Israel’s massacre in Gaza: a balance-sheet of the struggle

As the dust settled over Gaza, the scale of the devastation became clear, with much of Gaza's infrastructure in ruins, with power stations, water networks and sewage systems destroyed; homes, mosques and even schools reduced to rubble. Although Israel severely weakened Hamas militarily, the hatred that it has instilled into the Palestinian masses is only preparing even bigger problems in the future.

Israel has recently declared a unilateral ceasefire, bringing to an end one of its bloodiest military incursions into the Gaza strip. As the dust settles, the scale of the devastation becomes clear: over 1,300 Palestinians lie dead, with estimates of the number wounded topping 5000. Much of Gaza's infrastructure lies in ruins, with power stations, water networks and sewage systems destroyed; homes, mosques and even schools have been reduced to rubble. According to the UN, the cost of rebuilding Gaza could run into billions of dollars [1].

Gaza war crimes (drawing by Latuff)The most obvious victims of this war (though to call such a one-sided conflict a war seems in bad taste) are the people of Gaza, whose terrible plight is difficult to imagine. Though it would be an insult to the people of Gaza to draw equivalence between their level of suffering and that of the people of Sderot, the situation for the residents of Israel's border towns should not be ignored. For them too, things have become highly unpleasant: three of their number have been killed, and their lives have been blighted by the constant threat of rocket-fire.

But what of Hamas and the Israeli ruling class? And for that matter, where does this leave the interests of US imperialism?

Defeat for Hamas

Despite official proclamations of a "popular victory" [2], Hamas has been severely weakened. Although Israel failed to completely destroy them, many of their best cadres have been killed, including members of the so-called ‘Iran-unit', composed of a hundred or so guerrilla fighters trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard [3]. In marked contrast, Israel suffered no real military damage, losing a mere ten soldiers.

Even Israel's failure to recover Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier, is of secondary importance - it will not be long before his release is negotiated. When Israel's bombardment was at its fiercest, Hamas was conducting secret negotiations with Israel (via Egyptian mediation), and when Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire, Hamas didn't take long to declare one of their own.

Despite Hamas' absurd claim of victory, this defeat leaves them in a position where they will be forced to accept a deal largely on Israel's terms. It is instructive that hardly anyone turned up to the victory parade organised by Hamas in Gaza City [4].

Indeed, the deal being negotiated between Hamas and Egypt is tantamount to a surrender by the organisation. As Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff write in Haaretz [5]:

"The Egyptian proposal is mostly bad for Hamas. It doesn't let the organization bring the Palestinian public any political achievement that would justify the blood that has been spilled, and even forces on it the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, in the form of its renewed presence at the Rafah crossing (as a condition for its reopening).

"Once the cease-fire is reached, the IDF will withdraw from the positions it captured in Gaza, and only then will the two sides begin to discuss the opening of border crossings and removal of the blockade, which was the reason Hamas gave for waging war. The most that Cairo is offering is a timetable for the opening of the crossing points, and even that depends on negotiations due to begin after the cease-fire is reached, and it's tough to know how or when they will end."

So Hamas is prepared to accept its border crossings being under the control of the Palestinian Authority, which has many times shown itself prepared to do Israel's dirty work policing the Palestinian masses, and even foreign powers: according to a report in al-Sharq al-Awsetv [6], Hamas will accept the crossings being monitored by ‘international observers'. Israel will insist on preventing weapons being taken into Gaza, and Hamas will be in no position to oppose this.

So, instead of self-determination, Hamas is preparing to settle for being regulated (and effectively disarmed) by the occupier and its stooges. Why? Because they want to be seen as ‘responsible' by the imperialists. Its attacks on Sderot and other towns, designed to increase its bargaining power, are mere pin-pricks on the Israeli state.

Such a movement as Hamas, tightly controlled from the top, suppressing any dissent (let us not forget that one of Hamas' first actions upon taking control of Gaza was to attack the offices of the Palestinian Trade Union Federation), and alienating potential support amongst Israel's own poor and downtrodden, is completely incapable of building the sort of mass movement needed to threaten imperialism and its local stooges.

Like the PLO before it, Hamas will likely come to some sort of accommodation with the occupier in return for a limited degree of autonomy. This will expose the internal contradictions within the movement. Just as when the PLO was negotiating the Olso Accords with Israel, the more hard-line Tanzim (centred around jailed leader Marwan Barghouti) broke away, factions opposed to the current sell-out will split from Hamas. (This has already begun to happen - a dissident faction of Hamas has just set of a bomb near the Gaza border, killing one Israeli soldier.)

However, these factions will in the end offer no real alternative. (For instance, Barghouti has repeatedly signalled his willingness to negotiate with Israel.) Hamas and the PLO don't collaborate with Israel because of some elaborately worked-out plan or conspiracy - they do it because the logic of their movements prevents them ever mobilising a mass base, and so the failure of their ‘armed struggle' (i.e. attacks on civilians) to dent Israeli power leaves them with no option but to sell out in the hope of receiving a few crumbs in return.

A pyrrhic victory for Israel

At first, this war seems like an overwhelming victory for Israel. Having pulverised Gaza and slaughtered its inhabitants at will, Israel has severely weakened Hamas as a force, and most probably made it much more pliant at the negotiating table. However, for all their military bluster, they have failed to stop the rocket attacks on southern Israel: the first rocket since the ‘ceasefire' was fired on Wednesday night from the refugee camp of el-Bureij, and landed at Kibbutz Re'im, in the southern Israeli Eshkol region [7]. In reality, Israel is acting from a position of weakness, not strength. For a start, notice how Israel delayed launching a ground offensive until relatively late into Operation Cast Lead, indicating how fearful they were of another defeat, such as the one inflicted upon them by Hezbollah in 2006.

More importantly, though, Israel will no longer be able to count on the unconditional support of the United States for its most barbaric acts and stubborn negotiating positions. Although we have no illusions that Barak Obama represents a break with the interests of American capitalism, he does represent a different wing of the US ruling class to that of George Bush, one more aware of America's diminishing power and need to negotiate with her former foes.

If the US' original aims in invading Iraq were to establish a base from which to police the oil-rich region, the reality is that Iraq is steadily falling under the influence of Syria and Iran. The US will need to negotiate with both to secure its political and economic interests in the Middle East. Any deal with either will have to include the appearance of progress on the Palestinian question. President Ahmadinejad of Iran in particular aims much of his rhetoric towards Palestine (often resorting to the crudest anti-Semitism). Facing massive economic problems and growing working-class militancy at home, he cannot afford to be seen as soft on America and Israel.

Therefore, it is in US interests for Israel to make some compromises. However, the interests of the US and Israeli ruling classes are not always identical. As Marxists, we reject the crude characterisation of Israel as simply under US control. The relationship is dialectical: the US has considerable leverage with Israel because Israel is bankrolled by it (to the tune of over $3bn annually), but Israel can also drive a hard bargain with the US, as it is their only reliably ally in the region. The US cannot afford to antagonise Israel too much. However, the US can still use its enormous financial leverage to wring uncomfortable compromises out of Israel.

Leaving aside the machinations of the imperialists and their lackeys, Israel's assault has generated widespread revulsion around the world. In Gaza itself, the hatred and bitterness it has sown will not go away easily. Nature abhors a vacuum: if Hamas discredits itself in the eyes of the Palestinian masses, something will take its place, and that something might be far more dangerous to Israel.

The lessons of the First Intifada

The First Intifada, or uprising, started in 1987, in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. The uprising was spontaneous, initially without the intervention of the PLO, which was still in exile in Tunisia. Quickly, local defence committees were elected to organise the resistance. (Incidentally, Hamas opposed these councils.) The committees organised medical care, food aid, and independent networks of underground schools.

Media coverage of the first Intifada (Picture by Indymedia)
Media coverage of the first Intifada (Picture by Indymedia)

Unfortunately, the Palestinians were largely unarmed, and over a thousand were slaughtered by Israeli reprisals. Still, the Intifada continued to grow, with its tactics of civil disobedience and general strikes causing the Israeli state far more problems than Hamas' rocket attacks ever could. Crucially, because very few Israeli civilians were targeted during the first Intifada, it had a profound effect on the consciousness of the Israeli masses, who for the first time recognised the Palestinians as a people with national aspirations of their own.

Eventually, after six years, Israel was forced to grant some concessions. The Israeli ruling class bought off the PLO, who had by this time returned to Palestine and taken control of the movement. But the lessons of this heroic uprising are there to be learned: only by mass strikes and civil disobedience, mobilising the Palestinian masses, can the Israeli ruling class be threatened. The million Palestinians living in Israel (‘Israeli-Arabs'), often carrying out the most poorly-paid work, could easily be mobilised in this way, and would have a profound effect on the Israeli economy.

The Israeli working class

One must also not forget the working class of Israel itself. The workers and poor of Israel gain nothing from Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. Instead, their civil liberties are eroded in the name of security, and the massive military budget leads to huge cuts in public spending and widespread poverty. Tel-Aviv's municipality does the bidding of the property developers, demolishing poor neighbourhoods to make way for glittering sky-scrapers. The Israeli working class should be the natural ally of the Palestinian masses. But for years, the ruling class has been able to skilfully manipulate the ‘security threat' (aided, of course, by terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians) to create a permanent state of fear, which leads Israeli workers to back their state against the ‘external threat'.

However, this cannot last forever. The Israeli ruling class' inability to solve the most basic needs of Israeli workers creates enormous contradictions that will eventually come to the fore. Recently, the Israeli Communist Party, despite the associations of Stalinism with anti-Semitism, has enjoyed some growth. As well as its success in the Tel-Aviv municipal elections [8], the ICP has played a leading role in mobilising the (admittedly small) anti-war movement around Tel-Aviv [see video below, note the number of red flags]. Despite its reformism, the ICP is the only authentic force on the left in Israel, with the potential to both oppose the occupation and improve the lives of Israel and Palestine's workers and poor.

Can the question be resolved?

On the basis of capitalism, this question is insoluble. Israel can never allow a genuinely independent Palestinian state to emerge, which would deprive it of valuable territory and resources, and could challenge it economically. The best Israel can offer is a series of disconnected ‘Bantustans', which would act as pools of cheap labour for Israeli capitalism, and markets for its produce.

The only solution therefore is the abolition of capitalism. For this, the revolutionary collaboration of the Israeli and Palestinian masses is required. Developments in Egypt, where the working class is becoming more and more militant, are crucial. Only a socialist federation of the Middle East, where all peoples can live with freedom, dignity and self-determination, can solve the problems of the suffering masses of Palestine and Israel.

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