By Dekel Avshalom in Israel
In a surprise attack last week, Israel’s air force infiltrated the Gaza Strip and started blasting away. On Saturday, the air force was accompanied by blasting from the navy and infiltration of tanks and foot soldiers into the Strip causing death and destruction in horrifying dimensions. Up to this time, the death toll for Palestinians stands at 526 people, with 2500 injured. Israeli officials, in particular Defense Minister Ehud Barak, keep reminding us that “this is just the beginning”. Israeli media is overjoyed in stressing the claim that the “majority” of the victims are Hamas soldiers. We do not exactly know how they define a “Hamas soldier”, but the fact that 107 of the murdered victims were children, makes it very hard for us to believe such claims. This attack is overwhelming in nature. It has been reported that since the 1967 war Israel had never used such a massive air attack.
This attack was preceded by a series of deceptive manoeuvres on the part of Israel in order to keep Hamas off guard. Israel kept up the pretence of negotiations on the ceasefire and even allowed goods to enter the Strip. This deception should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows Ehud Barak’s tactical mind. Just a short while ago, Barak used the same deceptive tactics in order to lull some entrenched Rightist Jewish settlers in Hebron before evacuating them by force.
A statesman in such a high position does not normally use such tactics unless he is desperate. And Barak’s desperation is what lies behind such an unprecedented attack. Barak apparently saved the attack for a special moment in which he could improve his position in the polls for the upcoming national elections. These polls consistently show that the party under his leadership will receive its lowest number of votes to date.
For a long time Barak postponed the attack so it would not seem that he was working under the pressure of his opponents. He wanted the credit all for himself. Now, the Israeli masses, worked up by the media, got what the media told them they wanted: revenge. Barak plans to surf on a wave of Palestinian blood into a position of larger number of seats in parliament.
In many ways, this attack has similarities with the Lebanese fiasco in 2006. It also is a staggering failure for Israel from the very moment it was concocted in the twisted minds of Barak and the army generals. Just as in Lebanon, also here the army has failed to stop the rocket launching into Israel. Hamas launched hundreds of them uninterruptedly, killing 3 Israelis in one day and wounding several others. It would also not be surprising if it comes out that the army wanted this result in order to incite Israelis against the Palestinians and to maintain support for the current operation. Just as in Lebanon, also here the operation has no concrete purpose. It is obvious that it cannot destroy Hamas, which will surely rearm itself within a few months of the operation ending. So it all seems just like an unleashing of random violence by the army for no obvious reason other than crude revenge. The difference between the current operation and the Lebanese one is that now the media is full of praises for the Defense Minister and the army on the exact level of performance that was shown in Lebanon.
Collaborating democracy with imperialism
How do we explain a situation where the Israeli masses have been whipped up into such a state of mind of a vengeful and shortsighted focus of their political worldview on “getting back” at the Palestinians? What should not be underestimated here is the psychological warfare the Israeli ruling elite has been waging against the Israeli masses. The media, the military and the politicians have been collaborating to create the impression that the rocket launching from the Gaza Strip has made the surrounding Israeli settlements look like a war zone. In actual fact, since 2004 to just before the recent operation began, the number of Israelis killed by such rockets is less than 15. To put things in perspective, the number of Israeli workers that died because of accidents in their workplaces during this period, was over 10 times that number. This number also resembles the number of Israelis that die in traffic accidents in less than two weeks. So if Barak is really so eager to protect Israeli lives through military means, he should be mobilising the air force against the Israeli bourgeoisie and the state bureaucrats responsible for transport safety rather than against the Palestinian masses!
The military is making the lives of the Israelis in the settlements around Gaza as fearful as it can be. It is inducing a feeling of panic among the public using every means including loud sirens, arbitrary “defence” measures such as ducking and hiding, and forcing people into bomb shelters, all in response to rockets that pose a minimal security threat. All this horror show is designed with one aim in mind: to make ordinary Israelis support the continuity of Israel’s control over Gaza, and thus to pressure or to help democratically elected politicians to fall in line with imperialist interests.
In the current economic crisis, control over Gaza is crucial to Israeli imperialism more than ever since the first Palestinian uprising in 1987. First of all, it satisfies the military’s hunger for state spending on arms. The military, and the politicians under its influence, have proven themselves eager to do battle in any period in which their fiscal prerogatives are at jeopardy.
The most crucial thing for Israeli imperialism, however, is to maintain stability for the “moderate” PLO in the West Bank which provide Israel with numerous resources in terms of one of the cheapest workforces in the world, a captive market that is dependent on absorbing Israel’s surpluses, and land and water resources that Israel desperately needs. It requires the “pacifying” of Gaza in order to make sure that the terrorism it hosts will not slide over into the West Bank and undermine the PLO regime.
This is not to say that Gaza is meaningless to Israel in its own right. Despite its massive levels of poverty, the fact that the Gaza masses depend on goods coming through Israel gives the Israeli capitalists an advantage in terms of a captive market as well, that is, as a long-term perspective. This may also explain why the Israeli army has made much more of an effort to destroy the tunnels that smuggle goods from Egypt than it has to destroy the rocket launchers which were the formal reason for the operation in the first place!
What does Hamas want?
Unlike common-sense economic reductionism held by many on the Left, terrorist groups don’t simply grow out of poverty. Just as the PLO, Hamas emerged from within the Palestinian petty bourgeoisie. They use the masses and their plight mostly as a tool to achieve their class interests which in this context usually include more lucrative jobs and positions. After Israel co-opted the PLO into collaboration with it in exchange for jobs created especially for the PLO members (the jobs created under the cloak of the “Palestinian Authority”), Hamas wanted its peace of the pie as well.
It started to gather support from many frustrated Palestinians in the face of the PLO’s betrayal using, among other things, vengeful acts of terrorism against Israelis. In parallel, it used similar tactics of terrorism in order to lure Israel into negotiating with it, carrying the risk of Israel’s military, rather than diplomatic, retaliation.
Just like Israel’s ruling class, Hamas also benefits from the occupation. It uses it in order to gather support by the same populist means of violent rhetoric and actions used by the Israeli politicians. It also enjoys political and economic benefits via its control over smuggling commodities into the Strip: just like Israel, it to can benefit from the captive market in Gaza.
In such a situation it is puzzling why, some among the international Left are tempted to take a supportive stance towards Hamas. They usually state that despite Hamas’ reactionary ideology, it should be supported because of its “progressive fight against Israeli imperialism”. The folly of such an idea becomes obvious if we look at Hamas from materialistic lines and ask ourselves what would happen if Hamas were to win this conflict? Will it weaken Israeli imperialism as the idealistic Leftists assume? A victory for Hamas could only mean that Israel would be forced to negotiate with it and give it similar political concessions as it gave to the PLO. The imperial relation of Israel towards the Palestinians may take a different form, but it will remain intact. Because under capitalism Palestine cannot be completely cut off from Israel, and will always be dependent on it, a national liberation movement that limits itself to struggling within the confines of capitalism cannot go in any other direction.
Furthermore, bourgeois or petit bourgeois national liberation leaders have usually tended to push the proletariat in the oppressed nation into accepting their leadership because they became aware of the potential power of the workers. Such was the alliance between the South African workers and the ANC leaders who brought down the apartheid regime. But Here, Hamas has made very little effort to create an alliance with the Palestinian workers. Until now it has mostly just harassed their trade unions. Hamas thus have only the power of terrorism and collisions with the Israeli army to get concessions from Israel. Relying on this broken reed, its “anti-imperialist” credentials appear as somewhat exaggerated.
Is there a way out?
We are entering yet another cycle of violence between Israel’s ruling class and Hamas. Such cycles began with Israel’s opening up to the PLO in 1994. Each cycle brings Israel to a more violent response. However, the army has no intention of remaining entangled in the Strip for too long. This operation may last a bit longer and be much more violent than its predecessors because Barak’s election campaign has to be taken into consideration. Although it is also true that once it ends, the operation always leaves behind the preconditions for the next operation.
The Zionist chauvinism that characterized the first days of the operation is gradually being replaced by fear of yet another debacle such as in Lebanon. Journalists are constantly asking political and military leaders for the actual goals which this operation intends to achieve. The answers are always vague and illusive, such as “to radically change the array of deterrence”. In that background, the announcement of Barak on Saturday was especially alarming. He said that the operation would take a long time and would have numerous victims. With no one knowing what this operation is for, this holds a puzzling future for the stability of the political system in Israel: after the chauvinism fades away, the death toll will keep increasing and many questions will be raised by the masses.
To the dismay of the Israeli ruling class, thousands of Jews and Palestinians came this Saturday to Tel Aviv for a mass demonstration against the war (see video below). This is unprecedented. In the Lebanese war it took two months of bloody entanglement for so many protestors to show up. The protestors were constantly harassed by Zionist counter-protests which show just how frightened they are of the emerging protest movement in Israel. Small as it is now, the Zionists are instinctively aware of the fact that it holds the only real key to their downfall.
As this website has repeated many times over, there cannot be a solution within the confines of bourgeois politics to this or any other major political conflict in the world. However, for the moment Israel and Palestine are deprived of any other form of politics. As long as this situation persists, these cycles of violence will continue. We can be sure, though, that from the impossibility of a solution to the situation under capitalism, new political forces are bound to emerge on both sides. The nature of these new forces is impossible to predict at this stage. But if they do not base themselves on the revolutionary collaboration of Israeli and Palestinian workers and poor against their mutual oppressors, no progressive change can be forthcoming from within the Israeli-Palestinian borders.
Tuesday, 06 January 2009