The bloody spiral
by Ariel Gottlieb (08/03/02)
WILL be funerals. Caskets will come out of here even the commanders say
that. What can I tell you, it's not that Golani (a battle hardened infantry
division) are afraid to die, surely we're not afraid to take fire. But
dying for nothing, even Golani don't like that", sergeant Shay told
Yediot reporter Ron Leshem just before the IDF raids on the Balata and
Jenin refugee camps, mazes of overcrowded alleys and symbols of Palestinian
resistance, began on Wednesday, February 27th.
"Dying for 20 Kalashnikovs we might, with difficulty, manage to collect
is dying for nothing. Dying in order to apprehend senior wanted figures?
When the first tank switches the starter, they'll all be gone. Dying demolishing
houses? For every house that falls here, Israel will get three suicide
bombings. Dying for deterrence? Get serious. One day when we break in,
the surprise of the century will await us here. Soldiers will be sent
flying by charges, tanks hit by missiles, a whole company will go like
that. It will happen soon. If not this time, next time. The Arabs are
not suckers. We arrogantly break in with unprotected jeeps; some of us
weren't given ceramic vests. They told us there are no allocations. Taking
a chance until the first fuckup".
This unusual quote, coming from an active combat soldier and published
in Israel's widest selling daily, speaks for itself. Parts of the grim
prophecy didn't take long to come true. The politicians and generals may
have tried to spin the raids as a success, sending a message to Palestinian
fighters that there is no safe haven for them (at the cost of two IDF
soldiers killed, one of them a fellow sergeant belonging to Shay's force,
and around 30 Palestinians, including children), but the reaction was
swift and painful. A suicide bomber killed 10 Israeli citizens, including
children and babies, coming out of a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem on Saturday
Early on Sunday morning, a single Palestinian sniper hiding in a hill
above an IDF checkpoint near Ramallah fired 26 single, accurate shots,
one every 45 seconds, hitting 16 people and killing ten - six reserve
soldiers one regular officer (all from the same platoon) and three settlers
- before escaping unharmed. Also left wounded behind was the IDF prestige,
repeatedly bruised and beaten by a growing number of successful, deadly
guerrilla attacks by poorly armed, highly motivated Palestinians familiar
with the terrain and the Israeli enemy's Achilles' heels.
Sharon's government is clearly at a loss as to the way out of this mess.
Sharon himself and most of his cabinet do not believe in any political
arrangements or negotiations before the Palestinian will to fight is crushed
militarily, and this outcome will be achieved by steadily increasing the
pressure on Palestinian fighting forces. In his own words: "The Palestinians
must be dealt a heavy blow and we need to inflict heavy casualties on
them, to make it clear that they will achieve nothing with terrorism.
If they do not see clearly that they have been defeated, we will not be
able to return to the necessary negotiations".
Some far right ministers have been even more outspoken in proposals for
more bombing raids on the centres of Palestinian cities. Foreign minister
Peres, however, Labour's senior minister, has said in close sessions that
the government's current policy "leads to nowhere", warning
that "the country is going towards its doom". But that does
not mean that Labour will necessarily pull out of the government soon.
A party discussion on the issue is due on Thursday March 7th, but though
most of the party's MK's support the move, the ministers, afraid of the
lonely, no-perks opposition, still cling to power. One or more parties
may leave the coalition, but the lack of a viable alternative means Sharon
is not likely to be unseated in the near future.
dynamics of Palestinian struggle
military pressure by the IDF, though far from achieving its authors' aims,
is causing some serious changes in the balance of forces within Palestinian
society. Arafat, grounded in his Ramallah bureau guarded by Israeli tanks,
retains an almost purely symbolic leadership status. The arrest of those
responsible for the assassination of the racist Minister Ze'evi, demanded
by Sharon as condition for the lifting of the siege and carried out according
to the prisoner/Chairman's direct orders, only got him his Israeli masters
permission to move freely within Ramallah. He is reduced to making festive
declarations and appealing to "the international community"
to intervene. Setting the tone are the different armed organizations independent
of Arafat's direct control, competing with each other for influence in
the various regions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The ongoing raids on the buildings of the Palestinian Authority and its
disappearing financial resources prevent it from performing the most basic
services it used to provide, and in some cases from paying its own personnel.
Inside and outside Arafat's own Fatah movement, the Tanzeem militia, previously
Fatah's youth wing, is gaining prominence by giving a lead to the resistance
that Arafat's clique has been unable (or unwilling) to provide. Tanzeem's
rise is also an expression of the ascendancy of "the insiders",
the home-grown fighters, prevailing over "the outsiders", or
the Tunis Gang (meaning Arafat's cronies brought into Palestine as a result
of the Oslo accords), despised by most Palestinians as traitorous and
corrupt profiteers out of touch with the people's hardships.
Despite the public show of unity between all Palestinian groups fighting
against the common oppressors, important debates are raging on between
and within the organisations as to the strategy and tactics for the Intifada.
One wing of Fatah, The Brigades of Al-Aqsa Martyrs, is adopting the Islamic
movements' methods of suicide missions inside Israel proper, while Tanzeem's
West Bank leader, Marwan Barghouti, calls for the struggle to be limited
to fighting against the IDF and settlers, linked with a demand for an
Israeli withdrawal to the '67 border. None of these organisations are
democratically accountable to the masses, but they all depend on popular
(mostly passive) support, and the debates at the top are a distorted reflection
of the contradictory trends in the mass movement.
in the Israeli consensus
of the last few months, underscoring capitalism's inability to resolve
any of the problems facing Israeli workers and youth - a further decline
of the sinking economy, the deteriorating state of personal security for
ordinary Israelis, plummeting motivation among conscripts and reserve
soldiers alike - have recently eroded the government's seemingly impregnable
popularity. Its approval rating, standing firm at around 70% for a long
period, has gone down to 50%.
This still high figure should be seen in the context of a lack of any
viable mass alternative. Support draining away from the government has
gone both ways, with some layers outflanking it from the right, demanding
more brutal repression and harsher military solutions, such as the reoccupation
of the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip and/or "Transfer", the
forceful expulsion of Palestinians to other Arab countries.
The other side of the coin is the reappearance of the liberal left, around
the Peace Now extra-parliamentary movement and the liberal-reformist Meretz
party on the streets, with significant rallies of 10,000 or so in Tel
Aviv. The last of these was a march through the center of Jerusalem (a
traditionally rightwing city), ending in a rally of 1,000-2,000 outside
Prime Minister Sharon's residence, calling for an immediate withdrawal
from the occupied territories and the dismantling of settlements, on Saturday
night, which went ahead depute being scheduled to begin less than 30 minutes
after the atrocious Bar Mitzvah bombing occurred only a mile away.
Added to this is the important movement of the "refuseniks",
reserve combat officers and soldiers signing the "Combatant Letter"
stating their refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories.
50 signatories first published this letter about two months ago, and at
this time has 314, growing daily. This is a real explosion compared with
the trickle of refuseniks over the last two years. One line of the letter,
posted on their website (www.seruv.org.il), reads: "We shall not
continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel,
starve and humiliate an entire people".
This movement has the potential of becoming a strong catalyst in the opposition
to the continued and intensified occupation, but its current leadership
suffers from serious political and organisational deficiencies similar
to those of the liberal peace movement. The middle class composition of
letter's authors is reflected in their current level of consciousness:
their grounds for refusing are overwhelmingly moral and conscientious,
and they make no criticism of government policies other than the occupation
and the "war of the settlements".
They are trying to remain "apolitical" and within the Zionist
consensus, and do not appeal to conscripts, without whom no successful
campaign to end the occupation is possible. Their future influence will
depend on the degree to which they will be able to deepen their political
program and the issues they tackle in a way that can receive the support
of working class elements in the army and outside it, as well as the youth.
way out under capitalism
this last round of brutal IDF raids and deadly Palestinian reaction, we
stand another step closer to a full-fledged regional conflagration. Sharon,
as it seems, is trying to remove all obstacles standing in the way of
IDF operations, casually shrugging off political initiatives such as the
Saudi plan suggested by crown prince Abdalla (but probably engineered
by the US administration) or Egyptian president Mubarak's offer for a
Sharon-Arafat summit in Sharem A-Sheikh. Assassinations (or "targeted
preventions", as they are euphemistically called by Israeli spokesmen)
of Palestinian militants, which killed more than 20 unrelated civilians
to date, are set to increase, and more raids on refugee camps and other
heavily populated Palestinian areas, with occupying forces staying for
days or weeks in some cases.
An order given to soldiers recently, allowing them to shoot at every arm-bearing
Palestinian anywhere, stands the chance of forcing into armed resistance
40,000 Palestinian uniformed policemen from the official security apparatuses
who have so far avoided an open confrontation with the Israeli army. An
emergency mobilisation of Israeli reserves is becoming a likely possibility,
which will not go unnoticed by the Syrian and Egyptian army, and the US
prepares to light the tinderbox with a massive attack on Iraq expected
in the late spring.
Though a temporary ceasefire at some point cannot be ruled out, the unresolved
contradictions which have erupted in the second Intifada have only multiplied
in the past 18 months, making even a fragile Oslo-type truce highly unlikely.
Only the Palestinian masses and the Israeli working class, the main victims
of war, suicide attacks, occupation and economic collapse, can offer a
genuine way out by toppling the capitalist regimes on both sides, creating
mutual links in the process and resolving all the contentious issues,
insoluble under capitalism, in their common interests.
Sozialisti (Socialist Struggle), the CWI's Israeli section, has several
tasks at this difficult period. One is intervention in the anti-occupation
movement, advocating a class perspective and program and shattering the
illusions in diplomatic capitalist solutions and "the international
community". Another, more important task is to continue the education
of our own membership in the light of marxist analysis and methods, recruiting
to the organisation, developing the next generation of experienced political
activists and directing them to intervene in the daily struggles of workers
The guns may be roaring, but the class struggle in Israel is alive and
kicking, as the ongoing strikes and the occupation of the Bagir textile
factory by its 1,080 workers show. We take part in every major struggle,
but also through our intervention demonstrate to underline the capitalist
system and its corrupt politicians' double failure, in providing personal
security as well as economic security.
From this apparent failure flows the need for independent working class
positions and program, as well as the struggle for socialism - a socialist
Israel and an independent, socialist Palestine leading to a democratic,
socialist federation of the Middle East on a free and equal basis, which
will transform the living standards of the masses of the region while
safeguarding the rights off all minorities.