End Zionist oppression
The latest murderous colonial onslaught, especially against those caged in Gaza, was driven by Netanyahu’s narrow personal interests. This is an edited version of the talk Moshé Machover gave to the May 23 Online Communist Forum
Let me start with what I wrote in the Weekly Worker on April 22 regarding the fourth successive inconclusive Israeli election in two years. Binyamin Netanyahu has, of course, been trying to form a coalition that would give him immunity from charges of corruption and bribery, for which he is currently standing trial.
But those elections did not result in what he wanted. The fourth one, held on March 23, was just as inconclusive. Neither his own party, Likud, in combination with other parties committed to supporting him, nor those committed to preventing him remaining prime minister won a majority. However, one of the things he was able to do was as I predicted, when I wrote:
... what can Netanyahu present as an excuse for a ‘national emergency’? How about war? You may have noticed that the tension between Israel and Iran has been hotting up; hostilities have escalated. Israeli commentators have not failed to note that this is something to do with the election result.1
Everything was pointing to a warlike provocation, but, like other commentators, I was looking in the wrong direction: ie, towards Iran. There had, after all, been a series of assassinations, along with provocations against Iranian shipping in the Mediterranean, etc. What was clear, however, was that Netanyahu was attempting to manufacture a ‘national crisis’.
But did he intend to provoke the actual crisis that occurred - not on the Iranian front, but in Jerusalem? Was this manufactured by him or did he opportunistically exploit events that arose? There is some evidence that it was provoked. Another article of mine appeared in the Weekly Worker on May 13 - ie, after the crisis in Jerusalem had actually started - but was written before it extended to the Gaza Strip.2 In that article I pointed to three components that led to that crisis, which I said, “like the three components of gunpowder, produced an explosive mixture”.
Two of those components just happened to occur. Netanyahu did not, of course, fix the date of Ramadan, which this year took place between April 12 and May 12. Nor did he control the timing of the ethnic cleansing that was looming in Sheikh Jarrah. That depended on a court verdict - which would probably support the settlers intending to evict Palestinian families who had long been settled there.
But a third component was a provocation that most probably occurred according to his instructions. That is, the decision by his lackey, minister of public security Amir Ohana, who gave the order to close the plaza outside Bab al-Amud (Damascus Gate) on April 18. This was unprecedented and was undoubtedly a deliberately provocative act. Many people who leave prayers in the holy compound of Al-Aqsa mosque normally gather just before the end of the fast in that plaza. By the way, the Bab al-Amud plaza is the only open space in the Muslim part of Jerusalem where people can gather peacefully.
But Netanyahu’s lackey closed it down and moreover ordered that some buses of worshippers from inside the pre-1967 ‘green line’ who were coming to join the prayers be forced to stop way outside the old city, forcing the passengers, including many elderly and disabled people, to walk a considerable distance if they wanted to get to the mosque. After a few days Ohana - no doubt acting under the orders of Netanyahu - appeared to relent by ordering that the barriers he had previously had erected be removed. However, his armed police took aggressive action against the gathering peaceful crowds. This was a deliberate provocation, which escalated the whole tense situation.
But did Netanyahu intend the crisis to encompass Gaza as well? Probably not. That was an unintended consequence, which I hinted at in the first article referred to above, when I wrote that Netanyahu may not want to start a major war, “but these things can get out of hand”. And in the second article referred to above I said: “As I write, violent demonstrations, bloody clashes and vengeful atrocities committed by the Israeli military are being reported. But it could have been even worse - much worse.”3 In other words, while Netanyahu may provoke a crisis, no-one knows how far things will go. He may not have intended a full-scale war, but things can get out of hand.
In this case, that occurred due to a miscalculation by the Israeli political and military leadership. They believed their own propaganda and simply did not factor in the possibility that Hamas would get involved to the extent it did. They believed that Hamas had been weakened and deterred by the previous major Israeli incursion into Gaza, which lasted seven weeks, in 2014. As you may remember, that military assault resulted in thousands of Palestinian casualties.
Netanyahu believed that, as a result, the current Hamas leadership around leader Yahya Sinwar had undergone a process of ‘moderation’, which meant it would stay out of the crisis provoked in Jerusalem by Netanyahu. Nor did the Israeli military believe that Hamas had managed to stockpile a large number of rockets - some of them of better quality, compared to what it had previously used. Hamas’s surprise response started on May 10, when it issued an ultimatum: ‘Take your police out of the Al-Aqsa compound or we will launch a counterattack.’
Perhaps Hamas’s rocket barrage was secretly welcomed by Netanyahu, but it was not expected.
I will not go into the detail of the actual events - I am sure most readers will have been following what happened, which has been prominently reported in the media (the question of the media’s changing attitude is something I will deal with below). Meanwhile, I would like to summarise the consequences of the Israeli military assault.
Calling this a ‘war’ is a misnomer. Despite the Hamas rockets, it was very much a one-sided affair. It was a vengeful, barbaric assault, launched by the Israeli army, airforce and navy, which bombarded the people of Gaza in a most brutal way, but one typical of a colonial power. As for Hamas’s rocket attacks, they were largely ineffective: they were mostly neutralised by the Israeli Iron Dome defence shield and probably only about 10% actually landed on Israeli territory. But, even so, they were more effective (and longer-range) than Israel had anticipated, and than those used by Hamas in previous confrontations.
Winners and losers
So who gained and who lost out as a result of these events? Clearly Israel did not win. It did not achieve any strategic goals, because it had none. Its actions were a sort of Pavlovian reflex. If anything, the side that has gained from this 11-day assault is Hamas - but also the Egyptian regime.
That last point has not been widely discussed - certainly not in the British media, but it is a factor which is worth mentioning. Joe Biden had not planned on entering into discussions with Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, but he needed Egypt’s services in order to arrange a ceasefire. So he was forced to change his attitude towards Egypt, which is now positioned as ‘controller’ of the truce - the regional power that is able to talk with both sides - and it was through Egypt that the ceasefire was agreed. As for Hamas itself, it is now able to project itself as the leading Palestinian organisation in all parts of the occupied territories: not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. It is the ‘defender of Palestinian rights in the Haram ash-Sharif’ (ie, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount).
Netanyahu personally certainly achieved part of what he had been wanting for himself out of this conflict, which was to prevent the formation of a counter-coalition able to form a government in opposition to him. But whether it will enable him to seduce potential coalition partners of his own to form a stable government remains to be seen. The betting now, as it was previously, is that shortly there will be fifth general election in Israel, which Netanyahu may now be more likely to win.
But, apart from that, in a sense, you can say that it was Hamas which won on points as a result of the conflict. While Israel did not make any gains (it had not planned for any specific goals), Hamas made quite a few. After all, it caught Israel by surprise and, following the confrontation, Israel seems to have lost out quite a lot.
A certain unification of the Palestinian masses seems to have occurred. For the first time, those within the ‘green line’ - ie, those under Israeli rule since 1948 - plus those in Gaza and the West Bank, have stood together against the colonial offensive. This major change in the area under Israeli rule is something that most people, including those around Netanyahu, had not expected.
For example, on May 18, the semi-official civic leadership of the Arab citizens of Israel - a committee of local mayors and other civic Palestinian leaders within Israel, known as the Follow-Up Committee - declared a general strike. Participation in this was very high and it was certainly successful.
Many Israeli commentators are now bewailing the breaking down of the ‘coexistence’ between the Hebrew majority and the 20% Palestinian Arab minority in Israel. It needed commentators both of the less compliant Israeli left and of the Palestinian opposition - to point out that this ‘coexistence’ was one in which the mass of Palestinians were suffering (with little coherent resistance) severe discrimination and the effects of the general policy of Jewish supremacy maintained by the Israeli colonialist regime within its borders since 1948.
For a large number of Arab citizens, recent events have been regarded as the last straw. They have been drawn into greater solidarity with their fellow Palestinians across the ‘green line’ in the West Bank and Gaza. In other words, this is one outcome where the Israeli leadership has lost out.
Another very noticeable change has been the shift in public opinion outside Israel. This has been reflected in the media coverage. If you read The Guardian or listen to the BBC, you may have noticed a certain change in tone. This is really in response to something from across the ocean - public opinion in the United States, especially amongst the more liberal, the young and very prominently among the Jewish population too, has shifted to a significant extent. There have been many expressions of dismay over Israeli policy and a visible widening of the rift between a major component of US Jewish opinion and the Israeli state. It is this that has found a certain reflection in the British media.
So we have Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian’s Zionist gatekeeper, writing an article in which he lashes out against Israeli policy. To some extent he seems to criticise his previous position of virtually unqualified support for the Israeli regime.4
Whether this change will last is another question, but at the moment Biden has certainly been responsive to the different attitude amongst his own followers in the US, which is reflected in opinion polls amongst supporters of the Democratic Party. True, Biden initially repeated the old mantra that ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ - as though it was Israel that, rather than being a colonial oppressor, was itself being attacked - but this was to be expected from an American president. After all, in the US Declaration of Independence there is a similar reference to native Americans. A complaint was made to King George III that he had not been protecting American colonial settlers from “the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages”. I am sure that many Americans blush when they read that today
But there is, of course, a direct analogy between those “merciless Indian savages” and the ‘merciless Palestinian savages’ allegedly threatening Israel, so you would expect an American president to repeat the nonsense about Israel ‘defending itself’. Be that as it may: in reality Biden apparently became more and more angry during several telephone conversations with Netanyahu, finally compelling the Israeli premier to accept a ceasefire.
So this is the outcome we have seen of the latest conflict so far. It has not solved anything and has certainly not given Israel any advantage - only, of course, a possible personal advantage to Netanyahu. Israel has killed a large number of people in Gaza and injured many more (and it destroyed many homes as well as the high-rise building where both Al Jazeera and Associated Press had offices), but has achieved nothing politically.
This crisis will go on and on, because things within Israel have been hotting up. The fury over Israel’s treatment of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem has not diminished, with continuing clashes and police brutality.
Let me conclude by saying a few words about Hamas. There is, of course, no symmetry between Hamas and Israel. On the one side, we have the oppressive, Zionist colonising regime, fired up by messianic racism and upholding ‘Jewish supremacy’; and, on the other, we have a movement of resistance.
But it has to be said that it is a reactionary movement of resistance, keeping two million Palestinians under a theocratic, misogynistic, dictatorial state of repression. This is a fact. I am certainly not condemning Hamas as a ‘terrorist organisation’ - that description applies more to Israel, which can aptly be described as a terrorist state, which employs assassinations and devastating destruction and oppression against the Palestinian population.
No, ‘terrorist’ is an arbitrary epithet used against people particular regimes do not like. So I do not describe Hamas as ‘terrorist’: it is, as I have said, a reactionary organisation. Again, there is no symmetry here: Israel is a ruthless nuclear power, which poses a danger to the whole world - something that cannot be said about Hamas! But it has to be said that Hamas is playing a cynical political game. Its intervention over Jerusalem has had the consequence of pre-empting a truly popular struggle which was beginning to emerge, similar to the first intifada of 1987, or to the upsurge in May 2018, when the popular masses of Gaza demonstrated against the continuing occupation near the border erected by Israel, which cages them in that large concentration camp called the Gaza Strip.
Hamas was acting to gain an advantage in the conflict between the various Palestinian factions: the main ones being Hamas itself and the Ramallah-based Palestinian ‘Authority’. The latter has no real ‘authority’ at all, as it is acting as a quisling arm of the oppressive Israeli regime.
But in Gaza you have Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, with its oppressive and reactionary leadership, vying for supremacy. It has indeed managed through its intervention over Jerusalem to gain an advantage over its rivals in the so-called Palestinian Authority.
I must also add that in fact there is a degree of objective collusion between the Israeli regime and Hamas - some have called it ‘the Netanyahu-Hamas axis’. I am not revealing any secrets here, as this has been pointed out by several commentators, although very few in the western media have referred to it. The only exception I have seen recently was an article by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books, who referred to the synergy between the Israeli regime and Hamas.5
First of all, it is a fact that Hamas is subsidised by Qatar - it receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year from the regime there. Since 2012, Qatar has transferred $1 billion to Gaza, at least half of which has gone to Hamas, including its military wing. But, incredibly, this has been effectively authorised by Netanyahu, who would not allow the money to be transferred if he did not want Hamas to stay in power. He actually has an interest in keeping Hamas in control, albeit in a weakened state.
In May 2019 an article in Hebrew, which I have translated, stated that Netanyahu had referred to this subsidy:
In a meeting of Likud’s members of the Knesset at the beginning of March, the prime minister spoke about it at length and remarked that “whoever wishes to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state must support the strengthening of Hamas and the transfer of money to Hamas. This is part of our strategy - to separate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria [ = the West Bank].”6
Thus he admitted that he is actually in favour of keeping Hamas in power.
Why should that be the case? Well, what is the alternative? Egypt will certainly not take it over - it regards the Gaza Strip as a hot potato - and it would be too costly for Israel itself to directly control it. It is very happy with a situation where the Palestinian people are divided within separate, rival, controlled areas. It serves Israel’s interests to keep Hamas in power in Gaza.
Let me also add something about the actual victims of the Hamas rockets. Apparently there were 12 civilians killed as a result. They included two Palestinian Israelis - a man and his 16-year-old daughter. There were also three foreign workers killed: two agricultural labourers from Thailand (who were not aware of the coming attack, because the warning of its imminence was only broadcast in Hebrew, which they did not understand) and one carer from India; and a homeless and severely disabled Israeli Jew, who was sleeping rough and could not get to a shelter, was also among the victims.
In other words, just as with Israel itself, it is not even military units that are targeted and, as a result, there are numerous innocent civilians who die - the difference being that Israel manages to kill far more of them.
To conclude, what should socialists raise as their immediate demands in this situation?
- End the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.
- There must be equal rights - both individual and national - for all inhabitants under Israeli rule, whether Hebrew or Palestinian Arabs.
- All Palestinian refugees and their descendants must have the right to return to their homeland.
The long-term aim must be the overthrow of the Zionist regime, together with the existing Arab regimes of the Middle East, by their respective working classes, in order to establish a united socialist Arab east. That will not, of course, happen tomorrow, but it must be central to what we envisage in the long term.
In the meantime, Palestinians have the absolute right to resist Israeli oppression and fight for their liberation, including through armed struggle. Socialists must support this struggle of the masses, as we did with the first intifada.
‘Moving to far right’, April 22: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1344/moving-to-far-right.↩︎
‘Stench of Zionist colonisation’, May 13: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1347/stench-of-zionist-colonisation.↩︎
See ‘Ghosts in the land’: lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v43/n11/adam-shatz/ghosts-in-the-land.↩︎
Mida May 16 2019: tinyurl.com/45crsktm.↩︎