NAZARETH – The Communist Party of Israel (CPI) convened its 27th Congress amidst the crisis of the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and an escalating attack on social security, civil rights and democracy by the right-wing Sharon government.

The CPI, founded in 1919, was the first political party in 1948 to call for two states for two peoples as well as struggling for the civil and citizenship rights for Arab people.

The Young Communist League’s drum corps led the delegates and guests through the streets here chanting peace slogans and calling on the people to keep the fight for justice going.

After the crowd flowed into the hall, the rally heard the encouraging words of the oldest communists in Israel, Tawfig Tobi and Ruth Lubitch, read by the youngest communists.

Mayor Ramez Jaraisy welcomed the hundreds of delegates from all over Israel to the historic city of Nazareth. Meretz Party Knesset member Yosi Saried spoke adding his voice to the cause of “practicing what we preach” in the struggle for Arab and Jewish unity. He told the crowd about joint efforts by opposition Knesset members to fight the extremist Sharon government. The CPI has three Knesset members, as well as mayors and municipality council members. These elected officials are part of the successful efforts in building “The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality,” a national electoral formation.

The CPI’s General Secretary Mohamad Naffa said the CPI’s opening march and rally received breakthrough media coverage. The CPI’s message, “let us save our two peoples,” was heard nationwide, he said.

“The media portrays an Arab-Jewish party as a weakness,” he said. “It is not our weakness, but our greatest strength. This is our future, Arab and Jews together.”

One of the most stirring events was the speech by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Arafat spoke via cell phone from Ramallah, Palestine. The commitment to peace and a Palestinian statehood held by the CPI was dramatized when Arafat said, “A joint life is in our future where our children, Israeli and Palestinian will live side by side. The CPI, the peace movement, all forces of peace in Israel will bring about the peace of the brave.”

The militant determination to resist the war drive resounded when a soldier spoke of his refusal to serve in the Israeli army, which brought the crowd to its feet.

The communists of Israel face a crisis which they believe requires broad coalition building. As in the words of the 12-year communist Knesset member Toma Gozansky, “The main task is for all parties, groups and personalities who agree to co-operate against Sharon and the Likud to develop a people’s agenda to achieve justice and end racist discrimination.” The Israeli public opinion continues to support by two-thirds majority a two-state solution and the end to the occupation, despite the acts of terrorism. The Sharon government has increased its attempts to strip away rights of the Arab citizens and blame them for terrorist acts.

In fact, the far right is openly discussing “transfer,” which would remove Palestinian citizens, who are 20 percent of the population, from their homes, stripping their citizenship with expulsion from Israel. The Mayor of Nazareth said that it has created a wave of tension for the Arab population who are already suffering high unemployment and racist budget cuts especially severe in the seven Arab cities in Israel. He added, “The U.S. war in Iraq will be used as an excuse by Sharon to [attack] Palestinians [here] and in the occupied territories.”

The Congress debated on its second and third day how to strengthen the work of the CPI at the grassroots. They explored the need to strengthen their central organizing principle of Arab-Jewish unity in the fight to end the occupation and address the spiraling economic crisis.

But the future looked optimistic when the Young Communist League spoke of organizing a new branch of Jewish members in Jerusalem and of their optimism about a bigger Party, League and the dream of a socialist Israel.

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