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A Global Satyagraha
Against Imperialism

By Rohini Hensman

01 October, 2007

Gandhi's birth anniversary on October 2 provides a fitting occasion to launch a global satyagraha - defined by him as 'truth-force', a non-violent struggle using the power of the truth - against imperialism. Such a struggle is urgently needed today, given the carnage being inflicted by imperialism in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threat of even greater carnage in Iran. Support for the people of these countries needs to be stepped up to a higher level globally if the continuing holocaust is to be halted.

The oldest struggle is that of the Palestinian people against Zionism. While the indigenous Jews of Palestine lived in peace with their Muslim and Christian neighbours for centuries, the advent of European Zionism - a colonial enterprise promoted by the British Raj in the 19th century - ignited conflict by dispossessing Palestinian peasants of the land they were cultivating. During the British Mandate period after World War I, a nationalist Palestinian revolt was brutally crushed by the British, even as they encouraged the Zionist settlers. In 1938 Gandhi, despite his deep sympathy for persecuted Jews, saw quite clearly the colonial character of the enterprise being carried out 'under the shadow of the British gun'. The Zionists quite cynically used anti-Semitism, the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and later the Holocaust, as a justification for their settler colonialism. Although they - like the European settlers in North America - waged a war for independence from the British, this did not change their colonial relationship with the indigenous people. The partition of Palestine, pushed through in the UN by the US in 1947, gave most of the land to the European settlers, but they were not content with that: Zionists declared their intention of colonising the whole of Palestine and parts of neighbouring countries, and many of the terrorist attacks subsequently carried out against the Palestinians were outside the area assigned to the Zionists. The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was accompanied by brutal ethnic cleansing directed against the indigenous Palestinians.

More recently, the occupation of the West bank and Gaza after the 1967 war, the division of the West Bank into a series of ghettoes by the apartheid wall, and the conversion of the Gaza strip into one big ghetto, has exposed the long-standing Zionist plan to wipe Palestine off the map. It is a model of settler colonialism falling somewhere between the South African model and the genocidal model of the European settlers in North America and Australia. As in Apartheid South Africa, discrimination against non-Jews is inscribed in Israeli law. But unlike the South African regime, the Israeli regime wishes to eliminate the non-Jewish indigenous population altogether. The methods often resemble Nazi policies: for example, mass murder like the massacre at Deir Yassin, herding people into ghettoes, depriving them of food, water, infrastructure, essential services and a livelihood, and the abhorrent Nazi policy of collective punishment. But the project is a colonial one, aimed at getting rid of Muslim and Christian Palestinians by massacres and population transfer, actions codified in international law as 'crimes against humanity' by the Nuremburg Charter and the International Criminal Court.

Palestine/Israel is de facto a single state now: Israel, by its actions, has ruled out any possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict, and indeed, such a solution would have been unjust, legitimising the expulsion of large numbers of Palestinians from their own land and discrimination against those who remain. The only meaningful struggle would be for a democratic, secular state of all the communities living in the whole of historical Palestine, with equal rights for all. Refugees, according to international law, would have the right to return if they wish to, and all Jewish immigrants, including settlers outside Israel, would have the right to stay, provided they abide by the democratic principle of equal rights for all, special privileges for none. The joint Palestinian/Israeli campaign for a one-state solution to the conflict has called on the international community to support them by a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, similar to the campaign against Apartheid South Africa, to force it to democratise, and this is the least we can do to demonstrate our solidarity (see ). A major weakness of this campaign, however, is that it fails to attack the source of Israel's military, diplomatic and economic support, without which it would not even exist, much less be able to defy international law with such impunity, namely US imperialism.

On the other hand, the anti-war movement, while conscientiously publicising the British ORB poll suggesting that 1.2 million Iraqis have died violent deaths as a result of the US-led occupation, and many more - especially children - have died of malnutrition and disease, while reporting that the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan are killing civilians and causing malnutrition, and exposing and opposing plans to attack Iran, seldom highlights the role of Israel, especially in instigating the attack on Iraq and now on Iran. There are occasional complaints that Israel influences US foreign policy to the detriment of US interests, or, conversely, that the US influences Israeli policy to the detriment of Israel's interests, but the truth seems to be that the two are so intertwined that separating them is impossible. A rare occasion on which the close symbiotic relationship between the US and Israeli states was discussed was during the criminal Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006; it was again suggested after the September 2007 Israeli air strike on Syria. Yet cooperation between the US and Israel seems to be standard practice rather than anything unusual.

What this suggests is that the anti-war movement needs to target Israel as much as the US, while the Palestine solidarity movement needs to target the US as much as Israel. In what way can the US be compelled to stop its aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Iran, and its total support for Israeli crimes against humanity in Palestine? As the bombs started falling on Iraq in 2003, I wrote and circulated an appeal entitled 'Boycott the Dollar to Stop the War!', arguing that although the military strength of the US was enormous, its economy was in a mess; with a massive gross national debt, the only reason it could finance its foreign wars and occupations was because of the inflow of over a billion dollars a day from countries accumulating foreign exchange reserves in dollars because it was the world's sole reserve currency. The denomination of the oil trade in dollars made it additionally desirable. With the advent of the euro, however, there was the possibility of an alternative world currency; therefore individuals, institutions and countries opposed to the war on Iraq should refuse to accumulate dollars or use them outside the US, because these were activities that helped to finance US-Israeli aggression against Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghanis. After the World Social Forum meeting in 2004, the Boycott Bush Campaign adopted the dollar boycott as part of its strategy (see ).

Four-and-a-half years later, the war has not stopped, but there is a significant reduction in the worldwide use of the US dollar as a reserve currency, and the value of the dollar has fallen. Campaigns to persuade governments to reduce their dollar holdings further could well be successful, since a falling dollar constitutes a loss for them. Pressure could also be put on oil-producing countries to denominate their oil sales in some currency other than the dollar. This does not necessarily mean denominating the oil trade in euro; in some cases, oil-producing countries could be asked to accept their own currency in payment for oil exports, and pay for imports, likewise, in their own currency. This would be a boon to South Asian countries, for example, who could then use remittances from migrant workers in Gulf countries and earnings from exports to these countries directly for their oil imports. In other cases, barter could be used, as Venezuela is already doing. A reorientation of trade away from the US would minimise the fallout of a reduction in US imports as the dollar falls. Campaigning for policies of employment creation, protection of workers' rights, shorter working hours, social security and minimum wages that are adequate to support a decent standard of living will redistribute resources from destructive militarism to productive consumption of working people, and thus expand mass markets in all countries.

It must be emphasised that the purpose of these boycott campaigns against the US and Israel is to follow Gandhi's principle of non-violent non-cooperation with injustice and oppression. It is not intended to harm wage-earners in either of these countries, although they will have to learn to do without the privileges that come from being beneficiaries of imperialism. It may be easier today (when imperialism is linked to neo-liberalism at home) than it was in the past (when imperialism was linked to social-democracy at home) for US workers to understand that their interest lies in solidarity with the Iraqi oil workers' union resisting the US occupation and proposed oil law, and not in support for their own state's occupation of Iraq and plans to rob it of its oil. It will be even easier when the full burden of the billions spent not only on US military forces and armaments, but also on hundreds of mercenary armies and corrupt contractors, falls on US taxpayers rather than being borne by the rest of the world. The people of Israel and the US have the greatest power to force their governments to stop the slaughter in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq and threat of more slaughter in Iran, by methods ranging from mass demonstrations and electing anti-war representatives to civil disobedience and a general strike.

What about the EU? Some leaders, like Blair and Sarkozy, have been fully supportive of the US-Israeli imperialist project, others less so. But there has not been any consistent opposition, even to the worst crimes; EU complicity in the horrifying slow-motion genocide being committed in Gaza is particularly disturbing. Given that the EU, unlike the US and Israel, at least pays lip-service to international law, it would be worth bombarding its leaders with reminders of the gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law being committed by the US and Israel, and their own role as active or passive accomplices.

It is also necessary to resist the displacement of the goal of nuclear disarmament by that of non-proliferation. Anti-war groups have responded to statements by Bush and Sarkozy that a nuclear-armed Iran is 'unacceptable' by emphasising, quite correctly, the lack of any evidence whatsoever that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But it has been left to campaigners for nuclear disarmament to point out the dishonesty involved in these denunciations of Iran, which make the unstated assumption that nuclear-armed Pakistan, India, Israel, China, Russia, Britain, France, and above all USA - the only state that has actually used these weapons of mass destruction - are acceptable. The anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements need to challenge this assumption most vigorously. We must highlight the hypocrisy of Bush and Sarkozy using the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) against Iran, which has not violated it, when they themselves are violating Article VI of the NPT, in which parties to the treaty undertake to 'pursue negotiations in good faith.on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control'. Indeed, non-proliferation makes no logical or practical sense in the absence of nuclear disarmament. Logically, if these weapons are so evil that countries have to be barred from obtaining them, then those that already possess them should proceed to eliminate them; practically, so long as some countries have nuclear weapons, others will inevitably strive to acquire them, and some will succeed.

The NPT is a discriminatory treaty, in that it subjects non-nuclear weapon signatories to strict safeguards while nuclear weapons states are allowed to get away with a commitment to nuclear disarmament that there is no means of enforcing. Therefore, instead of the NPT we should emphasise the importance of universal ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans nuclear tests by all countries without discrimination, and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), which would ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and subject the nuclear weapons states to the verification procedures currently applicable only to non-nuclear weapons states. While not actually measures of nuclear disarmament, these treaties would prevent nuclear weapons states from expanding their arsenals and developing new weapons, pending the introduction of a new a treaty on total global nuclear disarmament, which would be the ultimate goal.

In conclusion: if we wish to stop the war in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, and prevent it from spreading to Iran and other countries, we need to take the following measures:

1) support the Palestinian-Israeli struggle for a single democratic state in historical Palestine by a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel;

2) boycott the US dollar until it ceases to be a world currency, thereby refraining from contributing financially to the war;

3) campaign for a ban on the production, stockpiling and use of all nuclear weapons, including Depleted Uranium weapons, as well as chemical and biological weapons, and weapons such as land mines and cluster bombs that target civilians;

4) lobby the UN on all these issues: an earlier petition to the UN General Assembly that contains the e-mail addresses of UN Ambassadors and others can be found at

5) and finally, work for democracy in our own countries and oppose the threat or use of force by our own governments, since a democratic and peaceful world order can only be built out of democratic and peaceful constituents!


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