Israeli ruling class - two weights and two measures

The Israeli government refuses to consider the option of releasing Palestinian prisoners to get an Israeli soldier freed. And yet when a few years ago a friend of Sharon was captured he was prepared to release more than 400 Palestinian prisoners. This detail highlights how even in Israel there is one rule for the ordinary citizens and another for those at the top.

Back in March 2004 the Israeli newspaper Maariv pointed out that there were ties between Ariel Sharon and the family of a certain Elhanan Tennenbaum. Tennenbaum had been kidnapped by the Hizbullah back in 2001 and kept captive for more than three years. Tennenbaum, who was a reserve army colonel, was also a self-confessed Israeli drug dealer.

To get him freed Sharon ordered the release of more than 400 Palestinian prisoners, in spite of opposition from members of his own government who held the position that to go ahead with such a deal would encourage more kidnappings. Sharon denied that he struck the deal because of his links to Tennenbaum’s family, but to this day not many people in Israel believe that. Maariv pointed out back in 2004 that in the 1970s Tennenbaum's father-in-law, a certain Shimon Cohen, was the manager of Sharon’s ranch and also had a share in a company run by Sharon's wife.

Rabin faced a similar situation in 1994 when a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Nachson Waxman was kidnapped. Rabin considered negotiating but then rejected the idea and the young soldier was killed with the three Palestinians that were keeping him captive when the house he was being held in was stormed by an Israeli commando group.

As we see, the Israeli ruling class has two weights and two measures when dealing with such cases. When it is one of their own they are prepared to make any concession necessary, when it is just an ordinary soldier they come out with the hard line position that concessions only encourage more attacks.

The case of Tennenbaum’s release clearly shows that if the Israeli government had wanted to they could have avoided sending the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) into the Gaza Strip over the past few weeks. They could have negotiated and then released a number of Palestinian prisoners. No Palestinians would have been killed, no power stations would have been bombed, no houses, roads and bridges would have been destroyed, and the young Gilad Shalit would be free. Instead they seem to prefer risking that Gilad ends up like his predecessor Nachson Waxman.

On Thursday, Gilad’s father publicly called on the government to free Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his son. Originally the kidnappers were demanding the release of 1500 prisoners, now they have reduced that to calling for the release of 100 female prisoners and 30 prisoners who have already served more than 20 years in prison. This would be far fewer than Sharon released to help his friend!

Last week Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel gave a speech in which he reiterated his hard-line position: "We will not conduct negotiations with terrorist elements, we will not allow anyone to believe that kidnapping is a means to bring Israel to its knees. If we do that today, many citizens will become targets for such kidnappings, if it turns out that they bring results." The hypocrisy of the Israeli Prime Minister has no limits. Three years ago he voted in favour of the Tennenbaum deal.

What all this clearly shows is that the purpose of sending the IDF into Gaza has nothing whatsoever to do with the kidnapping of the young soldier, and everything to do with putting pressure on the Hamas government by terrorising the Palestinian people. By Friday of last week the IDF had already killed around what they claim were “40 Palestinian militants” in the Gaza Strip. (The truth about this explained by Yossi Schwartz in another article published on this site today).

To try and justify further what they are doing in Gaza they now say that military operations are also aimed at stopping Qassam rocket attacks into the western Negev. But even this appears as a very weak excuse. Senior military officials admitted to the Haaretz newspaper (July 7) that present operations in the Gaza Strip “may diminish Palestinian rocket fire, but it will not halt it altogether.”

In the same report Chief-of-Staff Dan Halutz was quoted as saying that the present operation in Gaza, “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.” This is very far from being a real “solution” to the problem. It amounts to, “you hit us, we’ll hit you” but with a far more powerful military, in fact one of the most powerful armies in the world.

In actual fact the present Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, far from solving anything merely exacerbates the whole unstable situation. Just after the young Israeli soldier was kidnapped we saw the media reporting that among the ordinary Palestinian population there was a willingness to see him released. But after all the bombings and killings on the part of the Israeli military, the resolve of the Palestinian people has stiffened. Now they want something in exchange and their attention is centred on getting Palestinian prisoners released.

Hamas had actually been moderating its positions prior to this recent crisis. In fact the idea had started to circulate within the Gaza Strip that Hamas was becoming a kind of “Islamic Fatah”. By this what is meant is just another betrayal of the needs of the Palestinian people on the part of corrupt politicians who are prepared to make rotten deals with Israel and US imperialism. It was this previous behaviour on the part of Fatah that led to the electoral victory of Hamas.

The Palestinian people are suffering terrible conditions and in the Gaza Strip these are particularly bad, with unemployment, poverty, bad housing and so on affecting large parts of the population. They want someone who stands up for them and defends their rights.

The kidnapping of the Israeli soldier has boosted the popularity of Hamas once more. But the Hamas leaders are now faced with a contradiction. They would like to negotiate, they would like to be accepted as “legitimate” political leaders by Israel and its imperialist backers, but it is facing pressures from its own supporters. That means that in order for Hamas to push for the release of the captured Israeli soldier they must get something in return, which means a significant release of Palestinian soldiers.

The irony of the whole situation is that the majority of the population in Israel is also in favour of negotiations involving the release of Palestinian prisoners if that is what it takes to release the young Gilad Shalit. But as he is not a high-ranking officer, a drug dealer nor a friend of the Israeli Prime Minister this may not happen, at least for a while.

The general conclusion that we can draw from all this is that neither of the two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, has politicians who really represent their desires and needs. Workers on both sides of the divide are suffering the consequences of this conflict. So long as the Palestinians do not have a place they can call their own country, a place where they can elect their own government and decide their own fate, and so long as the Israeli people are governed by a ruling class that can only exist on the basis of oppressing another people, there will be no lasting peace.


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