Socialist Alternative

Five Things You Need To Know About The Catastrophe In Gaza

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What is happening in Gaza right now?

The Gaza Strip is an area roughly the size of the city of Philadelphia where over two million Palestinians live. It’s been occupied since 1967, and has lived under blockade conditions since 2007. It has been described with justification as the largest open air prison in the world. There are only three exits in and out of Gaza, two controlled by Israel and one by Egypt. What were already brutal conditions in Gaza have worsened beyond belief following Israel’s all-out assault which began after Hamas’ October 7 attack (more on this below). Gaza is governed by Hamas, a pro-capitalist, right-wing, reactionary organization that was promoted by Israel as a counterweight to secular and left nationalist forces in the Palestinian population.

Following three weeks of deadly bombardment, Israeli forces invaded the Gaza Strip on October 27th. Over 17,000 Palestinian deaths have been confirmed at the time of writing, 42% of whom are under the age of 18. Some Israeli military officials have admitted that probably twice as many people have been killed, many of their bodies lying under the rubble. Fifty thousand homes in Northern Gaza alone have been destroyed. Refugees have been crammed into tent cities and public buildings, which have also been attacked by the Israeli military. In the first two weeks, supply trucks were completely prevented from entering the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt, which was also bombed, and are still entering in amounts completely inadequate to meet the desperate needs of the population.

The electricity and water shortages that have been acute for years in the Gaza Strip due to the military blockade have reached record levels. Israeli forces shut off the water and desalination plants have no power. Residents are being forced to drink salty and polluted water in order to survive. The trash is piling up. Only 9 of the 35 hospitals in the Gaza Strip are still functioning after Israeli attacks, and those only partially. Operations are being performed without anesthesia.

The Israeli government has used Hamas’ attack as an excuse to speed up illegal settlements on Palestinian lands in the West Bank, where over three million Palestinians live. Since October 7, the Netanyahu government has sent thousands of weapons to the “territorial defense forces” of the settlements, and far-right settlers are taking advantage of the war in Gaza to accelerate the creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. In less than one month, 850 Palestinians from 18 communities have been displaced from their homes, compared to 450 Palestinians from 6 communities in the previous two years of the war.

Can the invasion root out those responsible for the October 7th attack?

The invasion is targeting Hamas forces which carried out the attack on October 7 but the Israeli forces don’t care how many civilians die and the main aim appears to be collective punishment on an appalling scale rather than rooting out Hamas. As this continues, the genocidal elements of this campaign are becoming more pronounced. 

The right wing of the Israeli government wants to go much further, though they are not the ones primarily conducting the military attack. One member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, said on November 5, “The Gaza Strip needs to be flattened and everyone has one sentence, and that is death… There are no innocents in the Gaza Strip.” Even so-called “moderate” politicians have defended the ongoing massacre. Isaac Herzog, the President of the State of Israel, said, “there is an entire nation there that bears the responsibility.”

Opinion polls among Palestinians in Gaza showed Hamas was losing popularity before the October 7 attack because of their corrupt and brutal rule, though they still have a significant base of support because of its anti-Israeli stance. The Israeli regime’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians have increased popular support for Hamas in Gaza but also in the West Bank.

What happened on October 7?

Hamas militants massacred 1,200 people from dozens of Israeli communities, including working-class towns like Sderot and Ofakim, as well as seizing control of Israeli military bases. It did not spare Jews and Arabs who worked or volunteered as part of medical teams and rescue teams that provided an initial response. It also targeted other oppressed nationalities like those living in impoverished Bedouin villages in the Western Negev desert. In the shadow of the massacre, the attack included the largest-ever kidnapping incident of Israeli citizens. 

Among the kidnapped were Jews, Arabs, and immigrants — there were also babies, children, and elderly people. The mass slaughter in the various areas had an extremely sadistic character and included, as it appears from the records and the forensic autopsies, a pattern of acts of torture, burning people alive, the slaughter of babies and children, the slitting of throats, decapitations, the amputation of limbs, sexual violence and rape, in addition to the mass execution of 364 people at the Nova music festival.

Some on the left have tried to justify this as part of “resistance” but it has only provided a pretext for the viciously reactionary Israeli government to mobilize mass support for carrying out war crimes in Gaza. It has not brought the liberation of the Palestinian people one step closer.

Are there anti-war protests in Israel?

In early 2023, Netanyahu’s government was shaken by mass protests against its attempts to attack democratic rights. While the October 7 attacks offered his regime an opportunity to distract away from his unpopularity by whipping-up Israeli nationalism, opinion polls show only 9% of the general public are “sure that the government has a clear plan of action” when it comes to Gaza. There is also a growing realization that the state and its policies of colonial occupation has failed to keep ordinary Israelis safe.

These contradictions are reflected in the speech of Nir Oz, one of the grandchildren of the abductees, at a rally in Tel-Aviv on November 11. Although Oz did not condemn the invasion of Gaza, he did describe Netanyahu’s government as “without a solution or political horizon, only wars, military operations, rounds – rinse repeat.”

Any expression of opposition war has been quickly shut down by the Israeli state, especially against Arab-Palestinians living in Israel. Already, the police and the Shin Bet are conducting a brutal nationalist witch hunt for posts by Arab-Palestinians on social media, which has resulted in dozens of arrests. 40% of Healthcare workers in Israel are Arabs, and many have had their jobs threatened if they dare to show opposition to the war. 

There is a real threat of vigilante violence within Israel. The Israeli government has loosened firearm restrictions for Jewish citizens. In Netanya, a mob of hundreds of extreme right-wing supporters chanting “Death to the Arabs” tried to attack Arab students who had to barricade themselves in their dormitory. Police had to evacuate them from the city. 

However, these vigilante attacks do not reflect the sentiment of most people. In October, in a poll among citizens of Israel, 90% of the Jewish population and 98% of the Arab-Palestinian population tended to oppose violence against the other national group. But half of the respondents in each group thought the other group’s sentiments were exactly the opposite. 

In the past, there have been mass movements for peace in Israel. The brutal siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank have not kept working class Israelis safe, as October 7 vividly shows. Such a movement can be rebuilt on the basis of class unity. Already, Palestinian unions have put out calls for class solidarity. While conservative union leaders in Israel have shamefully rejected these calls, members of Socialist Struggle Movement, the ISA inIsrael/Palestine have taken them up.

Why was there a seven-day pause?

For weeks, the Israeli government resisted calls for a pause in the fighting. Even Joe Biden, who refuses to end military funding to Israel and supports the Israeli government’s invasion, unsuccessfully appealed to Netanyahu for a temporary pause. The few moments of relief after weeks of unprecedented killing was the result of the pressure of an international wave of protests against the massacre in Gaza, and demonstrations within Israel led by families of abductees. 

However, one key weakness of these protests is a lack of a program based on international working-class solidarity, unfortunately contributes to widen the opening globally for the growth of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, including physical attacks.

How can there be peace?

Genuine Marxists have always warned that the myth of Zionism – the idea that a capitalist state of Israel would supposedly be the safest place for Jews in the world – would lead to a cycle of bloodshed for working-class Jews and Palestinians. A real political solution cannot come as a result of more deals between the oligarchies in the region, but only as a result of a struggle against them and against their agendas, which have only ever brought more war and devastation. 

Only the working class on both sides of the national divide and throughout the region can provide a way out. The various Arab regimes, most of them dictatorships, proclaim solidarity with Palestine, but are in reality dependent on US imperialism and only interested in protecting the wealth of their respective ruling classes. A deeper revolt could topple these oppressive regimes and open the door to fundamental social change.

The struggle to stop the war is part of the struggle to end the occupation and the siege. A program of socialist change, rooted in the standpoint of international struggle of the working class promotes mass resistance to imperialist aggression against oppressed peoples, and defends the right of nations to exist on an equal basis without occupation or subjugation, and to realize their right for self-determination including for national independence. 

Socialist Struggle Movement, Socialist Alternative’s sister section in Israel and Palestine, is as steadfast as ever in its determination to build a cross-border struggle for socialist change. These revolutionary activists are fighting for the establishment of a democratic, socialist state of Palestine with full equal rights, alongside a democratic, socialist Israel, with two capitals in Jerusalem and full equality for minorities, as part of a socialist confederation in the Middle East.

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