Photo: gloucester2gaza, Flickr

Kevin Ovenden on why the campaigning to isolate the Israeli apartheid state is still the key

The authorities in Tel Aviv on Sunday night put the number of Israelis, military and civilian, killed in Saturday’s attack by Palestinian fighters at over 600. Scores have been captured and taken to Gaza.

Hundreds of Palestinians had already been killed by Israeli bombing in the first 24 hours, the figure rising by the hour.

Saturday morning’s breakout from what David Cameron as UK prime minister in 2010 called the largest open air “prison camp” in the world was not remotely like the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

The response to it, however, is likely to be similar in that it unleashes a supposed “war on terror” on a terrible scale that may lead to much wider wars and destruction of whole societies.

That was clear within hours with the chilling cry from Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu to reduce Gaza to ruins and his criminal demand that the people leave when Israel and its ally in Egypt have already slammed the gates shut.

The Breaking the Silence group, part of the beleaguered Israeli peace movement, spoke for many on Sunday when it called for opposition to the far-right government’s declaration of war and horrific escalation. It said:

“Hamas’s attack and the events unfolding since yesterday are unspeakable. We could talk about their cruel and criminal actions, or focus on how our Jewish-supremacist govt brought us to this point. But as former Israeli soldiers, our job is to talk about what we were sent to do.

“Israel’s security policy, for decades now, has been to ‘manage the conflict’. Successive Israeli governments insist on round after round of violence as if any of it will make a difference. They talk about ‘security’, ‘deterrence’, ‘changing the equation’.

“All of these are code words for bombing the Gaza Strip to a pulp, always justified as targeting terrorists, yet always with heavy civilian casualties. In between these rounds of violence we make life impossible for Gazans, and then act surprised when it all boils over.”

It argued for a reversal of policy, an end to the occupation of the West Bank and moves towards a just settlement for “all of us between the river and the sea”, the majority of whom are now Palestinian.

It is not only escalating war by the Israeli state against the Palestinians that is now threatened.

There are voices in the West urging a widening of the war to include Iran. They claim that it must be responsible for Saturday’s armed attack from Gaza.

That is despite the fact that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said when pressed on Sunday, “In this specific instance, we have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack.”

It has not stopped extreme right Republicans in Washington ramping up calls to take the war to “Hamas and its backers – Iran”.

They are joined by some progressive voices who think they can stand above the reality of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and avoid confronting some harsh truths by also asserting that this is all about Iran “using the Palestinians” through a proxy. And look at how bad human rights are there.

It is an attempt to evade the truth of the Palestinian people and their oppression by the state of Israel – as a state, not just successive governments – by infantilising them as some plaything of Israeli fanatics on the one hand and Iranian mullahs on the other.

It is foolish and ignorant. There is resistance in all forms by the Palestinian people. It is not down to Iran. It predates the Iranian revolution of 1979. In fact, Saturday’s Palestinian armed revolt has echoes of the Battle of Karameh in January 1968 which also came after a period of Israeli triumphalism and Palestinian despair.

As for Hamas being a proxy of Iran, it was actually favoured by Israel during the First Intifada in the 1980s as a quietist, religious alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It later took up armed resistance. In recent years western allies in the Middle East hoped it might be used against Iranian influence in the civil war in Syria.

Despite all that, Netanyahu is obsessed with engineering military action against Iran, as if doing so would solve the bloody conflicts of the region and end the Palestinian “problem”. Attacking Iran of course has nothing to do with the authoritarianism of the regime in Tehran, or human and women’s rights. Netanyahu wants an accord with that beacon of liberty, Saudi Arabia.

If, as is a distinct possibility, Donald Trump returns to the presidency of the US, those shouting “Hamas… Iran… theocracy!” may find their hot take of today lining them up with the most catastrophic course of action come 2025.

Just as at the start of this century with an unholy alliance of US neocons and British liberal imperialists. It may happen anyway, whatever the outcome of elections in the US.

Similarly to 22 years ago, the reckless actions of great powers and their allies are now set to exceed the deaths and suffering of last weekend with far greater horror.

Action will draw on decades of inflicting terror upon the Palestinians and others in the Middle East. It will be in the false name of merely responding when a small fraction of the barbarity that is imposed daily upon the oppressed is hurled back in the direction of the oppressor state, as it was on Saturday, hitting ordinary Israeli citizens in the process while the leaders are naturally protected.

We are asked once again to imagine that all of this began just yesterday. That there was no prior history.

Not just no long range history, but not even the history of the last two decades. Some may remember that the war on Afghanistan was accompanied by a US-sponsored “Road Map for Peace” in Israel-Palestine in the autumn of 2001.

It was enough to convince some self-styled progressives to back the war on terror and the invasion of Afghanistan, which was supposedly going to liberate women, on the grounds that there would be an Irish-style resolution of the Palestine Question.

But the state of Israel through one government after another destroyed even the glimmer of that, which had already been promised and then allowed to wither with the 1993 Oslo Accords. In so doing the state and government have radicalised Israeli society such that the far right is in office with ministers who preach the elimination of the Palestinians from all of Palestine. One way or another.

Ariel Kallner is a member of the Israeli parliament for Netanyahu’s Likud, not one of the more extreme settler parties, and is chair of the parliamentary caucus on Israel-EU relations. He called at the weekend for a new Nakba. That is the violent ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in order to establish the state of Israel in 1948. But this time on a bigger and more lethal scale.

We are set to be treated, however, to a fairy story that the horrors that may unfold now are a clean “war against Hamas and its backers”. One that is supposedly about bringing relief to poor Palestinian and Iranian civilians as much as to Israelis.

If this escalation is not halted, it will be the popular masses of the Middle East who again will be the victims, as they were in the first war on terror. It will be the forces of reaction, above all those aligned with Israel and its great-power backers, who will be the beneficiaries.

But it is also among the working classes, the oppressed and the poor of the region that the potential forces exist to break the local and imperial reactionary powers and in so doing to come to the aid of the Palestinians with methods of mass struggle that can win.

We saw this with the “Arab Spring” of 2011, before it was drowned in repression, foreign interference and wars of intervention. The result of that being thrown back is, among other things, the dictatorship of General Sisi in Egypt without which Israel would not be able to impose its siege on Gaza or so easily lord it over the Palestinians as a whole.

Wherever we are, we must act against the threat of another catastrophic sequence of wars in the Middle East coming on the train of the horrific and escalating war in Ukraine. In that way we may help those in the Middle East who can bring justice and democracy.

Central to this is holding our own governments to account and demanding an end to their damaging interventions. It means campaigning to isolate the Israeli apartheid state and cutting off the supply of arms and material support it relies on.

Above all, it means standing with the Palestinian people in practice and making their case throughout the base of society and in the labour and social movements.

Reposted from Stop the War.

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Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

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