Gaza population held hostage by big and small powers

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The situation for the civilian population in Gaza, and particularly the working class, continues to go from bad to worse. Even before the recent tightening of the blockade three quarters of factories had ceased working, 100,000 had lost their jobs in Israel due to border restrictions, hundreds of thousands remain in 8 refugee camps 60 years after fleeing the 1948 conflict. In 2002 more than half the women of childbearing age were anaemic and17.5% of children suffered from chronic malnutrition. And they are constantly endangered by the tit for tat bombardments across the border by various Palestinian militant groups and Israeli bombardments and incursions. The blockade has deprived them of many necessities, particularly fuel needed for heating, for the power plant, for hospitals, and for running the sewage works.

The appalling misery suffered by the one and a half million people who live behind Gaza's perimeter wall is caused, maintained and worsened by the conflicts that created this economically unviable territory in the first place. Repeated invasions and blockades are part of this, forming part of the play between regional powers and their larger backers. So when Israel bombed roads and bridges and the one power plant in Gaza in summer 2006, much more was at stake than one 19 year old Israeli army corporal captured by militants. At the same time it launched an attack on Lebanon in the forlorn hope of defeating Hezbollah, with the tacit approval of its superpower backer. Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon are major clients of the USA and Israel's chief rival for dominance in the Middle East, Iran, and so a blow to them would weaken their backer. This, of course, was in line with America and Britain's interests in limiting Iran's power as a dangerous thorn in their side in Iraq, where it acts largely through the Shia militias. It is the competition to be the undisputed regional power that makes sense of Israel's actions over the last few years. The refusal to negotiate or hand over money owed to the Palestine Authority when Hamas won the election in 2006 was based on the calculation not only that Hamas would use its new-found authority to step up attacks on Israel, but that negotiating with it could only raise its profile as Iran's client. The recent complete closure of the border with Gaza, which made the chronic humanitarian crisis acute, is part of the same policy, not just a question of protecting Siderot from the cross border bombardments.

Israel's role in holding the population in Gaza hostage is well known, and has been accurately condemned as collective punishment. But we should not be fooled into thinking we have found the only culprit. On the big scale we should never forget that powers which criticise Israel, or propose a more softly-softly negotiated approach to Iran over the nuclear issue, also have an interest in the weakening of the USA. It is no wonder the UN was deadlocked and unable to come up with a resolution.

Hamas also uses the misery of Gaza population

Left wing papers like Socialist Worker often portray Hamas as at one with the population of Gaza: "For daring to elect a Hamas government the people of Gaza..." (2.2.08), a sort of brave little David standing up to the Israeli Goliath. After all they have courageously bulldozed a hole in the border with Egypt, allowing hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians into Egypt to buy fuel, food and medicines, so that "US strategy to isolate the Palestinian resistance was smashed into ruins".

Internationalists, by contrast, have the temerity to say that Hamas is also holding the population hostage.

Hamas may have won the Palestinian Authority election in 2006, but in the end they lost the internal struggle with Fatah, ending up with control over nothing but Gaza, 136 square miles of refugee camps with most of the infrastructure (railway, airport, bridges...) destroyed, and not even in control of their own borders. The hole in the wall gave them a very small lever to try and get taken seriously. Egypt has no love for Hamas, with its connections to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, and has no wish to see the border kept open. But it had neither the troops to seal if off again nor would it have been wise to try. Hamas had bought itself an invitation to the negotiating table with Egypt if no-one else. Meanwhile President Abbas, from Fatah, proposed that the Palestinian Authority take over Gaza's border controls, alongside Egypt. The two warring Palestinian factions are continuing to squabble over who runs the show in their talks about the border controls.

People often talk of Gaza being occupied for 40 years since it was taken over by Israel in the 6 day war. In fact it was occupied two decades earlier, by Egypt, after the 1948 war, who used it for raids on Israel, just as now Hamas uses it for bombardments. Throughout that time Palestinian refugees were left to rot in camps and refused entry into Egypt. Today Egypt cannot wait to get shot of Gaza and has emphasised that it is Israel's responsibility.

The population of Gaza is caught between various bourgeois factions and powers, all of which are responsible for perpetuating its misery for their own advantage.

The need for internationalism

Those who defend Hamas, those who defend Palestinian nationalism, for all they can point to the appalling conditions faced by the population, are just as responsible as Israel, the USA or Britain. They are keeping them in camps as cannon fodder in the battle with Israel, or with the other Palestinian factions.

Hope does not lie with Hamas, bombardment of Israel or talks in Egypt. There is no hope even in the defeat of the most powerful imperialism. What good does it do the working class, or the civilian population anywhere if Israel suffers a defeat, or the USA a setback, if the winner is Iran or Egypt, Germany or China?

In spite of all this conflict the Middle East has seen some very important working class struggles: in Egypt, Israel (see WR 300, 302, 304,309). As this struggle develops workers need to reject any notion that they have anything in common with their ruling class and see themselves as part of an international class, ready to unite across all national divisions. Alex 2.2.08