Recent months have seen Israel intensify military attacks against the people of Gaza, even as it maintains its strangulation of the strip through the almost complete blockade of goods, fuel, services and movement of people.
Meanwhile, the incursions, arrests and murders perpetrated by the Israelis in the West Bank have also continued unabated. The threat of a shoah – a calamity or holocaust – by an Israeli minister in this context seemed less a prediction for the future and more a reflection of what has already been happening in Palestine ever since the Nakba (the catastrophe) of 1948, when thousands of Palestinians were evicted from their homes at gunpoint by zionist militiamen.
After 60 years of struggle against incredible odds, the Palestinians are still courageously fighting for self-determination. The question of a Palestinian state is no longer taboo, only spoken of in journals like this one; it is now widely accepted as part of the solution to the ‘problem in the Middle East’ by the so-called international community (ie, the clique of western imperialists and their representatives).
But theirs are weasel words; they want stability, but they want to preserve Israel as their middle-eastern gendarme too, and they are finding that a democratic and politically-independent Palestine is incompatible with that. The Palestinians, however, through their struggle and diplomacy, have won significant support among the workers and oppressed people of the world.
Israel in the meantime has entrenched itself as a brutal, fascistic occupier, maintained by a system of apartheid and supported by its masters in Washington and London. Under the banner of self defence, it wages constant war against the people of Palestine. The harsh reality of the F-16 fighter jets raining fear and death on the women and children across the whole of Gaza, as compared to the few Qassam rockets that just about reach the plush suburbs of Sderot and Ashkelon, should dispel any myths that it is the Israelis who are defending themselves.
The brutal attacks on Gaza at the end of February should have been described by the UN, under its own definition, as a massacre, killing over 60 people in one day. In a matter of days, more than 120 people were murdered by the Israeli onslaught, 40 of whom were children and babies and 12 of whom were women. (See ‘What I saw in Jabaliya’, New Statesman, 6 March 2008)
It was amidst this carnage that the Israeli deputy defence minister, Matan Vilanai, vowed that “the more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they [the Palestinians of Gaza] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves”. (Interview on Israeli army radio, 1 March 2008)
And Vilanai is no lone voice in the Israeli government. Ehud Barak has asserted that Gazans must not be allowed “to live normal lives”, while interior minister Meir Sheetrit suggested recently that the Israeli army should “decide on a neighbourhood in Gaza and level it” after each attack. (Quoted in ‘The meaning of Gaza’s Shoah’ by Jonathan Cook, informationclearinghouse.info, 8 March 2008)
The claim, echoed and emphasised in the British bourgeois media, that Israeli violence is a ‘justified response’ to Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza that recently killed one Israeli civilian, needs to be put into perspective. The 47-year-old student who was killed at the end of February was the first Israeli civilian to die at the hands of the Palestinian resistance since May 2007, with only 14 Israeli civilians having been killed since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000. This is compared to 1,259 of the 2,679 Palestinians killed by Israel in the Gaza Strip over the same period who were not participating in hostilities when they were killed, 567 of whom were minors. (Figures from B’Tselem, Israeli human rights group)
Palestinian resistance against the illegal occupation of their country, however, is justified. The Geneva Convention upholds the right to self-determination and self defence against occupation. It also explicitly states, in article 54 of its additional protocol, that “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited”, which all should know is exactly what Israel has been doing to Gaza since June 2007.
The effect of this barbaric collective punishment has been to plunge over 85 percent of the 1.5 million population below the poverty line and to cause at least 105 preventable deaths by refusing people requiring treatment access to medical care outside the strip.
Yet despite the barbaric effects of the siege, which cannot be ignored or glossed over, the so-called international community, with its rhetoric of ‘humanitarianism’, and which is always the first to point the finger, not to mention the gun, at Iran or China or DPRK for alleged ‘human rights abuses’, has kept a deathly silence.
Karen Koning Abu Zayd, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), recently warned that “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and – some would say – encouragement of the international community.” (Quoted in ‘The Gaza Strip: A humanitarian implosion’, report produced by eight human rights groups, March 2008)
In fact, the biggest blows on the economic front against the Palestinians have been struck not by Israel but by the EU and US, both of whom quickly withdrew their financial aid packages following Hamas’s landslide victory in the 2006 elections.
However, the $3bn in aid given annually to Israel by the US has carried on rolling in, as have the billions of dollars of loans and military support, with no sign of it being withdrawn until Israel ‘renounces violence’ and recognises Hamas as the elected representative of the Palestinian people! Indeed, these thousands of millions of dollars have in reality encouraged the carnage to continue.
The self-proclaimed ‘international community’ is now cynically using aid to try to divide the Palestinian people. The $5.6bn of aid promised at the Paris donor conference in December 2007 in support of a new ‘Palestinian Authority Reform and Development Plan’ is merely the latest attempt by Anglo-American imperialism to undermine support for Hamas by channelling desperately-needed aid through the Fatah-controlled PA.
But success is by no means assured, as Mohammed Yaghi has pointed out: “although Fayad [the unelected prime minister of the PA] has spearheaded several important initiatives, his plan is in jeopardy, and the Palestinian Authority is still far from representing a compelling alternative to Hamas”. (‘Fayad’s reform plan: difficulties and political implications’, The Washington Institute, 12 March 2008)
The reality is that attempts at undermining Hamas in the present situation are really attempts to undermine and divide the Palestinian struggle.
Calls for unity have come from across the occupied territories. During the recent talks in Sanaa, Jordan, “about 7,000 Palestinians in Gaza and several hundred in the West Bank city of Hebron joined rallies for unity. In Hebron they waved Hamas, Fatah and Palestinian flags and held hands, while in Gaza crowds chanted ‘Yes for reconciliation’.” (‘Fatah says Hamas must cede Gaza before talks’, Reuters, 26 March 2008)
Fresh talks between the two parties looked to be an opportunity for such reconciliation to take place. However, Fatah is still calling on Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza. Azzam Al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah leader, has been quoted as saying that Fatah will not sit down with Hamas until its leaders “end the coup and after they stop saying that there is a government headed by Haniyeh”. (Quoted in ibid)
Throughout its long history, the resilience of the Palestinian struggle has been strengthened by unity. Under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the cohesion between the different groups and organisations, and unity in the face of Israeli aggression, was maintained.
The task of re-establishing a unity government as the representative of the Palestinian people, and as the body that Israel will have to talk to, is urgent.
On the basis of their past record, and the evident desire of the Palestinian masses, we are confident that the Palestinian people will find a way through their present difficulties and emerge strengthened and better able to continue their struggle for self-determination.
It has been 60 years since the start of the Nakba and, much to the chagrin of the Israelis and their imperialist masters, the Palestinians have not gone away or given up. Instead, refusing to become the victims of history, they have waged their heroic resistance against all odds, becoming a beacon to all oppressed and exploited masses across the globe.
Victory to the Intifada!