“Recognize the Centrality of the Palestine Question”: An Interview with George Galloway


I'm Not the Only OneGeorge Galloway MP is the controversial British politician who has proved a thorn in the side of advocates of the Iraq war.  He is a fierce advocate of the Palestinian state, and a redoubtable campaigner against oppression and injustice throughout the world.  In 2005 he made a memorable appearance before the US Senate, successfully defending himself against claims that he benefited from the Iraqi oil-for-food program.  I’m Not the Only One is his critically acclaimed book on the Middle East, and the US and British administrations approach to this troubled region.

MOORE: You’ve taken a close interest in the Palestinian issue.  Are you surprised that the international community has not condemned Israel’s consistently aggressive stance against Gaza?

GALLOWAY: I’m not at all surprised.  I’m dismally reconciled to the gigantic double standard that lies at the heart of Western policy towards the Middle East and the Muslim world.  I have long become inured to the double standard that allows Israel to have hundreds of nuclear weapons and refuse to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, yet be rewarded by the West, whilst Iran has no nuclear weapons, has joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is, according to Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, facing a devastating war.

I am dismally aware of the extent to which the blood of Palestinians is not worth anything like the blood of Israelis, still less the blood of Westerners.  A good case in point was on the BBC’s Question Time when every single member of the panel knew the name of the Israeli occupation soldier ‘kidnapped’ by the resistance, and they felt they had to pay endless sympathies to his family.

I found myself screaming at the television: “Can any of you name a single Palestinian victim, just say in the last 12 days, when 24 Palestinians, mostly women and children were killed by Israel in bomb, shell and rocket attacks?”  No one knows the names of these victims, no one describes the Palestinian leaders who were kidnapped and languish in Israeli dungeons.  All were seized in exactly the same way as this Israeli solder was seized.  This is a double standard that does not occur to most people, but is endlessly burrowing away in my mind.

MOORE: I guess you’d say that the lack of recognition for the democratically elected Hamas Government is another example of Western double standards.

GALLOWAY: That is just one of many contradictions.  Palestine is the only Arab country in which there is a free vote, and in it the Islamist party won, and the response from external powers was that the party that won should immediately scrap the policy on which it won the election and adopt the policy of the party it defeated.  When they refused to do this, an economic and political siege was imposed on the entire kidnapped Palestinian population, because of their temerity at electing politicians of whom the West does not approve.

MOORE: Why do you think the US administration is persisting with Guantanamo Bay despite damning criticism from the Supreme Court, among others?

GALLOWAY: It is a peculiarity of the current Washington regime that it cares nothing about international opinion, nothing about international law and diplomacy.  These are all merely tactics to be picked up and put down according to the needs of the hour.  It is interesting in the respect that the judges both in the UK and the US are practically the last bastions against overwhelming executive power.  The legislature in both countries has completely failed to perform that role of checking and balancing the power of government.

In Britain Mr. Blair has launched a jihad against the judiciary.  It has come to something for an old Labour man like me when it’s the judges in the House of Lords who are defending liberty in the land and it’s a Labour government that’s destroying them, and brutally insulting and campaigning against the judges for doing their job.  In the United States, even in a court that is stuffed with Bush appointees, the judges could not stomach this legal atrocity called Guantanamo any longer.

One British minister, Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General, put it in a nutshell when she said: “If there’s nothing wrong with what’s going on at Guantanamo Bay, why isn’t it in America?”  To answer this, it is not in America because if it were it would be subject to due process.  It is precisely because there has to be no legal norms that it has to be extra terrestrial.

MOORE: The late Clarence Darrow once wrote of capital punishment: “it is administered for no reason but deep and fixed hatred of the individual and an abiding thirst for revenge.”  Is this sentiment behind the reported construction of death chambers in Guantanamo Bay?

GALLOWAY: I think so, and if you look at some of the work that is being done in the US about the accountability of the activities at Abu Graib, it is clear that Donald Rumsfeld took a personal hand, as nauseating as it is, in discussing which forms of physical punishment and retribution can be taken against helpless prisoners before it becomes too much like torture to be contemplated.

It is obvious that what was happening at Abu Graib was not the mindless aberrations of some trailer-trash US privates.  These were dynamics unleashed from the very top of the US administration.  And for what?  Whatever information you are going to get out of behaving in that way is far outweighed by the opprobrium into which it brings your country when it inevitably leaks out.  And the information you get is usually worthless, as people will say anything under torture.

MOORE: Torture is not usually a weapon employed by democracies.

GALLOWAY: I think the leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom know the limitations of democracy.  My own father really believed that there was something special about Britain, that it was an especially free country.  Were he alive, this epoch would come as a terrible blow because it turns out that we are only free as long as it doesn’t really matter much.  When it matters the freedoms are taken away.  In other words the veneer that covers our society with the emblems of liberty, justice and democracy are very thin and can be dispensed with by the elected dictatorships that we now have on both sides of the Atlantic.

MOORE: Who’s to blame for this situation?

GALLOWAY: I blame the Democrats.  They have proved themselves to be an utterly spineless, unprincipled group of hucksters.  They could have stopped all of this.  They needn’t have allowed Bush to become President.  They could have whipped up a crisis over the brazen theft of the first election, but they didn’t and they have been running ever since.

MOORE: The September 11 bombings exposed how certain groups feel about the United States and the West.  Some say that since then an even more hard line approach from Washington has emerged.  Do you think the current approach to terrorism has elevated or reduced the chances of another 9/11?

GALLOWAY: I said in Parliament just four days after 9/11 that if we handle this in the wrong way we will create 10,000 new Bin Ladens.  I don’t think that anyone doubts we did this.  I use the metaphor that there is this swamp of hatred out there, and in it are festering all sorts of bad things.  In time some will emerge to harm us.  Instead of draining the swamp by dealing with the causes of it, we have engulfed it with new blood, making the swamp deeper, more toxic, and we will pay a price for it.

MOORE: Moving onto Iraq, do you think Nouri al Maliki is a credible leader of Iraq?

GALLOWAY: Not at all.  He is not remotely credible.  He is not even known by the Iraqi people.

MOORE: Is his appointment then an example of the imposition of Western-style democracy, necessary if an Iraqi civil war is to be avoided?

GALLOWAY: I believe the opposite is true.  The most expedient way to civil war is for us to stay, and if we stay in Iraq will surely be a civil war, and one like none you’ve ever seen.  We are talking about a Yugoslav-style war on top of the world’s biggest oilfields, sucking in the Sunnis in neighboring states, Iranians buttressing the Shiite power-base, the Turks becoming involved in Kurdistan.  So if you want a civil war, forget $60 a barrel, you won’t be able to buy oil at $600 a barrel because there will be no oil as there will be no production of oil in the Gulf, Iran or Iraq.  Most of the world’s oil supply will be wiped out.

Our presence in the country is the main cause of the war.  I’m not saying that if we now withdraw peace and harmony will immediately break out.  I’m not saying that withdrawal is a sufficient condition, but it is a necessary condition.  If we don’t withdraw there will never be a solution.  In any event the solution will not be what I or Bush wants.  The outcome in Iraq will not be a return to a secular nationalist government.  It will be a government of religious obscurantism, Shiite and Sunni, battling it out like what we see in Afghanistan.  There will come a day, perhaps we are already there, when people will realize that there are worse things than Saddam Hussein.

MOORE: What is your impression of Saddam Hussein’s trial?

GALLOWAY: It’s a farce.  It would have been much less demeaning to everyone if they had just shot him when they captured him.  Everything about the trial is a farce.  For a start it is being held not by the Iraqis but by the occupiers, with a few puppets who are put up front for the television cameras, albeit with a 60-minute time delay before we can see the pictures.

I know from my dealings with the Arab population that this trial has done more to rehabilitate Saddam Hussein’s reputation in the Muslim world than anything anyone could have designed.  He is seen as a lion and they are seen as monkeys.

MOORE: Tariq Aziz defended Saddam from the stand with the following words: “The president of the state of any country, if faced with an assassination attempt, should take procedures to punish those who conduct and help this operation.  According to the law, people who support this assassination can also be convicted.”  Do you think Tariq Aziz was talking about Iraq now, as much as Iraq under Saddam?

GALLOWAY: First of all, when Clinton came into power, he launched a cruise missile attack on Baghdad.  It killed some friends of mine.  He did so because an Iraqi plot to murder George Bush Senior in Kuwait had been unmasked.  Whether that plot was fabricated is another matter, but not only did Clinton execute my friends, without trial, the Kuwaitis executed the plotters because they were planning to kill a president.  As it happens I am against capital punishment, at all times in all societies, so I wouldn’t have executed any of them, but it is another example of the double standards that we are constantly grappling with here.

MOORE: Do you expect to be invited back to the US Senate?

GALLOWAY: No.  I told them last September to put up or shut up, and they appear to have chosen to shut up.

MOORE: Why do you think the Senate and indeed the British Labour Party have been so keen to besmirch your name?

GALLOWAY: I am quite good at what I do, and am quite a dangerous enemy for them.  If I were an ineffective, sandal-wearing, woolly jumper-wearing, ghettoized leftist they wouldn’t have to worry about me at all.  However, because by the grace of God I have the ability to rally together and persuade large numbers of people, and because I have been proved right, the people whom I am against have every reason to besmirch me.

The good news is that they have comprehensively failed.  I have just been speaking at a school where a thousand children came to hear me speak.  They say that young people are apathetic about politics, but I say they are apoplectic about the pathetic nature of the political class that we have.  If someone emerges who speaks clearly, speaks the truth, and provides some kind of vision as to how we get out of this, people will respond.

MOORE: But certain politicians see this approach as threatening. . . .

GALLOWAY: Yes, of course, and they’re right to.  I’m not a joker.  I’m not in this for a laugh.  I’m really serious about defeating these people.  So they are right to be afraid of me.

MOORE: Are you afraid of them, though?

GALLOWAY: No, not at all, and this is my great strength.  As I said to Senator Coleman in Washington, “Do not make the mistake of imagining that I’m afraid of you.  You have nothing that I want and I have nothing that you can take away from me.  The only thing that matters to me is my reputation amongst the people who support me, and you’re not in a position to take that away from me.”  So I’m not afraid of any of them, and this gives me a sense of power, conviction and courage that I might not otherwise have.

The main problem in the House of Commons is the toxic mix of cowardice and careerism in which most of these people are deeply imbibed.  A political class like that deserves contempt, and is in receipt of almost bottomless contempt amongst the people.

MOORE: What you are saying doesn’t bode well for those hoping to win the war on terror, does it?

GALLOWAY: There will never be a winner because terrorism isn’t an adversary — it is a tactic.  Peter Ustinov, the great European intellectual, put it this way: “War is the terrorism of the rich and powerful, and terrorism is the war of the poor and powerless.”  This word terrorism has been distorted beyond any further usefulness.  Terrorism is what the other guy does.

If you reduce Fallujah to ash, and kill thousands of people using white phosphorus and other banned weapons and overwhelming firepower, that’s not terrorism, but if you blow yourself up outside an Iraqi police station, that is terrorism. No person with half a brain can accept that definition of terrorism.  So there will be no end to the war on terrorism, because there is no end to the injustice that produced it.

MOORE: President Bush is in his last term of office, as is PM Blair, we are told.  What steps will the next leaders of these countries take to heal the rift with nations such as Iran, Syria, and so on?

GALLOWAY: I think they’ll do nothing different.  I think that Gordon Brown and Blair are two cheeks of the same arse, and Bush and Hilary Clinton are two cheeks of the same arse.  In fact, Clinton is demanding more forces to be sent to Iraq.  Despite a brief flirtation some years ago with the idea of a modicum of justice for the Palestinians, she has now turned utterly against the Palestinians.  She is as slavish in her support of Israel as Bush is.

I can tell you, from 30 years of intimate contact with Gordon Brown, that he will be no different from Tony Blair in the material aspects.  If Brown and Clinton are not the next leaders, then it will be people of their ilk, as there is no one on the radar who will do anything differently.

MOORE: So, will the list of disgruntled countries keep growing?

GALLOWAY: Of course.  In his majestic article for the New Yorker Seymour Hersh makes it very clear that they are not discussing whether to attack Iran, they are discussing which weapons to use when they attack.  Even I was startled at the level of detail Hersh went into about the debate inside the administration about whether to use a tactical nuclear weapon on the Iranian nuclear sites, and only the threat of mutiny from top military brass persuaded Bush to take this proposal off the table.  Who knows where he will train his sights on next?

I don’t think that they are in a position to invade anyone else right now.  If they were, then Hugo Chavez had better watch out, Syria had better watch out, Iran had better watch out.  North Korea had better watch out, although if the Americans hear nothing else from me, hear this.  Please do not attack North Korea — that would be picking up a very spiky porcupine indeed.

MOORE: If the status quo is to prevail, what could any new leader do to improve matters?

GALLOWAY: For the purposes of this interview I’ll deal only with the Muslim world, although there are many other issues of injustice that afflict much of the planet.  The way to drain the swamp is this.

First of all, we have to recognize the centrality of the Palestine question to this big crisis.  We have to recognize that the flaw at the heart of Western policy is the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people, and the endless insult added to injury over the past 50 years.

We have to make reparation to the Palestinian people and stop bankrolling and arming Israel.  We have to force them to knock down the wall, force them to disgorge every inch of the territory that they illegally occupied in 1967, force them to allow a Palestinian state with an Arab border with Jerusalem as its capital and no Zionist settlements on its land.  No control over the airspace, sea space, access and so on. None of that will be done, but it needs to be done.

The second thing that needs to be done is that we need to withdraw from occupied Muslim lands, get our forces out of their lands.  The third thing we must do is to stop propping up these tyrants that rule the Muslim world.  As I implied earlier on, the Muslim world laughs at the idea that we are for freedom and democracy, as they know that their tyrant is only in power because of our support.  I’m not asking for anything to be done to bring these tyrants down, other than to withdraw our support and let their people deal with them.

MOORE: In I’m Not the Only One, you wrote of the Labour Party: “Many of my friends have placed their faith in a campaign to ‘Reclaim the Party’.  I wish them luck.  They will need it.  I believe they will not succeed, but I sincerely hope that they do.”  What, if anything could emerge to fill the void to the left of British politics, and you suggest there is a similar void in the United States?

GALLOWAY: With Respect – the Unity Coalition we are trying to fill the void in the UK, as a void is an unnatural thing, especially in politics.  I think that no one is trying to fill the vacuum in the United States.

I would like to make something clear about what I am trying to do.  I am not a Marxist, a Leninist, Trotskyist or any other kind of ‘ist’.  I am just labor.  I just believe that every country needs a labor party.  A party that will stand up for people who work, those who are too old to work, who are poor, marginalized, on the end of the lash of bigotry and prejudice.  A party that will stand up for immigrants, minorities and so on.  Every country needs such a party.  Britain no longer has one, and we are trying to build one from scratch.

It sounds like a very big mountain to climb, but in 1894 in the East End of London a Scotsman called Keir Hardie became the first ever Labour MP.  At the time people said he was splitting the vote and he would let the Conservatives in.  From that one victory in 1894 in East London grew the great oak of Labour.  All the good that was done by Labour has been abandoned, and we are putting ourselves forward as a true labor party.

Dan Moore is a freelance journalist from London, England.