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Maurice Hatton

Massacre in Hebron

Middle East peace plan in tatters

(April 1994)

From Militant Labour, April 1994.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The Hebron massacre has silenced those who argued that last year’s Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) would bring peace to the Middle East.

Of course the Western press and governments were quick to put this atrocity down to the work of a “crazed individual”. What took place in the Tomb of the Patriarchs cannot be explained away in this manner. It was an extreme, but nonetheless natural, outreach of Israeli policy in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank and in south Lebanon.

Inside the West Bank and Gaza, brutal repression has been the almost daily diet of the Palestinians, especially since the start of the Intifada in 1987. The Oslo agreement has made little or no difference to this. Just a few miles north of Hebron, close to Bethlehem, is the Dhesheh refugee camp.

Squalid conditions

9,000 people are pushed, cramped together in squalid conditions in the acre of hillside that is Dhesheh. These are the families and descendants of families driven from 40 villages in 1948.

Such facilities as exist in the camp have come from United Nations (UN) relief funds, not from the Israelis – nor the Jordanians before them, At the beginning of the Intifada the Israelis blocked 14 entrances and built a huge steel fence all-round the camp, leaving only one main entrance and exit.

The place has been subject to regular raids and curfews, such as the continuous curfew imposed for the duration of the Gulf war. When the Green Line, separating the West Bank from Israel, was closed a year ago, unemployment in the camp shot up from 45% to 85%, As Dhesheh testifies, Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 has been all atrocity. When Baruch Goldstein entered the Hebron mosque he brought with him the racist attitude deliberately cultivated among Jews to maintain support for such policies.

The Kiryat Arab settlement, in which Goldstein lived, was built by the Israeli state as part of its policy of subjugating the West Bank and erasing the possibility of a future Palestinian state. The 7,000 settlers who live there are, like Goldstein, mainly religious Jews who see it as their mission to reclaim Hebron and its holy sites from the 150,000 Arabs who live there.

Alongside his hatred of Palestinians, Goldstein also brought with him the automatic rifle provided by the state. He wore the uniform the state had given him – that of an officer – in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) reserve. After he killed almost 50 people, it is reported that soldiers on duty in the Mosque opened fire killing a further eight. Later, during protests outside Hebron hospital, six more people are reported to have died as soldiers again opened fire.

Palestinian anger at the massacre led to extensive rioting, reminiscent of the first years of the Intifada. The Israelis have replied with repression – curfews, arrests and killings. In an ominous development for the Israeli regime, the protests quickly spread to the Palestinian population within Israel. During the Intifada this oppressed and downtrodden section of Israeli society were successfully restrained by their leaders, especially by the Communist Party.

But now there has been the biggest movement of the 800,OOO Palestinians within Israel since 1976. The massacre is also certain to give a boost to Islamic fundamentalism in the form of Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. All this is a heavy body blow to the Oslo Accord. The PLO leadership, faced with a revolt from below, have been forced to pull out of negotiations and deliver an ultimatum to the Israelis. Arafat, who was prepared to allow the settlements to remain in place for at least five years, faces removal or worse, unless he wrings concessions on this issue.

The Israeli response by the release of 1,000 prisoners, most of whom were due for release anyway, and the promise of a partial clampdown against the extreme Jewish Kach organisation of which Coldstein was a member, is being dismissed Palestinians as “too little, too late”.

Meanwhile, in a right wardshift, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin has opened negotiations with the right wing Tzomet Party on the possibility of bringing them into the coalition government. Concessions to this party, whose leader once compared Arabs to cockroaches, will only inflame things further and weaken the Accord.

Arafat and the PLO leaders signed the Agreement because their strategy of relying for support on Arab regimes – the same Arab regimes which have killed more Palestinians since 1948 than Israel – failed to deliver a Palestinian state, The military methods of the PLO likewise failed to move the Israelis.

For the Israelis the Agreement was a recognition, forced by the Intifada, that repression alone could not contain the Palestinians. With the rise of Hamas especially in Gaza they preferred to do a deal with Arafat in the understanding that the most effective person to police Palestinians was another Palestinian.

At the moment only substantial concessions by the Israelis, including action against settlers, will restart negotiations proper. Even if these were given, and the terms of the original Accord were implemented, this would be no solution.

The Agreement offers nothing to the Palestinian refugees driven out in 1948 now living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. It offers the Palestinians within Israel nothing. And a tiny capitalist Palestinian entity based on Gaza and the West Bank could not offer jobs and decent conditions to its people.

The Jewish working class are now faced with rising unemployment, cuts and privatisation as the Israeli Capitalist state faces up to the reality of economic crisis. The Agreement will deliver neither the peace nor the economic security they want. Either way – through diplomatic negotiations around the Accord nor through a breakdown of the talks and escalating conflict – there is no capitalist road to peace.

Arafat’s response to Hebron has been to appeal to the UN to send troops to defend Palestinians. This is a continuation of the failed policy of relying on the capitalist world powers which have derailed the Palestinian revolution in the past. For Palestinians the real lesson of this atrocity and the mass movement which followed, is that by relying on their own mass strength they have the power to move the Israeli state. A mass movement of Palestinians, including those within Israel, involving demonstrations, protests, strikes and including measures to defend themselves from attack by settlers, should be built to force the closure of all settlements in provocative areas and the immediate withdrawal of the IDF from the occupied territories.

The ideas of fundamentalism are a trap for Palestinians. A fundamentalist state would not deliver them from the poverty of capitalism. A socialist solution is needed. A socialist federation of the Israeli state and the reactionary Arab regimes which surround it, could provide states for both Jews and Palestinians through an agreed withdrawing of all existing borders. This is the only real solution.

As the movement of the Zapistas in southern Mexico in January echoed throughout the world, so a mass mobilisation of the Palestinian people around the banner of a socialist Middle East would act as a beacon to the Arab masses, would strike a chord of support among the Israeli population and would be an inspiration of the working class of the entire world.

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