Netanyahu and Sunak conferring at Downing Street, March 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Walker Netanyahu and Sunak conferring at Downing Street, March 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Walker

Lindsey German on imperial blowback at home and abroad

I remember reading a review of Francis Ford Coppola’s film about the horror of the Vietnam war, Apocalypse Now, which asked how could this have happened in our lifetimes? How could it be seen on television screens and be allowed to continue? As the criminal bombardment of Gaza continues, the same question arises. Why can the vicious right-wing government of a country dependent on weapons and funding from the United States and other western powers continue killings and ethnic cleansing on such a scale week after week?

This question will be asked again and again by generations to come. There is a great deal of talk from governments about international law and rules-based order. But when it comes to Israel that all goes out of the window. The UN’s extremely limited attempts to try to prevent illegal settlement-building, or indeed to end the occupation, which has continued since the 1967 war, are contemptuously ignored by Israel and its allies.

We have had almost two months of bombardment punctuated by a brief pause for hostage exchange. Despite Israel trying to blame Hamas for ending the pause, it is clear that Netanyahu and his far-right allies in government were desperate to start military action again, fearing that otherwise they might lose momentum. Now the plan is to continue for months, aiming to wipe out the Hamas leadership and create a ‘buffer zone’ – in other words to seize another chunk of the tiny strip which is home to 2.4 million people.

Such a perspective is intolerable even in the short term – the Palestinians of Gaza are already living in a war zone, fearful of disease, hunger, winter cold and the constant threat of death and injury. It is the most dangerous place to be a child anywhere in the world. They are being told to leave supposed safe areas in the south but without being told where they can go for safety. They are subject to constant bombardment and encroaching invasion. We are told that this is a war between Israel and Hamas but Gaza has no army, air force or navy, while Israel has some of the most highly sophisticated armed forces in the world. This is simply mass killing by an oppressor country.

It is able to do so because the ‘international community’ allows it to happen. And it does so because it is firmly in the orbit of US imperialism, and Joe Biden is content to allow its watchdog in the region off the leash for a good bit longer. So Anthony Blinken, US secretary of state, had a long meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday where he obviously gave the green light to resume the attacks. It is clear that Blinken worries about this but not enough to stop it.

According to the Financial Times, ‘One of the people familiar with the discussions said Washington had urged Israel to have “a smaller military footprint” in the south, fewer civilian casualties, “a clear humanitarian plan” and arrangements for “where civilians can go” to remain safe.’

These urgings are pathetic, given what we already know; they are also a tacit recognition that Israel has been targeting civilians without any thought for their humanitarian needs. These amount to war crimes, but the standards applied to western enemies such as Vladimir Putin are simply ignored when it comes to Israel, as are any possible sanctions.

Far from it. We should also remember that the British and US governments are aiding Israel in these crimes. US and British naval vessels in the Mediterranean are there to protect Israel from a potential Hezbollah attack in the north and to share intelligence. Planes from British bases in Cyprus are carrying US weapons to resupply Israel. The US could refuse to supply weaponry but will not do so.

So the killing continues. Where anyone among the western powers thinks this is going to end is unclear. These are after all the people who brought us the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the bombing of Libya and the war in Yemen. Israel’s war aims are not only completely unjustified from any point of view, they are also completely unrealistic. They will not succeed in eliminating Hamas, as they have failed over previous forms of Palestinian resistance, because that resistance is based on an objective fact: the driving of Palestinians from their land and the continuing occupation and oppression that they suffer.

Those who doubt this should consider not only recent Palestinian history but also the lessons from Afghanistan, where a bloody war and occupation overthrew the Taliban government only for it to return two decades and many deaths later. Even France’s president Macron has said that if Israel follows its present plan, the war will last a decade. 

Israel’s permanent occupation of Gaza would be militarily and politically disastrous and would only create more resistance – unless Israel succeeded in forcing the Gazans into Egypt and those on the West Bank to Jordan. That is the aim of some in Israel. It can only be countered by mass resistance from the Palestinians themselves – and this is going on in the West Bank as Israeli attacks have grown there – and from solidarity outside Palestine.

Our solidarity movement is in direct opposition to our government policy. Both main parties refuse to call for a ceasefire and have suffered politically as a result. The response has been to double down on support for Israel, to try to criminalise protests, and to falsely accuse the protestors of racism in the form of antisemitism. Schools and universities are doing their best to discourage or sometimes penalise debate on the topic, and there are numerous cases of people facing discipline at work for supporting Palestine.

Yet this is developing into one of the great causes of our time and it is clear its importance goes beyond the question of Palestine itself. The war and the west’s active support for it raises questions of wider conflict in the Middle East and further afield. It also raises questions about colonialism and imperialism, and what kind of world we want to live in. Certainly not the one our rulers want, which prioritises war, profit and inequality over the right of every one of us to live free and equal lives.

Even if Starmer wins, he’ll lose

The parlous state of British politics is well-illustrated by the Covid Inquiry, where successive politicians and medical figures have given evidence revealing a contemptuous attitude to the sick and their families, a criminal refusal to lock down when it was obviously needed, a prevarication over further lockdowns in autumn of 2020, a disregard for advice from unions and others over school closures, and little discussion – even with the health secretary – on the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme, generally regarded as helping mostly to spread the virus.

The simple truth is our lives are not safe in their hands. This week Boris Johnson – ‘let the bodies pile high’ – gives evidence. It’s often said he wasn’t fit to be prime minister because of incompetence. But surely that is overshadowed by his arrogant right-wing politics, his populism barely concealing his total contempt for ordinary people.

Particularly disturbing then that Keir Starmer chooses this week to praise one of Johnson’s heroes, Margaret Thatcher. She hated everything that Labour should stand for: trade union rights, greater equality, public ownership. Many of the problems in Britain today – a housing crisis made much worse by lack of council houses, corrupt and greedy privatised companies, growing poverty, and lowering living standards – can be laid at her door.

Starmer really is a political fool if he thinks this will win him many former Tory votes. But it will increase the haemorrhage of support for Labour from the left that we’re already seeing over Gaza. The slogan ‘no ceasefire, no vote’ is becoming one of the most popular on demos. And the party to suffer the most will be Starmer’s Labour.   

This week: another national demo for Gaza on Saturday, this week assembling at the centre of finance, the Bank of England, and marching to Parliament. I’ll be speaking online in Glasgow, in person in Hackney, supporting the next trade union and student day of action on Thursday. Hoping to also fit in a couple of Xmas parties.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.