On day nine of Israel’s bombing of Gaza, the percentage of civilian casualties is inexorably rising. Hundreds are dead. 58,000 are displaced, according to the UN. The bombs increasingly shatter the social infrastructure of the blockaded, pauperised territory: hospitals, electricity, water.
The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, surprised at Hamas’s ability to fire so many rockets, and as far as Jerusalem, is retaliating with overwhelming, brutal, vindictive military force, intent on wreaking maximum destruction before international pressure brings a ceasefire.
The immediate frame is rising right-wing Jewish-chauvinist mobilisation in Israel, expressed in new pressure to evict Palestinians in East Jerusalem and large-scale violent police actions against Palestinian youths in the Old City and the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.
The Israeli authorities eventually retreated a step in the face of joint Palestinian-Jewish street protests inside Israel: postponing (but only postponing) court hearings on evictions, relaxing police restrictions, re-routing a provocative Jewish-chauvinist march. Then Hamas started firing rockets on 10 May; and Israel has bombed, bombed, and bombed.
The longer-term frame is Netanyahu’s policy, since he became prime minister in 2009, of stalling and blocking all peace initiatives with the Palestinians. Instead, he has worked to “manage” the Palestinian populations inside Israel, in the West Bank, and in Gaza — to keep them beaten down while he extends Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He has backed off only temporarily from annexing up to 60% of the West Bank’s land to Israel, which would leave the West Bank Palestinians with nominal autonomy in 160-odd distinct patches of land surrounded by Israeli sovereign territory.
Longer-term again, the frame is the stalling by Israeli governments since the Oslo Accords of 1993-5 on the promises in those accords to withdraw Israeli troops from the occupied territories and negotiate on the basis of the Palestinians’ right to an independent Palestinian state, in contiguous territory, alongside Israel.
Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but, together with Egypt, has maintained a blockade on the territory since Hamas took power there in 2007.
The Palestinians have a right to self-determination! The semi-quasi-autonomy in pockets of the West Bank (in effect, the “right” to have a bureaucracy of their “own” distribute aid money), and blockaded Gaza, are a taunting mockery of that right.
One result of the bloody horrors now is to give reprieve to Netanyahu. Attempts to form a coalition to displace him after Israel’s 23 March general election (the fourth in two years) have collapsed.
Another result is to boost the standing of Hamas in the West Bank and even, it seems, among Palestinians in Israel. Hamas’s rocket attacks are indiscriminately aimed against civilians in Israel, and cannot possibly help get a just peace. Amidst political impasse and desperation, they can give Hamas the shine of doing “something”.
Netanyahu and Hamas reinforce each other. It serves Netanyahu to have the Palestinians corralled under the leadership of political Islamists, allies of Iran and pensionaries of Qatar, from whom there is no pressure for actual political outcomes. It serves Hamas to have an Israeli leadership guaranteed not to give secular and democratic political forces among the Palestinians a lifeline by opening doors towards justice and peace.
Many on the protests against Israel’s bombing think that anger against Israel’s bombing means backing Hamas. That makes no more sense than support for the Arab armies in the 1948 war in which the Jewish community in Palestine established Israel as a state and in which 750,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out.
No socialist, or almost none, backed the Arab states then. Socialists saw those states were engaged in (as the Palestinian Trotskyists put it) a “racial war against the Jews of Palestine”. (In the run-up to 1948, and in the decades after, almost all Jews would be forced out of Arab states, over 600,000 of them).
In 1948, it looked like the Arab states, with their large established armies, would win against the scrappy improvised Jewish militia. Now, Hamas’s military chances are zero. The politics of its military action are no less reactionary. And they lock Palestinians into a perspective where no redress is possible other than hoping for a magical reversal of the military balance.
Immediately we have to add pressure for a ceasefire. Larger hope is for the long haul, but it exists.
It exists in movements like Standing Together, a joint Jewish-Arab movement in Israel, which has been active on social issues and equal rights inside Israel, and is now mobilising for a ceasefire.
It exists in other movements like WAC-Ma’an, or the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Centre, which organise or help Palestinian and Jewish workers on a class basis.
Some leftists justify siding with Hamas by saying the answer must be “a single, secular, democratic, socialist state in all Palestine”. That can make sense only if you think that a single theocratic-fascistic state would, by virtue of being “single”, be a good stepping stone towards secularism, democracy, socialism. In fact, pressure for an imaginary “single” state can serve only Netanyahu’s “real” version of that: rule across all of pre-1948 Palestine with the Palestinians as a subjugated and parcelled-off minority.
We want whole regions, indeed the whole world, federated into a universal workers’ republic without border guards. Socialist federations in regions and in sub-regions will be progress.
Socialist, or even minimally democratic, federations can be achieved only by free agreement between nations, and withering-away of national hostilities and fears through solid guarantees of rights.
That is the way in Israel-Palestine: self-determination for both peoples, Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian Arab. Freedom for the Palestinians to gain their own independent state alongside Israel. Two nations, two states. No path to future socialist federation is possible other than through that way of mutual recognition.
“Two states” is part of a programme, not a whole programme. Achieving it will not automatically resolve the democratic questions within the states, let alone the social and class issues. It will open the way to the withering-away of national hostilities, fears, and barriers rather than immediately ending them.
It is a pivotal link in the programme needed now to unite workers across the region for common aims; an urgent step to win peace and redress for the Palestinians; and a necessary basis for international solidarity geared to democracy, not revenge.