EVERYONE SAW the copious media coverage marking the first anniversary of the 11 September attacks. But how many saw mention that this month also marks the twentieth anniversary of the massacre of at least 1,500 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon?
A six-week lull in the Israeli/Palestine conflict came to an end with further Palestinian suicide bombings and the Israeli Defence Force using brutal force in Ramallah – a renewed attempt by Ariel Sharon to humiliate Yasser Arafat. As JUDY BEISHON argues, only a socialist movement amongst Palestinians and also Israeli workers can break the cycle of violence and end war and poverty in the region.
No capitalist solution to Israil/Palestine conflict
The Israeli Minister of Defence at that time, Ariel Sharon, ordered Israeli troops to let Lebanese Christian Phalangists into the camps, where they spent three days on a horrific killing spree murdering men, women and children.
An Israeli government commission of inquiry found Sharon to be responsible for the massacre, but his punishment was a mere demotion from Defence Minister to cabinet minister without portfolio.
Now, as Israeli Prime Minister, Sharon continues with his particularly brutal approach to the Palestinians, believing that only military might will safeguard land claimed by Israel.
Recently, he declared all peace talks and agreements of previous years to be defunct: "Oslo doesn’t exist, Camp David doesn’t exist, neither does Taba. There’s no going back to those places". He has fully supported new Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories (settlers now occupy almost half of the West Bank), has annexed more land and holy sites and has met the second Palestinian intifada with a vicious military onslaught and reoccupation of Palestinian towns.
Palestinians are still being killed almost daily (84 in the last six weeks), including young boys armed only with stones. Reactionary right-wing Jewish settlers have gone to the lengths of placing bombs in Palestinian schools, the latest being the wounding of five eight-year-olds in a school yard near Hebron on 17 September.
The effect of reoccupation has been a halving of the Palestinian economy and a tripling of unemployment. Over two-thirds of households now live below the poverty line and UN officials estimate that 1.8 million Palestinians are dependent on foreign food aid.
A US government survey revealed that over half the children in the West Bank and Gaza are suffering from malnutrition. Israeli troops are not only instructed to impose curfews and road closures on the local population, but also on foreign aid workers as well, so worsening further the dire conditions in the towns and camps.
Palestinian leadership – A flawed strategy
FACED WITH huge repression and with no tangible gains, there was a six-week lull in Palestinian suicide bombings. Debates have taken place at all levels in occupied areas on what strategy to pursue.
With much division and dissent, Arafat’s Fatah organisation declared an end to attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel, realising that they are counter-productive, though other organisations that have carried out suicide bombings such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are determined to continue with them. Islamic Jihad has just carried out two attacks in two days (18 and 19 September), the second one killing six people in Tel Aviv. Sharon’s response was to send Israeli troops to systematically demolish most of Arafat’s Ramallah compound.
As there is widespread disgust amongst Palestinians towards corruption and lack of leadership in the Palestinian Authority (PA), there are hopes that elections announced for next January could bring in more representative leaders.
General discontent on the ground was reflected in a recent meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council, when a majority of council members intended to have a vote of no confidence in Yassar Arafat’s cabinet.
Arafat was forced to engineer the resignation of the entire cabinet to avoid the vote, which was a blow to his prestige, although not a direct threat to his leadership.
PA elections are far from certain to take place, however, as they would be impossible under present conditions of closures and curfews. Sharon and other right-wing representatives of the Israeli ruling class are in no hurry to create suitable conditions. Although they want the removal of Arafat, they realise he is still regarded as a figurehead of the Palestinian struggle and so would most likely gain a new mandate.
US President George Bush has also called for the removal of Arafat, while maintaining support for undemocratic and repressive Arab regimes such as in Saudi Arabia. As Robert Fisk commented in the Independent: "Yassar Arafat was not rejected because of his failure to create a democracy, he was rejected because he didn’t do the job of a dictator well enough. He failed to create law and order in the small portions of land awarded to him".
Incredibly, Arafat welcomed Bush’s speech calling for his own removal, simply because Bush paid lip-service to a Palestinian ’state’. The PA leaders look to foreign imperialist powers and to reactionary Arab regimes to further Palestinian aspirations, rather than to the Palestinians’ potential capacity for mass struggle. This stance is inevitable when they themselves rely on capitalism for their careers and personal wealth.
But their strategy cannot lead to a Palestinian state with decent living standards for all, as capitalist classes worldwide, faced with ongoing economic crisis, would not provide sufficient resources for the development of a such a state.
One look at the lack of international funding going to Afghanistan is an example of how little the main imperialist powers are prepared to give. A Palestinian state is also unacceptable to the Israeli ruling class, as they see it as a security threat to the existence of Israel.
Only a struggle by the mass of the Palestinian people for a socialist Palestine, accompanied by an appeal to the Israeli Jewish working class to support their fight, would provide a road to genuine liberation and decent living standards.
In the course of this struggle the building of democratic, armed workers’ defence bodies are an urgent necessity, as is the building of a workers’ party.
Israeli workers and the struggle for socialism
ISRAELI WORKERS need to build their own struggle against capitalism in Israel, with the aim of creating a socialist Israel in a socialist confederation of the Middle East. The idea of a single state that some organisations on the Left call for would mean that either Palestinians or Jews would be a minority in such a state.
Most Israeli Jews, having a deep consciousness of the need to defend their own state to guarantee their survival, will never be won to such a programme. And it could not be achieved forcibly, against what is the fourth military power in the world, without massive bloodshed.
A socialist solution depends on a split along class lines; Israeli workers can be won to the idea of a socialist Israel, guaranteeing democratic rights to minorities, in a voluntary socialist confederation.
At present in Israel, the need for building workers’ struggles and a new workers’ party armed with socialist ideas has never been greater. The economy has suffered from the dire state of the world economy, as well as from its own contradictions and the cost of conducting the military onslaught in the West Bank and Gaza (estimated to be $3bn annually by a senior army commander). Despite workers being told that this isn’t the time for internal conflicts, there has recently been a wave of struggles against cuts and wage restraint, including a three-hour local and central government workers’ strike.
The Israeli government is presently engaged in a dispute with Lebanon over water rights, which Sharon has said could become a "pretext for war". He has also indicated that in the event of a US war on Iraq provoking Saddam Hussein to attack Israel, Israel will not show military restraint as it did during the Gulf war ten years ago. This warmongering adds to the huge instability in the region and feelings of insecurity among Israeli people.
In the event of renewed war with neighbouring countries, significant opposition could develop in Israel as it did in the past to the war in Lebanon. This would combine with widespread discontent over cuts, pay restraint and job losses, adding to the need for workers to organise independently.