Middle East: Hamas’ leader assassinated

Working people of the region will pay the price

At 5 in the morning on Monday, as Sheikh Ahmed Yasin left a mosque in Gaza, three missiles launched from IDF helicopter gunships killed the founder and leader of Hamas, four of his escorts and four unrelated civilians, wounding 15 others.

This assassination, a desperate act by the weak and bankrupt Israeli government, rather than “weakening terrorism and providing security”, has already triggered a massive escalation of the conflict, and will have serious repercussions throughout the Middle East and beyond.

The effect on Palestinians has been electrifying: 200,000 Palestinians attended the funeral march, which became the biggest political demonstration in the history of the Gaza Strip. 15,000 marched in Nablus, 10,000 in Jenin and thousands more in other towns and villages. Almost immediately Palestinian youth clashed with IDF soldiers and hurled stones across the occupied territories.

By its own act the Israeli government, headed by Sharon, has created a powerful symbol, a great Shahid (martyr). As opposed to the corrupt leaders of the Palestinian Authority with their privileged lifestyle (at the expense of the masses), Sheikh Yasin is seen as an incorruptible leader “who has not sold out” to Israel and US imperialism.

The leaders of the Palestinian Authority have been forced to call three days of mourning, with a general stoppage of commerce and education. Most commentators agree that the political aftermath of the assassination will see Arafat and Abu-Alaa’s PA further undermined, and Hamas’ authority strengthened, especially in the Gaza Strip where it is already the dominant force.

As always, state terrorism encourages individual terrorism and vice versa. It is only a matter of time before Israeli workers and young people pay with blood for their leaders’ reactionary and oppressive policies. Some more far-sighted sections of the Israeli ruling class realised the potentially disastrous result of this assassination. The head of country’s security services, Avi Dichter, opposed the killing of Sheikh Yasin.

But another consequence could be a revival of the Intifada as a mass popular uprising, a tendency already visible in the struggle against the separation wall cutting through the West Bank.

Contradictory mood

Inside Israel, the mood is contradictory. A poll conducted on the day of the assassination showed that while 60% of Israelis polled thought the act was justified, 81% believed it will enhance terrorist attacks, at least in the short term. And as the well-known columnist B. Michael commented in Israel’s biggest daily, Yediot: “I have been a boy and am now an old man, and I have not once seen this ‘long term’ in which the land is peaceful. Only short terms I have seen. One after the other”.

Several commentators have referred to “the living dead walking among us”, the future Israeli victims of this assassination. Most Israelis did not need any special alert. The streets, buses and shopping centres were almost deserted on Monday. In Ramat-gan a Palestinian attacked and wounded three Israelis with an axe. In Jaffa a young man stabbed three passengers on a bus. And these are only the spontaneous reactions of enraged individuals.

This mega-provocation should be seen in the context of Sharon sinking lower than ever in opinion polls, with a 33% rate of approval prior to the assassination. The social, economic and political failures of this government are clear for all to see, and escalation of the conflict is again their only remedy.

The “moderate and respectable” leaders of Israeli Palestinians in the Follow-up Committee [a Committee made up Israeli Palestinians mayors and community leaders] have called (obviously under pressure from below) a general strike in the Palestinian sector and a mass rally of all political currents. This comes at a time when both the leaders of the Islamic Movement and those of the left-nationalist organisation Abnaa El Balad [Sons of the Village] are under arrest. An upswing in the struggle of Israeli Palestinians is a possible outcome.

The wider implications of these events cannot all be analysed here, but several predictions can be made: the escalation of the conflict is likely to result in Israeli, Jewish and American targets (since the US did not condemn the assassination) being hit by the Palestinian organizations, possibly collaborating with the Al-Qa’eda network – hence a “globalization” of Hamas operations which Yasin tried to limit to Israel/Palestine.

In addition, the planned move by Sharon in the direction of “separation”, namely withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, is now seriously complicated, as Sharon and others in the Israeli ruling class will not easily leave Gaza to the complete dominance of Hamas.

Overall, one thing is certain: the current leaders on both sides offer only more bloodshed, oppression and poverty. Assassinations cannot bring the Israeli Jewish workers security, and neither can the suicide bombings which shore up support for Sharon liberate the Palestinian masses. The only answer is independent class action by the workers and masses of the entire region, providing the alternative of a socialist Israel, an independent socialist Palestine and a Socialist confederation of the Middle East. This is what we in Maavak Sozialisti will keep fighting for.

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March 2004