Mass action needed to stop bloodshed
Shahar Benhorin, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel-Palestine)
Whole families burnt alive. Parents with children. Shajaiya neighbourhood in Gaza is complete rubble. Over 1,100 Palestinians’ lives have ended since 8 July, as ruthless inferno has rained down on this besieged, impoverished, and highly populated strip of land during the Muslim Ramadan. Eid Al-Fitr, a usually festive holiday at the end of Ramadan, on 28–29 July, saw one of the most deadly air offensives on the Gaza Strip in this war, killing over a hundred residents.
As the average age of its 1.8 million residents is merely 17, the massive Israeli bombardments cruelly butchered around 250 children. Most residents killed had not participated in the fighting. Over 6,000 are reported injured, not including tens of thousands with trauma. Many have lost their homes. Over 100,000 are internally displaced.
The only power station in the strip has been hit and is reported to be beyond repair for a year. That station, along with electricity bought from Israel, before the war allowed the mass of the population in the Strip a few hours of electricity every day. Even this is destroyed now, along with ruined water and sewerage infrastructure.
There is no safe spot in the Gaza Strip and no way to leave. Each round of conflict is becoming more brutal. The bombing of the UNRWA school and the Waffa hospital, as well as mosques, exposed once again the cynicism of the Israeli propaganda that attempts to present the mass killing of civilians as an “unfortunate accident”. Some were killed by “warning missiles” that are shot at some of the buildings before they’re turned into ashes. These “humanitarian” means of warning the population are nothing but propaganda camouflage to cover the true nature of acts of state terrorism.
The repetitive lies of the Israeli government about a war of “defence” and “no choice”, clash with any sober view of the relation of forces and the whole context of the systematic military and economic aggression and super-oppression of the population in Gaza by Israel.
This propaganda is also refuted by the relatively small number of Israeli victims in this war. Three civilians in Israel have tragically died. Also 53 Israeli soldiers have needlessly died – more than the number of all those who died within Israeli borders as a result of the rockets and mortar shells fired by Hamas and some other Palestinian militias from the Gaza Strip since 2001.
However, in this war the Israeli ’Iron Dome’ system has intercepted almost all rockets with an identified potential to hit civilians. It is not by accident that only one of the three civilians in Israel who lost their lives was killed by a rocket, and that he was a Bedouin from the south of Israel who, like tens of thousands of Bedouins in the south, was denied any right of protection due to racist policies of the Israeli state. His village isn’t formally recognised, so the residents aren’t allowed to build or to have any minimal shelter. They don’t appear on the map, so the Iron Dome system simply ignores any rockets falling over their heads. The others were killed by mortar-shells (close range). One of them was a Thai immigrant worker, forced to continue working in a greenhouse under fire.
The number of Israeli soldiers who have died since the ground invasion began on 18 July is more than in any of the previous military onslaughts on the Gaza Strip, including during the intifadas. However, exceptionally, this has not yet led to a significant break in the high support for this war among the Israeli-Jewish public, whose fear of the rockets and of possible attacks on civilians via Hamas’ tunnels from the Strip, have translated into a strong, blind, national-chauvinistic mood.
While the opinion polls are products of manipulative questioning and in many cases ignore completely the non-Jewish population (25%), it seems, according to different polls, that among the Israeli-Jewish public, a sweeping majority of around 85% oppose a ceasefire and support the further continuation of war – an increase from the days before the ground invasion started.
This reactionary, incited mood is based not only on fear of the rockets, which has been exploited by the government, but also on a certain desperate idea that this bout of war, if there is a ceasefire now, won’t fulfil any of the government’s promises of security , as happened after previous rounds. After three weeks of war and bloodbath, Hamas is in fact still capable of launching rockets towards Tel Aviv and other central population centres in Israel. Any vicious and imaginary idea that the massacre of families in the Gaza Strip might promote any true security for the Israeli public will inevitably be shattered once more.
Failed ‘peace’ talks
How did this war come about? A nine-month charade of formal negotiations between Israel and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) collapsed in April following some provocations by Israel’s Netanyahu-led government. The whole negotiations period was used to cover up an acceleration of attacks on the Palestinians, including the killing of 61 Palestinians in the occupied territories, destruction of hundreds of Palestinian homes and extending the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The siege on the Gaza Strip was intensified, violating the ceasefire agreement that Israel signed at the end of the last round of war in November 2012, when the previous Netanyahu government reluctantly committed to ease the siege, particularly allowing a bit more space for fishing and agricultural work. Instead, live ammunition was used against fishermen and Palestinians who were within hundreds of metres of the land border. Meanwhile, the Hamas and Fatah Palestinian leaderships were pushed at that stage to move into implementing a long-discussed coalition government in the Palestinian Authority (PA), formally ending the divide between the two parallel authorities in the West Bank PA enclaves and in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli leaders retaliated with a campaign to remove Hamas from the coalition and to prevent it from participating in elections. The Israeli government found itself highly isolated internationally, even losing some support from its patrons in Washington. On 30 April, for the first time since the 2012 declared ceasefire, Israel assassinated a Hamas activist in the Gaza Strip, a top militia man. At the same time, throughout April and May, there was a sharp decline in projectile fire from the Strip, following a round of escalation in March (led by Islamic Jihad, after the Israeli killing of three of its fighters). Only four near-range rockets were detected in May. On 11 June, an attempted Israeli assassination of a Hamas police officer eventually resulted in the death of a seven-year old boy who died from his wounds within a few days.
A day later three Israeli youths disappeared in the West Bank, later found to be cruelly murdered by a small cell of terrorists who Netanyahu and Co identified with Hamas. Nevertheless, an Israeli police spokesperson admitted a few days ago that the police position is that the murder was not ordered or planned by the official Hamas organisation. That didn’t prevent Netanyahu from manoeuvring the situation cynically, all along claiming that Hamas was responsible and that “it will pay”, and possibly hiding from the Israeli public early assessments that the youths were dead.
He ordered a military raid on the West Bank, on a scale that hadn’t been seen for years, included the killing of several protesters and the arrests of hundreds of Palestinian activists identified with Hamas, including PA parliament members. Also arrested were about 50 former prisoners who were released in 2011 as part of the deal to secure the release of the Israeli soldier Shalit, and had nothing to do with the murders. When the bodies were found, Netanyahu and those around him were inciting for ’revenge’, inflaming even more the national tensions. Racist mobs, led by Kahanist-neofascist elements, physically attacked Arab-Palestinian workers and passers by. A Palestinian youth was kidnapped from Eastern Jerusalem and was barbarically beaten up and burnt to death.
As demonstrations and riots of Palestinians began in Eastern Jerusalem and inside Israel, the different militias in the Gaza Strip increased their projectile fire. Hamas’ armed wing, ’Azzadin Al-Qaasam was dragged in as well. The Netanyahu government’s control of the round of escalation it ignited was loosened. This war on Gaza is primarily a war to uphold the Israeli regime’s and this government’s prestige, and to appear to retaliate, take revenge, to buy time and allegedly try to solve the security problems of the Israeli public.
In reality, the right-wing security strategy has proved a complete failure. The siege policies, meant to topple Hamas, and a whole series of bloody military offensives on the Gaza Strip, only ended up eventually with Hamas and other militias getting stronger militarily, and possessing even more developed rockets. They sowed more desperation, bereavement, death and destruction, and by this also promoted the spectre of revengeful terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
Amira Hass, a rare honest Israeli journalist who has lived for decades within the occupied territories, described graphically the crisis trajectory of the Israeli regime: “Those who rejected Fatah and Yasser Arafat’s peace proposal for two states have now been given Haniyeh, Hamas and BDS. Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line, expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?” (21 July, Haaretz).
Now, as Netanyhau half-heartedly admits, the Israeli regime no longer has an interest in trying to topple Hamas in the Gaza Strip in the near future, as they can’t be certain of the other forces that would take its place. Already there are small forces identified with Da`esh (ISIS) in the Strip. While Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has called for the complete military takeover of the Strip (contradicting his past calls for a “complete disengagement”), the Israeli government’s Security Cabinet defined the aim of this war as: “Basing a long-term calm and security stability in the Palestinian arena, and on the basis of Hamas as the accountable entity, weakened militarily, restrained and restraining in Gaza, with economic-civil stabilisation”.
On the one hand, the current onslaught on Gaza demonstrates how far the situation in the region has deteriorated since the spectacular popular uprisings of the ’Arab Spring’ in 2011. When the previous Netanyahu government launched a war on Gaza in 2012, it didn’t dare to continue for more than a week, or to go ahead with a ground invasion. Within a few days the foreign ministers of Tunisia and Egypt were already physically visiting Gaza, and the Israeli government was in fear of both the abolishment of Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt and of ferment among Palestinians. Now, with the arrogant, criminal solidarity they receive from Egypt’s president Sisi, who dared to explicitly justify Israel’s stance, and with clear backing from all international powers, they have much more freedom of action for barbarity. The current war is now becoming longer and even deadlier than the 2008-2009 horrific slaughter.
Economic and social problems
The war also seems to serve this government in wiping out attention to the social crises and deepening economic problems in Israel. At a time of a serious slowdown in the Israeli economy, the government is now, during the war, promoting significant privatisation steps, among other attacks.
However, this regime is riding fast in the direction of a severe crisis after the war. This has already been manifested by unprecedented public clashes between ministers at a time of war, each trying to shake off responsibility for the gigantic blaze of this crisis. Despite boasting about destruction of around 20 Hamas tunnels in the Strip and trying to lever this into a display of strategic victory, they’re unlikely to be able to get any victory picture: After further rocket launches to the centre of Israel that led to an extensive cancellation of international flights, militia fighters again crossed the border via a tunnel on Monday 28 July and killed five soldiers. All the fundamental problems would remain.
Their new gimmick demand of demilitarisation of the Strip from rockets and tunnels is unlikely to be accepted by Hamas. It is a hypocritical demand for unilateral demilitarisation, allowing Israel to keep all its means of military aggression against the Palestinians. Even if formally Hamas would eventually accept something of the sort, it has no chance of being completely implemented on the ground.
Hamas so far hasn’t conceded much to the Israeli demands. Its popularity was seriously declining before this war, but now it has managed to boost its support as a ‘defence’ force. The attempts of Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al to play the role of a national leader, downplaying religious and sectarian divisions, has some similarities to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s rhetoric during the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon war. Now the Israeli government is faced with a situation where Sisi’s collaboration with it has meant that Egypt isn’t reliable in the eyes of Hamas for the negotiations. The Israeli leaders insist on the “Egyptian proposal” (perhaps with Saudi involvement) which was consolidated without Hamas’ approval, as they strive to avoid any possible deal that might involve Turkey and Qatar, that give support to Hamas’ position.
Though the central demands raised by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in this round are demands against the Israeli-Egyptian siege and Israeli aggressions, Netanyahu’s government wouldn’t allow itself to accept almost any of them, as that would be a major blow to its prestige and present it as a loser on the political field, despite its massive military force. The fact that the current government completely rejected Obama’s and the UN Security Council’s calls for an immediate ceasefire emphasises further that the Israeli regime can be expected to become even more isolated.
International public criticism and protests against Israel will be doubled following this war, as is indicated in the current impressive solidarity protests with Gaza internationally. Also, very significantly, the Israeli government and its partners internationally are worried now about the dramatic radicalisation among Palestinian communities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and within Israel.
Following the bloodbath in Gaza’s Shajaiya neighbourhood, where over a hundred were slain, a popular Palestinian protest strike was organised by the Palestinian workers’ unions in the West Bank and by the Supreme Committee of the Arab-Palestinian public within Israel on Monday 21 July. With the lack of wider trade union backing — the Histadrut has outrageously supported the war — this was not primarily a workers’ strike, but thousands of small businesses were shut down, and even some of the branches of the main Israeli banks were closed, with their managements fearing to violate the strike.
On Thursday 24 July, tens of thousands demonstrated in the West Bank, beginning to indicate the true power that can stop the fierce reaction and madness of massacre: the road of a mass struggle, so consciously avoided throughout years by the Fatah and Hamas dead-end strategies. While not yet a mass popular uprising, protests were organised all across the West Bank. The largest demonstration was a protest march from the refugee camp of Al-Am’ari near Ramallah to the Qalandiya checkpoint. 20,000 participated. This is not only the largest Palestinian demonstration against the attack on Gaza so far, but one of the largest demonstrations seen in the West Bank for years.
Protesters shouted solidarity calls with Gaza residents and marched heroically under a heavy military repression. A barricade of burning tyres was set up to block military attacks, fireworks were shot in the air, and some youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails in clashes with the army. In Bethlehem, vehicles and trash containers were used for barricades. Thousands demonstrated in Nablus. A militant demonstration took place in front of the Bet-El colonial settlement near Ramallah.
Nine protesters were killed by the Israeli military, and another one by a Settler, trying to suppress the movement. This shows the need and importance of taking the struggle forward by organising democratic popular committees that could help to mobilise, coordinate, and guard protests and actions – including by armed means, under democratic control.
Within Israel, demonstrations of thousands of Palestinians took place in Nazareth, Kfar Kana and Umm Al-Fahem, despite arrests of hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel and residents of Eastern Jerusalem throughout July. This coincided with a 6,000-strong mostly-Jewish demonstration against the war in central Tel-Aviv on Saturday 26 July, the largest demonstration against the war within Israel so far. Thousands came despite the fact that previous anti-war demonstrations were small and subject to physical attacks by the far-right (including on members of Socialist Struggle Movement). It was also despite the fact that the demo was not backed by any Israeli establishment party, including Meretz (a “left” liberal nationalist party that supported the war and now calls for a ceasefire). And, despite the fact that the police announced on the radio and TV an hour before that it had cancelled the event, before it was approved again.
Some demonstrators were again physically beaten at the end of that demonstration, and on that day two Palestinians in Jerusalem were severely beaten by the far-right, almost lynched. But these thousands could very well now give confidence to a few thousand more to come out against the war. All in all, the development of these protests is a turning point.
Route to a Palestinian state
Socialist Struggle Movement, the section of the CWI in Israel-Palestine, is in full solidarity with the Palestinian people against the Israeli brutal, barbaric aggressions, and with ordinary Israeli people who have suffered losses in the war. Underlying the current arrogant chauvinistic mood among a majority of Israeli workers there are aspirations for fundamental solutions. Netanyahu is making it more and more explicitly clear that in reality he doesn’t support any form of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. The sections of the Israeli ruling class that he represents don’t regard it as in their interests for there to be any hint of a viable, independent Palestinian state. They – echoed by many in the US establishment – fear that a Palestinian state would not help them to stabilise the national conflict and the situation in the region, but on the contrary, that it would be controlled by political forces unreliable from their standpoint, strengthened militarily, with possible further claims on territory and resources, and therefore would be a major destabilising, radicalising factor in the region, including among Palestinian communities in Israel and the diaspora.
Netanyahu recently declared: “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan”. This lack of the slightest political will by the present Israeli regime to concede any form of independent state is clearly marking its role of perpetuating the bloody conflict. Israeli-Jewish workers will eventually conclude that as long as they side with their own exploiters and oppressors against the Palestinians, they will not acquire lasting security, peace and social justice.
It is up to socialist forces to consistently explain not only the need for Israeli workers to struggle for immediate economic issues, but to principally support the rights of the Palestinians, as a crucial step towards a just peace, based on an end of the siege, occupation, settlements and all forms of oppression of the Palestinians; the end of all national privileges and discriminations for any group, and the practical fulfilling of an equal right of self-determination. This would mean the establishing of a truly independent, equal, democratic and socialist Palestinian state, next to a socialist and democratic Israel, with two capitals in Jerusalem and equal rights for minorities, as part of the struggle for a socialist spring in the Middle East.