Israel - Opposition grows

In Israel things are beginning to change. On February 16, over 20,000 people demonstrated for peace. The demonstration was addressed by both Israeli and Palestinian speakers. What was even more significant was the presence of a delegation of the approximately 250 Israeli soldiers (including officers) who have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. More than 400 Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the Palestinian territories, and the number is growing daily. One opinion poll has revealed that 31% of the Israeli population supports these protesting soldiers.

The conflict in Israel/Palestine has reached levels verging on outright war, an uneven war, where one of the mightiest military machines in the world - the Israeli army - is pitted against a desperate but weakly armed people, the Palestinians.

There was a temporary "respite" over the Christmas period when Arafat attempted to impose a cease-fire on the various Palestinian militias. But while this was taking place the Israeli army ignored the cease-fire altogether. In the same period it killed 21 Palestinians and its forces entered Palestinian areas sixteen times. It also destroyed dozens of houses in the process.

On January 14, Israeli forces killed a Fatah leader - a few days after Hamas killed four Israeli soldiers. This, Hamas claimed, was in retaliation for the killing of three Palestinian teenagers a few weeks earlier. The killing of the Fatah leaders signalled the definite ending of this flimsy cease-fire.

At the same time the Israeli forces continued with their policy of destroying Palestinian homes. 59 houses in the refugee camp of Rafah, in Gaza, were bulldozed. As a result 619 Palestinians were made homeless. This comes on top of the 284 houses destroyed over the previous year, which gave shelter to over 3,000 Palestinians.

In over a year of Intifada more than 600 Palestinians have been killed. Among these 60 were Palestinian political leaders who were assassinated by the Israeli special forces. There is clearly a hard-line wing of the Israeli ruling class that wishes to do away completely with the "peace accords". Their plan is to redraw the borders of the West Bank and de facto annex sections to Israel proper. There is talk of creating a buffer zone between Israel and the Palestinian territories. This would involve the abandoning of some of the settlements - those that are more difficult to defend militarily.

The Israeli army has been pounding the Palestinians with almost every weapon at its disposal - F-16s, F-15s, combat helicopters, tanks, missiles. It has been systematically beating and torturing Palestinians, sometimes to the point of death.

Added to this are the terrible economic and social conditions which have been aggravated by the economic blockade that Israel has imposed on the Palestinian territories since the present Intifada broke out. This has cost the Palestinian economy about $2.4 billion. This is a huge amount if we consider that the GDP of the Palestinian Authority in the year 2000 was about $5 billion. Thus unemployment among the Palestinian population has shot up to 35% in the West Bank and 50% in Gaza.

The result of all this has been to further intensify the determination of the Palestinians to fight with any means possible. This has led, tragically, to a spate of suicide attacks in which many Israeli civilians have been killed. Thus, up until recently, the situation seemed to be one of two totally irreconcilable camps whose only prospect was that of a permanent conflict, without any end in sight.

Israeli soldiers rebel

But what happened on February 16, in Israel shows that things are beginning to change. 20,000 people demonstrated for peace (according to Israeli media sources). The demonstration was addressed by both Israeli and Palestinian speakers. Their message was clear: Israel should leave the West Bank and Gaza. Some of the placards read "This occupation is killing us all" and "Out of the territories now".

In the early 1980s rallies organised by the movement "Peace Now" attracted half a million people. It was that movement that forced Israel to withdraw from the Lebanon. The rally of February 16 is nowhere as big as those rallies, but it is the first time since the present Intifada began that there has been such a sizeable show of opposition - in Israel - to Israeli military policy in the Palestinian territories.

What was even more significant was the presence of a delegation of the approximately 250 Israeli army reservists who have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. This movement started with two officers and has now grown to the present levels. One opinion poll has revealed that 31 percent of the Israeli population supports these protesting army officers. In fact, since this Intifada began a total of more than 400 Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli army has been used to carry out the most brutal killings, beatings and torture. Many have seen in this the confirmation of their idea that it is not possible to build links between Jewish and Arab workers. But the constant, daily oppression of the Palestinian people has begun to have an effect on at least a section of the Israeli military.

The movement of so-called "Israeli refusniks" became known through its "Fighter's Letter" signed by 53 Israeli soldiers. By February 17 the signatories had become 251, and it is growing. One of these signatories was Asaf Oron, a Sergeant Major in the Giv'ati Brigade. On February 18 he published a statement making his views known. The strength of this statement is underlined by the fact that its author had had experience of serving in the Occupied Territories. It shows that Israeli soldiers can be affected by the injustices being perpetrated by the Israeli army in the Palestinian territories.

It is worth quoting at length from this statement of Oron's. He describes how he felt when he first became a soldier: "This is the way I was when I was drafted. Not enthusiastic, but as if embarking on a sacred mission of courage and sacrifice for the benefit of society. But when, instead of a sacred mission, a 19 year old finds himself performing the sacrilege of violating human beings' dignity and freedom, he doesn't dare ask - even himself - if it's OK or not. He simply acts like everyone else and tries to blend in." But over the years this had an effect and eventually he decided to state clearly his refusal to serve in the occupied territories.

Divisions in the military

Opposition is also emerging among higher levels of the army, as some officers become increasingly worried that Israel may not be able to hold the Territories by military means alone. The Economist, (February 23, 2002) pointed out that: "…the Council for Peace and Security, a centre-left group of retired generals and intelligence officials, resolved after much heart-searching to add its respected voice to calls for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from most of the Palestinian areas, as an immediate step pending eventual peace negotiations. The council wants Israel to pull out of Gaza (save along the border with Egypt) and much of the West Bank. Some 50 Jewish settlements would be dismantled at once." Obviously this still remains within the perspective of building a Zionist state. Nevertheless it serves to underline the madness of Sharon's military strategy. They cannot hold the Palestinian territories permanently on a military basis.

According to a Ha'aretz report published on February 2, "Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, who is also a former admiral in the Israel Navy, said last night that he had 'a lot of empathy for the reserve officers'." He went as far as saying that soldiers should not obey orders that were "blatantly illegal." "As far as I'm concerned," he said, "too few soldiers are refusing such orders. For example, [an order] to shoot an unarmed youth is a blatantly illegal order. I am very worried by the number of Palestinian children shot in the past year."

When a former Shin Bet chief comes out with statements like this it clearly indicates that there is a division among the Israeli ruling class as to how to go forward. According to The Economist: "Some ministers and senior officials admit privately that the prime minister does not have a plausible policy for defeating the intifada…" This division runs right through Israeli society. While 31% may support the reservists who refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories, another opinion poll, according to The Guardian (February 16, 2002) "showed 35% of Israelis support… 'transfer' - the wholesale expulsion of the Palestinians", and the same report added that "there is a growing clamour to re-invade and re-occupy the entirety of the territories."

Up till now the bourgeois media had laid heavy stress on the fact that apparently the overwhelming majority of the Israeli population saw no alternative to Sharon's policy. The latest developments reveal that what is taking place is the beginning of a polarisation of opinion inside Israel itself. The fact that opposition to a military presence of Israel in the Palestinian territories has emerged even among army officers shows how deep this divide has become. The important thing to understand is that a layer of Israeli society is beginning to realise that on the present basis there is no solution to the problems they are facing.

Workers' unity is possible

It shows that what we have always said is correct. It is possible to work towards a unity of the Arab and Jewish workers. Unfortunately the leadership of the Palestinian masses is totally incapable of working towards this objective. Arafat and the other leaders base themselves on the perspective of a capitalist Palestinian authority. Therefore they are opposed to any kind of class-based perspective. Unity of the Arab and Jewish workers could only be achieved on the basis of a socialist perspective that would involve the overthrow of both the Zionist bourgeoisie in Israel and the various bourgeois and feudal cliques that govern the surrounding Arab countries - and among these we would include the clique around Arafat. Thus they foment nationalism.

To these the suicide bombings are not a problem. These target ordinary Jewish civilians, with the supposed justification that all Jews are responsible for the repression of the Palestinian people. All that this achieves is to push the Jewish population of Israel into the arms of reactionaries like Sharon, who can then justify his brutal repression of the Palestinians. It simply maintains and strengthens the divide between Jewish and Arab workers.

We have pointed out many times that the National Question in Israel/Palestine cannot be solved on a capitalist basis. The interests of the capitalists, both in Israel and in the Arab countries are to maintain the profit system. Thus they are interested in maintaining the national divisions that exist. Only the socialist planning of the economy in the whole region can begin to solve all the problems the workers are facing. For this to be possible it is necessary for the Palestinians to win the Jewish workers over to a struggle for the socialist transformation of society. The question is: is this possible?

In the not so distant past when we raised the perspective of unity between Jewish and Arab workers many scoffed at us. They accused us of being "unrealistic", "utopian", etc. Now the mood among an important layer of the Jewish population is changing. The fact that opposition has emerged among army officers and reservists is a clear indication of this. It is still early days, but the process of class differentiation within Israeli society has clearly begun. Whether this will develop into an open conflict between Jewish worker and Jewish capitalist depends in part on the strategy developed by the Palestinians and in part on the leadership of the Israeli labour movement itself.

The Guardian (February 23) pointed out that Sharon has "utterly failed to calm his people's anxieties on security, or Israel's deepening economic recession." Israel once was a country where unemployment was almost an unknown entity. It has now gone beyond the level of 10%. On the basis of capitalism this will get worse. Sharon defends the interests of the Israeli and international capitalists. They will not provide jobs and decent wages. Thus a division along class inside Israel is possible. And along these lines we can see the outlines of a solution to the conflict now taking place. Once the workers in Israel realise that the Israeli capitalist will not and cannot defend their interests then the prospect of the class struggle becomes a real one.

On the basis of a socialist and internationalist programme and perspective it is possible to envisage the day when the workers on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide will turn their forces against their respective ruling classes. On this basis alone will it be possible to resolve the present conflict. On a capitalist basis, in the long run, the only outcome will be one of increased military repression of the Palestinian people and possibly even war between the nations. In this neither the Jewish workers, nor the Palestinians will gain.