From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters
by Gerry Emmett
The loss of lives and vast destruction visited upon Gaza in Israel’s current criminal war has surpassed the horror of 2008’s brutal “Operation Cast Lead.” Over 2,000 Palestinians have been killed to date, mostly civilians, including hundreds of children. Bombing hasn’t spared hospitals, schools, homes for the disabled, waste treatment plants or UN compounds. Thousands of buildings—whole neighborhoods—have been leveled. Between Egypt’s destruction of the economically vital Sinai tunnels and Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s only power plant, the tenuous life of Gazans has been further devastated.
West Bank protests against the Gaza massacre have also been met with extreme brutality by Israeli soldiers, killing 12 more Palestinian civilians as of now.
This has been collective punishment on a vast scale, disproportionate to any actual threat posed by the largely inaccurate rockets being fired into Israel. As in previous conflicts, the presence of open advocates of genocide (like Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, or Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett) in Israel’s government makes nonsense of claims that Israel’s war is only “defensive.”
In any case, the stated reason for Israel’s war isn’t the real reason. The genuine spark that set off this current round of fighting was the formation on June 2 of a Palestinian unity government, agreed to by Hamas as a concession to reality. The Islamist organization has been weakened by the turns of regional politics in the wake of the Arab Spring upheavals. Losing patrons to Syria’s revolution (Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his patron, Iran) and Egypt’s counter-revolution (former president Mohamed Morsi) has left Hamas relatively isolated, and supported mainly by U.S. allies Qatar and Turkey.
THE MANY FAILINGS OF HAMAS
What was more decisive was that the formation of a unity government was a revolutionary demand raised by Palestinian youth and revolutionaries as part of Arab Spring: “The people want the downfall of the factions.” The masses well understand that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority were capable of representing their demands, and that the struggle between them was meant to give both of them room for continual sellouts and counter-revolution.
The Israeli military has taken serious casualties in this ground incursion, but the one-sided battle testifies in other ways to Hamas’ weaknesses. Military weakness, for one, as their large arsenal of rockets hasn’t proven to be any real military threat; and ideological weakness, as they have launched them in random attacks on civilian targets, rather than in combat, which did nothing but add to a general atmosphere of inhumanity and counter-revolution.
This ideological weakness was illustrated again when a Hamas representative claimed credit for the kidnap and murder of Israeli youths Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar. This doesn’t justify even one Israeli attack on the population of Gaza—nor the monstrous lynching of Mohammed Abu Khdeir by settlers. Nevertheless, it will be used in just that way. Thus does a narrow cult lay its claim on a people’s history.
Journalist Asmaa al-Ghoul’s response to Israel’s murder of nine of her family members speaks volumes regarding the inhumanity of bombing a civilian population: “If it is Hamas that you hate, let me tell you that the people you are killing have nothing to do with Hamas. They are women, children, men and senior citizens whose only concern was for the war to end, so they can return to their lives and daily routines. But let me assure you that you have now created thousands—no, millions—of Hamas loyalists, for we all become Hamas if Hamas, to you, is women, children and innocent families.”
REVOLUTION IS THE CONTEXT
Hamas, however, doesn’t represent the Palestinian people. Further, it must be understood that 2014 isn’t 2008. The vision of new possibilities in human relations raised by the Arab Spring revolutions posed new ground for addressing the old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Revolution compels a rethinking of Israeli history (and not only by Israelis) all the way back to the founding of the state.
The mere hint that this kind of radical rethinking might happen gave the Israeli Right all the incentive it needed to attempt to bury such ideas beneath today’s massacres. It is a continuation of what has been going on for many decades, and is a part of a world counter-revolutionary push. Raya Dunayevskaya pointed to the way past Israeli governments have “taken advantage of the world’s preoccupation with an immediate counter-revolution to carry out its counter-revolution in the Middle East” (Crossroads of History, p. 107).
For example, Israel used the occasion of Russia’s crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 to join with imperial powers Britain and France in attacking Suez; and in 1981, Israel used the Stalinist imposition of martial law in Poland as an excuse to attempt to annex Syria’s Golan Heights. Today’s Israel tried using the cover given by various retrogressive forces—from Putin’s attack on Ukraine, to the racist police attacks in Ferguson, Mo., to the IS’s massacres in Syria and Iraq, to Assad’s genocide in Syria—to carry out its current war. But the Israeli attack on the people of Gaza was so heinous that protests broke out worldwide—including within Israel itself—and all eyes turned to Gaza.
The inhumanity that protesters were opposing was expressed by Knesset member Ayelet Shaked on Facebook on July 1: “They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
As we pointed out in 2011, “Something is becoming more apparent in the Middle East. Whenever counter-revolution raises its head, it begins looking in the direction of Palestine…In a grim historic irony, Palestinians today find themselves in a similar historic situation to Europe’s Jews in the 1930s. A victory for world reaction…could profoundly endanger the Palestinians’ very existence” (“Counter-revolution targets Palestine,” N&L, May-June 2011, p. 12).
This is one reason why it also has to be understood that 2014 is not 2011. Intellectual flames lit by the Arab Spring brought regular people out into the streets and squares, discussing revolution and talking of and experiencing new human relations in a way unseen for decades. Now the genocidal counter-revolution waged by Syria’s Assad has cut through all ideological illusions. It has revealed the essence of bourgeois society, and the ultimate relation of counter-revolution to revolution. There really is no compromise possible. While Netanyahu’s government isn’t strictly comparable to Assad’s regime, it is also uncompromising in its attack on all progressive possibilities.
The Israeli strike at the Palestinian unity government (which was open to negotiation with Israel) is only one example. Another is the continuing effort to render any two-state solution impossible through the expansion of West Bank settlements. This promotion of naked criminality and brutality has devastated both Palestinian and Israeli society. Netanyahu has declared the two-state solution to be dead. His neo-fascist Cabinet members openly express their desire to annex the entire West Bank. For them, Gazans exist to be killed or dispersed.
Even protests within Israel itself have met with violence from Kahanist thugs. It testifies to the dismal retrogression in Israeli society due to the continuing occupation.
Anti-fascist historian Zeev Sternhell is right in observing that Israeli society has in many respects moved nearer to fascism (see “Israeli Freedom Graffiti,” page 9). Already West Bank settlers have welcomed delegations of European neofascists as visitors, who view the settlers as allies in their “crusade” against a mythical monolithic Islam that resembles nothing as much as their older theory of the “world Jewish conspiracy.”
It becomes ever clearer that under Netanyahu, Israel has become wedded to the most racist, reactionary right-wing forces in U.S. and world politics. Again, as with European neofascists, these forces are historically steeped in anti-Semitism. Yet again, this is ignored, as long as these “Christian Zionists” express their support for the State of Israel.
WORLD CONNECTIONS INESCAPABLE
Israeli activist Elizabeth Tsurkov perceives the danger: “Polls consistently show that younger Israelis are much more racist and nationalistic than older people. They also show that the sectors of society growing fastest are the ultra-Orthodox, who are not pro-peace. They’re not interested in it at all.” However, her call for other governments to put pressure on Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory seems unlikely to gain much traction at this moment.
Has there ever been a time when Israel enjoyed such “good” relations with all the major imperialist, or even Middle Eastern regional imperialist, powers? Ironically, in the context of world counter-revolution, Israel is approaching the long-desired goal of being viewed as a state like any other: that is, with a criminal ruling class, a history of alibis, a hair trigger, a brutalized underclass, and a security apparatus ruthless and top-heavy enough to hold it all together.
As hard as it may seem, solidarity will have to be worked out as a principled solidarity that comes from grassroots actions. We have already seen, in regard to the Syrian Revolution, the many barriers and difficulties. Indeed, right in the midst of many Gaza support demonstrations this problematic was being worked out actively as Syrian revolutionary youth stood side by side with Palestinians, Jewish Voice for Peace, and so many others.
In spite of all, it remains a fact that the world has had that vision of revolutionary possibility. The vision of new human relations can be developed as a powerful factor in fighting against this latest world stage of counter-revolution. It is already, implicitly, what all these rulers are fighting against. It is what motivates much of the support for Gaza that has brought thousands into the streets, all over the world. Even the Israeli government has begun to realize that it is fighting an idea whose time has come–the idea of freedom–that calls for the uprooting of all oppressive relations, and the creation of a new human world. It is a struggle that is taking place today all across the globe.
August 20, 2014
To understand the Middle East today, read
Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East
by Raya Dunayevskaya