Report from Israel: "Argentina in the Middle East"

A. Kramer reports from Israel on the present mood that is developing there amidst the economic crisis and the barbarity of Sharon's policies.

"Argentine is here!" - today that is the most popular slogan among Israelis workers, who are increasingly faced with the threat of unemployment. The Israeli economy is fast sinking into total collapse. Prices are going up, while the Israeli Shekel goes down. The only thing that is stable is high pay awards to the bosses and bureaucrats. At the end of December and the beginning of January thousands of people went to the streets to protest against the government's policy of cuts in social spending in Israel's 2002 budget.

The struggle is continuing even today. For more then two months Israeli invalids are staging protests outside government buildings in Jerusalem. All Israeli society was shocked by their poverty and the terribly conditions of they lives. All, that is, except the finance minister and prime minister. Neither of them is ready take any steps to improve the conditions of those unfortunate people.

In the south of Israel, in the small town of Kiriat-Gat several hundred workers of the "Bagir" textile factory have barricaded themselves inside the factory. In this way, they are expressing their protest about the closure of the factory. The "Bagir" administration had decided to transfer production to Egypt and Portugal, as result of high labour costs in Israel. Now the workers are occupying the factory and some of them want to declare "Bagir" the property of the workers.

In this situation Sharon and his advisers want to divert the public's attention to the conflict with the Palestinians. This trick was accomplished by means of an old Sharon trick - a new provocation. He is continuing his policy of assassinating Palestinians activists, which in turn provokes new terrorist acts against Israelis.

It's clear now - if it was not before - that Sharon has a clearly defined plan to finish off what little is left of Palestinian "autonomy". Israeli's minister Dani Nave was recently asked by a reporter - "But maybe after Arafat the situation in the Palestinian territories may turn into a war?" To which the minister replied - "Nothing can be worse than Arafat".

The Israeli authorities do not plan simply to overthrow the Arafat administration by force of arms and declare the peace process terminated. No. The Sharon plan involves the total destruction of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure. The Israeli military is systematically bombing targets like police stations, Television and Radio stations, and all administrative buildings. Arafat himself is now blockaded inside his office in Ramalla by Israeli's tanks.

These actions go hand in hand with a tremendous propaganda assault from the Israeli side. Israel's newspapers are constantly full be information to the effect that Arafat is ready to resign, that Arafat is preparing to run away, and also that Arafat is preparing to die as "Shachid" (martyr): The massage for Arafat is clear - either you leave by yourself or we will help you on your way to Paradise!

But Arafat does not seem very interested in going to Paradise. He does not want to lose power - or to loosen his grip on the Palestinian Autonomy. He continues to play his old game. He sends massages to the Europeans asking them save him from the Israelis. He calls on the Palestinian people to defend "Autonomy", and he keeps People's Front activists in prison to satisfy Israel: He is even making new arrests - while he himself is little more than a prisoner of the Israelis. In one week he arrested activists of the People's Liberation Front, suspected of killing the Israeli tourist minister Rachavam Zeezi - a well-known fascist.

It is clear that Sharon's plans could never have been realised without American support. Up till now the White House has not criticised any action by the Israeli army. Former Israel Prime Minister Barak, after meting with American officials, said: "Arafat looks like a terrorist, so he is a terrorist". Perhaps Barak got the line directly from "big brother" on how to deal with "terrorists".

But all the plans of the Israelis and Americans leave out one little thing - the Palestinians people themselves. Today hundreds of ordinary Palestinians have been mobilised to fight against the Israeli invaders. All the Palestinian military groups have united to resist the Israeli army. They call upon Arafat give weapons to the people and release the prisoners - or get out. It looks as if the new Palestinian struggle will not be just against Israelis but also against the local American and capitalist puppet, Arafat.

The situation in the Palestinian territories is now a nightmare. In the last two weeks the Israeli Army in the occupied territories was the target of serious ambushes on several occasions. First it was attacked at the check point near Ramala, where the Palestinians killed several Israeli soldiers, and others were disarmed. Four days later the Israeli's best tank - the Merkava Mc III - was bombed in the Gaza Strip. Three crew members were killed in this attack. In the last attack two Palestinian partisans killed six Israeli soldiers at another check point near Ramala. It was not just a question of the human losses, but also a real humiliation for Israel. In Israeli right-wing mythology it is said that one Israeli can easy kill ten Arabs. But now this does not look so convincing. After this attack Sharon sad that he not interested in war!

The new developments on the battlefield have given a push to the Israeli pacifist, movement which has been stagnating for the last year. On the 9th of February about 10,000 men and women took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest against the occupation. Many demonstrates demanded that Sharon be sent to the Hague to stand trial as a war criminal. There were many red flags too. It is interesting that some moderate pacifist, like the "Shalom Achshav" movement, ignored this action, characterising it as too "radical".

In this atmosphere, a group of reserve solders and officers sent letter to prime-minister Sharon in which they expressed their refusal to serve in the occupied territories. In this letter they pointed out that there are no connection between the occupation of Palestine and Israel's security problem, and that moreover this occupation is leading to the de-humanisation of Israeli army and society. To date more then 250 people have adhered to this latter.

It is a striking fact that many of these officers are not pacifist and not even left. They said in the letter that for many years they loyally served the state. But as military people they understand that the Israeli forces in the occupied territories find themselves in the same situation as they found in South Lebanon in the 1980-90s. That is to say, they are caught up in a prolonged guerrilla war which they cannot ultimately win.

The coming together of the economic, political and military crisis in Israel is producing a very unstable position. The fact that the crisis is now being expressed in the armed forces even at the highest level must provoke deep alarm in the ruling class and the Sharon administration. The beginning of mass demonstrations against the war is a sign that the tide is at last beginning to turn.