Israel: Mass demonstration organized by the Zionist left supports withdrawal from Gaza

More than 150,000 people took part in a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv on May 15, that called on the government to pull out of Gaza and start peace talks. Ironically Sharon, who failed to get his plan accepted by his own party, the Likud, has found support among the Zionist left. Yossi Schwartz in Jerusalem explains this apparent contradiction.

The situation in Israel is an ironic one. The majority of the members of the Likud rejected Sharon’s plan for “withdrawal” from Gaza, but he has found massive support for his plan among what would normally be his opponents, the Zionist left.

More than 150,000 people took part last night (May 15th) in a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, that called on the government to pull out of Gaza and start peace talks. As could be expected, the death of 13 soldiers in Gaza, during the latest massive state terror operation against the people of Gaza, that met with fierce resistance on the part of the Palestinian population, drove the Israeli masses to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

The rally, organized by the umbrella organization of all the Zionist left-wing movements, brought out onto the streets a much larger number of people than the Likud's 60,000 members who had rejected Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Apart from the posters of the Peace Now movement, the Geneva Initiative and the Labour Party, there was even one poster saying, "Arik, the nation is with you." [Arik being Sharon].

Clearly the demonstrators went out to demonstrate in support of the prime minister and his plan. But there was more to it than that: although they were showing support fro Sharon’s plan, i.e. withdrawal, they were demonstrating against his party and most of the ministers in his government.

We say that the situation is ironic because many of the protesters out yesterday were the same people who 22 years ago, during the famous rally of the 400,000 after the Sabra and Chatila massacre called the then defence minister Ariel Sharon a mass murderer. Now they have come out for him, as they want to see Israel withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

What all this demonstrates is the extent to which the Israeli people over the last 22 years have been pushed into the hands of reaction. Now in their despair they are coming out in support of Sharon as their saviour from the far right! They came out because they do not want to lose more of their children or brothers or their own lives to protect the settlers.

They came out in support of Sharon because they do not see any alternative. They have been taught that there is no partner [on the Palestinian side] to make peace with, but now in spite of this they do not want to continue the occupation of Gaza.

How could it be otherwise when we remember that the Zionist left and even the Communist Party told the Israeli masses back in 1993 that the Oslo Accord would bring peace. In reality it brought more oppression for the Palestinians who finally rebelled in September 2000, when the present Intifada erupted. However for the ordinary Israeli people who believed that finally peace was coming, the rebellion came as a shock. On this basis their mistrust was directed against the Palestinians and they moved to the right, believing the ugly propaganda of the right who told them: “As we told you, you cannot trust the Arabs to make peace. The Arabs just want to kill you. Only we of the right tell you the truth.”

The speakers at the rally made it very clear that the intention of the Zionist left is not to bring down the government of the arch-criminal Sharon but to join his new government. In other words, although they support the idea of withdrawal from Gaza, they wish to continue the occupation of the West Bank and the de facto creation of Bantustans for the Palestinian population.

Shimon Peres, the leader of the Labour Party, Yossi Beilin, the man behind the Geneva plan and Tzaly Reshef, one of the main leaders of “Peace Now”, were accompanied by Amir Peretz, the head of the Histadrut, and Ami Ayalon, the former head of security. Mixed in with the speeches of the politicians, were statements of an Arab female student, a young man about to enlist in the army and a young resident of Sderot, a poor city in the South.

"This is not a left-wing rally, this is a rally of the majority," said Peres to applause. "There are four times more people here than all the voters of the radical right." Amir Peretz ‑ who has done his best to hold back the class struggle in Israel ‑ was also received warmly. "We don't believe merely in disengagement but wish to add the values of equality and social justice," he said, thus trying to put a “left face” forward. It would not come to us as a great surprise if in the next government Peres is the Minister of Foreign Affairs whose job it would be to spread lies to cover Sharon’s crimes, while Peretz is given the task of heading the Minister of Labour.

On the fringes of the crowd were the refuseniks, (those who refuse to serve in the army). Their banner explained that they refuse to serve in the army because of their support for the Israeli state. There was also the women's movement calling for the withdrawal from Gaza. The organisers of the rally clearly did not want either of these two movements to be at the centre of the rally.

Those to the left of the Zionist left were divided into two broad camps. The sectarian left did not intervene at all in the demonstration, as all they could see were the intentions of the organizers who were out to use the movement in order to enter a new government with Sharon. As always the sects turn their back on the masses if these do not behave according to their own preconceived ideals of how the masses should behave. Instead of helping the masses to understand how to move forward they simply leave the masses in the hands of the Zionist left.

On the other hand there was the Communist Youth who, to their credit, did intervene in the demonstration. Unfortunately they came with their line of two capitalist states, but this time they called it… a “socialist peace”! They do not seem to see the contradiction in what they are saying. Two genuinely independent states cannot exist side by side on a capitalist basis. The only kind of capitalist Palestinian state that the Zionists would accept would be a truncated, weak authority, totally dominated by Israel, economically and militarily.

The irony of the situation, however, goes even beyond the borders of Israel proper (i.e. the pre 1967 borders). It is not only the “opposition” in Israel that has organised support for Sharon. The “misleaders” of the Palestinians are adding their support, for they are afraid that the latest round of attacks may be pushing the people in Gaza too far with the possible result of a massive uprising in Gaza. Palestinian officials stated on Sunday that they are ready for a cease-fire with Israel as a first step toward reviving the stalled Road Map peace plan.

Sha'ath said he made the cease-fire proposal during a meeting Saturday in Jordan with United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. In fact Powell’s visit reflects the fear of the US that in Gaza Israel may be entering the same trap that the US has created for itself in Iraq. "We told Powell that... we are ready for such a cease-fire if the United States is able to bring an Israeli commitment to such an agreement," he said. On Sunday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Palestinians must refrain from reacting to Israeli raids so as not to give Israel an excuse for further attacks, (according to Israel Radio) and also called for a cease-fire, saying it could lead to a renewal of peace talks. In addition, Qureia said the Palestinians would fulfil all their commitments if Israel were to completely withdraw.

In the meantime, while the Israeli people are being told by the Zionist left to trust Sharon, and the Palestinians are being told to trust Bush, in the wake of a week of fighting in Gaza that left 13 IDF soldiers dead, the Israeli government vowed on Sunday to escalate its military activities in the Strip, with Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz telling the weekly cabinet meeting that the army would work to "create a new reality" along the Gaza-Egypt border. The Israeli army is moving to destroy many more houses in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. As these lines are being written hundreds of Palestinians, close to the Philadelphi Route, have begun leaving their houses (Sunday, May 16) fearing that their homes would be destroyed by Israel Defence Forces, following a High Court of Justice decision rejecting a petition on behalf of 13 Rafah residents requesting a ban on further IDF demolition of homes.

The Israeli occupying army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon, told the cabinet Sunday that the army was planning to destroy hundreds more Palestinian houses. "Hundreds of Palestinian houses along the Israel-Egypt border have been targeted for demolition," he said.

The three-member High Court panel said that the IDF was entitled to carry out such demolitions and as always it added the rationale for such acts of barbarism: security reasons "according to operational needs" or if the military determined that soldiers' lives were in danger. Over the weekend, the army carried out its plan and conducted a mass demolition of buildings in the Rafah refugee camp, destroying as many as 88 homes and leaving more than 1,000 people homeless, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reported on Saturday. Piling on the pressure even more, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the cabinet on Sunday that Israel has asked Egypt for assistance in halting weapons smuggling by Palestinian militants across the border into Gaza. He also said he had asked the United States for help.

As we have written over and over again, nothing good will come out of Sharon’s plans. His plans are not a genuine withdrawal. His proposals for Gaza were part of an overall plan which involved breaking up the West Bank and annexing more of its territory. This, in no way could satisfy the Palestinian people. Neither can the plans of the Zionist left, based on their illusions in two capitalist states, provide any lasting solution. The Palestinian “bourgeois” leaders also contribute to the confusion with their proposals.

Saturday’s demonstration shows that a significant section of the Israeli population want an end to the settlements. They see the settlers as right-wing fanatics. They see the dead-end they have entered. For now they are placing their hopes in Sharon’s “plan”. This will not work, especially after his own party, the Likud, has rejected it. Instead of gradual withdrawal we have intensified attacks!

Although, there is a progressive content in this desire for peace on the part of a section of the4 Israeli population, this peace will not come on the basis of a capitalist Israel. So long as Israel is dominated by the capitalists, with their imperialist agenda, there can be no real peace. Those people demonstrating in support of withdrawal from Gaza should understand that they cannot achieve lasting peace by having illusions in Sharon. He has butchered Palestinians throughout a long career, both military and political. What is needed is an independent voice and organisation of the working class, and the understanding that no people can be really free so long as it oppresses another people.

The only solution to the national question in Israel/Palestine, like with any other serious unresolved democratic tasks in this period, can only be achieved by going beyond the capitalist system, both in Israel proper and in the Occupied Territories. That is why it is only through the class struggle that a solution can be found. The workers in Israel must build their own alternative to the Zionist capitalists that rule the country, and the Palestinian masses need to find an alternative to their present leaders. An essential part of all this involves the united working class taking power, expropriating the capitalists and using the resources of the region to the benefit of all working people. Outside of this perspective there is no solution. We will see endless conflict, peace talks followed my more breakdowns and more violence. This is because the Israeli capitalist class cannot give the Palestinians what they want, which is a place to call a homeland, with decent jobs, housing, clean water, schools, etc. That can only be achieved within a socialist Palestine and that can only really come into existence as part of the struggle for socialism in Israel. What we are talking about is therefore a common struggle of workers, Palestinian and Israeli, against the common enemy, the capitalists in Israel and in the Arab countries.

May 16, 2004