Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
From A World to Win News Service
Submit or Die:
The Politics of Israel’s Attack on Gaza
July 3 2006. A World to Win News Service. Ten months after evacuating the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army is back. Their message is: submit or die.
Their chief moves have been directed at the civilian population. In the first of nightly raids, Israeli aircraft destroyed Gaza’s only power plant. A week later, while all six transformers were still smouldering, they bombed the access roads, so that there is no chance of repairs for months to come. This leaves half of Gaza’s 1.4 million people without electricity. The other half are dependent on power from Israel. No electricity means water cannot be pumped or purified. Pumps are essential because the water tables are already low, in part because of the lavish use of water by Israeli settlers over decades. Without electricity, sewage can’t be pumped either. There is a grave danger of epidemic diseases.
The Israeli army has also alternated between completely blockading and tightly restricting the flow of food, cooking gas and other supplies into Gaza. The point is to make it unmistakably clear to Palestinians that Israel holds the Strip’s lifelines in its hands—and can squeeze.
In the first hours of the offensive, Israeli jets also pounded key bridges, leaving north-south highways impassable. Every night fighters repeatedly flew low over populated areas at supersonic speed so that the explosive noise would shatter windows, sleep and nerves. Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets warning Gaza residents that their life will be in danger if and when massed Israeli ground troops move into the north. In another aspect of this terror campaign, Israeli commandos, sometimes disguised as Palestinian fighters, snuck into northern Gaza at night and rounded up families at gunpoint to drive them out. Perhaps Israel is preparing to declare the border area a free-fire zone.
Where are the people supposed to go? They are prisoners, surrounded by Israel, the sea, and a wall behind which lies a US-controlled Egypt. They can’t even take refuge with their families in the West Bank, which Israel has completely cut off from Gaza.
Collective punishment of the population and attacking facilities indispensable for the survival of civilians are explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions (the 1977 Additional Protocol 1). So is the use of “disproportionate force” that may harm civilians and has no military purpose. This means that legally the Israeli government and armed forces leaders are committing war crimes for which they could be tried in an international court. But George Bush’s spokesman declared, “Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens.” The European Union took the same stand.
“Defend itself” against what? Against the capture of a single soldier? Not even much of the Israeli press believes that. Israel has broad political goals for which the grabbing of Israeli army corporal Gilad Shalit is simply a pretext.
Israel’s declared target is the Palestinian organization Hamas that has run the Palestinian Authority government since the elections last January. Israel held all of Hamas responsible when Palestinian fighters tunnelled into Israel, hit an outpost and captured the soldier 25 June, offering to free him in return for the freedom of Palestinian women and children prisoners. In retaliation, Israeli troops in the West Bank grabbed the deputy prime minister and 63 other Palestinian cabinet officials and members of parliament. The Israeli government hypocritically proclaims that the issue is “kidnapping” and “extortion,” but it is holding hostages itself. “They want the prisoners released?” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly exclaimed to a closed cabinet meeting. “We’ll release these detainees [the Hamas officials] in exchange for Shalit.” (Haaretz, 30 June). When Israeli missiles set fire to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya’s Gaza offices, Israeli officials said this was meant to underscore that they can assassinate Haniya and other Hamas leaders whenever they decide to do so.
The story Israel would like the world to believe began with the snatching of Corporal Shalit goes back much further. Even the immediate political situation can’t be understood without going back at least a few weeks. How can anyone with a heart forget the slaughter of the seven members of the Gahlia family by an Israeli artillery shell on Beith Lahia beach 8 June? Four days later, as the world still cringed at a photo showing a little girl screaming at the sight of the torn corpses of her whole family, Israel killed at least seven more civilians, including two children, in a pair of staggered missile strikes in the crowded Zeitoun district of Gaza City. Three of the dead were medical workers who rushed to help after the first explosion. On 20 June, another Israeli missile on a refugee camp killed three children, ages 5, 6 and 16.
In the space of a few months, Israel fired 6,000 artillery shells and many missiles on Gaza, killing some 50 people and injuring 200 more. This was said to be in response to the firing of about 140 homemade rockets from Gaza at the Israeli border city of Sderot—with no causalities. The Palestinian Islamic forces have no strategy or vision of defeating Israel militarily. When they use violence, their goal is to pressure Israel to accept their demands. Israel’s violence also serves political goals. They want to show that when it comes to pressure, violent or otherwise, only they can win.
After these three massacres in June, perhaps Hamas felt that that it could not continue to enjoy much popular support without a gesture of military resistance. But Israel’s attitude is like that of any prison administration: no matter what the provocation, prisoners have no right to raise their hands against their jailers. In more concrete terms, any Palestinians who want to come to terms with Israel have to do more than accept what Hamas likes to call “reality”—Israeli (and ultimately US) power. They have to accept Israel politically and ideologically, to not just objectively act but talk and think like subjugated people. They have to give up even any pretence of clinging to the ideal of Palestinian liberation.
The fact is that for years Israel (and the US) built up the leadership of Hamas. Following the 1973 war, when Israel took over the Gaza Strip, they released future Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had been imprisoned by the Egyptian government that had run the Strip. For years Israel financed the Islamic movement to counter Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. In his book Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan Books, 2005), Robert Dreyfuss quotes a senior CIA analyst: “We saw Israel cultivate Islam as a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism.” As for Israeli claims that it does not “negotiate with terrorists,” this is simply not true. To cite just one example, in 1992, having once again arrested Yassin, they freed him in exchange for two Israeli agents caught in Lebanon. As much as Israel may hate people like Yassin—later they assassinated him—the Islamic forces are an enemy Israel welcomes. Not only do the Zionists and Islamic fundamentalists resemble each other in terms of their religious ideology and “identity politics”; but also Israel fears them less than secular forces.
As they were building up Hamas, Israel—also with the help and approval of the US—did everything they could to tear down Arafat and the secular PLO. Although initially more radical, Arafat and the PLO eventually signed a treaty accepting the existence of Israel and the “Roadmap” plan proposed by the US, Europe and Russia for a Palestinian mini-state side by side with Israel. Nevertheless, Israeli troops kept Arafat a prisoner in his compound in the West Bank for the last two and a half years of his life. Israel also refused to negotiate with his successor Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO government he led. The PLO, they claimed, was neither a “peace partner” nor a real representative of the Palestinian people. Then, when Palestinians discarded the discredited PLO government and elected Hamas, Israel and the US suddenly found Abbas useful, and encouraged the PLO to grab power, even through civil war. They also shut down almost all funds going into the West Bank and especially Gaza in an effort to let the Palestinian people know who was really in control.
So much for the “democracy” the US and Israel claim to uphold.
Like the PLO, Hamas has also sought to come to an accommodation with Israel. It instituted a unilateral cease-fire even before it was elected to run the Palestinian Authority. Its leadership repeatedly announced their willingness to declare a “temporary” 60-year truce and accept the existence of the Zionist state for the practical future. Its representatives signed the so-called Prisoners’ Document issued by members of all the Palestinian organizations in Israeli jails, where more than 9,000 are being held captive. The document calls for a Palestinian state within the borders established by Israel’s 1967 war of conquest, implicitly giving up the demand for Palestinians to get back all of Palestine. It provides for the entry of Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO, whose charter officially recognizes the state of Israel (the PLO is a coalition whose leading organization is Arafat’s Fatah). It also calls for the formation of a national unity government including both Hamas and Fatah, an end to attacks on Israel and to the fighting between Palestinian organizations.
Although this document was signed 18 May by the prisoners, the Hamas government itself did not formally accept it until just after the Israeli corporal’s capture—and just after Israel’s move against Gaza.
Some analysts speculate that forces in Hamas opposed to the agreement were behind the cross-border Palestinian military operation in order to sabotage it. But it’s hard to believe that anyone could predict in advance that the Israel troops would be caught off guard and one captured. It seems reasonable to speculate that the Hamas leadership, knowing that it was about to sign an agreement that many Palestinians would consider an historic back-off or even a betrayal, decided to precede it with a military action that would enable it to keep its militant reputation and its head high—to assert that its capitulation to Israel was from a position of strength. In that sense, the conflict has as much to do with the tone as the terms of a compromise between Israel and the Palestinian government.
Actually, it seems that Hamas was quite consciously agreeing to implicitly accept the Roadmap that Israel claimed to accept itself. But there are two very related problems with that.
First, Israel has no intention of withdrawing to its pre-1967 borders, as the Roadmap calls for. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is continuing his predecessor Ariel Sharon’s policy of consolidating Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Instead of giving them up, Israel plans to annex them. They are to form two fists thrusting deep into the West Bank, dividing it into three parts. The purpose is to make sure that even this small part of the original Palestine never become a geographically, economically and politically integrated entity. This also means keeping all of Jerusalem and driving out non-Jewish inhabitants. Making Jerusalem a Jewish city after thousands of years is a central ideological goal of Zionism.
In terms of the Roadmap, it is true that Israel withdrew its small settlements from Gaza. But for the Zionists, the Strip’s main importance is as a place to keep Palestinians who used to live in what is now Israel. It is simply a long, thin desert detention camp. Its residents have little way to earn a living and literally no way out. (Average annual income is $600 a year, half of that in the West Bank and 40 times less than in Israel.) The often highly ideologically-motivated Israeli settlers withdrawn from Gaza were needed to build up the Israeli population, armed strength and Zionist spirit in the West Bank.
Second, Israel has no intention of letting the Palestinians keep their self-respect. They might be able to live with the Hamas government, just as they had no strategic problem with the PLO in its last years, in terms of what agreements might be made. But what they don’t like now is the Hamas attitude—the Hamas leadership’s declarations that they can accept Israel as “a fact” without giving it their “approval.” More than that, the deeper target is the attitude of the people themselves, which Hamas tries to appeal to. The Palestinian people, no matter how often kicked and scorned, have refused to give up their dignity and their resistance. Israel won’t tolerate even those forces who talk too much about resistance.
Israel’s attack on Gaza has a political purpose: to impose a “peace” on the Palestinians that suits Zionist interests, to bend or break Palestinian organizations and above all to humiliate the people so that they will accept whatever Israel offers them—on Israel’s terms and no other.
The greatest danger to the Zionist project would come from revolutionary forces who recognize and base their strategy on the link between the interests of the Palestinians and those of the people of the world and world revolution. Once again Israel is proving that no matter how difficult it may be for the Palestinians to continue struggling for their rights as a people, which means the eventual replacement of Israel with a multi-national, secular state, any other road is definitely an illusion.
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