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The crisis of “management of the conflict”

Netanyahu government policy claims more victims

Yasha Marmer, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel-Palestine)

The arrogant policy of “management of the conflict” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is claiming more and more victims from both sides of the national schism almost daily. Since the beginning of October, 58 Palestinians, 10 Israelis and one asylum seeker from Eritrea have been killed. More than 4,000 Palestinians and more than 100 Israelis have been injured – many of the Palestinians during demonstrations. This has been the deadliest month in the national conflict since the war on Gaza in summer 2014.

During his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu cynically promised a “computer for every child”. His fourth government today promises a gun to every Jewish citizen and a death penalty to every Palestinian suspect. The relaxation by the ministry of interior of the terms to obtain weapons licenses, alongside the call of ministers, mayors and police officers to the public to get armed, led to a spike of 5,000% in applications for gun licenses in two weeks!

Tragically, the range of the ’immediate suspects’ is widening by the week: Arab-Palestinians, asylum seekers, Jews from Mizrahi Arab or Caucasus origin - everyone becomes a “potential terrorist” unless proven otherwise.

Government spokespersons, with generous help from the mainstream media, work extra hours justifying every bullet fired by the Israeli army, police and border police, while playing on the genuine security fears of the Jewish population.

On 21 October, Jewish security guard Simha Hodedatov, originally from Dagestan, was shot dead by two Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem. The Israeli media chose to emphasise that during the confrontation between Hodedatov and the soldiers he allegedly yelled “I’m Daaesh” (Isis). The purpose of that emphasis – according to other reports he had shouted “Am I Daaesh?” – was clear: to justify the shooting.

In the case of Palestinian suspects the ’justification’ is automatic. This was the case with Asra Abed, a young Palestinian woman from Nazareth who was shot while surrounded by tens of armed security guards, police and soldiers, after automatically being labeled as a “terrorist”. Palestinians who questioned it and protested were accused by the Israeli media of sympathy with terrorism.

A week later, a small marginal piece in a local paper reported that the police are seriously examining the option that the young woman didn’t intend to carry out any attack. But this didn’t make any headlines.

Before the case of Abed, there was the deadly shooting of Fady Alon, a Palestinian youth who was filmed trying to escape from a group of Jewish settlers after allegedly stabbing one of them during a fight. He was shot dead by a policeman, who according to the video didn’t make a minimal effort to stop him first.

The Jewish terrorist who carried out a deadly attack on a gay pride march in Jerusalem two months ago and other Jewish terrorists from the recent period have been arrested by the police without causing them any harm. This is not a mistake, but a policy, and it’s dictated from above.

But the policies of execution without trial and allowance to kill will not stop desperate individuals from conducting stabbings or running people over with vehicles. They also won’t give a sense of security to Israeli Jews, and definitely not to Arab-Palestinians and non-Jews. It’s not surprising that Palestinian parents from Acre were afraid to let their kids go to a theatre play in Tel Aviv and cancelled the trip. In parallel, a number of schools in Tel Aviv cancelled trips to Jerusalem.

Shaking off responsibility

The direction that society is being dragged in by the government was showed horrifically during a terror attack in the bus station in Beer Sheva and a lynching immediately afterwards. Habtom Zarhum, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, who was in the bus station during the terror attack was shot by security guards and then lynched due to the colour of his skin. He paid with his life for the government’s incitement and scaremongering.

On 21 October the police arrested four suspects for involvement in the lynching. Two of them are prison service officers. The next day all of them were freed on bail. In contrast, young Palestinian citizens of Israel from Haifa, Acre, Jaffa and elsewhere have spent long days and nights in police custody only for posting Facebook messages calling for people to take part in protest marches against the occupation and government policies.

Netanyahu and defence minister Ayalon tried to shake off any responsibility for the lynching and called on citizens not to take the law into their own hands. But the lynch mob was acting in accordance with the message coming from the Knesset (Israeli parliament), the defence ministry, the prime minister’s office and from the ranks of the Knesset ’opposition’. The mob, particularly the two prison officers, implemented the new semi-official policy: execution without trial of every (non-Jewish) suspect of terrorism.

Habtom Zarhum’s death was presented by government spokespersons as a result of tragic circumstances, but who created those circumstances? The government has reacted to the conflict escalation - that it itself has flared up - with more and more repression against Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Waves of arrests, including of children, collective punishments, reducing gun regulations, setting up checkpoints and deployment of troops to Palestinian neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, did not calm the situation, but pushed more desperate young Palestinians from Jerusalem and other places towards the destructive path of indiscriminate attacks against Jews

According to a Knesset TV channel poll (22.10.15), 72% of Israelis are not satisfied with ’the way Netanyahu deals with the current terror wave’. His promises to “bring back calm” haven’t been realised.

According to a previous poll by the same channel, 68% don’t believe that a ’centre-left’ government headed by Labour Party leader Issac Herzog or Yair Lapid (leader of Yesh Atid) would do any better.

This is not surprising, as the heads of the Knesset opposition have supported the catastrophic policies of the right: closure of east Jerusalem neighbourhoods, greater latitude to fire on stone throwers and heavier prison sentences etc. They have backed government policies and have not proposed any alternative. Support for right-wing politicians Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman is growing but not dramatically.

Although among Israeli Jews there is a rise in nationalism and support for the right, sections of the population are drawing the conclusion that none of the establishment parties can offer a way out from the constant state of war. The government doesn’t have and can’t have any military solution to the national conflict; it just makes it worse. Even the military Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot, admitted to Israel’s channel 2: “There’s no clear military solution to this kind of challenge” (21.10.15).

Urgently needed is the building of joint struggle between Jews and Arabs against escalation of the conflict, indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the policies of the government. Also, crucially, this struggle needs to aim to mobilise wide layers in society to oppose the root of the problem: the occupation and settlements, the discrimination and national oppression and the capitalist system. These need to be met with a political alternative: the building of left political forces of Jews and Arabs that put forward a socialist programme.

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The crisis of “management of the conflict”

Shahar Benhorin, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel-Palestine)

(This article was published in Hebrew on 9 October 2015 and translated into English on 26 October 2015)

The current round of escalation of the national conflict, which could still intensify over the next weeks, didn’t come from nowhere. For a long period there has been a rise in national tensions, attacks on Palestinians by Jewish settlers and the state forces and nationalist attacks on Israeli citizens. The policy of the so-called “management of the conflict” has led again, inevitably, to severe crisis.

Only last year that policy led to an explosion of nationalist violence that included a military offensive in the West Bank and bloody war on Gaza – for the third time in six years - and to harsh clashes in Jerusalem. In its essence this is a deepening crisis of the occupation regime in the Palestinian territories and of the capitalist right-wing rule in Israel, which is unable to solve the problems at the heart of the national conflict. The incapability of offering a way out of a situation of permanent war was demonstrated also by the calls of the mayor of Jerusalem and police officers for (Jewish) residents to carry weapons, in continuation of the easing of weapon licensing around the escalation round of last November. It is part of a dangerous policy encouraging a trigger-happy hand and arbitrary killing.

At a press conference on 8 October, Israel’s prime minister, security minister [defense minister], minister of internal security, the stand-in head of the police and the chief commander of the army congratulated themselves. Their message was that Netanyahu’s government of settlements and capital is doing everything for the safety of the (Jewish) public and that the (Jewish) public should be united in its support for the government. They tried to convince that the flare up of the escalation in the national conflict, like the seasons of the year, has nothing to do with the policy of the government, and that the current crisis will be resolved, like its predecessors, by military means and by acts of collective punishment against the Palestinians. Until the next explosion.

 

Since 1st October, up until the publishing of this article on 9th October, 14 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,000 injured. Four Israelis have been killed. Half of the Palestinians were killed on Friday 9 October when the Israeli army shot to death at least six unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the border of Gaza and injured tens of others. During that demonstration, which was attended by hundreds of residents, protesters stormed with their bare hands the fence on the border of the poverty stricken Gaza strip. That strip has been under tight siege from Israel and Egypt for years, and during the summer of 2014 over 2,200 people perished there due to the Israeli bombings, including hundreds of children. The murderous repression of the demonstrators on the border may lead to further escalation in confrontations in the coming days.

 

When since the beginning of this year and up until a few weeks ago, over 20 Palestinian residents of the West Bank were killed, including children, and when the Dawabshe family was murdered in an arson terror-attack, Netanyahu of course didn’t declare that the Palestinians were under a general terror offensive. That’s because the systematic and organised violence against the Palestinians – under the occupation and the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, under the siege in the Gaza strip, and under the policy of discrimination and expropriation inside Israel – is the ‘normal’ situation that the Netanyahu regime seeks to continue imposing.

Netanyahu as usual tries to give the impression that the cause of the recent wave of indiscriminate stabbings against Jews is simply ideological hatred of Israelis and Jews. Political ideas, including reactionary ones, do not develop in a vacuum. Faced with the reality of heavy national oppression, poverty, and of state terror which spreads bereavement in every corner, and in the absence of seeing a way to a solution, the most despairing elements are pushed, also, towards destructive acts – as proposed by those right-wing Islamist forces, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which promote terrorism against Jews.

At the same time, these kind of acts don’t promote a solution to national oppression, but push parts of the Israeli population to support the right wing regime and more harsh attacks on the Palestinians. Right wing forces on both sides of the conflict nurture each other politically. It’s not by accident that far-right Kahanist-fascist elements exploit the atmosphere of shock and anxiety in the Jewish population in order to organise racist demonstrations and attacks on Palestinians, including the lynching attempts.

 

Intensification of repression and poverty

Netanyahu’s government is struggling to maintain its grip over the developments and tries to demonstrate control through bragging about its official easing of gunfire restrictions against (Palestinian) youth involved in stone throwing, its carrying out of mass arrests, a widening of administrative detentions and acts of collective punishment like house demolitions and issuing of fines to parents of stone throwers. These acts are aimed in advance exclusively against Palestinians. Huge numbers of the arrested are minors from poor families, who now face official permits to shoot them and jail them more easily – the strongest military power in the region is sending armed soldiers to fight kids. According to the logic of Netanyahu’s government, more repression, more poverty and humiliation and the destruction of the future of all these children and youth will bring “calm”.

Getting the army and the settlements out of the Palestinian territories, recognition of an equal right to self-determination and implementation of socialist policies to secure a future for all the children on both sides of the national schism are essential to achieve a lasting solution. But the goal of Netanyahu’s rule is to secure the future of the occupation and settlements enterprise. That’s why stone throwing by Jewish settlers on Palestinian communities is usually not labeled as ’terrorism’ by the Israeli army or police and is not confronted with a serious repression. This is in contrast to incidents where Palestinian residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, who live under occupation, confront military and police forces, or settlers who attack them.

 

Brutal repression

The government and the IDF spokesperson, with the help of the enlisted establishment media, attempt to associate such confrontations with indiscriminate attacks on Israeli passers-by that have occurred, in order to label any form of resistance to the occupation as “terror” and to facilitate the most brutal acts of repression against Palestinian communities.

The ‘Jewish Home’ party made clear that it wants more heavy military pressure. The threat of a “Defensive Wall II” – a military assault into the heart of the enclaves of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has been raised again. Since operation “Defensive Wall” [named in English also Defensive Shield] in 2002 the military has made regular raids and arrests in those enclaves. But a war scenario that goes in this direction is possible at a certain stage if the situation deteriorates, as an act of collective punishment against the Palestinians. It is absurd to assume that such a military assault will be able to stop desperate individuals from conducting stabbings or driving motor vehicles into people.

Apart from that, from the standpoint of the ruling class and military tops it would be an adventurous gamble that could definitely spur mass protests among Palestinians and internationally. This kind of development would undermine further the international relations of Israel. The US might, for example, avoid vetoing a decision in the UN Security Council to formally recognise a Palestinian state within a defined period of time, with or without Israel’s agreement.

Another round of bloody confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians will shake the Israeli economy that is already on the verge of recession. It can also put more difficulties into the plans of parts of Israel’s ruling class to promote collaborations with Sunni regimes, like Saudi Arabia for example, to attempt to weaken Iran’s influence, after imperialist powers turned to some collaboration with Iran that led to the signing of the nuclear deal in July.

Religious dimension

The national and religious tensions have built up over a period of time, to a large extent under the influence of control-struggles over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem, which already at the end of last year ignited fierce confrontations.

The outlawing on 9th September of the Islamist organisations Mourabitoun and Murabitat, male and female activists on the payroll of the Northern Islamic Movement - most of whose activity has been shouting at the Jewish visitors to the compound – contributed to the deterioration. The tension rose high during the Jewish holiday period. A curfew was imposed in the Palestinian territories and there have been provocations by the settlers’ right wing in Jerusalem - including the entrance of the agriculture minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home party) to the Al-Aqsa compound on the eve of the Jewish new year on 13th September.

This was accompanied by an event in which Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 18-year-old Palestinian woman in front of cameras, even when it was clear that she could hurt nobody. Then, after terror attacks near Nablus (1.10.15) and in the old city of Jerusalem (3.10.15) in which four Israelis were murdered, army forces and settlers flared up the situation on the ground further with an escalation of attacks against Palestinians. A 18-year-old was shot dead in Tulkarem (4.10.15), a 12-year-old boy was shot dead in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem (5.10.15) and a 20-year-old youth was shot dead in Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem (8.10.15).

Since 2013 there has been an escalation in the campaign of Jewish religious fanatics, with backing from elements of the regime, to fan a religious war around the Al-Aqsa compound. Politically, this campaign aims to tighten and demonstrate Israeli-Jewish national sovereignty in that sensitive site as part of the nationalist-messianic campaign to demonstrate national control over East Jerusalem and all the territory between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. Besides the offence to the feelings of the worshippers, this context is the central reason why the restrictions on Muslim worshippers in the compound, the entrance of police forces and the arrogant attempts by the Jewish far right to take over the compound, arouse rage also among a mass of secular Palestinians.

 

Politicians from establishment parties with an agenda of Zionist nationalism seek to cynically gain political capital from pyromaniac provocations in the compound, like Ariel Sharon did in his time when his visit there in 2000 was the trigger to the second intifada. The leader of Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett, claimed last year when he was the minister of Jerusalem affairs that “the Temple Mount issue is a highest-level national issue … I set up a team and we decided on targets that I prefer not to elaborate at this stage, but generally we are speaking about gradual expansion of the Jewish presence to the Temple Mount” (interview to radio Galey Israel, 9.6.14).

As a matter of fact, Bennett refutes Netanyahu’s claim that the accusations about attempts to change the status quo of the worshipping arrangements at the religious site are a “total lie”. Netanyahu expresses fears within the ruling class regarding the status of the international relations of Israel, and specifically its relations with Jordan, whose ministry of Waqf is in charge of an autonomic management of the Al Aqsa compound. But since the election of the previous Knesset in 2013 there’s been a spike in the number of politicians of his own party who are busy openly pushing changes at the compound. At the beginning of last year, Knesset member Miri Regev, who has been appointed as a minister since then, proposed to “reach a situation in the Temple Mount which is similar to the Cave of the Patriarchs: certain days for Jews and certain days for Muslims”.

What lies behind the false rhetoric of “freedom of worship” is the aspiration to perpetuate the occupation and to “Judaise” East Jerusalem (through expropriation of Palestinian properties for the benefit of settlers), and to promote different initiatives to make the restrictions on Muslim worshippers more severe. Nowadays, “when the age of entrance is limited, 30,000 Muslims are prevented from entering the mountain", explained the previous chief of the Israeli police, Yohanan Danino, during a session of the internal affairs committee of the Knesset last year (23.06.14). “Only last Friday we prevented a number of Muslims [from going up] which equaled the number of Jews who have gone up since the Six Day War [1967 war]”.

 

The site is truly considered holy both by the Jewish and Muslim religions but in practice it has been a central Muslim prayer site for 1,300 years, while it is customary for Jewish worshippers to pray at the Western Wall at the foot of the mount, and most of them are against prayer on the mount itself.

It is absolutely necessary to oppose attempts to drag the region into religious war in the name of “freedom of worship”. A possible change in the worshipping arrangements at one of the sites with the most explosive potential in the Middle East can’t happen by compulsion and under occupation, but only through dialogue and agreement on the basis of the end of occupation and poverty in East Jerusalem and the establishment of two capitals in Jerusalem.

Struggle for change

In a series of places in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel, tens and hundreds of Palestinian residents, mostly young, have demonstrated against the provocations at the Al Aqsa and against the occupation. The fact that so far these demonstrations haven’t mobilised mass participations, except for funerals, signals that it’s not yet a new intifada, in the sense of a popular mass uprising, like it was during the first intifada and in the first period of the second intifada before it deteriorated, tragically, to a series of military confrontations and terrorist acts.

The heads of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) and the Palestinian Authority promote the illusion that the Palestinian masses can wait and rely on outside forces to intervene and solve their problems. While the PA continues, at the end of the day, to collaborate with the maintenance of the occupation and oppresses protests and struggles of residents, the diplomatic moves of the PLO in the UN and the hypocritical statements of the imperialist governments of the US and the EU, or of the Arab League, have no effect on the ground.

For the same reason, there’s also no point in meetings of Palestinian MKs [elected members of the Knesset] from the Joint List, including from Al-Jabha/Hadash, with Netanyahu and with the King of Jordan, because they can’t promote a solution to any of the serious problems of the day. Only mobilisation of wide mass layers of the Palestinians into struggle, organised democratically, can grant them national and social liberation. An effort to organise mass protest marches and actions against the occupation in the Palestinian territories and against racism and discrimination in Israel, can pave the way for building the necessary struggle for change.

The workers and poor in Israel, from both national groups, have a clear interest in opposing the escalation in the conflict and the anti-peace policy of the right wing capitalist government. That’s why workers and student organisations should initiate steps to promote protests for peace, equality, personal security and welfare for workers and students on both sides of the conflict.

In the face of the nurtured national divide, it’s particularly important to promote demonstrations – especially joint demonstrations of Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis – against the escalation that is led by the policy of the government. This should be accompanied by demands to put an end to the occupation and settlements, and with a clear call against attacks on civilians, and against arbitrary killings and imprisonment without trial. Emphasising wide mobilisation for the demonstrations can help to protect them from attacks, to highlight their message and to make clear for wider layers the need to tie the hands of the government and the need for a deep political change.

The calls of Isaac Herzog, head of the ’opposition’ in parliament and the leader of the Labour Party and the Zionist Camp, to impose a full curfew on the occupied Palestinian territories expose again that he is heading a right wing, nationalist, capitalist political camp that does not offer any genuine alternative to the catastrophic policies of Netanyahu’s rule.

The building of socialist forces on both sides of the Green Line, including a socialist party in Israel, forces that will organise youth, workers and the poor on both sides of the national divide for struggle against capitalist right wing rule and for peace and socialist change, is an essential precondition for a real way out from the vicious cycles of the bloody conflict.

 

Organise and struggle:

• For demonstrations, protest marches and strikes against the escalation that is fuelled by Netanyahu’s government, and against the occupation and the settlements.

• For joint struggle of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, for social justice and peace. No to attacks on civilians, no to terror.

• For mass struggle of the Palestinians for national and social liberation. For struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel against discrimination and for equality. Establishment of democratic action committees to assist in organising protests and defence of demonstrations.

• Promote the establishment of left socialist parties of the working and poor people on both sides of the Green Line.

Socialist Struggle Movement demands:

• Down with the policy of “conflict management”, that promises only more bouts of bloodshed.

• End the arbitrary killings by the forces of the army and the police, the arbitrary arrests and jailing without trial. End administrative detention.

• End collective punishment – no to house demolitions, no to fines on parents.

• Stop nurturing religious war around the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif compound. End poverty in Jerusalem and end the occupation and settlements in the east of the city.

• Establish two capitals in Jerusalem, securing welfare, equal national and religious rights, freedom of worship and freedom from religious coercion on both sides of the city.

• Down with the dictatorship of the occupation and the settlements in the Palestinian territories. End the siege on Gaza.

• End poverty and discrimination! Massive investment in housing, education, health care, infrastructure and jobs with a living wage for all. Raise the taxes on the big corporations.

• Establishment of an independent and equal, democratic and socialist Palestinian state, alongside a democratic and socialist Israel, as part of the struggle for a socialist Middle East and regional peace

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