Palestine’s Festering Wounds

Gaza was once again up in flames this week. The brutal aggression of the reactionary Israeli state, killing and maiming hundreds of Palestinians, including women and children, once again lays bare the draconian nature of the Zionist elite and the vicious role of this imperialist outpost in the Middle East. Coming nearly four years after Israel’s murderous  “Operation Cast Lead” assault on Gaza, Israel’s military launched another deadly attack, this time dubbed “Pillar of Defence,” on November 14, 2012. Like “Cast Lead”, this operation took place just a few weeks before Israeli elections scheduled for January 2013. Israeli governments have a longstanding political tradition of launching military attacks to divert their voters’ attention from the country’s social and economic troubles. This new assault on the besieged people of Gaza is also partly due to this sinister strategy.

The US imperialists would rather prefer that Israel did not further destabilise the region but are in fact giving tacit support to this aggression and tyranny being imposed on Gaza by Israel’s mighty military machine which is financed, propped up and supplied with the most up-to-date weapon systems by the west. Despite his weasel words, Obama effectively endorsed the Israeli position and this gruesome brutality. For years now, US financial, military and diplomatic support for Israel has been the central enabling force driving this endless conflict. The bombs Israel drops on Gaza, and the planes they use to drop them, and the weapons they use to occupy the West Bank are paid for, in substantial part, by the US.

The international imperialist media are in a propaganda overdrive, cloaked in a hypocritical ‘impartiality’ which treats the adversaries as ‘equals’, when there is in reality an extreme and blatant inequality with the militaristic forces of the Israeli military armed with the most sophisticated and destructive weapons on earth. The war on Gaza is not between two armed forces, evenly matched, each flying the flag of a country; it is a war between a major military power and a people that it has occupied.

The imperialist hirelings are repeating clichés like “surgical air strike” – but let us not forget the Israeli “surgical air strikes” which killed almost 17,000 civilians in Lebanon in 1982, the 1,200 mostly Lebanese civilians in 2006, or the 1,300 mostly civilian Palestinians in Gaza in 2008-9. This horrific violence – which exposes the utter vulnerability of all those living as captives in Gaza, one of the most crowded and impoverished communities on the planet – is a frightful picture of human abuse that the international western imperialist colluders continue to turn their back upon.

Throughout the 20th century and even more so after the creation of Israel in 1948, the whole region has been beset with instability, wars, terrorism, bloodshed, misery, poverty and disease. The oil wealth and other resources of the region, instead of being a source of prosperity, have become a curse for the oppressed masses.

The crusades of imperialist plunder and robbery have wreaked havoc with the lives of the ordinary people. It is the legacy of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, when more than 700,000 were forced to flee their homes from what is today Israeli territory and the population of the Gaza Strip nearly quadrupled to 270,000 (more than 1.7 million today). That original wrong has been compounded by the occupation Israel has not only failed to end but has actually intensified in recent years with its relentless siege of the small strip of territory. Israeli rulers have been progressively choking the life out of Gaza, destroying its economy, periodically wrecking its infrastructure, denying its inhabitants freedom of movement and making the daily life of its population intolerable.

Imperialism and the Israeli State

The first open endorsement by British imperialism of the idea of creating a Jewish state in the Middle East was represented by the Balfour Declaration which was actually a letter, written in November 1917, by the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. On the other hand there was another secret accord, known as the Sykes—Picot Agreement, concluded by the French diplomat Francois Georges- Picot and the British official Sir Mark Sykes in May 1916, to carve up the Arab world between British and French imperialists after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This agreement also incorporated the creation of a Zionist state. After the October Revolution in Russia the Bolsheviks exposed this conspiratorial accord by making public all the diplomatic secret documents, an act that greatly embarrassed the imperialists and dismayed the Arabs. These intrigues were purely for the purposes of imperialist exploitation and control of the region’s resources, especially oil, in the post war period.

During the first Middle Eastern war in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Arabs were forced to flee from their homes and villages that were incorporated into this theocratic state that was recognised by a resolution of the United Nations. Those refugees and their offspring still have no homes to go back to and are crammed into refugee camps in different areas of the Middle East or have joined the Palestinian Diaspora around the world.

There have been three wars and a relentless nightmare of incessant violence. The Palestinian resistance has been ongoing now for generations. In 1964 the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was created as an umbrella organisation to unite the diverse groups struggling for Palestinian liberation. The main group emerging within the PLO was Al Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat, but Socialist or Communist left wing groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and others had important roots within the movement. However, the method they adopted to fight the Israeli occupation constantly swung between “armed struggle” (mainly through isolated attacks against the occupying forces) and attempts at convincing the different Arab regimes to wage wars against Israel, as well as to obtain recognition and protection from the United Nations.

Unfortunately, the main thrust of this strategy was based on narrow nationalism and failed to link up the Palestinian national struggle with the struggle of the Arab and Israeli workers and masses to take on their corrupt and imperialist collaborator ruling classes and overthrow them. The failure by the PLO leadership to link the national struggle with the class struggle benefited the Israeli and Arab ruling classes and their imperialist backers. The Arab rulers, monarchs and despots also had their own vested interests to guard and they used the Palestinian question as an external threat to quell the domestic revolts of the youth and the toilers who were being subjugated and exploited by these regimes.

On the one hand these Kings, Sheiks and other reactionary rulers cried until they were hoarse at the plight and oppression of the Palestinians, while at the same time especially the Saudi monarchs, Egyptian dictators and the reactionary Sheiks of the Gulf States were the stooges of US imperialism that was the biggest backer of the Israeli state. It is not an accident that the Arab countries were defeated by the Israeli army in the 1967 and 1973 wars. The ordinary soldiers and the lower officers were not motivated to fight in defence of the interests of their oppressive reactionary rulers. Furthermore there is mounting evidence of the ineptitude, treachery and betrayals of the military top brass of the Arab front. The tactic of “armed struggle”, carried out mainly from outside the Palestinian occupied territory, continued until the 1980s and proved to be futile.

However, in spite of the PLO leadership completely writing off any development of the mass struggle within the Occupied Territories, it was precisely there where the most impressive show of mass resistance against Israeli occupation developed. The heroic revolutionary upheaval of the first Intifada in 1987 shook the Israeli state to its very foundations and its tremors were even felt in Washington, Paris and London.

The upsurge of the struggle by the Palestinian masses was then channelled by the PLO leadership into the beginning of the process of a negotiated settlement with the Oslo accord of 1993, where a “two state solution” was advocated by imperialism and the Palestinians were promised superfluous concessions which eventually brought about the formation of the Palestinian Authority.

But if the armed struggle didn’t bring Palestinian liberation any closer, the process of negotiations with the reactionary Zionist leaders under the auspices of imperialism made the dream of independence look even more distant, and realisation of that dream is now even further away. The “two states” formula is virtually dead. Gaza is now, in fact, the largest open air prison (1.7 million people) in the world. It is surely true that in spite of a grotesque formal independence, the Palestinians are suffering from the military and economic brutal oppression of the Zionist state.

At the same time, the situation for the ordinary people of Israel has not improved to the slightest degree. With the present capitalist crisis on a world scale the economic attacks and austerity measures against the Israeli workers and the youth have been intensified by the Israeli ruling class. Trotsky had written a decade before the physical creation of Israel, “Zionism is incapable of resolving the Jewish question. The conflict between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine acquires a more and more tragic and more and more menacing character.”

The leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmood Abbas, lost even his last scraps of credibility and was denounced by the Palestinians as a traitor when he recently appeared on Israeli television to concede he was not personally interested in upholding the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their own homes within the ‘internationally recognised’ borders of Israel, in his case the Galilee town of Safed. The West Bank, which is ruled by the PA, is littered with Israeli settlements and harrowing check posts. Abbas is trying to resurrect his ruptured credibility by having a better status for the PA which is recognised by the UN, but this is both worthless and farcical considering the complete economic and strategic dependence of the PA on Israel.

The PA’s regime is riddled with corruption and mismanagement. Ironically, it is being used by the Israeli state as a tool to repress the Palestinian masses in the West Bank. Its economy is in dire straits and cannot even sustain the expenses of the security forces. The latest issue of the Economist writes, “Yet Israeli commanders shudder at the chaos that might ensue if the PA’s 50,000 security people were unable to put food on the table. Indeed, Israel has been so worried by the PA’s budget crisis that in the past three months it has advanced $200 million to the PA and issued Palestinians in the West Bank with several thousand more permits to work in Israel. ‘It’s in Israel’s interest to preserve the PA,’ says an officer, examining various contingencies.” The repression of the Palestinian workers and youth by the pro-capitalist PA regime is no less severe than that of the Jewish state.

The Role of Islamic Fundamentalism

The collapse of the left wing organisations in the PLO and the disastrous capitulation of the Al-Fatah leadership to imperialism have led to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism that has further complicated the situation.

Until the late 1980s, the main force of the Palestinian struggle with the support of the vast majority of the Palestinian masses was the PLO. The Israeli intelligence agencies applied various tactics and methods to damage and destroy the PLO. This also included internal sabotage and creating conflicts within the movement and supporting the consolidation of rival forces. One of the most crucial strategies was the use of Islamic fundamentalism to drive a wedge into the Palestinian liberation struggle. This same tactic has also been adopted by US imperialism to sabotage and attack left wing movements, trade unionists and Marxists in the so called Muslim countries since the 1950s. We have seen this CIA-sponsored sabotage in Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and several other countries. For decades the Israeli state sponsored, financed and propped up Hamas and other Islamist organisations in the Palestinian movement.

Apart from vast amounts of material that give relevant and credible evidence of this covert relationship, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas” exposes this connection even more. It says, “The Israeli government officially recognised a precursor of Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools... Mahmoud Musleh, now a pro-Hamas member of the Palestinian legislature, recalls how usually aggressive Israeli security forces stood back and let conflagration develop... ‘they hoped we would become an alternative to the PLO’... Mahmoud Zahar used to meet Israel’s then defence minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as part of the regular consultations between Israeli officials and Palestinians not linked to the PLO. Mr. Zahar, the only Hamas founder known to be alive today, is now the group’s senior political leader in Gaza.”

Just as the imperialists helped to set up and then supported the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which then mutated into Al Qaida and the Taliban, so Hamas became a Frankenstein’s monster for the Israeli imperialists. However the anti-Americanism of the religious fundamentalists is diametrically opposite to the anti-imperialist struggles of the revolutionary masses. Hamas’ appeal in Gaza comes from its superficial image of resistance to occupation. Hamas won the election in 2006 because the masses were tired of the corruption of the PLO leaders and their connivance with Israel. But if the question of liberation is posed purely in nationalist terms, then it is not possible to find a solution to the Palestinian question. It is not possible to solve the problem of the Palestinian people by firing rockets at Israeli towns and villages. The killing of the children and ordinary people of Israel only ends up in consolidating the vicious Zionist state and giving it justification for its increased brutality against the Palestinian masses and other oppressed peoples. Hamas’ methods are not new. They have been tried and tested by the PLO leadership in the past and have led only to one bloody defeat after another. No amount of sympathy for the sufferings of the Palestinians can alter that fact.

What does the cease-fire represent?

The present conflict has once more utterly exposed the impotence of the Arab leaders, particularly Egypt, and the so-called United Nations. The attack on Gaza is threatening to unleash a renewed instability in the West Bank and arouse the Palestinians in Jordan. Even before the Gaza crisis, Jordan had been going through a mass revolt, shaking the Hashemite kingdom to the core.

Of course, the country most directly affected is Egypt. The Egyptian government, terrified of the repercussions of a new war on the streets of Gaza, has been frantically active in trying to secure a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, actively being encouraged by Hillary Clinton who has been shuttling between Israel, Ramallah and Cairo. The presence of Clinton at the announcement of the deal showed who the real boss was. Ban Ki Moon too was strutting around in the region as an errand boy of imperialism, which shows the real relevance of the UNO in resolving conflicts.

This cease-fire agreement has been guaranteed by Egypt on the Palestinian side. Israel has agreed to stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air including incursions and the targeting of individuals. The Egyptian government had a vested interest in brokering a deal as an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza would have had explosive effects inside Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood is formally supporting Hamas and identifies itself as the champion of the Palestinians. But the truth is its support will be confined to hypocritical speeches about the plight of the people of Gaza. Morsi will have to promise the Israelis that he will do everything in his power to prevent weapons being smuggled into Gaza. He will stand exposed before the masses.

The Western imperialists were terrified of the ramifications on Arab streets of a land invasion of Gaza by the Israeli army. The Israeli state is more isolated and under enormous pressures from its masters in the US and Europe. Hamas seems to be exalted by the coming to power of the Islamic governments in Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia. But these Islamic governments have come to power with the connivance of imperialism. The wily CIA veteran operative Bruce Riedel and other senior officials had brokered a deal with their old allies, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, given the fear of the new wave of revolution that erupted in the spring of 2011. The Islamist leader of the new Tunisian regime, Rashid Gnocchi, was brought from London and installed into power by British intelligence.

The visits to Gaza by reactionary leaders like the Emir of Qatar, Bahraini princes who are carrying out atrocities against the people of Bahrain and Egyptian right wing ministers shows the class and ideological character of the Hamas leaders.

But the fragile deal may not last very long. There are other groups in Gaza who may not be controlled by Hamas and can resort to provocative acts that could revive a new wave of hostilities. The hawks in the Israeli establishment are not happy with the deal. They could push for another strike. Certainly Netanyahu’s facial expressions and body language didn’t match his announcement of victory on the TV screens.

US imperialism fears that this conflict could unravel into a regional conflagration, including an attack on Iran, which will convulse the whole region into an unprecedented chaos, and with a war in the gulf oil prices could shoot so high that the world economy could plunge into another devastating crash.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have a genuine and legitimate struggle for their right to live and be free of oppression and occupation. It is a fight against occupation, oppression, colonialism and imperialism. It is the fundamental duty of every revolutionary worker and peasant to defend the Palestinians against the violence and repression of Israeli despotism backed by imperialism. But it is also equally fundamental to learn correct lessons from the Palestinian struggle over the last 60 years and draw the right conclusions. The strategy based on “armed struggle”, individual terrorism and negotiated settlements with the reactionary Israeli state under the auspices of imperialism has failed miserably to resolve a conflict which has become a festering wound.

The Palestinians are faced by an immensely more powerful enemy. The recent events in Gaza have clearly shown the impossibility of defeating this monster by purely military means. The question that needs to be posed is this: Is there a power that is even stronger and more determined than the military might of Israel and its international imperialist and regional collaborators?

We answer emphatically in the affirmative. It is the power of the masses through the class struggle. This was amply demonstrated by the recent Arab Revolution. And more importantly, the two Palestinian Intifadas show without any possible doubt that the Palestinian masses are prepared to be organised and mobilised to fight heroically. There is no question of the courage and bravery of the Palestinians masses but this on its own is not enough to achieve victory.

The Arab revolution that erupted from the coast of the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean was also echoed by a mass movement in Israel in 2011. On Saturday, August 7, 2011 over 300,000 took to the streets of Tel Aviv, a city with a population of less than half a million, and hundreds of thousands demonstrated against the government in Jerusalem, Haifa, Ashdod and other cities of Israel. Out of a population of 7.7 million, half a million had come out to defend their living standards from the attacks of the austerity measures being carried out by the government. Some were holding portraits of Che Guevara and the banners carried the slogans “For Social Justice” and “Resign, Egypt is here.” Tellingly, resign was written in Arabic.

This was an unprecedented movement in the 63-year history of Israel. It is certainly not going to be the last. This movement too has given a new dimension to the Palestinian liberation and the revolution in the Middle East. It showed for all to see the potential of the class struggle to affect the workers and youth of Israel, which would change the whole scenario in the region.

Only through a revolutionary overthrow of the Zionist state and the reactionary Arab regimes using the methods of class unity and struggle can the masses of the region be liberated and attain social, economic, national and political emancipation. This struggle can only be completed and be victorious by the creation of a voluntary socialist federation of the Middle East.