The images from Israel and the Gaza Strip are horrific. Many hundreds of civilians are dead on both sides. The unprecedented attacks by Hamas inside Israel followed the escalation policy of the Israeli government against the Palestinians in recent months and years. The Netanyahu-led government, with the support of the western powers, has in turn reacted with methods of mass military terror – a massive brutal bombardment of Gaza. Whole areas are being obliterated with indiscriminate attacks and the siege has been tightened, allowing in no power, food or fuel. A new war has begun which could last some time, with its victims coming from the working class on both sides of the conflict and which will not bring the people of the region one step closer to peace and self-determination.
The Israeli military blockade of the Gaza strip was always going to be a major contributor to another round of bloody conflict. Over two million Palestinians are trapped in that poverty-stricken, densely populated strip of land, most of them refugees. They regularly suffer brutal raids and killings by Israeli forces, as do Palestinians in the West Bank, where repression has been stepped up this year – including over 150 being killed – under the direction of Israel’s most right-wing government ever.
Early on Saturday 7 October a huge, well-prepared offensive was carried out by the military arm of the Hamas-led authority in Gaza: a staggering barrage of thousands of rockets fired into Israel together with blowing up and smashing down parts of the Gaza fence – a fast-executed and coordinated deployment which enabled hundreds of Hamas fighters to storm into Israeli towns and villages and temporarily take control of them. Sending a massive shockwave across Israeli society, over 800 people in those areas were killed and around 130 taken hostage.
This is the fifth war between the Israeli regime and Hamas-led Gaza authority, but this time with the developments having already reached an unprecedented level. Never before have the scenes involved in the Hamas offensive taken place on that scale in Israel’s 75-year history. For Palestinians in Gaza, painfully familiar with death and destruction, the death toll will rise far above that of Israelis, as Netanyahu declared that parts of the strip would be turned into rubble and even threatened that it would become a “deserted island”.
A ground invasion is being prepared – a major military undertaking which would take this war onto an even more devastating level if pursued. How far it will go can’t be predicted at this early stage, but attempts to rescue hostages, and possibly even to remove Hamas from power and directly occupy, or install a stooge authority, can’t be ruled out. Also, a spread of the war involving other countries or forces in the region is possible, given the unpredictability, volatility and potentially explosive nature of the events unfolding. The US administration sending warships to back up Israel – a “strike group” led by the Ford aircraft carrier – indicates the level of concern among capitalist powers globally over the developments.
This is in world already divided and destabilised by the Ukraine war and facing major economic shocks. Capitalist politicians internationally have no solutions to offer – their system is rotten to the core and is the underlying cause of the wars that break out. They are incapable of meeting peoples’ needs and aspirations anywhere in the world. Instead, they ooze hypocrisy, such as that of the western powers arming Ukraine against Russian occupation while at the same time supporting the Israeli regime’s pounding of Palestinians who are also under occupation.
And just weeks ago, the western powers barely voiced criticism of Azerbaijan, with whom oil and gas trade deals are at stake, for militarily overrunning and inflicting ethnic cleansing on Nagorno Karabakh, causing over 200 fatalities.
Once again, in this new round of Israel-Palestine conflict, many civilians have already been killed and injured. The leaders of both sides have no hesitation in terrorising civilians whether it be the history of Israeli state in Lebanon and Gaza or the Hamas leaders in their 7 October offensive. The killing of around 260 young people on Saturday at a ‘rave’ will not bring progress in the fight for liberation but was an attempt to terrorise the Israeli population, which can play into the hands of the ultra-right Israeli government. But the condemnations by the Israeli government are completely hypocritical given the record of some of its ministers. For years the current Israeli national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, glorified Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli terrorist who massacred 29 Palestinians in a mosque in 1994. In March this year, finance minister Bezalel Smotrich called for Huwara, a Palestinian town, to be “wiped out” after two Israeli settlers were killed there.
Crisis in Israel
The Israeli state is confronted with its biggest security crisis since its foundation in 1948. Just two weeks ago, Netanyahu over-confidently addressed the UN General Assembly waving a map in his hands of the Middle East with the Palestinian territories non-existent. Now he represents a ruling elite that has been dealt an almighty blow to its prestige by the Hamas Gaza government that it had wrongly assumed was effectively suppressed. In addition, Israel’s capitalists have basked in a status worldwide of being considered leaders in developing and using surveillance and military technology and equipment. This image has been severely dented and has been shown to have contributed to a false sense of security inside Israel itself – a feeling of being invincible due to a strong police and military apparatus.
A wave of ‘national unity’ due to the war could temporarily boost Netanyahu’s own position. His weak coalition government, which includes far-right parties, has faced great pressure from a nine-month long mass movement against its programme of judicial reform, including a general strike which paralysed the country on 27 March. The Hamas offensive, as it inflicted a high level of civilian casualties – including the systematic slaughter of entire families – has clearly had a colossal impact on Israeli Jewish people, ratcheting up feelings of insecurity. So this onset of war will no doubt cut across that particular movement. But even at this early stage there is great anger being voiced in Israel against the government. Survivors of the attacks and relatives of those killed and missing are heard saying on Israeli TV: ‘where was the government?’ and ‘where was the army?’, expressing feelings of abandonment by a state they believed was built to protect its Jewish citizens. On Sunday a presenter on Israel’s channel 12 news opened with: “The feeling every man for himself, as the state has abandoned us, is the feeling of every Israeli in the last two days”. The editorial of Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Monday was headlined: “Netanyahu bears responsibility for this Israel-Gaza war”. So the mood is polarised, and anger is likely to develop and widen further as the shock across society subsides and the war and its death toll goes on.
The opposition parties in Israel’s parliament might then temporarily benefit, but they are reducing their ability to do so by expressing willingness to form an emergency ‘national unity’ government with Netanyahu. Also, as with all the pro-capitalist parties, they have low appeal after their failures in government; and they have no alternative proposals to prevent future worsening rounds of bloody conflict, just a similar agenda of military repression, punctuated with occasional and minimal concessions.
All wings of the Israeli establishment no doubt fear the instability the war could bring into the heart of Israel. In 2021 communal violence broke out in a number of the mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel, which was egged on at the time by mobs of rampaging racist, ultra-nationalist Israeli Jews. The new outbreak of war with Gaza could lead to more clashes of that nature, increasing instability inside Israel.
Faced with such dangers, Israeli workers and trade unionists need to organise against them, striving to build working class-based solidarity across communities from different backgrounds. This, together with other workers’ actions and struggles can help prepare the way for the building of a new political party in Israel based on working class interests – and with a socialist programme that can pose a real alternative to the cycles of terrible bloodshed.
The Palestinians’ Struggle
Hamas, a party based on right-wing political Islam, has positioned itself as leading the resistance to the blockade and occupation, in contrast to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank which collaborates with Israeli military repression. Polls indicate that Hamas usually has only minority support in Gaza, but its 7 October offensive is likely to boost that level, at least for a while. The offensive was also no doubt aimed at increasing the support and funding Hamas receives from what it describes as “Islamic resistance” organisations elsewhere in the Middle East. Hamas cites all the pressing grievances of the Palestinians as its reasons for the action: the Gaza blockade, Israeli army raids into West Bank towns, violence from right-wing Jewish settlers, the growth of the settlements, repression of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque and the 5,200 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
The timing of the offensive was also likely linked to the US-sponsored rapprochement talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, with Hamas aiming to make those talks no longer tenable – probably backed by pressure from the regime in Iran. Hezbollah in Lebanon, also with links to Iran, referred directly to the talks with Saudi Arabia when it called the Hamas operation a “decisive response to Israel’s continued occupation and a message to those seeking normalisation with Israel”. Hezbollah showed support for Hamas’ action by firing some missiles at an Israeli military base, a front in the war that could become more prominent.
Socialists, however, can give no support to Hamas and Hezbollah, parties which are based on right-wing political Islam. They are against workers’ rights, LGBTQ+ rights and equality for women; and their military strategies won’t bring about liberation for the Palestinians, decent living standards for them, or an end to the conflict – none of which are possible under capitalism. Rather, the way forward for the Palestinians will be through democratically organising mass struggle – a socialist intifada – based on the interests of workers and the poor, independent of those of the rich elites.
Also, the present Israel-Gaza war shows why socialists in the CWI have always warned against the targeting of Israeli civilians in the national conflict, and oppose such attacks. Attacks on civilians in Israel reinforce fears of being ‘driven into the sea’, push Israeli Jewish workers away from feeling any solidarity with the Palestinians’ cause, and towards supporting brutal retaliation by the Israeli state, instead of trying to draw them away from identifying with the interests of the Israeli capitalist class. The civilian captives being held in Gaza should be released, as of course should all the Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli jails.
As well as engaging in mass struggle, Palestinian workers need to build their own mass party, independent of capitalist interests. The Palestinian elite and pro-capitalist political parties in the occupied territories will never be able to deliver an end to the conflict. Only the overthrow of the capitalist system, replacing private ownership of the main corporations with public ownership and democratic control by the working class and poor masses can lay the basis for an end to oppression and war. The building of mass workers’ organisations armed with socialist programmes on both sides of the national divide is the only path towards that goal, along with decent living standards and guaranteed rights for all. An appeal to the masses of all countries to join a struggle for democratic national rights and to end the exploitation of the masses by all the capitalist ruling elites and regimes is the way forward.
- Stop the Israel-Gaza war! For the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli military from the occupied territories
- For democratically-organised defence committees in local communities
- For a mass struggle of the Palestinians, under their own democratic control, to fight for liberation
- For the building of independent workers’ parties in Palestine and Israel and links between them
- For an independent, socialist Palestinian state, alongside a socialist Israel, with two capitals in Jerusalem and guaranteed democratic rights for all minorities, as part of the struggle for a socialist Middle East