As we publish (29 July) over 1,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 6,000 injured since Israel began its assault on Gaza on 8 July. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has just stated Israel’s military campaign will continue for some time, and that he has no intention of heeding calls for a ceasefire.
The UN says 73% of the Palestinian fatalities are civilian, and over 200 are children. Some neighbourhoods have been destroyed, homes have been turned to rubble. Much of Gaza is now without electricity.
Before the conflict Gaza was poor and isolated with over 40% living below the official poverty line. Now things are even worse.
On the Israeli side 43 soldiers and three civilians have been killed. The difference in the the numbers of dead is a stark indication of the disparity in power.
Israel says it wants to stop the rockets fired from Gaza by Islamist fighters and destroy tunnels that could or have been used to attack Israel. Israel says it has the right to defend itself.
Israel does have the right to defend itself, but its actions go far beyond reasonable self-defence. Israeli forces have killed more Palestinian children than Palestinian fighters. The destruction in Gaza is enormous.
Israel says it has no interest in causing Palestinian civilian casualties and that Hamas has caused the Palestinian casualties by siting rockets, weapons and fighters near schools, hospitals and in built up areas.
No doubt Israel is not actively seeking civilian deaths. But the casualty figures show that the Israeli state does not care very much about killing Palestinian civilians, either.
Suppose it is true that Hamas has its weapons stores in or near a school, say, which is also housing refugees. Then the IDF has a choice: destroy the weapons and accept many civilians will die, or not. The IDF has chosen to fight ruthlessly in Gaza, understanding that a large number of innocent Palestinians will be killed as a consequence.
And if Israel has the right to defend itself, surely the Palestinians do too? Of course. Except that launching rockets at Israeli civilians is not self-defence. During the last three weeks Hamas has launched over 2000 rockets at Israel but most have been repelled by Israel’s sophisticated anti-missile system, causing little damage and relatively few deaths. Hamas’s rockets do cause real fear among Israeli civilians, but as such are just a political gift for the Israeli right.
Even in its own terms, it is difficult to see how this “rocket strategy” can work. Is Israel going to collapse or settle because of these missiles? Of course not. These rockets just make things worse.
A section of the British left has cheered the rockets on. They do so because they don’t care what happens to Israel civilians, and don’t care if the Israeli right is strengthened. Such people are Hamas’s “useful idiots,” obsessed by doing damage to what they oppose, and with little concern to think about or advocate a positive, lasting, democratic solution.
And the rockets undermine the efforts of the Israeli left which is fighting for peace. 6,000 protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday 26 July — harassed and attacked by right-wing Israeli thugs — demanding an end to the Israeli war. These people are brave and important allies, the left in Britain should make solidarity with them.
This is the latest round of major fighting that has taken place regularly since Hamas took power from Fatah (mainstream PLO Palestinian nationalists, who run the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank) in Gaza in 2007.
Hamas has built a one-party clerical-fascist state in Gaza, smashing competing secular and nationalist institutions and organisations. It has repressed trade unions and women’s rights advocates. It purged the judiciary and education system.
Israel responded by sealing Gaza off, and then with military intervention. Israel’s last major offensive on Gaza was in November 2012 when 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians. Six Israelis were also killed. The last time Israeli ground troops went into Gaza was in December 2008, as part of Operation Cast Lead. In that round 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including about 760 civilians.
So what can end this cycle of war? Only a long term peace settlement that deals comprehensively, and as democratically and equitably as possible, with the underlying conflict, will end the drive to the next battle.
In this latest war Israel has not just been dealing with Hamas rockets, but has been defending a status quo in which it is engaged in a land-grab in the West Bank, annexing more and more land to its settlements. It has also been defending its right to throttle Gaza (in alliance with the Egyptian military), by harshly restricting its ability to connect with the outside world.
To end the violence the Israeli state should allow the formation of a fully-independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Two states for the two peoples is the only possible solution. And from a working-class, socialist viewpoint it is the only possible basis for Jewish-Arab workers’ unity.
Such a “two states solution” looked possible in the 1990s, following the Oslo Accords signed in 1993. One consequence of the likelihood of two states was the eclipse of Hamas, isolated by the mid-90s. However the right-wing Israeli government of the late 1990s, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, systematically undermined the prospects for two states , which culminated in the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) after 2000. During the second intifada Hamas regained the initiative using suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
Hamas gained from despair, and every bus bombing strengthened the Israeli right.
In Britain, lack of a two states solution and peace has produced a resurgence of far-right anti-semitic attacks and a new confidence for the ‘”smash Israel”, anti-Zionist left. Groups such as the SWP advocate the destruction of Israel. They are not too picky about who does the destruction, either.
These groups pretend to believe the Israeli Jews can be won to the idea of a single state — voluntarily giving up the protection afforded by the Israeli state to merge themselves, as a minority, into a single, Arab-run, state. Who could believe this could happen?
More honestly such a state — if it were possible — would be built on the ruins of Israel and a new massacre of the Jews. If it were possible, it would be reactionary creation, replacing the oppression of the Palestinians with the oppression and murder of the Israeli Jews.
Right now the destruction of Israel is difficult to imagine. But the Middle East is changing. The stability built on the lines of the British-French carve-up of the Middle East a century ago, cemented by repression, is being replaced. Globalisation, the end of the Cold War, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring, mean what was solid is no longer so.
In Israel’s own narrow interests, aside from principle, it is important a two states agreement is signed. The chaos in Syria and Iraq will not leave Israel untouched.
From our standpoint, however, peace and democracy, to end now and to stop a repeat of the carnage in Gaza and workers’ unity requires such a political settlement. For democracy, for an end to Israel’s war, for two states for the two peoples!
How to make solidarity
Calls for boycotts of various aspects of Israeli society — whether academic, cultural, sporting, economic or simply thoroughgoing boycotts “of Israel” — have gained a lot of prominence in the last few years. Many UK trade unions have adopted some form of pro-boycott position.
The call for “boycott” appeals because it implies we can each do something practical, now, to help the Palestinians.
Workers’ Liberty also believes in practical solidarity with the Palestinians. This is a basic starting point. But we believe that the proposal to boycott Israel is counter-productive and will hinder efforts to build an effective movement of solidarity with the Palestinians.
Academic boycotts of Israel, for example, cut us off from the many Israeli intellectuals who oppose their own government. An effective boycott of Israeli goods would mean Israeli workers would lose jobs and pro-Palestinian activists would get the blame, strengthening the Israeli right.
Of course much of the left does not care what Israeli workers and peace activists think, or do, or how strong and effective their movements are. They want to see Israel destroyed.
Since the Israeli Jews will not voluntarily accept the abolition of their state — why would they, they are surrounded by enemies? — the destruction of Israel would be carried out by force. This is wrong in principle and certainly is no policy for peace and democracy in the region. It is a policy for a new massacre of the Jews.
We oppose the right-wing Israeli government, but with the intention of seeing it replaced by a government which helps to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. To achieve that change requires doing what we can to strengthen the Israel left.
So, for the British unions to boycott left activists or the Israeli unions is ridiculous. We need to help initiatives such as Gush Shalom (the Peace Bloc), not abandon them. We should strengthen our links, not break them.
Much of the impetus for a proposed boycott of Israel is the anti-apartheid boycott of South Africa. In fact the boycott of South Africa lasted for 30 years, from the 1960s and had very little practical effect. The force that overthrew apartheid was the mass movement inside the country, and, centrally, the birth of new, militant independent non-racial trade unions.
Anyway, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not the same as the fight against South African Apartheid. The Israeli Jews are not a exploiting caste, as the whites were in South Africa. Israel is a normal capitalist society, with its own capitalist class, which exploits a largely Jewish working class. The task in South Africa was to break the power of the racist white caste. The task in Israel-Palestine is to allow the formation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
And finally, some words of warning. The main calls for ‘boycott’ come from groups who want to see Israel destroyed. These groups treat Israel as a specially, uniquely, reactionary force. Many states in the world, unfortunately, have a record of oppression — but in the minds of many on the British left it is only the Israeli state that has forfeited the right to exist.
There is a strongly anti-Jewish undercurrent here, often dressed up as “anti-Zionism”, which could easily morph into something more explicitly unpleasant.
Already on marches in the UK protesters have been seen with placards with the Star of David on the Israeli flag replaced with a swastika. One banner even read “Hitler was right”.
The idea of blanket bans on everything Israeli feeds the idea that Israel itself, by its nature is an illegitimate, outlaw state. The policies of the current Israeli government are the problem, not the state itself. We should resist the idea that Israel is a pariah state while we make practical solidarity with the Palestinians and aid the Israeli left.