Palestinian youth revolt could trigger a new Intifada

Over the past few weeks international media have reported on growing tensions and daily violence escalating in Palestine and Israel, but they have focussed mainly on the spate of desperate knife attacks by Palestinian youth randomly targeting ordinary Israelis while waiting at bus stops, transiting in public spaces or walking on the streets of Jerusalem and other towns.

These attacks are not organised by any of the Palestinian factions but are clearly a symptom of the desperate rage of a layer of Palestinian youth against the asphyxiating stranglehold of the Israeli state.

Individual attacks of this sort do not harm the repressive forces, nor have the effect of improving the conditions of the Palestinian masses to the slightest. On the contrary, they are playing into the hands of the Israeli state, which is using them to justify the introduction of draconian security measures and increased repression against the Palestinians both within Israel and in the Palestinian Authority. The harsher repression in turn has the effect of worsening the living conditions of the Palestinian people and increases the probability that similar attacks could be repeated in the future, in a tit-for-tat spiral that seems to be without end.

However, it needs to be underlined that these attacks almost invariably end with the attackers being hunted down and killed by the Israeli security forces or by improvised vigilantes. In effect they become suicide attacks. Israel is increasingly militarised and the habit of carrying weapons for self-defence, especially among Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, is becoming widespread. Such behaviour is even encouraged by high profile government figures like the Israeli Defence Minister who called on people to carry guns and the Education Minister posing for the press with a gun on his belt.

Palestinian youth rising up

The Palestinian youth in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and within Israel itself have taken the centre stage over the past few months by rising defiantly against the Israeli state repression. They are fully aware that they may be shot dead by Israeli police or soldiers at point blank for the smallest incident, even if they are not armed. This is not deterring them from taking to the streets, organising mostly peaceful protests and engaging in riots with the Israeli military at the hated checkpoints. Just by standing up to what is a powerful and oppressive occupation they risk their lives on a daily basis.

Similar incidents occur almost every day and the response of Israeli security forces is usually predictably disproportionate. Protests are met with rubber bullets, toxic tear gas and sometimes with live ammunition. Often there are bodies left on the ground, injured youth, and many are arrested. But even the ordinary stop and search operations can end up with severe beatings and shootings, leading to injuries or death. In case of “unlawful killing” a weapon can easily be planted by the military in the hands of a killed Palestinian boy or girl in order to cover up for the perpetrator. Furthermore, the killing of a Palestinian is rarely subject to in-depth scrutiny and the perpetrators of abuse of force among the Israeli military and police are rarely prosecuted.

But increased repression cannot be a deterrent when the attacker is prepared to die. Also, the usual measures of imposing stricter segregation on the residents of the West Bank or Gaza are ineffective, because an increasing number of the attackers come from East Jerusalem or Israel itself. This simply cannot be prevented by increasing the high levels of security and repressive measures already in place.

In fact, as the independent news blog mondoweiss.net denounced, Jewish attackers are simply arrested after being contained by the police (but seldom prosecuted or sentenced) while Palestinian suspects are almost invariably shot dead, even when they could be contained in other ways or no longer represent a threat.

The systematic and cynical abuse by the Israeli right wing of the understandable fear among the civilian Jewish population caused by these random acts of individual terrorism is aimed at whipping up reactionary and racist feelings among ordinary people in Israel and is paving the way for an even bigger escalation.

netanyahu-chairman-of-the-joint-chiefs-of-staffNetanyahu is obviously playing his part, as usual, in stirring up this mood while trying to lean on the right wing. In the latest episode, at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem he gave an incendiary speech in which he accused the Second World War Palestinian grand mufti of Jerusalem of having suggested the genocide of the Jews to Adolf Hitler. While the mufti’s sympathies for Nazi Germany are well known, Netanyahu’s statement is historically unfounded, but it is more than clear what he is aiming at: the implication that therefore the Palestinians are morally responsible for the Holocaust. This represents nothing short of a criminal statement, a conscious and outright lie.

Several attacks against Palestinian families, youth or bystanders, including children, have been carried out by Israeli right wing extremists as a deranged form of blanket “revenge” against the Palestinians, sometimes targeting even “Arab-looking” Jews by mistake. Innocent people have also been killed by the Israeli police and by lynch mobs as a consequence of the hysterical mood that is developing.

The tragic case of Habtom Zerhom, an Eritrean asylum seeker killed by a mob in Beersheba because he was mistakenly regarded as an attacker, is a revealing episode. He was shot by the Israeli police just because he happened to be in the proximity of a place where an attack had occurred. The police left him lying on the ground and let him bleed to death without medical assistance, while being insulted and beaten up by a lynch mob.

It is worth mentioning that outrage at racist repression by Israeli police against Ethiopian Jews (who constitute 2% of Israel’s population and one third of the juvenile prison population) and African immigrants was at the heart of the recent wave of mass protests and riots in Haifa and Tel Aviv by the Ethiopian Jews in May 2015.

Very little explanation for the reasons that may have triggered these individual acts of terrorism has been provided. However, all evidence points to the high level of arbitrary violence and constant harassment which the vast majority of Palestinians have been and are experiencing by the hand of the Israeli state as an important factor in creating the conditions for such a development.

In most cases these incidents are presented as being disconnected one from the other, but the numbers are telling a different story. Whoever wants to provide a rational explanation cannot but connect these attacks to the growing rage and despair of the Palestinians whose conditions have been worsening both within Israel itself and in the dysfunctional and failing Palestinian Authority, which – 22 years after the Oslo and Madrid Accords – in reality is a de facto Israeli occupied territory. Most of the knife attackers were born after these accords and know no other reality than this one. The corrupt Palestinian leadership of the PLO around Abu Mazen has no authority over them.

More than one year since the Gaza massacre

More than one year has passed from the shelling of Gaza in July and August 2014 and the massacre of more than 2,220 Palestinians (1,400 of whom were civilians, according to the UN) by the Israeli Defence Force over 50 days of systematic bombing. Not surprisingly, by worsening the material conditions of life for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Israel has not become a safer place for its population, quite the contrary.

The ruthlessness and calculated cruelty of the bombing of Gaza and especially the infamous bombing of Rafah during the ceasefire on August 1, 2014 have been exposed as war crimes in a recent report by Amnesty International, which revealed what was widely acknowledged already: that the Israeli military were intentionally targeting civilian areas and their infrastructure including hospitals with no regard for the amount of “collateral damage” during the bombing and the additional suffering imposed on the civilian population as a result of destroying the very basic pre-requisites of a civilised existence.

All this was supposedly done in order to guarantee the security of the Israeli population. One year later the IDF is still bombing targets in Gaza, like on October 11, when a pregnant Palestinian mother and her 3-year-old daughter were killed under the debris of their house when it collapsed after an Israeli air strike that allegedly targeted a Hamas weapons site.

Consequences of Netanyahu’s election victory

As we explained in our analysis after the surprise Netanyahu victory in the March general elections, the government is leaning on the right wing, courting the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while staggering from one crisis to the next. Netanyahu’s obsessive reference to Iran as the main existential threat to Israel has brought the Israeli state to support Islamists in Syria in the fight against the Assad regime – a desperate attempt to undermine Iranian influence in the region.

By beating the drum of an external threat he is also attempting to rally support around the government, but very few Israeli citizens can regard supporting Islamists against Assad and Hezbollah as a very effective way of safeguarding their security. But Israel’s greatest existential threats are internal, not external, and Netanyahu’s policies are contributing to undermining Israel’s own stability.

The breakdown of the rule of law (extra-judicial killings, preventive political arrests, impunity for the use of excessive force, blatant double standards, etc.), the weakening of the authority of political institutions and the ruling elite, the alienation from the Israeli state of important sections of Israel’s population (the Israeli Arabs and the Ethiopian Jews on one side and radicalised right wing sections of the settlers on the other) and last, but not least important, the extreme social polarisation increased by the economic crisis, have opened wide cracks in the support for the state and the ruling class among ordinary Israeli citizens. This was revealed by the massive protests of 2011, the May 2015 revolt of the Ethiopian Jews and the radicalisation and unrest of the Palestinian population within Israel.

Jewish right wing terrorism is again raising its head. On July 31, terrorists set fire to two homes in the West Bank village of Douma, near Nablus. An 18-month-old child was burned alive and the child’s father later died from the wounds sustained in the fire. The lack of will on the part of the Israeli authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators has sparked rage among the Palestinian population. A couple of days earlier a convicted right-wing orthodox Jew, Yishai Schlissel, stabbed six marchers, killing a girl of 16, at the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv. The growth of the extreme right wing in Israel is undermining the whole stability of the system.

The question of Jerusalem and failure of the two-state solution

Jerusalem graphically illustrates the impossibility under capitalism of finding a solution to both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples’ national aspirations. In reality, 22 years after the Oslo and Madrid Accords, which paved the way for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority it is clear that the two-state solution has failed miserably. The criminal policy of the Israeli government to support and expand Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has created a Frankenstein’s monster, which now threatens to acquire a will of its own.

According to official Israeli government data released in December 2014, the population of Israeli settlements in the West Bank grew by almost 25 percent between 2009 – when Benjamin Netanyahu assumed office – and the beginning of 2014. In that same time, the overall Israeli population grew by just 9.6 percent. The official total of 360,000 settlers in the West Bank does not include the unofficial settlements and the roughly 300,000 settlers now living in East Jerusalem. Settlers are also becoming more and more important from an electoral point of view, triggering a competition to radicalise to the right in order to win support among that constituency.

A maze of walls, barriers, roadblocks, check points, roads accessible to Jewish settlers only has been built over the past decades, making the day to day life of the Palestinian population a nightmare. The impossible logistics and frequent and arbitrary closures of the crossings into Israel have also made it impossible for many Palestinians working in Israel to keep their jobs.

The reality of life for the Arab part of the population of Jerusalem has become increasingly intolerable. Harassment, lack of living space and pressure to abandon the city is exacerbated by the active repression and victimisation of Palestinian residents by the Israeli authorities for any excuse. Checkpoints are being set up everywhere. At the access points to Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem big concrete cubes prevent cars and trucks from passing through and Palestinians have to endure long queues even to move around on foot. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are feeling that they are being collectively punished for the attacks.

Discriminatory planning policies allocate the vast majority of space for Jewish development, thereby forcing the Palestinian residents to build illegally and risk home demolition or expulsion from the city. Evictions of resident from houses built “illegally” is part of an enduring displacement policy by which the state has thrown Palestinians out of their homes for decades and given them to Jewish families. This also means that the Jewish settlers are living right in the middle of crowded Arab neighbourhoods forcing themselves in literally at gunpoint. As the number of settlers grows, they need further protection, and barriers are being built to separate them from their Arab neighbours, with new checkpoints, new unrest and conflicts, and further repression.

Residency revocation is also common. In its efforts to change the city’s demographics, Israel has stripped residency from thousands of Palestinians in Jerusalem over the last decade. Taken together, these ethnically charged policies alone represent a recipe for a revolt of the Jerusalem Arab population.

The question of East Jerusalem and the role of Jerusalem as a capital is one of the many festering wounds that can never be resolved by a capitalist and oppressive regime, being it Israel or any other reactionary Arab regime. Every square inch of land is disputed and it is in this context that threats to introduce changes and or limit the access to Jerusalem’s holy sites for the Muslim population acquire such an explosive meaning. The ultra-orthodox Jewish right wing is constantly playing with these types of provocations.

In 1994 Israel forcibly divided the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in two, creating a separate prayer section for Jews with its own entrance. This was done after an Israeli settler killed 29 Palestinians worshipping there. Over the years, many Palestinian churches and mosques have been the targets of arson attacks but Israeli officials have rarely brought the perpetrators to justice.

Visits by Jewish nationalists to the Noble Sanctuary, which houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, were once rare and considered provocative by the Israeli establishment, but are now common and protected. The latest episode which escalated tensions was created by growing calls from a number of Israeli groups and organisations, including some that receive state funding, for the building of a Jewish Temple in place of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Israeli officials claim that the state has no plans to change the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem, but given Israel’s long-standing record, scepticism on the part of the Palestinians is more than justified.

Tensions over the Al-Aqsa question have fuelled a wave of massive protests from Palestinian youth and a general mood of defiance in spite of the growing repression and hundreds of activists preventively rounded up and arrested, including in one case the bus drivers who drove protesters to demonstrations.

This is undermining the stability of the Palestinian Authority as well, bringing it to the verge of collapse. The Wall Street journal reported on October 12 the words of Radi Jara’ee, a professor of political science at Al-Quds University and a former Palestinian Authority minister. He stated that the Palestinian governing body “has no control over the youth or over these individuals who carry out the attacks and who are not connected to any faction and who do not report to any leader. These people are disappointed with the PA, which has done nothing for them politically or economically or practically.”

Heavy clashes have taken place over the past weeks in cities and villages across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, after weeks of protests prompted by tensions over the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. But protests also target the hated walls built by the Israeli government, like the Separation Wall surrounding the city of Abu Dis which was destroyed in some sections by Palestinian youth last week, or in clashes with Israeli soldiers at checkpoints. The rising youth activism for the first time is common to all areas of Israel and Palestine, in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the whole of Israel.
The crisis of capitalism on a world scale is exacerbating the conditions in the whole of the Middle East, with one country after another plunging into crisis. Imperialist meddling has crushed whole countries like neighbouring Syria but events are also affecting the more established regional powers, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and also Israel which is no exception to the general crisis. The Israeli ruling elite is trying to divert the discontent which is piling up among the poorest layers of Israeli society and divide the working class along national and religious lines. The only outcome of this would be an even worse nightmare than the present one. There is no solution for both the Palestinian and the Jewish masses in Israel and Palestine on the basis of the present capitalist two-state setup. The Palestinian leadership has failed miserably its own people by pursuing the road set by the Oslo and Madrid Accords.

david-vs-goliath copyThe only possible Palestinian state under capitalism is a corrupt semi-state which would be constantly hanging by a thread at the whim of the Israeli ruling class, which controls every lever of the economy of the Palestinian Authority. The only possible future for the Jewish workers of Israel, if the present situation is maintained, is to live with a worsening permanent war situation, staggering from one crisis or one attack to the next. The people of Israel can never be truly free until the oppression of the Palestinian people is brought to an end. A capitalist Israel will never allow a truly sovereign Palestine to exist. The only solution out of this nightmare, therefore, is to overthrow the corrupt capitalist clique dominating both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and struggle for a socialist federation of Israel and Palestine, which could address all the problems created by this oppressive system.

If the Palestinian masses rise up in a new Intifada – a genuine mass social movement – including the Palestinian population in Israel, the movement could channel in a positive direction the courage and determination of the Palestinian youth. Otherwise, if left to their own resources in the fight, without a class understanding of the situation, these courageous youth can end up in the blind alley of desperate acts of individual terrorism. A widespread mass movement, a genuine Intifada, would have the power to appeal to the Jewish workers, like the First Intifada did and deal a mortal blow to this oppressive system!