From the beginning of the Second Intifada – the al-Aqsa Intifada – in September 2000 to the beginning of August 2006, 4,200 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis were killed. Since then hundreds more Palestinians have been slaughtered by the Israeli butchers. The zionist killing machine has gone into overdrive since the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, it being the aim of the zionist colonial authorities to force the Palestinian people, through collective punishment, to disavow their support for their legitimately elected government led by Hamas.
Out and out war
The killing of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of the third, Corporal Gilad Shalit, by the Palestinian resistance, among them fighters from Hamas, on Sunday 25 June 2006, served as a pretext for the zionists to wage an all-out war against the Palestinian people, especially those living in the concentration camp known by the name of Gaza. The day following the kidnapping of Corporal Shalit, the resistance demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in exchange for information on the fate of the Israeli soldier. On 27 June, Hamas and Fatah agreed on a common front, which included the implicit recognition of Israel by Hamas. Ignoring these developments, in the early hours of 28 June, Israel moved its troops into the south of the Gaza Strip, while attacks by its Air Force destroyed a power station and bridges in the Strip. At the same time Israeli fighter planes provocatively flew over the palace of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to warn Syria against supporting Hamas. On Thursday 29 June Israeli troops arrested scores of Hamas activists, lawmakers and ministers in the West Bank. Since then, 30 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including eight ministers have been rotting in the Ofer jail in Israel.
In just the first ten weeks of its assault on Gaza, named Operation Summer Rains, Israeli forces killed 202 Palestinians, of which, 44 were children, carried out 267 air strikes, damaged hundreds of buildings, many bridges, and the Gaza power plant. “Gaza is a prison now”, wrote Deborah Orr in The Independent of 30 August 2006 (‘Israel has turned Gaza into a prison’).
While the world’s attention was soon to be focused on Israel’s other border against the Lebanese people, Israel unleashed unprecedented brutality on the inhabitants of Gaza. The Lebanese war, however, proved to be a total disaster for Israel, resulting in its humiliating defeat at the hands of Hizbollah, the Lebanese resistance movement. Licking its wounds from the devastating defeat it suffered in the 34-day war in Lebanon, Israel, like a wounded beast, became even more vicious in its treatment of the people of Gaza – inflicting further collective punishment on them in the hope of chalking up some success in its wars on the oppressed people of Lebanon and Palestine.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces destroyed hundreds of square kilometres of olive groves.
The internal split within the national liberation movement, resulting in the takeover of Gaza by Hamas at the end of June 2007, the illegal dismissal of the legitimately elected Hamas government by Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, and the equally illegal takeover of the West Bank (WB) by his security forces – all with US and Israeli connivance and active support – gave Israel the green light to pursue its anti-Hamas campaign in the Gaza with intensified vigour, with the Israeli army closing all border crossings of the Gaza at the end of June.
One of Israel’s pretexts for its never-ceasing attacks on Gaza is the firing of Qassam rockets by the Palestinian resistance from north-western Gaza at the Israeli town of Sderot and its environs. Usually these rockets are fired in response to Israeli outrages and, as the record shows, they cause little damage and very few fatalities. Since 2001, the Qassams have killed 12 civilians, while the Israeli army killed 235 Gazans in 2007 alone, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group. What really irks the zionists, however, is the sheer act of defiance against occupation and oppression that these rockets symbolise. In addition, they force the 20,000 residents of Sderot to use bomb shelters, prevent children from playing outdoors and oblige the authorities to convert open-air bus stops into concrete cubicles. Worn out by the daily alarms, 3,000 of the 20,000 residents of Sderot left the town in 2007. During the last six years, over 7,300 Qassams have been fired by the Palestinian resistance. What worries the Israelis even more is that, whereas earlier versions of these rockets had a range of 3 km and carried 500 gm of explosives, the newer version can travel 10 km, carry 20 kg of explosives as well as metal pellets, and can hit as far as the town of Ashkelon, which is but little prepared for them.
In an effort to squash the resistance and to defeat Hamas through draconian measures, including starving the 1.5 million residents of Gaza, on 19 September 2007, the Israeli government declared Gaza “a hostile entity”. This was followed by the complete closure of Gaza on 17 January this year on the orders of the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, bringing unmitigated misery, poverty, death and disease to the entire Gazan population in an act of Nazi-style collective punishment for supporting the resistance movement Hamas. Not being content with the results of the near-total blockade of Gaza, turning it into the world’s largest open prison, on 19 January, the zionist authorities stopped the supply of industrial fuel, without which modern life is impossible. On Sunday 20 January the only power plant in Gaza was shut down. Consequent upon the brutal zionist blockade, the whole of Gaza was plunged into complete darkness, petrol stations ran out of fuel and had to be closed, sewage began flooding the streets, bakeries could no longer bake bread, and only with the use of generators could crucial power supplies to the hospitals be maintained.
In the circumstances, the UN issued a dire warning that food aid to nearly 900,000 Palestinians could come to a halt unless the blockade was lifted. Even the EU, which is normally content to ignore, and look benignly on, all acts of Israeli brutality towards the Palestinians, felt compelled to condemn the blockade as an act of collective punishment of the whole population of Gaza. In the face of world-wide condemnation of their actions, the zionist authorities eased the blockade for just one day, allowing, on 22 January, a small consignment of industrial fuel and medicines into Gaza.
However, the besieged people of Gaza took matters into their own hands and burst the blockade in a revolutionary way. On 23 January, armed men, presumed to belong to Hamas, blasted a gaping hole in the border fence which separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt, allowing nearly half a million Gazans back and forth across the border and enabling them to stock up with the daily necessities of life. The result of this revolutionary measure by the Palestinians to break the zionist blockade caused great consternation in Tel Aviv and Washington.
While Palestinians everywhere marked this victory with joy, US imperialism put great pressure on the Egyptian government to once against seal the border. Shamefully, although not unexpectedly, the Mubarak government, in meek compliance with this blatant US imperialist interference, began closing the border on 25 January. However, the attempt failed as, confronted by tens of thousands of Palestinians, to the accompaniment of Hamas militants driving a bulldozer to blast still more holes in the border fence, the Egyptian riot police could do little other than look on while the Palestinians went about breaking the blockade with ruthless, and businesslike, revolutionary zeal.
Let it be said in passing that, while the inhabitants of Gaza were being subjected to the horrific existence described above, Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction were collaborating with US imperialism in the enactment of the charade which went by the name of the International Meeting on Palestine in Annapolis (Maryland) on 27 November. This ‘International’ meeting on ‘Palestine’ was neither international, nor did it have anything to do with helping the cause of Palestinian liberation from the jackboot of zionist colonialism. While Iran and Hamas were excluded from this gathering, laughably the Brazilians and the Sengalese were included. This is hardly surprising, considering that the sole purpose of this meeting – the participants could not even agree on calling it a conference – was to bolster Abbas and isolate Hamas and Iran, as well as to create the conditions for a US attack on Iran. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank protested against this meeting. While these protests were fully supported by Hamas, and led by it in Gaza, in the West Bank they were suppressed by the security forces of Abbas.
As was to be expected, the outcome of the Annapolis meeting was a non-binding declaration, whereby Abbas and Olmert agreed to hold discussions once a fortnight and to “… make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008…” It involved no Israeli concessions; there was not even a mention of the status of Jerusalem, the dismantling of Jewish settlements or the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the homes from which they were forced out of by zionists colonialists at gun point.
As if to prove the futility and pointlessness of the so-called peace process, within a week of the Annapolis jamboree, the Israeli Housing Ministry, on 4 December 2007, gave the go-ahead to complete the work on the most contentious of its settlements. In violation of international law, and in breach of its commitments to peace proposals drawn up by US-led mediators, which call for a freeze on settlements, the Israelis government issued tenders for the building of 307 houses and infrastructure construction at Har Homa, south-east of Jerusalem.
In order to grasp the significance of Har Homa, as well as the timing of the Olmert government’s announcement, one must remember that the original decision to erect 6,500 homes for 30,000 Jewish settlers at Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim to the Palestinians) was taken in February 1997 by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. That decision was universally condemned as a violation of international law and publicly criticised even by the then US president Bill Clinton. What lay behind the decision on Har Homa (which means ‘mountain wall’) was the determination of the zionist authorities to close the last corridor linking Arab East Jerusalem to Bethlehem and the West Bank, making it impossible for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. By completing work on Har Homa, this last bulwark in the wall of settlements surrounding East Jerusalem, the zionists have made it only too clear, if such clarity was ever lacking, that Israel is not serious about a negotiated settlement of the Palestinian question.
The Israelis, having the full backing of US imperialism, are not bothered by any international condemnation of their actions. In his letter of April 2004, US president George W Bush gave the assurance that Israel could keep the settlements around Jerusalem. Therefore, the zionists believe that the main concern of Washington is to ensure that Mahmoud Abbas and his forces confront Hamas and other resistance groups. Sadly, it appears that Mr Abbas and those close to him are prepared to go along with this plan. Only this explains the fact that, notwithstanding the total lack of any meaningful outcome for the Palestinians from the Annapolis meeting, as well as provocative actions of the Israeli government in the immediate aftermath of the meeting in Maryland, they decided to attend the international donors meeting in Paris on 17 December. At this meeting $7.4 billion in aid was promised to the Palestinian Authority, as a show of economic support allegedly to underpin a new Middle East peace process apparently launched at the Annapolis meeting of 27 November. Designed as it was to bypass the legitimate elected Hamas government, the Paris meeting co-chaired by that notorious liar and war criminal, Tony Blair, was rightly denounced by a Hamas spokesperson as a “declaration of war”.
Failure to isolate Hamas
But, the US and Israeli attempts to isolate Hamas, all attempts at making the Gazans, through the imposition of extreme hardship and starvation, rise up in revolt against the Hamas administration, have failed miserably. On the contrary, they have conferred added legitimacy on Hamas, which has shown, through its bursting of the Gaza-Egypt fence and the breaking of the siege, that resistance alone offers the Palestinian people the way out of the misery of occupation and oppression under Israeli colonial rule. Thus the lock-down of Gaza and the efforts to imprison the Palestinian people have only served to empower, instead of marginalise, those committed to resistance against the occupation. Even the arming by imperialists of the Fatah warlords in Gaza did not help much, for Dahlan’s Preventative Security Force suffered an ignominious rout at the hands of Hamas on 13-14 June 2007, since when the Gazans have enjoyed internal peace and have thus been able to confront zionist aggression in complete unity.
Acquiring new capabilities
To match it determination to wage armed struggle against zionist occupation, Hamas and other sections of the resistance are improving their technical ability and the quality of their armour to confront their occupiers. That rockets of the resistance can now hit Ashkelon, a town of 120,000 and further away from the Gaza-Israeli border, has served to give notice to the Israeli security establishment of the likely turn of events. The resistance in Palestine, especially in Gaza, is seeking to bring into being a deterrent, similar to that possessed by Hizbollah, which has created a credible balance of terror across Israel’s border with Lebanon, which enabled the Lebanese resistance to inflict a crushing blow on the Israeli aggressors in the summer of 2006.
Against heavy odds, and breaching elaborate Israeli security measures, on 4 February two young men from Gaza launched a suicide bomb attack at a shopping mall in the southern Israeli city of Dimona – the heavily guarded site for Israel’s nuclear facility – killing one and wounding nine. It was the first such attack since January 2007 bombing in Eilat, which killed three Israelis. Significantly, the attack in Dimona was carried out jointly by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Fata-linked al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (AMB), a fact which cannot fail to undermine the position of Mahmoud Abbas and pose a serious threat to his capitulary policy which goes in the name of peace negotiations.
On Saturday 1 March two Israeli soldiers were killed in gun battles with the resistance, confirming Israeli apprehensions concerning a full-scale invasion of Gaza. Israel, with characteristic brutality, responded with attacks on the weekend of 1-2 March, which left more than 70 people dead and hundreds wounded in Gaza as it continued its biggest offensive in years. The dead included several children, including a 21-month-old girl. The conflict spread on 2 March to cities in the West Bank as tens of thousands protested against attacks on Gaza with offices, shops and the Palestinian stock exchange shut in a demonstration of solidarity, mourning and protest against Israeli attacks, forcing Mahmoud Abbas to suspend peace talks with Israel – a blow to the US-sponsored attempts to stitch some kind of shabby deal, to the determent o the struggle for Palestinian national liberation, before the end of the year.
Ahmed Qureia, the chief Palestinian negotiator, denounced Israeli attacks as “a massacre of civilians, women and children, a collective killing”, adding that “what the Israelis are doing doesn’t lend the peace process any creditability” (quoted in Financial Times, 3 March 2008, ‘Abbas halts talks as Israeli attacks kill 70).
Abbas maintained his stance on the suspension of negotiating with Olmert even following his meeting on 4 March with US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. By the late afternoon of 5 March, however, he had capitulated and agreed to resume talks without even getting the promise of a ceasefire from Israel.
During the same trip, Dr Rice held a meeting with Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister, following which she (Rice) declared: “There are enemies of peace that will always try to hold hostage the Palestinian cause and the future of the Palestinian people for their own state. And Hamas, which in effect holds the people of Gaza hostage in their hands, is now trying to make the path to a Palestinian state hostage to them. And we cannot permit that to happen”.
This being the case, the resistance answered in the only language that Washington and Tel Aviv understand. On 6 March, an East Jerusalem Palestinian shot dead eight students at an Orthodox Jewish seminary in Jerusalem which has been at the heart of the West Bank settler movement. Although there was no immediate response from Israel, on 12 March Israeli forces murdered a leading member of Islamic Jihad (IJ), Mohamed Shehada, and four of his comrades as they visited his demolished family residence in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. The following day, Hammad Saleh, an 18-year-old schoolboy, was shot in the head and killed by a settler in Ramallah. Huge crowds came out for the funerals of the Palestinian young men slaughtered by the zionists and called on Abbas to end all dialogue with Israel and to start unity talks with Hamas.
Mass popular demand for unity
At the funerals of Shehada and his comrades, Fatah’s military wing, the AMB, put out a statement to the effect that, in view of continuing Israeli aggression, no option was open other than to work “… faithfully to regain the unity of the Palestinian people since that is the most important source of strength it has”. The statement also demanded that Abbas dismiss his prime minister, Salam Fayyed.
The scenes of grief and anger among the flat-waving mourners at the funeral on 13 March of Hammad Saleh in Ramallah, furnished further proof that the anti-zionist struggle, and the thirst for unity among various Palestinian factions, is spreading fast to the West Bank. The mood of the population there is reaching boiling point, with the West Bank increasingly being transformed into a barrel of gunpowder ready to explode any time. Residents of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), heavily patrolled by its security forces and hence one of the most peaceful of Palestinian cities, gave vent to their fury at the funeral on 13 March, promising retaliation for recent Israeli attacks on Gaza that have left more than 100 dead and several hundred wounded. Scores at the funeral expressed solidarity with Hamas. As the funeral procession proceeded through Ramallah, its ranks were quickly swelled by protesters representing all shades of the Palestinian political landscape. Amid the sea of red, yellow and orange flags, representing Fatah, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the PFLP, there were plenty of green banners of Hamas – a sight which many at the funeral found remarkable. “This is the first time that I see Fatah and Hamas flags in a demonstration here together”, said Muhammad Assad, a local journalist marching with the crowd, adding: “We are here to prevent new atrocities, to support the martyr who fell today and to ask for national unity”. With the procession making its way towards the presidential compound, the chants became louder and more political, with praise for Hamas and repeated calls for unity.
The extreme brutality unleashed by Israel in the first quarter of 2008, with hundreds of its Palestinian victims, poses a real challenge to Abbas, who has staked his political credibility on a negotiated settlement with Israel and has spared no effort in his attempt to isolate Hamas as a political force on the West Bank (Gaza is already out of bounds for him). This approach, in the light of rising mass anger at Israel, and the persistent Palestinian demands for unity between Fatah and Hamas, lies in tatters. As a result he has been forced to lash out at Israel in uncharacteristically harsh terms, portraying the Israeli army’s attacks on Gaza as “worse than the Holocaust”.
Palestinians are angry and complaining that, instead of resisting the occupation, Abbas and his supporters are telling people not even to go out and demonstrate against Israeli massacres of the Palestinian people. Even before the outbreak of the latest bout of bloodshed, opinion polls consistently revealed that for the Palestinian masses, on the West Bank and in Gaza, national unity in the struggle against Israeli occupation was the single most important issue. Mr Abbas and his close colleagues are only too aware of the popular sentiment, but equally aware that any attempt on their part to mend fences between Fatah and Hamas, vehemently opposed as such a move would be by the US and Israel, would certainly put an end to the negotiations with Israel – especially as Hamas insists on the Palestinian people’s right to armed resistance and is presently firing an ever-increasing number of Qassams at Israeli towns.
The popular pressure has compelled Mr Abbas to change his mind yet again. At a meeting in Yemen between Fatah and Hamas towards the end of March, the two sides agreed to open direct negotiations in April. This decision has since then been approved by Mr Abbas. With the suspension by Abbas of negotiations with Israel, the likelihood of further violence and rising popular anger among the Palestinian masses in the near future, Mr Abbas is under extreme pressure to adopt a more belligerent stance towards Israel. These developments have brought to a nought all the attempts of US imperialism and Israeli zionism to split the Palestinian national movement, isolate Hamas and other sections of the resistance engaged in armed struggle against the zionist colonial regime, and impose an unfavourable settlement through the moderate wing led by Abbas.
The actions of Israel, its refusal to concede the just national rights of the Palestinian people, the sadistic barbarity it practices on them, and the unqualified support it gets from the US for its actions, are the best recruiting sergeants for Hamas and other militants.
Failure to isolate Hamas
Mr Abbas has accepted all Israeli and US preconditions, and yet this has not stopped them from undermining him. Within a few days after the Annapolis meeting Israel decided to press ahead with yet more settlements on the West Bank. Consequently Mr Abbas has next to nothing to show for his policy of peaceful engagement. As a result, the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian masses have little difficulty in seeing through the true nature of zionist designs and their chief backer – US imperialism. The Israeli and US attempts to isolate Hamas since its 2006 election victory, stepped up since the takeover of Gaza by it in June 2007, have in fact been transformed into a siege of the 1.5 million Palestinian people in Gaza.
As such, the Israeli/US war against Hamas can be clearly seen for what it always was – a war on the entire Palestinian people and their rights to wage armed resistance against the occupation. Precisely for that reason, the policy of isolating Hamas has failed. This policy must end, for there cannot be any solution to the conflict in Palestine without the participation of Hamas.
Hard-headed imperialist and zionist politicians recognise this reality and are advocating a dialogue with Hamas. Jimmy Carter, the former US president, during his recent visit to the Middle East, on 18 April held two long meetings in Syria with Khaled Mashal, the exiled and very influential leader of Hamas, to discuss the situation in Gaza and the fate of Gilad Shalit. Carter’s correct perception, shared by two-thirds of the Israelis according to polls, is that Israel cannot wage war on half of the Palestinians and expect the other half to make peace with it. He is, therefore, of the view that Hamas has to be part of any solution, instead of being subjected, as has been the case so far, to sanctions, unrealistic demands and siege. He urged Israel and the US to end their misplaced boycott of Hamas. Mr Carter was criticised by the US and Israeli governments for meeting Khaled Mashal. In response to these criticisms, Mr Carter stated that he knew in advance that his meetings would be “viewed negatively in some quarters”, nevertheless he insisted that it was a mistake to isolate Hamas and Syria. “We believe”, he said, “the problem is not that we met them but that the US and Israeli governments will not meet [them]. The unwillingness to talk makes peace harder to achieve”.
On his arrival in Israel, while he was shunned by the Israeli government, one of Olmert’s minister, breaking ranks with his colleagues, met Mr Carter. Eli Yishai, deputy prime minister and leader of the religious Shas Party, during his meeting with Mr Carter offered to negotiate directly with Hamas to facilitate the release of an Israeli soldier (Shalit) held in captivity for nearly two years by the resistance in Gaza, adding that “I would be pleased if you [Carter] can help”. Mr Yishai’s move was in total defiance of his government’s official position. It is reliably believed that at least one other minister, as well as several former army and intelligence officials, have expressed support for talks with Hamas. What is clear is that Mr Yishai’s move serves to emphasise the unease felt by a large section of the Israeli population over the Israeli government’s visceral and virulent opposition to the Hamas resistance movement.
Mortal danger facing zionism
The Israeli government, and the US, while paying lip service to a two-state solution are doing everything to frustrate such an outcome, while being fully aware of the consequences of their actions. At the end of November, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, issued a stark warning that failure to reach an agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution would produce a “South African-style struggle” and may pronounce a death sentence on the Jewish state. In the conditions of continued occupation and the collapse of the two-state solution, Israel would come under irresistible pressure to grant equal political rights to Palestinians under Israeli occupation, threatening Israel’s Jewish majority and, we might add, the theocratic and racist concept underlying it. This is what he said in an interview, published in the Ha’aretz newspaper on 29 November 2007:
“The day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights and, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished”. He added: “The Jewish organisations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us, because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents”.
Thus it can be seen that the zionists, like characters in a Greek tragedy, while fully realising the dangers ahead, are being inexorably driven in the direction of the destruction of this historical monstrosity – the racist state of Israel, built on the policy and practice of expropriation, expulsion, terror and murder. All democrats, all revolutionaries, have every reason to be well satisfied with such a prospect.
Meanwhile, to hasten such an outcome, the Palestinian people must intensify their resistance, including armed resistance, to the occupation. Towards that end, they must achieve unity by putting behind them the divisions of the past two years. Hamas and Fatah must revive the Mecca Unity Accord and establish a government of national unity. They must integrate their security forces into a single Palestinian national army, which fights against the occupation forces and not the Palestinian people.
Now that Mr Abbas’s policy of appeasing Israel and the US and isolating Hamas, and thereby getting a few crumbs of concessions, has failed spectacularly, it is to be hoped that he will change course by forging unity with Hamas. The Palestinian people ardently desire, and deserve, such an outcome. Let Mr Abbas and Fatah rise to the occasion. It is still not too late.
Victory to the resistance!