Thursday, January 29, 2009

Israel’s Massacre in Gaza: A Balance-Sheet of the Struggle

By Walter Leon
Thursday, 29 January 2009

Israel has recently declared a unilateral ceasefire, bringing to an end one of its bloodiest military incursions into the Gaza strip. As the dust settles, the scale of the devastation becomes clear: over 1,300 Palestinians lie dead, with estimates of the number wounded topping 5000. Much of Gaza's infrastructure lies in ruins, with power stations, water networks and sewage systems destroyed; homes, mosques and even schools have been reduced to rubble. According to the UN, the cost of rebuilding Gaza could run into billions of dollars [1].

The most obvious victims of this war (though to call such a one-sided conflict a war seems in bad taste) are the people of Gaza, whose terrible plight is difficult to imagine. Though it would be an insult to the people of Gaza to draw equivalence between their level of suffering and that of the people of Sderot, the situation for the residents of Israel's border towns should not be ignored. For them too, things have become highly unpleasant: three of their number have been killed, and their lives have been blighted by the constant threat of rocket-fire.

But what of Hamas and the Israeli ruling class? And for that matter, where does this leave the interests of US imperialism?

Defeat for Hamas

Despite official proclamations of a "popular victory" [2], Hamas has been severely weakened. Although Israel failed to completely destroy them, many of their best cadres have been killed, including members of the so-called ‘Iran-unit', composed of a hundred or so guerrilla fighters trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard [3]. In marked contrast, Israel suffered no real military damage, losing a mere ten soldiers.

Even Israel's failure to recover Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier, is of secondary importance - it will not be long before his release is negotiated. When Israel's bombardment was at its fiercest, Hamas was conducting secret negotiations with Israel (via Egyptian mediation), and when Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire, Hamas didn't take long to declare one of their own.

Despite Hamas' absurd claim of victory, this defeat leaves them in a position where they will be forced to accept a deal largely on Israel's terms. It is instructive that hardly anyone turned up to the victory parade organised by Hamas in Gaza City [4].

Indeed, the deal being negotiated between Hamas and Egypt is tantamount to a surrender by the organisation. As Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff write in Haaretz [5]:

"The Egyptian proposal is mostly bad for Hamas. It doesn't let the organization bring the Palestinian public any political achievement that would justify the blood that has been spilled, and even forces on it the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, in the form of its renewed presence at the Rafah crossing (as a condition for its reopening).

"Once the cease-fire is reached, the IDF will withdraw from the positions it captured in Gaza, and only then will the two sides begin to discuss the opening of border crossings and removal of the blockade, which was the reason Hamas gave for waging war. The most that Cairo is offering is a timetable for the opening of the crossing points, and even that depends on negotiations due to begin after the cease-fire is reached, and it's tough to know how or when they will end."

So Hamas is prepared to accept its border crossings being under the control of the Palestinian Authority, which has many times shown itself prepared to do Israel's dirty work policing the Palestinian masses, and even foreign powers: according to a report in al-Sharq al-Awsetv [6], Hamas will accept the crossings being monitored by ‘international observers'. Israel will insist on preventing weapons being taken into Gaza, and Hamas will be in no position to oppose this.

So, instead of self-determination, Hamas is preparing to settle for being regulated (and effectively disarmed) by the occupier and its stooges. Why? Because they want to be seen as ‘responsible' by the imperialists. Its attacks on Sderot and other towns, designed to increase its bargaining power, are mere pin-pricks on the Israeli state.

Such a movement as Hamas, tightly controlled from the top, suppressing any dissent (let us not forget that one of Hamas' first actions upon taking control of Gaza was to attack the offices of the Palestinian Trade Union Federation), and alienating potential support amongst Israel's own poor and downtrodden, is completely incapable of building the sort of mass movement needed to threaten imperialism and its local stooges.

Like the PLO before it, Hamas will likely come to some sort of accommodation with the occupier in return for a limited degree of autonomy. This will expose the internal contradictions within the movement. Just as when the PLO was negotiating the Olso Accords with Israel, the more hard-line Tanzim (centred around jailed leader Marwan Barghouti) broke away, factions opposed to the current sell-out will split from Hamas. (This has already begun to happen - a dissident faction of Hamas has just set of a bomb near the Gaza border, killing one Israeli soldier.)

However, these factions will in the end offer no real alternative. (For instance, Barghouti has repeatedly signalled his willingness to negotiate with Israel.) Hamas and the PLO don't collaborate with Israel because of some elaborately worked-out plan or conspiracy - they do it because the logic of their movements prevents them ever mobilising a mass base, and so the failure of their ‘armed struggle' (i.e. attacks on civilians) to dent Israeli power leaves them with no option but to sell out in the hope of receiving a few crumbs in return.

A Pyrrhic Victory for Israel

At first, this war seems like an overwhelming victory for Israel. Having pulverised Gaza and slaughtered its inhabitants at will, Israel has severely weakened Hamas as a force, and most probably made it much more pliant at the negotiating table. However, for all their military bluster, they have failed to stop the rocket attacks on southern Israel: the first rocket since the ‘ceasefire' was fired on Wednesday night from the refugee camp of el-Bureij, and landed at Kibbutz Re'im, in the southern Israeli Eshkol region [7]. In reality, Israel is acting from a position of weakness, not strength. For a start, notice how Israel delayed launching a ground offensive until relatively late into Operation Cast Lead, indicating how fearful they were of another defeat, such as the one inflicted upon them by Hezbollah in 2006.

More importantly, though, Israel will no longer be able to count on the unconditional support of the United States for its most barbaric acts and stubborn negotiating positions. Although we have no illusions that Barak Obama represents a break with the interests of American capitalism, he does represent a different wing of the US ruling class to that of George Bush, one more aware of America's diminishing power and need to negotiate with her former foes.

If the US' original aims in invading Iraq were to establish a base from which to police the oil-rich region, the reality is that Iraq is steadily falling under the influence of Syria and Iran. The US will need to negotiate with both to secure its political and economic interests in the Middle East. Any deal with either will have to include the appearance of progress on the Palestinian question. President Ahmadinejad of Iran in particular aims much of his rhetoric towards Palestine (often resorting to the crudest anti-Semitism). Facing massive economic problems and growing working-class militancy at home, he cannot afford to be seen as soft on America and Israel.

Therefore, it is in US interests for Israel to make some compromises. However, the interests of the US and Israeli ruling classes are not always identical. As Marxists, we reject the crude characterisation of Israel as simply under US control. The relationship is dialectical: the US has considerable leverage with Israel because Israel is bankrolled by it (to the tune of over $3bn annually), but Israel can also drive a hard bargain with the US, as it is their only reliably ally in the region. The US cannot afford to antagonise Israel too much. However, the US can still use its enormous financial leverage to wring uncomfortable compromises out of Israel.

Leaving aside the machinations of the imperialists and their lackeys, Israel's assault has generated widespread revulsion around the world. In Gaza itself, the hatred and bitterness it has sown will not go away easily. Nature abhors a vacuum: if Hamas discredits itself in the eyes of the Palestinian masses, something will take its place, and that something might be far more dangerous to Israel.

The Lessons of the First Intifada

The First Intifada, or uprising, started in 1987, in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. The uprising was spontaneous, initially without the intervention of the PLO, which was still in exile in Tunisia. Quickly, local defence committees were elected to organise the resistance. (Incidentally, Hamas opposed these councils.) The committees organised medical care, food aid, and independent networks of underground schools.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians were largely unarmed, and over a thousand were slaughtered by Israeli reprisals. Still, the Intifada continued to grow, with its tactics of civil disobedience and general strikes causing the Israeli state far more problems than Hamas' rocket attacks ever could. Crucially, because very few Israeli civilians were targeted during the first Intifada, it had a profound effect on the consciousness of the Israeli masses, who for the first time recognised the Palestinians as a people with national aspirations of their own.

Eventually, after six years, Israel was forced to grant some concessions. The Israeli ruling class bought off the PLO, who had by this time returned to Palestine and taken control of the movement. But the lessons of this heroic uprising are there to be learned: only by mass strikes and civil disobedience, mobilising the Palestinian masses, can the Israeli ruling class be threatened. The million Palestinians living in Israel (‘Israeli-Arabs'), often carrying out the most poorly-paid work, could easily be mobilised in this way, and would have a profound effect on the Israeli economy.

The Israeli Working Class

One must also not forget the working class of Israel itself. The workers and poor of Israel gain nothing from Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. Instead, their civil liberties are eroded in the name of security, and the massive military budget leads to huge cuts in public spending and widespread poverty. Tel-Aviv's municipality does the bidding of the property developers, demolishing poor neighbourhoods to make way for glittering sky-scrapers. The Israeli working class should be the natural ally of the Palestinian masses. But for years, the ruling class has been able to skilfully manipulate the ‘security threat' (aided, of course, by terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians) to create a permanent state of fear, which leads Israeli workers to back their state against the ‘external threat'.

However, this cannot last forever. The Israeli ruling class' inability to solve the most basic needs of Israeli workers creates enormous contradictions that will eventually come to the fore. Recently, the Israeli Communist Party, despite the associations of Stalinism with anti-Semitism, has enjoyed some growth. As well as its success in the Tel-Aviv municipal elections [8], the ICP has played a leading role in mobilising the (admittedly small) anti-war movement around Tel-Aviv [see video below, note the number of red flags]. Despite its reformism, the ICP is the only authentic force on the left in Israel, with the potential to both oppose the occupation and improve the lives of Israel and Palestine's workers and poor.

Can The Question be Resolved?

On the basis of capitalism, this question is insoluble. Israel can never allow a genuinely independent Palestinian state to emerge, which would deprive it of valuable territory and resources, and could challenge it economically. The best Israel can offer is a series of disconnected ‘Bantustans', which would act as pools of cheap labour for Israeli capitalism, and markets for its produce.

The only solution therefore is the abolition of capitalism. For this, the revolutionary collaboration of the Israeli and Palestinian masses is required. Developments in Egypt, where the working class is becoming more and more militant, are crucial. Only a socialist federation of the Middle East, where all peoples can live with freedom, dignity and self-determination, can solve the problems of the suffering masses of Palestine and Israel.



SecondComingOfBast said...

Walter needs somebody to bring him up to speed on what a Pyrrhic victory is. That's where you claim victory despite suffering such severe losses there is a reasonable question as to whether it was worth the effort. Walter seems to have forgotten that Hamas won this battle-well according to them-so seeing as how they sustained far more damage than the Israelis, they should be the ones tagged with the Pyrrhic victory label.

As for the Israeli working class, nothing will erode your civil liberties quite like a rocket on your rooftop.

roman said...

The only solution therefore is the abolition of capitalism. For this, the revolutionary collaboration of the Israeli and Palestinian masses is required.

Yeah..right! Like that's ever going to happen!

How about a REALISTIC approach to solving this impasse. A step by step approach of examining each side's expectations and setting up negotiating teams and actually negotiating.
Step #1 Hamas must change the wording in their charter.. you know.. the part about destroying the nation of Israel.

JDHURF said...

I agree that the long-term goal should be the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state and that the third camp of the workers must be organized, politicized and work for a socialist alternative that in the distant future finally realizes early binational, socialist Zionism (Jewish-Arab cooperation). However, these are clearly long-term goals that I don’t intend to see realized in my lifetime.
This long-term goal is not an all or nothing campaign, it must be approached, worked for and realized through gradual, incremental steps, the first of which must be a peaceful two-state settlement and only then from there can further goals be striven for.

Frank Partisan said...

Pagan: The section titles are debatable. The content is correct. It doesn't at all say Hamas was the victor. Israel is going to pressured by the US to make concessions.

Roman: Hamas's charter also says the Bolshevik and French Revolution, were led by Zionists. I think Hamas believes in a two state solution. They will ruthlessly rule a Palestinian state, that will supply cheap labor to israel. Their tactics reflect believing in a two state solution. I think the two state solution is like Ireland in the 1920s.

JDHURF: Socialism in Egypt would quicken the process.

Socialism in Egypt and Iran, would be the key to all of the Middle East.

SecondComingOfBast said...

The US has been pressuring Israel since the days of the Clinton Administration. Nothing has changed, and nothing is going to change. It all comes down to what I said before, the only cure for this failing Israel willingly ceding control of ALL of Jerusalem to either a Palestinian state or Jordan, is to separate the Israelis and Palestinians, keep them away from each others borders.

There will never be a post-Jewish Israel, which is really the aim behind all this. Never gonna happen. There are too many people who are determined there will never be a post-Jewish Israel, which of course would not be named Israel but probably Palestine.

I am just one among many of those people. If we have our way there will always be a Jewish state of the Jews, for the Jews, and by the Jews only. The sooner all the little Judophobes of the world wrap their heads around that reality, the sooner there can be some semblance of peace. Until then, let the body count keep piling up.

As Billy Graham always says, "war never killed anyone".

SecondComingOfBast said...

Here's one I like-

"Nature abhors a vacuum: if Hamas discredits itself in the eyes of the Palestinian masses, something will take its place, and that something might be far more dangerous to Israel."

Yeah, or, how about the possibility that something might actually be a good-faith negotiating partner, someone with reasonable expectations and demands, and with the integrity to adhere to whatever concessions it makes, unlike Hamas, and who might actually work for the long term good of the Palestinian people in mind instead of their own corrupt aims, unlike Fatah.

Una said...

With what Israel spends on weapons is settled the problem of hunger in the world.Los blogs are publishing the Manifesto of Solidarity, you would you?

JDHURF said...

I agree with you 100% that socialism in Egypt would completely alter the Israel-Palestine conflict, but short of that - which is really some fantastic, distant hope - something must be done immediately and the two-state settlement is a great first step in the long, gradual process of building socialist Jewish-Arab cooperation in the region.

Frank Partisan said...

Tere: See this. That is closer to my views.

JDHURF: In the real world, it's negotiations between reactionary parties, who can't put together a plan to satisfy anyone. You are calling for support for the road map. The Palestinian state will be like walled, culturally isolated prison. Hamas and Fatah will allow no dissent. Just jolting Egypt, can change the game.

Pagan: Hamas and Fatah are the players. They would settle for a fiefdom. Israel isn't negotiating in good faith, and probably never will.

No state is eternal. Wars and revolutions don't respect borders. Israel is only 61 years old.

SecondComingOfBast said...

Now come on, Ren, I ain't the one that said nature abhors a vacuum and applied that to Hamas's failures. The writer of the article was the one that implied something else coming up in its place, who says that something else has to be a resurgence of Fatah, why can't it be something new?

I also never said anything about Israel being eternal, you're confusing me with somebody else.

They are however a state, and I personally hope they stay a state, and I hope they stay a Jewish state, or at least predominantly Jewish. I'm just sentimental that way.

Frank Partisan said...

There is no threat to Israel, see

Gert said...

Without any mass mobilisation, and/or without a powerful backer (US or EU) to apply seriously painful pressure on Israel, even a unity Fatah/Hamas government is in no position at all to negotiate more than a fiefdom for the Palestinians. This will of course not be acceptable to most Palestinians and the trouble would inevitable continue.

Those who (like good ole' Pagan) can't see that the power differential simply demotivates Israel from making any 'concessions', are blind to the dynamics of this conflict for the last 40 years.

Pagan expects Hamas like model school children to sit in class, well behaved and praised for taking it all in. Their reward for good behaviour, a few crumbs (bantustans), should please them, OR ELSE!!! Or else? Or else Israel can claim once again they 'have no partner' and can continue to build settlements.

With Netanscescu soon to be on the throne (expectations are such) we'll have to see if Israel's own intransigence can still be Hasbara sold as 'we're the victims' and 'they only want to shoot, not talk' (a la Peres), especially since as world opinion of Israel is at an all time low and the drip-drip effect of bad publicity continues to do damage.

They can put another x,000 of Palestinians through the meat grinder of Israel's 'self-defence' and try and squeeze Hamas dry like a lemon, it won't change anything: without power the Palestinians will continue to remain peas in the soup and Israel will not 'concede' anything of value, not even with the most 'civilised' (read: hammered into submission) of Palestinian 'negotiating partners'.

In many respects for Hamas and the Palestinians, in the absence of strong US pressure, perhaps International boycotts or blockades, perhaps even the least likely - military intervention on behalf of the Palestinians, a status quo is the best thing for them: without serious negotiating power any agreement may very well be like 'from the frying pan into the fire', leaving them with a permanently 'negotiated' third Naqba.

At least the status quo offers the hope of future world support or a future reaction to fully accomplished Apartheid.

Gert said...

As regards a Socialist solution, I think it's far less likely to happen than a worldwide grassroots movement, capable of pressurising governments in many places in the world. Like businessmen follow the money, politicians follow the votes. The emerging grassroots movement we're seeing is steadily gaining ground: I know for a fact that some British politicians are starting to listen and will already be hedging their bets with regards to whether supporting such a people's movement could electorally speaking be a good move or not.

The climate is also good for irrigating such seedling movements: the world over people are having enough of the old paradigms on peace, security, Israel and economics. Davos looks like many to some Dinosaurs waiting for the asteroid to hit. The US is slowly embarking on a very wide U-turn in many areas.

Gaza has been called by some 'Israel's Sharpeville'.

But I know the usual suspects on this forum who will dismiss it all as fantasy: they're the ones that watched the world go by whenever a grassroots liberation movement changed a part of the world. These same people believe that the Rights common folk now enjoy (at least in large parts of the world) always were and always are, presumably given by G-d... But it ain't so...

Gert said...


"I'm just sentimental that way."

How magnanimous that for the sentiments of an otherwise non-descript higher mammal like you, the rights of an entire People, once (and not long ago) indigenous to most of what is now Israel, must be sacrificed. How can you sit in front of your tooter and with a straight face demand that the Palestinians nominate honest brokers to negotiate in good faith?

A democratic and secular one state of Israel and Palestine would still be a homeland for Jews too. With Judeophobia such an opinion has nothing to do. Perhaps you're a Judeophile? That would be the sort of hooliganism I've learnt to expect from mouse brains like you...

Unknown said...

As much as I despise the "disproportionate response" by the Israelis, I can summon little support for Hamas.

I was, in fact, enraged by a recent report that Hamas was crowing that its organization was intact and casualties among its leadership were light. No apologies or grief for the tragic losses among its own people. Disgusting opportunists and adventurists, if you ask me.

This folly will stop (maybe) only if and when the West withdraws its support for Israel, stops shipping weapons and money to half the factions in the region, and is prepared to assist in developing and then enforcing a united Palestinian state.

I doubt whether the people of this region, regardless of their religion, really want to continue killing each other. I also don't see the development of alliances built on political ideologies.

K. said...

Hi, Ren.

Drop by Citizen K. today and pick up your Premio Dardos award.

Frank Partisan said...

Gert: It won't be solved by the political players of Zionism, Fatah or Hamas.

My group believes the key to the Middle East, is socialism in Iran and Egypt. Those countries are so important, that Israel and Palestine are a sideshow.

Russia was religious at the start of the 1905 Revolution. That changed quickly. Iran is Russia 1905. This time the mullahs will be swept away.

I agree with you about the two state solution, or atleast as its been presented.

The right to self determination isn't absolute. It means not oppressing a minority.

National liberation in an age where we have a world economy, is a joke. Small countries like what is proposed as Palestine, is pocket change in the world horizen.

DDjango: I agree. Hamas isd utterly reactionary.

K. I'm coming.

SecondComingOfBast said...

Hey Ren, I think the "world economy" is what is best describe as "pocket change", or it might well be before its over. I do admit though I can see a scenario where the mullahs are swept from power. I don't know whether or not it will be socialists that do it, but that's very possible. Egypt I'm not so sure about. By the way, small nations don't necessarily have to not be prosperous, nor do their citizens necessarily always have to get by as cheap labor for another country's workforce.

Even if it started out that way for a while, it doesn't mean it would be that way from now on. At least it would beat depending on UN welfare and Arab despots and "charities".

Gert said...


"Russia was religious at the start of the 1905 Revolution. That changed quickly."

I hope you're not arguing here that today's Russia is mainly atheist because that's not true IMHO. The only revolution that springs to my mind as being a counter-theocratic was the French Revolution. But today France may have the strongest separation of Church and State, it also has complete freedom to worship and the usual majority quota (85 - 90 %) of people that consider themselves believers (mainly Catholic).
You call Hamas 'reactionary' but in this context that's nothing more than a normative term with very little actual meaning: the kind of repression they are being accused of is hardly a reactionary prerogative: the Bolsheviks were hardly angels. Show me a revolutionary movement that hasn't resorted to repression at some point. And not involving Hamas at the political level was a mistake even our mental midget Tone the Bliar is beginning to see...
As regards "This time the mullahs will be swept away", maybe but I doubt that the deeply religious nature of Iran will change any time soon. You only need to look at a city like Isfahan to see how deeply rooted Islam is in Iran's collective psyche.

Also, for a 'reactionary country', Iran has an astonishingly high level of education, with what I believe to be the highest number of university degrees among women in the entire world. Perhaps Islam's once legendary thirst for knowledge and scientific advancement has survived intact in that country, despite the Shi'ites following a version of Islam that leads directly to theocracy and an Islamic clergy? Or perhaps these very same reactionaries revived that part of Islam?

I think the Left continues to make a historical mistake by confounding secularism with 'anti-religionism' (for want of a better term). Religion isn't going to go away, no matter how much enlightenment you throw at it. Better to simply co-exist with it is what I say.

Ducky's here said...

Socialism in Egypt?

First they have to get rid of our stooge Mubarek. He gets everything he wants from us in return for cooperating with Israel. Tough to dislodge.

Frank Partisan said...

Pagan: My point is that to create a small nation in 2009 is creating pocket change. I'm not talking as much about established small countries as Sweden. I'm talking about a Kosovo or Palestine.

Gert: I was comparing 1905 Russia to 1917 Russia.

I'm not talking about abolishing religion in Iran. I'm saying the next big uprising, won't be sabotaged by Islamism.

I'm aware of contradictory aspects.

The good thing in Iran, is the internal opposition, isn't asking the US to intervene.

I feel safe calling Hamas reactionary. Read their charter.

Ducky: Not only is Mubarek tough to dislodge, some opposition leaders are no bargain either.

Hossam el-Hamalawy said...

"One must also not forget the working class of Israel itself. The workers and poor of Israel gain nothing from Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. Instead, their civil liberties are eroded in the name of security, and the massive military budget leads to huge cuts in public spending and widespread poverty. "
They have a lot to gain actually. It's a regressive class, and cannot be won over to the Palestinian revolution, coz no matter how much the Israeli worker is "oppressed", he/she shares the same interest as their elite in the physical exclusion of the Palestinians..

Frank Partisan said...

Hossam el-Hamalawy: Thank you for visiting.

In Tel Aviv 10,000 Israelis protested its government's policies in Gaza. In addition there has been some antiwar activity, right at the Israeli border.

I was surprised, I agreed with what Tony Cliff said in that article.

I have disagreements with Cliff about the anti-imperialist bourgeoisie.


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