Rafah in Israeli cross hairs. Source: RafahKid - Flickr / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY-SA 2.0

Israeli atrocities don’t come out of nowhere, but are rooted in the crimes of the British imperial occupation of Palestine, explains Bernard Regan

How could they do that?  How often over the last few tragic months of the war on Gaza have we heard that said?  As the body count escalates and the tally of wounded surges, disbelief mounts as to how the Israeli soldiers could continue to act in the way they do: remorselessly killing children, women and men without any semblance of doubt or hesitancy.

Of course, they are acting on the orders of their superiors, the faceless generals for whom the fighting appears as a routine of their fantasies of total war – the relentless murder of people as if they were mere animated figures in some computer game – lacking any real humanity or individuality.  Above them, however, are the politicians whose comments were so forensically dissected by the South African lawyers at the International Court of Justice in January.  Amongst them, are former Israeli Defence Forces general, Likud Member and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who on 9 October described the Palestinians as ‘human animals’; and Benjamin Netanyahu who referenced the biblical narrative invoking the wholesale slaughter and destruction by the Israelites of the ‘Amalek’ to spare ‘no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses’.

The alleged aims of the Israeli attacks on Gaza are that it is attempting to defeat Hamas and literally destroy it. The method adopted is, using ‘conventional weapons’, to achieve a level of damage and destruction mirroring that resulting from the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, one Israeli Minister and settler, Amihay Eliyahu, who supports the full annexation of the West Bank, said in early November 2023 to a suggestion of the use of nuclear weapons to achieve the Israeli government’s objectives, ‘That’s one way’.  He was suspended from office: clearly saying what others were thinking was a step too far. Apart from its chilling implications, it once again exposed the fact, so often denied, that Israel has nuclear weapons, but has never signed the non-proliferation treaty.

The ruling of the International Court of Justice on 26 January this year was clear in stating that: ‘Israel shall … take all measures within its powers to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article 11 of (the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip)’. It has failed to do so. The carnage wrought on Rafah, the blatant examples of extrajudicial executions of men, women and children and the wanton bombing and destruction of hospitals, schools, houses, and the infrastructure of the whole area is clearly intended to inflict ‘on the Palestinians, conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’.  Palestinians are eating grass and grinding cattle feed to cook as rice. Famine is a real prospect with more people likely to die from malnutrition and infectious diseases than from the bombing that has taken place.

Imperial role model

The barbarity of the Israeli Defence Force is clear for all to see. The much-touted claim that it is an army ‘like no other’ is seen for what it is, an unsubstantiated claim. The actions that the IDF have taken since its inception have been a display of the most callous form of warfare. They learnt their techniques from past masters, the British. The forerunners of the IDF, the Haganah along with other Zionist paramilitary organisations such as the Irgun, learnt their trade alongside British regiments, especially during the height of the Palestinian liberation struggle for self-determination between 1936 and 1939.

The uprising, known as al Thawra al Kubra, began with a general strike and an armed uprising mounted by both trained and unexperienced volunteers. Both non-violent and armed actions were taken to challenge the British. Those engaged in the fighting were sustained by ‘National Committees’ based in the towns which had their own courts and acted as an independent administration. The Peel Commission, reporting in 1937 to the British Parliament, said that ‘Jewish lives were taken and Jewish property destroyed; but the outbreak was chiefly and directly aimed at the Government … it was an open rebellion of the Palestinian Arabs, assisted by fellow Arabs from neighbouring countries, against British Mandatory rule.’

The whole of the Palestinian Arab population faced the most brutal repression and the tactics employed were learnt and put to use subsequently by the Zionist paramilitary forces who were invited to cooperate with the British in their suppression of the uprising.  Palestinians were tied and placed in wagons as human shields in front of the trains carrying British soldiers. In the event of an ambush taking place, the nearest Palestinian villages were razed to the ground, house demolitions took place, prisoners who were taken were left out in cages in the sun without water; they were forced to run gauntlets of soldiers wielding bayonets and killed in the process. In numerous cases, Palestinian prisoners were the subject of the most horrific sexual abuse and torture. Every one of these practices and more were employed by the Zionist paramilitaries in terrorising the Palestinian population, leading to the Nakba of 1948.

These tactics were not new to the British. Many of them had been used elsewhere in the Empire. In India, in the suppression of the 1857 uprising, in Ireland in 1916 and in the War of Independence between 1919 and 1921. Indeed, some of the Black and Tans who had been recruited in Ireland went on to serve time in the British forces in Palestine. The British, of course, went on to use similar tactics against the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (the Mau Mau), the nationalist forces in Aden, South Yemen and in other imperial zones of struggle.

British imperialism has much to answer for, and its bloody hands are still round the necks of the Palestinian people. A ceasefire is but the first step and should be followed by the British paying for the reconstruction of Gaza, a crime for which the continued indifference of British politicians still goes unpunished.

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