Mass demonstrations and workers’ action needed to stop attacks on Gaza

Photo: Paul Mattsson

After the start of the initial four-day Israeli ceasefire, aid workers who entered the Gaza Strip reported scenes of humanitarian catastrophe. Devastating injuries, overwhelmed hospitals, over 50,000 buildings destroyed or damaged, a dire shortage of basic goods and more than two-thirds of the population displaced with nowhere to go. The death toll reached 15,000, with 40% of them children, and thousands missing.

Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, had wanted to press on with the war with no interruption. He unwillingly sanctioned a break because of demands within Israel for hostage release deals to be prioritised and international pressure over the rising death toll and humanitarian crisis. It wasn’t Israel’s enormous military might that led to the release of Israelis held in captive. Netanyahu had to concede to negotiations with Hamas leaders, who he had ordered the Israeli military (IDF) to wipe out, a climbdown from his bellicose intransigence and illustrating the underlying weakness of his position.

Israeli prisons

Only a small fraction of the near 7,000 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel jails have been released in exchange for hostages held by Hamas and other militias, but it has carried a significance beyond the number. They were met with jubilation on their return to the West Bank. Israelis, on their part, celebrated the return of some of the Israelis and Thai workers from captivity.

Anti-war demonstrators across the globe can claim most of the credit for the ceasefire. Millions of people have protested as part of thousands of demonstrations, placing pressure on their governments to intervene and in any case being impossible for Israel’s leaders to completely ignore. Hundreds of thousands have marched against the war in Britain and Suella Braverman was removed as home secretary after exposing too much the hypocrisy of the Tories’ backing for it – including denigrating the mass protests as “hate marches”. Overall, the scope of the anti-war movement worldwide, including across the Middle East, led to increased pressure being applied on Netanyahu.

The movement cannot yet stop. As Netanyahu made clear, he intends to carry on with the war. Israeli military leaders and ministers have spoken of trying to force over two million destitute Palestinians in the Gaza Strip into a tiny patch of barren land, so that the IDF can engage in appearing to annihilate Hamas in the Strip’s south. It would be a crash-and-burn strategy; Hamas isn’t just a military apparatus but is also a reflection of the Palestinian aspiration for national liberation that cannot be defeated militarily. It is a product of the desperation of the Palestinians following decades of repressive occupation, in the absence of them having yet built a left-wing party based on democratically organised mass struggle and genuine socialist ideology.

Israel’s right-wing government has no solution whatsoever on who will rule Gaza in place of Hamas. It has spoken of imposing direct military occupation, along with some of its ministers advocating expulsion of part or all of the population. It has also touted whether an occupying force could be drawn in from elsewhere internationally. That prospect was derided by an editorial in the Financial Times: “No outside actor will want to be seen to be riding into the wreckage of Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks, take responsibility for a desolate population, and face an insurgency” (23 November).

West Bank

At the same time, Israel’s leaders have escalated the conflict in the West Bank. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed there by the IDF and far-right Jewish settlers since the start of the war on Gaza and over 3,000 arrested – more have been detained than the number being released in the hostage deals. Also, there is an economic crisis in the West Bank, as work in Israel and the Jewish settlements has been shut off to West Bank Palestinians and Netanyahu’s government has been depriving the ruling Palestinian Authority of funds.

US president Biden’s administration has shown renewed alarm at where this war is going. It is under increasing anti-war pressure from within the US Democratic Party, it fears the conflict could spread, that uprisings could break out in the West Bank or across the Middle East, and it doesn’t want to see lasting damage to its Israeli ruling-class ally in global capitalist markets.

An analysis by journalist Amos Harel in Israeli newspaper Haaretz reminded readers that the US supports an ongoing war by Israel after the ceasefire, but elaborated on the divergence: “The Biden administration objects to the character of the offensive that is looming in the southern Gaza Strip – and is still stunned by Netanyahu’s determined refusal to discuss any day-after scenarios. It’s possible that over time the result will be more concentrated pressure on Israel to refrain from a sweeping move in the south”, and the US would prefer “focused IDF raids in the northern Gaza Strip”. Harel concluded: “American measures of restraint are likely to accelerate a collision between Biden and Netanyahu”, in a situation where “the IDF is totally dependent on the United States for the supply of specific munitions … The use the IDF is making of ammunition, in the course of fighting in a densely inhabited urban area, is far higher than the advance forecasts”.

In Israel, as well as that US pressure and from the widespread concern for the hostages and their families, there is unease in capitalist circles because economic deterioration is being worsened by the war, partly due to the mobilisation of 360,000 reservists away from their normal jobs and the cost of 126,000 people being evacuated from border areas. To help finance the war, $6 billion has been borrowed on the international finance markets.

Pressure is on Netanyahu from the opposite direction too. He has political reasons to prolong the war, as opinion polls in Israel indicate his party will be swept out of power after the war; and corruption charges against him will once again be pursued. He is also under pressure from the ultra-nationalist and far right in Israel who are demanding no let-up in the onslaught on Gaza.

Pressure

All the above factors and more will influence when the war will end, but workers’ movements in Britain and internationally cannot look to western imperialism – or its friends in the Arab elites, or the turmoil in Israel – to end it without further terrible bloodshed and displacement. Demonstrations in Britain for an end to the war need to continue, with trade unions taking part and stepping up their role in the anti-war movement in other ways, such as by more discussion and plans for workers’ sanctions against the arms trade with Israel.

As well as the urgency of a lasting ceasefire, Socialist Party members argue in the movement for the immediate withdrawal of the IDF from the occupied territories and for workers’ organisations to be built in the Palestinian territories and in Israel – and be supported by workers internationally. The only way to end future rounds of bloodshed is for those organisations to adopt socialist programmes for removing capitalism and replacing it with a socialist Palestine alongside a socialist Israel. On that basis – the ending of capitalism with its inequality, poverty and need for competition – discussion and cooperation will be possible between elected working-class representatives from both sides to resolve all the key issues, including borders, and guarantees for the rights of minorities.

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