The Israeli army has continued its bloodletting in the occupied Gaza Strip refugee camp of Rafah, leaving at least seven Palestinian civilians dead. Throughout the night buildings burning and gunfire rattled the Brazil and al-Salam districts of the impoverished camp. Dozens of Israeli armoured vehicles stormed the areas.
Unmoved by a United Nations resolution condemning its invasion, the occupying army unleashed another volley of missiles in the Brazil neighbourhood early on Thursday .The latest killings raise the toll to 46 Palestinians killed since Israel launched its invasion of Rafah nine days ago.
In response to the UN resolution, Sharon has vowed to continue his campaign in Rafah, which left, according to different sources, between 8-15 peaceful Palestinian demonstrators dead on Wednesday. Many of the demonstrators were women and children. Another 50 protesters were injured when Israel opened helicopter, tank and machine gun fire at protesters in the city of Rafah.
Yesterday at about 1pm, after prayers, many Rafah residents gathered in the centre of the camp and started marching toward Tel Sultan, which has been under curfew since dawn Tuesday, when the army began operating there.
In the morning a truck drove around the town calling on people to join the demonstration in solidarity with the besieged quarter and in protest against Israel's activities. The mosques also called on people to join the demonstration.
Dozens of children marched at the head of the procession. At about 1.45pm the demonstrators reached Zuarob Square, about 500 meters from the entrance to Tel Sultan. From there the road curves leftwards, so that the tanks blocking the entrance to the neighbourhood could not be seen.
One demonstrator said the children walked past the curve, and saw the tanks. The adults were just behind them and noticed a movement among the tanks. Further down on the right side of the road, past the shops and houses, there was an open field. At this stage two Israeli helicopters circled overhead. One eyewitness said the helicopters fired something that looked like "white balloons."
When the shelling stopped they started carrying the wounded to the nearest Red Crescent station. All the demonstrators denied that there were any armed men among them.
In Geneva, the UN special human rights envoy for the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip said Israeli attacks against the Gaza refugee camp were war crimes and a violation of humanitarian law. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution by 14-0 criticising Israel for its campaign of destroying Palestinian homes. Washington this time abstained from the vote.
In the face of such international opposition how do we explain the fact that the rulers of Israel can so easily ignore the UN resolution? To begin with, we should examine this resolution. It condemns Israel for the killing of innocent Palestinians, however it does not call on Israel to stop the killing or the destruction of the houses, nor does it state what actions the UN will take to force the rulers of Israel to stop these crimes. In simple words this resolution is made of empty words. Like in so many other cases this condemnation is sheer hypocrisy.
In one of his strongest condemnations yet of recent Israeli actions against Palestinians, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, speaking on behalf of the EU presidency, cited initial reports suggesting many children were among the casualties. "It is clear that today's action was completely disproportionate to any threat faced by the Israeli military and that Israeli forces showed a reckless disregard for human life," he said in a statement. "The targeting of innocent children in a conflict of this kind must always be condemned," he said. "The killing of children does not serve any legitimate cause and degrades any purpose which it purports to advance."
But again, these words, like those in the UN resolution, are empty words. Does any one really believe the EU will do any thing about the crimes committed by Sharon?
The icing on this cake of hypocrisy was provided by British Prime Minister Tony Blair who called the Rafah operation "unacceptable and wrong”. We can only conclude that according to him what the British army is doing in Iraq is acceptable and right.
The US as usual is backing Israel much more openly than the other powers. President George Bush on Wednesday urged "restraint" on the part of Israel and the… Palestinians. Thus one of the most powerful armies in the world is put on the same level as unarmed civilians, including children. It is as if an armed gang enters your house and you try to defend yourself and when the police turn up they ask you to show restraint, as if you were as much a criminal as the armed gang!
Bush also declined to condemn the Israel army attack in Rafah. "I continue to urge restraint," Bush told reporters following a Cabinet meeting. "It is essential that people respect innocent life in order for us to achieve peace."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan added his two pennies’ worth: “We are very concerned about reports from Gaza and the number of Palestinians who are said to have been injured and killed. We have asked the Government of Israel for the facts about what happened today.” Indeed, the head of the pack of wolves will ask one of the wolves in his pack whose mouth is dripping with blood to explain how the sheep died. Very touching indeed!
We have grown accustomed to this kind of hypocrisy and we know what kind of answers will be forthcoming. We already know what the Israeli government says and therefore we know what the position of the White House will be. As usual the military sources have denied they deliberately targeted the protesters. They claim it is not their “policy” to attack civilians like this.
The army of occupation has given its their version of events. They said with a straight face that they had not targeted the crowd, but that somehow one of the tank shells had either passed through a nearby abandoned building or had gone “off course” and hit the demonstrators. The army also said that troops had spotted the approaching demonstrators, claiming that among them were armed men, and had asked a helicopter to fire a warning missile at an open field. But when the crowd continued to march, a tank fired three shells at the nearby abandoned building to ward the protesters off, and that is how the civilians were killed. The Army also expressed “deep sorrow” at the incident in which innocent people were killed and declared that it was offering the Palestinians to transport casualties for treatment in Israeli hospitals.
Yes, it is very embarrassing for them, and so they are forced to make apologies. But they continue to occupy Gaza, they continue with a heavy military presence, and they continue to operate in such a way that such atrocities can be easily repeated. How can the people of Gaza really believe them?
So it is clear that in spite of their “condemnations” and calls for restraint, the imperialists are not going to stop Sharon. But what about the real opposition to Sharon in the Israeli Parliament?
The Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, was in session when news of the missile strike broke. MK Yuli Tamir (Labour) said that the operation in Rafah should be halted immediately, before it turns into another Lebanon. Meretz MK Ran Cohen called on the IDF to stop the killing and get out of Rafah. Following Meretz MK, Roman Bronfman said that the army does not discern between protesters and terrorists. Another Meretz MK, Avshalom Vilan, said the order to fire on the protesters was illegal, while fellow party member Zahava Gal-On said the soldiers should have refused to carry out the order.
These are all strong words however words are cheap. The same people who are now condemning Sharon’s crimes, are those who organized only five days ago a mass rally in support of Sharon and his so-called “withdrawal plan”. Just give them the chance and they will jump with both feet into a government headed by Sharon.
Finally, the leaders of Hadash and Balad, the reformist and liberal Arabs expressed incredible ideas, utopian ideas. One would think that these people do not live in the real world. At best we could consider them stubborn woodenheads.
MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) described the Rafah missile strike as a "massacre" (which it was) but he then called for an “international intervention”. What kind of international intervention is he talking of? A UN intervention? This could only come about with US backing. So is he proposing that American and British troops be sent to this country as well? Is it not enough that the Israeli army is killing the Palestinians? Do we now need the American and the British to assist the Israeli army in this job?
“Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon should face an international tribunal”, MK Azmi Bishara (Balad) said, adding that they should be forced to explain their actions. What international tribunal, is he speaking about, the same one that has refused to deal with the crimes of Sharon?
Thus Sharon who knows that all these condemnations are no more than mere hypocrisy, empty words and nonsense can go ahead with his plans undisturbed. It is not going to be pious appeals that will stop Sharon.
However, this does not mean, that Sharon can do whatever he likes. Like many politicians like him who have dreamed that their regimes will last forever, Sharon’s days are fewer than he believes. He has been having difficulties with his extreme right wing government partners. He also failed to get his plan for Gaza accepted inside his own party. He has also been facing problems with the judiciary about corruption scandals. His position is not a strong one at all. The only reason he is still there is because no clear alternative is present.
His problems, however, go beyond opposition within his own party or from his coalition partners. The criminal actions of Sharon are taking places in a time of shifting class relationships worldwide. This is self-evident to those who follow what is happening in South America in particular in Venezuela, in India, Spain, France, in Iraq and many other countries.
The working class is back on the historical stage everywhere and in this context what is happening in Gaza will weaken the right wing inside Israel. We can expect many more demonstrations and other forms of protest calling for the immediate withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the West Bank. The mood in Israel is changing. Sharon has been pushing the line that only a tough hand can deal with the Palestinians. Instead what we have is a situation where ordinary Israelis feel constantly threatened, and they are beginning to see that simply maintaining a heavy military presence in the Palestinian territories is no guarantee of safety or peace. And while all this is going on the same Sharon government is attacking pensions, healthcare and social spending in general. Unemployment is shooting up.
The question of the occupation of Palestinian territory will become inextricably linked to the worsening living conditions inside Israel itself. The misery of the Jewish workers and poor is growing daily and a new wave of class struggle is only a question of time, a very short time. Already last year we saw the first symptoms of this. There were several strikes in the public sector. We have also seen the dockworkers’ strike and many more will come.
The perspective ahead of us in the next period is therefore one of heightened class conflict. The Jewish workers in Israel will begin to see that Israel is not the land where all Jews are treated equally, but one where the rich capitalists exploit the workers, like in all capitalist countries.
It is a tragedy that at the beginning of the movement the only party resembling a workers’ party in the country, will be lead by the left Zionists. There is the Communist Party, but they have made many mistakes and have lost opportunities. Instead of standing out as a genuine party of socialism, they have succumbed to the different pressures and have tail-ended the Left Zionists.
This means that unfortunately, precisely those Left Zionists who are incapable of giving a genuine alternative to the movement, can end up filling the vacuum that is opening up on the left. However as the movement to the left gains momentum, the masses will put these “leaders” to the test and eventually they will seek out a different leadership. This is inevitable because the real demands of the workers cannot be met by the Left Zionists. The demands for full employment, decent wages, free healthcare, decent education, etc., cannot be met on the basis of capitalism surviving in Israel. But this is what the workers want.
Our task is therefore to connect the struggle against the occupation of 1967, to the class struggle of the working class and to provide this struggle with ideas and a programme that can end this hell, by transforming society along socialist lines.
It is the same struggle in Venezuela and in Iraq, in Gaza and inside Israel. It is the struggle against the bankers and the owners of the factories, whose class interests the governments of both Israel the Arab states serve. That is why the only solution is a socialist Federation of the Middle East, which bring the workers of all these countries together in a united movement against all the bosses.