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Hundreds in Gaza killed in assault
For a democratic, secular Palestine!
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 73/No. 2      January 19, 2009

(lead article)
Israeli troops out of the Gaza Strip now!

Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers staged along the northern border of Gaza. The near-two-week siege there has left over 600 dead and 2,900 wounded.

Hundreds in Gaza killed in assault

Thousands of Israeli soldiers backed by tanks invaded the Gaza Strip January 4 after eight days of devastating strikes by sea, air, and land. Washington openly backs the invasion and has opposed any attempts to pressure the Israeli government to call a halt to the attacks.

At least 430 Palestinians had been killed and 2,200 wounded in some 750 air sorties from F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters before the start of the ground invasion. As of January 7 the toll had risen to more than 600 dead and 2,900 wounded.

According to the United Nations, 25 percent of the casualties are civilians, including hundreds of children.

Just hours after saying it looked “favorably” on a French-Egyptian proposal that would meet many of Tel Aviv’s demands, the Israeli Security Cabinet voted January 7 to prepare for stepping up the assault.

Tel Aviv claims it launched the “shock and awe” attacks to stop Hamas from firing missiles into Israel. This is not the first time the Israeli government has used Hamas missiles as a pretext to attack Gaza. In February 2008, the Israeli Defense Forces killed 120 Palestinians in six days of air and ground assaults.

While Hamas leaders have issued defiant statements, most of its top leaders are in hiding. There are few indications that Hamas had organized to prepare Palestinian civilians in advance of the Israeli assault.

Gaza residents who obeyed leaflets dropped by Israeli planes ordering them leave their homes in northern Gaza or risk death were shelled by the Israeli army at their new shelter near the Jabalya refugee camp.

Hamas spokesperson Ismail Radwan said on the group’s al-Aqsa TV that Gaza would “become a graveyard” for Israeli soldiers. But Hamas’s military capabilities are limited, with virtually no antiaircraft defenses or advanced weaponry.

Hamas and its allies have fired nearly 7,000 rockets since 2005—as many as 200 a day—most of them wildly inaccurate home-made rockets known as Qassams with a range of just four miles, killing 13 Israeli civilians. They have continued to fire rockets at Israeli towns in the midst of the assault, including some missiles with a reach of 25 miles, but no greater accuracy.  
Israeli attack planned for years
According to Haaretz, a prominent daily in Israel, the Israeli Defense Forces prepared for “Operation Cast Lead” for almost two years. Preparations for the attack were stepped up more than six months ago while the Israeli government was in negotiations with Hamas for what became a six-month cease-fire agreement.

The Jerusalem Post reported January 5 that all the Israeli units deployed in Gaza underwent training that included operations in a mock-Palestinian city.

“We built models for them of places inside Gaza,” an officer told the Post. “There are places that replicate city outskirts, the casbah marketplaces and over-populated refugee camps.”

After Israeli forces killed six Hamas fighters in a November 4 raid in Gaza, Hamas resumed firing rockets into Israel. Hamas officially repudiated the cease-fire December 19.

On November 5 the Israeli government tightened a 16-month-long economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. To the north and east is Israel, to the south Egypt; the Mediterranean Sea forms its western border. The Israeli government has built fences and walls along its entire border with Gaza.

More than half of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents depend on food provided by the United Nations and the World Food Programme.

The blockade of food, medicine, fuel, cooking gas, parts for water systems, fertilizer, plastic sheeting, paper, glue, and shoes was tightened after November 5. The Israeli government forced the UN to cut back from 15 trucks of food a day to only one or two. Gaza is dependent on Israel for 70 percent of its electricity.

Except for allowing in limited humanitarian aid and a few hundred Gaza residents with foreign passports to leave, Israel has closed all border crossings with Gaza.

Tel Aviv has also bombed many of hundreds of tunnels that were built between Egypt and Gaza to skirt the blockade, bringing in food and medicine as well as arms for Hamas.

Israel occupied the Gaza Strip for 38 years, after capturing the territory from Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and only withdrew its forces in September 2005. Hamas has been the ruling party there since it defeated Fatah in the 2006 elections to the Palestinian parliament.

In June 2007 in open fighting Hamas pushed out forces loyal to Fatah, which is still the dominant party in the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.  
Arab governments blame Hamas
The Egyptian government, with the backing of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, has kept the Rafah crossing into Egypt closed. Demonstrators in Cairo denounced this de facto complicity with the Israeli assault.

At a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, implicitly put the blame on Hamas for the Israeli attacks, a position shared by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and the Jordanian government.

Hamas leaders have said they will agree to a cease-fire and stop firing missiles, if the Israeli government lifts the embargo and reopens border crossings.

But Tel Aviv has refused. The Israeli government says it is not seeking to permanently reoccupy Gaza or return to a vision of a Greater Israel. Instead it seeks a longer lasting agreement with Hamas on more favorable terms for the Israeli rulers.

Gen. Eitan Ben Eliyahu, former chief of the Israeli air force, said the goal is “to suppress the sites where they launch the rockets into our home front” and “to tighten the ring of pressure around the Hamas leadership, which helps you conduct your negotiations in the diplomatic field.”

The French-Egyptian cease-fire proposal includes deploying combat engineers to block off tunnels, and an international naval force to patrol Gaza’s coast. A top aide to Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak is traveling to Cairo for talks, which will begin January 8.  
Washington backs Israel’s invasion
Washington has openly backed the Israeli assault. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States “holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza.”

“If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” U.S. president-elect Barack Obama told reporters during a July visit to Sderot, Israel, on the edge of Gaza. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Washington gives some $2.4 billion a year to Israel, more than to any other government in the world.

Thousands of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv against the invasion of Gaza January 3. That same day in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin more than 10,000 Arab-Israelis demonstrated against the assault on Gaza, one of the largest demonstrations inside Israel in years.

In Morocco, 50,000 marched in the capital Rabat to protest the Israeli offensive. In a stadium in Amman, Jordan, 30,000 joined a protest action.

For a democratic, secular Palestine!

Working people worldwide should demand that Israeli troops immediately withdraw from the Gaza Strip and stop the bombing. Open all border crossings into Gaza and lift the economic blockade, so vitally needed medical supplies and food can get through.

We must also demand that Washington end its massive aid to Israel. The U.S. government played a major role in establishing the state of Israel in 1948 on land that belonged to Palestinians. The goal was to have a firm ally in the Middle East for the imperialist powers that would keep the Arab masses in line.

In 2005 Israel withdrew its occupation troops and settlers from Gaza and the West Bank and permitted the Palestinian Authority to take over local government. But Tel Aviv rejects any moves toward genuine self-determination for the Palestinians, be it the right to return to their land or the right to be treated as equals in employment, land use, and religious and cultural freedom.

The fact that more than 60 years after its founding, the state of Israel has to once again go to war to maintain its forcible expulsion of the Palestinian majority is one more confirmation of its failure as the “promised land” for Jews. Israel can only survive by continuing to fight the Palestinian people.

The regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan have been complicit with Israel in its Gaza attack, blaming Hamas for the Israeli assault. Fatah, the Palestinian group Hamas ousted from power in Gaza in 2006, has broken up demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza by Palestinians on the West Bank.

The challenge facing working people in Palestine—Arab and Jew—is how to organize an effective fight against the Israeli rulers. That course, the fight for a democratic, secular Palestine, would represent a mortal threat to the Arab bourgeois regimes in the region as well—a course once embraced by the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization.

Neither Fatah nor Hamas are leading a fight along these lines today and block the capacity of Palestinian workers and farmers to mobilize in an effective fight to win back their land and their rights.

A road forward can come only out of the response of new generations of working people and youth in the fight for land, jobs, unions, the release of political prisoners, an end to discriminatory laws, for the rights of women, and ultimately against capitalist rule itself. Such a course could unite and mobilize both Palestinian and Jewish workers and farmers. A democratic, secular Palestine offers the only realistic solution to the permanent conflict world imperialism imposed back in 1948 on the working people of the Middle East. Fighting today to get the Israeli troops out of Gaza and to end the economic blockade are key steps toward opening political space for the workers and youth in the occupied territories and in Israel itself to a new generation of fighters.

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