Expect the worst
October 7 was a disaster for the Palestinian people because it has created the conditions for yet another round of ethnic cleansing. There is also the danger, argues Moshé Machover, of a wider regional conflagration
I would like to start by quoting from a statement I signed 56 years ago, which was published in Ha’aretz on September 22 1967, shortly after the Six Day War:
Occupation entails foreign rule. Foreign rule entails resistance. Resistance entails repression. Repression entails terror and counter-terror. Victims of terror are mostly innocent people. Holding onto the occupied territories will make us into a nation of murderers and murder victims.
I want to put in this context the events that were triggered on October 7 2023, with the atrocity committed by Hamas. I am not referring to this predicted chain of causality in order to excuse Hamas’s atrocities. They are inexcusable (as are the much more massive technological atrocities committed by Israel). Rather, it is a way of explaining what caused them.
The origin of this is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967. This is the cause. And I would like to link the likely consequences of these recent events with another prediction I made quite some time ago: this cycle of resistance, repression, terror and counter-terror is escalating and is pointing towards a major ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. I did not, of course, predict that this ethnic cleansing would be triggered in Gaza - I expected it to start on the West Bank, where people would be driven across the river Jordan. On the face of it, ethnic cleansing in Gaza is more problematic: where would the people flee to (if they were still kept alive)? And I did not envisage the massive scale of extermination, which at this stage seems a possibility.
It is certainly not the case that the ethnic cleansing will be caused by the assault by Hamas on Israel on October 7. But, as I will explain, this assault has made resistance, including international resistance, to this process more difficult. And in this sense that atrocity committed by Hamas is a calamity for the Palestinians, as it reduces the slim chance of preventing ethnic cleansing.
Let me be clear: what is taking place now is already ethnic cleansing. If you bomb a population on the scale that is now happening - starving it, denying it water, destroying essential buildings, including the al-Ahli hospital (I will explain below why it was almost certainly bombed by Israel), starving the population, ordering a million human beings to move from where they are - including incapacitated people, those in hospital - and flee miles away to somewhere where they will still be bombed, this is already ethnic cleansing (some may call it genocide).
Can this be prevented? The only (very slim) chance is by pressure of public opinion, particularly in the west - most importantly in the United States and in Israel itself. But what took place on October 7 undermines this possibility for the simple reason that most people see only the atrocity itself, not what caused it. Most people just see what the media reports - they do not understand the causality, the root cause, which is the Israeli occupation itself. As a result, our ability to prevent ethnic cleansing is reduced. So this is a huge own goal that Hamas scored against the Palestinian people.
I am not making a value judgement here. Certainly atrocities should be condemned, but I am talking about the dire political consequences. If Hamas had launched a successful military operation - overcoming the surveillance system of the Israeli intelligence and driving the military out of key positions - that could have been the beginning of a successful story. There were several possible motivations for such a military operation, but the immediate conjuncture is a process of rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, bypassing the Palestinian people: the culmination of Netanyahu’s idea of putting the Palestinian problem on a shelf for the foreseeable future and improving relations with the Arab regimes.
But what has followed October 7 has been a chain of atrocities. Some people have speculated that this is what Hamas wanted to achieve - it was a deliberate tactic to ignite a much wider conflagration of war in the region. If this is so, then that would be another major own goal for the Palestinian people.
When I predicted that Israel was moving towards an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the occupied territories and possibly from Israel itself, I mentioned that this could only take place at an opportune moment. There has to be a conjuncture in a regional and international situation which would serve as a cover for such a major ethnic cleansing. In this context a major regional war would be, from the point of view of the Zionist regime, an ideal opportunity for perpetrating ethnic cleansing.
To repeat, whether or not Hamas aimed to provoke such a regional conflagration (rather than just conducting an act of blind rage), it has managed to engineer an opportunity for Israel to perpetrate ethnic cleansing - not only in Gaza, of course, but also in the West Bank and possibly in Israel itself (and, by the way, such moves towards ethnic cleansing in the West Bank are already beginning to happen).
We have seen major events which point in the direction of escalation. So what will be the consequences? Of course, Israeli society has moved sharply to the right, but fortunately opposition to the Palestinians in the public opinion of western countries seems less sharp than it could have been. The demonstrations that are taking place in London and many other places are an indication that there remains substantial support for the Palestinian people, and their individual and collective rights. But you cannot be too optimistic about this.
In this context, I want to comment briefly on the bombing of the al‑Ahli hospital. First of all, Israeli hasbara has zero credibility - many people in Israel who are not necessarily anti-Zionist do not have any illusions in the credibility of the Israeli denials. But allow me to make a statement of a probabilistic nature.
The October 17 bombing of this hospital was either a deliberate attack by Israel or a random fluke of a faulty Palestinian rocket. How can you judge which is more likely? First, consider the not widely publicised, but clearly verified, fact that the hospital was bombed three days earlier as well, on October 14. There is plenty of evidence about this and there is no doubt that it was targeted by Israel on that occasion, using a smaller projectile. So if it was hit again by pure chance by a faulty Islamic Jihad rocket, it would be completely fortuitous that it fell in exactly the same place!
That is quite apart from all the video and sonic evidence that has been produced by well-established researchers. So just think about it. How probable is it that the same hospital was hit twice - once deliberately and then simply by fluke? Draw your own conclusion.
I would now like to comment on two articles in last week’s Weekly Worker.1 They both mention the well-known fact that Hamas originally (back in the 1980s) was encouraged by Israel in the Gaza Strip. That took place under the leadership of the then defence minister, Ariel Sharon. The idea was that this would undermine the Palestine Liberation Organisation, primarily Fatah, which was then the big ‘terrorist organisation’, according to Israel.
By contrast Hamas was regarded largely as a charitable organisation. It is, after all, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, based in Egypt. (Remember that the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian rule until 1956, then briefly under Israeli rule following the Suez campaign, and then again under Egyptian rule until June 1967.) Encouraging Hamas was regarded as a way of undermining the militancy of the Palestinians and particularly Fatah - the leading group within the PLO coalition. Of course, the Israeli colonial regime did not realise what Hamas would become.
But the most damaging error from the viewpoint of the Israeli regime was made under Benjamin Netanyahu. Something not mentioned in those Weekly Worker articles is that from 2009 Hamas was actually fostered by Netanyahu. The crazy tactical idea behind this was that, in order to divide the Palestinian people, Hamas should be allowed to rule Gaza, into which financial assistance would be allowed by Israel to flow from various Arab regimes, particularly Qatar. This has recently been mentioned in several articles in the press, but it has been known in Israel for quite some time.
Let me quote you some facts. This was published in an Israeli article a few days ago in Ha’aretz:
The prime minister himself spoke briefly at times about his position regarding Hamas. In March 2019, he said during a meeting of Likud MKs, at which the subject of transfer of funds to Hamas was under discussion, that, “Whoever opposes a Palestinian state must support delivery of funds to Gaza, because maintaining separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
In a tweet two months later, Channel 13 quoted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak as telling a Kuwaiti newspaper: “Netanyahu isn’t interested in a two-state solution. Rather, he wants to separate Gaza from the West Bank, as he told me at the end of 2010.”
General … Gershon Hacohen, a prominent rightwinger, made things crystal-clear in an interview with the online magazine Mida in May 2019: “When Netanyahu didn’t go to war in Gaza to defeat the Hamas regime, he basically prevented Abu Mazen from establishing a united Palestinian state,” he recalled at the time. “We need to exploit the situation of separation created between Gaza and Ramallah. It’s an Israeli interest of the highest level, and you can’t understand the situation in Gaza without understanding this context.”2
What is really behind all this? The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is completely subservient to Israel in all operational issues. It is really an arm of the Israeli colonial regime and it cannot do anything without Israeli acquiescence, if not instructions. But Israel cannot prevent the Palestinian Authority from issuing statements and declarations, and one of the things that the PA does publish is its position in favour of the so-called two-state solution.
This is regarded as very annoying by the Netanyahu governing coalition. Whereas previous Labor governments would say, ‘Yes, yes, a two-state solution’ (while ensuring that it could not happen), Netanyahu wants to get this annoying idea off the agenda. And for this he was ready to foster Hamas, which he did not regard as constituting any major danger to Israel. Hence this crazy policy.
So what we have here is not only a failure of the Israeli intelligence and the Israeli military to prepare for the incursion by Hamas, but the result of a policy of actually fostering Hamas in order to prevent the unification of the Palestinian leadership and pressure for a two-state solution.
So what are the prospects now? Israel has undergone a massive shock; its society is traumatised. As I have pointed out, public opinion in Israel is moving sharply to the right. But that does not mean that Netanyahu’s coalition is secure. Quite the contrary: now he is going to be under pressure from two sides.
First of all, those ‘liberals’ who protested against, as it were, the ‘downfall of Israeli Jewish democracy’ over the months preceding the current events, are going to accuse Netanyahu of failing to prepare for a Hamas onslaught. Of course, Netanyahu is going to blame this on the army and the intelligence, but he cannot avoid accusations of having fostered Hamas, which is now general knowledge. On this he is also going to be attacked from the extreme right.
Is the present conflict going to spread into a major conflagration in the region? I do not have a crystal ball, but it seems a definite possibility. And, when this starts, who knows how far it will go? Will it involve only Hezbollah or will Iran be drawn into it? Of course, Netanyahu’s policy is to try to drive the United States into an open military conflict with Iran. The military moves made by the US, with the two aircraft carriers now in the Mediterranean, point to its readiness to engage in a war - against Hezbollah, but quite possibly with Iran itself. This would be a major disaster.
We sometimes know how wars start, but how they end is very unpredictable - except that the consequences will be very bad. In fact Joe Biden himself hinted at this during his visit to Israel last week. He indicated that Israel has to be careful not to commit the same mistakes the USA made when invading Afghanistan and so on. He has cautiously warned Israel not to start something of the same nature, for who knows where it will end?
There has also been speculation that the US might use the opportunity of a regional war to try to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, dislodging the Russians from their last remaining naval base. This will be to the advantage of the Americans by severing the umbilical cord between Iran and Hezbollah, which runs through Syria.
But, as I said, if a regional conflagration begins, we cannot foretell how it will end. However, one thing is very likely: it will be used by Israel to try to perpetrate yet more ethnic cleansing.
Moshé Machover was speaking to the October 22 CPGB members’ aggregate which included a number of invited associates and guests
‘What you need to know about Hamas’ (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1463/what-you-need-to-know-about-hamas); ‘Week in the hall of mirrors’ (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1463/week-in-the-hall-of-mirrors) - both Weekly Worker October 19.↩︎