Saturday, January 31, 2009

The War in Gaza: Propaganda and Realities (2009)

The Material World column from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why has the Israeli government launched Operation “Molten Lead”?
According to Israeli propaganda, it was the only way to stop rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Some are sceptical about this version of events. The truce negotiated with Hamas last June held for four months, they say, and could probably have been maintained and extended were it not for Israel’s military incursion on 4 November and its continuing siege of Gaza.
There is some evidence to suggest that the operation was a “war of choice,” planned well in advance for the purpose of destroying Hamas in Gaza. Israeli military historian Zeev Maoz has traced a long history of Israel using provocative measures to trigger reactions in order to create a pretext for military action (Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy, University of Michigan Press, 2006).

Another strategic war
In a previous article we drew the distinction between “resource wars” that are fought directly for control over specific resources and “strategic wars” that reflect a long-term power struggle between rival capitalist states. To take recent examples, the “mobile war” in eastern Congo was a resource war while the war in Georgia was a strategic war.

The factors underlying this war have to do both with resources and with strategic rivalry. Israel and the Palestinian factions are manoeuvring for control over offshore gas deposits. But there is also a strategic dimension that cannot be understood adequately at the local level.

Hamas is an integral part of the Islamist forces in the Moslem world. It arose as an offshoot of Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood, which now poses the main threat to the US-oriented Mubarak regime. That is a big reason why this regime, like Jordan and the Palestine Authority, more or less openly support Israel’s assault on Hamas.

Hamas also depends heavily on support from Iran. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran’s clients in Iraq, it serves as a vehicle of Iran’s effort to establish itself as the leading power in the Middle East. This helps to explain the strength of US and EU support for Israel in this war. So there is some basis to Israel’s claim that it is fighting on behalf of an international “anti-extremist” – that is, anti-Islamist and anti-Iran – coalition.

The propaganda war
As always, the physical war is combined with a propaganda war. The message is drummed into people that “we” have no choice but to defend ourselves against an enemy bent on genocide. In the Western media the word “terrorist” routinely precedes any reference to Hamas. Of course, both sides are terrorist in the sense of targeting civilians. Israel uses terror on a much larger scale than Hamas, though that is solely because it has much greater military capacity.

In principle, either side could have avoided the war by submitting to the other side’s political demands. It was a war of choice on both sides. Hamas could probably have saved “their people” from the fury of the Israeli war machine by ceding power in Gaza to the Palestine Authority. I make this point not to diminish Israel’s direct responsibility for its atrocities, but rather to highlight how little all the Palestinian as well as Israeli leaders really care about ordinary people.

Elections – a nasty trick
In demonizing Hamas the pro-Israel propagandists face a little problem. Earlier they themselves reluctantly granted Hamas a certain legitimacy in connection with its victory in the January 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. Now they just say that Hamas seized power in a coup and delete any mention of the elections. In fact, it was the US that insisted on the elections, perhaps not anticipating the outcome.

Capitalism as a system is inherently undemocratic, because it concentrates real power in the hands of a small ruling and owning class. In general, elections may be welcomed as introducing a small element of democracy into this undemocratic system. People in Gaza, however, have been subjected to starvation, bombing, and other forms of harsh punishment in effect for having voted for candidates that the sponsors of the elections did not want. Under the circumstances, these elections were a nasty trick that had little to do with democracy.

A secular state?
It appears that Obama will make another attempt to revive the “peace process,” which is supposed to lead to a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But unless he is willing to put Israel under very strong pressure to withdraw from all the territory occupied in 1967, such a state will amount to little more than a string of ghettoes or, to use the official term, “cantons”. A two-state solution on these terms would have to be imposed by force, and it is doubtful whether the Palestine Authority is up to the job.
Yet another failure of the “peace process” could strengthen the growing trend in Palestinian opinion to accept the reality of Israel’s control over the whole of what used to be Palestine and demand citizenship rights within a single secular state. This would be equivalent to the ending of apartheid in South Africa but would not solve the problems faced by the majority of the population. Not that the emergence of such a secular state is easy to envisage at present in view of the prevalence of ethnic-supremacist, sectarian and even racist outlooks in both Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian society.
Stefan