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A storm of bombs and fire grotesquely denominated “Operation Protective Edge” has been unleashed by the Israeli government on the civilian population of Gaza. Francesco Merli discusses the latest attacks by the Israeli state and the hypocrisy of the imperialists.

A storm of bombs and fire grotesquely denominated “Operation Protective Edge” has been unleashed by the Israeli government on the civilian population of Gaza. Over the last days more than 400 tonnes of high potential bombs have hit targets within the densely populated Gaza Strip, killing at least 100 civilians, including many children, and injuring hundreds.

Meanwhile, Gaza is cut off from medical supplies and any form of aid, because of the Egyptian government’s decision to close down all tunnels through the border, which were used for smuggling in arms, but also food, fuel, medicines and almost all that is needed for the survival of the population, with the result of making the civilian casualties even worse. This attack launched by the Israeli army has no justification, in spite of all the excuses made up by the international media.

It is disgusting to see how the international media have echoed the pretence advanced by Israel that the bombing campaign is meant to hit military targets and that every effort is being made to avoid civilian losses by advising the population to stay clear. This is just a ridiculous statement reeking with hypocrisy. Apart from the fact that so-called “smart bombs” prove very often not to be smart at all, and kill indiscriminately civilians and so-called “military” targets, and that Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world (with a population density almost double that of the urban area of Rome, for example), the “warnings” to civilians have been issued less than a minute before striking, making it impossible for anyone in the targeted buildings to materially escape the attacks. The news on casualties and videos made available by people from Gaza on social media, show children and civilians buried under the debris.

Disproportionate amount of firepower

The official justification for yet another shelling of the Gaza strip, after the 2012 “Operation Pillar of Defence” and the December 2008 “Operation Cast Lead” is the usual one. These strikes are necessary, the Israeli government claims, to destroy devices and bases used for the launching of rockets aimed at Israeli towns, which was decided by the Hamas leadership on Monday. But these rockets have proven to be totally ineffective and easy for the sophisticated Israeli military defence to detect and destroy after they have been launched. Israeli towns which could be targeted by these rockets are secured and safe refuges are available in case of emergency. Proof of this is that so far civilian casualties in Israel have amounted to zero, compared to over 100 victims among the Palestinians. These figures alone speak clearly on who the real aggressor is and the disproportionate amount of firepower between the two sides.

This escalation has captured the headlines of international news, but it is simply the continuation on a higher level of an ongoing reality of daily ruthless violence aimed at asphyxiating the Palestinian population on the part of the Israeli state. The Palestinians have for years been suffering constant daily harassment at the hands of the Israeli armed forces, with houses demolished, youth arbitrarily arrested, and many Palestinians killed, together with high levels of unemployment and very bad living conditions in general. The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem have counted 565 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces since January 2009 (that is, after the end of the Gaza massacre known as “Operation Cast Lead”, which cost 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives), while 28 Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli security personnel have been killed over the same period. Again, these figures show who is the oppressed and who the oppressor.

The kidnapping and killing of three teenage settlers

What is being presented as a sequence of events leading to retaliatory measures on both sides has now erupted into a crisis, which could be getting out of control. The Israeli army is in the process of mobilising 40,000 reservists and Netanyahu is threatening to send the army into Gaza, although just a few thousands have been mobilised so far. If that were the case, the number of casualties would definitely exponentially increase on both sides. But whatever the Israeli government does, this has nothing to do with concerns for its own citizens' safety. To spill more Palestinian blood and even to restore a direct Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, as some are demanding, would simply increase the determination in a new generation of Arab youth to fight the occupation with all means possible.

The kidnapping and killing of three teenage settlers on June 12 by a rogue group in the West Bank allegedly close to Hamas ended the uneasy truce reached in 2012. This was simply the incident that was exploited to raise the level of tension. In other circumstances, this would have been seen as yet another tragic event in the decades-long conflict. This time, however, it was used as an excuse to launch a hysterical media campaign around the search for the kidnapped teenagers. Despite the fact that there are clear indications that the Israeli security services knew within hours that the three had been killed, the campaign called ‘Bring Back our Boys’ continued for weeks, in order to back up the call for tough punishment and revenge and to rally in support of the Zionist state and thus take advantage of the angry mood developing to justify the current attack on Gaza.

It is clear that the plan to attack Gaza predated the kidnapping and killing of the three teenagers. The killing of the teenagers has simply made it easier for the Israeli government to convince “public opinion” at home that such an attack was necessary… for “security reasons”.

Without any firm proof, immediately, the responsibility for the killings was placed on the Hamas leadership by the Israeli authorities. Many doubts have been raised on how much Hamas has ever actually controlled the actions of these types of armed groups, and many commentators have highlighted how the whole kidnapping operation was carried out in an amateurish fashion, riddled with mistakes which eventually led to the killings. Hamas denied any involvement, but the Netanyahu government had no hesitation in holding them responsible and to retaliate with a savage campaign of arrests of hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank, totally unrelated with the killing of the teenagers.

The particularly brutal behaviour of the Israeli security forces is before everyone's eyes, with systematic beatings and documented cases of torture of unarmed prisoners. Even Human Rights Watch has denounced unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and illegal home demolitions, and Amnesty International have denounced blatant violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws on the part of the Israeli security forces.

Hamas' reply was to launch a series of rocket attacks, which then were used as the excuse on the part of Israel to launch the disproportionate shelling of Gaza. However, simply to describe the sequence of events does not explain the reasons for this crisis, which lie deeper in the unsettled relations of power in the area, and the unforeseen consequences of imperialist intervention.

Shift in the balance of power in the Middle East

The whole of the Middle East is unstable and riddled with crises as a result of the revolutionary convulsions over the past years and of the imperialist meddling to try and cut across and confuse this process.

One important shift in the balance of power in the region is creating further instability. The outcome of the Syrian civil war has strengthened the position of the allies of Iran in the area (the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon), with Iran emerging strengthened as a regional power. The Iranian regime has played in the past on Hamas' isolation in Gaza, offering them some support, but is also supporting Hamas' rivals in the form of the Islamic Jihad and a myriad of grouplets who are not under Hamas' control, which are gaining ground.

The economic situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened considerably as a result of the clampdown on smuggling enforced by the Egyptian government, after the Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown last summer, thus putting Hamas in an even more difficult position.

On the other hand, the weakness of US imperialism has emerged clearly after the Syrian debacle and the recent Sunni insurgency in Iraq. The US imperialists are now looking to Iran to help them get out of the mess they put themselves in, and cannot trust their traditional allies in the Middle East such as the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia to achieve this.

This is also affecting Israel, which feels threatened by the rising Iranian influence and therefore feels it needs to reassert its position in the region. On the other hand it is enjoying more leverage and can impose itself more freely due to the fact that the US has been weakened. Israel is clearly sending a message to the US government. As the US cannot count on its Arab allies such as the Saudis, who have been backing the jihadists in Iraq and Syria, the Israelis are reminding them that they are still their strongest point of support in the region and must not go too far in promoting Iran.

Last but not least there is an ongoing social crisis which saw growing discontent erupt in massive unrest in Israel in 2011 and is reflected in a permanent crisis at government level (which has now exploded with the break-up of the coalition and Israel Beitenu breaking with Netanyahu). A similar mood has been developing within the Palestinian Authority over the past years with open dissatisfaction being aired and protests erupting against the corrupt leadership of Fatah. All these factors are pushing towards a breakdown of any negotiated settlement of the Palestinian question and the different actors trying to find a base by radicalising the conflict.

Radicalisation of the conflict to overcome internal problems

The Zionist ruling class requires a situation of tension on its borders to keep its own people in check. Its government has lost support, as the big protests in 2011 indicated, and therefore needs to whip up nationalist sentiment to curb the class differentiation that is taking place within Israeli society.

The mirror image to this is the situation Hamas finds itself in. When it first took the Gaza Strip it presented itself as fighting the corrupt Fatah administration, but now the people of Gaza have seen that they are no different.

So why did the Hamas leadership resort to what amounts to a suicidal tactic of launching rockets on Israel? For years the Palestinian Authority, and even the leadership of Hamas in Gaza, have collaborated with the Israeli security forces in policing and repressing the Palestinian population, using the excuse of arresting and dismantling armed “extremist” networks like the Islamic Jihad and implementing the “peace” accords as a way of keeping in check and hitting against their internal opponents and thus, ruthlessly consolidating their own power position.

Over the years this has led to the loss in credibility of the Palestinian leadership, including Hamas, who were up until now in negotiations to enter a national solidarity government with Fatah.

Farcical “peace” talks expose Abu Mazen’s sell out

The Palestinian leadership were further exposed by the recent “peace” talks held under US supervision. Palestinian president Abu Mazen had long given up the pretence of defending the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and was even prepared to accept that the Palestinian Authority's territory be reduced to 22% of the original Palestine, and partially fragmented in non-communicating enclaves.

Unprecedented concessions were made to Israel. For example that the Palestinian state would be demilitarised and militias would be dismantled, Israeli and international forces could guard borders, Jerusalem would be shared as the capital, 80 percent of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem would be allowed to stay in their illegal settlements, and the Palestinians would renounce the right of return of refugees expelled from their homes in 1947-49.

This means de facto accepting the status quo, but even that was not enough for the Israelis who refused to make any concessions.

Both Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza have been suffering for some time now from a serious loss of credibility. The decision to launch rockets on the part of Hamas represented a cynical attempt to regain the loss in credibility.

The decision to fire rockets on civilian targets in Israel, as we have pointed out many times, cannot achieve anything in advancing the cause and just struggle of the Palestinian people for their rights. In fact it is totally counterproductive and temporarily strengthens the siege mentality of most of the Israeli population, which is the real source of support for Zionism and Netanyahu. But the Hamas leadership need to resort to these tactics in order to regain credibility after years of de facto collaboration with the occupying power and the deterioration of living conditions in the Gaza Strip have eroded their initial support among the population.

Unrest spreads among the Israeli Arabs

But not everything seems to be proceeding smoothly from the point of view of the Israeli ruling class. The hysterical anti-Palestinian mood whipped up by the media campaign caused a deep reaction within the Arab population of Israel. In particular the blatant double standards applied by the Zionist state in relation to the racist murder of the 16 year old Mohamed Abu Khdeir, abducted in East Jerusalem and killed by a band of thugs, provoked a strong reaction among the Israeli Arabs, the Palestinians living within the borders of Israel itself.

The past week has seen unprecedented protests by the country's Palestinian minority, who make up about 20 percent of the population. The demonstrations started in East Jerusalem and then spread to other cities in central and northern Israel. They have assumed immediately a strong opposition against the attack on Gaza. Demonstrations were held on Tuesday night in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem and other cities in the occupied West Bank. The main problem now facing the Israeli ruling class is that the attack on Gaza has reawakened a sentiment of solidarity between the Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel and Gaza, which Israel had been trying carefully to keep divided.

Imperialist plans torn to pieces

The collapse of the “peace” talks and the immediate escalation of the conflict by Israel have broken into pieces the US administration’s plans for some kind of settlement. President Obama in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has come out with the pathetic appeal that "all parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution”. How that advice is being implemented by Israel in the shelling of Gaza is before the eyes of the whole world.

In all these manoeuvres it is the Palestinian people once again that pay a big price. They have been betrayed time and again by the Palestinian Authority and are now being pounded again by far superior military means. Should these events contribute in triggering a new intifada, it will not be limited to the Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, but it will affect the Arabs of Israel too.

Solidarity with the Palestinian people

In this conflict, it is the Palestinian people who are the victims. They were expelled brutally from their historical homeland and have been living either in refugee camps or what amounts to national enslavement, without a genuine state of their own, without the right to decide on their own future. The present attack is one in a long series whereby the Zionist Israeli ruling class keeps its grip on the Palestinian people. Our solidarity with the Palestinian people in this situation is total.

The heroic resistance of the Palestinian people stretches back decades. The final victory, however, will not be achieved by a few rockets fired over the board by Hamas. The history of the Palestinian masses has moments in it when their struggle impacted even within Israel itself. One such moment was the first Intifada, which saw the masses erupt against the Occupation. Such mass struggle is what is required today. What adds strength to the cause of the Palestinian people is the new situation that has emerged since the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011. The rest of the Arab world is in turmoil and revolution is on the agenda. The crisis of world capitalism is the root cause of this revolutionary turmoil and this has even affected Israeli society, with the huge movements we have seen there as well.

The maneuvers of those at the top, both the Zionist ruling class and the despotic Arab regimes are aimed at maintaining their system and finding ways of diverting revolution towards counter-revolution. This latest attack on Gaza also is part of this.

What is required is a working class based position. Not so long ago it seemed impossible that regimes such as the Mubarak regime in Egypt or the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia could ever fall, but fall they did. A struggle of the Israeli workers and against their own government is also possible, as we saw in the mass demonstrations in August 2011.

With this understanding in mind, it is possible to develop a perspective based on class struggle across the whole region. The struggle of the Egyptian, of the Iranian, of the Turkish workers and youth, spreading to all the countries, will eventually bring down the ruling elites in all these countries. Within that perspective it is possible to envisage a genuine and lasting solution to the Palestinian question, in the form of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East that can guarantee the rights, including national self-determination of all the peoples who inhabit the region.

  • Stop the bombing of Gaza!
  • End the Occupation!
  • For the right of the Palestinians to a homeland within a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!

Originally published on In Defence of Marxism

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