On the situation in Gaza
There are war crimes being committed right now in Gaza by Israel. While our media is full of ‘brave Israelis’ defending themselves against ‘mad dog Arab terrorists’, the truth of the matter is rather less heroic. Rather, what we see at the moment is the army of a militarised modern state taking vengeance upon unarmed civilians. The consequences, of course, are horrific. Already the Israeli state has murdered more than twice the number of Palestinian civilians than the total number of Israelis that Palestinian nationalists managed to kill on their attack on Israel on 7th October, and the ground offensive hasn’t even started yet. Everyday though, the Israeli state is committing war crimes against the Palestinian population. Bombing hospitals is a war crime. Cutting off electricity, water, and fuel supplies from Gaza is ‘collective punishment’. It’s a war crime. “Unlawful deportation or transfer of civilians” is a war crime. In everyday speech we usually call it ‘ethnic cleansing’. Killing workers from UN humanitarian agencies involved in relief efforts is a war crime. Israel kills them regardless. Bombing ambulances is a war crime. Israel does it regardless. The use of white phosphorus is a war crime. Israel does it regardless. Directly inciting others to commit genocide is a war crime. Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Minister of Defence stated “We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly”. He is a war criminal.
Yet all across the west we see the media rushing to the defence of Israel at the very same time as it is committing war crimes against the civilian population of Gaza. In the media it’s as if this conflict were that of David verses Goliath; Yet the west is cheering on the Israeli Goliath, and condemning the Palestinian David for throwing stones.
And as for HAMAS, what could have led them to launch this huge raid across the border into Israel proper, and to go one the rampage murdering nearly one and a half thousand people? What did they hope to achieve by these killings? How did they think that this could in any way advance their cause? We see this as an act of pure desperation. We don’t think that HAMAS saw any military value in this attack. Indeed, they must have known that killing Israelis in such unprecedented numbers would provoke this sort of genocidal response from the Israeli state, so why did they do it? What advantage could they have possibly seen in provoking such slaughter?
To understand this we have to place this war within the context of international politics. Today Gaza is a hell hole. It’s effectively a giant prison camp from which there is no escape. It has a population of nearly 2.4 million crammed into 365 square km making it one of the mostly densely populated places in the world. It also has one of the lowest median ages in the world with half of the population being under 18.
Gaza wasn’t always like this though. If we go back one century Gaza had just been incorporated into the British empire thus making it the largest empire in world history, the empire ‘upon which the sun never set’. Imperial Britain was in some ways at its height. Its decline had already set in though. While Britain had been victorious in the First World War, the financial cost of this victory had been overwhelming. Britain was in such debt to the USA that it was beginning to lose its dominant position. Just as today it was a period of imperial decline.
Today we are in a similar period. We are currently seeing the decline of America as the sole world power, and the rise of China. It is this conflict between America and China in which we must situate the growing imperialist conflicts in the world today. There is a certain view on parts of the left today that the decline of America will lead to some new, more equitable, ‘multi polar world’. We see things differently. We don’t see this situation as one that will lead to a better world, but rather as one which will lead to increased global conflict. America will not give up its position without a fight. In addition as America’s grip upon the world loosens, other powers will assert themselves to fill the gaps left by American weakness.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is an expression of this new ‘new world order’. After thirty years of being pushed back in Eastern Europe, Russia saw its chance to reassert itself in territories that it formerly controlled. The weakening of American resolve, and the withdrawal from and their unwillingness to protect their allies in both Afghanistan and Syria may well have been part of the reason that Russia thought that America wouldn’t defend Ukraine. The war in Palestine/Israel can also be seen as an expression of this new period. It’s no surprise that China is choosing to speak more forcefully on Middle Eastern politics.
To return to the historical narrative, during the First World War, the British made promises to both Arab and Jewish leaders concerning the future of the Middle Eastern region in order to get their support in the struggle against Germany. Following the Second World War and the Holocaust committed against the Jewish people, in which 6,000,000 were murdered by the Nazi state and its allies, Jewish survivors started to migrate to Palestine. In May 1948, Jews in Palestine proclaimed their own state, Israel, and were immediately plunged into war with the local Palestinians and seven other Arab states. The war lasted for nearly ten months, and by the end of it the Palestinians, and the Arab League had been defeated. Israel controlled 78% of the territory of the former British mandate of Palestine, and about a three quarters of a million Palestinians either fled or were expelled from their homes. This is what is at the root of the current situation in Gaza today.
Following the war, the remaining parts of Palestine were swallowed up by Egypt, which took over the Gaza Strip, and Jordan which annexed the West Bank. Since then Israeli and Arab Armies have clashed repeatedly with wars in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2004, and 2006. After the 1967 war Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank as well as the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, and the Syrian Golan heights. The Sinai was returned to Egypt after a peace agreement which was signed in 1978. Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan remain under Israeli control to this day despite UN resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967.
During these wars more and more Palestinians fled and were expelled from their homes creating the mass of Palestinian refugees that live today in neighbouring Arab countries. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was founded by the Arab League in Cairo in 1964. The Middle East became caught up in the imperialist tensions of the time with America supplying huge amounts of arms to Israel, which became its closest ally in the Middle East. America’s enemy in the ‘Cold War’, Russia, despite originally backing Israeli turned to the Arab states to find its regional allies. The Soviet Union broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967, and they weren’t restored until after the end of the ‘Cold War’ in 1991. The scene was set for regional confrontation.
Meanwhile the Arab states proved in actions if not in words to be no friends of the Palestinians. In the Arab countries neighbouring Israel, they were kept in refugee camps, and limited in their rights to work. In ‘Black September’ 1970 the Jordanian army drove the PLO out of their country massacring around 3,500 civilians in the process. The PLO then moved its centre of operations to Lebanon, from which they were driven out of by the Israelis in 1982, and then set up new headquarters in Tunisia. Of course it was the occasion of massacres of civilians again with the Israelis using proxy Christian militias to massacre another 3,500 Palestinians in the refugee camps of Beirut. It’s also during this period that we saw the emergence of HAMAS (the Islamic Resistance Movement). Ironically they were initially supported by Israel in order to provide a counter balance to the Russian backed PLO. It was a period where the west thought it could use conservative Islamic groups in the Middle East to counter the influence of Russia and ‘communism’. The same process played out in various countries across the Islamic world with America backing its later enemies Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban in order to fight the Russians in Afghanistan.
The PLO had been defeated. Sitting in their new base in Tunis, and removed from the countries bordering Israel, there was no way for them to launch conventional attacks upon Israel. As it became more and more irrelevant, the Islamic resistance started to grow. In the late 1980s a series of riots and protests broke out, which began in a Gaza refugee camp. This is known as the Intifada. This uprising, characterised by Israeli soldiers shooting stone throwing Palestinian teenagers, lasted for nearly six years. As in all Palestinian-Israeli encounters in the occupied territories, the deaths were disproportionately Palestinian. While nearly 200 Israelis were killed during the struggle, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) killed over 1,600 Palestinians, about a quarter of them being children.
Eventually, a peace agreement was worked out with American backing. In the Oslo accords from 1993 to 1995, the West Bank and Gaza were given limited autonomy. This was promoted at the time as a first step towards Palestinian statehood, but the reality turned out to be far different with the Israelis trying to use the PLO to do their policing work for them whilst continuing to build illegal settlements in the occupied territories and trying to change the demographic situation on the ground over the course of this process, the PLO became even more marginalised, and HAMAS won elections in Gaza.
Essentially this is the situation that we have today. The Palestinians are divided both physically, and politically between the PLO on the West Bank and HAMAS in Gaza. Although the demographic balance between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea, Israel and the territories it occupies, is split about 50:50 between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians in the territories are denied the vote in Israeli elections, and have no hope of changing the situation democratically. Palestinian workers have been forced out of the production process in Israel as the Israeli state has imported tens of thousands of workers from Asia states such as Nepal and Thailand, and the Palestinian military organisations are completely unable to take on the IDF.
This ‘peace’ is interrupted by sporadic outbreaks of violence. With such disproportionate forces the results are as to be expected. From 2001 to 2015, for example, Palestinian militants launched over 12,000 rockets at Israel killing in total 27 Israelis. In the 2004 Gaza war alone, Israel killed around 130 Palestinians including 31 children. The Palestinians killed one soldier, and three civilians, two of them children.
So what has changed, and what has caused this massive new outbreak of violence. HAMAS’ attack on Israel on 6th October murdered around 1,400 Israelis, an unprecedented number. Israel have already killed nearly three times that many, and the ground assault has yet to start. Already the scale of slaughter is orders of magnitude above the ‘normal’ massacres.
In many ways the answers to this question are to be found in international tensions. The Middle East due to its abundance of oil and gas has always been a focus of the clashes of imperial powers. With the decline of America, China has been trying to assert its influence there. Recently it brokered a reconciliation deal between long time enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran. Of course Iran is America’s enemy, and Saudi Arabia has been a long time friend of America. Recently though, it has been moving further away from America and refusing to do what it’s been told. Biden went to the Saudis to ask for an increase in oil production to counter rising prices caused by the Ukraine war, and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown Prince, and real ruler of Saudi Arabia, turned him down. What America wants to do is to pull Saudi back into the fold.
Of course, one of the reasons that America has pumped so much money and arms into the Ukrainian war is to send out a firm message to its allies around the world, and particularly in the oil rich Middle East, that America supports its friends. Currently America is trying to broker an agreement between Saudi and Israel. Basically it comes down to this. Saudi will make peace with Israel, America will provide security guarantees, and everyone will make money. The Saudis don’t particularly like Israel, but what was powering this process was that both of them, and America, hate Iran even more. The Chinese backed deal gives Saudi a potentially different option.
HAMAS sees itself as isolated. It has no hope of defeating Israel militarily, and was seeing support for its cause amongst Arab states fall away. Although the Gulf Arabs only ever paid lip service to the Palestinian cause, there was a ‘promise’ that they wouldn’t normalise relations with Israel without some sort of deal with the Palestinians. However, in 2020 the UAE and Bahrain made their own peace deals with Israel leaving the Palestinians on their own. HAMAS was terrified that Saudi would do the same.
And so they struck. HAMAS threw everything it had into the most barbaric massacres it could carry out in Israel. Of course they knew that Israel would respond by massacring many times more Palestinians. They always do. HAMAS is not unaware of that fact. We believe that HAMAS knew the reaction that their attack would provoke. Indeed, it was their intention. What they wanted was for the blood of Gaza’s civilians to act as a flood that would wash away any possibility of an Israel-Saudi peace deal.
Neither side has anything to offer the workers and poor of Gaza. The Israelis have only death to offer, and HAMAS, whose leader Ismail Haniyeh is a millionaire who lives in Qatar, are prepared to offer them up as a blood sacrifice to reach their geopolitical aims. This is what nationalism has to offer the working class, blood, death, pogrom, massacre, and ethnic cleansing. This is as true today in Gaza as it is in Ukraine. Everywhere the rich are prepared to sacrifice workers for their profits. These are not isolated instances. The changes in the geopolitical situation will bring out more horrors. Last month Azerbaijan launched an offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh ethnically cleansing 100,000 Armenians, and nobody batted an eyelid. Currently there are 32 ongoing conflicts across the world. This is what capitalism has to offer, war and barbarism.