(CV #43, June 2009)
. The following article is based on the presentation at the Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group meeting of January 25, 2009.
. The topic today is solidarity with the Palestinian people in the face of the invasion of Gaza and the continuing economic blockade. There will be a presentation, followed by open discussion.
. From December 27 to January 17, Israeli planes, artillery and, eventually, tanks and soldiers attacked the Gaza strip. The targets included police stations, government offices of any type, several mosques, schools including colleges, and many, many houses and apartment buildings. Any building having anything to do with the government was declared a target; any member of the ruling party, Hamas, was a target, and any dwelling where such a person lived was declared a legitimate target. Moreover, the water, food, energy and other supplies to Gaza were completely cut off. Hospitals ran out of supplies; families out of food. Eventually Israeli declared daily three-hour ceasefires to allow a few supplies in. But the Middle Eastern TV station Al Jazeera televised constant violations of this Israeli-declared ceasefire by Israel itself. Meanwhile, the dead in Gaza included medical personnel, a Palestinian driver of supplies passed through by Israeli authorities, and people taking shelter at UN-run schools.
. The Israelis tried out a variety of weapons on Gaza. They used tanks and artillery. They used pilotless drones to target Gazans for assassination, something which they have been doing from before this incursion. They used white phosphorus, a napalm-like chemical which is illegal to use on civilians -- Israel dropped it in crowded Gazan neighborhoods, piously saying it was just there as a smokescreen.
. Israel said it had the right to bomb any Hamas-run facility in Gaza. Since Hamas is the government in Gaza, this means Israel gave itself the right to attack just about anything. Moreover, to prove that it should be feared, Israel made a point of attacking UN-run installations as well. Thus some UN personnel are talking about Israel having committed war crimes in Gaza, and even UN head Ban Ki-Moon says that attacks on these facilities are "an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack on the United Nations". Of course, the UN being what it is, a forum of bourgeois governments, dominated by the most powerful ones, he's far more indignant over attacks on the UN than over attacks on Gazans.
. In other conflicts, to show how serious the situation is, figures may be given for how many Americans would be involved if the conflict was happening, not in a small country, but a country the size of the US, and the same relative number of people were involved. Given the relative size of the US and Gaza, the 1,300 Palestinian dead would be equivalent, proportionately, to 260,000 Americans killed. 50,000 Gazans homeless, equivalent to 10 million Americans living on the street. Well, there is a limit to how meaningful it is to scale things up this way, but it may give an idea of how devastating this massacre has been for Gazan society.
. And Israel did this as part of a calculated plan. The Israeli press -- the ordinary, establishment press, not the alternative press -- says that Israel is following the policy it calls "the boss is crazy". This means that it is trying to prove that the Israeli government might do anything, no matter how outrageous, in response to even the slightest provocation. The Israeli government didn't simply miscalculate a "proportionate response": no, the idea was to convince everyone that the zionist government doesn't give a damn about proportionate responses. It will act as a wild man, who you'd better tiptoe around. No doubt, the Israeli government has achieved this objective, of convincing many people in the world that it really is crazy, and will commit any crime that happens to cross its mind.
. Now Israel has declared its own unilateral ceasefire. It made a point of having the ceasefire unilateral: that is , it made a point that it won't have anything to do with the Gazan government or the Gazan people. It will simply dictate whatever it wants. And therefore, in its view, it won. But in fact Israeli panic at Palestinian resistance continues. Israel has bombed and killed and maimed and blockaded, but they haven't changed the situation.
. Meanwhile Hamas has also declared it has won. It may have suffered a hundred times more casualties than the Israeli army, but when the dust clears, it is still in power. The world has seen more of what Israeli oppression of the Palestinians means. Yet Hamas's strategy, too, is in crisis.
. The Palestinians masses have survived another atrocity committed against them; they have endured despite greater and greater hardships. They are not going to give up. But they face a difficult situation, subject to strangulation from Israel, and divided among themselves.
. What was behind this war, or rather, one-sided slaughter?
. The immediate cause was the expiration of the ceasefire of June 2008 between Israel and Hamas. According to its terms, Hamas was supposed to stop firing rockets at Israel, and Israel was supposed to stop carrying out assassinations and attacks in Gaza and to allow goods to go through the crossings into Gaza without hindrance. The number of missile attacks on Israel dropped to almost nothing during the ceasefire, and it seems that Hamas, which is not the only organization firing missiles at Israel, was pretty much obeying the ceasefire. But Israel had kept up a blockade of Gaza. It only allowed a slightly larger trickle of goods than before into Gaza. The Gazan economy was still being strangled: there could be no trade with anyone outside Gaza; energy had to come from Israel, which enforces a brutal energy shortage; food and water were also blocked; and so forth. Hospitals lacked supplies; food came mainly from international aid, and even that was interfered with; and many supplies, not just rocket parts, came only through clandestine tunnels to Egypt near the Rafah crossing. This amounted to an ongoing strangulation of the Palestinians. As well, Israel itself had decisively broken the truce on November 5 with a major attack in Gaza, and later in the month Israeli government leaders began talking about resuming targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders.
. Now, the missiles fired at Israel are crude devices, which can hardly be aimed. Hamas fires them off with the hope of hitting something, anything in Israel. It uses these weapons because it is an Islamic fundamentalist organization which doesn't have any idea of solidarity among the working people of all countries and religions. We are not supporters of Hamas or of its methods, but of the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, the imperialist hysteria about these missiles ignores what is really going on. Hamas uses these missiles as one of its only means of putting pressure on Israel to come to an agreement, and of retaliating against Israeli attacks. And the continued Israeli blockade of Gaza, and attacks on Gaza, cause incredibly more deaths and much more suffering than the Palestinian missiles from Hamas or other groups; this suffering continues not just during sporadic attacks, but on a 24/7 basis.
. Compare Israel and Hamas. In 1967 Israel launched the 6-day war against its neighbors. One of the main reasons it gave was that its neighbors had blocked its access to the Red Sea. Yet Israel still had its shoreline on the Mediterranean, a functioning internal economy, and commerce and direct links with the rest of the world. But even blockading just one of Israel's connections to world trade was regarded by Israel as an act of war justifying full-scale invasion.
. Well, Israel has been blockading all entrances to Gaza for 18 months. It has destroyed the commerce of Gaza and created, even before the recent fighting, an ongoing humanitarian disaster there. The point of this blockade is that Israel wants the Gazans to overthrow the Hamas government. It thinks that if it starves out the population, they will eventually do its bidding. The recent war is a continuation of this policy. The Israeli government openly says that the point is to have the population blame Hamas for its suffering. The recent war is simply then a continuation of the policy of having Israel and the US dictate the Palestinian government.
. Where does the Hamas government come from? It arose from elections for the Palestinian Authority. This authority runs an area, the West Bank (minus the numerous Israeli settlements, roads, checkpoints, and security zones) and Gaza, both sections being completely isolated from the world by Israel. The Palestinian areas are not allowed any direct contact with the rest of the world, whether an airport or a port on Gaza's shoreline or free access through checkpoints. Palestinians can not even go from Gaza to the West Bank without approval at Israeli checkpoints; nor can they move freely within the West Bank itself. Many children have to pass through checkpoints to go to school; sick people, to go to a medical facility. Even the custom duties the Palestinian Authority levies on imports and exports are collected by Israel, which thinks nothing of simply refusing to hand them over in order to put more pressure on the Palestinians. Even the water resources in Palestinian areas are, to a large extent, monopolized by Israel, which allows Jewish settlements on the West Bank many times more water per capita than Palestinians receive.
. Now, Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas had won the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in elections in January 2005. But then there were the legislative elections in January 2006. And Hamas won a majority in these elections.
. As a result, the US, Israel, the European Union, and various Arab countries imposed sanctions on the Palestinian people, sanctions for having voted for the wrong people. The outside powers demanded that Hamas accept the agreements made by Fatah with Israel, and they believed that by punishing the Palestinian people they could reverse the election result.
. Nor did Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas accept the vote. A series of complicated political maneuvers resulted; a Hamas-led government was formed; the security apparatus of the Palestinian authority mainly refused to obey this government; President Abbas dismissed the Hamas government; and the Hamas-led government, in turn, dismissed his decrees. Indeed, a festering civil war with many casualties broke out between Fatah and Hamas, and has lasted to the present, punctuated occasionally by such things as a brief national unity government.
. Meanwhile, in June 2006 Israel invaded Gaza (the recent invasion is hardly the first), then too with the excuse of stopping rocket fire. It also took the occasion to capture 64 Hamas officials, including 20 members of the Legislative Council, and about one-third of the Hamas cabinet officials, and also the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Thus Israel showed its lack of respect for even officials of the Palestinian Authority, and its determination to dictate who was the Palestinian government. Here's democracy for Palestinians, Israel and US-style: win election, and go to jail.
. Afterwards, the US and Israel continued to help arm the forces loyal to Abbas or, at least, hostile to Hamas. But this didn't work out as planned. In June 2007 the Fatah-Hamas civil war reached the point where, in Gaza, Hamas suppressed the security forces loyal to Abbas and took over completely, while Fatah consolidated its hold on the West Bank and suppressed Hamas's organizations there. The Palestinian Authority directly broke into two parts, one section in the West Bank, and one section in Gaza.
. The policy of suppressing Hamas having failed, Israel and Hamas sort of came to terms, and there was agreement on the ceasefire of June 2008, which I referred to earlier. But Israel barely allowed a larger trickle of goods into Gaza, and -- in violation of the ceasefire -- continued to choke the flow of food, water, energy, and other goods into Gaza.
. It is this policy of seeking to dictate the Palestinian government -- as well as the fact that, over the years, Israel has waged attacks on all other Palestinians groups as well -- that is behind this war. The war is the continuation of the policy of the blockade, the policy of starving out the Palestinian people.
. Israel gives several excuses for its actions:
. ** The Israeli zionists say that they are democratic, and the Palestinians are not. But not only was this a war to reverse the results of an election, but the theocratic zionist parties in Israel should be ashamed to talk of democracy. True, Israel has the form of a parliamentary democracy. But it forbids any party to run in elections unless it accepts that Israel is a Jewish state, that is to say, a state with special privileges for Jews, a theocracy. Parliamentary debate isn't allowed on this. Section 7(a) of the basic election law in Israel states that a party "may not participate in the elections if there is in its goals or its actions a denial of the existence of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people". This is equivalent to the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran declaring that no party may run that denies that Iran must be an Islamic state, a theocracy. And it's not a mere formality. Israeli Arab politicians have been attacked on the basis of this law. But for that matter, last week the Israeli government banned all Arab political parties from running in the coming legislative elections in February; this is punishment for Israeli Arab demonstrations against the invasion of Gaza. Only Israeli Arabs who are not in predominantly Arab parties will be allowed to stand for election. [The Israeli Supreme Court overturned the ban on the Arab parties, so they did run in the elections. ]
. The fact is that, defining itself as a Jewish state, Israel is therefore a theocracy, just as much as an Islamic state is one, even if Israel is one with a pro-Western style. It is based on the oppression of the Arab masses, both those in Israel proper and those in the West Bank and Gaza. It cannot accept that Israeli Arabs have equal rights with Jewish Israelis, even those Palestinians who live within its borders and are formally Israeli citizens. Nor can it accept that the masses in Gaza and the West Bank should have any rights at all, and it is determined to ensure that these Palestinians never become Israeli citizens. Indeed, the Israeli government has been considering how to push more Arabs out of Israel, and remove their citizenship. For example, in the negotiations with the US government and the Palestinians about a "two-state solution", the Israeli government has raised the idea of removing more of its Arab population and forcing them across the border into a Palestinian entity of some type.
. ** The Israeli government also complains of the missile attacks. While we oppose the missile attacks on civilians, we think that a government that carries out continued targeted assassinations and its own bombing attacks is hardly in a position to point the finger at others. Moreover, the truth is exactly the opposite of what the Israeli government says. Israel attacks Gaza not because Israel is being attacked by missiles, but because these attacks are ineffective. If Gaza had the ability to defend itself, the Israeli government would be negotiating, not regarding Gaza as one big slaughterhouse. Israel attacks Gaza over and over because it can attack Gaza with relative impunity. So it feels free to use any excuse, no matter how flimsy. Indeed, it has been noted that Israel often stages an attack on the West Bank or Gaza, and then uses the Palestinian retaliation as an excuse to stage more attacks.
. Well then, why does the US government side with Israel against the Palestinians? Why didn't the US government get upset at this massacre of Palestinians?
. It's not because there are a lot of Jews in the US. In fact, the American population is only 2% Jewish or so. Moreover, many American Jews do not agree with Israeli policy. Most of these dissenters don't have as radical a critique of Israel and the idea of a Jewish state as we do, but they don't like seeing Palestinians massacred. It's also notable, with respect to US policy in the Middle East, that pollsters tell us that, statistically, Jews are among the part of the American population most opposed to the US occupation of Iraq.
. No, there's another reason that the US government supports Israel. It's because Israel is a useful tool of US imperialist policy. The American bourgeoisie seeks to exploit not only American workers, but the entire world, and the American government is an imperialist government that throws its weight, and scatters its military bases, around the world. The American government is very interested in the Middle East, both for its oil and for its strategic position, and talks of its vital interests there. And Israel serves as an aircraft carrier state for the US government -- a big, solid base for American capitalist interference in the Middle East. Israel not only backs US policy, but its state of constant opposition to its neighbors leads it to infiltrate and undermine and destabilize various governments and movements in the Middle East. Recently Israel is even talking about carrying out an air attack on Iran, and it has served as a base against Arab political movements, both revolutionary movements and bourgeois movements.
. Nowadays there is a good deal of talk about how the situation with Israel and Palestine is a problem for the US government. And perhaps, with US bourgeois policy in the Middle East turning into a fiasco with the occupation of Iraq, some US imperialist strategists might be getting worried that the US government seem too close to Israel. But mainly they are worried about appearances. The long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a godsend for US imperialist policy for decades.
. Another question is why the tremendous brutality with which the Israeli government has treated the Gazans? And indeed, this brutality is only a continuation of how it has treated Arabs since the foundation of Israel. It treated Lebanon the same way in 2006, seeking to destroy as much of the Lebanese infrastructure as possible in their war. Why is there such unrestrained ferocity? Why the policy of the "boss is crazy"?
. It's not because there is something genetic in Israeli leaders or something peculiar in the Jewish religion. It is because this is the typical brutality with which imperialism has always treated colonial peoples, and always waged war against peoples it believed to be weaker than itself. Whether it is the occupation of Iraq in the last few years, the on-going war in Afghanistan, the long years of the war in Vietnam in the past, or the war against the Filipino movement back in the days when the US was the colonial master there, the US government has behaved the same way. And the Soviet Union, which pretended to be communist but was really state-capitalist, used the same brutality in its war in Afghanistan, that the US is using now.
. Indeed, in World War II, the major imperialist powers sometimes even treated each other the same way. At the beginning of the war, the western powers were shocked at Nazi bombing of Guernica in Spain and fire-bombing of Coventry and London in England. But as the war went on, the US and Britain staged more and more of their own terror and fire-bombing raids on German cities, and the US on Japanese cities. Gigantic firestorms were intentionally created, and up to 100,000 people would be killed in a single raid. For the working class, the issue was to defeat fascism, but for the American and British bourgeoisie, there was no compunction against engaging in mass slaughter.
. There are no inherently good peoples, and no inherently evil peoples. All peoples are divided into classes. The class struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie exists in all peoples, Americans, Germans, Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, and Arabs. The only alternative to the brutality of modern imperialism is building a movement that will unite the workers of all countries.
. With regard to Israel, while its refusal to accept the results of the election that brought Hamas to power is the immediate cause of the Gaza massacre, the underlying cause is the attempt to build a religious state based on a minority religion. The only real solution for Israel and Palestine is for there to be a single state where people of all religions have equal rights; where Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and nonbelievers live together in peace; and the Palestinians have the right to return to their homeland, from which they were forcibly removed. And it is the working class that is most interested in this, and that will eventually be the force that fights for it. Meanwhile each section of the bourgeoisie is interested in special privileges for itself, and the bourgeoisie as a whole is especially interested in dividing up the working class so that it won't unite across religious, cultural, and ethnic lines; the last thing the bourgeoisie wants to see is the workers unite on class lines.
. Israel, to establish itself as a theocracy, had to expel the majority of Palestinians. That is what happened. When Israel declared independence in 1948, this gave rise to war with its neighbors, as neither the Palestinians nor any Arab country accepted Israeli independence or the UN partition plan of 1947. Today even various Israeli historians have shown that the Israeli armed forces intentionally committed massacres for the sake of pushing the Palestinian masses out of the country. They forced many Arabs to flee, even attacking some Arab villages that weren't part of the war and that had alliances with them. When the war was over, they prevented Palestinian Arabs who had fled their villages from returning, and took over their land.
. From then to now, Israel has been based on keeping the Palestinians who fled, and those descended from them, out of the country. And it is based on putting pressure on the remaining Palestinians inside Israel. Palestinian Israelis have lower living standards, educational standards, and worse jobs than other Israelis, and there are many obstacles against them improving themselves.
. Indeed, the Israeli zionist parties today openly worry that Arabs might end up a majority in Israel. That's why they are thinking about a "two-state" solution, albeit one in which the Palestinians are warehoused in a powerless and isolated series of refugee camps called a state. If the Israeli government directly annexed the entire West Bank and Gaza, this would mean that the Palestinians presently living there would now be living in Israel. This would add to the number of Palestinians who presently live inside Israel and who already constitute about 20% of its population. So instead Israel gradually encroaches on the West Bank with heavily-subsidized Jewish-only settlements, which have privileged living conditions, rather than annexing the West Bank all at once. And that's why Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza several years ago, and Israel claimed that it no longer occupied Gaza, although Israel claimed the right to continue to control Gaza indirectly. They are following the old Bantustan practice that South Africa was so infamous for. Indeed, the Israeli government, during negotiations about a "two-state" solution, has repeatedly suggested that the borders be arranged in a way that would force many Israeli Arabs across the border onto the side of the Palestinian "state".
. At one time the Palestinian Liberation Organization electrified the world by not only fighting militantly against Israeli oppression, while the corrupt governments of the Arab bourgeoisie collaborated with imperialism, but also by advocating a democratic, secular (non-religious) Palestine embracing the entire territory of Palestine and Israel, a country in which Jews and Arabs would live together in peace. This was the correct solution, and for a time the PLO stood up for it.
. But the PLO leadership increasingly lost its connection with the masses. It finally came to terms, to some extent, with Israel and imperialism. When it negotiated the Oslo agreements, it didn't simply compromise with the Israeli government. It also gave up the ghost, abandoned its goals and its independence from Western imperialism, didn't pay much attention to the welfare and conditions of the masses, and sought cushy positions for its leaders. Arafat became notoriously wealthy and a number of other leaders also enriched themselves, while eventually the masses became increasingly impoverished. It is this which allowed Islamic fundamentalism to gain influence. Hamas organized certain welfare institutions for the masses; it was -- for the time being -- less corrupt; and it maintained an independence from Israel. But Hamas's Islamic fundamentalist standpoint is hostile to the interests of the masses. And it is opposed to the class struggle; it is based on keeping the working masses from a class stand. This is a difficult situation for the masses, as there is presently no large-scale organization standing for a truly revolutionary movement in Palestine, and Hamas will no doubt use a strong arm against all working class forces that oppose it. But it shows that class issues are intertwined with the issue of effectively fighting against national oppression. It is the PLO's bourgeoisification that has led to its bankruptcy.
. Returning to the current situation, what is the present outcome of the war?
. ** For one thing, the two-state solution looks worse than ever. The invasion of Gaza shows that the two-state solution means maintaining a Palestinian Bantustan where Israel can enter and rampage and kill whenever it wishes. The hope that the two-state solution will give Palestinians a truly independent home goes against the reality of Israel's need to oppress the Arab masses, if Israel is to maintain itself as a theocracy.
. ** Secondly, the brutality of the Gaza massacre has been a defeat for Israel. This is continuing to whittle away at Israeli support, and to expose imperialism in the eyes of many working people.
. ** It has also put a good deal of pressure on many of the bourgeois Arab states in the region, especially Egypt. They have been exposed yet again as collaborators with Israel against the Palestinians masses. They have no interest in defending fellow Arabs; they have no interest in democracy. They only want to preserve the rule of the local Arab bourgeoisies by making deals with imperialism.
. ** A few bourgeois Middle Eastern governments have found themselves somewhat strengthened. The Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran, for example, is no friend of the working masses, but it benefits from the discomforting of the other regimes. But this can't save it from the contradictions building up inside it. That, however, is a story for another day.
. ** It's not clear that the unilateral ceasefire will hold, and that the battle won't resume. So long as the blockade of Gaza remains, and the people are threatened with starvation, the possibility of a resumption of hostilities remains.
. ** The demagogy of the US government as a supposed "honest broker" between Israel and the Palestinians, and the pretenses of Bush's "road map" and other schemes, are shot to hell. Although the US government backs Israel to the hilt with diplomatic support and military aid, it likes to present itself as caring about the Palestinians too. Yet in this war, its heartlessness to the Palestinians is exposed once more. And this comes at a time when the occupation of Iraq and the "war on terror" have placed US policy into difficulties. This is a problem for the new Obama administration. So far, he has gone along with letting Israel crush the Palestinians as long as it liked, but appointed George Mitchell as his Middle Eastern envoy. This means continuing the same old imperialist policy, but hoping that Mitchell, a more subtle politician than Bush and his crew, can put it across.
. And what should working class activists do? We should support the Palestinian people against oppression, and thus help forge the international unity of the working masses. In doing so, we should bring out how it is US and world imperialism that back their continual oppression, and we should take every opportunity to bring out the class issues in this struggle.
. There are so many facets of the Israeli-Palestinian question that I could barely touch on some of
them, and had to ignore many others. There are issues such as how the Israeli government has
continued the settlement policy in the West Bank, broken up the West Bank into enclaves, and
stripped the Palestinians of their water supplies; how have Israeli Arabs fared; what are the
different forces inside Israel today and what are the prospects for the Israeli working class; more
on what happened to the PLO; how should working class activists deal with Hamas; what is
really meant by a "two state" solution, etc. But I will have to leave these issues to the discussion
period or for another time.
Last changed on June 5, 2009.