Missiles from F-16 fighter planes screaming down on children sleeping or cowering in crowded homes and basements; this is state terrorism of the most brutal kind, raining terror onto a trapped population that doesn’t even have enough fuel, water and medicines to treat the injured.
Judy Beishon, Editor, The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales
Gaza’s hospitals are past breaking point. No one is safe. A playground, a pharmacy, mosques, a fire station, a university and many people’s homes have been hit.
The horror of powerful bombs exploding every 20 minutes in a densely populated area one fifth the size of London, from which there is no escape – not even into bomb shelters – has shaken workers across the world. Over 550 Gazans have been killed so far, including many children, and thousands have been seriously injured.
The Israeli state’s blockade, international sanctions, and now this vicious bombing and ground invasion are together preventing basic services, emergency food, and other help from reaching the strip’s 1.5 million population, adding appalling distress to the acute deprivation previously imposed. The ground invasion is dividing the narrow and small Gaza strip into separate parts, appearing like a further step in the Israeli leaders’ divide and rule strategy in the already atomised Palestinian territories.
A major objective of the Israeli government is to reduce Palestinian rocket fire to restore the ‘deterrence’ reputation of its army following its humiliation at the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. It also wants to push on with its agenda of ‘regime-change’ in Gaza, ie the removal of Hamas. However, despite the Israeli army having enormous military superiority over the impoverished Palestinians, it is not facing a straightforward battle with an easy victory in sight.
For Hamas, although its ability to govern in Gaza has been progressively reduced by the Israeli embargo, by assassinations and arrests of its leaders and by huge destruction of government buildings, it will not be wiped out by these means. It has a social base which will be strengthened in some ways by the Israeli attacks rather than weakened. Young Palestinians will replenish its ranks, as it is presently seen as the leading force opposing Israeli repression, and less corrupt than the secular Fatah.
Having gone into Gaza in this major way, the Israeli regime could face a troop death toll that comes to be viewed as unacceptable by its Jewish population in relation to the military gains made. Also, it could have great difficulty in withdrawing without a loss of face regarding concrete gains. And Palestinian rocket fire will continue to hit Israeli towns, though there could be a lull in their frequency as the invasion takes its toll.
With Israeli elections looming in a few weeks, this is a war being waged for votes for its prosecutors. It has ignited huge anger from ordinary people across the Middle East and worldwide, and can be stopped if enough pressure is brought to bear on Israel and the major world powers through an immediate escalation of mass demonstrations and through workers’ action internationally – including in countries such as the US and Egypt.
Build-up to invasion
The Palestinians in Gaza are being made to pay a terrible price for their part in electing Hamas – the Islamic Resistance Movement – to power at the start of 2006. Following two and a half years of international sanctions and an Israeli blockade of Gaza, aimed at inflicting the maximum possible damage on Hamas, the Israeli government blamed Hamas for breaking the six-month ceasefire agreed in June last year. It has subsequently used Palestinian-fired rockets as the main justification for the present intensive onslaught.
But the Israeli regime killed Palestinians in Gaza throughout the ceasefire. It has also been the case that no rockets are being fired from the West Bank, yet Israeli forces are destroying Palestinian homes there and assassinating Palestinians on a regular basis.
The final straws that led Hamas and Islamic Jihad to resume rocket attacks from Gaza were the continuing refusal of Israel to allow basic supplies into Gaza and the killing of six Hamas fighters by the Israeli army on 5 November. However, the Israeli onslaught is not at root aimed at stopping Palestinian rockets, which Israeli ministers have admitted cannot be achieved militarily. It is aimed more at working towards the removal of Hamas altogether, notwithstanding the fact that the Israeli leaders are not sure they can achieve this objective either.
The coming to power of Hamas was a blow against the original ‘unilateral separation’ plan conceived by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. He wanted the compliant, non-hostile Fatah leader Mahmood Abbas at the head of an atomised Palestinian entity, rather than Hamas, that more actively resisted the occupation and refused to formally accept the long term existence of Israel.
The Israeli ruling class has always tried to prevent the formation of a genuine Palestinian state on its doorstep, never mind one that promised to be highly hostile. The constant West Bank and East Jerusalem expansion of Jewish settlements, roads and checkpoints, has been creating facts on the ground in this direction.
The standing of Hamas
This horrific invasion of Gaza cannot even be presented as an attempted removal of an unelected dictatorship along the lines of the US ousting of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, wrong though that was. Hamas was elected to leadership, a rare phenomenon at present in the Arab world, where the working class and poor is suffering under the repression of unelected, authoritarian Arab elites.
Capitalist governments worldwide self-righteously advocate democratic elections in other countries when it suits them, but when Hamas was elected, they refused to recognise the new parliament. Hamas MPs were thrown into Israeli prisons simply for being elected; over 40 are still held. Others have been assassinated. And after constant previous demands by the world powers and Israel for the Palestinian security forces to be strengthened in order to ‘control’ the Palestinian population in place of Israeli soldiers, now Israeli forces are slaughtering every Palestinian police and security official in Gaza that they can.
Now, not only will the Palestinian militias kill or take hostage more Israeli soldiers, and continue firing rockets into Israel; from the pool of young people who have lost their families or suffered other great traumas will come volunteers for suicide operations against Israeli targets, civilian as well as military. So what will be gained for Israeli security?
Hamas may well increase its standing in the territories and the Middle East as a whole simply by virtue of being attacked by Israel and putting up resistance. It is clearly suffering huge damage through loss of members, fighters, equipment and buildings. Although it has advantages over the invading army, such as knowing the terrain intimately, its forces are not as strong as those of Hezbollah in Lebanon, not least because the Gaza strip is encircled and fenced, making re-arming more difficult, and also training in countries like Syria and Iran.
So faced with Israel’s high tech tanks and weapons, Hamas is suffering major casualties. Many of its fighters however will be spurred on by outrage at the bombardment and the previous endurances imposed by the occupying army (it is of course a fiction that the occupation was fully lifted in the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza), and will be willing to fight to their death as a result.
Mass struggle needed
Ominously, in the absence of a new workers’ organisation posing an alternative path, the attempt to obliterate Hamas is likely to spur on the development of even more right wing, reactionary, religious organisations in the territories, of the likes of al Qa’ida. Hamas is itself fundamentally a right wing, theocratic organisation that rejects the existence of Israel, but it has played down these aspects of its programme (and has provided health and education services) in order to build popular support, work with other organisations and individuals, and even to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel.
However it doesn’t have any viable strategy for defeating the occupation or for providing decent living standards for the Palestinian population, basing itself – as it does – on the continuation of capitalism and all the horrors that this system brings.
Also, the Palestinian militias’ rockets aimed at Israeli civilians and their morale are part of a mistaken strategy. The rockets and mortars are very primitive in comparison to Israel’s weaponry, but nevertheless they are being used to inflict terror and death indiscriminately, which is counterproductive to the Palestinians’ struggle. The Palestinians have the right to – and necessity of – armed defensive actions against the military repression being used against them. But indiscriminate attacks on civilians inevitably turn large numbers of Israeli workers away from fully supporting the Palestinian cause, and play straight into the hands of the Israeli ruling class. Overwhelmingly, the main propaganda point being used in justification of the present slaughter by the Israeli regime and Bush in the US, is the rocket fire on Israeli towns.
Instead, democratically organised Palestinian defence committees and actions are urgently needed. Mass actions also must be organised, both for defensive and offensive purposes. These could be aimed against aspects of the occupation such as the blockade of Gaza, land seizures and road blocks; they could push the Palestinian struggle forward and win the support of Israeli Jewish workers in the process.
Within hours of Israel’s ground offensive, the US blocked a United Nations call for an immediate ceasefire. Bush’s term as US president ends on 20 January, but hopes that Barak Obama will bring peace to the Middle East are misplaced. During his election campaign he declared strong support for the Israeli regime, did not criticise its 2006 bombardment of Lebanon, said that Hamas should not be negotiated with, and he intends to send more US troops to fight in Afghanistan. He has already discredited himself in the eyes of many people by remaining silent so far on the Gaza war.
However, it is also true that for the capitalist classes worldwide, including in the US, Israel’s invasion of Gaza is a serious problem, as it is inflaming widespread anger, as shown in the many demonstrations, and is increasing support for Hamas across the Arab and Muslim world. It is also undermining the imperialists’ big business Sunni allies in the Arab countries, many of whom have open or secret links with Israeli big business. These Arab elites have done nothing to aid the Palestinians’ plight. Egypt’s president Mubarak is seen widely as being particularly abhorrent for so far refusing to relieve the Gazans’ situation by relaxing Egypt’s border with Gaza.
They all fear further consequences, in particular a wider war, which would have much greater repercussions in creating instability. But at the end of the day they all act in the interests of their own class, so they are not moving too far away from the positions of US and Israeli imperialism, which include the ‘war against terror’, the embargo of Hamas, and not supporting the class interests of workers wherever they may be, in the Palestinian territories or elsewhere.
Gordon Brown has at least called for a ceasefire, which Tony Blair refused to do when Israel attacked Lebanon, but why trust this call when he leads a government involved in slaughter in Afghanistan? Neither can the United Nations end the bloodshed or offer a solution. Hundreds of UN general assembly resolutions have condemned actions of the Israeli regime, but the UN is in reality a tool of the main imperialist powers and does not act against their interests.
The war is being conducted by out-going prime minister Ehud Olmert, foreign minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the Kadima party, and defence minister Ehud Barak, of the Labour Party. The latter two are trying to raise their prospects against each other and against Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu for the general election taking place on 10 February. The Gaza war can be used to try to boost their ‘security’ credentials and to divert voters’ attention from the worsening economic situation.
Many of the top Israeli politicans are mired in corruption scandals and are held in contempt by most Israelis. The poll ratings of Livni and Barak did increase after the air onslaught on Gaza, especially as it followed a massive government propaganda drive against Hamas, labelling the war as one of ‘no choice’. But whereas over 80% in a poll supported the air strikes against Hamas, only 19% supported a land invasion, as Israeli casualties are feared. So general support for war on Hamas could rapidly turn to huge anger against the politicians prosecuting the war, as it did after Israeli loss of life in the 2006 Lebanon war. Anger will also develop on economic issues – over lack of decent jobs, services and benefits. As elsewhere in the world, the rich in Israel have become enormously richer while the poor have become poorer. In recent years many Israeli workers have had to resort to strike action against attacks on their living standards.
Who is to blame?
The mainstream media in Britain and elsewhere tends to promote the idea that people everywhere are either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, blaming one side or the other for the present bloodshed. The Socialist Party rejects this approach entirely, placing the blame neither on working class Palestinians nor on working class Israeli Jews. The Palestinians, as well as being oppressed by the Israeli ruling class, are victims of their own leaders who, for differing reasons, have not taken their struggle for national liberation forwards. The Israeli Jewish workers and middle class are victims of a ruling class that prefers to resort to terrible bloodshed than to contemplate an ‘enemy’ state on its doorstep with a claim on land that it regards as its own.
Also to blame are the imperialist powers of the world whose interventions in the region in their own geopolitical interests have only served to worsen the conflict. They offer no way out of the cycles of violence for the Palestinians or for Israeli Jews.
The workers of the region can only rely on themselves for a way out, which means building independent working class organisations on both sides of the national divide. Ten thousand Jews and Palestinians demonstrated in Tel Aviv on 3 January against the war on Gaza, including Israeli members of the Committee for a Workers’ International. A mass workers’ party in Israel could force the Israeli government to end the Gaza blockade and the entire military occupation.
Two thirds of Israeli Jews consistently support the idea of the creation of a genuine Palestinian state, and many more will, when they see the prospect of a Palestinian democratic workers’ state, with decent living standards, that desires a peaceful coexistence alongside Israel. To prepare the way for such a Palestinian state, the building of a new workers’ party based on a socialist programme is urgent in the territories. Israeli workers will also need to adopt socialist policies, so that as well as an end to the national conflict, a new era of good living standards for all in the region can be brought in.
- Stop the military onslaught now! End the blockade and occupation
- Escalate the anti-war demonstrations and initiate workers’ actions
- No trust in the world’s capitalist governments or the United Nations
- For independent workers’ organisations in Israel and Palestine
- For a struggle for democratic socialism throughout the Middle East