Israel-Palestine: Violence escalates with settler rampage

On the night of 26 February, 400 Israeli settlers rampaged through the Palestinian town of Hawara in the West Bank, torching homes and cars, killing one Palestinian and wounding 280 others. Settlers were allowed to continue their rampage for several hours before they were cleared out by the Israeli army. None of the settlers have been charged or even arrested.

This pogrom was organised to avenge the killing of two settlers who were shot driving through the town earlier that day. But the anger of the settlers was compounded by the Netanyahu government’s agreement to suspend settlement construction for four months during the Aqaba summit under pressure from US capitalism looking to de-escalate tensions for its own strategic interests.

A member of Natanyahu’s coalition Zvika Fogel, the chair of the Knesset’s national security committee, said: “I want to see Huwara closed and burnt, that’s the only way to achieve deterrence”. Similarly the deputy mayor of the Samaria Regional Council (which only represents settlers) said in a Tweet that Hawara should be wiped off the face of the earth: “No more talk of suspending settlement construction. We must return the deterrence immediately, with no mercy,” he said. His Tweet was ‘liked’ by finance minister Bezalel Smotrich – who also serves as deputy defence minister with special responsibility for the West Bank.

Ultra nationalists

Smotrich, like national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, represents the political wing of the ultra-nationalist settler movement which carried out the pogrom in Hawarwa. These semi-fascistic settler groups have been armed and nurtured by successive Israeli governments, as auxiliary armed units, which can act to terrorise the Palestinians into submission, by carrying out blatantly illegal acts of repression – murders, land seizures and so on – without the Israeli state being implicated in these actions.

Their members have previously carried out the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in 1994, and assassinated Israeli prime minister Rabin the following year. The collapse in support for the traditional capitalist parties, combined with increased polarisation, has created a vacuum where these elements have grown now to 14 seats in the Knesset (Israeli parliament).

Netanyahu is dependent on them for the survival of his coalition. But on the other hand he does not want to antagonise the capitalist class which is mobilising against him. They correctly fear that Netanyahu’s government will provoke and plunge Israeli and Palestinian society into the abyss of armed conflict – one which will undermine the capitalists’ profits and wipe out their investments. So Netanyahu is being pulled in opposite directions and forced to zig-zag. Hours after the Aqaba summit issued its statement, Netayahu reneged on the accord and announced that there will be no halt in settlement expansion.

The capitalists have moved billions of shekels abroad, causing a fall in the value of the currency to its lowest price in three years. They are threatening major disinvestment. Ten tech ‘unicorns’ (companies worth over $1 billion) are planning to move their operations overseas.

Sections of the Israeli state are moving to oppose the Netanyahu government. The commander of the Israeli police force in Jerusalem refused Ben-Gvir’s order to accelerate the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. A series of former governors of the Bank of Israel wrote an open letter saying that the government’s ‘reforms’ will sink the economy.

Recently, Netayahu’s son tweeted that the Shabak – the notorious Israeli secret service, known for the torture of prisoners and brutal repressive practices used against the Palestinians – was plotting a coup against his father. He said that its leaders should be put on trial and thrown in jail for many years. This tweet was rapidly deleted, but illustrates the splits and turmoil among the Israeli ruling capitalist class.

The pogrom in Hawara shows that neither the Israeli army, nor the Palestinian Authority can protect Palestinians from settler rampages. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been weakened by decades of imprisoning and oppressing the Palestinians, often at the behest of the Israeli Secret Service.

The PA has lost control of the northern towns Jenin and Nablus, where they have been supplanted by local armed militia – the ‘Lion’s Den’. The new ultra-right Israeli government is undermining the PA even further, starving it of funds and withholding payments to it, while treating it with contempt. The zealots in the Israeli government are destroying the delicately constructed apparatus through which Israeli governments have controlled the West Bank.

The Israeli military recently raided the Lion’s Den stronghold of Nablus, killing eleven Palestinians, including four civilians, and wounding over a hundred. The Lion’s Den has won popular Palestinian support through its courage in confronting the Israeli military.

It has carried out attacks against settlers and the military, but the pogrom shows that it has no strategy to defend the Palestinian population. Ultimately, the Palestinian masses can only be defended by the mobilisation of the Palestinian masses themselves, reviving the democratic traditions of the First Intifada, but equipped with a socialist programme, including a class appeal to the Israeli working class, and with armed self-defence, under democratic mass community control.

Israeli society in crisis

Israeli society is convulsed in crisis. Tens and now hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrate every week against the government’s dismembering of the Supreme Court. But what brings the masses onto the streets is not legal or constitutional technicalities, but opposition to what they fear is the transformation of Israel into a despotic theocratic dictatorship, and to a government of zealots who risk provoking civil war which will engulf society.

But the protest movement is cross-class in character. It is led by capitalist politicians such as Yair Lapid, and army generals such as Bugi Yaalon, who are responsible for decades of brutal repression against the Palestinians. Yair Lapid was Israeli prime minister until December 2022, and his government had no solution to the conflict, continuing the repression of the Palestinians while failing to solve the cost-of-living crisis of Israeli workers. Unable to solve these problems, his government collapsed in just 18 months, paving the way for the current ultra-right government.

The leadership of Lapid and the capitalists, and their programme of defending the elitist and racist Supreme Court, has little attraction to most working-class Israelis, beyond the Tel Aviv tech workers who have enjoyed a relatively comfortable existence. The leadership of the protest movement has no programme, other than a return to the status quo that existed before January – apartheid in the territories and collapsing living standards for the masses in Israel itself.

The leadership has flooded the movement with Israeli flags – setting up a factory to manufacture tens of thousands of them. Their aim it to prove the patriotism of the movement. But the sea of Israeli flags – the symbol of Israeli supremacy and subjugation of the Palestinians – effectively excludes Palestinians, the people who suffer the most from the new government’s programme, from the movement against this government. The movement cannot be subservient to capitalist politicians whose only fear is that the new government will harm their profits.

Israeli nursery and primary school teachers have taken strike action against the erosion of their living standards. Palestinian teachers in the West Bank have been on strike for three weeks, because of the non-payment of the 15% pay rise they were promised.

The Hawara pogrom represents a dangerous escalation in the situation, accelerating the descent into the abyss of civil war. None of the capitalist forces can halt this descent into wholesale bloodshed, because they themselves are at the root of the problem. In Palestinian and Israeli territories, the working class urgently needs to stamp its authority on the struggle.

A struggle is needed to oppose the government and build an independent party and movement of the working class that opposes the capitalist Israeli regime. A party of the working class that defends the rights of all peoples of the area is essential. The CWI stands for the democratic rights of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and oppose the oppression of all peoples.

We support a struggle against the brutal repression of the Palestinian people and defence of their right to self-determination to establish an independent Palestinian state, and also the defence of the rights of the peoples of Israel to their own state. To achieve this, a united struggle to establish a democratic voluntary socialist confederation of the region is necessary.

Only through such a struggle can the accelerating catastrophe be averted, and democratic rights and decent living standards of all the people of the area be achieved.

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February 2023