Gaza mass demonstration marking the anniversary of the founding of Hamas

Oppression breeds resistance

A revolt of the hopeless by the hopeless for the hopeless. Moshé Machover explores the background to the predictable Hamas attack on Israel and the likely consequences

It is a bit too early really to make any sort of the definitive assessment of what is going on in Israel/Palestine, because it is not clear how things will evolve.

To what extent will external factors and other players in this saga affect things? For example, will Hezbollah join the fight or not? It has, of course, signalled its support for the onslaught on Israeli colonialism, but whether it will become deeply involved remains open. Neither is it clear how far Israel will go in its ‘revenge’ actions. Whatever it does will be dire, but how far it will go - whether it will try to occupy the Gaza Strip, for instance - these are open questions.

While it is too early to make a definitive assessment of this attack of the Hamas resistance against Israeli colonialism, what we can say is that it was not only predictable, but actually predicted (not least by myself). But at the same time it was unexpected, as I will explain. I have previously pointed out, both in articles and talks, that things are escalating: the oppression of Zionist colonialism against the Palestinian people is intensifying, as is the reaction to that in the shape of acts of resistance, both organised and disorganised. And each, of course, feeds the other.

The only way the Israeli colonial regime is able to conceive of reacting to Palestinian resistance is through even harsher oppression and, of course, that in itself feeds resistance. So where will it all lead? It goes without saying that Israel holds much more power than the Palestinians and therefore has the potential to eventually steer the culmination of this conflict in the way that Zionism has always aimed for: to get rid of as many Palestinians and possess as much of the territory of Palestine as possible - in other words, ethnic cleansing. But this may not yet be on the immediate agenda.

However, there have been steps in that direction, so in that sense the escalation of the colonial conflict was predictable - and it was also predicted by various people, including myself, that one of the focal points of the conflagration will be the holy places, especially the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. This is not only a religious compound, but has very strong symbolic value for most Palestinians, whether they are Muslims or not. That includes Christians or those not attached to any religion whatsoever.

Let me quote an article of mine published in the Weekly Worker on January 19:

The third and final way in which escalation is going to occur in the occupied territories is through religious provocation, and here I am talking about incursions into the holy places - especially al‑Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as Temple Mount, the mountain on which the mosque of al-Aqsa is situated. This is a focus of provocation. Not for nothing have these fanatics in the new Israeli cabinet been dubbed incendiaries or pyromaniacs: they are out to make deliberate provocation, calculated to heighten tension and increase conflict in the occupied territories and beyond. I do not need to tell you that a major provocation on Temple Mount will have repercussions not only in Palestine, but in the entire Muslim world.

Here then is a possible point of ignition of a conflict which is going to go beyond the confines of Israel-Palestine.1


Indeed it is significant that Hamas has named its current operation the ‘Al-Aqsa Storm’. In other words, its onslaught on Israeli colonialism is connected directly with al-Aqsa.

It is responding, among other things, to provocations that were deliberately mounted by the Messianic Zionists in the present Israeli cabinet - Itamar Ben-Gvir especially should be mentioned. He ordered the deliberately provocative incursions into the al-Aqsa compound with the intention of intensifying the conflict. He intends driving that conflict to higher and higher levels and ultimately bringing it to its ultimate conclusion via ethnic cleansing.

For its part, Hamas is interested in highlighting the al-Aqsa aspect in connection with this provocation, because in this way it is hoping to gain support beyond the confines of Palestine - beyond even the immediate Middle East, but throughout the Muslim world.

In a technical sense the present attack by Hamas against the colonial regime of Israel was even predicted by the Israel Defence Forces. In 2016 the Israeli military conducted an exercise that assumed a scenario very similar to what is currently occurring: incursion of Hamas militants by land, sea and air into Israel (though not nearly on the same scale as the present onslaught). Yet, despite that, it caught Israel completely by surprise and it has not unreasonably been compared by quite a few commentators to what happened almost exactly 50 years ago: the Battle of Suez of October 1973. On that occasion the possibility of an Egyptian attack had been predicted, but largely ignored by Israel.

Both then and now the Israeli leadership has been a victim of its own hubris and racism, according to which the Arabs are too primitive and too incapable of doing anything on this scale. As a matter of fact, in recent weeks the dismal failure of Israel to prepare and react in time to the crossing of the Suez canal in 1973 has been broadly discussed, because, in accordance with the 50-year rule, various documents relating to that period have been released - if only in a very redacted form. So the failure of Israel to be prepared for this attack has recently been widely discussed in the Israeli press. There has even been speculation about what would happen if this mistake was repeated. Well, they did repeat it!

A recent article in Ha’aretz - ‘Why Israel’s defences crumbled in face of Hamas assault’2 - has enumerated the points which encapsulated the failure of the Israeli establishment to prepare for a Hamas onslaught. The author mentions six points. First of all, intelligence. Israel has an extensive network of both spies and people planted in the occupied territories, as well as surveillance operators unequal in any other country. Such surveillance supposedly allows it to locate not only every person, but every mouse, in the territories under its occupation, including the Gaza concentration camp, yet Hamas conducted an operation that obviously needed months to prepare (it was clearly not something that could have been cooked up in a few days), involving hundreds of people. So the fact that Israel apparently knew nothing about it is a failure of its legendary intelligence services.

Second, there was logistic failure. The Israeli army took a long time to realise the magnitude of the event, even when it started. There was no preparation to transport troops - the government had quite a few ground forces mobilised at the time, but not in the right place. They also had to wait for long hours at various gathering points to be deployed to where they were needed - a question not only of intelligence governance, but intelligence assessment. As in the Yom Kippur war, the security establishment top brass estimated that the enemy was not really interested in immediately starting a war.

All these points amount to dismal failure - and that is a main point in the internal Israeli debate about the current war, even while it is going on.


In fact, if you really want to have any idea of what is going on, the mainstream media is not a place to look: their reporting is hopelessly skewed in favour of Israel. For example, you get the idea that Hamas is only killing civilians. It is true that, while Hamas is engaged in killing a lot of ordinary civilians, a major part of its operation is the clash with Israeli forces, in which it has been fairly successful so far. This you do not get from the mainstream media here.

But the assessment of much of the Israeli press (at least the liberal press) is that at this stage it has been a major success for Hamas. I am quoting again from an article in Ha’aretz entitled ‘Whatever happens in this round of the Israel-Gaza war, we already lost’ by Chaim Levinson.

He writes:

Whatever Israel does from this point onward is meaningless. Even if it finds Mohammed Deif in his bunker and brings him to trial in the people’s court. As in the Yom Kippur War, the loss came with the opening blow. The rest are stories for historians.3

So the very fact that Hamas managed to make this onslaught is already a defeat for Israel. And who is responsible? I will now provide a (long, but interesting) quote from the October 8 Ha’aretz editorial:

The disaster that befell Israel … is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister, who has prided himself on his vast political experience and irreplaceable wisdom in security matters, completely failed to identify the dangers he was consciously leading Israel into when establishing a government of annexation and dispossession, when appointing Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to key positions, while embracing a foreign policy that openly ignores the existence and rights of Palestinians.

Netanyahu will certainly try to evade his responsibility and cast the blame on the heads of the army, military intelligence and the Shin Bet security service, who, like their predecessors on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, saw a low probability of war with their preparations for a Hamas attack proving flawed.

They scorned the enemy and its offensive military capabilities. Over the next days and weeks, when the depth of Israel Defence Forces and intelligence failures come to light, a justified demand to replace them and take stock will surely arise.

However, the military and intelligence failure does not absolve Netanyahu of his overall responsibility for the crisis … Netanyahu also shaped the policy embraced by the short-lived ‘government of change’ led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid: a multidimensional effort to crush the Palestinian national movement in both its wings, in Gaza and the West Bank, at a price that would seem acceptable to the Israeli public …

After his victory in the last election, he replaced this caution with the policy of a “fully-right government,” with overt steps taken to annex the West Bank, to carry out ethnic cleansing … This also included a massive expansion of settlements and bolstering of the Jewish presence on Temple Mount, near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as boasts of an impending peace deal with the Saudis, in which the Palestinians would get nothing, with open talk of a ‘second Nakba’ in his governing coalition. As expected, signs of an outbreak of hostilities began in the West Bank, where Palestinians started feeling the heavier hand of the Israeli occupier. Hamas exploited the opportunity in order to launch its surprise attack on Saturday.

Above all, the danger looming over Israel in recent years has been fully realised. A prime minister indicted in three corruption cases cannot look after state affairs, as national interests will necessarily be subordinate to extricating him from a possible conviction and jail time.

This was the reason for establishing this horrific coalition and the judicial coup advanced by Netanyahu, and for the enfeeblement of top army and intelligence officers, who were perceived as political opponents. The price was paid by the victims of the invasion in the western Negev.4

So what is a reasonable prediction of what is going to unfold in the immediate future? The downfall of the government headed by Golda Meir in 1974 signalled the end of the era of dominance of the Israeli Labor Party. The Israeli leaders then were sufficiently ‘civilised’ to realise that this kind of failure must result in resignation. Back in the 1970s, both in Israel and in this country, political failure on a major scale led to the resignation of the responsible minister.

But this is not the current practice today - certainly not in the case of Netanyahu. There is not the slimmest chance that he will resign willingly as a result of his individual failure.

I should also mention that there were substantial Israeli forces mobilised at the time of the incursion, but not in the south. They were protecting settlers who were conducting pogroms against Palestinian villages and towns much further north and guarding the demonstrative and provocative religious celebrations at points they declared were ‘holy places’.

Each Israeli settlement in the occupied territories has its own attached military force guarding it. Each hilltop outpost of young settlers who are engaging in pogroms against Palestinian neighbours has got a platoon of Israeli soldiers protecting them. So, as I have said, there have been quite a lot of forces mobilised, but they were engaged in guarding the settlers and, of course, it took quite a long time for these troops to be transported to where they were needed in the south - and they were not even trained to engage in the kind of fighting that was necessary. The last exercise that Israel conducted with this kind of scenario was seven years ago and since then the focus has been on the annexation of West Bank and suppressing the resistance there.

What next?

How things will unfold in the next few days is not clear. Certainly Israel is going to continue heavily attacking the Gaza Strip, bombarding high-rise buildings and other civilian targets - and, of course, the civilian casualties that Israel will cause in the Gaza will far outnumber those caused by the Hamas onslaught. Whether this conflict will spread elsewhere in the near future is anybody’s guess - it is not at all clear how far things will go.

Paradoxically Israel has no real interest in annihilating Hamas. What would be the alternative if Hamas was completely destroyed? Who would govern Gaza? The only alternative would be direct Israeli rule, but that would pin down a huge number of troops in order to police the two and a quarter million Palestinians imprisoned in this ghetto and would cost Israel an enormous amount in both finance and morale. This was demonstrated in the period that led to the first intifada in 1987.

While an Israeli land incursion into the Gaza Strip is perfectly possible and could well happen, to retain direct control of it is not a convenient or feasible option for the Israeli colonial regime. Therefore I believe that the most probable scenario will be an Israeli land incursion into the Gaza Strip with a view to destroying as much as possible, killing as many Palestinians as possible and then withdrawing and declaring that revenge has been exacted.

There is also another complication: Hamas has managed to take quite a number of Israeli soldiers prisoner and also take a substantial number of Israeli civilians as hostages. An Israeli land incursion or the heavy bombing of Gaza will put these people in great danger - a consideration that that cannot have escaped the minds of the present criminal government.

While in the short run this is clearly a victory for Hamas, as Israelis have pointed out, this is not the balance of the outcome in the more distant future. Let me repeat a prediction that I have already made: a further escalation of repression and resistance is inevitable and in the longer run, at least from the Israeli point of view, there is a possible way out of it: get rid of the problem by ethnic cleansing. This is a long-held dream of Zionist planners and it has been explicitly advocated by ministers in the current government.

This is not something you arrive at only by analysing the current balance of forces: it is explicitly what militant Zionists have been driving towards. It is something repeated especially by the more cerebral members of the Israeli cabinet. Ben-Gvir behaves more like a thug, while Smotrich is more like an evil planner. He is on record as explicitly advocating presenting the Palestinians with a choice: either you accept your subservience or you will be dealt with as in 1948. Whether Israel will manage to carry it out is anybody’s guess, but this is what is driving the present gang in the cabinet.

How should we relate politically to this war? You will hear a lot of people saying that Hamas is a reactionary force - look at the way they slaughter civilians. I think we should look at it in the way that history looks at such arguments: those who fight in anti-colonial resistance movements do not behave like ethical, gentle people. Take the colonisation of North America. The US Declaration of Independence refers to the indigenous people as “merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” And they were certainly guilty of killing a large number of American settlers, yet whom do you now side with? The colonial settlers or native Americans? I think that is a question worth asking.

Let me also mention the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (better known as the Mau Mau), the resistance movement to British colonialism. It is estimated that they were responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. Whom do you side with? The British colonial regime, which, of course, was guilty of many more murders and various unspeakable atrocities? We do not side with them. We side with the KLFA. Similarly in Algeria the National Liberation Front was also responsible for thousands of civilian murders, so whom do you side with? the French colonial regime or the NLF?

I think we should draw the right conclusions from this and apply the same kind of standard to the present conflict.

But does Hamas have any real prospect of liberating the Palestinian people? Will it end up like the KLFA and the NLF? This can be ruled out. The balance of forces is massively weighted in favour of the Zionist colonial regime. As we in Matzpen have long argued, its overthrow would require the participation of the Israeli working class, and this in turn can only occur as part of a socialist transformation of the Arab east, leading to a regional socialist union or federation, including Israel.5 Hamas is leading away from this direction. Its present onslaught is an act of desperation. As a former senior US diplomat put it,

The Hamas attack on Israel was part jailbreak (from Gaza, the world’s largest prison since the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto), but, more than that, it was a revolt of the hopeless by the hopeless for the hopeless. Sometimes suffering becomes so unbearable that anything goes.6

This article is based on Moshé Machover’s talk to Online Communist Forum on October 8 2023. See: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFa7Jg59ESs

  1. ‘Escalation on every front’ Weekly Worker January 19 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1426/escalation-on-every-front.↩︎

  2. www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-10-08/ty-article/.premium/six-significant-failures-that-lead-to-one-point-collapse-vs-hamas/0000018b-0f15-dfff-a7eb-afdd0bb80000.↩︎

  3. www.haaretz.com/opinion/2023-10-08/ty-article-opinion/.premium/whatever-happens-in-this-round-of-the-israel-gaza-war-we-already-lost/0000018b-0b9d-dc5d-a39f-9ffd327c0000.↩︎

  4. www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/2023-10-08/ty-article-opinion/netanyahu-bears-responsibility/0000018b-0b9d-d8fc-adff-6bfd1c880000.↩︎

  5. See my article, ‘The decolonisation of Palestine’ Weekly Worker June 23 2016: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1112/the-decolonisation-of-palestine.↩︎

  6. justworldeducational.org/2023/10/amb-chas-freeman-likens-gaza-breakout-to-vietnams-1968tet-offensive.↩︎