The latest round of fighting between Hamas, the reactionary Islamist ruling party in Gaza, and the Israeli government showed that neither side wants a full-scale war. Despite an intense barrage of rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israel and Israeli airstrikes, the two sides rapidly agreed to a new cease-fire Nov. 13.
The combat took place just days after Hamas and the Israeli government had begun implementing a 10-point agreement brokered by the Egyptian regime. Hamas had agreed to scale down provocative attacks dubbed the March of Return and to stop flying incendiary kites into Israel that have damaged thousands of acres of crops.
In return, the Israeli government, which controls the borders with Gaza, allowed Hamas to receive $15 million in cash from Qatar for the wages of thousands of Gazan government employees who have not been paid in months, as well as fuel.
But on Nov. 11 an Israeli special forces unit was discovered attempting to place listening devices in Khan Yunis, Gaza. In the firefight that ensued, six Hamas fighters and one Israel Defense Forces officer were killed.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad then fired more than 450 rockets into Israel in less than 24 hours, and the Israeli military attacked 160 targets in Gaza. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense intercepted just 100 of the rockets. Some 60 people in Israel were wounded and at least three Palestinians in Gaza were killed.
Hamas rocket kills Palestinian
The only death in Israel was of Mahmoud Abu Asabeh, a Palestinian construction contractor from the West Bank city of Halhoul, who was living in Ashkelon. Asabeh had worked in Israel for 15 years, returning to Halhoul on weekends.
“We are against the rocket attacks and the strikes on Gaza,” his son Bashir told Yedioth Aronoth, adding that his father had many Jewish friends. “We want all of it to stop because we do not want to see more victims.”
Both Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces were careful to limit the extent of their operations.
In one widely talked about example, Hamas had the opportunity to destroy an unprotected bus with dozens of soldiers. The Hamas commandos waited until all the soldiers got off, then demolished the bus with an anti-tank missile.
The Israeli government exercised similar restraint. Even as fighting continued, it allowed 35 fuel tankers and hundreds of other trucks with supplies into Gaza, part of the earlier agreement.
Hamas worries about discontent
Some 200 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military during the March of Return. Since March, demonstrators have repeatedly attempted to breach the Israeli-Gaza border, part of the destructive course Hamas has foisted on working people since it seized control of Gaza in 2007. Its goal is to expel Jews from Israel and Palestine.
The health system in Gaza is on the verge of collapse. There is power for only three to four hours a day, due to the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to pay for diesel for the Strip’s power plant. The only electricity had been supplied by Israel. With little electricity, raw sewage contaminates the water supply. Tons of garbage lie uncollected on the streets, after service cutbacks aimed at preventing a total collapse.
But while the small capitalist class and high-ranking regime officials are doing OK, Hamas leaders are worried about growing discontent among working people there with their course and growing international isolation.
That’s what led Hamas to negotiate and even to ask that the Israeli government once again allow thousands of Gazans to work inside Israel.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, cynically attacked the original deal, accusing Hamas of selling out to the “Zionist-American conspiracy aimed at separating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip.”
There are also divisions in the Israeli government. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned after the latest round of fighting and withdrew his Yisrael Beiteinu party from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. Lieberman accused Netanyahu of “surrendering to terror.” But Netanyahu held onto the government when leaders of the Jewish Home party backed off threats to also pull out of the coalition.
The Israel Defense Forces and Hamas have fought three wars in the past decade. Israel’s rulers are not keen on yet another costly war without any progress beyond the knife-edge situation.
The Israeli rulers have improved relations with several Arab governments, based on their common goal of countering the Iranian capitalist regime’s influence in the region. In October the foreign ministers of Bahrain and Oman called for a rapprochement with Tel Aviv. The Saudi regime has done the same. This bolsters White House efforts to push the Palestinian Authority and Hamas into talks with the Israeli government.
The latest events in Gaza highlight the correctness of the statement released in December by the Socialist Workers Party, underlining “the political necessity for the Israeli and Arab governments and leadership of Palestinian organizations to begin immediate talks to recognize both Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
“Negotiations to reach such an agreement must recognize the rights of Jews everywhere to take refuge in Israel,” the party said, “as well as the unconditional right of the dispossessed Palestinian people to a contiguous, sovereign homeland on territory — including East Jerusalem — conquered and occupied by the Israeli government during the 1967 war.”
“It is along this road that working people of all national backgrounds, religious beliefs and political allegiances in Israel and Palestine can use and defend their space to speak, organize and begin redressing the blood-drenched legacy of imperialist domination and capitalist exploitation.”
“In opposition to Washington, to bourgeois governments and political organizations across the Middle East and to the middle-class left here in the United States, the Socialist Workers Party has a different starting point,” the statement says. That is “the class interests and solidarity of workers and toiling farmers across the Middle East — be they Palestinian, Jewish, Arab, Kurdish, Turkish, Persian or otherwise and whatever their religious or other beliefs — as well as working people in the United States and around the world.”
“We are for whatever helps working people organize and act together to advance our demands and struggles against the capitalist governments and ruling classes that exploit and oppress us,” the statement explains.