Israel/Palestine: Populations held hostage by imperialist war

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Once again, Israeli jets and missiles have been pounding Gaza. In 2008, ‘Operation Cast Lead’ led to almost 1,500 deaths, the majority of them civilians, despite all the claims made about ‘surgical strikes’ against terrorist targets. The Gaza Strip is one of the most impoverished and densely populated areas in the world and it is absolutely impossible to separate ‘terrorist facilities’ from the residential areas that surround them. With all the sophisticated weapons at the Israelis’ disposal, the majority of causalities in the current campaign are also women, children, and the old.

Not that this concerns the militarists at the head of the Israel state. Gaza is once again being collectively punished, as it has been not only through the previous onslaught but through the blockade which has crippled its economy, hampered efforts to rebuild following the devastation of 2008, and kept the population at near starvation levels.

Compared to the firepower wielded by the Israelis, the military capacities of Hamas and the more radical jihadist groups in Gaza are puny. But thanks to the chaos in Libya, Hamas has got its hands on longer-range missiles. Not only Ashdod in the south (where three residents of a block of flats were killed by a missile fired from Gaza) but Tel Aviv and Jerusalem itself are now in range. The numbing fear that grips Gaza residents every day is also beginning to make itself felt in Israel’s main cities.

In short: both populations are held in hostage to the opposing military machines that dominate Israel and Palestine – with a little help from the Egyptian army that patrols the borders of Gaza to prevent  undesirable incursions or escapes. Both populations are in the firing line in a situation of permanent war – not only in the form of rockets and shells, but through being compelled to shoulder the growing burden of an economy distorted by the needs of war. And now the world economic crisis is forcing the ruling class on both sides of the divide to introduce new cuts in living standards, new increases in the prices of basic necessities.

In Israel last year, the soaring price of housing was one of the sparks that lit the protest movement which took the form of mass demonstrations, street occupations and assemblies – a movement directly inspired by the revolts in the Arab world and which raised slogans like “Netanyahu, Assad, Mubarak are all the same” and “Arabs and Jews want affordable housing”. For a brief but exhilarating moment, everything in Israeli society – including the ‘Palestinian problem’ and the future of the occupied territories – was open to question and debate. And one of the main fears of the protestors was that the government would respond to this incipient challenge to national ‘unity’ by launching a new military adventure.

This summer, on the occupied West Bank, rises in fuel and food prices were met by a series of angry demonstrations, road blockades and strikes. Workers in transport, health and education, university and school students and the unemployed were on the streets facing the police of the Palestinian Authority and demanding a minimum wage, jobs, lower prices, and an end to corruption. There have also been demonstrations against the rising cost of living in the Kingdom of Jordan.

For all the differences in living standards between the Israeli and Palestinian populations, despite the added oppression and humiliation of military occupation suffered by the latter, the roots of these two social revolts are exactly the same: the growing impossibility of living under a capitalist system in profound crisis. 

There has been much speculation about the motives behind the recent escalation. Is Netanyahu trying to stir up nationalism to boost his chances of re-election? Has Hamas been stepping up rocket attacks to prove its war-like credentials in the face of a challenge from more radical Islamist gangs? Does the Israeli military aim to topple Hamas or merely to degrade its military capacities? What role will be played in the conflict by the new regimes in Egypt? How will it affect the current civil war in Syria?

These are all questions worth pursuing but none of them affect the fundamental issue: the escalation of imperialist conflict is totally opposed to the needs of the vast mass of the population in Israel, Palestine and the rest of the Middle East. Where the social revolts on both sides of the divide make it possible for the masses to fight for their real, material interests against the capitalists and the state which exploits them, imperialist war creates a false unity between the exploited and their exploiters and sharpens divisions between the exploited on one side and the exploited on the other side. When Israeli jets bomb Gaza, it produces new recruits for Hamas and the jihadists for whom all Israelis, all Jews, are the enemy. When the jihadists fire rockets into Ashdod or Tel Aviv, it makes more Israelis turn to ‘their’ state for protection and for revenge against the ‘Arabs’. The pressing social issues which lay behind the revolts are buried in an avalanche of nationalist hatred and hysteria.

But if war can push back social conflict, the opposite is also true. In the face of the current escalation, ‘responsible’ governments like those of the USA and Britain are calling for restraint, a return to the peace process. But these are the same governments currently waging war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.  The USA is also Israel’s main military and financial backer. We cannot look to them for ‘peaceful’ solutions any more than we can look to states like Iran who have openly armed Hamas and Hezbollah. The real hope for a peaceful world does not lie with the rulers, but with the resistance of the ruled, their growing understanding that they have the same interests in all countries, the same need to struggle and unite against a system which can offer them nothing but crisis, war, and destruction.

Amos , 20/11/12.