Israel-Palestine: two sides of the same coin

House demolitions in the Occupied Territories…

The suffering of the Palestinian people is assuming tremendous dimensions. Not only have they been denied a homeland for over half a century, forced to live in refugee camps, but now they are also facing a second expulsion. The Israeli army regularly appears before the houses of Palestinians and within a moment’s notice declare that they are going to bulldoze them.

This phenomenon is becoming a regular occurrence in the Gaza strip, not a rare event carried out for so-called “security reasons”. The Gaza strip is one of the most crowded places on earth. It spreads across an area of some 360 square kilometres, but around 1,300,000 million Palestinians live there. To make matters worse the local Palestinian population is barred from entering more than one third of the land that makes up the Gaza Strip. This is reserved exclusively for the 7,000 Israeli settlers who live in settlements that have modern services, such as clean water, while the Palestinians living around them live in dire poverty. The contradiction could not be more glaring. This has been the situation ever since the 1967 occupation, but it is now becoming worse as each day goes by.

The past three and half years have seen an escalation of the level of house demolitions. In this period nearly 3000 Palestinian homes have been pulled down in Gaza. And most of these have been homes of refugees! Rafah, on the southern border of Gaza with Egypt, has been in the news because of the large-scale demolitions taking place there. Since October 2000, in this town alone, around 1000 homes have been pulled down, with hundreds of others being partially destroyed.

Like all refugee camps Rafah is densely populated. Prior to October 2000 Rafah’s housing went almost right up to the border. This was logical, as Rafah had actually been divided in a previous agreement with Egypt, with part of the town falling on the Egyptian side. The town was de facto divided in two. So houses stood just a few metres from the border. Since the year 2000, houses have been progressively destroyed along the border. Even houses that stood half a kilometre from the border have been destroyed.

We have to also remember that unemployment is huge in the Gaza strip. Therefore for many of these families the destruction of their homes means destitution. They are forced to flee, but where can they go? They can only count on families and friends, and the solidarity of their own community.

But going beyond the immediate effect of the demolitions, this barbaric behaviour on the part of the Israeli army is having the opposite effect to that which the Sharon’s of this world imagine. The Palestinian people are being pinned to the wall with nowhere to turn. They are being put in a situation where they have no alternative but to fight back, with whatever they have in their hands. Far from strengthening the security of Israel it is opening it up to even greater conflict.

…and debtors’ prisons in Israel

The ordinary rank and file Israeli soldiers are being told that they are “defending Jews” from attack. But how long can this last? How long can they be fooled? It is becoming clearer as each day passes that what they are being asked to do is not in their interests or that of their families back home in Israel. They are mere pawns being moved by the Zionist ruling class.

It is not a chance development that now the majority of people in Israel want to withdraw from Gaza. A recent poll actually revealed that the majority of high school children in Israel have the same view as the so-called “refuseniks”, i.e. they do not want to be sent to serve in the Occupied Territories when they are called up for military service.

This growing polarisation in Israeli society highlights what is obvious to any thinking person. In Israel there are rich and poor, like in any capitalist country. And one particular detail underlines how unjust Israeli society is – not just for the Palestinians, but for the Jews as well.

Israel in the 21st century has similarities with Britain, but in one little detail it with the Britain of 1854 not of today. Israel is the only advanced capitalist – “western” – country to still have special debtors’ prison. Someone who owes less than NIS 1000, if interest has accrued, can be sent to prison. Statistics of the Bailiff’s office have revealed that over 30,000 warrants for the arrest of debtors were issued in 1999. By 2002, the figure had gone up to well over 100,000! Over 20,000 were actually arrested. That figure includes thousands of poor, people with disabilities and the elderly.

We have seen anti-war movements in Israel before in the past. One is clearly beginning to develop now. Back in the 1980s it was very big. But now there is actually a movement called the “Movement for the War on Poverty”. Together with three debtors facing arrest because they could not pay their debts, this movement filed a case with the Israeli High Court in an attempt to put an end to the draconian laws that allow such a scandalous situation to continue.

There is a clear class bias in this law. These laws have never been used against rich debtors. When they are bankrupt and cannot pay their debts they can use the legal system to their advantage. They start negotiations with their creditors that can go on for years, and at the end of the process, even if they cannot pay, they do not go to prison.

The huge increase in the number of people threatened with arrest for their inability to pay their debts reflects the growing social polarisation inside Israel. Unemployment stands at between 12 and 15 %, depending on how you calculate. The number of poor has shot up. This has been exacerbated by the government’s attacks on social spending. Pensions, unemployment benefit, child benefit, single mothers’ allowances, all have come under attack.

Statistics can often be used to tell a real story. In this case the increased number of house demolitions for the Palestinians and the exponential growth in the number of poor debtors in Israel, reveal two sides of the same coin. The general situation is becoming worse on both sides of the divide.

As we have often said, a people cannot be genuinely free so long as it oppresses another people. What this means in practice is that so long as the ordinary Israeli workers are passive in the face of Sharon’s oppression of the Palestinians they will not be in a position to defend themselves against the attacks on their own standard of living. They must fight back, and their fight will have to be against the same people who are oppressing the Palestinians, the Israeli ruling class, the Israeli capitalists. Over the past year we have had a foretaste of what is to come in Israel, in the form of big public sector strikes, dockers' strikes, and others.

Those soldiers serving in the Israeli army should reflect on this when they are being sent in to destroy the homes of poor Palestinians. Think of your own poor back at home. Whose class interests are you serving?