Pogrom in Rafa

Rafah refugee camp in Gaza is being systematically terrorised by the Israeli army. 'Operation Rainbow' has sealed off the whole area with the deployment of more than 100 battle tanks. Meanwhile thousands of buildings have been bulldozed into the ground and dozens of Palestinians, including children as young as 11, have been killed. Israel's army chief, general Moshe Yaalon, states that all houses - claimed to conceal tunnels and stored weapons - will be destroyed. And, following his orders, Israeli loudspeakers have announced that all males over 16 must hand themselves over: that or become 'legitimate' targets. The death toll could easily rise into the hundreds.

The Rafah pogrom is Israel's collective punishment, exacted upon the Palestinians for daring to resist. And resist they have. On Wednesday May 12 Islamic Jihad blew up an explosives-packed Israeli troop carrier in the Zeitoun area of Gaza, killing five soldiers. The previous day six Israeli soldiers died in a landmine attack. Ariel Sharon's security cabinet, keen for any excuse to ratchet up the 'war on terror', responded with their ferocious wave of repression.

Given the appalling level of violence being meted out by their 'warrior nation' junior partner, both Colin Powell and Jack Straw ventured mealy-mouthed criticisms in an attempt to distance themselves from Sharon's war crimes. The UNsecurity council voted unanimously to condemn Israel. George Bush even calls for restraint. Not that any of this will hold much weight for the Palestinians. Their homes are being razed with the help of British-made tank parts and their leaders are being assassinated with US-supplied Apache helicopters.

There is opposition to the slaughter in Rafah within Israel. This is part and parcel of the polarisation of Israeli politics and the discontent with Sharon and his divided right/ultra-right coalition government and his divided Likud party. A mass rally of over 150,000 held in Tel Aviv on Saturday May 14 demanded Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. This is a staggeringly high number, given the overall size of Israel's population, and is the largest protest since the invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s.

Naturally communists welcome Sharon's difficulties. They can become our opportunities. We do, however, recognise that, while the demonstration that packed Rabin Square was a melange of forces, the dominating bloc was mobilised by the Labour Party, which seeks to undermine Sharon by running with his programme of withdrawal from Gaza - rejected by 60% of Lukud despite backing from George Bush.

A Haaretz editorial notes: "The collective voice that arose from the demonstration ... was addressed to the silent majority of Likud voters. It urged them, and their representatives in the cabinet and Knesset, to shake off the hold of the extremist minority that has attached itself to them and dictated the results of the referendum. Public responsibility and political wisdom both obligate the Likud and its leaders to listen to the public's deepest feelings, to grasp the dimensions of the opposition to Israel's continued presence in the Gaza Strip ... and to give impetus to [Sharon's withdrawal] initiative ... If the Likud's ministers and MPs do not understand this by themselves ... they will reach the necessary conclusion in another way: by observing the growing list of the fallen in Gaza and the public outcry that it elicits" (May 17).

Revolutionaries can give no support to the imperialist-brokered 'road map', itself a retrograde step even compared to the Oslo accords of 1993. 'Gaza first' has now become 'Gaza only'. Sharon's (and now Labour's) Gaza withdrawal, whilst dismantling a few settlements, would leave Israel's military free to intervene at any time. In short Gaza would be a prison for its inhabitants. Meanwhile the West Bank would be left full of Israeli enclaves, which would effectively be incorporated into a Greater Israel. As to the nearly four million Palestinian refugees, they would be ignored.

Our solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict comes from below, from the unity of the oppressed Palestinian masses and the workers and progressive sectors of Israeli society. This can only be achieved through breaking Israeli workers from Zionism - the ruling ideology of Israeli nationalism, which naturally includes liberal varieties.

All shades of Zionist ideology pit Israeli Jews against the Palestinian population, not least because of the fact that the Palestinian Arab population has outnumbered Israel's Jewish population ever since the state was created in 1948. Since Israel's birth the Palestinians have been victims of what can only be described as a continuous campaign of ethnic cleansing, achieved through expulsions, massacres, border controls, internal checkpoints, house demolitions and so on. This campaign has continued from the mass expulsions of 1948 and 1967 through to the present operations in Gaza.

Thus the atrocities of Rafah today are not, as Haaretz puts it, the acts of an "extremist minority", but the logical military methods that flow from Zionism itself.

There is no doubt that a large section of Israel's Jewish population live in fear of the Palestinians, who they believe will seek revenge against them for the humiliations they have suffered. Compounding these fears is the disastrous and unsupportable tactic of suicide bombings against Jewish civilians that sections of the Palestinian resistance have embraced.

In addition, the inclusion of perspectives drawn from European anti-semitism that are included in Hamas's charter hardly helps to challenge these prejudices. Whilst communists are quite right to fight against the Israeli forces shoulder to shoulder with all the heroic defenders of Rafah, including Hamas members, there must be no concessions given to reactionary islamist ideology. Tomorrow we might have to point our guns in a different direction. If put into practice, an 'islamic Palestine' would simply lead to a theocratic nightmare and the reversal of the poles of oppression against the Jewish population.

Neither Zionism, islamism nor imperialist-brokered 'peace deals' hold any solution for the peoples of the Middle East. Only a programme of secularism, internationalism and democracy, based on the working class, can lead the way out of the impasse.

In the concrete circumstances that means a common struggle to achieve a democratic, secular Palestine alongside a democratic, secular Israel.