By John Pickard, Brentwood Labour Party UK
(personal capacity) May 16, 2018
There is worldwide shock and revulsion at the appalling massacre in Gaza over the last few days. As many as 55 unarmed protesters were killed and, in what is an equally shameful figure, more than two thousand were injured, mostly by live ammunition. Among those killed have been a man in a wheelchair, a number of children, women and even a baby which died from the effects of tear-gas inhalation. Many of those shot were hundreds of metres from the fence that divides Gaza from Israel and they posed no threat to the lives of Israel soldiers. Workers across the whole world are entitled to ask, what kind of ‘civilised’ state uses live sniper fire against unarmed protesters?
Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, a representative in the area of Médecins Sans Frontières , gave a statement, in which she said that what had happened was “unacceptable and inhuman”. The death toll, she said, was “staggering…It is unbearable to witness such a massive number of unarmed people being shot in such a short time”. Moreover, other reports from MSF doctors have describe the unusual severity of the gunshot wounds, suggesting that the Israeli army are using rifle rounds that expand and mushroom on impact, to increase the severity of internal injuries.
The labour and trade union movement must unequivocally condemn the policies of the Israeli government in its treatment of the Palestinian people. It is not good enough to describe these events as a “tragedy” as if it were an unavoidable natural disaster. Nor is it good enough to excuse the slaughter of demonstrators for being “Hamas-led”. The demonstrations were in no way a threat to any Israeli lives. In the past month, while over a hundred Gaza residents have been shot dead, not a single Israeli civilian has been hurt in any way. This massacre – for that is what it was – will go down in infamy alongside the likes of Sharpeville in South Africa in 1960 and the killings in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in 1989.
To their credit, many Labour MPs have been outspoken in their condemnation of Israeli actions, including Jeremy Corbyn. On the other hand, to their undying shame, some of Labour’s right wing – including a number who have been part of the artificial “anti-Semitism” campaign in the Labour Party – have had nothing to say on Gaza, or they have referred to “two sides” as if it were a dispute between factions with an equal degree of force. There were not two equal “sides” in this episode: there were unarmed demonstrators, posing no serious threat and there were battalions of heavily-armed soldiers, including snipers on raised earthworks, ready and willing to use deadly force.
The nakba protests this week have been given sharper meaning in that they coincide with the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. By moving its embassy from Tel Aviv, the Trump administration is signalling its complete disregard for Palestinian rights. At exactly the same moment that the VIPs and politicians were smiling and glad-handing one another at the opening ceremony in Jerusalem, men, women and children were in snipers’ cross-hairs fifty miles away. Even an Israeli newspaper columnist, in Haaretz, was prompted to ask of Netanyahu, “What kind of a man grins like that, knowing the Gaza Death Toll Is rising by ten an hour.” Just to add to the absurdity of the occasion, to say prayers at the ceremony, the new US ambassador to Israel had invited along a US evangelist pastor with a track -record of anti-Semitism, having said, among other things, that “Jews go to Hell.”
Since the nakba, the catastrophe of May 1948, the Palestinian people have suffered seven decades of these kind of agonies. Today, it seems, they are no further forward in achieving national and political rights than they were seventy years ago.
The Gaza Strip is a sliver of land eighteen miles by four, almost wholly surrounded and policed by the Israeli military. A tiny part of the Gaza border connects to Egypt, but the regime of General Sisi collaborates completely with Israel. Gaza is deprived of all the basic requirements of decent social and economic development. The provision of water, electricity and other services is entirely dependent on the whims of Gaza’s Israeli masters. The majority of the population is unemployed and dependent on UNRWA aid. There is no economic development whatsoever. Movement in and out of Gaza, even leaving for study or medical treatment is rigorously policed and, as often as not, is denied. Not the least problem is the fact that Gaza is subject to frequent artillery and air raids, ostensibly at Hamas positions, but invariable killing civilians.
Israel offers Gaza no hope whatsoever.
It is not for nothing that Gaza is described as the largest ‘open prison’ in the world. Its population of nearly two million have no future. When there is no hope, it is as inevitable as night follows day that anger and despair will spill over into protests like those we have witnessed in the last few weeks.
The situation for Palestinians on the West Bank is barely any better. Squeezed into what land that has not already been confiscated for Israeli military use or for Jewish-only settlements, the Palestinian economy and agriculture is strangled and prevented from developing. Modern roads built for the Jewish settlements are denied to Palestinian traffic. With hundreds of Israeli army checkpoints throughout the West Bank, the daily life of West Bank Palestinians is one of humiliation, indignity and frequent brutality. The Jewish settlers are well-armed, and they have had virtually a free-pass to commit acts of vandalism and harassment against local Arab villages and even mosques.
Powder-keg of anger and resentment
In both Gaza and the West Bank, the policies of the Israeli government are building up a powder-keg of distrust, anger and bitter resentment. It is no accident that many labour activists have compared modern Israel to the Apartheid state of South Africa. There are significant differences, of course, but taking the total population under Israeli control – around 12 million, half of whom are Palestinians with no rights – there is indeed “separate development” of the two peoples.
One side of this population is armed to the teeth, provided with at least some social investment – including the most modern air-conditioned housing for hundreds of thousands of settlers – and it enjoys a reasonably modern level of economic development, not to speak of democratic rights. The other half of the population have limited or no rights, no economic development and little prospect of either. With each passing year, more of their land is confiscated. In the long run, this is an unsustainable state of affairs.
Benjamin Netanyahu is leading the Israeli state and its Jewish population not towards ‘peace and security’ but towards an abyss of social upheaval, national and ethnic conflict and instability on and unprecedented scale.
Some sections of the Israeli population, albeit a minority at this stage, have come to realise that the current state of affairs is unsustainable. Even former army generally, in public speeches, have used the ‘A’ word – Apartheid – in condemning the policies of Netanyahu. The day after the killings in Gaza, hundreds of protesters flooded into the main thoroughfare in Tel Aviv, waving placards saying, “Stop the live fire” and “Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies.” Internationally, the massacre has put Israel in a position where it can no longer lay claim to the ‘moral high ground’. “Israel faces diplomatic crisis after Gaza killings” reads a headline in the Haaretz.
Seven decades of mis-leadership
The tragedy of the Palestinian people has been compounded by seven decades of mis-leadership. Netanyahu and Abu Mazen, the president of the ‘Palestinian Authority’ on the West Bank, need other as bogeymen. Likewise, Hamas and Netanyahu point accusing fingers at one another, but in effect, they prop each other up. Each is as corrupt as the other and they are mutually dependent politically. The Palestinian people are desperately crying out for some resolution to their national and social aspirations, but seventy years of ‘leadership’ by the PLO/Fatah and by Hamas have only succeeded in pushing them, to the delight of Netanyahu and the Israeli right – into a corner.
The fact of the matter is that there can be no resolution of the Palestinian issue if such a resolution is seen by the Israeli Jewish population as a threat to their well-being and especially if it is seen as an ‘existential threat’ to the state of Israel. The awful history of the Holocaust runs deep throughout all of Israeli politics and the Israeli right know how to exploit it to good effect. Every Palestinian or Iranian leader who calls for the “Jews” to be “driven to the sea” is aiding and abetting the most reactionary elements in Israeli politics.
Too often in the British labour movement, where there is a discussion about Palestinian rights, the ‘elephant in the room’ is the Israeli Jewish working class. This working class has been utterly repelled over the years by a long-standing tradition of terrorism within the constituent parts of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas. They will recall in the 1960s and 1970s the hi-jacking of aircraft, cruise-ships and Olympic athletes and the frequent murder of hostages. From a policy of terrorism, the PLO veered towards a policy of supine diplomatic deals with the most reactionary Arab and world leaders. There has never been one iota of class politics in any part of the PLO political strategy or tactics over the decades and not at atom of politics designed or likely to appeal to Jewish workers. Netanyahu and the Israeli right know this and they exploit it well.
Similarly, Netanyahu exploits the nearly universal absence of democracy among Arab states, including many of the financial and diplomatic backers of the PLO, like the Gulf states, Syria and Iraq. To be an active Marxist and atheist in Israel, for example, is to risk, at worst, the attention of Shit Beth, the Israeli secret service. But to be an active Marxist and atheist on the West Bank, and even more so in Gaza, is to risk arrest and a beating, or much worse. Israeli workers know this too, and the Israeli right exploits it to the full.
Socialists must inscribe on their banners their full support for the national and social rights of the Palestinian people. Emergency resolutions and debates should be held in Labour Party and Momentum meetings on the Gaza massacre. But we must also explain that – as difficult and remote as it may seem today – a resolution of this question needs be a class movement, encompassing Arab and Jewish workers, Israelis and Palestinians, fighting for socialist change. The road to the national liberation of the Palestinians can only go through the road of socialist change; the road to a genuine security for Jewish workers can only go through the same road. That is the message that socialists must put forward with even more determination after the terrible events of Gaza this week.