The victory of Hamas in Gaza and the questions facing Israeli and Palestinian workers

Many tears have been shed over the fall of Gaza under Hamas control. In reality what has happened is that the carefully prepared plans of imperialism have exploded in their face. They had bought off and corrupted the leaders of Fatah in order to get them to police the Palestinians for them. Because of this the Palestinian masses turned away from Fatah and embraced Hamas. So where do we go from here?

As we had already predicted, Hamas defeated Fatah in the recent civil war in Gaza. Fatah supporters could but beg Israel for assistance as they were driven out of city after city, village after village in the Gaza Strip, until their eventual defeat. The traditionally dominant and organised presence of Fatah in the Gaza strip has been wiped out. Fatah's leading clique in Gaza around Mohamed Dahlan had lost most of its popular support over the last few years but it was clinging on through control of the Security forces.

This victory of Hamas would not have been possible without a massive turn of the Palestinian masses both in Gaza and in the West Bank against Fatah and the leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) after more than a decade of extreme corruption and collaboration with imperialism and the Israeli government against their own people.

This was clearly seen in the massive growth of Hamas in the elections to the national council of the PA early last year. As we previously explained, the support of the Palestinian masses for Hamas should not be regarded as a swing towards Islamic fundamentalism, but more as a rejection of the corrupt leadership of the PA.

Hamas, however, has already signalled that it is willing to reach a compromise with the imperialists and their representatives in Palestine, i.e. the Fatah movement and President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas' ratings in London skyrocketed when the liberation of BBC journalist Alan Johnston was achieved after Hamas fighters successfully besieged the "Army of Islam" compound in Gaza. The British authorities acknowledged this to be a first "sign of goodwill" on the part of Hamas.

But, in the last analysis, however much Hamas concedes to imperialism in order to reach a deal, they do this in vain - imperialism has no more to give them than it did to Fatah. In fact the very genesis of the current situation is the crisis of American-Israeli imperialism and of the capitalist system as a whole.

It is amazing to see how the imperialists have understood far better than most people on the left what lies at the heart of the present conflict - not a mere power struggle between two equally reactionary forces but a decisive battle between imperialism and the Palestinian people. The bourgeoisie in Israel is now hysterical, and for a good reason: although the victory of Hamas in Gaza does not solve any of the fundamental problems of the Palestinian masses, this was clearly a severe blow against imperialism. It is clear then that the question at hand is not the leadership of either side but the class forces supporting them.


Imperialists have nothing to offer the Palestinian people


The situation of the petty-bourgeois nationalists in the former colonial countries, in either the secular or the Islamic ideological form, parallels in many ways that of the reformist leaders in the trade unions and working class parties in the imperialist countries. The reformist, more than anything else, wishes to become part of the capitalist system. He can either serve in a "loyal opposition", or, all the better, as a member of the bourgeois government assisting in the exploitation of the working class. The Meretz-Yahad type, i.e. the likes of Yossi Beilin, typify the former, while Amir Peretz and his ilk in the Labour Party typify the latter. One flows from the other, as every Beilin in the opposition becomes a Peretz in the coalition.

However, the reformist is not carried upwards in the political food chain by mere streams of air. His base is - the protests of the ultra-left notwithstanding - the working class. Therefore, as much as the reformist would like it to be otherwise, he must have something to offer his base - that is, the workers - in return for his servitude to the bourgeoisie, in order to retain the loyalty of the party rank and file. But, given the constantly intensifying crisis of the system, the bourgeoisie has nothing to offer the reformist, that is, not unless the working class struggle takes a much more militant form. Even in this case the ruling class concedes reforms at gunpoint, in order to gain time, but immediately starts manoeuvring to take them back.

Following from this situation, two outcomes are possible. Should the reformist party have strong roots among the masses then, on the background of a militant class struggle, we would see at a certain stage the emergence of a left wing in the party. However, in times of inactivity on the part of the masses, the right-wing leadership will time and time again hijack the movement in order to serve its own interests and, of course, those of the ruling class. This is what stands behind Peretz' shift to the right in Israel since the end of 2005.

The same is true of the nationalists of all stripes in the former colonial countries. They, too, wish to become part of the capitalist system. They climb on the shoulders of the oppressed masses and try to take the lead in order to use their strength to achieve a "better compromise" with the imperialist oppressor. The aim of the petty-bourgeois nationalists is to be accepted as part of a viable ruling elite by the imperialist powers that dominate the world scene.

It has always been a preferred tactic of the imperialist powers to "divide and rule". When compelled by the rising struggle of the colonial masses, the imperialists have often resorted to the collaboration of the petit bourgeois leaders of the nationalist movement in exchange for privileges and access to the government; but once in office they have to reward their masters ensuring that "everything changes so that nothing changes", i.e. without affecting the strategic interests of imperialism and the ruling class, and of course also ensuring that the masses are not allowed to question them.

In order to incorporate the leaders of the liberation movements into the administration of capitalist rule the imperialists and the ruling class change their tactic from one of frontal confrontation and open reaction to one of paving the way for class collaboration. Those who were previously described as "terrorists", with whom no negotiation was possible, are suddenly embraced as "partners".

This has happened several times in the past, as can be seen in the examples of the ANC in South Africa, the IRA and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and the recent development in Nepal, where the Maoist guerrillas have entered the bourgeois government.

Their model is in fact post-apartheid South Africa. Riding to office on the backs of the black workers, the African National Congress, with the assistance of the reformist leaderships of the Communist Party and the COSATU (Confederation of South African Trade Unions), have maintained the imperialist set-up of South Africa intact while enriching a small black elite, that is creating a small black bourgeoisie which takes part in the exploitation of the working class together with the dominant white bourgeoisie. Thus while the openly racist regime of the past has been removed, no fundamental change in the living conditions of the masses has been achieved, and the same ruling elite still pulls all the strings. One only needs to observe the fraternal relationship between the PLO and the pro-Israeli ANC to understand this simple truth.

Unfortunately for the nationalist, he suffers from the same problem as the reformist, in that both see no alternative to capitalism and, upon coming to power, they become prisoners of the compatibilities of the ruling class. Israeli imperialism, facing an unprecedented social and political crisis, has absolutely nothing to give Fatah. Fatah's leadership has laid down its arms, agreed to serve as a stooge of imperialism, has taken an active part in the oppression of the Palestinian resistance, and in return received... nothing.

In spite of its reactionary policies and because there is no other viable alternative, Hamas has managed to rally the Palestinian people against imperialism. However, one would have to be a fool to consider Hamas as a revolutionary or even a consistently anti-imperialist organization.

The reasons behind Hamas' popularity in Gaza

Hamas is a populist, reactionary movement, whose leadership not long ago had announced its willingness to negotiate with the USA and Britain. They justified this with the argument that these two imperialist powers were different from Israel, as they are not "occupying states". They said this long after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where the USA and Britain are the main occupying forces and also ignoring the fact that behind Israeli imperialism stands US imperialism with all its might.

So how did Hamas gain such mass support to allow this Islamic movement to seize Gaza? The question is even more relevant in Palestine where there has been a longstanding secular tradition.

The Islamic Brotherhood established roots in Gaza after the Egyptian occupation in 1948, but it was after the June 1967 Israeli occupation of Gaza (and especially in the 1980s) that the exponential growth of the number of Mosques and economic and social activities around the Islamic Brotherhood was allowed to grow and was supported (as the only legal Palestinian organization) by the Israeli occupying forces. We must not forget this important fact. Both the USA and Israel have backed Islamic fundamentalists in the past as a counterweight against the Russians in Afghanistan and the PLO in Palestine, and there are other examples too.

The aim of the imperialists was to use the Islamic fundamentalists to undermine the influence of the traditional secular leadership of the Palestinian liberation movement. Over the decade of the 1980s the Islamic Brotherhood grew as one of the most powerful economic forces in Gaza, controlling more than 10% of real estate.

The eruption of the Intifada uprising in the Occupied Territories in December 1987 took the Muslim Brotherhood by surprise, with an important section of the Islamic elite that did not come out openly in favour of the revolt as they tried to preserve their positions. In fact, the founding of Hamas in 1988 by Sheik Yassin, together with another six leaders of the Islamic Centre in Gaza, was an attempt to regain the lost ground and intervene in the general movement.

Hamas was declared illegal by the Israeli occupation authorities in the autumn of 1989, but it eventually gained ground once the PLO leadership had derailed the Intifada taking it down a blind alley in order to use the movement of the masses to reach a diplomatic agreement with the Israeli ruling class and imperialism. Up until that moment Hamas did not have the influence or authority to challenge the mass influence of the Palestinian left and Fatah over the movement, even in Gaza.

The two real turning points for Hamas were the Oslo agreement in 1993 that led to the creation of the PA and the eruption of the second Intifada in October 2000. While Fatah and the PLO supported the Oslo agreement and were prepared to lead the newborn PA under the iron heel of the Israeli Army, Hamas opposed it, denouncing the agreement as a sell-out.

The PA turned out to be a nightmare for the Palestinian masses. Under the PA all the fundamental levers of the economy rested in the hands of Israel. The Palestinian masses faced ever-growing poverty, while the ruling circles of the PA were profiteering and became steeped in unprecedented levels of corruption. This paved the way for the rise of Hamas.

That is why we cannot join the hue and cry of the sectarian and petit bourgeois left. They limit themselves to shouting that Hamas is a reactionary movement, that it is as pro-imperialist as Fatah, that it is a terrorist organization, and so on. These cries reflect bourgeois public opinion, and not by chance. We defend the right of the Palestinian people to determine their own destiny and to choose their own government without any outside interference. They clearly voted massively for Hamas giving this organisation a landslide victory in the last elections. It is an unfortunate fact that an Islamic fundamentalist force has come to lead the Palestinian masses, but rather than weep about all this what we should be doing is looking at the responsibility of the "left" in allowing such a situation to emerge.

The line taken up by the Israeli Stalinists, themselves reformists and "loyal oppositionists" to the very bone, is one of clear collaboration with the Zionist oppressor, as was demonstrated in 2005 when Barake, ICP front Hadash MK, saved Sharon's government from a vote of no confidence, or after the 2006 elections when Hadash MK Dov Hanin advised then President Moshe Katsav on the most effective way to defeat Hamas. And, inasmuch as the relationship between the reformists of the oppressing nation and the reformists of the oppressed nation reflects, and must reflect, the relationship between the ruling class of the oppressing nation and that of the oppressed nation, the Palestinian Stalinists have toed the line.

Apparently astonished by the miserable and pathetic failure of the Mecca Accord, doomed to oblivion, the Palestinian PPP and other Palestinian "left" forces have rushed to the defence of the "progressive" and "moderate" Fatah against the "extremist" Hamas. As the Arab saying goes, ألرفيق وقت الضيق! (friends are put to test in difficult times).

What would have taken place had Fatah won the civil war in Palestine? To those whose minds have not been completely contaminated by the "democratic" hogwash of the Stalinist and social-democratic apologists of imperialism, it should be clear that whatever democratic and progressive credentials that Fatah has would soon be exposed as nothing but illusions.

Lacking any popular base whatsoever - as the election results confirmed - Fatah would have to install a vicious dictatorship (although a weak one, given the narrow social base of the Palestinian ruling layer) that would oppress the masses in the interests of imperialism. This would be a setback not only for the struggle of the Palestinian people against Israel, but also to the struggle of the Lebanese people against the Siniora government, to the struggle of the Iraqi masses against the American occupation, to the struggle of the Egyptian working class against Mubarak, in short to all the important movements fighting for liberation, either national or social, in the area. It would help sow illusions among the Israeli workers in the ruling class, illusions that the Second Lebanese War tore apart mercilessly, and would thus further postpone the awakening of their class consciousness. This would be made all the more criminal by the advent of the next Israeli war of aggression, a war which could even start this summer.

On the other hand, the victory of Hamas has galvanized the Palestinian and Arab masses against imperialism and shaken the confidence of the Israeli workers in their oppressors.

The main problem facing the Palestinian masses now is that the de facto break up of the PA into two farcical states will not change the fundamental nightmare situation they are living in. Hamas does not have any real alternative to offer to capitalist exploitation, hardly compensated by Hamas' Islamic charity institutions upon which a growing layer of the population of Gaza depends in order to survive. Even the temporary relief granted by the effect of the victory of Hamas upon the powerful rival clans and organisations cannot last for very long.

For these reasons we do not give the fundamentalists any political support. Hamas is a populist movement. It built its support on the one hand on the betrayal of the nationalists and on the other on the betrayal of the left and its sell-out to the PLO and Fatah. And we should always keep firmly in mind that Hamas does not want to overthrow capitalism. They merely wish for banks and monopolies with Islamic names. If they follow the same path of making deals with the imperialist powers, which at a certain stage will be inevitable, its leadership will be exposed as just another group of bourgeois politicians, no better than Fatah, especially should they attempt to set up a regime in their image to assert their domination. This, in the long run, is the only possibility in Palestine, where the ruling class is extremely weak and lacks any popular base.

The Stalinists, the petit bourgeois left, the sectarians, unfortunately, try to find some progressive wing of the bourgeoisie - Fatah, Hamas, anything but the working class! This ultimately leads them to the road of the popular front, i.e. class collaboration between the working class and the ruling class. Some of these sectarians have already suggested that the only reason why Mahmoud Abbas is to be condemned is because he didn't respect the agreements with Hamas on the national unity government, i.e., he didn't follow the Mecca Accord closely enough!

Since the superficiality of these arguments can easily be demonstrated, simply by pointing out the likely outcome of the victory of either side, we must ask ourselves: what are the motives behind this support of Fatah, or, at the very least, of the criminal neutrality of many on the left?

Stalinism in the "Third World" - a tool of imperialism

Ever since the defeat of the German working class in 1933, with the rise of the NSDAP (Nazis) to power, the Stalinists, who were already on a right-wing trajectory, have passed fully to the side of imperialism. However, in the past, Stalinist parties had managed to adopt more "radical" positions on several issues. (In Israel-Palestine especially, the Stalinists have been able to exert a very powerful influence among Israeli-Palestinian workers, thanks to their anti-Zionist pretences.) This was due to them having two masters - one in Tel-Aviv and one in Moscow.

Today only the former remains, and the Palestinian Stalinists have wasted no time since the downfall of the USSR in renaming their party (from the Palestinian Communist Party to the Palestinian People's Party) and declaring openly that the struggle for socialism should be postponed until after liberation. They have become "loyal oppositionists" too, this time to Fatah in the PLO, making them de facto agents of American-Israeli imperialism within the Palestinian left.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Palestinian Stalinists have rushed to the defence of imperialism. For years now they have adopted the slogan of "two states for two peoples," i.e. leaving the Israeli state intact and creating a Palestinian Bantustan in the Occupied Territories. Following the de facto break-up of the PA, one does not know what to expect next from these "leftists" - three states for two peoples? Perhaps another one for the settlers?

What is astounding is that they have gone as far as supporting the Mecca Accord, i.e. the Saudi monarchy and imperialism's scheme for the region. This can only be explained by decades of opportunist degeneration. The illusions of the bureaucrat in this accord are clearly demonstrated in the following speech by Hanna Amireh, a member of the PPP Politburo, in the Euro-Mediterranean Meeting of Left Parties on the 17-18th of March:

"Israel counted on a number of factors in order to impose its plans [on the Palestinian people] [...] [One of which was] to bet on Palestinian inter fighting or a civil war, that would lead to the emergence of a weak Palestinian leadership that would accept any Israeli solution. This also did not work, especially after reaching the Mecca Accord and the agreement to form a national unity government in Palestine. [...] We think that the Mecca Accord (signed lately by Fatah and Hamas) and the formation of the new national unity government, opens new horizons and gives hope of ending the siege on the Palestinian people."

One can hardly find a phrase in this excerpt that has not been falsified in the light of recent events. Now, several months into the civil war, it seems that the Stalinist leaders have finally understood that the Mecca Accord wasn't the heaven on earth the Palestinian people were to expect. Now they seem to be intent on convincing the Palestinian people and the world that Fatah, the poor "moderate" and "progressive" movement, is being attacked by "extremists."

The fantasy of the Stalinists, according to which, it would seem, Hamas won completely by accident and not because of mass support, is clearly false. Their solution to the current situation - relying on the Arab bourgeoisie to somehow "save democracy" and guarantee stability in Palestine, along with their support of the pro-imperialist Fatah and the Mecca Accord of the Saudi monarchs - shows clearly that they have abandoned all pretence of revolutionary proletarian politics. They have become one hundred percent عملاء الإمبريالية (agents of imperialism).

The philosophical roots of sectarian political degeneration

However, with the sectarians the issue at hand is somewhat different. Their argument, as we have already said, is that since both Fatah and Hamas are reactionary bourgeois movements, there is no reason to differentiate between them. We have already demonstrated why the refusal to differentiate between the downtrodden masses that support and fight under the leadership of Hamas and the rotten Fatah leadership is nonsensical and irresponsible from a class perspective. Now we shall elaborate on the philosophical postulates underlying it.

The sectarians are never capable of formulating a clear Marxist perspective on any issue. Without any understanding, or sufficient understanding at least, of Marxist theory and of dialectical materialism, they are reduced to shooting in the dark: sometimes they come out with opportunist positions (i.e. support of Hamas as some sort of revolutionary party in disguise), sometimes with ultra-left positions (in our case, bogus "neutrality"). If they ever do manage to come out with correct positions on anything, it is probably more due to good luck than to anything else.

Thus, the sectarian usually substitutes Marxist philosophy with either vulgar materialism or with idealism. One of the main characteristics of idealist philosophy is that it analyses objects, movements, states and so forth through their form instead of their material basis (Trotsky explains this quite well in his 1938 essay, Their Morals and Ours). This is the reason for their inability to understand phenomena such as Proletarian Bonapartism, the Bolivarian Revolution, or the political situation in the Middle East and in Israel-Palestine in particular, alongside countless other questions. For the idealist, all that matters is that Hamas is "Islamic" and Fatah is "nationalist". The fact that at this moment in time one side is supported by the Palestinian masses, while the other is supported by imperialism, is at best secondary to these so-called "Marxists" (here again we see how the sectarian considers "the incidental thing serious and the serious thing incidental.")

But the sectarian has another problem, and this is the voluntarist component of his philosophical outlook. To him, class-consciousness is not borne out of the class struggle because the confidence of the masses in the ruling class is not rooted in social and political conditions. According to the sectarian, the masses are simply confused because of brainwashing and lies in the schools, the media etc. Thus, it is the job of the revolutionist to be but a propagandist: to spread wherever he can the truth and counter the ideology of the ruling class forced upon the masses. But this is only half the story at best.

Marxists do recognize the decisive role of the schools and media in fostering illusions in the ruling class. But we also recognize that belief in these myths, especially stubborn belief of the kind prevalent today in Israel and in most of the world, is sustained not by mere propaganda but by the relationship of forces between the ruling class and the workers.

When there is no mass struggle, the dominant ideas in society are the ideas of the ruling class, as stated by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. But when the masses struggle, whether in reformist parties or trade unions under an opportunist leadership, or in an anti-imperialist struggle under a nationalist or Islamic leadership, they become more conscious of their class interests as a result of the experience they gain in this struggle. They learn not from books but from life itself.

Those who stand together with the masses in the struggle and support them have the credibility needed to present their criticism of the leadership. Those who stand aside and refuse to support the masses will never be taken seriously. Nor should they be. This, as we have already mentioned, is merely the ultimate fate of sectarianism.

Perspectives for Israel-Palestine

It should now be clear to everyone that Israeli imperialism is in a state of deadly crisis. Defeated twice in Lebanon (in 2000 and in 2006) and twice in Gaza (once in an IDF assault and now indirectly in the civil war), it has reached a military and social low point. But this hardly means that the Israeli imperialists will not attempt to start another war. Indeed, the logic of the entire situation is constantly pushing them in this direction.

The mentality of the masses in Israel is based, probably more than in any other place in the world, on fear. The reason for the chauvinist mentality prevalent in Israel is that most people believe that Zionism is the only thing that stands between them and destruction (the tone of the Arab leaders and their attitude towards the question of an Israeli people hardly helps in this matter). Therefore, every defeat of the Israeli war machine sends shockwaves throughout Israeli society. The Zionists understand that with every setback, power slips more and more from between their hands.

After the recent war, Israeli Prime Minister (by inertia alone) Ehud Olmert and Syrian President (by repression alone) Bashar al-Assad were sending each other signals that they were willing to try and reach some sort of peace treaty. One can say, with a certain degree of confidence, that these may have been honest words. However, not only will bourgeois peace not solve any of the fundamental problems of capitalism in our time, it is also impossible for the imperialists to achieve any long-lasting peace. In order for al-Assad to sign a peace treaty with Israel, he would have to get something in return. But just like the reformists, and just like the Palestinian nationalists, al-Assad too has a problem, and that problem is, again, that imperialism has nothing to give him. Olmert cannot and does not want to give up the Golan Heights, Syria's chief demand from Israel. Not being able to arrive at some rotten peace, the only alternative is an unstable equilibrium tending towards war.

The Israeli ruling class needs to provoke wars in order to divert the attention of the workers and the youth away from its own bankrupt policies. The next one will not necessarily be against Syria. It could begin as a bombing campaign against Iran's nuclear instalments or as a new offensive against the Palestinians. But this is immaterial. In the present situation in the Middle East, all major players - Israel, Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and Hizbollah - face the prospect of war. In the case of a war of aggression on the part of Israel, the IDF, not able in the recent past to defeat even one of these enemies, certainly would not be able to withstand all of them or even some of them at the same time. Should Israel face possible defeat, imperialism, in particular US imperialism, would step in and impose a cease-fire as it cannot tolerate that any of Israel's territories should be occupied. With Israel emerging weakened by any military conflict the floodgates of the class struggle would open up throughout the entire Middle East, Israel itself included.

Meanwhile, in Palestine, the inability of Hamas to advance the liberation struggle will become more and more evident. Just as we saw in Lebanon after last year's war, the masses in Gaza after the defeat of Fatah - seen as agents of imperialism - will demand jobs, bread and higher wages. In Gaza the unemployment rate is just over 60%. The reactionary Hamas will not be able to give the masses anything. After any military setback of Israeli we would see the national liberation struggle grow, but this would expose Hamas and reveal all its limitations, and would serve as a lesson for the Palestinian workers. They will eventually come to realise that the only way to liberate the Palestinian masses from imperialism is through the class struggle. The present state of affairs in Israel exposes more and more the fact that Israeli and Palestinian workers have a clear common goal - the social revolution.

The way in which events will unfold in the West Bank will also have a big influence on the situation in the region. The Israeli and Palestinian Stalinists now claim that Hamas' victory serves Israel, since it allows it to divide the Palestinian people. These philistines forget that it is the Israeli occupation that divides the Palestinians and that the domination of Mahmoud Abbas and his clique has already brought nothing but misery to them.

The government of Salam Fayyad, whose centrist party, the Third Way, received less than 2.5% of the popular vote in the recent elections, has been imposed upon the people of the West Bank through an emergency law used by the President in order to sack the Hamas government. However, this law only allows for the elected government to be sacked for 30 days, after which a 2/3 majority in parliament is required in order to extend it another 30 days. In other words, this will solve nothing for imperialism in the long run.

Also, if one thinks that the Israeli ruling class is wise enough to manage its interests efficiently for more than two seconds, one need only to observe events in the West Bank following Hamas' victory in Gaza. It would have been in the interests of the Israeli ruling class to starve Gaza and give certain concessions to the people of the West Bank, in order to show Palestinians that life under the Occupation is somehow better than under Hamas. Instead, shortly after the civil war in Gaza, Israel attacked both Gaza and the West Bank, proving again to the Palestinian people that with Israel, it's a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't."

But the most significant thing about the Palestinian response to this recent aggression is that it has seen the involvement of both Hamas and some factions of Fatah. This shows us that within Fatah too there are elements that oppose Abbas' policies but at the same time do not see Hamas as an alternative. It also suggests that in the coming period, we could see Fatah splitting along class lines, which in turn could seriously accelerate the process of the creation of a genuine working class party in Palestine.

As we have written many times before, the fate of the Israeli people and of the Palestinian people is closely tied together. Reaction in Israel begets reaction in Palestine, but on the other hand, revolutionary developments in one country aid such developments in the others. Therefore all revolutionary left-wing forces must find ways to intervene in the struggles of the working class, the poor, and the students, and to offer an internationalist and socialist way forward to the masses. Only in this way can we finally escape the cycle of bloodshed and free both the Israeli and the Palestinian masses from the yoke of the Zionist ruling class, which while brutally oppressing the Palestinians also wages war against its "own" people.

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