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Latest stage in Israel's war on Palestinians
Their goal is to stop a new resistance

July 14, 2006 | Page 4

TOUFIC HADDAD, coauthor of an upcoming book on the Palestinian Intifada, sets out the background of the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza.

IN THE early morning hours of June 25, guerrillas from three separate Palestinian military factions launched a well-coordinated attack on Israeli military positions on Gaza's perimeter.

Using a 540-yard tunnel dug 30 feet below ground (which the groups later disclosed took six months to dig), Palestinian guerrillas were able to emerge behind Israeli lines and surprise their unsuspecting targets. The attack resulted in the death of two Israeli soldiers, injuries to five others, the destruction of two armored vehicles, and--most importantly--the abduction of an Israeli soldier.

While the horrific scale of the Israeli assault on Gaza is plain to see, it is important to resist the urge to add up the toll of destruction now being inflicted as though this were "just a new round" in the Palestine-Israel conflict.

In the words of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the military forays into Gaza are designed to make the Palestinians "understand that the landlord has gone crazy."

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TO UNDERSTAND why this self-described "landlord" has "gone crazy," it is useful to look more closely at what this Palestinian military operation represents--especially in the context of Israel's tactical and strategic goals since its "unilateral disengagement" from Gaza and the subsequent election victory of Hamas in the January 2006 elections.

As far as Israel is concerned, Palestinian resistance operations like this were not supposed to happen in the first place. Israel's "unilateral disengagement" from Gaza in September 2005 was supposed to take military targets away from Palestinians resistance forces.

The disengagement was a "separation plan" intended to relieve Israel from its legal responsibilities as occupiers towards Palestinians. As far as Israel--and many of the Western governments who parroted the same line--was concerned, the disengagement ended the occupation of Gaza.

It thus allayed an anxious Israel of the "demographic burden" of Gaza's 1.4 million residents--something Israel crucially sought in its perpetual and racially motivated efforts to preserve a Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

But Israel didn't end its occupation of Gaza in any real sense. The United Nations continues to consider Israel an occupying force in Gaza under international law.

Israel retains its bureaucratic, financial and practical grip over Gaza--with ongoing control over the Palestinian population registry and Gaza border crossings, its claim to the right to intervene militarily at will, the continuation of its extra-judicial assassination policy within the boundaries of Gaza, and its maintenance of naval and aerial domination of Gaza's seas and skies.

However, as long as George Bush endorsed the withdrawal and the Israeli public believed Israel had "disengaged," the corporate media in the U.S. could be relied on to slavishly stick to Israel's version.

The recent Palestinian guerrilla operation and Israel's reinvasion of Gaza has not merely punctured the veneer of the Gaza disengagement. It has also complicated similar Israeli plans for the West Bank.

Ever since his ascendance to power in the March 2006 elections, Olmert made no secret of his intention to disengage from areas in the West Bank (although in this case, he calls it "convergence" rather than "disengagement").

The logic behind the withdrawal from the West Bank is identical. In the context of continued Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonialism, it is incumbent on Israel to retreat from areas of the least strategic significance to its long-term interests (the centers of highest Palestinian population density) while deepening its investment in areas where it sees vital strategic assets (major settlement blocs, the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem, control of water resources and so on).

It is worth noting that this strategic framework for the Occupied Territories was the brainchild of Defense Minister Yigal Alon in 1967, not of Olmert or his predecessor Ariel Sharon. In other words, the policy of "separation" has been faithfully pursued by the Israeli establishment over decades, albeit with some reinterpretations.

The Palestinians were written out of this scenario, since they couldn't be considered "partners" after the late Yasser Arafat rejected Israeli diktats at Camp David in June 2000.

From that point on, Israel operated under the assumption that if it could not have a fully compliant Palestinian "partner"--essentially a bantustan chieftain willing to administer over the "unruly natives"--then it was better not to have a Palestinian leadership at all.

Israel worked steadily for the next four years to weaken and destroy the historical national leadership embodied in Arafat's Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA)--doing everything from attacking the PA's public-sector ministries and security installations to marginalizing Arafat himself.

However, a contradiction emerged once Hamas came to power in the January 2006 elections, entrenching itself in an area--Gaza--that Israel had supposedly washed its hands of.

Hamas was and is a smaller, more focused political movement, but one that nonetheless is unapologetic in its insistence on the historical rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to resist--and in its responsiveness to the social needs of the desperately poor population of Gaza.

Furthermore, Hamas' desire to reform the Palestinian national movement and do away with the political and financial corruption that has long plagued it provided a window of opportunity for a new Palestinian future to emerge. Under a Hamas-led PA, it became possible to foresee the reunifying of a Palestinian consensus on a firmer political and organizational basis.

On the ground, Hamas recruited the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) to begin implementing its reform agenda regarding internal Palestinian security. This was a decisive step by Hamas, because the PRCs were primarily driven by former Fatah activists who had broken from the pro-Oslo tendencies that controlled Fatah undemocratically from above. This meant that Hamas had operationally united with the vanguard sections of Fatah.

It even went to pains to reach a solution with the larger Fatah bureaucracy, in the form of its recent negotiations over what has come to be known as the "prisoners' document." The document was composed behind Israeli prison bars by prominent Palestinian political prisoners and is designed to lay the foundations for unified national goals and resistance in the coming era.

The unity witnessed in the June 25 military operation--between Hamas, the PRCs and another Fatah splinter group--and the momentum towards factional unity in the political arena around the prisoner document represent a disturbing and threatening trend for Israeli plans.

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IN THIS sense, the capture of the Israeli soldier provided the convenient pretext for Israel to attempt to reverse any gains Hamas and the national movement as a whole might have hoped for.

This is why Israel immediately went to arrest 64 elected members of the Hamas government, attacked the civilian infrastructure and engaged in aggressive incursions throughout Gaza--which had killed upwards of 40 Palestinians and injured hundreds more as Socialist Worker went to press.

These acts--and the international financial embargo against the Hamas government that aggravated the humanitarian catastrophe already in an advanced stage after nearly six years of siege designed to strangle the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising--seek to prevent the Hamas government and the national movement overall from being able to achieve anything.

Israel's aggression poses the question of whether Hamas will be able to survive the onslaught, politically and even physically.

Israel's maneuvers are designed to establish new set of ground rules for the conflict. It wants to demonstrate that it will not tolerate the emergence of a more organized Palestinian resistance campaign.

Israel therefore wishes, with its current operation, to inject fear among Palestinians as a means of deterrence, understanding that if it cannot achieve this now, the stakes will only be higher later--with longer-range Palestinian rockets and better organized Palestinian resistance operations.

Under consideration are enormous land operations on a scale with Operation Defensive Shield, which reduced the Palestinian town of Jenin in the West Bank to rubble in 2002. "We need to obliterate Gaza and call it the City of Murderers, the City of Terrorists," proclaimed one member of Israel's parliament.

In the coming weeks, Israel will likely escalate its brutality, and the Palestinian solidarity movement will need to step up to meet the challenge.

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