It seems to be a world turned upside down and inside out.
A little boy with half his head blown off, a half dozen boys shelled by an Israeli naval ship while they are playing soccer on a beach in Gaza,
people nearly burned alive and others with limbs blown off, hundreds of homes destroyed and some 200 killed many more wounded, the criminal use of white phosphorous…. and the Israeli politicians claiming “Israel has acted with restraint.”
Year after year of an Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza, which includes preventing building materials from entering, sharp restrictions even on water supplies, sharply restricting Gaza fisherman from fishing in their own waters. And in the West Bank, theft after theft of Palestinians’ homes and lands and assault after assault on Palestinians (including on children) by the Israel’s settler thugs.
Checkpoint atrocities and humiliations without end…. And US President Obama talks about Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
The racist state of Israel has been carrying out creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank for years. Since siege is an act of war, it has been carrying out a war against the people of Gaza for years. Yet it is the “victim”.
Hamas is blamed for the rockets that have struck Israel, but Israel’s violating the cease-fire agreement of 2012 is ignored. They have continued the siege of Gaza as well as continued the attacks on Gazan farmers near the Israeli border and fishermen off the Gaza coast. Hamas is blamed for not accepting the Egypt government proposed truce, that Hamas is saying that they want a truce that includes some real steps towards resolving the issues, including ending the siege. According to this narrative, Israel is completely the “good guy”.
The corporate-controlled media in the US helps this image along. The Wall St. Journal for instance, carried a report on events in Gaza/Israel on 7/16. The article concluded with the “heart rending” story of Ana Friedman, resident of Ashdod (in Israel) who returned from a rocket attack to find the floor of her home littered with shards of glass. “I started to cry,” she said. “It was sad and depressing.”
How is this woman’s story in any way even comparable to what has been happening to the people of Gaza over the last years, never mind at present? How does it even begin to compare to what happened to those boys who were shelled by the Israeli gun boat (an event that the US media has ignored, which is to say covered up)?
And so, the US “public” continues on its way, in general swallowing the distortions, lies and half truths that the corporate media pumps out regarding Israel. (This is especially ironic since polls indicate that only about 20% of the US population has confidence in this same media.)
Not Isolated Development
Many of those on both sides of this war against the Palestinian people tend to see this conflict in isolation: Either it is simply a matter of Hamas “terrorism” or one of Zionist racism and expansionism. This is mistaken; this war against the Palestinian people can only be understood – and therefore only be successfully opposed – if it is seen in its context, both regionally as well as historically.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has its origins in Yassir Arafat’s PLO. Originally, the PLO had a “military” strategy similar to that of Hamas today. But this “military” strategy – a campaign of bombings, etc. – had no more chance of succeeding than did a similar strategy of the IRA in Northern Ireland or of the African National Congress (ANC) during the apartheid regime in South Africa. Fatah had to adopt this strategy because, financed as it was by the reactionary regimes of the region, it could never build a real workers’ movement. Behind this strategy lay the acceptance of capitalism, and once it got into power, it moved further and further towards accommodating itself to Israeli (and US) capitalism. The US government, for instance, basically finances the West Bank Palestinian police (to the tune of nearly $400 million and counting) and provides “training” and “advisors”.
Packed into the world’s largest open air prison and under the constant Israeli siege, the people of Gaza finally turned to Hamas to find a way forward. But who is Hamas? Founded in the second half of the 20th century, it was linked with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which itself was and is controlled by a layer of the Egyptian capitalist class. The move towards political/nationalist Islam received a boost after Israel’s smashing victory in the 1967 war with Egypt, in which the weakness of the secular Egyptian regime was revealed.
But the origins of Hamas have another side: “According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini’s Iran…. Israel was certainly funding the group at that time.”
Since Hamas has come into power in Gaza, it seems to be undergoing a transformation similar to what the PLO underwent. In 2012 it signed a ceasefire accord with the Israeli regime. Although the Israeli regime never fully implemented their commitments – especially the lifting of the siege, as well as stopping its attacks on farmers near the border and on Gaza fishermen – Hamas did try to implement its commitments, especially trying to stop many of the rocket attacks. But as a capitalist-based group, it had no alternative to the “military” strategy that appeared serious or militant. Therefore, to the degree that it stopped the rocket attacks on Israel, to that same degree it started to lose the support of the most determined and angry of the Gazan youth.
Salafis Rise in the Region
Meanwhile, events were unfolding in the region and around the world. In particular, this means the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism/nationalism in the form of al Qaeda and related groups. And just as Israel supported and helped finance Hamas originally, so did US capitalism with al Qaeda, especially as it was seen as a tool to combat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And while Hamas’s roots lie in its links with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, this “new” Islamic fundamentalism/nationalism has its roots in what is called “Salafi-ism”. This school of thought preaches that the Koran must be taken literally, that Islamic society must return to the ways of the original founders of the religion, which includes a return to a strict interpretation of Islamic law (sharia). This includes cultural repression and extreme repression of half of the population (women) as well as all non-Muslims. Since the Salafis have their origin in the Sunni wing of Islam, it also means attacks on and repression of the Shia wing.
As we shall see, this development has directly affected events in Israel/Palestine.
The Salafis developed as a military force, especially in the next door neighbor to Israel – Syria. There, what was originally a revolt from below was transformed into a war by proxy between US and Western European capitalism (and their allies in the region) on one side vs. Russian and Iranian capitalism on the other (with the masses of Syrians caught and hammered in-between). Their military successes in Syria led to their military assault on western and northern Iraq. (See this article, for instance.)
“Success Breeds Success”
But as they say, “success breeds success”, and the military advances of this wing, especially as represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which now calls itself simply “The Islamic State” (IS), started to attract a few youth in Gaza. This tendency was strengthened by the attempts of Hamas to stop or at least limit the rocket attacks (weak as they were) on Israel. There are several reports of such groups now starting to get a base inside Gaza, although Hamas denies this. (See, for instance this article.) One report includes a video allegedly shot inside Gaza.
Also significant is the report of the death of Wadih Nafedh Wash, a Gazan young man, who was killed in Syria while fighting as a member of ISIS. According to this same report, the youth’s father ‘said that his son traveled to Syria because he was being pursued by security agents in the Gaza government for launching rockets at Israel. “Hamas’ Internal Security Agency arrested my son more than six times. The last time, he was severely tortured in prison and required physical treatment that lasted two months,” he said.”’ In other words, Wadih had turned to ISIS because Hamas is turning away from the only approach that seemed to be serious enough – the “military” strategy.
Nor should we forget the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli youth in the West Bank and the subsequent kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian youth there, who was burned alive by Israeli fascists. Hamas was widely blamed for the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli youths, but they have denied responsibility. In fact, according to numerous reports a Salafi, and probably ISIS-linked group called “Dawlat al-Islam” (translation: “Liberators’ Battalion of Hebron”) has claimed credit. (It should also be noted that according to noted Israeli commentator Uri Avnery, this was a kidnapping gone awry – that the original intent was to hold them hostage in exchange for some Palestinian prisoners but that after one of the youths was able to make a cell phone call they were all killed.)
History Repeating Itself; “Military” Strategy a Failure
So we have the story repeating itself – from the PLO to Hamas and now to ISIS. Nationalist, but pro-capitalist – groups who can only appeal to the youth through terrorism. (We emphasize that the State of Israel remains the greatest terrorists in the region, but that is a different matter.) This so-called strategy will never succeed. The racist state of Israel will never be overthrown by military means. It will never be forced to give up power and control over Gaza, the West Bank or the Golan Heights (in Syria) by these means. It would create a nuclear holocaust first, so that even if it were possible (which it is not), what would be left but a smoking nuclear ruins?
And if groups like IS were able to take power, what sort of regime would they institute? Harsh repression of women, slaughter of those with religious differences (Shia’s, etc.), and complete repression of workers’ rights. (If IS seizes control of the oil refineries in Iraq, look for complete suppression of the oil workers’ unions, which historically have been the strongest sector of the Iraqi labor movement.)
Alternative to “Military” Strategy
There is another alternative to this “military” strategy. That is a class-based and truly revolutionary strategy. A hint of the potential was seen in the uprising in Syria, before that uprising was overwhelmed by the civil war. There, in the town of Taftanaz, the movement set up the beginnings of what could be called workers’ councils, a way of workers, themselves running society, as reported here. This was a movement not only against a repressive regime, it was a movement of the working class and the poor against the wealthy. Unfortunately, when this movement came under military attack, there was apparently no strategy for winning over the rank and file soldiers through a class appeal and no strategy for how to build upon and spread these workers’ councils. The result was that ex-officers from Assad’s military took control over the movement, and from there the al-Qaeda linked groups intervened.
It is a similar story in Egypt. There out of the mass occupations of the central square in Cairo and other major cities, occupation committees were formed. These committees, which could have developed into committees similar to what developed in Taftanaz, were consciously kept non-political. The result was that ultimately the Muslim Brotherhood came to power and following them Egyptian military – what seems to be Mubarakism without Mubarak.
Since then, Iraq seems to be falling into a bitter sectarian conflict between the Shia and the Sunni.
Weakened Workers’ Movement
All of this reflects the global weakening of the workers’ movement – a weakening which has left a huge vacuum into with sectarianism and reaction has stepped. It is reflected in India, where the Hindu nationalist BJP has come to power. It is reflected even in Greece where, for all the militancy of the Greek working class, there is also the rise of Greek fascism in the form of Golden Dawn. And it is most certainly reflected in Israel, where fascists and fascist types not only attack Palestinians, they also attack Israeli lefts and peace protesters.
All is not lost, however. Far from it, as the workers’ movements in Egypt, Syria and Iraq showed just recently. A campaign of youth and workers in Gaza and the West Bank that linked the national question with the economic ones would get a response even today in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. (It was not long ago that the powerful working class in Mahallah, Egypt, was even declaring its independence from the local province!) In fact, the potential for it to get a response in the Israeli working class is shown in this report: “Israel is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Between 1995 and 2011, labor’s share of national income fell more sharply there than in the US. Over the past two decades, Israeli wages have plummeted. The country has 18 billionaires, substantially more per capita (in a population of 7.9 million) than in the US. While poverty has grown, the richest 500 Israelis have tripled their wealth over the past 12 years.”
Israeli Working Class Hopelessly Racist?
It might seem that despite this, the Israeli working class is hopelessly racist, but we should recall the situation with the white working class in the US’s South. There, lynching of black people was common 100 years ago. At the same time, however, the radical Industrial Workers of the World succeeded in building integrated unions based on class interests and in one instance white workers put their lives on the line to protect a black union organizer. There must be Israeli workers who would be receptive to a similar approach. That they are hidden now simply reflects the fact that the workers’ movement in general is in retreat, but the potential is there, as it most certainly is elsewhere in the region.
Israel/Palestine a Warning
Far from being an isolated situation, the racism of the State of Israel, the rise of outright fascist groups there, the one-sided war against an entire population (Gaza), the creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank — all of this is a warning of the direction of capitalism in general. And far from a local or nationalist solution, the solution lies in a class-based revolutionary approach.
One final note is this: The world’s working class has a direct stake in this outcome as it will influence regional and as a result world events. Here in the US, the union leaders continue to cling to the employers and to one of the employers’ political parties – the Democrats. As a result, they support US foreign policy, including US support for the State of Israel. They do this to the same extent as they support domestic policy, meaning granting continual cuts in US workers’ standard of living. Socialists and serious unionists must oppose both aspects of this approach of the union leaders – no cuts at home, no support for Corporate America’s policies abroad, including no support for the State of Israel.