2000s >> 2002 >> no-1173-may-2002

Middle East: worker against worker

So, it’s over then. On 18 April, Israeli troops began to pull out of the Palestinian towns they had been laying siege to. For four weeks previously, one of the mightiest military forces on the face of the earth has been laying siege to towns, such as Jenin, with but 1,100 dwellings. This explosion of violence has thrown much smoke and dust up into the air: scattering accusations and claims in a thousand directions.

The terrorism continues in Israel and Palestine

After over a year of bitter guerrilla war, bringing death to hundreds of bystanders on both sides, the Israeli state opted for decisive action. Tiring of their indirect strategy of pressuring Arafat’s kleptocratic autocracy into controlling the divergent Palestinian militias, they decided to unleash direct military force, to restore their direct control of Palestinian towns and cities. What took place then was a text book counter-insurgency operation.

Sadly, the text-book on counter-insurgency was not devised by academics in some military bureau but is the accumulated knowledge based on more than a century of military quelling of civilian populations by hostile rulers. The list of such actions is extensive: Malaysia, Kenya, Indonesia and Northern Ireland, to cite but a few such examples.

The military side of counter-insurgency is simple: use troops to take physical possession of the urban environment such as troops on the streets; Derry-style “Peace-Walls”; the Northern Ireland border posts – and place the civilian population into controllable “strategic hamlets”. Then, make a clear distinction between the insurgents and the rest of the population: drain the water in which the guerrilla fish are swimming. If necessary, this means dispersing and moving population groups – as in the so-called Yugoslav “ethnic cleansing”.

The other side is the battle for hearts and minds, the propaganda war, which involves using media control over the region to spread the message the dominant power seeks to spread. This aspect is problematic for Israel, but has already seen their military shutting down the official Palestinian media. However, the independent Arab media, such as Al-Jazeera, make this aspect of the operation much more difficult, since they continue to put the case against Israel. This has meant Israel has had to rely much more strongly on its military response.

These tactics are clearly in evidence in Palestine. The Israeli military demonstrated its physical possession of the urban environment to the extent of destroying it. Up to 10 percent of Jenin was cleared by bulldozers, as the Israeli troops knocked houses down to make way for tanks and fields of clear fire, rather than risking fighting block-to-block and facing the Palestinian guerrillas’ jury-rigged booby-traps. The guerrillas themselves were then separated by holing themselves up into last redoubts, such as the Bethlehem Church of the Nativity, or simply by the expedient to the Israelis rounding up and interning every male of fighting age.

This assault has been instructive in terms of demonstrating the true face of modern war. Palestinian guerrillas were apparently surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli response, expecting the Israelis to hold back in the face of worldwide condemnation. In the end, the Israeli state decided that overwhelming military force was the only way to deal with the situation. Likewise, the decision by the Israeli military to deny access to the area on the part of Red Cross and Red Crescent aid workers demonstrates the limits to which so-called war morality extends. When the prospect of anyone crossing thee military net was presented to the Israeli’s, they set aside the “humanitarianism” and refused to allow these neutrals to cross their lines. Military necessity came first.

Likewise, the fate of the Palestinians in those cities demonstrates why war, in a society of highly integrated production and distribution, is always against the interests of the working class. Non-combatants were denied access to necessary medical treatment, food, water and electricity were all shut off: the slow painful way that leads to death just as surely as bombs and bullets do. Likewise, the Israeli working class suffers as it surrenders its freedom and political power in exchange for the safety of the security state.

The American government demanded that Israel withdraw from the areas it had militarilly occupied, obviously aware that the aim of the Israeli operations was to remove the guerrillas from the rest of the population, and withdraw anyway. European commentators have been shocked by the difference between their accounts and the overwhelmingly pro-Israeli accounts in the US, just as British politicians have been condemnatory in a much more measured way, obstructing EU declarations that seemed to disproprtionately blame Israel. The whole of tone of response has been one of placating Arab allies, whilst actually giving Israel the time to get its intended job done.

Ultimately, this heavy handed approach will not end the problem, and the Israeli planners are probably now setting down for a long war of attrition, similar to the Northern Ireland conflict. This will be the case so long as the workers in the region remain prey to the manipulations of their respective master classes, vieing for control of the land and the strategic position it possesses. Both sides can only lose their lives and liberty, so long as they see their own interests lying in the suppression of each other, rather than in the destruction of the murderous armed elites that promote the war on both sides.

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