Gaza: a turning point in Israel's post-1967 history

The Israeli military claim the 40 Palestinians killed since they re-invaded the Gaza Strip were all “militants”. In reality many civilians have been killed. The Israeli government is hell-bent on terrorising the Palestinian people into submission. It is achieving the opposite effect to that desired and opening up the beginnings of a major crisis for the Israeli ruling class.

Last year many Israelis supported Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza strip. For them this was seen as a first step leading to peace based on a mini dependent Palestinian state under the control of Abu Mazen's group backed by US imperialism. They were told you are "realists, not dreamers, unlike the Marxists who argue that within the imperialist system there is no solution to the national question". However their "realism" is one thing, reality is a completely different story.

June 2006 was the worst month for the Palestinians in Gaza. The removal of the Jewish settlers ten months earlier had freed the hands of the Israeli generals who could now shoot freely without any risk to the lives of Jewish settlers. According to the Gaza-Ma'an newspaper the Palestinian Minister of Health, Dr. Bassem Naim said that the number of Palestinian deaths had tripled in June 2006 compared to June 2005.

The rate of injuries reached 120% of the toll for the same month last year.

55 Palestinians were killed, including 30 assassinations, 7 women and 4 Ministry of Health employees. The number of Palestinians injured during June were 159 in the Gaza Strip and 145 in the West Bank, 46 of the injured being women and 9 employees of the Ministry of Health.

The Palestinian minister condemned the Israeli siege and closure of the crossings which are expected to cause a humanitarian crisis. Among the Israeli violations, he mentioned the targeting of six Palestinian families in their homes, cars or during trips to the beach. He also referred to incidents of deliberate humiliation of medical staff and ambulance drivers while they were carrying out their duties transporting the injured and the sick.

As everyone knows, the present crisis started on Sunday, June 25, when Palestinian armed groups launched a guerrilla attack on an army tank posted on the Israel-Gaza border. They killed two soldiers and took Corporal Shalit as a POW. As we have already reported in previous articles, this happened in spite of the fact that the army had been informed by the Shin Beth, the Israeli security services, that such an action was about to take place. This "wilful blindness" more than likely indicates that the generals were looking for an excuse to attack Gaza and thus scarified the tank team. The solders were ordered not to return fire but to try to escape. The two solders were killed and Shalit was captured during this "escape".

One thing however must be said about the generals: they most likely did not plan that Shalit should be captured. From their cold-blooded class point of view it would have been better if all three soldiers had been killed in the attack. This would have given them the excuse to attack the Palestinians without having to deal with the awkward question of whether to negotiate to get the soldier released. In any case they then proceeded to escalate the whole situation

The day after the attack on the tank three Palestinian groups, including the Popular Resistance Committees, the armed wing of the ruling Hamas movement and the Army of Islam, claimed responsibility for the guerrilla action.

The groups demanded that Israel free detained women and minors in exchange for information about Shalit. Instead of negotiation, the Israeli government announced that it does not negotiate with terrorists and the early morning of Tuesday Israeli aircraft destroyed key bridges in the Gaza Strip and knocked out the territory's sole power station, cutting off electricity to many of the 1.4 million residents.

The next day Wednesday, June 28, Israeli ground forces entered southern Gaza. At the same time, Israeli aircraft flew over Syria, which is home to several Hamas leaders in exile expelled by the former Israeli Prime Minister Rabin. This was a clear threat to Syria, indicating to what degree the whole situation could escalate!

On June 29, the Israeli forces kidnapped dozens of Hamas members, including a third of the Palestinian cabinet and a large number of lawmakers. The next day, June 30, Israeli planes attacked Gaza including the building of the Ministry of the Interior. On the same day Israel revoked the residency rights of a Hamas minister and three MPs in annexed Jerusalem.

The actions of the Israeli government have led many international observers to accuse Israel of carrying out terror attacks. But of course the Israeli authorities are denying any similarity between these actions and those of the individual terrorist actions of Palestinians groups. We can agree with them on this one: these actions are not individual terrorist acts they are a systematic, massive campaign of state terrorism carried out by the fourth strongest army in the world against mainly unarmed civilians; they are commonly known as war crimes!

By July 8, the Israeli generals were claiming the army had killed "40 armed militants" in their incursion into Gaza. But when one takes a closer look the picture is rather different. It shows that many of those who have been killed and injured in the Israeli attacks on Gaza were civilians. Israel has used tanks, heavily armed troops, airplanes, and gunboats against a lightly armed resistance. Among the deadliest attacks on Thursday, was an Israeli air raid near the town of Bait Lahya in northern Gaza which killed six Palestinian civilians according to witnesses and medical staff on the ground.

Bait Lahya was also the scene of the heaviest ground fighting: fighters from various factions fired anti-tank rockets from narrow alleyways in running battles with the Israeli troops who were backed up by tanks and helicopters. "Israeli tanks are outside our house. Children are screaming and the house is shaking. We are caught in the crossfire," one woman told a local radio station.

According to one report from Ramallah, published in the Cuban journal Granma (July 7):

"Israeli supersonic hunters today bombarded residential areas in the north of the Gaza Strip, a few hours after the announcement that this Thursday was the bloodiest to date in the invasion of this area.

"The magnitude of the number of civilian victims could be measured by hospitals issuing a call to the population to donate blood, already scant due to the number of people hit by rocket shrapnel.

"No less than 112 people have been admitted to hospitals, mostly suffering from serious injuries, according to the same sources, while the funerals of 24 victims of indiscriminate firing by Israel troops passed by in the streets.

"Another 27 individuals, in their majority children, have been wounded, according to incomplete counts."

One figure alone eloquently highlights to what degree this is a war against the ordinary people of Palestine: more than 800 Palestinian children have been killed since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000!

Significant changes in tactics of Palestinian resistance

The Israeli government of course blames Hamas, the elected government, for its own acts of barbarism; however, with the capture of Shalit they have shown themselves to be much wiser than the Israeli government. In a leaflet aimed at the ordinary Israeli people they have called on them to put pressure on the government to save Shalit's life by stopping the fighting and exchanging prisoners.

This is a very significant development because for the first time the Palestinian resistance recognizes that there is a difference between the ordinary people of Israel and the ruling circles.

"Any nation, concerned about the welfare of its citizens, would do the same" says Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel. When Olmert says "any nation" would do the same, he must have Bush in mind and the war in Iraq, where the US military destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq in the first days of the war, killing many many civilians. The destruction of bridges and the two electricity power stations serving 1.4 million people has left even the hospitals without electricity and water.

According to Israeli state propaganda the line is more or less the following: "There is a huge difference between us and them... We are human with a high code of ethics and keep to the law while the Palestinians act like animals hiding in populated places." We must admit that in this case there is a real difference. The Palestinian commando unit captured a soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit engaged in a war. The Israeli government, on the other hand, has kidnapped dozens of officials of the ruling Hamas group, including Cabinet ministers and lawmakers and they have killed civilians in Gaza.

The Israeli rulers, just like their counterparts in the US and Britain, are simply using massive state terror under the false claim that they are fighting terrorism in occupied Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. These are their kinds of morals.

Prime Minster of Israel ‑ and his poodle Amir Peretz ‑ has repeatedly stated that "Israel will never exchange an Israeli soldier for Palestinian prisoners as this would encourage the terrorists to capture more Israelis."

However, most Israelis are aware of the fact that this has not always been the case. They remember the case of Elhanan Tennebaum a high-ranking officer (a reserve colonel), a drug dealer and a friend of Ariel Sharon, who was captured in Lebanon. On Thursday, January 29, 2004, 461 so called "ticking bomb" Palestinians were freed. In addition, Israel returned the bodies of 59 Lebanese and supplied information on the fate of 24 missing others.

The reason for the Israeli government to refuse to negotiate to save the life of Shalit has nothing to do with the protection of Israeli people. It has every thing to do with its plan to topple the Hamas government and punish the Palestinians for having electing Hamas instead of Israel's choice, the corrupted pro-US group of Abu Mazen, the President, who has shown time and again his readiness to collaborate with the rulers of Israel against his own people.

Three years ago Prime Minister Sharon was offering Abu Mazen the release of Palestinian prisoners. According to CBS/AP (July 6, 2003:

"Israel took a step toward meeting a key Palestinian demand by agreeing Sunday to release some of the 5,000 prisoners it holds, but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the limited move will be conditioned on the Palestinians dismantling militant groups.

"The release aims to strengthen the rule of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who has vowed to carry out the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

"A top Palestinian official, however, expressed disappointment at the limited release. Radical groups, whose members are not slated for release, immediately condemned it.

"The United States and Israel are strongly backing Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, as an alternative to Yasser Arafat and as a Palestinian leader they believe can crack down on radical groups."

Now instead of staying with the Palestinian people under attack in Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has cowardly deserted them and returned to his safe place in Ramallah following a two-week stay in Gaza. On Friday, Abbas held a press conference in Gaza and called on all Palestinian groups to release the abducted Israeli soldier and cease the Qassam rocket attacks. This reveals the class nature of these people that see the imperialists as their friends and savers hoping for a reward for serving them. So much for the reformists and left sects who tell us that the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations can lead a democratic revolution at the head of the national liberation movement!

The opposite effect

The Israeli government's state terror in Gaza has had the opposite effect to what was expected. It had hoped its actions would demoralise the Palestinian people and bring them to their knees and at the same time push the Israeli population into a nationalist hysteria, but the opposite is happening.

For almost a week the father of the captured soldier, Noam Shalit, was treated as a hero and praised by the government. Many officials visited him while it was all televised. However, on Monday the same father said that it was "delusional that the state of Israel would attempt to re-establish its deterrence at the expense of his son."

Noam Shalit was responding to comments made by Minister Meir Sheetrit who said Israel must restore its level of deterrence. The father added that he is willing to meet any time with the militants who hold his son. In the back of his mind, like many other people, must be the faith of Ron Arad.

Lieutenant Colonel Arad was an F-4 Phantom navigator on a mission to attack PLO targets near Sidon, in Lebanon, on October 16, 1986. Apparently a bomb that they had dropped exploded in the air causing so much damage to the aircraft that Arad and the pilot had to eject. The pilot was rescued a few hours later, but Arad was captured by the Lebanese Shiite militia Amal.

In 1987, letters from Arad were received. The Israeli government negotiated for his release, but the talks broke down in 1988. Dirani, the former Amal security chief who allegedly had captured the IAF navigator, and Obeid, a political figure of Hezbollah, were kidnapped by Israel to be used as bargaining chips to obtain Arad's release ‑ the same than as now as we can see. In the first two years of his captivity there were signs that Arad was alive. Since 1988, nothing more has been known about his fate.

According to Mednews (Middle East Defense News): "On December 18, 1999 NBC television reported that Israel had negotiated a secret deal to buy Iranian oil, as part of an effort to woo Tehran into releasing Ron Arad. The leak, which originated in Washington, effectively brought the Israeli contacts with Iran to a halt. Mednews has learned that the day before the leak, Israeli officials briefed the State Department on the oil deal with Iran ‘to play it safe'. Their concern was to avoid the type of accusations that were levelled at the Israeli government at the start of the Iran-contra affair. This leak prevented Arad's release, which had been negotiated in detail with Iranian officials." On January 24, 1995 the leader of Hezbollah, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, publicly stated that Hezbollah believed Arad to be dead and his remains lost.

Divisions opening up in Israeli government

Noam Shalit is not the only Israeli who wants a swap of prisoners. According to public opinions polls, 60 % of the Israeli citizens want to put an end to the incursion, and negotiate with Hamas for the release of Shalit for Palestinians prisoners. The problem is that in a bourgeois democracy once you have elected the crooks who will cheat you for the next few years you are stuck with them unless, of course, massive actions of the workers at the head of the nation force them to resign.

For the first time, due to these pressures from below, cracks have appeared in the ruling government. Avi Dichter, not long ago the head of the security services and now Israel's Minister of Public Security, has come out with the statement that once the Israeli soldier is released and militants stop rocket attacks from Gaza, "then, in a goodwill gesture, Israel, as it has in the past, knows how to free prisoners." But during the weekend, Olmert commented on this statement, reiterating his opposition to the freeing of Palestinian prisoners in return for the release of Shalit.

In the light of the heavy resistance that the Israeli military have encountered in northern Gaza Strip even the Israeli generals have come to realise that they have failed. On Saturday morning Israeli forces pulled back from northern Gaza, three days after it had invaded the area. As the troops were leaving, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called for a general cease-fire. According to Egyptian mediation sources, in a statement published on behalf of Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas-led government said, "in order to extricate ourselves from the current crisis, all sides must restore calm and mutually end all military operations... The proposal may have been made in coordination with Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader in Damascus."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert quashed any hopes some may have had of an end to the present conflict and immediately rejected the call for a cease-fire, demanding first the release of the abducted Corporal as a condition for any cease-fire agreement with the Palestinians.

While the attacks on Northern Gaza continue from the air and sea, the generals have simply moved their troops to attack Gaza in the southern Gaza Strip, where a mother and two children died in the neighbourhood of Sajaiyeh, near the Karni border. The Israeli army has denied any responsibility for the fatalities, but has confirmed that it launched an air strike in the area, claiming it was aiming at a group of armed militants. If you believe in Cinderella then you can believe this story as well!

Military operations failing

At the start of the invasion the generals were claiming they would stop the Qassam rockets from hitting in southern Israel. In reality they cannot stop them. At least 15 Qassam rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Friday. Most of the rockets landed in the Sderot area, one landed south of Ashkelon, and one landed half a kilometre from the town of Netivot, also in the western Negev. The range of the rocket that landed near Netivot appears to be more than 10 kilometres. This was the first incidence of Qassam fire in the Netivot area. In other words the militants have slightly upgraded this primitive weapon.

Now the generals have had to admit they cannot end the Qassam attacks by military operations that kill many civilians. Israeli Chief-of-Staff speaking to Haaretz said, "The Gaza operation doesn't mean there won't be Qassam fire if we leave tomorrow or the day after... But it does mean that terror organizations will pay a high price for every Qassam fired." What the Israeli generals are saying by this is that at the moment ‑ until they change once again their story ‑ that the reason for the incursion is not to stop the Qassams from being fired on south Israel but that the army will continue to shoot until the release of Shalit which could mean for many many days.

The Israeli government's aggression is upsetting the Bush administration somewhat because it fears the reaction of the Arab masses to open US support for Olmert's government. This is evident from the fact that US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld has cancelled a planned trip to Israel scheduled for next week. Israeli government sources say the cancellation reflects Rumsfeld's wish to distance himself from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Even Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, who has been acting as Bush's puppet for many years, was forced to issue a statement that was not very pleasing for the rulers of Israel: "I am extremely concerned about the dangerous situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. I am appealing for urgent action to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation of the civilian population... The Israeli air strikes on Gaza's only power plant have had a far-reaching impact on Gaza's hospitals, flour mills, water and sanitation systems."

The statement may help them reflect on what happened to their dear friends of the Apartheid era in South Africa. Had it not been for the reformists who saved the capitalist system, the working class in South Africa could have taken power and overthrown not only the Apartheid system but also capitalist itself and built a workers' state.

The criminal acts being carried out by the Israeli military in Gaza only serve to isolate the Israeli ruling class. What is happening in Gaza is a turning point in Israel's history since 1967 and a reflection of the growing organic crisis of world imperialism. This political crisis will open up the road to the class struggle in Israel. Already Israeli public opinion is against the Olmert government. They cannot fool the people all of the time. The social polarisation we have seen emerging on several occasions in Israel in recent years, is reappearing over this question.

For many years we Marxists have stood out against all the left sects who repeated the like parrots the idea that all the Israelis are one reactionary body. This is actually an idea that suits the ruling class of Israel. They want to fuse together the people of Israel as one, under the idea of Zionism. In reality Israel is a class society like any other, where the interests of the workers, the poor and the declining middle classes are the opposite to those of the ruing class and its servants.

We have to understand that as long as the Israeli ruling class remains in power we will not have peace between the Israeli and the Palestinian people. The only real long-lasting solution can be provided by the working class. We must say no to war of nation against nation and raise the perspective of war of class against class.


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