At the time of writing, the 2. 2 million Palestinians, still trapped in the open-air prison that is the narrow Gaza Strip, have been subjected to 14 days of bombing and shelling by Israel’s air, sea and land forces.
This is ostensibly Israel’s “revenge”, or so it is presented by prime minister Netanyahu, for the unprecedented terror attack on 7 October, by Hamas’ militias on families living in the Kibbutzes near Gaza’s eastern border. How many of them were killed (along with young people attending a music festival) is still not clear, but so far the death toll is almost 1,000, and it includes the very young and the very old. Up to 200 hostages were taken back to Gaza, presumably so that Hamas - the Islamic political organisation which also runs Gaza’s state - will be able to bargain for the release of some of the over 5,000 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli jails. These hostages were also, no doubt, meant to act as shields, to deter the Israelis from the retributory bombing which Hamas knew would follow. This hasn’t worked: thousands of powerful Israeli bombs have pounded Gaza’s densely-built neighbourhoods, turning them into rubble. This offensive by Israeli forces has so far killed close to 5,000 civilians - but the number of casualties is rising every day, if not every hour, as we write.
If “Hamas terrorists” are hidden among the population or in their underground tunnels – and Netanyahu has said he wants “to kill them to a man” - they are only being killed incidentally.
Starmer and Sunak’s unequivocal support for the actions of a terrorist state
The siege imposed by the Israeli government on day 3 of the bombing, and up to now also supported by the Egyptian government (US imperialism’s second “client state” in the region, after Israel), is absolute. No food, water, electricity or medicines are reaching the territory. Although, after Biden’s visit on 18 October, the go-ahead was given for (just) 20 trucks containing aid to be allowed in through the Rafah crossing on Egypt’s border. But to date, even this area is still being bombed.
The British Labour Party’s Keir Starmer, who is standing 100% “with Israel” publicly supported this “complete siege” as soon as the Israeli state announced it. He may have backed down a little after being told off by Labour back-benchers. But he is standing true and fast to the “Zionism” he conveniently adopted some time ago, in order to facilitate the ejection from his party of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, on the basis of an accusation of anti-Semitism, which merely amounted to expressing solidarity with Palestinians.
As for Sunak, just like all British prime ministers before him, who parrot the words of whichever US president happens to be in power, he is playing obliging lapdog to Biden. After all, Britain remains American imperialism’s closest ally, with its so-called “special relationship”. So Sunak flew to Jerusalem on 19 October, on the heels of a visibly doddering and even confused at times, US president Biden. He told Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu that he was proud to stand with him “in Israel’s darkest hour”, adding, “and we also want you to win”.
“Want you to win”? But against whom? Since the day after the Hamas fighters’ attack inside Israel - almost all of them were killed - this has been an entirely one-sided “war”. There is currently no adversary opposing the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza. It is bombing and shelling Gaza’s infrastructure, apartment blocks, schools and hospital facilities into the ground with impunity. The only “adversaries” right now and on the receiving end of Israeli fi re power are the unarmed civilian Palestinians of Gaza.
Although for sure, this relentless attack which has already destroyed more of Gaza’s infrastructure than ever before (there have been at least 4 similar bombing attacks on Gaza since the Hamas government took power in 2006/7) risks escalation and the setting alight all kinds of potential retaliatory powder kegs against Israel which exist throughout the region, not least those of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and/or the Iranian regime behind it. But also many other smaller armed groupings throughout the region which could pose a threat.
A regional conflict has the potential to spark an explosion which the imperialists would not be able to control. For the time being, “involvement” is confined to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which at this point has begun a token exchange of rockets with Israeli forces in the north, but so far at least, this has not escalated.
Netanyahu seized his opportunity; the “right to defence”
Netanyahu’s government is the most right-wing collection of fanatics that Israel has ever seen. In fact, somewhat unbelievably, given the history of the Jewish people, it includes self-confessed fascists in its ranks, like finance minister Smotrich. It has been blatantly backing what amounts to a civil war against Palestinians on the occupied West Bank, waged by armed, ultra-Zionist settlers (coming mainly from the US) who have been seizing ever more Palestinian land by force over the past decade and arbitrarily killing Palestinians, young and old, under Israeli police and army protection.
Since the “war” against Gaza began on 7/8 October, Israeli police have been rounding up any and all Israelis who show sympathy for Palestinians and jailing them. Far right mobs have been lynching those who dare to criticise the bombing of Gaza. Many journalists are currently in hiding, fearful for their safety and some have sent family members out of the country. Yes, this is the regime which Sunak and Starmer and all the other imperialist leaders of the so-called “civilized West” support. But this comes as no surprise given their record, especially after the cynical fuelling of the proxy war against Russia which they are conducting by using the Ukrainian people’s bodies and lives.
Of course, this power-line-up of the US, the EU and Britain, while giving credit to Israeli quasi-fascists is also - after the event - supposed to act as a caution to any Middle Eastern (or other) state (they all mention Iran) which might dare to support Hamas in more than words. Whether it will deter them or not, remains to be seen.
The pretext used by the imperialist leaders - all of them - to support Israel in its current unbridled slaughter of people who have no defence whatsoever (and apparently no “right” to it), is “Israel’s right to defend itself”.
It is quite amazing how such rights become inviolable and how “international” or “humanitarian” law is invoked to justify or condemn armies or terror gangs or even individuals when they launch attacks. But of course, it is the big western imperialist powers who claim to be on the side of “right” - deciding who is conducting an illegal war and who is killing unlawfully. . . while they justify only those actions which will promote or defend their own material interests.
United Nations’ resolutions, even when they do get passed, are thus utterly irrelevant, even if politicians get hot under the collar about them. The Iraq war was declared illegal by the UN - but the invasion by the US and Britain in 2003 still went ahead. All this talk about “legality” is meaningless: Gaza’s population is not attacking Israel so there should be no “right” for Israel to target it. But nevertheless, this right has been bestowed upon it by all the imperialists and sundry others.
A matter of history
It is impossible to understand the situation today in Israel-Palestine without knowing its history, but we can only provide some bare bones here.
While conflicts over territory in this region - cut up by the imperialists in the 19th century to define their own spheres of influence - go back hundreds, if not thousands of years, today’s specific problems date to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 by the victors of WW2, including Stalin’s Russia. Not one among these governments was prepared to offer Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust a permanent safe haven. The USA, leading the initiative, soon saw another purpose for this new state - and by funding it and helping it build up its defence arsenal, (including a nuclear capacity), Israel has become the USA’s chief agent and surrogate in the Middle East.
It should also be mentioned that the British had a particular responsibility in the run-up to 1948. Their two-faced policy towards both the Arabs and the Jewish people, after having committed under the 1917 (so-called) Balfour Declaration to support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, was “readjusted” after WW1, to the dismay of Zionists who wanted an exclusive homeland for Jewish people, to include rights for the “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. In fact prior to the setting up of the Israeli state, groups of Zionists engaged in terrorism against the British Palestinian authority in an attempt to take their own exclusive “homeland” by bloody force.
In the end, the shaping of the new state of Israel was determined by some of these far-right Zionists, despite the fact that many of the new immigrants to Palestine were convinced socialists and communists. So its creation, rather than ending the bloodshed, was the beginning of new bloody episodes. Native Palestinians - 700,000 of them - were ejected forcibly in many cases – from their homes and villages and off their land. This was the first so-called Nakba, or expulsion.
As the saying goes, a nation that oppresses another shall never be free. The repression against Palestinians after 1948, forcing them to flee their country or live forever in refugee camps or, eventually on smaller and smaller pieces of encircled villages on the West Bank and the 25 X 3 mile Gaza Strip - could never have resulted in peace or security for the Jewish people. And it still cannot, as today’s catastrophe shows. Another Nakba threatens in Gaza, as 1. 1 million Palestinians from the North are following Israeli warnings to evacuate to the South before a possible ground invasion by the Israeli army.
An elephant in the room
The Palestine-Israel conflict has been the elephant in the room of Middle East politics ever since 1948. It has already caused 3 Middle Eastern wars, directly involving Egypt, the former Soviet Union, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Trying to keep Israelis “secure” while refusing to grant equal rights to Palestinians, let alone returning their stolen land and giving those from the diaspora the right of citizenship, could only mean that Israelis must live under a perpetual siege themselves. Successive Israeli governments have placed more and more restrictions on Palestinians in the name of their own defence, including building a huge concrete wall on the West Bank and of course, today’s security fences encircling Gaza, with guarded checkpoints controlling all comings and goings. They have been rightly compared to the racist former “apartheid” state of South Africa. A “two-state solution” for this tiny territory - promoted hypocritically by western imperialism - was never viable. And “one” state for all, where everyone has the same rights, has long been ruled out by the Israelis, due to the ever-growing river of blood between the two populations, which they continue to feed.
All western countries designate Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation. Since 2006, when the Palestinian population last had the chance to cast a vote, the political wing of Hamas has governed Gaza, running everything. If this is the case, however, it is only thanks to the Israeli blockade which was erected shortly after the political victory of Hamas. In other words, for 17 years Gazans have been literally imprisoned by the Israeli armed state. This amounts to living in a huge concentration camp. The analogies with what happened to the Jewish people under the Nazis are not out of place, although it is not advisable to mention this in Israel, let alone write it down. Victim has become perpetrator.
What is more, it was the Israeli state itself which encouraged the founding of Hamas in 1987, as a counterweight to the ever-popular Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organisation on the West Bank. Arafat was never forgiven by the right wing of Israel’s political class for appearing as a reasonable politician like any other, after his terrorist history as leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – and for agreeing to the Oslo Peace accords which proposed a separate but equal Palestinian state. The majority of the Israeli political establishment was never going to accept this. Yitzhak Rabin, the liberal-minded Israeli prime minister who signed these peace accords was assassinated. On the West Bank, Arafat’s home was demolished and he was put in jail. He was to die shortly thereafter.
It was in this contrived context that Palestinians looked more and more to Hamas, which now denied Israel’s right to exist, claiming it would fight for an exclusive Palestinian homeland “from the river Jordan to the sea” - equal and opposite to ultra-Zionism.
There are other episodes in this history, but since 2007, Palestinians have seen their situation deteriorate further and further, with no end in sight. Due to constant repression they have not even been able to rebuild their own working class political organisations which could offer them a perspective for the future and which could break down the divisions between them and their working class Israeli brothers and sisters, who could become their allies.
Weak terror versus strong terror
The International Institute of Strategic Studies has estimated the relative size of Hamas’ army versus that of the Israeli defence force. As opposed to 169,500 active personnel in Israel’s army, navy and air force and a further 450,000 reservists, Hamas has an “army” of 30,000. We are told by military experts from the Royal United Services Institute that “Obviously there’s also a question of skill and training where there’s a considerable difference between the IDF and Hamas”.
And when it comes to military budget, since the 1967 war, the US still provides at least 16% of Israel’s defence budget, which in the last year amounted $3. 18bn (£2. 61bn), but this doesn’t include funds for the missile defence system - the so-called Iron Dome which is able to deflect 90% of the rockets sporadically fi red by Hamas from inside Gaza. The US has given Israel an additional $10 billion (£8. 2bn) to fund this.
So how does Hamas get its weaponry - for instance the over 5,000 rockets fi red (somewhat uselessly, given Israel’s Iron Dome protection) into southern Israel on the morning of the 7 October?
Gaza has none of the heavy industry that could support weapons production; its main industries are textiles, food processing and furniture. However there is a huge amount of scrap metal constantly available - and ironically, this is thanks to the regular bombing raids carried out by the Israelis. Says one expert, “When Gaza infrastructure has been destroyed in Israeli airstrikes, what’s left - sheet metal and metal pipes, rebar, electrical wiring - has found its way into Hamas’ weapon workshops, emerging as rocket tubes or other explosive devices”.
Apparently the attack on 7 October had been prepared for, over a period of 2 years, with Hamas smuggling in parts and supplies via its tunnel network, from supporters outside - mainly, it is said, from Iran.
What is really behind this “war”?
The working class in Britain can do little to help the Palestinians directly, neither materially nor physically, nor can it stop the war. But it can certainly reject utterly the British political establishment and its fellow imperialists who have lined up with these execrable reactionaries in Israel who are engaged in this “collective punishment”.
The stated objective - “to totally eradicate Hamas” - is absurd. The government of Israel knows full well that it can only provoke greater support for Hamas and further radicalisation of young Palestinians by its actions.
So what can really be behind this strategy? Is there a hidden agenda? Should one believe that such an agenda, if it exists, is being set by overtly racist far-right Zionists who say they want to eradicate all Palestinians, so that Israel can exist “from the river to the sea”? Or is it just a land grab? A ground war to sweep the people of Gaza off all or part of their tiny strip of land. . . ?
If so, a significant number of soldiers who have been mobilised from across the army’s reserves, are highly unlikely to go along with it. In fact one of the reasons being put forward for the delay in the ground offensive is precisely that rank and fi le soldiers are demanding to know exactly what is to be expected of them.
The huge popular protests against Netanyahu’s recent attempts to amend the state’s constitution - giving the prime minister the right to override judges’ decisions, for instance - may have been completely overtaken by events, following the 7 October Hamas attack. But that doesn’t mean all Israelis now support Netanyahu, even if his “war footing” and “unity government” has suppressed and continues to suppress dissent.
Therefore we can hope that this terrible escalation of conflict can also have the effect of changing the balance of forces in Israel itself, as well as the countries which surround it - allowing the rejection of the corrupt and degenerate politics and politicians - and an understanding among the workers and poor that they belong to one class, not just from river to sea, but all the way around the world. And that it is they who hold the future in their hands, free of the terror
21 October 2023