In the middle of the night of the 31st of May, 64 km off the coast, Israeli commandos rappelled down from helicopters onto the 6 ship flotilla. Activists say they boarded the ships firing. The Israeli government decided to use deadly force to maintain their blockade of the Gaza strip, provoking waves of protest. These events have exposed the policy of Israeli imperialism to the masses everywhere: Gaza is a ghetto, kept in starvation conditions, and no one may interfere. This will have effects across the world, even in Israel itself.
Gaza - A Prison Camp
In order to understand what happened on the ships, it is important to understand the conditions that exist in Gaza.
Since 2007, when Hamas was elected with a majority, the Israeli state has maintained a complete blockade of the strip. Nothing comes in or out without army approval. No one is allowed to enter or leave. Food, medical supplies, and even construction materials are severely restricted.
The situation is desperate, as a Financial Times article shows:
Outrageous as this behaviour was, the true outrage is the illegal blockade of Gaza that it enforced. Since the January 2009 Gaza war, which exposed Israel’s determination to destroy Hamas’s capabilities regardless of the cost to innocent Palestinians, Israel and Egypt have colluded to prevent the enclave’s reconstruction. According to the United Nations, three-quarters of the damage has not been repaired and 60 per cent of homes do not have enough food.
The reasoning for the blockade given by Israeli imperialism, and approved by US imperialism, has been to prevent Hamas from building rockets. It just so happens that the material they are so worried could be used for rockets is essential for rebuilding the homes destroyed in 2009: cement. It is completely banned.
Blockade helps Hamas
This blockade has only served to reinforce Hamas, which has been getting a hefty cut from lucrative smuggling operations through clandestine tunnels into Egypt. The World Bank estimates that 80 percent of Gaza's imports come through the tunnels. In 2008, Palestinians broke a hole through the border with Egypt, and the UN estimated that half of the 1.5 million population of the Gaza strip poured through to get gas, cooking oil and other everyday items before the border was sealed again by the Egyptian army
This shows just how explosive the situation was even then. Since then, it has only gotten worse, as the Egyptian government began building a steel barrier underground in an attempt to block the tunnels. Furthermore, without legal trade, particularly into Israel, Gaza's economy has collapsed. The CIA World Factbook estimates that the unemployment rate in 2009 was 40%. 44% of the population are youth 14 or under. What future can they expect to have? It is these conditions that ensure that when they reach working age, they have nowhere to go and are easy prey for recruitment by reactionary organizations like Hamas.
This is the situation in Gaza, an entire people kept in an open-air prison.
The Gaza Freedom Flotilla Attacked
It is these conditions that the army acted to “defend” on Monday.
A group of solidarity organizations organized to break the blockade. 6 ships were prepared, the lead ship from Turkey, carrying 10,000 tons of prefabricated houses, building materials, medical supplies and essentials, and left port from Cyprus in an attempt to provide relief. The 700 passengers set out in the direction of Gaza, as a protest against the blockade.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed the army acted in self-defence, but the night raid on the ships occurred in international waters. As the soldiers first boarded the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship, they came under attack with sticks. The Israeli army claims that the first soldiers were armed only with paintball guns, and live guns were only deployed after they came under gunfire on the ship.
But the IDF's own reports of the seized ships show that no guns were found, except those brought on board by the IDF. In other words, either the activists seized their guns, in which case the IDF soldiers were armed from the beginning, or this is simply untrue. Furthermore, the IDF has posted videos with activists using chairs and sticks, but no video of gunfire has been shown.
Another Financial Times article points out that the IDF moved quickly to isolate the activists once they were on shore, posting armed guards at the hospitals with instructions that they were not to speak to the media, in an attempt to prevent them from questioning the story being presented by the government. When they were finally contacted, this is what some of them had to say:
However, the few accounts to have emerged from the other side paint a different picture. Greta Berlin, a representative of the Free Gaza Movement, said that she and her fellow activists were watching the live stream from the Mavi Marmara when the assault took place. “We saw them come off the helicopter, we saw them turn around, look at each other and then shoot. We were speechless watching this,” she said.
Hanin Zoabi, an Arab-Israeli member of the Israeli parliament, was aboard the Mavi Marmara. He said: “It was clear from the size of the force that boarded the ship that the purpose was not only to stop this [voyage] but to cause the largest possible number of fatalities in order to stop such initiatives in the future.” (Furious debate over moment of attack, FT, June 1, 2010)
Either way, Israeli imperialism sent commandos to board the ships in the middle of the night, in order to prevent the breaking of the blockade, and at least 9 people are now dead as a result. Other reports put the figure at 19. Dozens have been injured, and around 600 activists remain in prisons across Israel, being interrogated. A full list of the names of those dead or injured has yet to be released, although some information has come out.
Israeli Imperialism Becomes a Burden to its Allies
This incident is too much for the allies of Israeli capitalism, who have come under pressure and been forced to come out with condemnations one after another.
The interests of the different capitalist classes coincide with, but are not identical to the interests of the Israeli ruling class. Turkey, previously one of the closest regional allies, has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. 3 out of the 6 ships were Turkish, and the largest contingent of the passengers was Turkish, some of whom are among the dead. The protest in Ankara was enormous.
The Egyptian ruling class, another close ally, was charged with being the other side of the vice squeezing the Gaza strip. When the border was broken open in 2008, the order was given to the Egyptian army to open fire on the crowds and reseal it. Protests shook the country then, and even larger ones in 2009 during the bombing of Gaza. Their complicity in the oppression of the Palestinian people has added to the widespread hatred for Mubarak and his regime amongst the working masses in Egypt. Now they've decided continuing it would be too dangerous. As of today, the Rafah crossing has been reopened in a limited capacity, though it's unclear for how long.
The EU has issued condemnations, but the most important effect will be felt in Washington.
The US was attempting to manoeuvre for more sanctions against Iran in recent weeks, this has made that all but impossible. This follows several similar embarrassing incidents for Obama. As we reported previously, the Gaza war was undertaken without consultation with Obama, and with very bad timing from his point of view. American imperialism was losing the war in Iraq, and was attempting to come to some sort of arrangement with the Syrian and Iranian ruling classes, without whom a pullout would become a fiasco.
Such a deal with imperialism would for these elites require something tangible that could justify the 180 degree turn, and hence the importance of at least the image of a solution to the question of Palestine. That war was a warning from Israel to Obama: “we will not toe the line in any deal done without us”.
Obama's calls for a halt to illegal settlement building resulted in similar embarrassment. Vice-President Joe Biden had to cut short his visit to Israel and return to Washington when more buildings were announced while he was on an official trip to the region. This could not have been accidental, it was a calculated insult expressing anger at criticism of the settlements.
Even layers within the Israeli ruling class are beginning to see the writing on the wall:
"Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden," said Dagan, speaking before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, according to Haaretz.
Crocodile Tears and International Law
But the chorus of condemnation from western governments is simple hypocrisy. None of the powers did anything to stop the blockade for the past few years, and their protests against "violations of international law" mean nothing. International law is no different than any other bourgeois law: it is the law of the ruling class.
Many honest activists are raising the cry against the illegality of boarding ships in international waters, the illegality of disproportionate use of force, and the illegality of collective punishment inflicted on the Palestinian masses in the form of the blockade. This all may be true, but it misses the point. These laws are meaningless for the powerful. Imperialist powers only apply them when they suit their interests; otherwise they simply call for inquiries without teeth and cry crocodile tears about "impunity".
There is no hope of the bourgeois UN doing more than writing a resolution. Ban-Ki Moon will continue to "urge", Obama will continue to "regret", and Netanyahu will continue to ignore. We must look to our own class for a solution, not to the den of thieves.
Obama, who was supposed to represent change, didn't even condemn the attack, only saying that he wants an "impartial inquiry".
In contrast to the stale and hypocritical remarks of the bourgeois, the response of the masses across the world came like a breath of fresh air.
For a labour boycott campaign
Those who organized the flotilla showed great personal courage. They knew what they were facing and several paid the ultimate price for their convictions. We fully share their burning indignation at the brutal injustices committed every day against the men, women and children of Gaza by the Israeli aggressors. But we point out that humanitarian aid cannot solve a problem that is of a political character.
We are convinced that it would be more effective to create a worldwide movement against Israeli occupation. Such a movement, if it is to succeed, must be based in the international working class organisations. Instead of the kind of campaigns that have been tried (and failed) in the past to boycott Israeli oranges, it would be far better to commit the trade unions to an international boycott of Israel until it has lifted its criminal blockade of Gaza and granted the just demands of the Palestinian people.
Such a labour boycott should be accompanied by an international campaign of mass meetings to explain to the world what is happening in Palestine and mobilize the public opinion of the workers of the world. Such a campaign would have far more effect inside Israel than a million resolutions from the Security Council in New York or a hundred hypocritical speeches by Hillary Clinton.
Mass working class action the only solution
Despite short notice, protesters responded to the call for action across the world. There were protests in Cairo, Montreal, Madrid, Athens, Rome, Paris, London, Dublin, Sydney, just to name a few cities.
Most important of all was the demonstration in Tel Aviv. Tellingly, the protest in Tel Aviv drew 3000 people, and Israeli Arabs have called a general strike against the attack and the blockade. Reports say the strike, called by the Higher Arab Monitoring committee, had close to 100% participation. Shops were closed and quiet ruled in Dir al-Hana, Arabeh, Sakhnin, Kafr Kana and Nazareth. This is only the beginning.
Another two ships which were delayed and couldn't keep up with the flotilla have decided to continue the trip, and are expected to enter Gaza's waters on Friday. Others are also planned in the weeks ahead. If the Israeli regime is serious about maintaining the blockade, they will board these ships as well, which will mean the possibility of more deaths and injuries, which will in turn mean an intensification of protests worldwide.
The biggest danger for the Israeli ruling class is at home. It is the danger that another explosion could occur amongst the million-strong Israeli Arab population, who make up 20% of the total population of the country. Even more dangerous is the response amongst Jewish Israelis, many of whom participated in the protest in Tel Aviv. A general strike by the Israeli Arab workers could raise this issue in a serious way within Israel, and the regime will be scrambling to ensure the protests do not spread to the Jewish working class.
Because at the end of the day, it is the Jewish workers who are always being asked to send their sons and daughters off to die in Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza, and now at sea. The dangerous question is now becoming: for what? To prevent the rebuilding of homes in Gaza? To prevent a group of activists from bringing medical supplies to the strip?
This event will leave its mark on the region, and the Israeli masses. Already, Zionism is losing its grip on the youth, the future. In the Tel Aviv municipal elections - as we reported previously - the Israeli Communist Party candidate received a level of support which must have been shocking to the Israeli ruling class, considering that their platform includes the right of return and that this is a party that unites Israeli Arabs and Jews. An interview with Knesset member Dov Khenin makes clear that this is only the tip of the iceberg:
The interesting phenomenon was that we succeeded with the 'City for All' movement to achieve nearly 35% of the vote for the mayorship in Tel Aviv. 35% of the votes, well of course not enough to win the mayorship, but it was a very big success for a local movement which ran for the elections without money at all, with the support only of the enthusiasm of volunteers; we had approximately 2,500 volunteers working for us all around the city, which in Israeli terms is a very very big number. And the most interesting phenomenon was that we got the votes of about 75% of young people below 35. (Ending the vicious circle of hate and blood: an interview with Israeli Knesset member Dov Khenin, our emphasis)
It is this reality that Palestinian solidarity activists should keep in mind. Zionism is losing ground amongst the future workers of Israel. In the final analysis, this means the death of Israeli imperialism, and the most urgent task is to build the unity needed to achieve it.
The Israeli Communist Party needs to back the call for a general strike against the blockade, and call on Jewish workers to join it. The masses in Gaza need the Israeli working class, and the workers across the world, now more than ever.
It is time for the Israeli workers to break with their ruling class. This bourgeoisie is exposing the Jewish workers to wars and asking them to bleed for the fatherland. But whose fatherland is it really? Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz answers this question best:
"The fact that the Israeli economy is controlled by 30 families does not constitute corruption. But it does cause economic problems and damages competition," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said this weekend during an interview with the Channel 2 television program "Friday Studio."
"We must find ways to reduce centralization without harming the economy," Steinitz said. He noted that he objects to the high salaries among Israeli executives, but also any attempts to rein in oversized wages through legislation.
"Throughout the world, including the United States and Europe, there is great opposition to unduly high salaries, but throughout the world there is also opposition to passing laws against this practice," Steinitz said. "Even President Barack Obama backed down from plans to impose legislation in the United States against high pay for executives."
In Israel, the finance minister continued, there are people whose salaries are so scandalous and unjustified they are essentially robbing their companies' shareholders - "but in business the rule is 'don't be right, be smart.'" Steinitz did not provide any details of his, or his ministry's, plan to fight these exaggerated salaries or whether such a plan even exists. (Finance Minister: Israel's economy being controlled by 30 families is a problem, Haaretz, May 5, 2010
This is the government and the ruling class working Israelis are being asked to uphold through the pact between the classes - Zionism.
A fatherland where 30 families control the entire economy. A fatherland where 23.6% of the population is below the poverty line: living on less than $7.30 a day. Zionism cannot put food on the table for working class families. It is nothing but a mirage, a national myth that there are common interests between Jewish worker and boss and the enemy is in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. What shared interests can there be between the top 30 capitalist families, who hold the lives and futures of the millions of Israelis as well as the Palestinians in their hands like playthings, and the Israeli working masses who will be expected to pay for the effects of the global economic crisis?
Already in 2009, Israeli businessmen began to abandon their workers and go into hiding, leaving them with months of unpaid wages and nothing but a store to loot:
The two-day spree shocked and puzzled Israelis, who assume that the rule of law prevails in their society. Yet this and other recent cases of looting have coincided with news that the economy, flattened late last year after half a decade of enviable growth, had slid into recession.
The outbreaks are isolated and few, but labor activists and social commentators warn that many Israelis are becoming desperate.
"What we're seeing are small stories about collapsing businesses and layoffs that threaten their livelihoods," said Dafna Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Histadrut, Israel's trade union federation. "These small stories are the beginning of a big fire." (In Israel, recession pressures boil over into looting, LA Times, March 19, 2009)
Class struggle is not abolished by Zionism, it has only been hidden beneath the nationalism. But there are signs it is seething beneath the surface. Another dip, or even a decision to break trade relations by Turkey, where hundreds of Israeli companies operate, could bring these divisions to the surface again. Then a big fire is exactly what we could see.
In the meantime, Israeli imperialism continues to blunder, spending the political capital amassed by Zionism over the past 62 years. This is can't go on forever.
What is to be done?
After decades, the struggle for national liberation of the Palestinians, this goal has not been advanced one millimetre. This is a hard thing to say, but it is the truth. It is essential that the most advanced elements of the Palestinian youth should think seriously about what is to be done. The recipes of the past have all failed to bring a solution any nearer.
Neither the endless talks between the leaders, nor the endless stream of meaningless UN Resolutions have brought any tangible result. But the firing of rockets into Israel, the suicide bombings and the deaths of many martyrs have proved equally futile. Even worse, they have been counterproductive. They have served to push the Israeli population even more firmly behind the reactionary Zionist regime.
World public opinion has been shocked at this latest act of barbarism by Israeli forces. It has rekindled the instinctive sympathy of the workers of the world for an oppressed people. This must serve as the starting point for a worldwide movement. The Marxists will participate energetically in the organizing of a mass struggle against the occupation develops worldwide. But if the understandable frustration of the Palestinians leads to the strengthening of terrorist tendencies amongst the youth, it will undermine all that has been achieved.
There can never be any possibility of victory for the Palestinian people unless a wedge is driven between the Zionist reactionaries and the Israeli masses. Among a sizeable section of the Israeli workers and youth there is war-weariness. They are tired of an endless and senseless struggle that has destroyed many lives and never leads to a solution. But they can see no way out of this vicious circle of violence.
There must be many people among the Palestinians who are equally discontented with the role of both the Fatah and Hamas leaderships, but can see no alternative. In the rank and file of the PLO, and especially in the ranks of the PFLP there must be militants who are seeking a revolutionary socialist alternative to the old leaderships.
The road to solving the problems of the working masses of Israel passes through the overthrow of the top 30 families, the nationalization of their economic assets, and the organization of the economy into a democratic plan administered by the working class as a whole. It just so happens this elite also owns the corporations where Israeli Arabs work. Here we find a real common enemy.
Not to mention the fact that walls, bombs, settlements, guns: all are produced by enormous corporations owned by these same fat cat capitalists.
The working masses, be they Palestinian, Israeli Arab or Israeli Jew, cannot win any lasting improvement to their conditions without a common movement for the overthrow of capitalism itself.
The fault line that goes through every capitalist society is present in Israel as well, and the awakening of the Israeli workers and youth would bring the foundations of Israeli imperialism crashing down. A mass movement against Zionist capitalism, bringing together Israeli Arabs and Jews, would be a powerful force. Upon winning power, the Israeli working class would be the only force that could truly immediately abolish the virtually genocidal conditions Palestinians masses are subjected to, offering them a voluntary socialist federation of both peoples.
A revolutionary movement in Israel would also have reverberations in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and across the region, where not one regime is stable and all collude with imperialism while crying crododile tears for the Palestinians.
A socialist federation of the Middle East would open a real golden age for the masses of the region, freeing them from the bloody chains of Islamism, Zionism and Imperialism. A revolution in life and culture would ensue, focusing the world's attention on the region not because of the blood spilt by today's ruling classes, but because of the enormous achievements and the beacon of hope such a federation would become.
This is the only solution.