deliver on it will not. With senior aides saying it will take years to build an embassy in Jerusalem, it is clear that nothing will happen in the immediate future. The announcement threatens to become just another failed promise, and one that could come back to haunt Trump when he seeks re-election in three years’ time.
Dropping a rock on his own feet once again
As far as the imperialist camp is concerned, Trump has only succeeded in spectacularly isolating the US from its allies on the question of Palestine. He has created an extremely difficult situation for the rulers of the Gulf autocracies, who will have to clear up his mess in the face of popular anger. It is impossible for them to publicly back the US’s move. Even the Saudi ‘guardians of morality’ have been forced to call the announcement “unjustified and irresponsible”.
Even amongst traditional allies like Britain and France the announcement has found no support. Theresa May criticised the move, saying: “We disagree with the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement.
“We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region. The British embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it.
“Our position on the status of Jerusalem is clear and long-standing: it should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states.
“In line with relevant security council resolutions, we regard East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Obviously May is no friend of the Palestinians, but she considers the embassy move as simply too blatantly provocative. She would much rather stick with the British tradition of saying one thing for public consumption and quietly doing another in practice. This is, after all, the same Theresa May who spoke in November of her pride in Britain’s role in the creation of Israel.
Theresa May and Britain have real strategic and economic relations with Israel that they have little interest in sabotaging. She can talk of negotiated settlements, a shared Jerusalem and Palestinian territories being occupied, but in practice she has and will continue to follow a partisan pro-Israeli policy in the middle east.
By making his brash announcement, Trump has not really changed US policy, only dropped the carefully nurtured facade of ‘neutral peace broker’ that his country’s rulers have projected for decades, much to the detriment of the prospects of real peace in the region.
Egyptian attempts to stifle dissent
Another staunch US ally, Egypt has been forced officially to register its concern at the decision. Much like Britain, it would like to say one thing and do another. No doubt this is why Egyptian TV stations have been coming under pressure from the state to play down Egyptian and international opposition to Trump’s decision.
In addition to the call with talk-show host Azmi Megahed, three other audio recordings of strikingly similar telephone conversations between other hosts and the same intelligence agent, one Captain Kholi, were all provided to The Times by an intermediary supportive of the Palestinian cause and opposed to President Sisi. The origin of the recordings could not be determined.
Mr Megahed, in an interview, said that he had agreed with Captain Kholi, based on his personal assessment of the need to avoid a fresh outbreak of violence, not on the orders of the intelligence service.
The recordings all appear to match public recordings of the talk-show hosts’ voices, and Captain Kholi’s talking points in each of the calls follow the same lines as his conversation with Mr Megahed.
“I was just calling to tell you what our public stance is, so if you go on TV or speak in an interview, I am telling you what is the stance of Egypt’s national security apparatus and what it stands to benefit from in this matter of announcing Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, okay?” Captain Kholi began one conversation, with Mr Hassaseen.
“Give me orders, sir,” Mr Hassaseen replied, according to the recording. “I am at your command.”
“We, like all our Arab brothers, are denouncing this matter,” Captain Kholi continued. But, he added, “After that, this thing will become a reality. Palestinians can’t resist and we don’t want to go to war. We have enough on our plate as you know.” (New York Times, 6 January 2018)
Threatening the aid budget
Trump has also seemingly threatened to cut aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. In a tweet to Unrwa, he said: “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Putting aside the fact that it has hardly been the Palestinians who have been unwilling to negotiate, some have suggested that the threat is about cutting funding to the Palestinian Authority rather than to Unrwa, but this is unclear – perhaps even to the president himself.
Unrwa was established in 1950 in order to provide relief services for the 700,000 Palestinian refugees who were forcibly expelled from Palestine in 1948 following the establishment of Israel. It operates in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and provides Palestinians with primary and secondary education, health services and various camp infrastructure projects.
Although millions of Palestinians today rely on its services, Unrwa is also sometimes criticised for perpetuating the conflict and footing the bill that Israel should be paying.
The US is Unrwa’s biggest donor, with last year’s contribution totalling 368m, nearly 30 percent of the agency’s total funding. In the past, when Unrwa has had a funding shortfall, it has suspended programmes or certain aspects of them.
In 2015, the agency came close to delaying the start of the school year for nearly half a million Palestinian children. Luckily, it managed to overcome the $100m deficit after an urgent appeal by former UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon.
However, a total US funding cut would mean a serious reduction in services and the complete halt of many education and health programmes.
In other words, schools and health clinics would close, leaving hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees across the region without schooling, healthcare and jobs – making their situation even more dire. Indeed, if it is left to function at two thirds of its capacity, the viability of the agency as a whole would be called into question. (Middle East Eye, 3 January 2018)
Ultimately, his ill-thought threat is likely to amount to little more than another bout of Twitter bluster. Furthermore, the ‘aid’ given by the US does nothing more than paper over the cracks. It is only designed to perpetuate the status quo, leaving the Palestinians dependent on hand outs, thereby tempering their revolutionary spirit.
With or without US aid, the Palestinian people will remain an occupied people under the heel of imperialism. So long as this remains the case, the Palestinians will continue to fight for their freedom. It is the conditions on the ground, created by imperialism and enforced by the zionists, that demands and creates such resistance.
Terrorising Palestinian children
On 3 January, Israel wasted no time in killing the first Palestinian child of the year. Seventeen-year-old Musab Firas al-Tamimi from Deir Nitham in the West Bank was shot dead by the zionist forces.
Palestinians have long had to endure the murders of their children by the Israeli state. As a people, it is a misery to which they are becoming all too accustomed. Ironically, it is the zionists who whine of Palestinian children being ‘taught’ to hate jews. If anything teaches them this, it is bullets and bombs.
According to the Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), 595 children were killed during the period of the second intifada alone (2000-05). In more recent years, Gaza’s children have suffered repeatedly at the hands of the Israeli army, particularly during the past three major bombardments of Gaza. The 2008/9 bombardments resulted in the death of 280 children; the death toll in 2012 was 33 children; and in the 2014 bombardment, 490 children were killed by Israeli fire.
In the entire period between 2000 and 2017, the DCIP reports that 2,022 Palestinian children lost their lives at the hands of the Israeli forces, an average of 25 per month. During that same period, 137 Israeli children were killed by Palestinians.
It is, of course, not about counting numbers, but this does give an indication of the terrible impact of the Israeli occupation and repeated wars on the Palestinians, particularly on the children.
It is important to note that, unlike Israeli children killed in the conflict, most Palestinian children killed by Israel are never named or publicised; they simply become part of the anonymous death count. Israeli media ensures the names and images of dead Israeli children are transmitted as widely as possible; Palestinians simply do not have the same reach. (Middle East Eye, 4 January 2018)
When not killing Palestinian children, the brave boys and girls of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), with their state-of-the-art weaponry, are busy abducting any child who might have the audacity to throw a stone. Such a threat these children must pose!
The recent abduction of a 16-year-old girl, Ahed al-Tamimi, after she was filmed bravely slapping and berating a heavily-armed occupying Israeli soldier, is a continuation of this abhorrent policy of state child abuse. Israel’s education minister has said Tamimi and other child prisoners should “spend the rest of their days in prison”.
A DCIP report showed 72 percent of Palestinian children abducted by the Israelis suffer physical abuse. This is quite apart from the initial mental abuse of their abduction and imprisonment.
Children in Jerusalem and Hebron seem to have been disproportionately targeted. A video of the Israeli army detaining a five-year-old boy in Hebron has made headlines around the world. Another six-year-old child was detained for five hours in Jalazun refugee camp in the West Bank.
Tareq Abukhdeir, a Palestinian-American teen who was beaten savagely by Israeli police, was not offered any assistance by the US consulate in East Jerusalem. His cousin Mohammed had been burnt alive by jewish terrorists earlier that year. (Middle East Eye, op cit)
It seems that Israel is implementing a deliberate policy of terrorising Palestinian children in the hope of cowing them into submission and dissuading them from engaging in any acts of resistance as they grow into adulthood. The history of oppression indicates that this policy is likely to have precisely the opposite results to those intended.