For a socialist solution to national oppression
End the invasion of Gaza
Millions of people across the globe are united in revulsion at the indiscriminate slaughter being perpetrated by the rulers of Israel against the people of Gaza. Anger at the relentless bombing of civilian areas and at the ground intervention by Israeli troops have already sparked some of the biggest anti war protests since the early days of the Iraq war.
At the time of writing the confirmed death toll among Palestinians is over 900 and rising. More than 2,000 people have been injured. Well may Israeli spokespersons talk about “surgical” strikes against arms dumps and Hamas militants. The pictures of the bodies of young children laid out in rows – whole families wiped out in an instant – don’t lie. The majority of the casualites are civilian; very many of them are children.
The Israeli establishment justify this assault as necessary to “degrade” Hamas’ military capacity, cut off its supply routes, and stop the rocket attacks on towns in southern Israel. Despite these claims, this war is not primarily about stopping the Qassam missiles. The Israeli establishment has never concerned itself unduly with the well being of the working class residents of those towns and villages that are within rocket range of Gaza – or of the Lebanon come to that.
This war has more to with Israeli military prestige and, alongside this, with the fate of the current Kadima/Labour government than with security from Hamas missiles. It is also a continuation of the Israeli strategy that has been in effect ever since Hamas won the Palestinian Authority elections at the start of 2006 – that if enough misery is heaped on the Palestinian people as a form of collective punishment for voting for Hamas, they will eventually come up with leaders who are acceptable to Israel.
Just over two years ago, in the summer of 2006, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) suffered a humiliating military defeat at the hands of Hizbollah in Lebanon. This was a severe blow to the prestige of the Israeli political and military establishment who, from the inception of the state, have relied on force and the threat of force to maintain their position.
Heads rolled after this defeat, including those of a number of military commanders as well as that of the defence minister, the then leader of the Labour Party, Amir Peretz. Since then the governing coalition of Kadima and Labour has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals including bribery and other charges against the outgoing Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.
With a general election due on 10 February – although if this conflict is prolonged they may be forced to put it back – the current government has been trailing in opinion polls and was facing an electoral mauling, with the, even more right wing, Binjamin Netanyahu gaining ground.
The war has given the government a short term boost in the polls which they hope will carry through until the election. It has also allowed the Israeli military commanders to show off their firepower and to demonstrate the ruthlessness with which they are prepared to wield it; in the hope that somehow this will fade the memories of Lebanon. All this at the price of over 1,000 dead Palestinians, men, women, children and babies.
Whatever the short term political or military gains the rulers of Israel may make from the Gaza slaughter, the cost in the medium and longer term will be huge. No matter what happens in the next few weeks, the one thing that can be said with certainty is that this war will bring neither peace nor even a measure of increased security to the people of this region. And, as always, those who will pay the biggest price will be the working class and the poor, both Arab and Jew.
It is one thing for Israeli troops to enter Gaza in the wake of the destruction caused by F16s, Apache helicopters and Merkava tanks. How to then work out a successful exit strategy is not so simple. The Israelis want to avoid a lengthy occupation. Opinion polls in Israel at the start of the conflict showed 80% in favour of the bombing but only 20% in favour of a ground invasion. As is common in the first stages of a war, support for the invasion went up as the troops actually went in. But the earlier 20% figure is a warning to the Israeli ruling class of how quickly this could change.
A long occupation would mean a military war of attrition with mounting casualties and likely retaliatory attacks inside Israel. It would quickly rekindle memories of the first Intifada, begun in 1987. As happened then, a lengthy, costly and seemingly pointless occupation could provoke disaffection in the army and create a mood for withdrawal among the Israeli population, especially among the young people who would be conscripted to serve.
Israel would prefer a relatively short incursion, justifying it as a necessary blow at Hamas and to deplete their military armoury. Some Israeli ministers have indicated their openness to an eventual ceasefire, supporting the idea of an international force to police the checkpoints on the Egyptian border.
If talks brokered by outside powers and Egypt arrive at some such arrangement, the Israelis may declare their objectives achieved and withdraw. However, should events unfold in this way, any sense among the Israeli population that “operation cast lead” has been effective is likely to be short lived. The IDF may reduce Hamas’ military capacity in the short term, but, in the absence of any alternative to give expression to the anger and bitter resentment that this war against civilians will have sown among Palestinians, Hamas will likely emerge strengthened.
Even if there is a new ceasefire, the ongoing Israeli blockade – which has pushed 80% of the population of this already impoverished area below the poverty line – plus continued IDF incursions and attacks, are likely to undermine it – just as Israeli military action in November brought the most recent ceasefire to an end. Even if they stop the missile attacks for a while, Hamas is likely to announce its continued presence with further Qassam attacks at some stage.
Israel’s false idea
Underlying the bombardment and invasion is the completely false idea that has long been prevalent in Israeli political and military thinking that economic strangulation coupled with military subjugation will eventually bring the Palestinian population to heel. This is the fanciful notion that a compliant Palestinian leadership prepared to accept peace on Israeli terms, can somehow be fashioned between the anvil of war and the hammer of economic blockade.
Since the Hamas election victory in January 2006, the Israeli government, backed by the Bush administration and other powers, has tried to instigate “regime change”. They imposed the punitive blockade – which has made the underground tunnels to the Sinai a vital source of fuel and other essential goods, not primarily of military supplies – and carried out ongoing raids, incursions and assassinations against Hamas and its leaders. The US, alongside the regime in Egypt, has helped supply and train the rival Fatah militia, encouraging it to take on and crush Hamas.
All that they have achieved through this is to harden attitudes among Palestinians. At one point, a majority would have accepted the idea of a two state solution as the only viable option. Even Hamas had come round to a de facto acceptance, putting forward the idea of an “interim” ten year deal based on two states.
But Israeli actions in carving up the Palestinian territories into a series of bantustans, building the massive separation wall along the West Bank while annexing further Palestinian territory in the process, imposing the blockade on Gaza – plus the experience of the corrupt Fatah led Palestinian Authority – has undermined support for this idea, especially among the Palestinian youth. Even Condolezza Rice recently acknowledged: “Palestinians who talk about a two state solution are my age.”
The effect of the war will be to harden attitudes even further. This will not bolster Fatah but will make it much more difficult for its “moderate” leaders like Mahmoud Abbas to do anything that might allow them to be portrayed as acting as agents of Israel or any outside powers. Any Palestinian leadership that appeared to hold power courtesy of Israeli bombs and shells would not be in place for long.
The response to the bombardment has also given the Israeli rulers a warning of a potential backlash that may be brewing within their borders. Up to 100,000 Palestinians turned out in the northern Israeli town of Sakhinin to demonstrate against the bombing. All the elaborate “security” measures, such as the fence around Gaza and the massive separation wall, will count for little if the 1,400,000 mainly Palestinian Arabs who live within Israel shake off their chains and challenge the regime.
The strategy of their rulers is a dead-end for the Israeli masses, offering only more conflict and hardship, not peace or stability. But so too are the strategies put forward by all the leading Palestinian factions, including Hamas. These vary from, on the one hand, wheeling and dealing with outside powers, such as the corrupt elites in power in the Arab states and the strategists of world imperialism in Washington, to, on the other hand, carrying out isolated military actions such as the Qassam attacks.
The silence of Obama on the Gaza slaughter is a warning to those who believe that the change in personnel in the White House will bring about any fundamental shift in US policy. Meanwhile the rotten and compliant role played by the Arab elites is most clearly exemplified by the Mubarak regime in Egypt.
Gaza is an open prison with its borders on three sides, including the sea, policed by Israel. Its fourth border is policed by Egypt and has remained sealed throughout the bombing. The reason that this war, unlike most other conflicts in the world, has not resulted in a flood of refugees is as much the responsibility of the Egyptian regime as it is of the Israel government.
Hamas has gained support because of the corruption of the Fatah leaders and because of their inability to deliver on the promise of a Palestinian state. But Hamas does not offer any alternative way out. They have failed to use their control of Gaza to build a mass resistance movement or to put forward any programme that could mobilise such a movement. Their military strategy does not go much beyond the firing of Qassams; something that has been shown to be both ineffective and counterproductive.
Now, if the chilling words of Hamas leader, Mahoud Zahar, are anything to go by, worse is to come: “The zionists have legitimised the killing of their children by killing our children. They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people.” This call for a "collective punishment" of all Jews is as much a dead-end approach for Palestinians as the similar attempt by the rulers of Israel to inflict the maximum suffering on all Palestinians is for Israelis.
If a way out is to be found this will have to come from the ordinary people of the region, not the corrupt ruling elites, not the imperialist powers, and not from forces like Hamas either.
The key lesson of the 60 year history of the Israeli state is that the only form of struggle that has achieved results for the Palestinians has been the mass mobilisation of people in popular resistance, as during the first Intifada.
Palestinians have the right to defend themselves militarily from aggression and occupation and to struggle for a free and independent homeland. The most effective way to do this is through democratically organised committees of defence and struggle that could mobilise and involve the Palestinian masses; not through a war waged by secretive paramilitary armies separate from the population.
Part of an effective strategy would involve an appeal to the working class and poor in Israel to resist and oppose the military aggression being carried out in their name. An appeal delivered Hamas-style, in the form of Qassans and the threat of suicide bombers, can only have the effect of driving the mass of Israeli Jews behind the Israeli ruling class.
However, a guarantee that Palestinians offer no military threat to any Israeli civilians but instead want to join in a struggle for social as well as political liberation by overthrowing all the elite rulers of the region and building a socialist middle east, would have a big impact.
Alongside their bombs the Israelis showered Gaza with tens of thousands of leaflets – all full of lies. The Palestinians need to respond with a propaganda offensive of their own aimed at winning support among the working class in Israel. This could include a direct appeal to the conscript soldiers of the IDF not to do the dirty work of their rulers in Gaza and the West Bank. The 10,000 strong demonstration by Israeli Jews and Arabs that took place in Tel Aviv in the early stages of the bombardment is just one indication that such ideas could be many times more powerful than all the Qassams available to groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad
The only way the Palestinians will achieve a state that is genuinely independent and not a fiefdom held under the domination either of Israel or of an Arab state like Jordan, is on a socialist basis. It is understandable that the dashed hopes and interminable suffering of the Palestinians in the decade and a half since Oslo has, as Condolezza Rice put it, left only the older generation enthusiastic about a two state solution.
The whole experience of the Palestinian Authority has shown that a two state solution under capitalism is a utopia. But so too are all the other capitalist options that are put forward. What is needed is the emergence of independent organisations to represent the interests of the working class and the poor in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. These could fight for a socialist solution – a genuinely independent socialist Palestine that could exist alongside a socialist Israel, with open borders redrawn in accordance with the wishes of local people and with a shared capital in Jerusalem. A socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel could in turn be part of a free and voluntary socialist confederation of the region.
Unlike the capitalist “solutions” on offer, this is not utopian. It is the only practical answer; the only workable alternative to endless conflict and to a continuation of the unbearable suffering that we are witnessing in Gaza.
Socialists call for
- For an immediate end to Israeli attacks and the blockade
- For mass mobilisations against the war, in the Middle East and internationally – No trust in the world powers or the United Nations
- For mass and democratically organised self-defence of the Palestinian people
- Break the Rafah border through mass action by Egyptian and Palestinian workers
- Build independent workers’ organisations throughout the Middle East to defend working people and the poor and lead the fight against oppression, capitalism and imperialism
- For the overthrow of all the capitalist regimes including the Arab states and Israel. For governments of workers and the poor across the Middle East to end the cycle of violence and run society for the needs of ordinary people
- For a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel, with agreed and open borders that reflect the wishes of local people, as part of a voluntary socialist federation of the Middle East
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