Israel has again bombed Gaza, the small area of densely-populated land inhabited by Palestinians on which Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade.
The blockade of Gaza has led to profound social immiseration in the territory, with many referring to it as an “open-air prison”. According to official statistics in Gaza, five people were wounded by Israel’s strikes. Since the bombing, which took place on 25 March, at least one Palestinian has been killed by Israeli soldiers, and several others wounded, in protests on the Gaza border.
Gaza is governed by Hamas, an ultra-conservative Islamist paramilitary political party. The latest assault came after rockets were fired into Israel by Islamist groups in Gaza on 25 March, destroying a house and wounding several people, including three young children. Although no group has claimed official responsibility for the rockets fired into Israel, there is some speculation that Islamic Jihad, rather than Hamas, was behind them.
Reports in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz suggest that Iran may be increasing its funding to Islamic Jihad and encouraging the group in more military ventures. This may partially explain Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent decision to facilitate the transfer of funds from Qatar to Hamas; the Israeli state may calculate that, between Gazan factions, ensuring Hamas remains dominant, rather than Islamic Jihad, is in their best interests. In a very real sense, Hamas and Netanyahu need each other.
The tragedy of these cycles of violence is that they strengthen the hand of ultra-nationalist reactionaries on both sides and serve to bolster their domestic positions. Prior to the assault, Hamas had been facing a significant social upheaval in Gaza, which it was violently repressing. Gazans protested against Hamas’s corruption and the fact that its leaders have enriched themselves while ordinary people face unemployment and poverty. In Israel, Netanyahu faces corruption charges and other legal proceedings that could damage his campaign in the imminent Israeli elections, due to take place on 9 April.
Several polls since the bombings have shown Netanyahu’s Likud party with a slight edge over its main rival, the centre-right “Blue and White” coalition led by former general Benny Gantz. Gantz criticised Netanyahu from the right during the recent flare up, arguing his response was too moderate.
Protests on the Gaza border are now ongoing as part of the anniversary of 2018’s “Great Return March” (picture: protest on Gaza's northern border). While the concept of “return” has many different meanings among Palestinians, for Hamas, which is central to the committee organising the protests, it has a clear political meaning: Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar explained it in 2018 as a refusal to concede “a single inch of the land of Palestine” to Israel. This kind of revanchism, unachievable except by a violent war that would soak the region in blood, offers no hope for the Palestinian people, but only a cycle of perpetual conflict with the equivalent reactionaries in Israel.
Progress towards independence, justice, and equality can only come via a movement against occupation and colonialism, within Israel and the Palestinian territories, that demands equal national rights for both peoples: an independent Palestinian state alongside and with the same rights as Israel. That struggle must go hand in hand with the class struggle, and other social struggles, within Israel and the Palestinian territories, against the likes of Sinwar and Netanyahu, wealthy, corrupt capitalist politicians who maintain their power by appeals to national and religious chauvinism. Movements inside Israel like “Standing Together”, a joint Jewish-Arab coalition that fights for a two-state settlement and for socialist policies in domestic politics, represent the best hope for a better future.
Partners for solidarity?
As Hamas and Islamic Jihad mobilise towards staged confrontations on the Gaza-Israel border in May, on the anniversary of Hamas’s “Great March of Return” operation in May 2018, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain is accentuating its identification with Hamas.
Generally PSC has sought to present itself as “broad” and open to supporters of “two states”. This year PSC has called its 12 May protest around the slogan “Exist! Resist! Return!”. PSC has also set up a Labour Party offshoot, Labour for Palestine, (though the offshoot’s presentation is studiedly bland, with none of the usual slogans about “return” or graphics showing all pre-1948 Palestine under a Palestinian flag, with Israel extinguished).
A motion to London Young Labour conference on 31 March — from people close to the LYL leadership, though in the event the motion, like all others bar one, failed to get debated — emphasised the 12 May event and “return” as a matter of “collective rights” (not individual movement). It talked of “Britain’s colonial history, the actions of British colonial troops in Palestine from 1917 to 1948, which led to the dispossession and forced displacement of Palestinians in 1948 (the Nakba)”.
An amendment from Solidarity supporters sought to put the record straight: “Britain’s imperial strategy led to the denial of access to Jews fleeing the Holocaust and post-Holocaust Europe; to war by Britain against the Jews in Palestine; and to the leading role of British officers in the Arab armies attacking Israel in 1948, in a war which ended with the driving out or flight of 750,000 Palestinians and the subsequent driving out or flight of some 600,000 Jews from the Arab states”.
Way back in 2002, when an Israeli socialist, Tirza Waisel, speaking at a PSC protest, criticised Hamas and other suicide bombers in Israel, and had bottles thrown at her and attempts to shout her down and to climb onto the stage to remove her, the PSC chair responded only by taking the microphone from Tirza and commenting: “well, not all of us would agree with the last speaker”. But the current Hamas drift is new. Groups like the Jewish-Arab movement for peace and social justice, Standing Together, are a better reference point for solidarity than Hamas.