The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Middle East:
A conflict escalating into full-scale war

Sep 10, 2001

In recent weeks, the conflict in the Middle East has reached a new height. On the one hand, there are almost daily attacks by the Israeli military within the Palestinian-controlled areas, including bombing raids on population centers by the most advanced aircraft, like the F-16s. On the other hand, there are suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians within Israel, which get extensive coverage in the mass media with all their dramatic and gory aspects.

All this creates the impression that the conflict is now becoming a full-scale war.

In this war, however, the two sides are by no means equal. In fact, they could hardly be more unequal. On the one side is the Israeli army, one of the world’s best-equipped and best-trained, which can count on the staunch support of the predominant power, the U.S. Facing this military might of Israel is another army, but one which has practically no material resources compared to Israel. This army, however, has a quality which can’t be measured by material means. It’s made of young, militant Palestinians absolutely ready to die for their cause. And while this army is not backed by any big power like the U.S. or its European allies, it counts on the enthusiastic support of a desperate and impoverished population determined to fight for a better future.

The choices made by the two sides for weapons and tactics are certainly a sign of this inequality. But, on the Palestinian side, the choice to carry out suicide bombings was not the only possible choice.

It’s true that these bombings, even if symbolically, have taken the Palestinian struggle a step further. Young Palestinians are no longer limiting themselves to throwing stones at Israeli soldiers or tanks within the Palestinian territories. They are now taking this war into Israel proper. But if a suicide bombing is an expression of the willingness to fight to the end, it is also an expression of frustration and despair. While this uprising has been growing in numbers and resolve, it has, nonetheless, been still unable to improve the conditions for the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A large part of the population in these areas is made up of Palestinian refugees who were driven from their homes in what is Israel today, first by terrorist attacks carried out by Zionist gangs, then by several wars carried out by Israel once it was established as a state in 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been trapped since then with no land or decent jobs. And with the growing incursions of Israeli settlements, they have even fewer prospects.

This may explain why so many young Palestinians are ready to blow themselves up. But after each one of these spectacular acts of determination, the big question remains: How to change the status quo? For a whole existing political setup, supported not only by the Israeli state, but also the U.S. and other big powers, cannot be changed by individual acts, no matter how daring and dramatic they are. In fact, those acts of individual terrorism work against the very thing which needs to happen: that is, the real mobilization of the masses of the poor population, their consciousness that the outcome depends on all of them and not on just a few brave martyrs.

All the conditions for such a struggle exist among the Palestinian population. The head of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, however, has never proposed this kind of fight. Instead, he has told the Palestinian population again and again to put their faith into negotiations with Israel and the U.S. But the use of the F-16s on the civilian population alone shows the determination of the Israeli state to preserve the status quo at all costs – and, thus, what chance this prospect really stands. That’s why organizations opposing Arafat’s rule, above all religious organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have steadily increased their support during the uprising at the expense of Arafat.But neither do these organizations propose for the entire mass of poor Palestinians to organize and fight for the overthrow of the existing political setup in the region. They propose, instead, that certain individuals or organization act in the name of the population – whether these are “martyrs” who blow up themselves or charities that set up soup kitchens or hospitals to help the poor.

This is a conscious choice on the part of these organizations. Neither the PLO nor Hamas represent the interests of the Palestinian workers and poor. They represent the interests of a more privileged layer of the Palestinian population, made up of merchants, professionals, clerics, army and police officers, bureaucrats, etc. That is, people who aspire to improve their own situation by being able to run their own state. But that doesn’t necessarily require changing the whole political framework in the region. That’s why their proposed goal, in the end, amounts to nothing more than another Arab nation-state in a region full of small, rival Arab states.

Palestinian workers can look at the neighboring Arab states to see what that would mean for them. These states are led by various dictators and kings who, in one way or another, enable corporations based in the U.S. and Europe to plunder the region’s resources, above all oil. What’s left for the workers and peasants is poverty and oppression.

The Palestinian workers today have the possibility to lead a fight which can blow up this straitjacket entrapping the workers and poor in the whole region. Their uprising, the Intifada, has the energy and strength to topple the entire political framework in the Middle East. But for that to happen, the Palestinian masses need to control their own struggle. They have to move beyond the goals proposed by nationalist or religious organizations. If they do that, they could have the possibility to pull with them the laboring masses throughout the region, including in Israel itself.