Once again, a brutal Israeli attack on Gaza has caused massive destruction and loss of life writes Roland Rance. Although the Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight, during the course of the seven-week onslaught Israel struck it with an estimated 20,000 tons of explosives; a greater explosive tonnage than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, and more than 10,000 injured. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed, and nearly the entire infrastructure of Gaza society. It has been estimated that the attack has left behind over two tons of rubble per resident of the Strip.
While the physical consequences of this attack are clear, the political consequences (and, indeed, the political reasons for it) are much less obvious. The Israeli propaganda claim that it needed to put an end to Hamas rocket attacks is easily shown to be a lie, since Hamas had scrupulously observed the ceasefire since the previous Israeli attack, and only started firing rockets following Israeli bombing raids and assassinations of Hamas leaders. Nor is the alleged threat posed by the much-hyped tunnels a convincing explanation. One conspiracy theory related the attack to the recent discovery of a large off-shore natural gas field in Gaza waters. However, since Israel already effectively controls Gaza’s territorial waters, and far larger fields have also been discovered in Israel’s own waters, this seems equally unlikely.
The real reason behind this attack was probably the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal, and the establishment of a unity government in June, after seven years of bitter dispute and division between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Israel strongly opposed this agreement, which it presented as “a victory for terrorism”, and pressed western states to cut ties with the PA and refuse to recognise the new government. In fact, the agreement represented a significant setback for Hamas, which had no ministers in the new government, and would have permitted the Fatah-led Palestine Authority, which had been driven out of Gaza after its attempted coup in 2007, to resume governing there.
Israel’s only strategy during the weeks of warfare seems to have been to cause the maximum possible destruction. This included the destruction of Gaza’s only electric power plant, of scores of schools and hospitals, of sewage works, factories and warehouses, and of tens of thousands of homes. About ¼ million Gazans (most of them refugees from areas occupied since the establishment of the state of Israel over the ruins of Palestine in 1948) were again made homeless, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (several of whose workers were killed in Israeli attacks) reported that it was overwhelmed and unable to feed and house them all.
IDF targets civilians
The scale of the destruction, and the lack of any obvious purpose, led Israeli journalist Gideon Levy to write in July that “Since the first Lebanon war, more than 30 years ago, the killing of Arabs has become Israel’s primary strategic instrument. The IDF doesn’t wage war against armies, and its main target is civilian populations. Arabs are born only to kill and to be killed, as everyone knows. They have no other goal in life, and Israel kills them.”[i] (Following a subsequent article, in which he denounced Israeli pilots for their “bravery” in bombing civilians, Levy became probably the most hated man in Israel, and was unable to leave his home ? built, as he has noted, on stolen Palestinian land in Tel Aviv ? without an armed bodyguard.)
If this was its aim, Israel certainly succeeded in carrying it out. But other positive results, from Israel’s point of view, are hard to identify. During the previous five years, a total of seven Israelis had been killed by mortar or rocket fire from Gaza; in the course of the war, five Israeli civilians were killed by rocket fire, in addition to the 66 Israeli troops killed; as Israeli ground forces entered Gaza and engaged directly with Palestinian fighters, the previous imbalance of casualties shifted significantly.
Palestinian reconciliation and the unity government were not sabotaged, and the political balance shifted further away from Fatah towards Hamas. When the agreement was signed, Mahmoud Abbas (who continues to serve as President of the Palestinian Authority, five years after his term of office officially came to an end) stated that collaboration with the Israeli military was “a sacred duty” for Palestinians, and he took no steps to support the Gaza resistance to Israeli brutality. Meanwhile, the prestige of Hamas, even among its political opponents, increased as it refused to surrender to Israeli demands. Although the make-up of the unity government has not changed, there is now little possibility of Abbas imposing on Gaza a regime led by the corrupt Mohammed Dahlan, Israel and the USA’s favoured strongman.
Despite the unexpectedly high Israeli casualty rate, the attack was very popular among Israeli Jews, with polls recording an unprecedented 95% approval rate. Protests faced very high levels of hostility, with demonstrations being attacked by right-wing thugs, some of whom even wore European fascist t-shirts and carried placards proclaiming “One people, One state, One leader.” Israeli academics who criticised the attack were threatened with loss of their jobs, with one professor being disciplined for expressing regret at “the suffering of both sides.”
Palestinians who protested faced even greater repression. Haneen Zuabi, a member of the Israeli Knesset, was suspended for six months from attending parliamentary debates after her public speeches against the attacks. In Jerusalem, Nazareth and other Israeli cities, racist mobs attacked Palestinians in what many observers described as “pogroms”. In the occupied West Bank, protests were heavily repressed, and 32 Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli occupation forces while protesting.
Days of rage
Internationally, Israel has suffered a serious political setback. Even traditionally supportive states, including Britain and the USA, issued statements criticising “both sides” for the violence, while several Latin American states withdrew their ambassadors from Israel in protest. On the international Day of Rage called by Palestinian groups for 9 August, several hundred thousand marched in dozens of cities across the world, including an estimated 150,000 in London, and even more in Cape Town.
One feature of the London demonstrations was the prominent presence of young Jewish demonstrators. This went well beyond the regular participation of groups such as Jews Against Zionism, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Jewish Socialists’ Group. Scores of unaffiliated, and previously uninvolved, young Jews ? many of them still at school ? joined the demonstrations with hand-made banners and placards, proclaiming “Not in Our Name! Jews for a Free Palestine”. It seems that, in contrast to the support of Israeli Jews for the attack, Israel has decisively lost the battle for the hearts and minds of young Jews elsewhere.
Israel has almost become a pariah state, and there is little sign of any Israeli concessions that could lead to its rehabilitation. On the diplomatic front, Israel has lost most of its friends. On 3 October the newly elected Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, announced that Sweden would recognise an independent Palestine. Then on 13 October, despite Israeli opposition the UK Parliament voted by 274 votes to 12 to support a motion recognising a Palestinian state. It also looks increasingly likely that a motion in the UN Security Council to admit Palestine to the UN will win the ? majority necessary to override a US veto.
But the “Palestinian state” envisaged by such manoeuvres, even in the unlikely event that Israel would permit its establishment, would scarcely begin to address Palestinian suffering. A heavily constrained government might be permitted to exercise some authority in the West Bank and Gaza; however the millions of Palestinians dispersed since the establishment of the state of Israel on the ruins of Palestine in 1948 would remain refugees, while the 20% Palestinian minority within Israel would remain a repressed, third-class community.
Gaza, meanwhile, remains devastated. It now looks as though western states will pay Israeli companies to rebuild Gaza, thus further enriching the destroyers. A recent initiative plans to make this an issue in next year’s General Election, raising the demands that Israel should pay for the damage it caused, that the government publishes details of all destroyed and damaged projects funded by Britain, that a ‘Gaza’ tax be imposed on all Israeli imports to be used for Gaza’s reconstruction, that Palestinians, not Israelis, should rebuild Gaza, that the blockade is lifted, and the international seaport opened.[ii] These are clear demands, which should be raised with every MP and candidate, in an effort to ensure that Israel does not profit from its destruction of Gaza.
At the forthcoming conference of Left Unity, members will have the opportunity to vote for a motion committing the party to support for Palestine, and to the international campaign for a policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law. We must make Israeli goods, and Israeli representatives, unwelcome in Britain, while developing ties with Palestinians, and with those Israelis who refuse to endorse their state’s continuing repression of Palestine.