Once again the Israeli military machine has carried out another extra-judicial execution. This time, the IAF blew up Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari in a helicopter attack, along with a number of civilians whose only “crime” was that of living in “the world's largest open-air prison”[i]. Why is this happening now?
Hamas responded with rocket attacks on the poor working-class Israeli towns that border the Gaza strip, killing three in Kiryat Malachi[ii]. Israel's bloody attacks, along with subsequent military actions, have killed scores of Palestinians so far; this has naturally sparked fear and rage amongst Gaza's embattled population, who fear a repeat of the murderous Operation Cast Lead in 2006 in which over 1300 Palestinians perished[iii]. The usual pro-Israel mouthpieces in the US defended the attacks in the name of “fighting terrorism” and “defending Israel citizens”[iv].
On the flip-side, many poor and working-class Israelis living in the relatively-unprotected towns in southern Israel fear the consequence of another escalation; some of them must be wondering what Israel's latest assassination can possibly achieve towards securing their safety, given the cycle of attacks and retaliations stretches back to Israel's foundation in 1948.
Suffering in Gaza
The situation for the Palestinians of Gaza is utterly desperate. Despite Israel’s unilateral “withdrawal” in 2005, the Israeli military maintains complete control over the borders, airspace and coastline[v]. As we explained in a previous article:
“Since 2007, when Hamas was elected with a majority, the Israeli state has maintained a complete blockade of the strip. Nothing comes in or out without army approval. No one is allowed to enter or leave. Food, medical supplies, and even construction materials are severely restricted...
“The reasoning for the blockade given by Israeli imperialism, and approved by US imperialism, has been to prevent Hamas from building rockets. It just so happens that the material they are so worried could be used for rockets is essential for rebuilding the homes destroyed in 2009: cement. It is completely banned.”[vi]
Meanwhile, Gaza’s rulers Hamas have imposed a near-totalitarian regime on the territory, whilst failing to address the dire situation for Gaza’s residents, particularly those living in the refugee camps. Protests have been completely banned – for example, a demonstration of around 500 demanding the overthrow of Hamas, after a three-year-old boy perished in a fire in one of the camps, was broken up by Hamas police[vii]. Trade-unionists have also been repeatedly harassed, both by Hamas and Israeli forces. As the following statement from the British TUC explains:
“When Hamas took control of Gaza in June, the headquarters of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) was seized by Hamas gunmen and the staff were told to attend a meeting to discuss how unions should operate under Hamas rule – they refused. Since the start of the year, PGFTU Deputy General Secretary Rasem Al Bayari has suffered a rocket attack on his home (30 January) and the bombing of his office (2 February), all emanating from Hamas. The TUC has protested to former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, insisting that PGFTU property be returned to its control, and that the trade union movement be allowed to go about its business free from harassment and violence.
“Last week, on Wednesday 4 July, an Israeli army unit broke into the PGFTU branch office in Ramallah at 2am. They destroyed the main door, the entrance to the headquarters where they broke the internal doors to the offices, as well as filing cabinets and computers, searching for an excuse to justify the raid. The Ramallah office was the venue for the bilateral between the PGFTU and a TUC delegation in January this year.”[viii]
The kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in 2007, and his subsequent release, shone a light on the nature of Hamas’ rule in Gaza. Hamas negotiated with, bribed and fought rival gangs, securing the unfortunate man’s release as a means of stamping their authority on their rivals[ix].
Protecting Israeli citizens?
The Israeli regime and its apologists justify this brutality by claiming they are defending their citizens against an enemy which seeks to annihilate them, and with whom peace is impossible. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made a political career out of peddling this line (along with carrying out ruthless attack on Israel's workers and poor in the form of cuts and privatisations[x]). In order to evaluate this claim, it is worth examining the facts in a little more detail. Israel's policy towards Hamas and other Palestinian groups closely mirrors the approach taken by British and US imperialism in their respective domains; that is, Israel buys off Palestinian leaders and groups, and uses them to police the occupied territories and undermine resistance.
Up until the late 1980s, Hamas was a largely-insignificant Islamic group; Israel's main opposition was the PLO, an umbrella organisation whose constituent groups ranged from Stalinists to right-wing nationalists (the largest of which, Fatah, leads the Palestinian Authority today). Israel began to covertly channel funds into Hamas, who they hoped would act as a “counterweight” to the PLO and the growing militancy of Palestinian youth[xi]. How and why this was done is explained by the Wall Street Journal in a 2009 article, How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas. Like the Taliban, however, Hamas eventually turned on its original benefactors, as it aligned itself with other reactionary forces in the region such as Syria, Iran and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
Like the Taliban, Hamas have no fundamental conflict with imperialism. They represent not the revolutionary workers and youth, but the bourgeoisie, the semi-feudal landlords and the corrupt clergy. This is the pattern of combined and uneven development common to many undeveloped countries, where a modern bourgeoisie never took power. Just as the Taliban collaborate with British and US imperialism in Afghanistan today[xii], there is a high degree of cooperation between Hamas' military wing and the Israeli army. Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn explains the relationship between Israel and Ahmed Jabari:
"Ahmed Jabari was a subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel's security in Gaza. This title will no doubt sound absurd to anyone who in the past several hours has heard Jabari described as "an arch-terrorist," "the terror chief of staff" or "our Bin Laden."
"But that was the reality for the past five and a half years. Israel demanded of Hamas that it observe the truce in the south and enforce it on the multiplicity of armed organizations in the Gaza Strip. The man responsible for carrying out this policy was Ahmed Jabari.
"In return for enforcing the quiet, which was never perfect, Israel funded the Hamas regime through the flow of shekels in armoured trucks to banks in Gaza, and continued to supply infrastructure and medical services to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Jabari was also Israel's partner in the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit; it was he who ensured the captive soldier's welfare and safety, and it was he who saw to Shalit's return home last fall."[xiii]
So, why did Israel kill the man they worked so closely with? Benn continues:
"Now Israel is saying that its subcontractor did not do his part and did not maintain the promised quiet on the southern border. The repeated complaint against him was that Hamas did not succeed in controlling the other organizations, even though it is not interested in escalation. After Jabari was warned openly (Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff reported here at the beginning of this week that the assassination of top Hamas people would be renewed), he was executed on Wednesday in a public assassination action, for which Israel hastened to take responsibility. The message was simple and clear: You failed – you're dead."
Not the actions, then, of a state protecting its citizens from a ruthless enemy; rather, an occupier disposing of a local quisling for whom they no longer had a use.
Israeli elections and the crisis of the regime
Netanyahu would have us believe that the timing of this escalation (with elections to the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, scheduled for January next year) is purely coincidental. Given Israel's history of engaging in armed conflict shortly before elections, we find this difficult to swallow. We return to Aluf Benn's analysis:
"The assassination of Jabari will go down in history as another showy military action initiated by an outgoing government on the eve of an election.
"This is what researcher Prof. Yagil Levy has called ‘fanning the conflict as an intra-state control strategy’. The external conflict helps a government strengthen its standing domestically because the public unites behind the army, and social and economic problems are edged off the national agenda.
"This recipe is familiar from 1955, when David Ben-Gurion returned from his exile in Sde Boker and led the Israel Defence Forces to a retaliatory action in Gaza, and his party, Mapai, to victory in the election. (Barak recalled this period with nostalgia, when he spoke last week at a memorial for Moshe Dayan). Ever since, whenever the ruling party feels threatened at the ballot box, it puts its finger on the trigger. The examples are common knowledge: the launch of the Shavit 2 missile in the summer of 1961, in the midst of the Lavon affair; the bombing of the Iraqi reactor in 1981; Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon in 1996, and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza on the eve of the 2009 election. In the two latter cases, the military action turned into a defeat in the election."
Two things stand out here. Firstly, Prof. Levy's observation that wars are used to edge social and economic problems off the national agenda is particularly prescient, given the enormous wave of demonstrations that rocked Israel last year. Hundreds of thousands of Jews and Arabs massed in the streets, demanding affordable housing and an end to cuts and price hikes[xiv]. Some were beginning to understand the link between the occupation of Palestine and the dire social conditions in Israel. As Socialist Appeal explained at the time, the crisis of world capitalism has hit Israel especially hard, and the radicalisation of workers and youth is expressing itself here too. Shorn of all legitimacy and deeply unpopular, Netanyahu's regime falls back on military adventures in a desperate attempt to hold his government together and stay in office.
Secondly, Benn notes that, "In the two latter cases, the military action turned into a defeat in the election." In other words, this tactic has its limits – a regime can only defy gravity for so long. The unfolding struggle will eventually sweep aside the jingoism of the past and create the conditions for unity between workers and youth in a common struggle against imperialism and its local agents, whether Jewish or Arab.
Against imperialism and nationalism – for a socialist Middle East!
The Islamic fundamentalists and the Israeli state may seem implacable enemies, but looks can be deceiving. We quote at length an article we produced about a similar escalation that took place shortly after the social protests in Israel last year; the relevance of the analysis shows how the fundamental questions remain the same:
"This recent escalation is like manna from heaven for the Israeli ruling class, keen to cut across the radical feeling in Israel and once more fool Israel’s poor into uniting with its millionaires in the face of the ‘external threat’. Marxists are not conspiracy theorists, and we do not suggest that Israel somehow staged these terrorist acts to create an excuse for military action; instead, we understand that the interests of Hamas and the fundamentalists mirror those of the Israeli ruling class.
"Hamas and the Israeli state have one thing in common: they are opposed to any movement that unites workers and youth across the ethnic divide. The reason is very clear: a united movement of the workers and poor would be a threat to both the Zionist ruling class in Israel and the corrupt leaders of the Palestinians...
"The corrupt rule of Hamas has nothing to offer the people of Gaza, except poverty and violence. It can only retain a semblance of loyalty and respect in the eyes of the Palestinians by posing as the ‘liberation army’ standing up to the occupier, fighting for freedom. Without the occupation of Palestine and oppression by the Israeli state, Hamas would be finished.
"The same of course applies to the Israeli ruling class. As we have explained previously, the serious crisis of Israeli capitalism has left government, politicians and “tycoons” alike loathed by the masses. The seemingly implacable enemies, the Israeli State and the Fundamentalists, have the same interest – maintaining the divisions between Jewish and Arab workers and poor. The fact that many Israeli Arabs were beginning to participate in the movement in Israel, with obvious repercussions amongst the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, made an escalation of violence and division a temporary way out for both the Israeli ruling class and Hamas."[xv]
As Marx explained long ago, there exists only one force on Earth that can defeat imperialism, capitalism and gangsterism – the organised working class. The magnificent wave of struggle sweeping the region, now encompassing neighbouring Jordan, has the potential to link Arab and Jewish workers in a united struggle against their reactionary exploiters.
For this to happen, organised labour must take the leading role. The entrance on the scene of the Histadrut trade union federation in Israel would, for instance, be a major blow to the forces of reaction inside and outside Israel. But for this to happen the Histadrut itself would have to be transformed into a genuine fighting workers’ organisation.
The conditions for such a transformation would be created by a rising wave of class struggle inside Israel itself. We had a glimpse of what is possible last year when mass protests shook Israeli society [see for example Israeli workers and youth join the revolutionary wave , August 1, 2011].
In fact, the underlying social and class tensions within Israeli society are a major factor in pushing the Israeli ruling class into whipping up anti-Palestinian feelings among the Israeli population. Cynically, Netanyahu sees the inevitable escalation of violence, with rockets launched in retaliation from the Gaza Strip falling on Israeli working class neighbourhoods, as a useful tool in his political armoury. He is hoping in this way to steer the country further to the right as he prepares for the early elections he has called for the first months of next year.
Given the lack of an alternative, Netanyahu seems to be doing well in recent opinion polls. However, it is also true that Israel’s economy is expected to slow down further in the coming year and that is why Netanyahu wants to get the elections out of the way now and not go to the polls in the midst of an economic slowdown in which he would probably lose much support. Already, small anti-war demos have broken out in Tel Aviv[xvi]. If the violence drags on, these will only get bigger.
In these conditions the collapse of the Israeli Labour Party and general lack of political opposition has opened the door for the Israeli Communist Party, which, despite its Stalinist past, has been growing in the recent period; for example, it won over a third of the vote in the Tel Aviv municipal elections in 2006[xvii]. However, despite their principled stand on issues from the housing crisis to the occupation, the leadership of this party restrict themselves to criticism of the current system, without offering a clear programme for an alternative. In these conditions, the need for a revolutionary Marxist tendency in Israel and Palestine which can offer such an alternative has never been greater.
- Oppose Israeli aggression! The Israeli labour movement must demand and fight for an immediate ceasefire!
- End the starvation blockade of Gaza! For a full withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers from occupied Palestinian land!
- No to attacks on working-class Israeli towns! For the unity of Arab and Jewish workers across the Middle East against imperialism and capitalist exploitation!
- For a workers' Israel/Palestine as part of a socialist federation of the Middle East!
[vi]. Flotilla massacre exposes criminal blockade of Gaza, marxist.com
[xvi]. Solidarity protests for Gaza at Israeli universities, Bikyamasr.com