On 30th October, the Israeli “national unity” coalition collapsed, paving the way for yet another general election, which is to take place on 28 January. On 6 February 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister by a landslide majority of 62.6% over 37.2% for Labour’s Ehud Barak on a platform of peace and security. Nearly two years late, the Israelis are far further from these objectives than they were two years ago. And this for the simple reason that there can be no peace and security for the Israelis as long as the Palestinian people are denied their legitimate national rights and continue to suffer the cruelty, tyranny, humiliation and hardship of Zionist colonial occupation of their land.
Barbarity and colonialism
Far from attending to this all-important issue, successive Israeli governments, Labour and Likud, have tried to solve this problem by barbaric use of force, savage brutality towards the Palestinian population at large, collective punishments, curfews and closures, wholesale arrests and torture, disruption of economic life and the imposition of extreme hardship on the civilian population, all in callous disregard of international opinion and international law and by a serial breach of UN resolutions. Sharon went further even than – and this is saying something – the previous Zionist administrations in the sadistic brutality which his government meted out to the Palestinian people. The Israeli army and air force shell, strafe and bomb Palestinian population centres practically round the clock, killing and maiming thousands. Their pretext for this massive use of force is the suicide bombing of Israeli targets by the Palestinians. The truth, however, is that the Palestinians signed the Oslo Accord in 1993, under which they undertook, as did Israel, to resolve their differences by peaceful methods. What undermined that accord was the Israeli territorial expansion and the continued construction of new settlements and the enlargement of the old ones. Since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, the settler population of the West Bank has doubled to more than 200,000. This, in addition to the 200,000 Jewish settlers who live in areas of Jerusalem captured and annexed following the June 1967 war. The Israeli settlement expansion, and the infrastructure of roads and services connecting them, are aimed at joining up a vast number of settlements dotted all across the so-called (because the whole of historic Palestine is occupied) Occupied Territories, while at the same time more than 3 million Palestinians are forced into mutually isolated population centres. The result is that instead of a situation in which Zionist settlements existed as islands in a sea of Palestinians, which was the case two decades ago, it is in the process of making way for Palestinian islands in a sea of Israeli settlements. All this is underpinned by the Zionist desire of creating facts on the ground so as to render the creation of a viable independent Palestinian state an impossibility or, to use the words of the Palestine Authority (PA), reduce the future Palestinian state to “the Middle East equivalent of a native American Indian reservation”. If that happens, the Palestinians may be left with no choice but to re-think the policy of a two-state solution. In that case, the Zionists may have no one but themselves to blame.
Like all colonial robbers, the Zionists are not only bandits and thieves; into the bargain, they are very unwise thieves. They have stolen Palestinian land. The legitimate owners of that land, for a variety of reasons which need not be enumerated in this article, have agreed to settle for a mere 22%, leaving the thieves to gorge on the remaining 78%. In their blinding greed, the Zionists are unable to accept this millennial bargain.
Occupied Territories – a concentration centre
In pursuit of this aim – to absorb the rest of Palestinian territory – the Sharon government has unleashed a total war on the Palestinian people. Since coming to power nearly two years ago, it has reoccupied towns and cities across the West bank and turned the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into one large concentration camp, in which the Palestinian population is subjected to confinement and curfews without end, there to eke out a miserable existence on handouts by aid agencies. The suffering of the Palestinian population may be gleaned from the following few figures, released by UNICEF on the occasion of World Children’s Day on 20 September 2002. Since the start of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, of the nearly 1,900 Palestinians killed (the number of killed now stands at close to 2,200), 323 (now just over 380) were children (both number have risen since); more than 20,000 Palestinians have been injured (other sources put this number at double this figure), of which 7,000 were children. Out of 1.3 million children in the occupied territories, 80% suffer from psychological disorders – such as fear, lack of concentration and sleeping problems. While 185 schools have been damaged, 11 have been totally destroyed and three (other sources put this figure at more than a dozen) used as Israeli military posts or as detention centres for Palestinians. 600,000 children in the West Bank were unable to attend school for one month or more during the spring of 2002. For the school term beginning 31 August 2002, 49 schools in Jenin, Nablus and Hebron could not open because of curfews – thus preventing 120,000 children from learning and their 3,000 teachers from teaching. More than two-thirds of the Palestinian people today, says UNICEF, live below the poverty line and 500,000 children need food help.
According to other sources, since the end of March 2002, at least 15,000 Palestinians have been detained, of whom just over 6,000 continue to be imprisoned. Nearly 1,800 of those in prison are held in administrative detention, which is a term for arbitrary detention without charged or trial. Even the Israeli government admits to holding 1,000 Palestinians in this category.
A government which so oppresses, tortures, kills, maims, imprisons and starves the population under its jurisdiction, is lauded as a true representative of freedom and democracy by the governments and ruling classes in the centres of imperialism – Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Tokyo! A more glaring example of the decadence of imperialism can hardly be cited than the support rendered by the imperialist bourgeoisie to Israeli Zionism in the interests of the selfish aim of the capitalist robber barons, financial manipulators, and the oil and armament monopolies.
Since UNICEF published its figures the Zionist murder machine has continued its grisly work. On 14 October, the Israeli army killed in cold blood 14 Palestinians and injured more than one hundred in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza. All the dead, including four children and women, were civilians, killed when a missile fired from an Israeli helicopter hit a crowd who emerged from their homes in the belief that the four-hour raid was over. A few days later eight civilians died from a tank shell in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. In the course of five weeks, the Israeli military managed to slaughter 65 civilians in the two camps of Khan Younis and Rafah.
In the week up to 22 November, Israeli forces killed 13 Palestinians. In the first week of December 2002, Israeli forces attacked Gaza thrice. In the second attack (2 December), helicopter gunships fired three missiles into Gaza City, killing Mustafa Saba who, the Israelis claim, was responsible for killing seven soldiers earlier last year (2002). Two days later, on 6 December, ten Palestinians, including two UNWRA employees, were killed when Israeli troops supported by tanks and helicopters forced their way into the Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, provoking a three-hour gun battle during Eid el-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. Tens of thousands of mourners at the funeral for the ten chanted “revenge”. On 6 December, nine Palestinians were killed in one day of Israeli military operations. In total, Israel killed 50 Palestinians during December.
Even the UN employees are the target, as is shown by the cold-blooded murder of Ian Hook on 22 November. Mr.Hook had been helping with the reconstruction of the Jenin refugee camp and was shot dead while busy over his mobile telephone negotiating the withdrawal of his workers. He had emerged from the UN compound holding aloft the blue UN flag, to which the Israeli soldiers replied by broadcasting this disgusting message through a loud hailed: “We don’t care if you’re the United Nations or who you are. Fuck off and go home”.
Far from subduing the Palestinian masses through mass terror, the Israeli methods and tactics have merely served to stiffen Palestinian resistance. After a lull of nearly six weeks in suicide bombings, during which the Israeli forces killed 71 Palestinians, the resistance responded by two suicide attacks in Tel Aviv on 18 and 19 September, killing altogether 9 Israelis and wounding more than 60. Adbullah al-Shami, a leader of Islamic Jihad (IJ) which claimed responsibility for the above two attacks, said after the bombing: “These attacks tell the enemy we are not tired and we have not despaired”. The more powerful Hamas, too, acclaimed the attacks, saying that they had exposed Israel’s vulnerability and its total inability to provide peace and security to its own population for so long as Palestinians continued to be in occupation.
On 11 October, 5 Israelis were killed in an attack on Kibutz Metzen, just outside of the West Bank. An organisation connected with Fatah claimed responsibility for the attack. On 21 October, 14 Israelis were killed in a bus bombing in northern Israel, for which IJ claimed responsibility.
The Hebron battle
On 15 November, the Israeli forces suffered one of their worst defeats of the two-year-old Intifada. Twelve Israeli soldiers – paramilitary police and armed settler militia – were killed during a 90-minute battle after being ambushed by three IJ gunmen. The dead include Colonel Dror Weinberg, Hebron Commander, and the highest-ranking Israeli to be killed in this Intifada. In a meticulously planned operation, three armed settlers were killed instantly, with the heaviest casualties, including the death of Hebron’s army commander, coming when the troops guarding the settlers gave chase.
“There was gunfire from left and right, from every possible angle. They were shooting at us from above”, a witness told a local radio station.
As the news of the attack reached Gaza, several dozen IJ supporters took to the streets in wild celebration of the ambush, which was characterised as a “gift to every martyr”. “This”, said a voice over a loudspeaker, “is retaliation for the daily and ugly massacres committed by the Zionist occupation against our people”.
An IJ spokesman told al-Jazeera television that the attack was in retaliation for the Israeli killing on 9 November of one of its members, Ihad Sawalha, blamed by Israel for two suicide bomb attacks in which 31 Israelis died. Sawalha was killed after Shin Bet arrested his sister and mother and, through torture, secured information concerning his whereabouts.
On 21 November, a suicide bomber belonging to Hamas, boarded a bus at Kiryat Minachem, near Jerusalem, and exploded a bomb, killing 11 Israelis and injuring several dozen. Just as these lines are being written, the news has come through that 21 Israelis were killed and 100 injured last night (5 January 2003) in a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, bringing to an end 6 weeks of lull in Palestinian attacks in Israel. Since the start of the al-Aqsa Intifada, 300 Israelis have died at the hands of the resistance and close to 5,000 injured.
Economic damage to Israeli economy
The damage done to the Palestinian economy, and the hardship imposed on the Palestinian people, by the settler occupation regime is well documented and reported in these pages. What is less well known is the damage caused to the Israeli economy by the combination of the world capitalist crisis and the actions of the resistance, which is forcing on the Israelis the realisation of the economic price they must pay for the continued oppression and subjugation of another people. Here are a few facts illustrative of the destructive effects of the intifada on the Israeli economy.
All through the 1990s, especially after the signing of the Oslo Accord, foreign investment flooded into Israel, especially into the high-technology sector, which Israel was well-positioned to develop, not only because of local talent, but also because of the flood of 1 million immigrants, mostly well-qualified and possess ed of technological know-how, from the former Soviet Union. As a result, Israeli GDP grew at the rate of 5 per cent per annum. During these years, Israel’s per capita GDP overtook that of Spain, Portugal and Greece. Between 2000 and 2002, however, the Israeli GDP has shrunk by 6 per cent. Unemployment has increased from 8.8% in mid-2000 to 10.6%. Inflation, which almost disappeared in the 1990s, is expected, thanks to the increased state expenditure to counteract the recession and the fight against the Palestinian revolt, is on course to reach almost 13 per cent. The Israeli standard of living has come down to what it was 7 years ago and the per capita GDP today (at the end of 2002) stands at £9,800, the public debt at 103% of the GDP and the budget deficit at 8% of the GDP.
Following the success of its high-technology sector, only just over two years ago, Israel was called the “silicon wadi”. Today, however, this sector, one of the principal driving forces behind recent Israeli economic success, which accounted for 17.5 per cent of its business-sector product and 70 percent of its exports, has collapsed – with no other industry to fall back on.
The resistance and the suicide bombers have devastated the other major source of economic growth: consumer spending. Town centres and fashionable shopping malls, which mushroomed in the 1990s boom, are struggling to stay in business, as any public place is a potential target for the resistance to strike at. Whereas only two years ago Israelis crowded into the country’s restaurants, bars, clubs and shopping centres, today these places have a spooky look about them, with people being frightened to visit them. The consumer-led growth during the year to the second quarter of 2002, shrank by 75%. Tourism, on which Israel has relied so much, both for economic and propaganda reasons declined by 60% during 2002 alone. An article in the Financial Times (FT), from which many of the figures cited immediately above are taken, concludes:
“The continued recession in Israel and the Palestinian territories is exacerbating the horror of the terror and violence, making the lives of everyday people yet more miserable. As the intifada enters its third year, more than 2,500 people have been killed. The economies of Israel and the Palestinian territories are another kind of victim. There is nothing more sacred than life but the human consequences of economic strife cannot be overlooked” (‘The economic pain of Israel’s conflict’, Alexander Greenbaum and Davi Bernstein).
In the light of the foregoing, it is not difficult to agree with Marx’s profound observation that no nation can be free if it oppresses another.
28 January election cannot solve anything
The Israeli election on 28 January, no matter which party wins it, will solve nothing, unless the Zionist rulers accept the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and an independent state of their own. It does not look like any of the two main parties – Likud or Labour – are as yet willing to accept it. Sharon has turned his back on an agreement with the Palestinians. He has openly stated that “Oslo doesn’t exist, Camp David doesn’t exist, Taba doesn’t exist; we are not going back to those places”. He has further insisted that “no settlements, even the rogue ones, will be dismantled”. His newly-appointed army chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, says that the PA is “a malignant cancer that must be eradicated”, adding that the Palestinian intifada presented an “existential threat”, which must be defeated decisively before the two sides could negotiate.
The new Labour leader, Amran Mitzna, Mayor of Haifa and a former soldier, who, as an army commander during the first intifada, meted out extremely harsh treatment to the Palestinians, now says that he is in favour of negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the January 2001 settlement proposals attempted to be forced on Yassir Arafat by the Clinton administration. Since those proposals were unacceptable to the Palestinians then, there is little reason to believe that they would be acceptable now after the tremendous sacrifices of the second intifada. Besides, in view of its track record, Labour is hardly to be trusted, for one must never forget that it was under Labour that the biggest expansion of illegal settlements took place – “a scale of colonisation that could soon make a Palestinian state unfeasible” (FT, 31 October 2002).
Palestinian resistance or a war without end
The Israeli public is schizophrenic about its attitude towards the Palestinians and their national rights. This schizophrenia is the product of the very circumstances in which the state of Israel was created and the conditions in which it has to exist. A thief shuns the place of his crime, so runs an old saying. Since it is hardly possible for the Israelis to shun the place of their crime, for this is where they live, they would dearly love to shun their victims, something they have not been able to achieve and never will be able to. Hence the self-contradictory way in which they express themselves on some of the most important questions facing Israeli society.
A succession of opinion polls show that while the majority of the Israelis want peace with the Palestinians, at the same time they want to smash them. They support the creation of an independent Palestinian state, while wanting, at the same time, to keep control over the occupied territories; they resent the continued existence of the settlements as the principal obstacle to peaces, while simultaneously backing Ariel Sharon, the most ardent supporter of settlements and the colonisation of the remaining Palestinian land, as the guardian of their security. They can no longer continue to have their cake and eat it. The heroic resistance of the Palestinian intifada has served to deny them that choice. Election or no election, victory for Sharon and Likud or for Mitzna’s Labour, the choice facing the Israeli population is simply this: either accept Palestinian national rights and live in peace and security, or continue with the policy of war and colonisation pursued hitherto and brace themselves for a war of mutual destruction without end. What is certain is that in the end the Israeli policy will fail. It failed in Lebanon; it failed during the First Intifada; and it will fail now. The sooner the Israeli population realises, the better for it. Failing that, the hammer blows of the resistance, which will give Israel no rest, no peace and no security, will drive this simple truth into even the most obtuse skulls.