With world attention focused on the war in Lebanon, the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the West Bank has largely slipped under the radar screen of the mass media. Yet over the summer, Israel massively stepped up its assault on the Palestinian people.
The Israeli government has carried out a brutal policy of collective punishment in response to Palestinian militias taking prisoner an Israeli solider in June, which in turn was a reaction to recent Israeli killings of many other Palestinians. 12,000 Israeli shells have been fired into Gaza, destroying vital civilian infrastructure. Gazas only power station was knocked out by Israeli missiles, cutting off electricity to 65% of the territory and stopping water supply pumps.
In July, the Israeli attacks killed 163 Palestinians in Gaza, the most of any month since 2002. Thirty six of the victims were children. Dozens of elected members of the Palestinian government have been arrested and thrown into Israeli jails. This follows an economic blockade by Israel and the major world powers following Hamass landslide victory in the Palestinian elections in January. These sanctions have resulted in a enormous increase in poverty, malnutrition, and unemployment.
These developments have aroused massive anger throughout the Middle East. Many in the antiwar movement in the U.S. and around the world are asking: how can this conflict be resolved? Is there any way to stop the seemingly endless cycle of war? How can Palestinians aspirations for national and social liberation be achieved?
The mainstream media in the U.S. has presented the taking of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldier prisoner in a highly slanted fashion. The reality is that since the IDF occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, over 650,000 acts of imprisonment of Palestinians have been carried out by the Israeli state. Over 9,000 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners languish in Israeli jails, many of whom are being held for months or years without any charges.
This is just one indication of the underlying cause of the current conflict: the systematic denial of the Palestinians’ basic democratic rights and their tremendous social and economic oppression.
This is also seen in the searing poverty in the Occupied Territories (the West Bank and Gaza). The World Bank predicts that by the end of 2006, 67% of Palestinians will be in poverty which they defined as living on less than $2 per day – though the situation could very well be even worse than that by then. Incredibly, the World Food Program recently reported that many Palestinians are now living on only one meal per day.
Some have tried to portray Israels disengagement from Gaza last year as a step towards a Palestinian state. But the reality is that it has not alleviated the Palestinian masses poverty and oppression.
The withdrawal has been used as camouflage for stepping up the oppression of the Palestinians in other areas. While 8,500 settlers were moved out of Gaza, room was made for 30,000 more in the West Bank. The Israeli government has speeded up the building of a giant Berlin-style separation wall surrounding and dividing the West Bank. The wall has isolated 242,000 Palestinians, or 10% of the population, in the closed military zone between Israels border and the western side of the wall. Whole swaths of Palestinian land have been confiscated in the process of building the wall.
This is part of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmerts plan to unilaterally impose a final settlement on the Palestinians, which will leave them with only 11% of the original land area of Palestine, all of which will be divided into atomized parcels of land that would be little better than prison camps.
Socialists support the Palestinian people in their struggle for national and social liberation, while also defending the right of the Israeli people to also have their own state. We campaign to build solidarity and support for the Palestinian struggle internationally through education and mass protests. This is particularly important here in the U.S. because of the U.S. imperialisms crucial role in the conflict.
Every year, the U.S. government backs the Israeli capitalist regime to the tune of over 5 billion of our tax dollars. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world. Israel receives rockets, tanks, and helicopters to use on the Palestinians that are made in the U.S.
The U.S. ruling class has never been motivated by supporting the rights of Jewish people. It supports Israel in order to have a reliable point of support for capitalism in the oil-rich and politically strategic region.
Socialists oppose the policy of the U.S. government in the Middle East, a policy of the oil barons, which has nothing in common with the interests of American workers and youth. We call for the US government to pull out of the Middle East, which would include an end to all military funding of Israel, the backing of corrupt regimes in the Arab countries, and the dismantling of all military bases in the region, as well as an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why should billions of our tax dollars be wasted every year to arm the brutal Israeli government? The hypocrisy of the Republicans and Democrats is astounding. First they slash funding for social services, telling us they don’t have the money to fund our needs. Then they give away billions per year to Israel, spend hundreds of billions on the war in Iraq, and budget over $450 billion for the Pentagon each year!
Class Divisions Within Israel
Despite the myth of Israeli society as one homogenous, united mass, there are actually enormous divisions within Israel.
In the 1990’s, the Israeli ruling class, through both the so-called Labor Party and Likud, launched a massive neoliberal assault on the welfare state and the working class. Public services (education, healthcare, housing, and jobs) have been privatized and budgets cut. This led to growing strikes and discontent, including several public-sector general strikes. Students occupied their universities to protest education funding cuts and the introduction of tuition fees (college was previously free).
The neoliberal offensive has led to an unprecedented polarization of wealth within Israel. The number of people officially below the poverty line has increased to 24.1%, compared to 21.5% in 2003 and 16% in 1991. Even 40% of holocaust survivors, 170,000 pensioners, are living below the poverty line.
There is also racist discrimination towards the Sephardic Jews (originating from Arab countries), who are treated like second-class citizens compared to the Ashkenazi Jews (originating from Europe). As of 1997, for example, the income of the average Ashkenazi was 56% higher than that of the average Sephardi. Then there are the 1 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, who could only be described as third-class citizens.
At the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, the Israeli ruling class promised a “land of milk and honey” for its people, but has only delivered decades of crisis and wars, and in recent years falling living standards.
Ordinary Israeli Jews understandably want an end to suicide bombings and rocket attacks on civilian areas. But how can this be achieved? The Israeli ruling class has proven itself totally incapable of providing security for Israelis. The only way to bring about peace, stability, and an end to the conflict is on the basis of accepting the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state.
But at the same time, the security concerns of the Israeli people must be taken into account. The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews would never accept being part of a larger Palestinian state, or a secular, democratic Palestine as some on the left call for. They see the existence of the state of Israel as essential to their historic survival. On the basis of capitalism, the Israeli population, with the backup of its large armed forces, would fight to the bitter end to prevent the liquidation of what they see as their homeland.
Genuine Marxists opposed the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, arguing it was completely wrong to try and fulfill one peoples national aspirations on the basis of trampling on the Palestinians right to self-determination. In spite of the way it was founded, now that Israel had a Jewish population of over five million and given the existence of a Jewish-Israeli national consciousness, it would be completely wrong to deny Israeli Jews their right to a national homeland.
Socialist Alternative and the CWI, therefore, defend the right of the Israeli people to have their own state, Israel, alongside an independent Palestinian state. The CWI section in Israel is also campaigning for a mass struggle to stop the neoliberal attacks and for living-wage jobs for all, trade union rights, free education, healthcare, childcare, housing, and equal rights for Palestinians within Israel.
Many Palestinians and activists around the world are asking, What are the impoverished Palestinians to do against one of the most technologically-advanced militaries in the world?
The Israeli government and the IDF will never be able to militarily crush the Palestinian struggle. The Palestinian masses have shown again and again an iron determination to fight at all costs and a refusal to be cowed.
But nor will the Palestinians be able to militarily defeat the Israeli state, particularly as long as the Israeli working class remains united behind the Israeli ruling class.
A strategic task in the Palestinian struggle must be to appeal to Israeli workers, youth, and soldiers in the IDF in order to split open cracks in Israeli society, explaining that ordinary Israelis have no interest in fighting a hopeless war that will never bring security or peace. The Israeli ruling class is not their friend it is the same class that is attacking their living and working conditions.
An indication of the potential of such a strategy was shown by the emergence of the refusenik movement in 2002. This was a movement of over 1,000 army officers, soldiers, and reservists who publicly refused to serve in the Occupied Territories.
Building a Struggle from Below
Many Palestinian groups have traditionally relied on the struggle being carried out by small groups of armed men and women, on the one hand, or diplomatic pressure from Western imperialist countries and the political and financial support of reactionary Arab regimes on the other. Both these strategies reduce the Palestinian masses to the role of mere observers in their struggle for liberation.
Yet the entire history of the Palestinian struggle, particularly the first Intifada and the beginning of the second, shows that the driving engine has been the masses, not the so-called leaders. The PLO leadership in exile was actually shocked by the explosion of the first Intifada, tried to control the movement from exile, and failed to give it full logistical support.
This is even more true in relation to the second Intifada. Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet (Israeli security services), commented, Yasser Arafat neither prepared nor triggered the Intifada. The explosion was spontaneous, against Israel…and against the Palestinian Authority, its corruption, its impotence. (Le Monde, 12/22/01)
So what kind of struggle is necessary to win a viable, independent Palestine that will resolve the conflict?
The Palestinian struggle needs to be based on a mass movement from below organized along revolutionary lines. Such a struggle would need to be under the democratic control of elected popular committees of struggle, like the ones developed during the first Intifada.
Under conditions that exist today, the Palestinian masses have no choice but to defend themselves arms in hand. This requires the formation of self-defense committees, but their activities should be under the democratic control of the masses through elected popular committees.
Such a mass movement could explain to the IDF conscripts that Israeli Jewish workers and youth face two options: either a continuing cycle of war and bloodshed (in which the Palestinians would fight to the end), or a struggle to overthrow capitalism in Israel and Palestine followed by genuine and open negotiations with elected representatives from both sides of the national divide who would base their deliberations on the recognition of the national, religious, cultural, and ethnic rights of all participants and would discuss how to use the resources of the region to guarantee the security and living standards of all.
But Palestinians would not end their struggle for liberation at the doorstep of an independent state still impoverished and repressed by a corrupt Palestinian elite. The struggle for statehood is organically linked in the minds of the Palestinians with the desire for a better life. They want decent homes, water, electricity, schools, healthcare, and jobs.
However, on the basis of capitalism, an independent Palestine would be a feeble, impoverished state dominated by foreign corporations and banks. The grinding poverty of the masses would only continue. Israel would still control the best land, water rights, electricity, and resources, and Israel would determine the borders.
An independent capitalist Palestine would not be independent at all. It would still be militarily, economically, and politically dominated by Israel and foreign powers. Israeli capitalism would only accept an unarmed Palestinian state where Israel maintained overwhelming military superiority and the right to militarily intervene as it saw fit. The Israeli regime would demand the right to defend Jewish settlements in the West Bank with its own defense forces, thus undermining the independence and viability of a contiguous Palestinian state.
The experience of the Palestinian Authority has made this crystal clear. The PA has been anything but independent. It has been wracked by corruption and chaos while living standards continue to fall for the Palestinian people.
Throughout the Middle East, the masses live in abject poverty and lack basic social services. In Egypt, 44% of the population lives on less than $2 per day. Similarly, in Jordan 30% live below the poverty line. Yet the Middle East is one of the richest regions of the world with its enormous oil wealth. But this wealth has been siphoned off by kings, dictators, and foreign capitalists.
Only by taking the enormous wealth of the region under democratic control through public ownership of the big corporations could the basic needs of the masses be met. That is why the only basis for genuine independence for Palestine and a viable solution to the conflict is a socialist solution: an independent, socialist Palestine alongside a socialist Israel as part of a wider voluntary confederation of socialist states in the region.
Only on this basis would the Palestinian people achieve real liberation true independence from Israeli domination, the right to democratically control their lives, and an end to social and economic oppression.
Some on the left pour scorn on the idea of a socialist solution being realistic. But what solution has capitalism been able to offer? For decades, it has torn the Middle East apart with war, violence, oppression, and poverty. What is utopian is to believe that capitalism or imperialism can resolve the bitter tensions in the Middle East. Far from it, capitalism is hurling the region towards disaster.
Of the current regimes, all of which base themselves on capitalism, who can resolve the conflict? The U.S. regime has made its position clear its oil interests in the region are king, and movements of resistance will be targeted and crushed. Israeli capitalism will not allow a genuine, viable Palestinian state.
As the Lebanon war dramatically demonstrated, the Arab elites are spineless and groveling in the face of imperialism. These corrupt, dictatorial regimes fear that a mass struggle for Palestinian liberation will radicalize their own populations, leading to their overthrow.
There is no solution on the basis of the current leaders Israeli leaders, U.S. leaders, Palestinian leaders, or Arab leaders. There can be no solution from above. The only solution will come from below, a struggle by the different peoples of the region – Palestinians, Arabs, and Israelis against their common enemies, Israeli capitalism, U.S. imperialism, and Arab capitalism.
Hamas in Power
Hamas the Islamic Resistance Movement – was elected in a landslide victory in January 2006 due to widespread anger with Fatah, the dominant political group throughout the previous 39 years of Israeli occupation. It was a vote against the corrupt Fatah leadership that, incapable of meeting Palestinian aspirations, wallowed in corruption at the head of the PA while the majority of Palestinians were crushed under Israeli military occupation.
The Hamas government was immediately vilified as a terrorist government by the Israeli regime and capitalist powers internationally. But the real reason for giving the Palestinians collective punishment in the form of sanctions is Hamass history of adopting an uncompromising anti-Israeli stance, which brings it into conflict with the imperialist powers. Those same powers have long supported the Israeli capitalist state despite its use of state terror against the Palestinians.
In the election campaign, Hamas tried to broaden their appeal by playing down their support for an Islamic state, which their 1988 founding charter commits them to. Since taking power, Hamas has been careful to avoid taking measures to impose Islamic laws like dress codes or banning alcohol, etc. However, there are still fears that in the future they may try to carry our Sharia law and implement reactionary sexist and anti-working class policies.
One of the tactics Hamas has used has been suicide bombings. While recognizing the conditions that give rise to desperate Palestinian youth resorting to suicide bombings, Socialist Alternative and the CWI oppose this tactic. Suicide bombings cannot succeed against the overwhelming military force of the Israeli state. Instead, it rebounds against Palestinians, giving the Israeli regime a pretext to carry out brutal state terrorism. Rather than increasing opposition to the occupation, it tends to drive Israeli workers into the hands of the most reactionary elements in Israeli society.
Neither Hamas nor the Arab nationalist Fatah can show a way forward. A capitalist Palestinian state, whether Islamic or secular, would not solve the Palestinians severe economic problems. Many Hamas leaders are self-sacrificing, have rejected the corruption of Fatah, and condemn U.S. imperialism. But once in power, whether in councils or government, they have turned to passing the burden of economic crisis onto the shoulders of workers through job cuts and privatizations, as has Fatah. The key to advancing the struggle of the Palestinian people is building a democratic mass movement that bases itself on the class interests of the Palestinian workers and poor.