Arrest Israeli War Criminals!

Despite all of the convoluted arguments from Israel’s propagandists, the  truth about Israel’s onslaught on Gaza is patently clear to everyone ? yet another murderous attack on civilians living in desperate poverty under siege in the world’s most densely-populated region writes Roland Rance. The Israeli attacks have killed scores of civilians and injured hundreds; ¼ of these are children.

This is not a war; the two sides are not even approximately equal ? on one side, the world’s fourth most powerful army, on the other a small cadre of ill-equipped militants. And the resistance is not even very effective ? Israel’s assault has already killed far more civilians in a week, than have all the missiles from Gaza in the past eight years. In addition to air strikes, Israel has mobilised 75,000 reservists, and is threatening a ground attack, which would cause greatly increased numbers of casualties. One factor which deters this, in addition to warnings from Obama, is the knowledge that this would also lead to Israeli casualties, which could lead to a drop in the (considerable) popular support for the bombardment.

None of this is new. This is not the first time Israel has deliberately broken an effective ceasefire. The Electronic Intifada website has clearly demonstrated the repeated Israeli breaches of formal and informal ceasefires in the weeks preceding this attack. The sixty-year history of the conflict shows that Israel is more threatened by Arab restraint than by Arab aggression.

This is not the first time Israel has assassinated a relative moderate, hoping that even more extreme successors would be easier to defeat. Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military leader whose murder triggered the latest escalation, was at the time of his murder holding a ceasefire agreement negotiated via Egypt with Israel. He was the leader who had, over recent years, prevented Palestinian suicide bombers from targeting Israeli civilians. And he was a leader who was reportedly moving towards a politicisation of Hamas’ conflict with Israel, in place of the failed military strategy.

Nor is this the first time that Israel has used a military operation in order to test and market its new weapons systems. The 1982 Lebanon War was notoriously used to boost sales of Israeli war planes and guided missiles. This time, the operation was used to try out the new Iron Dome anti-missile system; this proved to work well enough to reassure Israel’s leaders that it can wage a war with Iran at the civilian cost of, in Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s words, “only 500 lives”.

And it is not the first time that an Israeli prime minister has launched a military attack just weeks before a parliamentary election. In fact, as the Jerusalem Post notes, five of the past seven elections have been held just weeks after a major military operation. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and even more Barak (whose re-election is far from certain) desperately need to  unify the Israeli electorate around a supposed external threat, and divert attention away from the anger at the deteriorating economic and social situation in the country. The government is far more likely to win if the focus is on security, and if the leaders are presenting a swaggering macho image.

Beyond electoral advantage, however, it is not clear what Israel’s precise objectives are in this attack. It can’t be to make Israel “safe from attack”, since Israeli civilian casualties, which had been at a very low level all year, have increased sharply since the start of this operation.

Nor does Israel really want to remove the Hamas government in Gaza, since any likely successor would undoubtedly be even more militant. It is likely that Israel has managed to deplete the Hamas stock of long-range missiles; but, since these had not been fired until the start of the latest attack, the real value of this “achievement” is small. And Israel’s hope to compel Egypt to police the border with Gaza and close the smuggling tunnels is even less likely to be fulfilled by the new Egyptian government than by its predecessor.

Some analysts speculate that the underlying strategy is an Israeli recognition that the Oslo process (which Netanyahu and Barak both opposed at the time) has failed. In this analysis, Israel is trying to force a definitive break between Gaza and the West Bank, and to oblige Egypt to take control of Gaza while Israel effectively annexes the West Bank. Such a step would meet determined resistance in the West Bank, where Israeli forces have already killed two protesters demonstrating against the attack on Gaza, while the Palestine Authority has arrested several more.

Although a ceasefire seems to be holding, latest polls show that 70% of Israeli Jews oppose this, believing that the goals of the attack have not been met. At present, the outcome seems to be increased support for Hamas (in the West Bank as well as Gaza), the growing irrelevance of Mahmoud Abbas and the PA, and a big dilemma for Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Plus, of course, growing revulsion at Israel’s war crimes, and massive international protest.

The attack has been condemned by hundreds of demonstrations across the world, including in at least a dozen towns across Britain. In Israel, too, small groups of anti-occupation activists have been protesting since the attack started. They are, however, a small minority; opinion polls show that more than 80% of Israeli Jews support the attack. The main “opposition” parties, Labour and Kadima, were quick to express their backing for the government. And many Israelis have attacked Netanyahu from the right, demanding even greater slaughter. One Knesset member, Michael Ben-Ari, complained in a Tel-Aviv pro-war demonstration “”Why have there been 200 sorties, and only 15 deaths? We want 15 sorties and 2000 deaths!”; this was echoed in Britain by Melanie Phillips, who wrote in the Daily Mail that there had been “a staggeringly small number of (Palestinian) fatalities”.

This too is not new; the beginning of every Israeli military operation has been widely supported by a large majority. If the conflict continues, if the tentative ceasefire breaks down, and in particular if an actual invasion of Gaza leads to serious Israeli casualties, then many of these liberal supporters of war will have switched position, and forgotten that they were not among the brave minority who opposed this from the outset.

One way in which we can bring home to Israeli opinion that there will be a price to pay, is to redouble our efforts at boycott, divestment and sanctions, including cultural and academic boycotts While Israel has again been flattening Gaza, the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company has been performing in Britain. Not one of their performances has passed without protest, and some performers have expressed support for the protests. We must make sure that  every Israeli diplomat and apologist is confronted by similar protests, that artists such as Jethro Tull and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers face protests for as long as they continue to perform in Israel, that Israeli artists and academics be put on the spot to oppose the occupation if they want a platform here.

Socialist Resistance will continue to take part in the protests in Britain. We will support the demands for an immediate halt to Israel’s war on Gaza, and an end to the siege. In addition, we call for a complete, immediate and unconditional withdrawal from the occupied territories; for an end to Israeli apartheid and abolition of the entire discriminatory Zionist apparatus in the state of Israel; for the beginning of a process of return and compensation of Palestinian refugees, deportees and expellees; and for the arrest and trial of Israel’s military and political leaders as war criminals. These demands are necessary elements towards any solution of this decades-long conflict. Any attempt to circumvent them will only perpetuate the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians; and this will, in turn, will make the future even more uncertain and dangerous for Israeli Jews.

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