Last night Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza. They were accompanied, according to unconfirmed reports, by 8,000 soldiers. For 10 days Israel has rained down hellfire on the people of Gaza. F-16s, supplied by the USA, have launched almost continual airstrikes. They have destroyed hospitals, schools and care centres. They have murdered children playing football on a beach. They have phoned the homes of Palestinians and told them that they were next to be targeted and that they should leave before the next raid began. And they tell us that the other side are the terrorists. All of this takes place under the euphemistic title Operation Protective Edge, a name which would be laughable were it not for the death, misery and destruction it has brought forth.
Reports in the media claim that this is the latest escalation in the ‘conflict’; that Israel and Palestine are ‘at war’. This isn’t a war. You only have to look at the numbers to see this. Over the past 10 days at least 231 Palestinians have been killed and another 1,700 have been injured. In the same time period only one Israeli has been killed. This isn’t a war – this is the latest act of mass murder by a racist state, an act of collective punishment and a crime against humanity. While much is made of Hamas’ home made rockets they simply don’t compare to the military might of Israel who can boast a defence budget of $15 billion, some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world as well as nuclear weapons.
Despite these facts the West continues to staunchly back Israel. At best one might find politicians who still wring their hands and condemn the ‘cycle of violence’ in the Middle East, essentially placing equal blame on both sides. They claim that nobody could possibly understand the roots of the conflict or that it’s simply about religion. All this achieves is to bury history beneath a hypocritical covering of moral outrage. And it serves to obscure the fact that what is happening in Palestine is one of the greatest injustices of in the world today.
Although Zionism as a political project can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, it had never attracted the support of large sections of European Jewry. However as the horrors of the Holocaust came to light at the end of the Second World War there was a renewed call for a Jewish homeland. Understandably it drew sympathetic responses from across the political spectrum. But the establishment of the state of Israel was built on a lie. Historic Palestine was not “a land without people for a people without land”, rather it was home to one and a half million Palestinians. For Israel to exist these people had to be forcibly removed in actions that the Israeli academic Ilan Pappe describes as ethnic cleansing.
Between the end of 1947 and the start of 1949 almost three quarters of a million Palestinians were forced from their homeland. Palestinians refer to this period of history as the Nakba (catastrophe). Many were exiled at gunpoint, many died. Others fled as the brutality of the Israeli forces – such as the massacre at Deir Yassin – spread throughout the land. The existence of Israel created an entire nation of refugees. The right of these people (and their descendants) to return to their homeland has been a key Palestinian demand ever since. Israel has repeatedly ignored this call. Indeed, through decades of war and aggression, it has pushed out its borders at every opportunity and claimed more and more Palestinian territory.
Today the people of Palestine are caged in the Gaza strip and the West Bank; Israeli settlements encroaching ever further. Both have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Palestinians are the victims of a Zionist state that looks ever more like the Apartheid regime of South Africa. Gaza itself is only 360km² yet is home to 1.8 million people. They live in a state of permanent fear, surrounded by a crumbling infrastructure and beholden to the whims of the Israeli government. With the Rafah crossing into Egypt closed, Gaza is effectively an open-air prison.
Israel is only able to perpetuate such crimes by virtue of the on-going support it receives from countries in the West – most notably the USA. Because of its strategic position in the Middle East the American ruling class have been only too happy to bankroll Israel and turn a blind eye to their atrocities whenever necessary. To have a client state in the centre of the most oil-rich area of the globe makes perfect sense for America. Israel keeps the local states in line, protecting the interests of its key backer.
This is why it is wrong to see the issue of Palestine and Israel through the prism of religion. This is a question of power and profit – not which god somebody prays to. Although Israel and its allies might like us to think otherwise, being Jewish is not the same as being a Zionist. There are numerous examples of Jews who speak out against the Zionist regime, who recoil at the fate of the Palestinian people, and who support the right to return. Equally there are examples of people who are anti-Semitic but thoroughly support the Zionist project. For instance, the one-time President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon, was revealed as a vicious anti-Semite but was also a staunch defender of Israel. As socialists we never cease in our criticisms of the state of Israel, but we vehemently oppose any racist critique which says that ‘the Jews’ are to blame.
The situation looks incredibly bleak for the people of Gaza. In the coming weeks Israel will once again devastate the territory, killing hundreds more men, women and children. Many of us who watch in horror will see the images and feel incredibly helpless. But there are small glimmers of hope. Protests have taken place around the world as hundreds of thousands of people march and rally in solidarity with the Palestinians. Tomorrow there is a demonstration taking place in London. Of course, it isn’t enough but a movement of this size would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago. It is up to us to make this movement bigger and stronger until it can bring to an end Israel’s systematic genocide of the Palestinian people.