The War in Gaza
The concluding part of our series on capitalism’s ongoing wars
The Israeli-Palestine war in Gaza last year was yet another round of fighting in a conflict that began in 1948 when the state of Israel was established. The Palestinians have no chance whatsoever of militarily overcoming Israel. Israel’s economic might with its GDP of around $110 billion overshadows the Palestinian GDP of $4.2 billion.
In the 50-day military operation by Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza in July to September 2014, 2,199 Gazans were killed, 70 percent of them civilians, 10,895 were wounded and 65,000 people left homeless. A third of hospitals were destroyed or damaged. Mufeed al-Hasayneh, Minister of Public Works, said Israel’s offensive on Gaza has caused over $5 billion of damage to homes and infrastructure. Some 10,000 homes have been completely destroyed, and 30,000 homes partially destroyed. In Shujaiyya, where some 110,000 people live, 60 percent of the homes were completely destroyed (Ma’an News Agency, 5 August 2014). The tunnels between Gaza and Egypt which were bringing $700 million into Gaza’s economy through goods or services were destroyed by bombing.
Israel destroyed 134 Gazan factories, and bombed Gaza’s main power station. Without power to run treatment plants, untreated sewage was dumped directly into the Mediterranean Sea contaminating fish and sickening fishermen. The Food and Agriculture Organization reported that extensive damage to Gaza’s agricultural sector had ‘forced farmers and herders to abandon their lands and has paralysed fishing activities, bringing local food production to a halt and severely affecting livelihoods.’ Losses among Gaza’s fishing sector were estimated at 234.6 tons, or about 9.3 percent of the yearly catch. Farming gives a livelihood to 19,000 Gazans, while 6,000 people work in livestock raising and 3,600 in the fishing industry. The Israeli military also killed cows and camels. The FAO report went on to say ‘The recent fighting has resulted in substantial direct damage to Gaza’s 17,000 hectares of crop lands as well as much of its agricultural infrastructure, including greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal farms, fodder stocks and fishing boats’ (Ma’an News Agency, 16 August 2014). Gaza factory owner Mohammad al-Telbani said ‘This is a war on our economy’ (Guardian, 22 August 2014).
Palestinian capitalist development in Gaza is fettered by the Israeli state. The Gaza Strip was occupied by Israel from 1967 until 2005 but has been under siege by Israel since then. Gaza has a population of 1.8 million Palestinians, and over half of these are children who live in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The Israeli blockade means the borders and airspace are controlled by Israel so that foodstuffs, building materials, fuel and medical supplies have to be brought in via tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. Even livestock is transported through these tunnels. The fishing industry is restricted to within 3 km of land and thus 85 percent of its fishing waters are inaccessible due to Israeli imposed restrictions. As for farmland 35 percent of Gaza’s farmland is inaccessible, and farmers are unable to get pesticides, fertilizers needed for their crops or permits from the Israeli government to export what they manage to produce.
Even the historical symbol of the Levant, the olive tree, has come under attack from the Israeli state. Thousands of olive trees have been cut down, devastating the Palestinian economy, and some of the ancient trees are dug up and transported to Israel and abroad for sale. The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights reports that ‘since 1967 Israeli authorities have uprooted or destroyed more than one and a half million trees, 70 percent of which were olive trees, the staple crop of Palestinian rural communities’ (Middle East Monitor, 2010). Olives are the lifeblood of Palestinian agriculture, almost the only crop which grows on the stony hillsides of the West Bank without irrigation. Palestinian agriculture and people have always depended on the water of lakes and springs in the fertile hills of the West Bank as well as the Jordan river. Since 1967, these water sources have been taken into the control of Israel, which has drained lakes near Tiberias and rerouted the Jordan river to take the water to Israel. One of the results is the drying up of the Dead Sea. Palestinians are now having to buy back their water from settlements and Israeli companies.
The founders of the Israeli state in 1948 forced into exile about 800,000 Palestinian people in what is known as the ‘Al-Naqba’ or ‘catastrophe’ which was compounded in 1967 when a further 325,000 Palestinians became refugees. The 1948 UN Resolution 194 states Palestinians have the right to return to their homes. Today over 6 million Palestinians live as refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom still live in overcrowded refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Emma Goldman in her 1938 work On Zionism identified ‘Zionism as the dream of capitalist Jewry the world over for a Jewish State with all its trimmings, such as Government, laws, police, militarism and the rest. In other words, a Jewish State machinery to protect the privileges of the few against the many.’ The founders of Israel sought to expel as much of the Arab majority as they could and make their profits by creating an almost all-Jewish working class in the mistaken belief ‘it is better to be exploited by one’s fellow countrymen’ (Marx 1848). Israel is the most economically and socially developed capitalist nation state in the Middle East with a large working class. It is a bourgeois democracy but also a sectarian state. Israeli capitalism not only exploits the Jewish working class but also a Palestinian working class and migrant labour. Palestinians in the state of Israel comprise 20 percent of the population and face discrimination, and are considered to be second class citizens because the very definition of a Jewish state excludes them.
According to the OECD ’21 percent of Israelis live in poverty, the highest among developed countries that are part of the OECD’ (Haaretz, 15 May 2013). At the bottom of the economic pyramid are the African migrants from Eritrea and the Sudan who cannot legally work but are used as cheap labour in hotel, restaurant and cleaning companies, and when arrested are put in detention centres such as the one in the Negev desert. Next there are the Bedouin Arabs who live in unrecognized villages unconnected to water and electricity systems. The 2005 National Insurance Institute reported that 52 percent of Palestinians in Israel lived below the poverty line as opposed to 16 percent of Jewish Israelis, and unemployment averages more than 50 percent for Palestinians (Sawt el-Amel: The Laborer’s Voice, 2006). In 2011, the average monthly salary of Ashkenazi Jews was 33 percent above the average, whereas the monthly salary for urban Palestinian citizens was the exact opposite: 33 percent below the average (Oligarchy in the Holy Land, 3 December 2013).
The Palestinian struggle for their own capitalist state was controlled for decades by Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which are bourgeois, secular, ‘leftist’ Pan-Arab nationalists but they came to a dead end after years of conflict with the Israeli state. In the 1990s Fatah collaborated with the Israeli government which would lead to the rise of Hamas in Gaza. Essentially the Palestinian Authority controlled by Fatah could not meet the basic economic needs of the Palestinian people, and this led to the success of Hamas in the Gazan elections of 2006.
Hamas, also a bourgeois nationalist organization, was established in 1987, and proposes an Islamist capitalist Palestinian state based on a 1947 Palestine. Hamas is an abbreviation for ‘Islamic resistance movement’ but also means ‘force and bravery’ and has its origins in the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Hamas are not only anti-Zionist but also anti-Semitic, and are trying to bridge the divide that separated Palestinian nationalism and Islamism, a twin track policy of a national liberation struggle and a jihad which aims ‘to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine’ (Covenant of the Hamas, 1988). Hamas are wealthy because they have rich backers from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states such as Qatar.
The Palestinian working class are organized in the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) which is a Fatah organization that has not had any elections since 1981. The rise of the
Federation of Independent and Democratic Trade Unions & Workers’ Committees in Palestine, representing workers in independent, democratically-elected unions and workers’ committees across the West Bank and Gaza has threatened the Fatah PGFTU. After a protest outside the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza in 2005, the PGFTU asked the Palestinian security services to investigate the Independent Workers’ Committees Federation and the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center.
The split in the Palestinian bourgeoisie between Fatah and Hamas suits the Israeli state but in April 2014 Israel became very angry at the reconciliation deal agreed between Fatah and Hamas, and threatened to withhold tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Was the offensive against Gaza last year an Israeli attempt to sabotage the deal between Hamas and Fatah, to isolate Hamas and punish Fatah for the rapprochement? But even Fatah entered the conflict in July 2014 with missiles launched against Israel by Fatah in the West Bank. Amin Maqboul, Secretary-General of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council said Palestinians were united against the Israeli assault: ‘We all know that the main Israeli goal has been to break up the national unity reconciliation. We will respond by strengthening our unity and reconciliation’ (Palestine Pulse, 10 July 2014). Israel’s anger was evident when it said ‘The moderate Palestinian leadership has shown its true colours. It sides with the terrorists, not with Israel’ (Arutz Sheva, 16 July 2014).
After the war last summer, in September 2014 Fatah and Hamas reached an agreement that would turn over the civil administration of Gaza immediately to officials of a Palestinian unity government which would attempt to ease the long blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt and open the way to reconstruction of Gaza. Jibril Rajoub, a senior official in Fatah announced ‘Fatah and Hamas have reached a comprehensive agreement for the unity government to return to the Gaza Strip’ (Al-Arabiya, 25 September 2014).
Both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism hold back the growth of class consciousness among the working class in Israel and Palestine but something extraordinary occurred in the summer of 2011 during the social justice protests in Israel inspired by the ‘Arab Spring.’ In Israel there was an increasing public awareness of the minority ownership of the economy developing. For instance, in 2009 Israel’s central bank stated in its annual report that ‘some twenty business groups, nearly all of family nature and structured in a pronounced pyramid form, continue to control a large proportion of public firms (some 25 per cent of firms listed for trading) and about half of market share’ (Renewal: A journal of social democracy, January 2012).
The summer 2011 social justice protests that erupted helped unite the Jewish and Palestinian working class in Israel. Jewish working class activists signed a covenant of cooperation with the Palestinian activists and they chanted mixed Hebrew and Arabic renditions of slogans from Tahrir Square. Arab writer Odeh Bisharat addressed a meeting of 300,000 people and announced that the struggle for social justice has always been the struggle of the Arab community, and the people shouted ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’ (The New Significance, 17 August 2011). For a brief time that summer the Israeli and Palestinian working class saw itself as a class.
Emma Goldman claimed the origin of the Arab-Israeli war stemmed from the fact that ‘the Arab feudal lords had sold the land to the Jews without the knowledge of the Arab people.’
Goldman concluded that ‘the land should belong to those who till the soil’, in other words, the Jewish and Palestinian working class regardless of religion and national identity in a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.