The Israeli military has launched new airstrikes against the people of Gaza, Palestine. Many people have been killed, including children.
Buildings including the Interior Ministry had been destroyed. Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak said: “We are at the beginning of the event, and not the end", and Israeli Defence Force statements made clear that they were prepared to launch a ground invasion. The IDF has drafted 30,000 reservists into the main army.
Most mainstream media sources are citing Israel’s assassination, on 14 November of Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas (the Islamist politico-military party that governs Gaza), and subsequent retaliation, as the immediate background to the new assault. But an intensification of Israeli pressure on Gaza dates back further. On 5 November, Israeli border guards shot Ahmad al-Nabaheen, a young man with mental health problems, who wandered too close to a checkpoint. Then, on 8 November, four Israeli tanks and a bulldozer began an incursion into Gaza. When they were met with machine gun fire from Palestinian militants, they opened fire themselves and killed a 13-year old boy. Israel says its action is intended “to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure.” The assassination of al-Jabari was only one part of that action, which in reality began over a week beforehand.
Why has Israel launched this attack now? Elections for the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, are due in January 2013. After two years of social unrest within Israel – which have seen a massive “Occupy”-style movement against declining living standards for lower middle-class and working-class Israelis, as well as significant industrial action by Israeli unions – a new war against the eternal enemy-without is a helpful propaganda tool for the unpopular right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
It is difficult to know exactly how the Israeli ruling class sees this attack fitting into the wider regional picture, which involves its uneasy tension with Iran. Some speculate that Netanyahu has a de facto agreement with President Obama that as long as Israel holds off from attacking Iran, America will turn a blind eye to continued and increased settlement building in the West Bank and further assaults on Gaza.
There is also some speculation that Israel deliberately targeted al-Jabari not merely because he was Hamas’s military commander, but because he was a Hamas “moderate”. According to an article in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, al-Jabari had drafted a “permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip”. The article’s main source is Gershon Baskin, the Israeli academic who helped broker the prisoner exchange that saw Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit released. Baskin says: “I think that they [the IDF] have made a strategic mistake […] which will cost the lives of quite a number of innocent people on both sides.” Possibly it was not a "mistake".
In assassinating a senior Hamas figure key to holding any potential ceasefire, Netanyahu could be hoping for a brief flare up that he can settle in time for the elections and shore up his position. For him, both Palestinian and Israeli lives appear to be expendable political collateral in his mission to cling onto power.
Hamas and other armed Islamist groups responded by increasing rocket fire into southern Israel. Three Israelis in Kiryat Malachi died when a rocket hit a residential building. By Thursday 15 November, Hamas spokespeople said that they had fired 350 rockets into Israel. Israeli sources claimed their “Iron Dome” missile defence system had intercepted 150 of them.
Israel declared a brief cessation to its airstrikes while Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandli visited Gaza. The ceasefire was not upheld, with both Israel and Hamas alleging that the other side broke it first. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government, which has historic links to Hamas, is a new element in the situation since “Operation Cast Lead”, Israel’s major assault on Gaza in 2009. Egypt committed to keep the Rafah Crossing, which links Egypt to Gaza, open, and said that Egyptian hospitals would treat wounded Gazan refugees.
Taken at its strongest, the Israeli “case” for war is that its citizens are under threat from Hamas rocket fire, and that even a pre-emptive attack therefore has a self-defensive character. Israel, like any state, has the right to defend its citizens. But there is no meaningfully self-defensive element to its new war on Gaza. As the overwhelmingly more powerful military force, and as the colonial oppressor of the Palestinians, Israel entirely holds the upper hand in the situation.
Israeli claims that its assault on Gaza is somehow surgical, or the implication that its prior leaflet-bombing (announcing imminent airstrikes and advising Gazans to “stay away” from Hamas “and other terrorist organisations”) absolve it of responsibility for civilian casualties are entirely empty.
This is not a war in which the two military parties are in any way equal. Israel is a major regional-imperialist power with incredible military might and a first-world economy. Hamas, while receiving some backing from Israel’s regional-imperialist rivals, governs a beleaguered semi-state.
Socialists side with the Palestinians against Israel. The Palestinian people have a right to defend themselves against Israel’s assault by any means, including militarily. But Hamas rockets aimed at residential buildings in southern Israel are not self-defensive. Targeting Israeli civilians harms the Palestinians’ cause.
Supporting the Palestinians’ right to self-defence does not mean siding with Hamas, or pretending that Hamas’ rocket fire into Israel takes on a progressive character in the context of this war.
Hamas won a democratic election in Gaza, and neither Israel, America, nor anyone else has the right to tell the Palestinians who they can and cannot elect. But Hamas’s status as an elected government no more obliges socialists to support them than David Cameron’s status as the elected Prime Minister of Britain obliges us to support him.
Like the 18th century Prussian soldier Carl von Clausewitz, we believe that “war is the continuation of politics by other means”. The politics of which Hamas’s rocket fire is a continuation are wholly reactionary. Hamas’s programme is for a clerical-fascist, theocratic state that would tyrannise over Palestinian women, LGBT people, secularists, and others, as well as pose a mortal threat to Israeli Jews. It has begun building elements of that state in miniature during its time in government in Gaza, smashing strikes and repressing trade unions along the way, as well as driving nearly all organised political opposition (including the bourgeois-secular-nationalists of Fatah/PLO) underground. Its military campaign against Israel – however weak and insignificant compared to Israel’s military might – is part of its political project and cannot serve the cause of internationalism or democracy in the region.
Internal pressure within Israel is vital. On the evening of Wednesday 14 November, 100 Israeli activists held a hastily-organised demonstration outside Ehud Barak’s Tel Aviv apartment to demand an immediate end to the invasion and dialogue between Israel and Hamas. The anti-war, internationalist left in Israel is weak, and marginalised by a constant campaign, by the state and in the media, to reinforce a siege mentality amongst Israeli people. The continuing central role of the military in Israeli life creates a national pathology that warps Israeli politics and corrals the population behind the state.
As well as doing whatever we can to provide material solidarity for the battered and beleaguered people of Gaza, we must also support Israeli socialists in their efforts to provide an alternative political narrative to that of the ruling class and the state. Israel has the power to end the cycle of violence by ending the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, evicting and dismantling the settlements, and providing financial aid and reparations to an independent Palestinian state.
Israel has a right to exist, and for its citizens to be secure. But that existence and security can never be stable while it acts as a colonial oppressor of the Palestinians. Israel could change the situation almost at will - it could freeze settlement building and evict and dismantle existing ones, it could withdraw from the West Bank, it could end the sieges of Gaza, it could negotiate a real ceasefire with Hamas (as al-Jabari was apparently prepared to do before his assassination), it could recognise Palestinian statehood, it could ensure real civil rights for the Arab minority within Israel. It chooses not to do these things. It chooses, at every turn, to take the course of action most likely to exacerbate and inflame the situation, brutalising the Palestinians and further endangering the lives of its own citizens.
The only conceivable victors from Israel’s latest war are the revanchists on both sides (such as far-right foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu party will run a joint list with Netanyahu's Likud in the 2013 elections) who will not rest until one population or the other has been wiped out or completely subjugated. Anyone who wants to see a democratic, internationalist settlement in the Middle East must stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza, with Israeli internationalists, and against this brutal war.
● Stop Israel’s attacks on Gaza!
● Israel out of the Occupied Territories! End the blockade of Gaza! For Palestinian self-determination!
● No to Hamas! Support Palestinian workers, women and young people!
● Support the anti-war movement, internationalists and the left in Israel!
● Two states for the two peoples, and workers’ unity across the borders!
This is a shorter statement, written and published in the immediate aftermath of the attacks:
Israel has launched a new attack on Gaza, following an increase in Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel.
Hamas stepped up its attacks after its military commander Ahmed al-Jabari was assassinated by Israel. Three people in the Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi were killed. In response, Israel began a new campaign of air strikes, and says it is prepared to launch a ground offensive too. Defence Minister Ehud Barak said: "We are at the beginning of the event, and not the end."
Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians are reactionary and do not serve the interests of Palestinian liberation. Like any state, Israel has the right to defend its citizens against attack.
We make that point because, unfortunately, many on the British left think it would be good if Israel was conquered and wiped out. But the point now is that Israel's actions in Gaza are not self-defensive. As the overwhemingly more powerful (militarily and economically) force, which has systematically brutalised the Palestinian people for generations, Israel bears primary responsibility for the situation which has developed. Based on all historical evidence (including the last few days), its moves will be brutal, based on collective punishment of the Gazan people. Already many Palestinian civilians have been killed. And ironically, the Israeli state's aggressive moves to consolidate its position as a regional-imperialist power, and colonial oppressor of the Palestinians, will make the Israeli people less secure, not more.
For more AWL material on Israel/Palestine, see here.