July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
“They’ve taken my legs, but it only means I’m more firmly planted in the soil.” Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus (3.6.80).
The terrorist attacks which maimed two West Bank mayors and wounded other Palestinians in Hebron last month were the climax of weeks of mounting violence in the area, provoked by what all governments would term “necessary vigilance for the security of the state”. The victimisation of communities, refugee camps and families by the Israeli security forces—together with arbitrary searchings and beatings—are having the effect of driving the most “moderate” Palestinians into the arms of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, something that Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in the heady days of 1978 was designed, in part, to prevent.
The nature of the Israeli government’s “civilising mission” on the West Bank was clarified last month with the publication of a letter (dated 19 May) by Uri Avnery, a Labour member of the Knesset. Reproduced was the following extract of orders from the military government to Israeli army conscripts:
“Any one you catch outside, you first beat with the clubs all over his body, except the head. Have no mercy, break all his bones! Give no explanations. First of all beat, and when you are finished you can explain why you have done so. If you catch a small child, order his whole family out, make them stand in a row, and beat the father in front of his children. Don’t treat this beating as a privilege, it’s a duty! They understand no other way.” (Middle East International, 6.6.80).
It would be misleading to suggest that the PLO’s growing international respectability—the EEC states now recognise it—is the altruistic response to what is occurring on the West Bank (the Arab Community in Palestine were, after all, dispossessed and dispersed rather a long time ago). Rather, it is the consequence of an awareness that vital oil interests (and to a lesser extent, arms markets) depend upon Middle East “stability”, and that the Israeli government’s policies could lead to a further surge of Islamic extremism in the area. (The fact that the American government is internationally out of step on the question doesn’t mean its heart is in the wrong place Carter is doing nothing to upset a strong pro-Israel lobby in election year.)
With autonomy for the Palestinians more firmly on the agenda, can we expect a resolution of what appears to be an intractable problem, with both sides determined to give no ground? A homeland with “secure borders” may sound reasonable, but capitalism is not as simple as that. The PLO’s policy of “liberation” through violence veils the more important issue of whose freedom is at stake, and for what purpose. Peace has hardly gone hand-in-hand with the creation of nation states; real freedom will require self-determination of an entirely different kind.
“I believe in a poly-culture of the press from left to right, from cranky to sound.” James Goldsmith, proprietor of Now magazine (“Question Time” BBC1, 12.6.80.)
Owners of newspapers are fond of pointing out that we live in a country where the concepts of freedom of speech, assembly and publication are enshrined in the Constitution. Every one of us has the legal right to own a daily newspaper, provided we can get our hands on several million pounds. What they don’t mention however, is that you can expect some difficulty in getting W. If. Smith to distribute it.
Last month was published a thin book, Where is the Other News? (Minority Press Group) which attempts, among other things, to show why W. H. Smith and Menzies are prepared to display those old family favourites Dental Surgeon and Pig Farming (sales of 3,000 per issue) and not journals like the Socialist Standard (sales of 4,000 per issue). These big two wholesalers have cornered two-thirds of the newspaper and magazine market in Britain (Menzies have 93 per cent of the Scottish market), with total business in 1978 estimated to be 792 million pounds; and their domination of the market is increasing as small wholesalers close down.
Smenzies argue that a publication lacks “credibility” if it is not part of the advertising-funded, market-research based magazine industry. Should they agree to distribute a journal they will ask to vet the boards (not German for weeing on the floor; they only want to check the contents before it is printed—ostensibly for libel, but then aren’t the “quality press” more plagued with writs than anyone?).
But, you might ask, isn’t it naive to expect that Smith’s or Menzies could be other than conservative and not committed to the free availability of challenging opinion? Perhaps so; but in France it is mandatory for wholesalers to distribute periodicals of any circulation. What is clear is that, under capitalism, the free dissemination of ideas has less to do with legality than with the ability to pay—something to remember the next time you “read” Sir Larry Lamb’s Sun.
Socialists have often shown that capitalism causes an immense waste of resources. An article in the shipping industry newspaper Freighting World, illustrates the point. On 26 March a Captain F. L. Cox points out that because airline passengers can buy cheap alcohol, most aeroplanes are priced to carry a much greater weight than is desirable. A Boeing 747 for instance could have over 500 bottles of spirits in the passenger compartment. Captain Cox points out that this extra weight causes the following problems:
1. Fire hazard. Most spirits would be classified under IATA rules as combustible liquids, some as flammable liquids. Fire would spread more readily after an accident.
2. Deceleration hazard. Violent deceleration can result in bottle missiles flying through the cabin. In one accident, where the aircraft was a total loss, all passengers were safe except for one whose death was thought to have been caused by a flying bottle.
3. Rescue hazard. Broken glass in the cabin is dangerous to both the passengers and rescue personnel after an accident.
4. Security risk. A hijacker has tried to use a broken bottle as a weapon.
5. Passenger comfort. A) congestion of packages in the cabin; B) extra risk of intoxication and disorderly conduct.
6. Fuel wastage. Extra fuel has to be used in carrying duty-free goods. While only a small proportion of the total fuel load, it is still an unnecessary waste. More travellers return with the type of spirit popular in their own homeland: and it was probably manufactured there in the first place. (our emphasis)
So it can clearly be seen that one minor feature of the present insecure system—the urge to buy cheap booze as an advantage of overseas travel—is responsible for serious social difficulties which could be eradicated tomorrow if the workers woke up to the idea of a society without buying and selling.