The Imperialist Massacre in Gaza

Image - Pho­­s­pho­­rus­ hitting­ a Unite­d Natio­­ns­ s­c­ho­­o­­l in G­aza

The recent so-called “war” in Gaza was not really a war in the general sense of the term. Since it was unleashed by an occupying power on a largely defenceless civilian population in occupied territory it was historically comparable to the campaigns of collective punishment carried out by other occupying powers, particularly those of the Nazis in France or Poland during the Second World War. It would be more accurate to term it a massacre, accompanied by a campaign of destruction of the civilian infrastructure carried out as a collective punishment. The cause of this punishment is the support given by the masses of Gaza to HAMAS (1). It appears that the Israeli running class imagined that bloodletting and destruction on this scale would erode support for HAMAS and bring about a more pliable ruling group. Amongst the left factions of the European and US bourgeoisie there was shock that such atrocities should again be perpetrated by the Israelis and that they should be following tactics perfected, in particular, by the Nazis. However, this merely illustrates that, in the capitalist era, imperialism employs similar tactics in similar circumstances despite nominal differences in ideology (2).

The brutality of this “war” did, however, exceed anything the Israelis have inflicted on the Palestinian territories since their occupation in 1967. From late December to mid-January the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), using the most modern US weaponry, bombed, shelled and rocketed Gaza, killing civilians and destroying the infrastructure in a planned assault which was shocking, even by the barbaric standards set by Israeli imperialism. The IDF went on an orgy of murder and destruction. In a mere 22 days the Israeli air force carried out 2500 air strikes, which, together with shelling from land and sea, reduced many areas of Gaza to heaps of rubble. Not only were water, sewerage, electricity supplies, roads and bridges systematically destroyed by bombing and shelling, but whole areas of Gaza were bulldozed to the ground after the army had taken them over. Sometimes houses were bulldozed with the occupants still inside. Schools, hospitals, factories and even UN facilities were destroyed; phosphorous shells were used against civilians to maximise the numbers burned to death and to destroy stockpiles of food. All this was carried out with careless disregard for human life and the supposed “rules of war” or the Geneva conventions. The grim statistics of the “war” speak for themselves. 1300 Palestinians were killed, one third of these were children. 4100 Palestinian homes were destroyed and 17000 damaged (3); 1500 factories or commercial premises, 25 schools, 16 government ministries and 31 security buildings were all destroyed. In a report submitted to a donor’s conference in early March by the Palestinian Authority (PA), the cost of rebuilding the immediate destruction was estimated to be $1.4bn.

The war ended with a unilateral ceasefire imposed by the Israelis and a withdrawal of their forces. The fact that the IDF did not even bother to consult HAMAS, the supposed other party to the “war”, before doing this shows how one-sided the conflict was. HAMAS, for its part, demanded the lifting of the siege as the condition for a ceasefire. The Israelis have not, of course, lifted the siege so there is no ceasefire on the part of HAMAS, who have continued to fire rockets at Israeli towns. The “war” does not, therefore, appear to have changed the general situation in Gaza, though, of course, the destruction of civilian facilities and continuation of the siege has made the lives of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza worse than ever. Since the “war” ended there has been a donors’ conference (4) which, we are told, promised $4.5bn of aid to the Palestinians with $1.33bn of this sum earmarked to rebuild Gaza. This conference was organised by the US’s Arab allies and made it quite clear that the entire sum would be given to the Palestinian Authority, controlled by Fatah (5), the enemy of HAMAS, and none would go to Gaza as long as HAMAS controlled the territory (6). The funds for reconstruction are therefore unlikely to reach Gaza and, as the Israelis control all traffic in and out of the territory there is unlikely to be much reconstruction anyway. The conference appears to have been a continuation of the apparent Israeli aim of removing HAMAS from power. However, the Israeli intentions underlying this episode are far from obvious and despite their overwhelming military superiority over all their enemies, they betray a lack of direction and sense of desperation.

Why should the Israeli ruling class feel it is necessary to carry out such a barbaric assault on a largely defenceless civilian population?

Causes of the “War”?

A number of contingent explanations for the Israeli assault have been put forward, some by the Israelis themselves, and some by western commentators. Although they contain an element of truth they all appear to be contradicted by the events themselves and their outcomes.

The Israelis, for example, claim that the war was caused by HAMAS militias firing rockets into Israel... While it is true that HAMAS have fired rockets at Israeli towns, these rockets are notoriously inaccurate and are merely an irritant to Israel. Between June and December 2008, there was a 6 month ceasefire between HAMAS and Israel. During this truce the rocket attacks against Israel virtually ended. The Israelis, however, did not fulfil their side of the ceasefire which was to lift the siege of Gaza and stop killing Palestinians; both of which continued without interruption... Once the 6 month period of truce was over the Israelis launched an assault which had clearly been planned well in advance. The firing of rockets, which was provoked by the IDF attacks at the end of the truce, was simply a pretext for the attack.

Alternative explanations are offered by commentators in the bourgeois press claiming the war was actually part of the Israeli election campaign, and was launched by the Kadima party to prove their resolute support for the Zionist project and so gather the votes of the right wing. The election was, however, as inconclusive as the “war”. If this was the intention behind the war, it would surely have been pursued to some type of clear conclusion. In the event the election brought about the strengthening of the more intransigent and racist political forces in Israel and is likely to end in the Kadima party going into opposition. It was therefore a failure if this was the intention. Others claim it was intended to weaken HAMAS and so strengthen the position of Fatah, before the inauguration of the new US president who might prevent Israel launching such a war in the future. Again the inconclusive nature of the war weakens this explanation. Despite the destruction of facilities and the killing of hundreds of its militia the position of HAMAS appears, if anything, to have been strengthened by the war. HAMAS did resist the IDF and continued to fire rockets into Israel while Fatah, which controls the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority, sat on its hands and watched from the sidelines. After the “war” certain European governments opened unofficial negotiations with HAMAS. This can only represent a step on the road to political recognition of HAMAS.

These explanations are all short term explanations, and are completely inadequate in explaining the underlying causes of a massacre on this scale. To adequately explain what has happened it is necessary to retrace some of the recent history of this conflict.

The Zionist Project

For Zionism the key issue has always been that of acquiring land. The Israeli state was, as everyone knows, created out of land taken from the Palestinians. Before the UN partition plan, Jews owned 6% of what was then Palestine. The UN partition plan of 1947 gave them another 49% of the land, which would have meant Israel was created on 55% of Palestine; however, in the war which followed they seized some 77% of the country. The borders created by this war are what are what is known as the 1967 borders. In the war of 1967, they occupied the rest of the country and in the following period they have started to colonise the occupied areas with settlements. From the start, the Israeli state has been created by force. The pattern has been the seizure of land, expelling inhabitants, establishing Israeli settlements then defending them with the army. However, this process could not have been so successful without the backing of external powers. From the start the Israeli/Arab conflict has taken place as an element of the wider conflict of global imperialism. The Israeli state has always been a protégé of US imperialism (7) while its enemies became clients of Russian imperialism. The collapse of the Russian bloc in 1989 meant the US’s adversary was removed from the area and the Russian backing for the PLO collapsed. This allowed the US to attempt to impose a US peace settlement or “Pax Americana” on the whole conflict. The Palestinian bourgeoisie, represented by the “Fatah” section lead by Arafat, were forced to abandon their dream of recovering all their territory and to recognise the Israeli state. In return they were to be given a state of sorts on part of the territories occupied in the 1967 war. This process was initiated under the “Oslo accords” of 1993 which permitted the creation of a Palestinian Authority (PA) in some of the occupied lands. The ultimate aim of the process was to create two states in Palestine, an Israeli one on approximately 80% of the land and a Palestinian one on the rest. However, the accords were used by the Israelis as cover for expanding their settlements in the occupied territories, a process which has continued to the present. There are now half a million Israeli settlers on the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights (8). These settlements have been built on the most productive land and have appropriated all the major water resources of the area. As a result, the West Bank has become Balkanised into a patchwork of areas from which Palestinians have been expelled and their lands taken by Jewish settlers. Innumerable checkpoints prevent freedom of movement and more recently a wall has been built to prevent the Palestinians from getting out. The so called “Oslo process” turned out to be a complete disaster for the Palestinian bourgeoisie. In 2000 the US bourgeoisie, headed by Clinton, tried to force a settlement on the Palestinians based on the new realities which the “Oslo process” had brought. Under the Camp David plan, which the US proposed, the Israelis were to give back approximately 90% of the territories seized in 1967 but not, of course, the most productive land and major settlements. It was the collapse of the Camp David talks and the initiation of a second “Intifada”, which started shortly after the talks collapsed, which mark the start of the present phase of struggle.

The Zionist project is to gain all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan for Israel and, consequently, acceptance of the two state solution was always a ruse to buy time while extending Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The Israeli bourgeoisie has no intention of giving back the settlements of the West Bank or relinquishing control of the main sources of water. The Likud party, which is likely to head the next Israeli government, openly rejects the two state solution. Even the Kadima party which nominally accepts it has increased the size of settlements and has drawn up plans for a further massive expansion of settlements. According to the Israeli “Peace Now” organisation, plans exist for settling another 300 000 settlers in the occupied lands (9).

The second “Intifada(10) or uprising which followed the breakdown of the Camp David peace talks, was particularly bloody. It resulted in the deaths of 4700 Palestinians but also approximately 1000 Israelis. By 2005, the Israeli bourgeoisie was looking for a way out and decided to start implementing a settlement unilaterally. The withdrawal of settlers and the IDF from Gaza was supposed to be the first stage in this process. The second stage was supposed to be a limited withdrawal from the West Bank but this has never happened. Since the withdrawal was unilateral it was seen by the Palestinians as a ruse, to consolidate occupation of the West Bank by giving up Gaza. However, evacuation did not bring an end to the occupation since land borders, sea borders and air space remained under the control of the IDF. Rather, it resulted in the entire strip being turned into a huge prison camp. The election of HAMAS, in 2006, brought further retribution from Israel in the form of killing of Palestinians and destruction of the infrastructure by bombing. For the last 20 months Gaza has been under siege as the Israelis have closed its borders, and the UN estimates that between 2005 and 2008 the IDF killed 1250 Palestinians.

The Israeli ruling class appears to think that a more compliant leadership can be created in Gaza by the strangulation of the population, through the siege, and by the use of force. It is a measure of the political bankruptcy of the Israeli bourgeoisie that they do not even appear to have a clear idea of what they want a cowed and compliant Palestinian leadership to agree to. The best they can now offer the Palestinians is an apartheid-style Bantustan, a patchwork of scraps of land which could not form a viable state anyway. Certain sections of the Israeli bourgeoisie have realised that the continual extension of the settlements has made a viable Palestinian state impossible. Whereas this policy of establishing settlement and expansion into the occupied territories had previously been considered the means to realise the Zionist dream it now appears fraught with danger. Olmert, ex-leader of Kadima, has called for a return of “almost” all territory seized in 1967, and said time was running out for a two state solution. He characterised a shared state as a “nightmare” which would see the end of Israel as a Jewish state. (11) It is significant that at the same time as he was saying these things, his government was extending the settlements, the very strategy which would need to be reversed if there was to be a return to the 1967 borders and the creation of a viable Palestinian state. In fact, if this strategy is not reversed, the Palestinian population will be, de facto, incorporated in a greater Israel. The right of the refugees, or rather the descendants of the refugees of 1948, to return would then have to be granted bringing a demographic change which would make the Palestinians a majority in Israel. (12) There is thus a lack of direction amongst the Israeli ruling class, together with a sense that the Zionist project is in danger. They are proceeding with the Zionist project as reversal is now impossible, yet they are afraid of the situation they have created. This is a key factor behind the tendency to lash out with such gratuitous violence at their enemies.

HAMAS - A Movement of the Palestinian Bourgeoisie

The decline in the political fortunes of the PLO and Fatah was part of a more general decline of Arab nationalism in the Middle East. The apparent radicalism of Arab nationalism of the post-World War Two era collapsed in the 70s and 80s. This occurred as the room for manoeuvring between the two major imperialist forces narrowed and the US emerged as the stronger power and strengthened its domination of the region. In this environment, political Islam arose as independent, supposedly anti-imperialist, movement appearing to offer the petty bourgeoisie and the dispossessed a way forward. The success of political Islam in the Iranian revolution of 1979 gave this movement a point of reference and was a major boost to it.

The PLO was thoroughly compromised by the disaster of the Oslo accords to which it had tied its political fortunes. It had revoked its statutes to recognise the state of Israel, thereby abandoning any claim to almost 80% of historical Palestine, and got nothing in return. To many Palestinians the PLO appeared as a treacherous political structure which had sold out the Palestinian cause for a mess of potage. Add to this Fatah’s corruption, and the fact that HAMAS organised such things as food relief at local level, and it is not to hard to see why the political star of the PLO waned, so that of HAMAS rose.

Political Islam is essentially a movement of the petty bourgeoisie. In Palestine it represents the indigenous bourgeoisie who never moved from the occupied territories, small entrepreneurs, skilled craftsmen and peasants. All of these groups have been pushed to desperation by Zionist settlement and restrictions on their markets and supplies of raw materials which it has brought in its wake. The peasantry in the West Bank have been pushed onto the most marginal land and seen their water supplies taken over by the Israelis. They now have to pay the Israelis for water at rates which makes their production completely uncompetitive. At the same time farmers in the Gaza strip have had their olive orchards bulldozed or, as in the recent assault, have had livestock killed by the IDF. Many in these groups have been ruined or are now living on UN charity and have transferred their political loyalty to HAMAS. The movement is, however, a hybrid class movement and incorporates professional sectors such as teachers and administration employees together with a proletarian fringe. HAMAS also operates as a social movement distributing charity to dispossessed and destitute which ensures a support base amongst the masses. It is alleged to receive funding of approximately $70 million annually. Most of this comes from sympathisers and charities in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and from Iran. All its weaponry is supplied from Iran and the movement is thus dependent on Tehran and operates as its client. The familiar patterns of the post-war period are again being repeated. While the US imperialism supports and arms Israel, its principal rival in the region, namely Iran, with Syrian help, supports and arms Israel’s enemies

HAMAS claims the entire area of historical Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the river Jordan, and aims to create an Islamic state in this territory. (13) It does, however, accept the two-state plan as a stepping stone to this aim and sees the possibility of this arrangement leading to a long term truce between Palestinians and Israelis. HAMAS does, however, demand that Israel return to the 1967 boundaries, which the Israeli ruling class is not prepared to do. In the meantime, they stand for resistance to the Israelis and make no distinction between killing Israeli civilians and Israeli military. The hallmark of this resistance has been suicide bombing and firing of rockets into Israeli towns both of which tend to indiscriminately kill Israeli civilians. In the same way as the massacres by Israelis drive Palestinians towards rabid nationalism and violent resistance, so HAMAS’ attacks on Israeli civilians drive Israeli civilians into the arms of Israeli nationalism and religious fundamentalism.

From the brief outline given above it can be seen that HAMAS is a thoroughly reactionary political movement. It is one whose true colours are obscured by the fact that is stands in opposition to the most appalling injustice inflicted by an overwhelmingly stronger Israeli enemy. It is obscured by the fact that it has, at present, no power to put its reactionary programme into effect.

Neither HAMAS, nor political Islam in general, is able to stand outside the class relationships of capitalism. Despite its medieval trappings, political Islam is a movement of the bourgeois class and stands unequivocally for the continuation of the system of wage labour and capital accumulation. In Iran, for example, where political Islam has been in power for 30 years, the conditions of the working class are worse than they were under the Shah. The Islamic state does not hesitate to break strikes, arrest workers and hold wages at starvation levels. (14) At the same time, the governing Islamic elite live richly on the surplus value extorted from the workers, just like the bourgeoisie in other countries. HAMAS, therefore, does not and cannot in any sense represent a way forward for the working class of the region.

Class Unity - the Only Way Forward

Although the situation in Palestine has particular local roots, it is an element of a wider struggle of imperialist powers which has as its aim the control of the energy resources of the Middle East. This struggle extends across the whole Middle East and north to the oil producing regions of the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. While there are open wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat of war hangs over many areas of the region, particularly the US’s local enemies Iran and Syria. These conflicts are all outcomes of the capitalist system of production and, in particular, the imperialist struggle it produces. Just as these conflicts all have a common cause, so they have a common solution, namely the overthrow of the capitalist system and establishment of production for human needs. This can only be done by the world’s working class. At present such a goal can only be one of orientation, since massive changes in consciousness and the development of revolutionary organisation will be required before we can begin to put this into effect. However, it is nonetheless true that an indispensable step in this process is achieving unity of the working class which means rejection of the interests of the bourgeoisie, namely the national interests, and instead fighting for working class internationalism. Only a common struggle against both the Israeli and Palestinian bourgeoisie can lead out of the present “hell on earth” which capitalism has created in Palestine..

As our comrades of Battaglia Comunista wrote in 2000 at the time of the second “Intifada”:

The struggle against the Israeli state, against the exploitation it perpetrates, has to base itself on an attempt to link itself with the proletariat there. This means more than stressing the community of class interests in the different and separate national realities, but also a common struggle against capital and the bourgeois unity of the respective nationalisms....Acquiring class consciousness, even embryonically, cannot be achieved through support for any of the bourgeois programmes which can only achieve their aims by means of the sacrifices of the proletariat in arms. Only by beginning to pose the idea of class against class, and of the incompatibility of following the same strategy as the bourgeoisie and thus the necessity of taking opposite paths, can class consciousness be reached. (15)

At one of the London demonstrations against the “war” the CWO gave out an IBRP leaflet, reproduced below, putting forward these positions. We were criticised as being unrealistic by some of the Trotskyists present and as being defeatist by an Islamic supporter of HAMAS. For their part the Trotskyists argued that it was necessary to support Palestinian nationalism, even if its standard bearer was a reactionary political force such as HAMAS, since it was the lesser evil. Once the greater evil, namely Israeli imperialism was defeated, they argued, the criticism of HAMAS could be made. This is simply bourgeois politics disguised with leftist phrase mongering. It is a call for the proletariat to enter the nationalist struggle and to make common cause with the bourgeoisie.

In fact, nationalist wars are a vehicle for imposing the will of the bourgeois class on the proletariat. They are used to wrap the proletariat in the flag of the nation and nail workers to the slavery of wage labour all for the national good. This is precisely what is being done in both Israel and Palestine and this is what the Trotskyists are cheering on. The Trotskyist idea that after a successful national struggle the proletariat will be able to raise its own class programme is simply absurd. A victorious national bourgeoisie will not hesitate to crush a proletarian threat to its recently gained power. The national liberation struggles of the last 60 years are literally littered with examples of instances where the national bourgeoisie has ruthlessly suppressed workers who, after helping them to victory, have dared to raise their own class demands (as the example of Iran, recorded in this issue, also underlines). Today we are already seeing HAMAS crushing struggles of Palestinian workers and trying to break strikes, since they correctly understand that these struggles are an obstacle to the national struggle.

While it is true we are defeatist in regard to the Palestinian national project we are not defeatist about the international cause of the working class. On the contrary, we are arguing that this is the only realistic programme today even if it does not appear to be so to the radical left. It is precisely HAMAS no less than the Israeli ruling class who stand in the way of the realisation of this programme through the divisions they generate in the working class. In fact, workers on both sides of the green line face similar problems. Both face unemployment and deteriorating wages and living conditions, though the conditions of the Palestinians are, of course, more desperate than those of the Israelis. Both sets of workers have staged strikes to struggle against their deteriorating conditions. In Gaza in 2007, municipal workers went on strike over unpaid wages. Needless to say the strike was opposed by HAMAS who attacked and closed trade union offices. At the end of 2008 health workers went on strike for 4 months. HAMAS attempted to break the strike. In February of this year Palestinian government workers went on strike over unpaid wages. Similarly in Israel over the last 3 years there have been significant strikes of, airport workers, public sector workers, railway workers, teachers and others. These strikes point to the common condition of workers and the similarity of their problems, namely the problems of wage labourers in a crisis-ridden capitalism. They certainly indicate that the prospect of unity of workers in all Palestine is not a utopian dream but is an aim based on common material conditions. Any moves towards unity would undermine campaigns of slaughter and collective punishment such as we have just witnessed. It is for this reason that the nationalist struggle stands squarely in the way of such unity.

The only realistic way forward, as the leaflet we gave out said, is the struggle for peace through the defeat of the bourgeoisie on both sides of the national border. Such a struggle will be a moment in a more general struggle to overthrow this whole rotten system which produces imperialist wars and economic crises, and will continue to produce them as long as it exists. A common class struggle will expose the lie of a two-state solution for what it really is, a project to tie workers to wage labour in the prison of the nation state and force them to sacrifices their interests for those of the bourgeoisie from birth to death. For such an orientation to occur amongst the workers in this region, it is necessary for those who agree with the course we are advocating, to start to organise themselves politically and prepare to propagandise for these positions in the struggles which lie ahead. It is necessary to get into contact with the communists in other parts of the world to begin the task of creating a political organisation which can lead the struggles of the future and put an end the system which stands condemned, not only by the atrocities committed in Palestine, but by the state the whole world is in. It is for this reason that the IBRP exists. Contact us!


(1) HAMAS is an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement. It was founded in 1987 at the start of the first Intifada, It was initially supported by Israel who saw it as a means of weakening the PLO and the Fatah government of the Palestinian Authority. For more on this see Revolutionary Perspectives 38 “Setback for US Imperialism - No Gain for Palestinian Workers”.

(2) There are, of course, also ideological similarities. The Nazi strategy of creating Lebensraum or living space by taking lands to the east of Germany and driving off the Slavic inhabitants and populating the areas with Germans to create a greater Germany (Grossdeutschland), is echoed on a smaller scale by the Zionist project of producing a greater Israel by taking the lands from the Palestinians. Nazis believed in creating a land for the “Herrenvolk” or master race, while the Zionists believe in creating a land for the “chosen people” namely the Jews.

(3) Figures from Financial Times 19th January 2009.

The scale of this new destruction can be gauged by comparing this with the total number of Palestinian homes the Israelis have demolished on occupied territory since 1967 which is 18,150. See

(4) HAMAS was not invited to this conference despite having won the election of 2006 and being in control of Gaza.

(5) Fatah, meaning “victory” was founded in 1954. It was the dominant political grouping in the PLO and, after the Oslo agreement established the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied territories, it became the dominant party in the PA. Its control of the PA has been notoriously corrupt with funds being appropriated by its political leaders. In January 2006 it lost the elections to HAMAS but has retained control of the PA. The US and UK now support Fatah as they see it as a more compliant political force than HAMAS. In 2007 the US allocated $86m to train a military force to protect Fatah from HAMAS and $43m to promote alternatives to HAMAS. See Revolutionary Perspectives 41 “Palestine - More Imperialist Misery”.

(6) See Financial Times 3rd March 2009. At the conference the US pledged $900m for rebuilding Gaza. The fact that the destruction was wreaked by the US’s principal ally, using the latest US supplied weapons, and carried out with its full support is one more illustration of the breathtaking hypocrisy of US ruling class.

(7) When it founded in the aftermath of World War Two it was also supported by the USSR but Cold War reality (and possibly Stalinist anti-semitism) meant that the USSR looked to Israel’s Arab enemies for a foothold in the region. Today US grants to Israel now amount to $7m daily.

(8) There are now 223 settlements in occupied territory. See

(9) See . Peace Now reports that an Israeli Government paper lists plans to build another 70 000 homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which would lead to a further 300 000 settlers.

(10) Intifada is the Arabic word for a mass uprising or civil disobedience. Its literal meaning is “shaking off”.

(11) See Financial Times 1st February 2008 and 30th September 2008.

(12) There are about 5.3 million Palestinian refugees scattered across the Middle East, 3 million living in the West Bank and Gaza and another 1 million living in Israel. Population of Jews in Israel is approximately 5.3 million.

(13) HAMAS is in this sense a mirror image of the Israeli Likud party which claims the whole area for Jews in a Judaic state.

(14) See for example our report on Iran in Revolutionary Perspectives 32 “The Hopelessness of Reform and the Capitalist Nature of the Islamic Republic”, the report on the Tehran Bus drivers strike in Revolutionary Perspectives 38 and “Iran’s Imperialist Brinkmanship Cannot Hide More Misery for the Working Class” in Revolutionary Perspectives 47.

(15) See Revolutionary Perspectives 20 “The Palestine Proletariat is Spilling its Blood for a Bourgeois State.” Translated from Prometeo series VI December 2000.

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