Israel: Thousands march in Jaffa against Gaza massacre

Jews and Arabs united against Israeli regime

Shortly before the Israeli government decided to finish its onslaught on the Gaza Strip for the time being, thousands of Jews and Arabs marched, last Saturday, 17 January, in Jaffa, against the massacre, the siege, the occupation and against racism.

More than 1,000 tonnes of explosives were used in the past three weeks in the horrific campaign of state terror waged by the Israeli regime against the Palestinian population in Gaza. Over 1,300 were brutally killed, some by particularly torturous new weapons. One third of murdered victims were children. Around 6,000 were injured, many of them permanently, not including widespread psychological injuries.

This is a scale of death and destruction even bigger than the catastrophe inflicted by the same government, on the Lebanese population in 2006. More Palestinians were killed in the past three weeks, than the number of Israelis who were killed as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2000. It is more than the number of Israelis killed by suicide bombings and missiles put together. It is more than the number of Israelis killed during “Lebanon War 1” (18 years long) and “Lebanon War 2”, combined.

A very intensive propaganda campaign of lies and falsifications by the Israeli ruling elite managed to cynically manipulate the fears regarding security felt by the majority of Israeli-Jews. Thus, the Israeli regime and ruling class managed to build up an overwhelming base of support for the offensive at home. The missiles fired by Hamas and some other Palestinian organizations from the Strip, were just an excuse used by the Israeli government for this brutal bloodbath. But they were a powerful propaganda tool in the hands of the Israeli government and this is one main reason why, while supporting the right of Palestinians to self-defence , through arms if necessary, socialists oppose such counter-productive attacks on civilians.

This government and the ruling parties have, recently, been strongly despised by the majority of Israeli-Jews, particularly workers and poor, as they recognise it as a puppet, corrupt government for international capitalism. Such is the alienation, that even after this well-supported slaughter the main ruling parties will nevertheless lose some in the coming general elections.

Opposition repressed

The Israeli militarist propaganda was combined with a sharp escalation in the racist campaign against Arabs within Israel and with a strong repression of opposition to the war, including among Israeli-Jews. Hundreds were arrested and held for days. In one incident, a police spokesperson claimed protests were “damaging the morale of the nation”. A judge said, “We have enough enemies from the outside, we don’t need them from the inside”. Most protests were either ignored or demonised and ridiculed in the news media.

The police and military sabotaged some demonstrations under false pretences, with mafia-style conduct in some cases. For example, demonstrators’ buses were on their way to a mass demonstration in the Eastern Negev, outside the range of missiles, when they were turned back by police on 16 January, who threatened to take away drivers’ licenses if they did not obey their instructions, stating, “We will say that you don’t have enough air pressure in the bus tyres”. In the Western Negev, within the range of the missiles, protests by just a few people against the war were crushed, as the area is under semi-military rule (or “a special situation in the Nape [home-front]”.)

On 14 January, residents from the south of the country were demonstrating in Be`er-Sheva when the police came and arrested them for “gathering”. Some were students. One was a bereaved Jewish father of a soldier who died in previous fighting. He is also the chairman of the pro-peace organization, ‘Bereaved Families Forum’. Also arrested was a Jewish female teacher from the South, who is a known community activist. Those arrested were kept overnight, and one of them was held in handcuffs.

Rightwing pro-war demonstrations were not really repressed, not even in the “special situation” area.

On 15 January, anti-war Jewish and Arab students at a college in Sderot (a town on the border with the Gaza Strip) – among them a member of Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel) – were prevented from holding an anti-war demonstration. Nevertheless, some protestors, including CWI members, held a “discussion circle” outside, in the middle of an open air yard at the campus. Tens of pro-war protesters gathered within minutes, wrapped in Israeli flags, shouting loudly, making provocations, sometimes pushing and yelling, “traitors!” and “fifth column”. Their protest was, of course, not stopped by the police.

Exclusion of Arab parties

Earlier, on January 12th, the Central Election Committee – a parliamentary body composed of representatives of the political parties in parliament – declared that none of the Arab national parties will be allowed to participate in the coming 10 February elections. In fact, the ultra-nationalist mood among Israeli-Jews in society was used to attempt a further increase in the oppression of Israeli-Palestinians. One of the main arguments used against the party “Balad”, an Arab nationalist party, is that it calls for a “state for all of its citizens” and not a “Jewish state”.

One of these parties was previously disqualified before the 2003 elections, also on a wave of Israeli-Jewish nationalism, but the decision was then cancelled by the Supreme Court. It might be cancelled again, as it is clear that excluding the Arab national parties will spark an even more militant revolt, a scenario which is feared by the ruling elite.

Still, the reverse of the decision is not certain and whether it is implemented or not, this attempt represents an increase in oppression. It is joined by calls from the main establishment parties, to impose on the Palestinian citizens of Israel either military service or civil service, allegedly to prove their “loyalty” to the state. Socialist Struggle Movement opposes these calls. The far-right populist party Yisrael Beiteinu (‘Israel Our Home’), led by Avigdor Lieberman, also threatens to carry out this move after the elections, outlawing the Arab parties and forcing each resident in Israel to pledge loyalty to the state in exchange for citizenship.

This is not new for the Israeli regime’s so-called “democracy”. The Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948, were kept under harsh military rule until 1966. Discriminative racist laws, rules and enforcement always existed under this regime and were sometimes implemented also – even if in a milder manner – against Israeli-Jews not from European origin.

Jews and Arabs against the Gaza massacre

The vicious escalation of the aerial bombardment of Gaza towards last weekend signified that the Israeli government was looking for a way to manufacture a “victory image”, as preparation for halting its bloody attack. An anti-war march, scheduled for Saturday evening (17 January), was held in Jaffa town, to emphasise that the movement against Israeli militarism, the occupation, and racism, still needs to be expanded. More than 3,000 demonstrators participated.

Surrounded by a heavy police force, including horses and a helicopter, we marched. Jews and Arabs shouted slogans for another ‘war’, a war against those who are waging the current slaughter and against their system. The march was loud, with many banners, red flags and some Palestinian flags.

Socialist Struggle Movement activists marched in a bloc with supporters. Arab and Jewish workers and students. Our banner read: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies – STOP THE WAR – Socialist Struggle Movement”. It was supplemented with placards, which read, “The rule of capital will not bring security”. Along with us marched a group of students from the Western Negev (in the range of missiles). Their main slogan was: “Students from the south are struggling for peace”.

Our slogans, in Hebrew and Arabic, emphasised the need for struggle.Through megaphones, Jews and Arabs of different ages shouted:

“Barak, Minister of Security, you will not buy power with blood!”

“Hey Barak, out, out – get out of Gaza and Ramalla!”

“Olmert, Olmert, you’re corrupt – get out of Gaza right now!”

“Blood is spilled for prestige – of the government ministers!”

“Bush, Mubarak, and Barak – get out of Gaza and Iraq!”

“Open the crossings – enough with the poverty in the Territories!”

“Give more money for jobs – not for more bombardments!”

“Money for education and jobs – not for occupation and wars!”

“Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!”

“Arabs and Jews are fighting against the racists!”

“No more walls and shelters – talks between residents!”

“Mass struggle against the racist regime – mass struggle against the racist right wing!”

“We will not pledge loyalty to the racist regime!”

“Abolish the exclusions of the Arab lists!”

“Abolish the exclusion – fight the government!”

“Want Peace? Gotta Struggle! Halt the bombings! Stop the war! No to the firing of the Qassam! Remove the siege! Bring down the Wall! Dismantle colonies! Terminate the separation! Crush racism! End the occupation! Want Peace? Gotta Struggle!”

“No peace, no security, dismantle the rule of Capital”

A continually shining police helicopter spotlight incensed the crowd. Some light rain only increased our calls. Ahead of our block, there was a small group from “Combatants for Peace” (former combat soldiers) and then a big block from Hadash (a Communist Party front). While we agreed with some of Hadash’s general slogans, we rejected what we regard as irrelevant calls that strengthen illusions, such as, “Get back to the table – negotiations”. There were other blocks and groups, such as the Islamic Movement, Jaffa residents, “Peace Bloc”, anarchists and some of the excluded parties.

Volatile ceasefire

The announcement of the cynical “unilateral ceasefire” by the government came later, with the military still inside the Gaza Strip, and border crossings closed. Cruel cynicism reached new heights, with the government (backed by imperialist powers) “forbidding” Hamas to “reconstruct” the strip. Hamas is blamed for the massive inferno. There are a lot of criticisms to make about Hamas, but the lioes and brutality of the Israeli regime must be exposed. Most commentators will not mention that it was Hamas which ordered a stop to prices rises in the Strip, at the same time that Israel’s government conducted a massacre. In comparison, the Israeli regime announced that the cost of the “operation” would be paid through even more large cuts in the state budget.

The morning after the ceasefire began, the Israeli government opened a new medical emergency clinic on the gates of the Erez crossing, to show the world how, “they kill you and then they feed you” – in the words of 29 years old Jum`a, a Gaza resident, who was recently interviewed by the Socialist Struggle Movement. “This war has occurred only in the adventurous interests of the Israeli political parties, headed by Barak, Olmert and Livni, who only want to materialise their political interests at the expense of the Palestinian people and to prove they’ve won. Till now they’ve won nothing. They caused a Palestinian boy that, until this offensive, rejected harming Israelis to be more angry now due to the sufferings he has had to go through. He will never forget who’s responsible for the murder of his relatives”.

The Israeli ruling class is attempting to spread its ‘victory’ propaganda, in support of its militarist agenda and future offensives. But the fact that it is incapable of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the security problems that stem from it, will push more Israeli-Jews to look for an alternative political road, recognizing that the chief exploiters cannot become ‘chief defenders’. In the current situation, more horror and bloodshed is to be expected in the coming years. There is a need to organise forces to deal with it. It is necessary to escalate and expand the current movement against the occupation.

Most Israeli-Jews are not ideological supporters of the occupation and would want a lasting peace solution. They can be won over, in time, to a clear socialist alternative. Currently, many could be dragged into the hands of populist right-wing parties that exploit their hatred towards the elite. But, at the same time, many will get organised in class and social struggles and also politically. Many will be convinced of the burning need to build a strong workers’ movement and socialist organisations, as the only tools capable of changing the brutal reality of life in capitalist Israel and of the barbaric treatment meted out to the Palestinians..

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January 2009