“An individual, a group, a party or a class that is capable of ‘objectively’ picking its nose while it watches men drunk with blood, and incited from above, massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive. On the other hand, a party or a class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes when they are threatened with external injury — such a party or class is sound at heart.”
L D Trotsky, February 1913 (On the Balkan Atrocities)
What Israel is doing in Gaza now is the equivalent of a group of self-righteous cops taking shots — with a bazooka — and lobbing hand grenades at individuals scattered through a dense crowd in a market place from which all the exits have been closed off. The worldwide outrage is perfectly justified.
Nonetheless, outrage at the terrible events now unfolding in Gaza should not be allowed to obscure the politics of which the Gaza war is the continuation, or allowed to drown out the politics of a viable democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Nor should it be used as an excuse for accepting or peacefully tolerating the politics of “absolute anti-Zionism”, of those who demand of Israel that it abolish itself and when it refuses, back those who intend to make war until Israel ceases to exist.
The “anti-war” demonstrations have been dominated not by the politics of seeking peace, or an Israeli withdrawal from the Arab-majority territories, but by the politics of Arab and Islamic chauvinists who want the elimination of Israel entirely.
The “left” has combined with political Islamists, that is, with clerical fascists, and others to chant slogans such as: ”Palestine will be free/ From the river to the sea”, slogans that are a very thin code for the conquest and destruction of Israel. And for the perpetual war which that programme implies.
We need to stand back and take a cold look at the Gaza war, and the politics of those involved in it.
If Israel is to be condemned politically, if the argument that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas’s rockets is to be dismissed as a justification, as we think it has to be, that can in justice only be done within the general framework of Mid-East politics.
From the point of view of simple Israeli nationalism, Israel’s blitz on Hamas makes a horrible sort of sense even though, inescapably, it means killing a lot of the civilian Palestinians trapped in Gaza. That point of view should be understood and given a fair appraisal, and not drowned out, as it is on so much of the “left'', by commitment to the destruction of Israel and support for any force opposing it, including the clerical fascists of Hamas.
Despite the disproportion between the power of Israel and the Palestinians, this is not a war waged by one side only. Israel says it will desist in Gaza if Hamas stops lobbing rockets into Israel — that Hamas can at will stop the carnage.
Hamas refuses to stop attempting to kill Israeli civilians. If Hamas stopped its rocket war on Israel and Israel then continued the assaults, that at the very least, would thereby have exposed Israeli hypocrisy. Hamas refuses. This is not only an Israeli war on the people of Gaza.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Within a couple of years, Gaza was being run by Hamas and had in effect seceded from the Palestinian quasi-state and became a separate, repressive, clerical fascist, sub-state. It became a base from which rockets have been rained on the people of a sizeable part of the tiny Jewish state.
It is not because of Hamas’ good will that fewer Israelis have died in this rocket-rain than Palestinians are dying in the Gaza war now.
Israeli casualties have, of course, been few, compared with the 1,000-odd Palestinian casualties so far (14 January), a third or more of them civilians, and many of those children. It is easy enough to say that this disproportion in the dead is all that matters, and shrug off the Hamas rockets on Israel — and a lot easier to say that if you live in Britain and do not live in constant fear of the rockets (and the fear that Hamas technology and marksmanship might get better).
It is not surprising that most Israelis, and not only the Israeli right, think the offensive against Hamas is a just and necessary act of self-defence.
Factors other than Hamas’ rocket war on southern Israel are of course in play in Israel’s decision. Elections are soon to be held in Israel (see page 5). Israel is using the interregnum between the Bush and Obama Administrations in the USA, to smash Hamas, before (perhaps) an international effort to force a settlement with the Palestinians on Israel (though Obama during the US Presidential election was outspokenly pro-Israel). The Israeli military establishment needs to live down the comparative defeat they suffered at the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.
Even so, the idea that the Hamas rockets are only a pretext will be entertained only by those stupified by “absolute anti-Zionism” — the idea that the Jewish people of Israel deserve anything they get, and don't have the right to defend themselves.
That is the Israeli “case” for the war Israel is conducting in Gaza. The case against it is, we think, overwhelming.
This pulverising response to Hamas’ rockets, even from a narrow Israeli nationalist point of view, could be, perhaps, justified only if Israel had no better alternative. That is not how things are.
The disproportion between Israel’s power of military destruction and the reckless way it uses it, and the power of the Palestinians, is simply obscene. The pictures of dead Palestinian children that are flashing across the world epitomise that obscenity.
Plainly, Israel is trying to wipe out not only Hamas rocket bases, but to destroy the flimsy structures of a Palestinian state in Gaza. It is intent not only on wiping out Hamas’ capacity to continue the rocket war, and on killing Hamas fighters, but on wiping out Hamas.
This, they believe, is the only way to avoid a quick reappearance of Hamas military power.
Hamas is an odious Islamist clerical fascist movement, but it has much support “on the ground” amongst Palestinians, in part because of the welfare and social services it provides. How many of those would Israel need to kill to uproot Hamas? How many is it prepared to kill?
The civilian casualties inflicted by Israel are an inescapable, and entirely predictable, consequence of the entwinement of Hamas with much of the population of Gaza. Even if many civilian casualties are, as Israel claims, a by-product of Hamas deliberately placing rocket-launch sites in civilian population centres, it is Israeli generals and politicians who decide that that will mean the slaughter of civilians.
Only a viable political settlement — an independent Palestine in contiguous territory, alongside Israel — can begin to cut the ground from under the feet of Hamas and other such movements.
Even if Israel kills most of Hamas, military and civilian Hamas alike, for that to be more than an interruption, lasting only as long as it takes Hamas to regroup and reorganise, Israel would have to kill a vast number of Palestinians.
Almost certainly, Israel cannot succeed in eliminating Hamas, and still less can it hope to wipe out Hamas’ potential to regroup and re-emerge — or, if not Hamas, a similar movement, or worse. Far from eliminating it, to that potential this war is adding depth and force, and intensified bitterness.
The collapse in 2000 of the “peace process” of the 1990s, which had led to the 1993 Oslo Agreement and the setting up of a Palestinian quasi-state in the West Bank and Gaza, and the waves of suicide bombers that came after that collapse, discredited for many Israelis all efforts to reach a settlement. It helped create the present war mood in Israel. So now for Palestinans, and other Arabs. the message is being spelled out in blood: look what the PLO policy of recognition and attempts to make peace with Israel, led to.
This “war to end the war” with Hamas inescapably sows the seed of future wars.
Politically, Israel’s war is building up the Hamas it is militarily trying to destroy.
But the murderous military battering and bullying of the people of Gaza — and that's what it is — horrifying though it is, is not the fundamental political reason for condemning Israel’s onslaught in Gaza. It is part of it, but only a part.
This war is being prosecuted by Israel (and by Hamas too) instead of, as an alternative to, seeking a viable, democratic settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Politically, it arises out of the Israeli establishment’s refusal to work effectively to lay the political foundations of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Nothing less will do for the Palestinians. Nothing less will bring — or begin to bring, or could hope to bring — peace between Israel and the the Palestinians, and the rest of the Arab world.
Above all else, it is Israel’s refusal, despite hypocritical words, to accept and actively work for that political settlement that sets the scene for continuing conflict. It wasn’t always so. For half a century most of the Arab states refused to recognise Israel. It is so now that the Arab League (of states) proposes a settlement that would on the Arab side involve recognition of Israel.
That discredits the Israeli nationalist case for the present war as the necessary means to stop Hamas rockets raining down on Israel. It renders all simple Israeli nationalist arguments from Israel’s inalienable right to defend itself indistinguishable from outright Israeli chauvinism.
Other, better, ways to the same Israeli end are possible and more likely to bring a long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Ways that give to the Palestinians the just settlement to which they have an inalienable right: their own state, side by side with Israel. This war cannot do that, whether or not Israel does succeed in crippling Hamas before international pressure forces it to withdraw.
There will be no peace without justice for the Palestinians; this can only be had now in an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel.
The failure of the “peace process” of the 1990s has contributed greatly to shaping the conflict now, but that does not remove the need for a successful “peace process.” A two states peace policy is the only way forward for those concerned with Israel's legitimate national rights, as distinct from Israeli chauvinists intent on annexing as much of the West Bank as possible — for those who want to live in peace, or at least in something less than the present murderous hostility with their Palestinian and other Arab neighbours.
Israel will not have peace until the Palestinians have peace, with justice — until they have a state of their own alongside Israel.
• Israel should stop its onslaught on the Palestinians in Gaza. It should withdraw immediately from Gaza and the West Bank.
• It should urgently seek agreement with those in the Arab world prepared to trade recognition of Israel and normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states for Israeli agreement to withdraw to the 1967 borders.
• The working class and the internationalist socialists in Israel and in the Arab countries should advocate peace and working-class unity across all the divides, on the basis of a two state settlement: the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and recognition of Israel by the Arab states and peoples.
• Working class socialists in Israel and in the Arab countries should oppose and fight the Israeli chauvinists on one side, and the Islamic clerical fascists and Arab and Islamic chauvinists on the other.
• Socialists in Britain must demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders andcall for the immediate setting up of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory.
• Socialists must oppose the vicarious Arab and Islamic chauvinism of the kitsch left, who combine with Islamic clerical fascists and others to turn the demonstrations against the war in Gaza into festivals of Arab and Islamic reactionary hostility to Israel's continued existence.