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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 73/No. 4      February 2, 2009


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(lead article)
End Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip!
Over 1,300 dead as Israeli troops withdraw
A woman shouts in front what used to be her house in Jabalya, a refugee camp just north of Gaza City where nearly every dwelling was hit by the Israeli onslaught.

January 20—After a three-week offensive in which Israeli war planes, artillery, and armor bombed thousands of targets, including schools, homes, factories, and food and fuel warehouses in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government announced a cease-fire and withdrawal of its troops. The broad outlines of the conditions imposed on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are becoming clear in the aftermath of the defeat of Hamas by the Israeli military in the assault.

While some details are still being worked out, the deal includes an “international” force to oversee the Egyptian-Gaza border; more help by the Egyptian government to crack down on “arms smuggling” through border tunnels; European participation in patrolling Gaza’s Mediterranean coastline; and U.S. and NATO involvement throughout the region in stopping weapons shipments and other aid to Hamas.

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said that the border crossings into Gaza will not be fully reopened nor the economic blockade of Gaza lifted until Hamas releases Gilad Schalit, an Israeli solider held by Hamas since 2006.

Six European government leaders flew to Jerusalem the day after the cease-fire for dinner with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, Livni, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak, and opposition Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu to demonstrate their support for Tel Aviv. They brought with them British, Italian, French, and German offers of military and economic help to enforce the terms of the cease-fire, including maritime patrols.

Earlier in the afternoon the six, including French president Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British prime minister Gordon Brown, had attended a summit at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm e-Sheikh hosted by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Also at the summit was Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority based on the West Bank, along with the presidents of Turkey, Jordan, and the European Union, and the secretary generals of the United Nations and the Arab League.

The Israeli assault left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead and 5,000 wounded. Hours after the Israeli cease-fire announcement Hamas representatives in Syria and Gaza also proclaimed a cease-fire.

The Israel Defense Forces said it would rapidly withdraw all Israeli soldiers from Gaza, but that troops would be stationed at key points around the Strip.

Tel Aviv announced the cease-fire after a round of visits to Cairo, where Hamas and Israeli representatives met separately with Egyptian negotiators.

Israeli forces hit more than 2,000 sites in Gaza during the assault, sometimes wiping out an entire row of houses in one strike. About a third of the Palestinian casualties were children. Half of the population of Gaza is 18 or younger.

Speaking at a January 20 conference in Doha, capital of Qatar, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said that Hamas was surprised because it believed the Israeli offensive would last no longer than three days, according to Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. “We didn’t expect the crimes that were committed against our citizens, the residents of Gaza,” Meshal said. He also said that Hamas expected that there would be massive protests in front of Egyptian embassies that would force Cairo to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza.

Instead, the Egyptian government easily withstood criticism that it was aiding Israel, and kept the crossing closed.  
Defeat for Hamas
The Israeli assault dealt Hamas a military and political defeat.

Many government and municipal offices in Gaza were completely destroyed during the assault. According to the Jerusalem Post, close to 300 tunnels were destroyed along with 200 homes belonging to Hamas commanders, and “most of its long-range rocket capability has been knocked out.”

In the Jabalya refugee camp north of Gaza City, almost every dwelling was hit. In the camp there are 74,000 people per square kilometer, one of the highest population densities in the world, compared with 25,000 in Manhattan, New York.

For the most part Hamas avoided direct combat with Israeli troops. Its armed units fired homemade mortars and rockets in hit-and-run strikes from heavily populated working-class neighborhoods.

Israeli forces did not attempt to penetrate deep into Gaza City neighborhoods. Instead they pounded the city from the outskirts and from air and sea. Some 4,000 homes in the Strip were destroyed and tens of thousands left homeless.

Ten Israeli soldiers died during the assault, several from “friendly fire,” and some 230 were wounded.

Halima Dardouna, 37, from Jabalya, whose house was destroyed by an Israeli shell, told the New York Times, “I will never vote for Hamas. They are not able to protect the people, and if they are going to bring this on us, why should they be in power?”

France 2 television reported that the European Union said it will lift sanctions on Gaza if a Palestinian “unity” government is established, in other words, if Fatah—Abbas’s party—is brought back into the Gaza government.

Hamas defeated Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in elections in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian parliament in January 2006. Hamas then pushed Fatah out of Gaza in open fighting in June 2007.

Hamas won the 2006 election in the Gaza Strip in part because it painted itself as more “radical” and less corrupt than Fatah. It is a bourgeois party that has been an obstacle to organizing a fight by Palestinians against the Israeli occupation and for land and water rights, labor unions, women’s equality, the right of return, and the release of political prisoners.

While only the Jordanian and Egyptian governments have signed “peace” deals with the Israeli state, Tel Aviv has made progress in winning acceptance for its existence from other Arab regimes in the region.

This was reflected at the two-day Arab League economic summit in Kuwait that ended January 20. The 17 heads of Arab states and senior representatives of five other member states were unable to come up with a joint statement on the events in Gaza.  
Tel Aviv sees Lebanon war as model
The Jerusalem Post noted January 1 that top Israeli army leaders saw the 2006 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon as a model for the attack on Gaza. “After all, though Hizbullah is stronger and has more missiles and rockets than before the war, the northern border has never been so quiet,” the Post said. “It is this kind of quiet—not the toppling of Hamas or the imposing of a new regime in Gaza—that Israel is hoping to achieve through Operation Cast Lead.”

Although Hamas has said that its long-term goal is an Islamic state in all of Palestine, its position is not so different from Fatah. Hamas says that it would accept an independent state in Gaza and the West Bank, an implicit recognition of the Israeli state.
Related articles:
Socialist candidates say ‘End U.S. aid to Israel!’
Australia to Minnesota: No to Israeli assault!
Lift the Israeli blockade on Gaza!
Tel Aviv asked for U.S. help to bomb nuclear site in Iran

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