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Paul Howard

Edging closer to all-out war

Middle East eyewitness report

(June 2001)

From Socialist Voice, No. 36, June 2001.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Nineteen young people, mostly young girls from the Russian immigrant community, died in the recent suicide attack on a Tel Aviv nightclub. The suicide bomber, a 22 year old from the West Bank, brought the death toll to 20.

This horrific incident is part of an escalating spiral of violence that is threatening to tilt Israel and the surrounding states into war. Since the latest Intifada began last autumn, over 400 Palestinians and over 100 Israelis have died. Elements of civil war already exist in the occupied territories with daily clashes between Palestinian militias and the Israeli Defence Force as well as between Palestinians and settlers.

Israel’s response to a previous suicide bomb, which killed five Israelis, was to order air strikes by F16 bombers. At least twelve Palestinians were killed in these attacks. The result was not to cow the Palestinians but to produce more suicide bombs, and there is no reason to believe that similar retaliation for the Tel Aviv bomb would produce any different result.

It is not in the interests of the US or of any of the local rulers to have an all-out war at this stage. But this does not mean that they can prevent it happening. While they have little to gain the failure of their policies make war a growing possibility.

The Oslo Agreement is in tatters. For the Palestinians; it failed absolutely to deliver. Instead of a state or moves towards a state they were given a few cantonised pockets of territory. The seizure of land through settlement building continued – despite the fact that in the West Bank there are some 20,000 empty family units in the existing settlements.

The Palestinian Authority areas are little more than cheap labour reserves for Israel and are subject to economic strangulation at any time. The state of siege imposed since last September has sent unemployment soaring to 48%, while poverty levels have doubled in five months.

On top of all this sits a corrupt Palestinian administration. Much of the aid provided for services since Oslo went into the bank accounts of top Palestinian leaders. Palestinians who protested were met with familiar repression, but this time at the hands of the Palestinian police.

Arafat’s failure to deliver has left the way open to fundamentalist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. As the mood for conflict has grown, so has the support for these groups. One survey of people in the occupied territories found more than 50% support for suicide bombers.

Among the Jews, there may be a resigned sense that war is now inevitable, but there is little belief that it will achieve anything. The idea of short wars and quick victories is a distant memory. It is one thing to conquer territory, it is another to subdue a people – as the Lebanon and the experience of two Intifadas has shown.

And for the Israeli rulers there is a new danger. During the last Intifada, the million or so Palestinians living within Israel remained largely quiescent. Now there is evidence of a growing mood of defiance. This was seen briefly at the beginning of this Intifada when there were protests and riots in Palestinian areas and 13 Palestinians were killed. Inter-communal clashes also developed.

The Palestinians in Israel are a tinderbox waiting to explode. An internal Intifada could mean widespread clashes between Jews and Arabs with the conditions of near civil war that exist in the territories spreading to Israel.

This is the dilemma for the Sharon government – brutal military action in the territories might open another front inside Israel and ultimately make the present State unviable. In the long run, that might lead the Israeli establishment to a Bosnia solution – driving out the Palestinians and trying to create an ethnically “pure” State behind defensible frontiers. That would no more bring a solution or provide peace in the Middle East than it has done in the Balkans.

The capitalist options of peace deals on the one side and military solutions on the other have failed the people of the Middle East, Palestinian and Jew. There is no possibility of a stable future on the basis of capitalism.

There is the basis for an alternative. The Israeli working class is exploited by the same capitalists who exploit Palestinians and who have an economic stranglehold over the people of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israeli workers are suffering the effects of economic slowdown. Services have been attacked through massive privatisation. This year, swinging 5% budget cuts across the board are proposed to pay for the “war”.

The 23 Jews killed in the Versailles wedding hall disaster were victims of Israeli capitalism, not any Palestinian group. They died because of cheap and unsafe building techniques, because the owner removed support pillars so as to cram more people in and because licences were granted due to the normal practice in Israel of bribing officials.

In the days that followed, the disaster was the first issue on everyone’s lips. The anger over Versailles showed the potential for a class movement of Jews against the ruling class. In this context, the bomb in Tel Aviv also showed the counterproductive nature of attacks like this inside Israel. It will only serve to deflect attention from Versailles and to help those responsible get off the hook.

What is needed in Israel is a mass movement of the working class against their rulers and the rotten system they represent. This could link up with the movement of the Palestinians for rights, including the right to a state, and against their corrupt and equally rotten leadership. There is an answer – a socialist Israel and a socialist Palestine, Jerusalem as an open shared city, and a wider socialist confederation of the region. Among the people of the area there is a growing awareness that capitalism has failed and that a new disaster for both Jew and Palestinian is being prepared.

The urgent task is to build a socialist movement among both Jews and Palestinians that can show concretely that an alternative is possible.

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Last updated: 23 April 2015