by Gerry Foley / July 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper
The Israeli government’s immediate response to an attack on June 25 by Palestinian fighters on a border post it maintains between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and the kidnapping of a young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was to seal off the overpopulated and impoverished enclave entirely and to mass armored military forces on its border, threatening a full scale invasion.
Once again, the fate of the Gaza Strip to be a giant prison and shooting gallery for the Israeli army was highlighted. Israel’s huge military operation followed a week in which its “targeted assassinations” of Palestinian resistance fighters killed 13 people, most of them children.
The first phase of the Israeli reprisals consisted mainly of air and artillery bombardment. A power plant was knocked out, as well as bridges, and then some political offices. The Zionist rulers declared that they considered both major Palestinian leaderships—Fatah, represented by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and Hamas, the Islamist organization that won control of the PA parliament in recent elections—as responsible for the Palestinian resistance’s attack on the Israeli army border post and the kidnapping of the soldier.
Offices of both political tendencies in Gaza were hit. This is despite the fact that Abu Mazen condemned the attack and initially sent the PA police to try to find the soldier. Even in the case of Hamas, it soon became clear that the political leadership of the Islamist organization had no control over, nor even any knowledge of the actions of the military wing. That is the usual situation in organizations that have both a military and a political wing. The fighters, who are constantly risking their lives and freedom, do not readily take orders from politicians.
The Hamas premier, Ismail Haniyeh, appealed to the kidnappers to spare the life of the captive Israeli soldier. The Israeli press is full of speculation about a conflict between the political and military wings of Hamas and between the local leadership and the leaders living in exile in Syria.
The Zionist leaders defended the bombing as a means of putting pressure on the Israeli soldier’s captors and preventing them from moving him around. But the destruction was clearly directed at the Palestinian community as a whole. It was quite a stretch to claim that bombing a power plant and cutting off power and water to a large section of the population was aimed at the clandestine military wing of Hamas.
Thus, the Israeli actions prompted the Swiss government, which is charged with monitoring observance of the Geneva Convention, to indict Israel for violation of Article 3, which bans collective punishments. The background to the adoption of this international convention is the massacres the Nazis perpetrated during World War II in the name of reprisals for guerrilla actions against their occupation forces.
The threatened large-scale invasion of Gaza has been slow in coming, despite deeper and deeper incursions across the borders of the enclave. The Paris daily Liberation reported July 5: “In successive encroachments, the Israeli army is tightening its grip on the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Tanks took up position yesterday in the Eretz industrial zone. … The Israeli army seems to have opted for moving in stages rather than a front assault.”
After Palestinian resistance forces managed to fire home-make rockets from the northern Gaza Strip into the Israeli town of Ashkelon on July 3 and 4, the Israeli premier, Ehud Olmert. announced that the that the Palestinian fighters had crossed a “red line.” The website of the Arab nationalist TV channel Al Jazeera reported July 5 that the Israeli cabinet was discussing reoccupying the northern part of the Gaza strip to set up a “security zone.”
In an op-ed in the most authoritative Zionist paper, Haaretz, on July 4, former Israeli foreign minister Moshe Ahrens called for a massive military campaign to crush Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces arrested a number of Hamas officials in the PA government and pulled the identity cards of others that allowed them to reside in East Jerusalem.
Some right-wing Israeli politicians have even called for the assassination of Haniyeh. In the midst of this unbridled retaliation, Israeli planes were sent to buzz the palace of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, threatening a new regional armed conflict.
Very quickly, commentators in the Israeli press came to the conclusion that Olmert’s escalation was not aimed at forcing the release of the kidnapped soldier but bringing down the Hamas government and smashing the resistance in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s most respected military expert, Zeev Schiff, wrote in Haaretz of July 4: “It’s clear that the problem is no longer limited to how to save Shalit’s life. This is a direct confrontation with Hamas, other Palestinian organizations, and their supporters among the Palestinian public.”
In this confrontation, Schiff defined Israel’s options as follows: “It [Israel] must choose between agreeing to a prisoner swap, exchanging military blows with the Palestinians that will not lead Israel anywhere, and intensifying its offensive in order to topple the Hamas government. Israel will probably choose the latter option.”
As the Israeli military pushed deeper into Gaza, the Hamas minister legally in charge of the Palestinian security forces, most of whom are loyal to Fatah, called on them to resist the invading forces. That implicitly threatened to lead to a state of war between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Three resistance groups have claimed credit for the attack on the border post and the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier—the military organization of Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the previously unheard-of group, “Army of Islam.” In return for giving information about him, they are demanding that Israel release all its Palestinian women prisoners, as well as Palestinian children under the age of 18.
The Israeli government has refused to negotiate. The last time the Israeli army tried to rescue a soldier held by Palestinians, in 1994, he was killed.
The captors issued an ultimatum July 3 demanding that Israel agree to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit before July 4. They then announced, after Israel had maintained its refusal to negotiate and the deadline had passed, that they were no longer negotiating. But the following day they declared that they had no plans to kill their hostage.
They also appeared to have softened their demand, asking only that Israel agree to release some prisoners in the future. This is really a very modest, face-saving request. Israel admits holding more than 8000 Palestinian prisoners, and it obviously cannot hold all of them forever. It has to release groups of them from time to time.
Liberation of July 5 reported: “Despite the impasse, Cairo’s proposals remain the basis of the discussions. In exchange for the release of its soldier, Israel would free 500 Palestinian prisoners in a year. The talks are being blocked by the guarantees demanded by the armed groups, which reject a simple verbal commitment. Another problem is that Israel has no intention of freeing prisoners condemned to long sentences and close to the kidnapping groups.”
The Zionist rulers’ problem is that they cannot bring down the Hamas government without destroying the Palestinian Authority as a whole, as Danny Rubinstein wrote in Haaretz of July 3: “Nearly all of the Palestinian spokesmen have agreed in recent days that it is not possible that instead of Hamas’ government, an entity will be established that will look like a government of collaborators that is coming into power riding on the backs of the Israeli tanks. In light of this reaction Mohammed Dahlan (who is accompanying Abu Mazen during his stay in Gaza) has denied that there is any intention to establish a new Palestinian government.
“The conclusion from this description of events is that at this time, it is impossible to get rid of the Hamas government—and if this is attempted by force the entire PA will collapse.”
The Zionist rulers have claimed that the basis for a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the creation of a Palestinian state on the territories conquered by Israel in 1967. But the foundation of any such mini-state has already been weakened by Zionist land grabs in the name of protecting Israel’s security. And now its campaign of retaliation at the Hamas government has undermined the minimum basis of economic viability.
Rubinstein noted: “The events of recent years have very much weakened the Palestinian regime in the territories. A number of times in the past there was talk that PA was about to collapse, but it has survived. Today the situation is different: This is the fifth month now that the 150,000 employees of the PA have not regularly received their salaries, which represent the means of subsistence for about 1 million people. It is impossible to manage a country’s treasury by means of messengers who smuggle in dollars in suitcases.
“The Gaza Strip is under siege, as are a number of districts in the West Bank. Infrastructures in the Strip are being destroyed—including electricity, water, roads, bridges. Officials are saying that it will be difficult to rehabilitate the economy in the territories.”
Rubenstein asked what Israel could do if the Palestinian Authority is destroyed. Reoccupy all the territories? Or accept a situation in which there is no state authority in the territories and clandestine armed groups are in effective control? Both are counterproductive alternatives for the Zionists.
The existence of the Palestinian Authority has been a great advantage for the Zionist rulers. It serves as a basis for the corruption of a substantial section of the Palestinians and as a hostage to the Zionists and imperialists, who can cut off the financing of it whenever they choose, as they have done in response to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Authority elections.
In fact, prior to the border-post attack, the imperialist blackmail seemed to be working. It fueled a virtual civil war between the two principal Palestinian factions and it was forcing a symbolic climb-down by Hamas from its verbally radical opposition to Zionism.
The British Guardian reported June 21: “Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee and a lead negotiator on the prisoners’ document [a compromise document drawn up by Fatah and Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails], said Hamas had agreed to sections which call for a negotiated and final agreement with Israel to establish a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.
“‘Hamas is prepared to accept those parts of the document because they think it is a way to get rid of a lot of its problems with the international community. That’s why it will accept all the document eventually,’ he said.”
The difference between the stances of Hamas and Fatah toward Israel has been essentially one of words. But the more intransigent language of the Islamist organization was popular among the Palestinian masses, and it was difficult for the Hamas leadership to retreat from it.
However, once Hamas agreed to take responsibility for the government of the Palestinian Authority it became subject to blackmail. The Palestinian semi-state is entirely dependent on funds channeled to it by Israel and the imperialists.
The ruinous Israeli assault on Gaza and some West Bank areas is the most dramatic confirmation yet of the fact that a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in fact no solution, that the establishment of a Palestinian mini-state can only divide Palestinians. In the face of the Israeli onslaught, it seems that there is a new unity among the Palestinian groups. It needs to be deepened and consolidated in a political formula calling for equality of Jews and Palestinians in all of historic Palestine.
A united front of Palestinians and of democrats and humanitarians worldwide is urgent, because the only sense of the Israeli campaign is to crush the Palestinian community and force a new mass emigration. It is a program of genocide, which if carried forward, would be a step backward for civilization as a whole, including among other things a return to the era of collective punishments that the Geneva Conventions were supposed to end.