Notes on the war in Gaza

Palestine solidarity rally in Amman, Jordan, October 13, 2023.

First published at Arguing For Socialism.

The struggle in Palestine is now the number one issue of world politics. The armed breakout from Gaza on October 7 by Hamas and its allies has raised numerous questions, mainly because the West and Israel have spread lies about what actually happened and continually try to obscure what the real issues are.

1. In regard to Palestine, the struggle didn’t begin on October 7. At the very least, we can date it back to 1917 and the Balfour Declaration in which Britain, soon to be the colonial power in the area, said it supported the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine — never mind the fact that Palestine was already inhabited . . . by Palestinians (Muslims, Christians and Jews).

2. The fight against national oppression, which is what is involved here, is completely legitimate. It is certainly not terrorism. Just imagine, if the West’s current favoured weaponised terminology had been around in 1788 and after, Australian Aboriginal armed resistance to the white settler theft of their country would have been described as terrorism!

3. Whether resistance by an oppressed people involves violence or not is a secondary question. Any violence is ultimately and fundamentally due to the fact of oppression. In all known cases in human history, the violence of the oppressors and exploiters (slaveowners, feudalists, capitalists, Western imperialists) completely dwarfs anything that the oppressed might do in response. Furthermore, armed rebellion only comes about when those in power refuse to respond to popular concerns. People will not contemplate armed struggle if other roads remain open (freedom to organise, participate in elections, and so on).

Imperialism’s ideological weapons

In the struggle over Palestine, the Zionists and Western imperialism have three key ideological weapons. Firstly, all criticism of Israel and its leaders and defenders is labelled as “antisemitism”. Secondly, they pretend that all resistance is “terrorism” and that Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Thirdly, we constantly hear the argument that “Israel has a right to defend itself”.

In regard to the first point, antisemitism clearly exists in the world. But, apart from ignorance and deliberate scapegoating of Jews by rightist forces, the biggest generator of antisemitism is Israel whose crimes arouse such hatred. And because Israel pretends to speak for all Jews everywhere some people mistakenly pick this up.

Of course, the dispossession of the Palestinians is not due to Jews but to Zionism. The leaders of Israel could be Scientologists or whatever; it wouldn’t make any fundamental difference. Palestinians and their supporters would still be opposed to the theft of their country and the dispossession and oppression of its indigenous people.

As we know, there are many Jews in the West who oppose the policies of the Israeli government — and their number is sharply growing. And there have always been Jewish currents and voices that are opposed to Zionism on religious grounds. The Naturei Karta sect, for example, is completely opposed to Zionism and is resolutely and publicly in favour of equal rights for Palestinians.

And on the other side of the fence, many fervent supporters of the Israeli government are clearly antisemitic, such as United States Pastor John Hagee and his Christian fundamentalist cothinkers.

Who are the real terrorists?

For Israel and its Western backers to call Hamas and the Palestinian resistance “terrorist” is simply mind-boggling.

Israel has just murdered some 33,000 people and with thousands of bodies still buried in the rubble the actual total is almost certainly significantly higher. Israeli bombing is both indiscriminate and deliberate. So is the policy of imposing starvation by blocking food aid getting through. This is terrorism on an industrial scale.

Israel is truly a terrorist state. So are the United States and Germany, Israel’s main arms suppliers. If Washington and Berlin stopped the arms deliveries, Israel would rapidly be forced to talk peace with the Palestinians and the neighbouring countries.

Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

Does Israel have a right to defend itself? No. None whatsoever. Israel is the oppressor state. It is an exclusive Jewish state, denying rights to the Palestinian section of the population — in Israel proper, in Gaza and in the West Bank.

We want to see the destruction of Israel and its replacement by a democratic secular Palestine where all religious and ethnic groups have equal rights. Of course, equal rights won’t in themselves solve a host of other problems such as economic inequality, poverty and so on.

Supporters of Israel argue that the destruction of Israel as an apartheid state means we want to “drive the Jews into the sea”. This is just rubbish. Just as in Australia or South Africa, a call for equal rights in theory and practice means just that.

Saying apartheid Israel has a right to self-defence is as ridiculous as saying, for example, that Southern slaveowners in the United States in the 1860s had the right to defend their slaveowning society. Obviously, the oppressors and exploiters don’t have the right to defend their right to oppress and exploit.

Hamas is part of the resistance

Within Gaza, the resistance is a broad coalition. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the largest and dominant organisations but the alliance also includes two smaller secular and socialist groups, namely the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Each has a long history. Both have armed groups.

Hamas is an avowedly Islamic organisation. Its roots go back to the 1987 Intifada and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is clear that Israel helped promote Hamas as a counterweight to secular left forces. But be that as it may, Hamas today is clearly a legitimate part of the broad Palestinian resistance, fighting for Palestinian rights.

Its social vision is conservative. Thus, for example, we don’t see armed women in the resistance ranks (as we do in Rojava). Morality apart, this cuts off the resistance from a tremendous potential pool of devoted fighters and weakens the struggle. However, Hamas has said that it does not intend to force its vision on Palestinian society (according to Wikipedia the record here is a mixed one). In a different phase of the struggle we may well be opposed to Hamas.

The October 7 raid

But right now Hamas is leading the armed struggle. In my opinion, it has led it very effectively. It prepared its crucial and amazingly extensive tunnel network over many years and also planned for the October 7 raid. (A recent article from the US military puts the length of the tunnel network at between 350-450 miles long [560-725km], absolutely astounding figures for a tiny area just a maximum of 41km long and 12km wide.)

October 7 was very successful. Things will never be the same again. Gaza has indeed paid a very heavy price but what was the alternative? To rot slowly without meaningful hope for decades more?

Pro-Palestine sentiment has exploded worldwide, especially in the West but also in the Middle East, and Israel’s ghastly settler-colonial project is under the international spotlight as never before in its entire history.

To call October 7 “terrorist” is completely absurd. It was a rational, legitimate operation of resistance. It was also heroic, self-sacrificing and daring. (A unit was even detailed to attack Ashkelon prison, 13km from the Gaza border, to free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Unfortunately, the attackers took a wrong turn and never made it there.)

Of course, nothing is beyond criticism. But in my opinion, much of the criticism circulating is misplaced and misinformed. In any case, we should completely reject calls from the corporate media and imperialist politicians to “condemn Hamas”. We condemn Israeli settler colonialism and unconditionally support the Palestinian resistance.

October 7 was not a ‘massacre’

As I tried to clarify in my recent article in LINKS, simply saying that Hamas “massacred” 1139 people is a lie which completely obscures what happened.

1. The fundamental aim of the attack was to smash up the Gaza Division, the unit guarding the concentration camp, and get as many military hostages as possible. To this end, 25 Israeli bases and installations around the border were attacked. As a result, 373 of the dead were soldiers and police.

2. The kibbutzes are not just little villages in the idyllic countryside. Just as much as in the West Bank, the kibbutzes are fundamentally military settlements with their own security detachments. There was fighting here and one can’t say it was illegitimate in principle.

3. The counterattacking IDF forces deliberately and wilfully killed a lot of Israelis, perhaps even most of the non-military dead. They were particularly concerned to prevent hostages being taken back to Gaza. Netanyahu has ruled out an official investigation into October 7 because he doesn’t want the extent of the IDF’s actions to be revealed. It would simply be too disturbing for public opinion and shatter trust in the army.

4. Once the border wall was breached hundreds of people not under the discipline of the resistance, many or most of them armed, streamed into Israel. The January 21 Hamas statement implies they were responsible for many civilian deaths. Also, it seems that many of the kibbutz hostages were taken by these people. Hamas’s interest was in military hostages.

5. All this said, were civilians wilfully killed by resistance fighters? The Hamas statement denies it and states their clear moral stand against such violence. If any civilians were killed it was accidental or in the crossfire. I was very interested to read that well-known PFLP figure Leila Khaled in her interview with Links also denied that the raiders killed civilians.

October 7 has torn off the mask

One big result of October 7 is that for millions of people, especially in the West, it has torn off the mask which normally hides the hideous face of our rulers.

Why were they so determined not to call for a ceasefire in the face of such massive and relentless slaughter? How can they continue to support Israel in the face of such crimes? Why do they (especially the United States and Germany) continue to supply weapons to Israel when they know exactly what they are being used for? When 2.3 million people are starving, how could they then defund UNWRA, the principal body trying to organise food supplies? Furthermore, the defunding of UNWRA came the day after the genocide ruling of the International Court of Justice which the West completely ignored.

Israel is still shielded by the ideological fog around the ideas of the “Jewish homeland” and Israel as a safe haven for the Jewish people from the threat of antisemitism and another Holocaust. But the fog is thinning and the inhuman brutality and madness of the Zionist project is becoming clearer and clearer to more and more people.

The imperialists are trying to push the idea of a two-state solution, that is, the idea of a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel. But that ship has long since sailed. It will never happen. Firstly, because Israel will never permit it. Secondly, a separate state would mean moving 800,000 settlers in the West Bank and that would mean civil war within Israel. Thirdly, what about the Arabs already living in Israel proper? Are they to be moved or would they enjoy equal rights where they are? Fourthly, what about the right of return of several million Palestinian refugees? Will they be allowed to return? If so, will they be squeezed into the Palestinian micro-state?

The idea of a single state with equal rights for all, coupled with the right of return of the refugees, is the only solution and this will only become more and more obvious and attractive as time goes on.

The idea of Israel as any sort of safe haven for the Jews now seems absolutely crazy! Seven million people ranged against the whole of the Middle East and the Arab world! Already, 250,000 settlers have evacuated the northern border in the face of the limited war with Hezbollah — Israel’s much-talked-about buffer zone is now inside Israel! And since October 7, several hundred thousand Israelis have left the country, probably for good.

The Arab regimes are vulnerable

October 7 has also resonated throughout the Middle East. Solidarity is growing. A number of Arab regimes were all set to “normalise” relations with Israel. It is now too risky for them to do that.

Yemen’s Houthi regime has imposed a very effective blockade on ships trying to reach Israel via the Red Sea. (They are even targeting Israel-bound ships deep in the Indian Ocean trying to reach the Cape of Good Hope.) The Israeli port of Eilat at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba is now a ghost town — no tourists and no ships. Recently a Houthi missile landed there, undetected by Israel or the US ships in the Red Sea.

The Iraqi resistance is targeting US bases in their country. It is also targeting the Israeli Mediterranean port of Haifa with drones and missiles. If Haifa becomes inoperable Israel would be in a truly desperate position.

In Jordan recently huge demonstrations have been taking place outside the Israeli embassy in Amman. And in Iraq a coalition of resistance organisations say they have weapons ready to arm 12,000 Jordanians to fight Israel. But in order to do that they will have to confront the Jordanian regime which is now looking rather shaky.

There is talk of trucking goods in from the Gulf states but that involves a very long road through Saudi Arabia and Jordan. It would be extremely vulnerable to sabotage and attack.

Even in far-away Morocco, many young Muslims are turning away from the mosques because of their state-mandated silence on Gaza. Furthermore, they are angry that the king has said nothing and also with Morocco’s 2020 normalisation agreement with Israel which is overwhelmingly unpopular within the country.

The path to a free Palestine

Will Palestine ever be free? Will there ever be a democratic secular Palestine? And what exactly do we mean by this? A South Africa-style transition away from apartheid which left big capital in control of the country or a fundamental transformation towards socialism?

The current crisis is the most comprehensive one that Israel and the Zionist movement has faced in its entire history. The ultimate outcome would seem to depend on three main factors.

The first factor is the staunchness of the armed resistance on the ground, especially in Gaza but also in the West Bank. Israel has killed tens of thousands in Gaza but the resistance has not been broken. (Hamas admits to losing 6000 of its fighters but claims 80% of its tunnel network is intact.)

The second factor is the growth of the solidarity movement in the Western imperialist countries, especially in the US and Germany, Israel’s principal arms suppliers. It has registered great gains but there is a way to go in forcing an end to the arms shipments.

It is also crucial that the movement makes big gains on the ideological front and that more and more people in the West understand that Israel is not a normal state, but an apartheid state, a state for the Jews only.

The third factor is the growth of solidarity in the Middle East and the Arab world, both the movement in the street and the armed movement. Already the support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen have created huge problems for Israel. But how far can this support go without fundamental changes in the countries of the region?

What about internal opposition inside Israel? The dismal fact is that within Israel there is overwhelming support for the war on Gaza. This is a real sickness of Israeli society. Perhaps as the disasters continue to pile up, this support will begin to erode and more people will realise that big changes have to come.