Genocide by starvation

Israel’s war cabinet is split over plans for Gaza: military occupation or an international civil administration? Meanwhile, Eddie Ford condemns the ICC for drawing a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel

As the Gaza war continues with no obvious end in sight, the tensions within Israeli politics and wider society have been reflected in the widely reported split inside the war cabinet. Actually, the cabinet is very small, consisting of just three members and three observers. The voting members are Benjamin Netanyahu, of course, plus Yoav Gallant, the defence minister, and Benny Gantz, a retired general and now minister without portfolio.

Gantz, who is at the centre of the split, is the founder and leader of Israeli Resilience - which later allied itself with Telem and Yesh Atid to form Blue and White (the colours of the Israeli national flag) that came equal first with Likud in the April 2019 legislative elections - but conceded defeat - and the following year came second, with 33 seats to Likud’s 36. In 2022, Gantz became the leader of National Unity, made up of Israel Resilience and New Hope. Gantz and the two other war cabinet members could hardly be described as friends or allies either - more like ‘frenemies’.

Indeed, Yair Lapid, a former prime minister and leader of Yesh Atid - the official opposition party - claimed that Netanyahu and Gallant were no longer speaking to one another, and that war cabinet meetings had become “a shameful arena for settling scores, fighting and discussions that lead nowhere”. As for the observers, one is an ‘independent’ very close to Netanyahu, another is from National Unity and the third represents the religious party, Shas - the fourth-largest party in the Knesset that since 1984 has been part of most governing coalitions.


During a press conference last week, Gantz threatened to resign on June 8 if his six-point plan for post-war governance of Gaza is not approved, which could lead to the collapse of the government and possibly bring down Netanyahu himself. His demands include demilitarisation in Gaza and the establishment of a joint US, European, Arab and Palestinian civilian administration that will run the territory - which seems very unlikely to happen - and the return of the hostages. For months now, Netanyahu has dodged the question of what will come after the war, saying instead that Israel must focus on “destroying Hamas” - meaning that he has no incentive to end the war, as ‘peace’, however defined, will bring some sort of official reckoning over his many political, military and intelligence failures. Maybe he will end up in jail. For his part, Gallant has talked about how Gaza “won’t return to what it was before” - Hamas “won’t be there”, because Israel “will eliminate everything”. The Palestinians, after all, are just “human animals”.

However, what this open split is really about can be condensed into one question: is Israel prepared for an indefinite military occupation of Gaza? People who object to that idea are not only the 2.5 million Gazans, naturally enough, but the security apparatus as well. They say if they have to occupy a hostile Gaza, which is what it will be, this will cost military lives and tie up a significant part of the army that could be better deployed on the West Bank and in the north of the country against Hezbollah. Much better, they argue, to have something like the Palestinian Authority that at present administers at least parts of the West Bank.

Then, when we come to the actual coalition government in Israel (the country nowadays has nothing but coalition governments of widely disparate forces), there is the far right, which says that Israel should not only occupy parts of the Gaza Strip, but actually slowly colonise it like the West Bank since 1967. True, in the past there was a handful of settlements, but it was never a serious site of colonisation. In 2005 Israel disbanded its Gaza settlements. However, that was never to the liking of the far right, and with October 7 there are all sorts of plans being made for the completion of a Greater Israel. Of course, incorporating the Gaza Strip seems a complete non-starter, as long as there are 2.5 million hostile Palestinians living there - but perhaps that inconvenience can be removed!

Exactly how Netanyahu will react to Gantz’s challenge is difficult to predict - will he call his bluff? Ignore him? Make concessions? However, one thing you can say with conviction is that the very nature of the Zionist project - which does not include just the far right, but also Labor Zionism - means it is pre-programmed for ethnic cleansing, as the Palestinian people represent a permanent threat to the existence of the ‘Jewish state’. Such a possibility should therefore not be discounted. After all, why has Israel seized the Rafah crossing? It might not be simply to control the food, water and medical supplies coming into the Gaza Strip, but to use it to create another Nakba as in 1947-48.

Meanwhile, the US has announced the opening of its $320 million pier off the coast of Gaza, intended to bring in supplies. From there, the intention is that 90 truckloads of international aid will be brought into Gaza each day, eventually building up - so we are told - to 150 truckloads a day.

The problems are obvious. The aid is formally handed to the World Food Programme and other such agencies on the coast, but it is unclear how it will be distributed around Gaza, as it will have to pass through thousands of Palestinians desperate to get their hands on any food they can - and then there are the Israeli checkpoints. As of writing, the Pentagon reports that no US-aid has been parcelled out to humanitarian organisations.

It is clear what Israel’s war cabinet is doing: using food as a weapon. It has been blocking convoys coming in from Israel and Egypt, and the US pier will be no different. Even if it actually delivers 150 trucks of aid a day, which is very doubtful, it is a drop in the ocean, compared to the norm pre-October 7, when Gaza was receiving 500 a day. And, given the near complete destruction of large parts of Gaza, in order to stave off starvation and mass disease, at least 1,000 trucks a day are needed. You can only come to the conclusion that the pier is an example of US tokenism in the run-up to November’s presidential election (Biden needs all the American-Arab and American-Muslim votes he can get).

No wonder the United Nations’ humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, has warned of “apocalyptic” consequences due to the chronic shortages of aid. He states that that deliveries of food and fuel had slowed to “dangerously low levels” - and the US pier can never act as a replacement for the land routes. Indeed, on May 21 the UN suspended food distribution in Rafah due to lack of supplies coming from Egypt and security concerns. In other words, humanitarian operations in Gaza are near total collapse and if supplies do not immediately resume in massive quantities, famine will take a grip.

The situation could not be any worse - an entire population starving to death if they are not struck down by disease first. If this is not intended genocide, then what is?

In this context, at the beginning of the week the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, announced he was requesting arrest warrants for Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant. Khan is also seeking the arrest of three leading Hamas figures over the October 7 attacks. At the same time, a separate case is currently being heard by the International Court of Justice, over the charge - brought by South Africa - that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

Complicit Joe

The US reaction was totally predictable, with Joe Biden - well earning his nickname of ‘Genocide Joe’ - attacking the ICC’s judgement as “outrageous” and accusing it of making a “false moral equivalence” between Israel and Hamas. The US president declared that he “will always ensure that Israel has everything it needs to defend itself against Hamas and all its enemies”. In the same vein, Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, said that the US “fundamentally rejects” the decision to seek the arrest of Israeli officials - also warning that it could jeopardise efforts to reach a ceasefire, such as they are. If anything, Netanyahu’s response was even more predictable and grotesque. After raving about how the ICC’s decision means that Israel is unable to defend itself, he reached for the old copy book - accusing Khan of “callously pouring gasoline on the fires of anti-Semitism that are raging across the world” and madly claiming that the ICC prosecutor “takes his place among the great anti-Semites in modern times”. Well, at least Adolf Hitler will be in good company.

Actually, the CPGB too thinks that the ICC is guilty of drawing a “false equivalence” - Israel is an ongoing settler-colonial project now backed to the hilt by the US global hegemon. What about Hamas? Of course, it is a reactionary organisation, its origins lying in the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. But it is also a popular organisation, coming top in the last Palestinian elections. And, whereas the Palestine Liberation Organisation has chosen the path of collaboration with the occupying Zionist state, Hamas has actively engaged in resistance.

True, that resistance has often been crude, brutal and misguided - eg, suicide bombers and, of course, October 7. The same can be said of national resistance movements elsewhere such as the Mau Mau in Kenya. But we have to distinguish between the violence of the oppressors and the violence of the oppressed. To fail to make that distinction, to evade that distinction, is to peddle on-the-one-hand-this and one-the-other-hand-that legalism, which equates the violence of a would-be murderer and the violence of the would-be victim. That we shall never do.