While most workers in Europe and the Americas were busy celebrating Christmas the Zionist bourgeoisie began a long-planned bombing campaign against Gaza that according to Ehud Barak, the war minister, is going to be an "all-out war" against Hamas.
In common with other reactionary regimes in the region, like Turkey which bombed PKK bases inside Iraq, and the Iranian regime which arrested many labour activists, Israel sees holiday periods in the west as a good opportunity for killing and subjugating workers and the oppressed in large numbers - without a big response from the international labour movement and socialists.
On December 27 the Israeli 'Defence' Forces began airstrikes against the Hamas government and Gaza's defenceless civilians using F-16 fighters, Apache helicopters and unmanned drones. In addition to killing many Hamas members, including three of its leaders, they have killed over 430 people, among them many women, children and other civilians.
The number of injured people, currently around 2,200, is a clear testament to the fact that the bombing campaign is not in any way a 'defensive' measure, nor has it anything to do with being a 'proportionate' response to the launching of Qassam rockets and mortars. The Israeli death toll of just four people, i.e., a 1:100 ratio compared with the Palestinians, clearly shows the disproportionate nature of the assault! The list of targets also makes it clear that this action is actually meant to weaken the resolve of the Palestinian people and Hamas (and maybe even to topple it). The Israelis have hit Hamas buildings, police stations, the Justice Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Legislative Assembly, the Civil Defence Building, the Islamic University and two mosques.
Gaza: the 'unoccupied' territory?
Much has been said about Israel's so-called 'withdrawal' from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The Zionists' apologists have even tried to make out that this was a step towards setting up a Palestinian state. But crucially the Israeli military has continued to control Gaza's airspace, coastal waters and borders! In addition, the preparations for this "unilateral disengagement" included the state murder of many Palestinian leaders and activists in Gaza and the bulldozing of dozens of homes near the Egyptian border.
Then the Gazans were officially said to be 'unoccupied' and not the Zionist occupier's 'problem'! That left the Israeli imperialists free to seek another arena for their military adventures in July-August 2006. But their humiliating defeat at the hands of Lebanon's Hezbollah further exacerbated their internal crisis leading them back to Gaza in the hope of a quick and easy victory against a weaker opponent.
The present airstrikes follow the 18-month Israeli blockade (with the help of Egypt) which has meant that nearly 95 per cent of Gaza's factories have been closed down. A crippled economy has inevitably produced a humanitarian disaster for the 1.5 million population: unemployment now stands at 49 per cent with 51.8 per cent of the people living below the poverty line.
The blockade was aimed at bringing the Gazans to their knees, to make them accept that they are a 'defeated people', to make them reject Hamas and pick leaders who are more acceptable to imperialism. This was what the Zionist gave the Palestinians in exchange for the six-month ceasefire!
Israel: the mighty warrior?
The crisis in Israel is nothing new. In addition to the headline grabbing corruption and misconduct cases against politicians, like Ariel Sharon (and his sons) in the 1990s, the scandals involving President Moshe Katsav in 2006 and now Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; there has been the more important economic and political malaise in Israeli society. This has made a big impact on the social cohesion of the 'Jewish homeland' and has reduced drastically its military and diplomatic weight in the region.
During the 2003-05 period Israeli unemployment was consistently above 10 per cent. It has since dropped by about 0.6 per cent a year to the current 7.6 per cent. For the youth it was over 20 per cent for 2002-04. Although the overall economic situation has improved this was mostly due to massive US economic aid during 2004-06. Even so, over 21 per cent of the population still live below the poverty line! (Officially US imperialism now provides Israel with military aid only. Starting in 2007, there will be $3 billion a year for ten years.)
On top of these there was the humiliating war against Lebanon's Hezbollah which led to a number of top military commanders and Amir Peretz (the trade unionist war minister!) losing their jobs. Olmert and the Kadima-led government were fatally weakened. The elections scheduled for 10 February 2009 are supposed to resolve the weaknesses of the coalition government. However, Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud is already ahead in the polls and the leaders of Kadima (Tzipi Livni) and Labour (Ehud Barak) are competing against each other for a bigger share of seats in the Knesset.
Following George Bush's veto against bombing Iran's nuclear facilities (because of the implications of such an attack for the US in the whole region), and not having the military capability for such an attack itself, Israel has now been forced to pick on an easier target to save face.
Yet the Zionist bourgeoisie has no clear strategy, even though some of the objectives are clear: redemption for the military and political establishment following the 2006 fiasco in Lebanon (and covering up for four years of bombastic rhetoric and deliberate leaks about long-range bombing exercises in preparation for attacking Iran); boosting Kadima and Labour at the expense of Likud; weakening Hamas and establishing new 'facts on the ground' before the next ceasefire is agreed; and improving their position before the Obama government is sworn in.
So far, however, instead of leading to national unity and strengthening of the Kadima-Labour coalition the Gaza campaign has brought differences in the cabinet to a head. Ehud Barak, the war minister and leader of the Labour party, is jockeying for position against Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister and the new leader of the Kadima party.
According to an Israeli official, interviewed by the Financial Times (3 January), "… Livni is in favour of pure dissuasion." This means bombing large numbers of Hamas targets and then warning Hamas that "if they don't stop rockets we will go back and hit them even harder."
Ehud Barak favours the "international approach." This means "… not to stop until we have some kind of internationally-backed agreement that will supply monitoring or other guarantees to considerably reduce Hamas attacks." Barak is so keen on this that earlier this week he briefed Israeli journalists on a French proposal for a ceasefire (although there are conflicting reports about exactly what he said). This was quickly denied by Olmert and Livni. The disagreements have become so bad that on Friday (2 January) Haaretz, the 'liberal' newspaper, even called for a "ceasefire at the top" of the Israeli government!
The Arab regimes and the bankruptcy of Arab nationalism
The systematic bombing of Gaza once more lays bare the total bankruptcy of Palestinian nationalism - and Arab nationalism as a whole. For the Palestinians, as well as all Arabs, the dead-end of the previous 'armed struggle' that continued until the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon in 1982, and the numerous negotiations which never question the borders imposed by the imperialist robbers and looters, has led to more and more brutality, depravation and desperation for the masses. In return, this desperation has spawned the courageous, but highly misguided, and ultimately futile, acts of the new guerrilla movements. The old policy's bankruptcy is now displayed in starker terms by the Islamic groups' suicide bombers who repeat the mistakes of the previous generation in a callous way that wastes their lives without advancing the mass struggle.
Despite all their attempts the Israelis will not manage to undermine Hamas and other Palestinian groups advocating resistance to the Zionist onslaught. The Zionists will actually boost support for them as they did with Hezbollah in 2006. This is because these movements - for now - have become the only hope of the oppressed and exploited masses.
As we have seen, so far the main political casualties have been the 'Palestinian Authority', Abu Mazen and his Fatah group; all the reactionary Arab regimes that imperialism regards as 'moderate', especially Egypt (with its direct role in the blockade of Gaza) and Saudi Arabia; and the Arab League with its empty words. These regimes and movements are now clearly seen as imperialism's tools for smashing all struggles in the region.
The 'international community'
The 'international community' - the imperialist countries and their various lackeys masquerading as the international champions of democracy - have been very 'even handed' in their condemnation of violence on both sides. However, they conveniently forget to mention that the violence of the Israeli imperialist state cannot be equated with the actions taken by the Palestinian masses or Hamas's embryonic state structures. The Security Council of the United Nations, the co-ordinating committee of the imperialist countries, held a meeting on 28 December when it issued a press statement - not even a resolution - and "expressed serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza and called for an immediate halt to all violence." It thus equated the violence of the oppressor and the oppressed!
It also "… called for all parties to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza and to take necessary measures, including opening of border crossings, to ensure the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies, including supplies of food, fuel and provision of medical treatment." So in addition to Israel the Egyptian government is also not taking any notice of this.
Of course, even when the UN adopts resolutions, like 242 following the Six-Day War in 1967, and calls for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" Israel takes no notice! (There is a long list of UN resolutions and international conventions, like Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, that Israel ignores and the 'international community' turns a blind eye to this defiance.)
The 'international community' can never seek to expose the root causes of the region's problems. These go back at least 90 years, to the Sykes-Picot agreements that dismembered the defeated Ottoman empire and divided it between British and French imperialism; splitting up the Arabs among many states and denying the Kurds a nation-state of their own. Then there was the British mandate over Palestine and the Balfour declaration. Then the 1947 UN vote rewarded the terrorism and 'ethnic cleansing' of the Zionists and sanctioned the creation of a colonial-settler state as the most reliable base for imperialism in the region (and then consistently supported all its aggression and violence to this day).
All of these agreements are the basis for today's domination and exploitation of the region's workers. However, the conduct of the imperialists during the past six years has shattered the illusions of many people in the region. The masses have seen how under the pretext of promoting democracy, US imperialism has toppled the Baathist regime in Iraq, overlooked the abuses by its friends and allies, and has provided ever more blatant support for Israel in carrying out its policies. The Bush government has even questioned and ignored election results it did not like!
Many people in the region now know that the bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries is the cause of their problems and that it therefore cannot play a part in finding a solution. Any leaders who try to build up hopes in talks, or worse still, talks about talks, with the imperialist robbers and looters will not be trusted. Even those who keep quiet about the imperialists' and Zionists' abuses have lost much of their support and authority.
The dead-end offered by Hamas
The Israelis, even with the latest artillery bombardment and troop deployment inside Gaza, will not be able to overthrow Hamas. Hamas was born of the inevitable need of the Palestinian people to resist the Zionist occupation and the denial of basic national and human rights after Fatah surrendered itself to the needs of imperialism in the region. (This is also true of Islamic Jihad and other Islamic fundamentalist groups.)
Through necessity an alternative was born. The Palestinian masses urgently needed someone to protect them from the Israeli onslaughts while the bureaucrats and corrupt officials of Fatah and the 'Palestinian Authority' were busy making deals with the imperialists and Zionists in Madrid, Oslo, Camp David, Wye River, Sharm al-Sheikh and Annapolis.
However, this alternative movement - and later leadership - was based on the same reactionary Islamic ideology that has for decades served as imperialism's best safeguard against the development of revolutionary Marxism as a material force within the masses. The ideology that US imperialism - under the Democratic government of Jimmy Carter - began financing and promoting in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet invasion! The same ideology that drowned the Iranian revolution in blood and prevented the workers from seizing power.
The CIA and Saudi-funded 'Islamic resistance' to the Stalinist invasion of Afghanistan and the 'Islamic revolutionary regime' in Iran were important bases for the development and spread of Islamic fundamentalism (in various forms) to as far away as the Philippines and Indonesia to Algeria and Morocco. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of all forms socialism and communism, this ideology had an open field to spread its sweet-tasting poison. And there was no one thirstier than the most downtrodden people among the Muslims - the Palestinian masses and the Shia of Lebanon.
The long-term effects of this ideology on the Palestinians will be devastating. The Hamas leadership is peddling the same bankrupt nationalist strategy of Fatah, but with a new Islamic veneer. Not only will it not liberate the masses, but it will end up making the same mistakes and sort of deals with the enemy. And the methods that Hamas and the other Islamic groups use to pursue the Islamically-refurbished bankrupt policies are more self-destructive and doomed than those used by Fatah (and the other PLO groups) in the 1970s.
It is important for all those who have demonstrated against the recent atrocities during the past week - throughout the world, all over Asia and the Middle East (including Israel), Europe, and both North and South America - that although we fully support the Palestinian people's rights and their resistance to imperialism and Zionism, we do not support the Hamas leadership in any shape or form. We must make a clear distinction between the masses and the leadership that has been pushed up by their wave of radicalism - and for now - rides it.
The revolutionary Marxist alternative
The only way forward for all workers and the exploited and oppressed masses of the region, be they Arab, Jewish, Kurdish, Turkish or other nationalities, is to fight a joint struggle against the imposed and artificial borders of imperialism which have separated and weakened them. The removal of these borders is bound up with the toppling of the stooges of imperialism, whether they are sheikhs, kings or 'hereditary presidents'. Smashing the imperialist yoke weighing down on the region and overthrowing capitalism are part of the same struggle. The 'road map' to true peace and the liberation of the workers and exploited masses starts with the establishment of a federation of workers' states in the region.
Any significant advance for the Palestinian masses must and will only come through the development of a regional revolutionary Marxist alternative to the failed ideologies and movements which have sought to find 'national' solutions to a problem which transcends the region's borders. An alternative that mobilises the workers and all exploited and oppressed masses for the struggle to overthrow capitalism in the Middle East.
Such a movement must not only condemn Israel's current attack on Gaza and the massive casualties it has caused; but also US imperialism for its consistent and unswerving support of the Zionists against the Palestinian masses; all other imperialist governments, the UN and the 'international community' with their complicity in these atrocities through silence, indifference, and even blaming the Palestinians; the leadership of reactionary Arab regimes, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for following the diktats of Washington; the leadership of 'radical' regimes such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria in the cynical exploitation of the Palestinian cause for advancing their own interests; the leadership of the Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas, for their bankrupt nationalist policies that will never liberate the masses; and Hamas and other Islamic groups for offer nothing other than more suffering and sacrifice in a struggle that is isolated from the class struggle of the workers and exploited and oppressed masses of the region - a struggle that is doomed to failure because of its reactionary Islamic ideology and self-destructive methods.
A regional revolutionary Marxist movement will raise international solidarity with the Palestinian masses in their struggle for justice and freedom to a higher level. We look forward to the day when the resistance of the Palestinian masses to Zionism's policies is linked with the struggles of the region's workers to overthrow capitalism and create a socialist society.
The Editorial Board of Militant
3 January 2009
- Israeli barbarism in Gaza by Dekel Avshalom (January 6, 2009)
- Stop Israel's massacre in Gaza! by Walter Leon (December 30, 2008)
- Israel: Tel Aviv municipal elections - a Pyrrhic victory for the Right by Dekel Avshalom (November 17, 2008)
- Three years after Israel’s disengagement from Gaza: critical reassessment by Dekel Avshalom (August 28, 2008)
- Hamas and Israel agree on ceasefire by Dekel Avshalom (June 19, 2008)
- Much ado about nothing: the Israeli "peace" talks with Syria by Dekel Avshalom (May 28, 2008)
- Israel turns 60 – where next for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples? by Luke Wilson (May 16, 2008)