As February ended and March began, 120 Palestinians in Gaza were killed in the space of a week, a quarter of them babies and children and a further quarter unarmed adult civilians. This was at the hands of a horrific Israeli military onslaught – a ground invasion on the outskirts of the Gaza strip and missiles from the air.
The opening trigger for this latest bloodshed was the Israeli assassination of five leading Hamas fighters, which was followed by over 40 Qassam rockets being fired by Palestinians on the Israeli town of Sderot, one of which killed an Israeli man.
The subsequent Israeli onslaught on Gaza was coldly described by Israeli politicians as a ‘limited’ operation, well short of the full-scale invasion being considered.
The conflict then continued with an East Jerusalem Palestinian man shooting dead eight Jewish religious students in Jerusalem in the deadliest attack in Israel for over a year, and the first in Jerusalem for four years. The gunman’s family said he was reacting to the events in Gaza.
Conditions for the Palestinians in both parts of the occupied territories are now the worst in the entire 40-year occupation. In the ‘open air prison’ of Gaza, they are catastrophic, with a majority of people unemployed and suffering from malnutrition and a shortage of necessities.
At best, the western imperialist powers tend to describe the slaughter by the Israeli army as ‘excessive and disproportionate force’, whereas Palestinian violence is described by many of them as terrorism.
The term ‘disproportionate’ is a sickening understatement. Palestinian rockets have killed 14 Israelis since they were first fired in 2001. But last year alone, 379 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. Last year’s ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths in the conflict was 40:1. This year, over 200 Palestinians have been killed in the first ten weeks alone.
Mass resistance vital
As Seumas Milne pointed out in The Guardian, there are no Palestinian rockets being fired from the West Bank, nevertheless there have been 480 Israeli military attacks there in the last three months with 26 Palestinians killed.
Socialists are necessarily critical of right-wing parties and of those that act against workers’ interests, including Hamas and Fatah and their militias. But The Socialist has always defended the Palestinians’ right to armed resistance against the brutal occupation.
However, this vitally necessary resistance, together with offensive campaigns against the occupation, should be democratically organised and controlled, involving the widest possible number of people.
And it should be of a mass character, rather than being carried out by the various small, competing, secretive militias.
It also needs to be recognised that attacks on Israeli civilians in Israel are counter-productive. Enraged at the killings and repression, Palestinian militias want to imitate Hezbollah in Lebanon and inflict damage on the Israeli regime.
But as well as bringing more repression down on the Palestinians, increasing their suffering and making struggle more difficult, the rocket fire is pushing Israeli workers away from sympathising with the Palestinians’ plight and closer to the war aims and other positions of the Israeli capitalist class.
The recent escalation in rocket firings has strengthened the Israeli far right and increased the number of Israelis who favour violent retribution.
Danger of escalation
The situation could escalate further at any moment, and the danger of a wider war drawing in surrounding states is ever present. Right wing Jewish settlers have threatened revenge attacks, particularly as five of the eight men killed in Jerusalem were from religious Jewish settlements.
The slaughter in Gaza inflamed Palestinians in the West Bank and inside Israel; demonstrations broke out with some participants resorting to stone throwing and Molotov cocktails. Demonstrations also took place in other countries of the region, including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.
Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, declared that: “everything is on the table – ground operations, air [strikes] and special operations”. The deputy defence minister, Matan Vilnai, threatened a ‘holocaust’ on the Palestinians.
But the Israeli government is caught in a major dilemma between conflicting pressures. Some politicians, particularly on the right and far right, advocate a full invasion of Gaza, while others warn of the dangers of this, and 64% of the population – according to a recent poll – favour government negotiations with Hamas (the party that heads the Palestinian Authority in Gaza).
A choice of a full invasion, which would mean deaths of Israeli soldiers as well as a great number of Palestinians, or the humiliation of negotiating with Hamas, is seen as a choice between “the plague and cholera”, in the words of a leading Israeli journalist. Olmert fears that if the Israeli army goes in, it will not easily get out again. When it went into Lebanon in 1982, it was there for 18 years.
The US Bush regime – which massively finances the Israeli military - is vehemently opposed to any negotiations with Hamas, which it calls a ‘terrorist’ organisation, part of an anti-US ‘axis of evil’ alongside Hezbollah and the Iranian regime. This is despite the fact that Hamas has said it would like to negotiate a long term truce.
Far from weakening the Hamas leaders as the Israeli regime wants, the use of Israeli military force is strengthening them, as Palestinians see them as under attack by the population’s oppressors. Hamas also increased its standing, which had previously dipped, when it temporarily broke through the Gaza-Egypt border in January, allowing Gazans to cross into Egypt to buy goods.
Instead of harming Hamas, the attacks on Gaza have weakened Israel’s present chosen ‘talks’ partner, Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas, whose dwindling power base is now confined to the West Bank. Faced with outrage from Palestinians, Abbas briefly suspended negotiations with Israel, only then to agree to resume them without even the precondition that Israeli attacks on Gaza should stop.
And the use of Israeli military might is not stopping Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns, but rather is increasing it. In a new departure, a number of Grad rockets have hit Ashkelon, an Israeli city of over 100,000 people, 20 kilometres north of Gaza.
The Israeli regime has no coherent strategy at present. Not long ago, Olmert declared that Israel will have to accept a Palestinian state to avoid the prospect of Palestinians becoming a majority of the population within the area controlled by Israel. But as Financial Times writer Philip Stephens commented: “Analysis is one thing. The will to change course is another. Mr Olmert anyway lacks political authority. His coalition could collapse at any moment”.
Olmert is certainly weak and detested, falling to 3% in opinion polls at one stage. But he remains in power because there is no obvious replacement; all the representatives of Israeli capitalism are highly discredited.
Israel’s class divide
Not surprisingly, media commentators are saying that the ‘peace process’, that started in Annapolis last November, is in crisis. But it never was a remotely viable peace process, given the present stance of the Israeli ruling class. Even a Financial Times editorial (6.3.08) felt driven to say: “Israel, arguably, has never pursued a realistic peace settlement”.
In the last week alone, the Israeli leadership has authorised the building of 400 more homes in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and 750 in a West Bank settlement near Jerusalem, both of them Palestinian areas occupied by Israel since 1967. Now, fuelling continued pessimism by commentators, while the US demands a return to talks, it is not even calling for a ceasefire in Gaza by Israel.
In Israel there is a rapidly widening class divide, with the rich getting richer and a third of children now living in poverty. There is tremendous anger towards the government, on economic issues and over deteriorating security. Israeli Jews will never be free of the constant cycles of violence as long as they are led by capitalist politicians who regularly have an interest in resorting to national conflict. On the contrary, the prospect of worse bloodshed is becoming greater.
The Israeli working class, however, rather than being a future obstacle to a genuine Palestinian state (as some left organisations internationally believe), can develop into a powerful and decisive force against the Israeli ruling class, that must be defeated to solve both Israeli workers’ own aspirations and those of the Palestinians.
Ordinary Palestinians have repeatedly shown a willingness to struggle, not just against the occupation but also against their own completely inadequate ‘leaders’, as recent workers’ strikes in the West Bank have shown. They do not want their ‘government’ to be divided between Fatah and Hamas; there have been calls for ‘national unity’ at the many funerals and polls show that this is presently seen as the most important issue.
Urgently needed, is the development of new mass workers’ parties based on socialist programmes, in both the territories and in Israel. Only on a socialist basis can there be a rise in living standards for ordinary people on both sides of the divide, and the necessary democracy, links and common interest to ensure a socialist Palestine alongside a socialist Israel, and an end to the bloodshed for ever.
13 MARCH 2008