by Gerry Foley / November issue of Socialist Action Newspaper
Israel’s war against the Palestinian population of Gaza has been escalating. It reached a terrible high point on Nov. 7 with the massacre of at least 19 Palestinians, who were killed in their sleep near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun. They were victims of an allegedly misdirected artillery barrage that the Israel military claimed had been fired in response to the launching of Qassam rockets from a nearby site into Israel.
The Israeli army had taken Beit Hanun and held it in an iron grip for several days. Some commentors in the liberal Israeli press described the occupation as “collective punishment.”
But the killing continued after the Israeli army left. On the same day as the massacre near Beit Hanun, two alleged Palestinian fighters were killed by an airstrike in southern Gaza, and four alleged fighters were killed in the West Bank.
The Israeli press reported that the Palestinian death toll on Nov. 7 was 28. That brought the number of Palestinians killed in the last week to well over 70, a total on a scale similar to that of the Israeli killing in the recent Lebanon war.
On Nov. 2, the Arab news service Al Jazeera reported that the Israeli military had killed 16 Palestinians in the first two days of November. Eleven were killed on Nov. 1, including a 75-year-old man who was shot dead by Israeli troops as he went to try to take his disabled son from the balcony of their home.
On Nov. 3, another 16 Palestinians were killed, including two middle-aged women. The two women were among a crowd of women demonstrating at a mosque on the outskirts of the town where a group of Palestinian fighters had sheltered. Their action enabled most of the trapped fighters to escape, but at a high cost.
Al Jazeera reported that the Israeli army had ordered all males over the age of 16 to assemble at a school to be “questioned.” Dozens of those interrogated were arrested and taken away by the Israeli soldiers. The dispatch continued: “‘Residents are in panic as the sound of gunfire and explosions never stops. The curfew is very, very tight,’ Yamen Hamad, a local journalist, told Reuters [news agency] by telephone.”
Although the Israeli incursion was launched ostensibly to stop the firing of homemade Qassam missiles, in that it failed totally. Four Qassams fell in the Israeli border town of Sderot on Nov. 2, more than the previous day. The Qassams are continuing to fall.
In general, the Qassams pose a negligible threat to the Israeli population. They are primarily an expression of the Palestinians’ desperation, one of the only ways available of striking back at Israel’s relentless attacks.
Low-level civil war
This festering desperation is now being disastrously turned inward. And this poses the gravest threat to the will of the Palestinian people to resist. It has led to a low-level civil war between the governing party in the Palestinian territories, Hamas, and the former governing party, Fatah.
Since Hamas has refused to formally recognize the state of Israel, the Zionist rulers and their imperialist allies cut off almost all funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Its employees have not received their full salaries since March, when Hamas took office. Most of the PA employees are members of Fatah, and therefore their frustration is turned against Hamas.
The government is divided between Hamas and the president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected by popular vote before the Hamas victory in the parliamentary elections in January.
There are two rival security forces, one under the command of Abbas, and a parallel security force formed by Hamas.
Abbas has been threatening to dissolve the Hamas-dominated parliament and government—an act that Hamas says it would consider as a “coup d’etat.” Abbas’ threats reached a high point with his statement in the third week of October, cited in the Oct. 23 issue of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz: “In the middle of last week, for example, Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] declared: ‘Bread is more important than democracy.’
“This sentence was quoted in all the Palestinian media. The significance of this statement is clear to all: True, the Hamas government rose to power through democratic elections, but it is not able to function, it does not pay salaries, it does not provide bread, and it cannot continue to rule.
“By the end of the week, Abu Mazen was already speaking explicitly: ‘There is a responsibility on our shoulders,’ he said, ‘and we have to take decisions about setting up a loyal Palestinian government that will enjoy international recognition, will enable the embargo against our people to be lifted and will concentrate on the central objective, which is an end to the occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, a state that will live in peace and security alongside Israel.’”
Abbas undoubtedly knows that removal of the Hamas government would threaten a full-scale civil war among Palestinians. And in Gaza, Hamas is stronger, and its role in leading the Beit Hanun resistance has undoubtedly strengthened its support. But his remark about “bread” indicates that he thinks that within the framework of the material interests he represents he may have no alternative.
The dilemma that the two big Palestinian organizations face has led to a mind-boggling round of off-again, on-again negotiations to try to find some sort of compromise. Haaretz reported Nov. 2 that Abbas and the Hamas leadership had come to an agreement on a government of national unity made up of technocrats, not politicians, who would be representative of the two parties. It remains to be seen whether this agreement will hold, or break down like the previous agreements.
But at the same time as material pressures are dividing the Palestinians, the sentiment for unity among the besieged people is very strong. It is possible that new strategies and new leadership can emerge from this cauldron.
Despite their pretences that they are seeking a compromise solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Zionists are still pursuing their historic objective of driving out the Arab population to the greatest possible extent. And they are still having some success.
Haaretz reported Oct. 24 that the number of Zionist settlers in the Palestinian territories has increased by 5.3 over the past year and is continuing to grow. It detailed the Israeli government’s attempts to cover up the expansion of the settlement.
Moreover, despite Palestinians’ often desperate determination to hold onto their land, a growing number of them are considering leaving. The Christian Science Monitor reported Oct. 24: “The sentiment [for leaving], which flouts the long-held Palestinian belief that Israeli occupation can only be resisted by staying put, is yet another indication of the deepening despair since Hamas was elected to run the government.
“This desire to flee also comes amid ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip. On Monday, Israeli troops killed at least seven Palestinians in one of the deadliest days of fighting following the June 25 capture of an Israeli soldier.
“Birzeit University pollster Nader Said, who has monitored emigration attitudes for 12 years, says the percentage of Palestinians willing to relocate once hovered just below 20 percent. When that figure jumped to 32 percent in a September survey, Mr. Said says he was shocked.
“The catalyst, the pollster says, has been Palestinian disillusionment following Hamas’s half-year in government. ‘What the Israelis were unable to do—try to push the Palestinians out of the country—the internal strife is achieving,’ he says.
“Even more telling, adds Said, is that the percentage surges to 44 percent among Palestinians in their 20s and 30s. Among young men, it surges beyond 50 percent.”
One of the columnists for Haaretz remarked when the fighting developed between Fatah and Hamas that the Israeli rulers had finally achieved their objective. It is clear that their pressure has provoked and fueled this conflict and it is the Zionists who benefit from it.
Such internecine warfare is the index of the desperation of a people goaded beyond endurance by state terror and economic deprivation. Rather than discouraging international solidarity with the Palestinian people, it should give a greater sense of urgency to it.
This destruction of a people is one of the great scandals of our time and one of the greatest threats to world civilization.