According to UNICEF, in the first 18 days of the war in Gaza (until October 24) 2,360 children were killed by Israeli air strikes and shelling. The total number of civilian deaths reached 5,000 during the first 18 days; by October31st, when this article was finalised, the death toll was approaching 10,000. Almost half of these casualties were children.
Words cannot describe what is happening in Gaza. Blocked on all sides, in the world’s largest “open-air” prison, its 2.3 million inhabitants are mercilessly bombarded by the Israeli air force and artillery, with no means of escaping. Israel has cut off electricity, water, humanitarian aid, which is dribbling in, and the internet, making it difficult for people to find out what is happening. Dozens of journalists have already been killed by Israeli bombs.
The “civilized”, “democratic” West sees no crime in what is taking place, only “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself”!
But the rest of the planet “knows better”! A huge wave of support for the Palestinian people is developing all over the planet, with demonstrations in the millions in countries like Morocco and Turkey, and in the hundreds of thousands in capitalist metropolises like Britain. Attempts by a number of Western governments to ban pro-Palestinian demonstrations and to equate any voice in support of Palestinian rights with “anti-Semitism” and the defense of Hamas’ terrorism have failed entirely.
Israel “teaching everyone a lesson”
This picture was reflected in the recent UN General Assembly, which overwhelmingly adopted a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.
120 countries voted in favour of the resolution, 14 against and 45 abstained– the US voted against, of course, and the EU, in which so many had illusions that it can play a progressive role, abstained.
Even the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who as a rule does not go against the wishes and policies of the US and its allies, was forced to protest against the merciless war unleashed by Israel on Gaza. He spoke of attacks on civilians, violations of international law and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
This was enough for the Israeli government to demand Guterres’ resignation and to decide to ban UN officials from entering Israel.
In the words of Israel’s ambassador to the UN:
“Due to his [Guterres’s] remarks, we will refuse to issue visas to UN representatives… The time has come to teach them a lesson.”
Thus, the government of Israel will “teach” the Palestinian people, Hamas, the UN and the whole planet a lesson. Blatant arrogance coming from a state which murders childrenby the thousands!
One picture tells the whole story
One picture is enough to show the reality of what has been going on in Palestine for almost a century.
From a state with small Jewish enclaves until 1946, to a state with very few Palestinian enclaves, even on land considered Palestinian, and constantly encroached upon by Jewish settlements.
The creation of the state of Israel was a deliberate decision by the British colonialists who controlled the region at the time. Their stated aim was to create a state that would defend their own interests against the anti-colonial uprisings of the Arab world, along the lines of the “Unionists” of Northern Ireland. It was the familiar “divide and rule” policy in which the British imperialists/colonialists are unmatched.
A blind alley
This arrogance of the Israeli government is, of course, the result of the full support given to it by the major powers of the capitalist world, the USA, Britain and the EU, who deliberately and persistently created the Jewish enclaves within the state of Palestine in the inter-war period (1920s and 30s) and then the state of Israel in 1948.
Anyone who dares to criticise Israel is denounced as an anti-Semite and a supporter of Hamas. In the “democratic” countries of the US and the EU, people are fired from their jobs on charges of anti-Semitism or accused of supporting terrorism, even if they speak out against Hamas. In countries like France, Germany and Britain, attempts have been made to ban pro-Palestinian demonstrations and even the wearing of the Palestinian headscarf. But to no avail. The protests are massive all over the world.
Their attempt to terrorise people into not daring to speak out is failing utterly. The West seems once again to “live on another planet”, be “isolated”from what is going on around it in the rest of the world, no matter how much it wants to pretend to be… “the light against the darkness”, to use Netanyahu’s words in a recent statement.
The question is what the Israeli ruling class and its Western allies hope to achieve with the policy they follow.
Do they expect to solve the Palestinian problem by such methods?
If the Palestinian question teaches us anything, after so many decades of war and conflict, it is that it cannot be solved by military force.
And this is not just true of the Palestinian question. It applies to all the major national problems of our time. Is the Kurdish problem solved? The Greek-Turkish and Cyprus problems? The Irish? Kosovo? Or will the Ukraine and Taiwan problems be solved? There is no way to solve the Palestinian problem through war, violence, dislocation, imprisonment and mass murder.
Or will Hamas be eliminated, as they claim?
Again, this is an impossibility. The emergence and strengthening of Hamas, a fanatical Islamic organisation, over the past decades, fundamentally is the result of the Palestinian people’s desperation and complete blind alley in relation to the solution of their problems, as a result of the policies of Israel and the West.
It is possible to eliminate thousands of Hamas fighters, but it is impossible to eliminate them all. At the same time, the dead of Hamas will become “martyrs” and heroes, inspiring a new generation to follow their path.
There is only one way to solve the Palestinian problem. And that is to end the occupation of Palestinian territories and the settlements on Palestinian land, to allow the Palestinian people to have their own national state, as they have been demanding and fighting for for decades, and to provide for the return of the refugees to their homes.
Is this possible within the framework of capitalism? Absolutely not!
Israel and Western imperialists – pouring oil over the fire
The mass killings of Palestinians stranded in Gaza are causing an explosion of anger in the Arab and Muslim world. The anger against the policies of the Western colonialist/imperialists is the basis on which Islamic fundamentalism emerged and took mass proportions. From the Taliban to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (and their offshoots in North and West Africa) to Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic fundamentalism is a painful reality on the international scene. In the 70s and 80s, these organisations did not really exist – their precursors were isolated sects (small groups of fanatics) in some countries. The imperialists managed,by their policies, to turn them into mass phenomena. But not only through their policies. Both the Taliban (and by extension al-Qaeda) and Hamas grew with the practical assistance and financing of the West – the Taliban by the US, to counter the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, and Hamas by Israel, to counter the once (in the long past) radical Palestinian Fatah.
The West, no matter what means it has at its disposal, no matter how many “brilliant minds” it employs to serve its interests, remains extremely short-sighted about the consequences of its policies. This after all is demonstrated by the fact that after intervening militarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya over the past two decades, they wereforced to leave, weakened and exposed, with Russia and China filling the vacuum they had created.
The mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza, supported by the US imperialists and tolerated by the EU, pours water into the mill of Islamic fundamentalism not only locally but internationally – in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and in the industrialised countries where there are large minorities of Arabs and Muslims.
Massive international protests by Jews
One of the most significant developments of the day is the powerful protestsby Jews internationally – which, we must stress,are being suppressed by the Western media because it does not fit the Western narrative of “Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence” and that those participating in the protests are supporting Hamas’ terrorist activities and are “anti-Semites”.
One of the most important demonstrations that took place was that of Jews in the US, who marched in their thousands,while dozens of them stormed the Capitolresulting in some 350 arrests.
Equally important are the mobilisations within Israel itself. With the country at war, with a “national unity” government (the classic ace up the sleeves of capitalists and the establishment), the fact that there are demonstrations in Tel Aviv demanding peace is very important! As is the fact that there are courageous public figures, such as the journalist of the newspaper Haaretz, Gideon Levy, who denounces Israeli policy and calls for an end to the war.
Thesesend an important message: Israeli workers and young people, as well as Jews living abroad, are not a conglomerate of Zionists, extreme nationalists, blinded by racist hatred of Palestinians. They show the potential for developing a joint struggle of Israeli and Palestinian workers, on the basis of common class interests, to solve the problem.
The same is shown by the existence of conscientious objectors in Israel, with significant numbers of young people who refuse to join the Israeli army to fight against the Palestinians in the occupied territories, despite the threat of prison sentences.
A wider escalation?
Israel gave the people of Gazan 24 hours to empty the northern part of Gaza and move to the south, and immediately started bombing. But it didn’t launch the ground offensive immediately, as everyone expected –this took about two weeks. This appears to have been the result of pressure from the US and Israel’s other Western allies, who fear a number of consequences.
First and foremost, they are concerned about the military success of the operation. According to US media reports, US military officials havebeenadvisingIsrael not to launch a generalised ground offensive.
This is because the cost for the Israeli military could be too high for Israeli society to bear. After all, memories are still fresh of 2006, when Israel invaded Lebanon with the declared aim of permanently eliminating Hezbollah. The Israeli army was unable to crash Hezbollah, which had entrenched itself very effectively, and was forced to pack up and go home after 34 days of fighting. In the case of Hamas, we have tens of thousands of fighters (trained in battle in Syria and elsewhere), well-fortified in tunnels and other fortifications, who have been preparing for this conflict for years. From a military point of view, things are not rosy for Israel, despite the huge superiority of the Israeli army, which is why it seems to have been moving cautiously and slowly since the day the ground offensive began on October 26.
Second, there is the potential for the conflict to spread and create wider geopolitical implications. Hamas wants to open more fronts, while Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon, and Iran have already threatened to retaliate. Whether this will lead to a full-scale conflict is doubtful, but when the guns start firing, no prediction is safe.
For sure, any underestimation of what Hezbollah’s involvement would mean would be seriously mistaken.
In 2018, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, called Hezbollah “the most heavily armed non-state actor in the world”. The latest assessment by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv,refers to 50-100,000 troops, 150,000-200,000 rockets, mortars and missiles, many of them highly accurate, with ranges starting at 15-20 kilometres, but reaching 200 to 300, even 700, as well as a fleet of drones that some estimates put at 2,000.
The fact that Hezbollah has such firing power at its disposal does not in any way imply that Israel could be defeated militarily in a confrontation with Hamas and Hezbollah – even with the involvement of other countries such as Syria and Iran.
History has clarified this issue: Israel has survived all attempts to destroy it militarily and wipe it off the map, even when all of its neighbouring Arab countries marched against it in 1967.
But it does mean that bloodshed on all sides will be on a huge scale.
Therefore, a solution to the Palestinian problem does not only serve the needs and rights of the Palestinian people. It also serves the interests of Israeli workers, who have every reason to want to live in peace and security.
Wider geopolitical implications
Beyond the impact on the region, developments on the Palestinian issue inevitably have wider geopolitical implications.
The West has been losing ground in the Middle East and North and West Africa in recent years, with the US and France packing up and leaving a number of countries. This trend will become even more pronounced following Israel’s offensive and US and EU support for it.
China and Russia do not support Israel’s invasion of Gaza. They will therefore benefit from this war, as public opinion will be turning in their favour and against the West. The West will lose from the new outburst of anger in Arab and Muslim countries and the China-Russia bloc will gain.
Finally, there is the impact on public opinion in the West itself.
The Palestinian issue is very prominent in the consciousness of hundreds of millions of people and could spark even bigger movements against Western governments if the mass murder of thousands of people imprisoned in Gaza continues.
Is there a way out?
Given all these contradictions and impasses, is there a way out of the Palestinian conflict, and what might that be? On the basis of capitalism and nationalist confrontation, there is no way out. If there was, it would have been found long time ago.
Under capitalism, there can be neither a single state consisting of the two nationalities, Jews and Palestinians, nor an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The case for a single state would mean that the Israeli ruling class would run the risk of allowing the Palestinians to become a majority and thus lose everything it has conquered through wars for a century. That is why this possibility is ruled out.
But it also cannot allow the Palestinians to have their own (truly) independent state, because this would mean that this state could start to arm itself and build its own alliances in the region and internationally (and here the confrontation between the West, China and Russia takes on a new dimension) – thus posing an even greater danger to the state of the Israeli ruling class than the Palestinians of the occupied territories and Hamas currently pose.
The only basis on which the conditions for a solution to the Palestinian problem could be created is the existence of a front of all those who are paying for this conflict with their lives – i.e.the workers on both sides of the divide.
Fronts are not built on abstract or moral principles. They are built on the basis of common interests. The Jewish and Palestinian masses have a truly great common interest to fight for – and that is the end to the endless bloodshed and terror. And, of course, they have an interest in fighting against the daily deterioration of their living standards and rights in the name of confronting “the enemy”.
For such a common front to take shape, it must first aim to fight against and overthrow the Israeli ruling class. In doing so, it will automatically create the conditions for winning the confidence of the Palestinian masses as well as the Arab and Muslim masses in the other countries of the region. This task obviously falls first and foremost on the Israeli working masses and social movements.
There are movements for peace and for Palestinian rights in Israel and they are very often dynamic. But it is not sufficient to be in favour of peace. You have to be ready to fight to overthrow those in power who feed and breed on nationalism and war.
In other words, the struggle for peace must be accompanied by the struggle to overthrow capitalist power –on both sides– with the aim of a socialist transformation.
Linking peace with the fight against capitalism
The courageous voices in Israel who support the right of the Palestinians to have their own state and who denounce the Israeli government as the main culprit for the endless stalemate must link this struggle to the struggle to overthrow the system – otherwise their calls will be in vain.
There is no doubt that when the Palestinian workers see such a class approach and appeal from the Israeli workers and social movements, at least the majority of them will respond enthusiastically.
On this basis, a united struggle can be built on the following demands:
- For Jews and Palestinians to live side by side in peace.
- Either in a single socialist state with full rights for minorities, or in a socialist federation of two separate entities –this is something for Jewish and Palestinian workers to decide. The most realistic proposal in the present circumstances is a socialist federation of two independent states.
- With the right of refugees to return to their places of origin. Within a socialist federation, there can be enclaves within one state that are linked to the other.
- For the socialist federation of the countries of the region.
What about Hamas?
Such a call for class unity between Palestinians and Jewish workers could certainly alsocome from the Palestinian side – although the primary responsibility for such a thing lies with the progressive forces of the oppressing nation, namely the Israeli working class.
On this level, the Palestinian leadership has unfortunately failed historically.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), with Fatah as its dominant force, has dominated the Palestinian political (and military) scene for decades. It began as a left-wing guerrilla movement, but today it is in the service of capitalism and mired in corruption, as is the entire Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
Fatah and the PLO, even in their most left-wing versions, however, never adopted a class approach to Jewish workers. They have never tried to call them into a common struggle against the Israeli ruling class and for a common socialist homeland or a socialist federation between the two peoples.
Instead, they treated the Jews as a single reactionary group and collaborated with the reactionary Arab regimes in the name of Arab unity. In recent decades, they have pinned their hopes on the US and the EU for a solution to the Palestinian problem –a delusional fantasy. The main outcome of this policy has been to strengthen Islamic fundamentalist organisations.
The PLO was not the only leftist/anti-imperialist force in the region. The Soviet Union was hugely influential in the Middle East, with a number of friendly regimes and/or countries in its sphere of influence – Syria, Libya, Iraq, Nasser-era Egypt, etc.
But the policy of the Soviet Union and the very powerful communist parties that existed in the region was based on the Stalinist “stages theory”: to first solve the current problems, such as the Palestinian question and the disengagement from the Western imperialists, within the framework of capitalism, and then to look at the socialist perspective. Thus, with the contribution of the Stalinist Soviet Union, the movements in the region were driven to the brink and, especially after its collapse in 1990, into the abyss.
This disastrous road for the Palestinian and wider Arab (and international) Left created a huge vacuum that the forces of Islamic fundamentalism came to fill – the desperation and impasse created the conditions for a big influx under the influence of the Iranian regime, which lavishly funded Islamic organisations such as Hamas.
Controversies in the ranks of the Left and tasks ahead
Hamas’ tactics are causing controversy within the ranks of the international Left. Some say we should not criticise Hamas, some do not say it but avoid doing so, some support it as an “anti-imperialist force”.
But this debate is reminiscent of another old and long debate within the ranks of the Left. The one about the 1979 Iranian revolution. Back then, the pro-Soviet communist parties supported the religious leader Khomeini after the workers’ revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of the Shah (king) of Iran. They left all the initiative to the mullahs (religious leaders). The latter, were thus able to consolidate their power, and then massacred the Left and the Kurdish revolutionary movement.
The Left must therefore look carefully at its alliances so as not to contribute to tragedies.
Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamic organisation without any democratic procedures, either internally or towards society –“law” is the (supposed) word of God, represented by its leaders. For Hamas, the State of Israel must be destroyed – however much it has tried to appear more “moderate” in some of its writings, the ultimate conclusion of its writings is clear.
According to Hamas’ “ideology”, those who sacrifice themselves for this purpose are martyrs who will go to heaven. Women’s rights and LGBT rights are, of course, out of the question. The methods used by Hamas are those of “terrorism” – murdering Jews in any way and by any means. As a result, we had the recent attack with 1,400 Israelis dead, the vast majority of them civilians, and about 240 hostages taken and held in Gaza (about 50 American Jews have been released).
There is a moral aspect that is important – one cannot remain indifferent to the mass murder of innocent people, however much one understands the conditions that give rise to this rage. But the central question is: do such tactics help the Palestinian people’s struggle for a solution to their problem?
The answer is clearly no. Since the only approach that can bring results is a class approach, through a common united front on a class basis, of Israeli and Arab workers, aimed at socialist transformation, the killing of civilians blows any such possibility up in the air.
The position in favour of the destruction of the state of Israel leaves no room for a common struggle of Israeli and Palestinian workers.
Of course, in the circumstances faced in their daily lives, many Palestinians, in their desperation, turn to Hamas as the only force fighting Israel. Marxists need to show understanding of the conditions that create these sentiments, but at the same time they need to find the best way to explain that Hamas’ methods do not help their struggle. Marxists need to find the ways to assist in building those forces that project the prospect of class brotherhood and common struggle.
There is a point which is important from the point of view of Marxist analysis: the defense of the rights of a people who is suppressed, and of its struggles, does not, or should not, mean supporting the forces which are in the leadership of this people or who are in power.
For example, defending the people of Afghanistan against the war launched against them by the USA, should not mean supporting the Taliban, either directly or indirectly – as was the case with sections of the Left at the time of the US imperialist offensive back in 2001. The same holds for the Iraq war of 2003: the defense of the rights of the Iraqi people should be mean support to the brutal dictator Saddam Houssein – on the contrary, what would be demanded is a struggle to overthrow him. Something similar holds in the case of the Iranian revolution of 1979, mentioned above – the support which the majority of the Iranian Left gave to Khomeini led to the demise of the Left. There are many examples, including cases where we have movements which have aims supported by the bulk of the population but which have at their leadership level reactionary forces – one such example was the anti-colonial struggle of EOKA in Cyprus which was led by a fascist, G. Grivas.
Whether Marxists provide support or not, more or less conditionally, or fight against and aim to remove and replace forces fighting or claiming to fight against the repression of the people they represent, depends, therefore, on the character of such leaderships, i.e., whether they have a progressive pro-working class, or a reactionary pro-capitalist character.
The main conclusion of all the above is that we must struggle to build the forces of the anti-capitalist/socialist Left on both sides of the divide. But not only. They must also be built regionally and internationally.
The Palestinian problem is not just a national problem,it is an international problem – the daily demonstrations we see today in all corners of the world are an indication of this. The task of building the anticapitalist/socialist Left, therefore, is a task that we all face, not just a task for the Israeli an/or Palestinian workers and youth.
The road is long and bumpy. The anti-capitalist, revolutionary Left internationally is in retreat – as is the Left political space in general. But this road is the only one. Not just to address the Palestinian question, but to stop the barbarism to which capitalism is leading the planet.