Apologists for the brutal assault of the Israeli armed forces on first Gaza and then Lebanon have scraped the bottom of the barrel for dubious ‘justifications’. In the face of attacks using indiscriminate air strikes, cluster bombs, phosphorous incendiary bombs, vacuum bombs, chemical weapons and all the rest of the devices available to a country that has nuclear weapons and warheads armed with depleted uranium, we are told that at least Israel issues warning leaflets before its bombardments. When the range of targets has included airports, roads, bridges, ambulances, UN personnel, civilians, factories, ports, farms and a whole range of other essential infrastructure (including an attack on a power plant that has resulted in tons of oil pouring into the sea), the propagandists for the Israeli offensive blame the hundreds of dead victims because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the military talk of “cleaning out” southern Lebanon, the apologists insist that Israel is defending itself, as any nation has the right to do. Nationalism is used to justify everything.
In Lebanon the main force set against Israel has been Hizbollah, as it has been since the early 1980s. It claimed to have 13,000 artillery rockets at the start of the latest conflict. It has generously deployed these against towns and cities across northern Israel. With a limited accuracy they have been launched against places including densely-populated Haifa and mainly Arab Nazareth. Hizbollah claim to attack military targets, but the majority of its victims have been civilians, just like the Israeli state’s. The fact that it has so far killed dozens where Israel has killed hundreds only reflects the latter’s superior resources.
There should be no doubt as to Hizbollah’s intentions. Human Rights Watch criticised attacks on civilian areas in Israel on 18 July in part because “the warheads used suggest a desire to maximize harm to civilians. Some of the rockets launched against Haifa over the past two days contained hundreds of metal ball bearings that are of limited use against military targets but cause great harm to civilians and civilian property.” This is to be expected because Hizbollah’s ideology is identical to Israel’s – it is defending the state in which it plays a role in parliament and government, and over more than twenty years has proved itself as an effective military force. Nationalism is used to justify whatever it does.
Hizbollah’s role as part of the Lebanese state is not limited to the political and military sphere. It already fulfils basic state functions, alongside the ‘official’ state, with a basic welfare network of schools, hospitals, clinics and various development projects. The Lebanese ruling class is dependent on its contribution which, in turn, is supported by Iran and Syria.
Demonstrations for imperialist war
Many on the left are loud in their support for Hizbollah. George Galloway is blatant when he says “I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement” and recent demonstrations have been solidly pro-war in their backing for the Lebanese/Hizbollah military effort and against Israel.
Sponsored by the Stop The War Coalition, Muslim groups and CND the 5th August demo in London was a typical endorsement of the war. During the rally held at the end of the march we heard the insistence that Israel should be forced to pay reparations, sounding just like the French and British imperialists making demands on Germany after the First World War.
One speaker demanded “Yellow bellied Arab leaders get off your knees!” – a clear demand for the escalation of the war to draw in other countries and engulf the region.
Members of the Respect party claimed to be the only “anti-war” party as they dished out pro-war leaflets focussing exclusively on the damage inflicted on Lebanon. The main slogan of the march was “Unconditional ceasefire now”, but the qualification – “Stop Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Gaza” - confirmed that there was a condition to the ceasefire: it does not apply to Hizbollah, Syria or Iran, whose war-drive the march and rally saluted.
Telling lies about the ‘resistance’
There are other ways of selling what Wilfred Owen called “the old Lie” of how sweet it is to die for a patriotic cause.
The Socialist Workers Party has called for “solidarity with the resistance” because “the resistance Israel is meeting in Lebanon is a barrier to further wars and further destruction”. This is the opposite of the truth. The current conflicts involving Gaza, Israel, and Lebanon did not start a few weeks ago. To understand the roots of the conflicts, just like those in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Iran and Egypt, you have to go back to the First World War and the break up of the Ottoman Empire. The biggest imperialist powers then grabbed different parts of the strategically important Middle East and have been manoeuvring in the region ever since. Smaller powers, groups and factions have either been used by bigger powers or tried to satisfy their own individual appetites. The 1948 formation of Israel, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1978 invasion of Lebanon, the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, the 2003 invasion of Iraq – these are all moments in imperialist war from which no power, big or small, can stand aside. Today every faction says it agrees with a ‘two states’ solution – but Israel wants it to mean a Greater Israel and its opponents a unified Palestine. Far from being a ‘barrier’ to further wars the current conflict between Israel and Hizbollah shows every sign of having the capacity to escalate and involve other forces, thereby letting loose much greater destruction.
The SWP says that Hizbollah “is being supported by a growing wave of solidarity across the Arab world”. This is a weakness in the struggle of the exploited and oppressed because it shows that there are widespread illusions in the nationalist forces that are thrown up by imperialist conflicts and can only play a part in their exacerbation. The various ‘resistance’ forces, whether in Palestine/Lebanon or Iraq or Afghanistan, are presented as the only possible responses to Israeli offensives or US/British repression.
For example, the SWP quotes an activist in Beirut as saying that “Hizbollah, and Hamas in Palestine, are the only models of resistance we still have, the only ones that work.” Yet both of these organisations owed their origins to factions engaged in imperialist conflict. Israel had a hand in the setting up of Hamas as a counter to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Hizbollah was in many ways the brain-child of Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, Iranian ambassador to Syria in the early 1980s, and has had the support of Iran and Syria in the years since then. They are not ‘models of resistance’ but models of auxiliary forces to the main capitalist battalions.
You will not find any ‘barriers’ to future wars and destruction in the ranks of those who are engaged in the current conflicts. The only force that has the capacity to strike at the heart of the capitalist system that engenders imperialist war is the international working class.
Demonstrators internationally are not only being asked to support the current conflict; they are also told to ‘put pressure on western governments’. In this they are being asked to believe that big powers like the US, Britain, France, or Germany could behave in any other way than as imperialist predators. As for the ‘national resistance movements’, they are either already integral to capitalism’s forces of repression and war or have that as an ambition. Capitalist society puts the international working class in conflict with the capitalist state world-wide, but where imperialist war can only lead to increasingly massive destruction, the class war of the working class can lead to a society without national divisions, to the liberation of humanity.
6 August 2006