The Israeli state’s genocidal bombing campaign against the Palestinian people in Gaza is the latest instalment of a nearly 80-year-old effort to establish and consolidate an imperialist buffer state in the Middle East. The philosophy and practice of this assault - identified the world over as collective punishment - was built into its very foundations. In 1950, just two years into its establishment, the future Israeli Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan, was the first to openly state it as official Zionist policy:
“The method of collective punishment so far has proved effective... There are no other effective methods.”
In all probability, Dayan himself was instructed in this method by the British war criminal, Arthur “Bomber” Harris who, during his post to Palestine in1936, stated that “one 250 lb. or 500 lb. bomb in each village that speaks out of turn" would satisfactorily solve the problem. From that point on, up to the outbreak of WW2, collective punishment became de rigeur in British imperialism's response to 1936-39 Arab revolt.
One atrocity in particular, a raid on the town of al-Bassa in 1938, was part of a declared policy by the local commander of "punitive" action against entire Palestinian villages - this one after a roadside bomb had killed four British soldiers - regardless of any evidence over who was responsible. The British punishment was described as follows in an October 2022 BBC report by journalist Tom Bateman:
“The people of al-Bassa got their lesson in imperial brutality when the British soldiers came after dawn. Machine guns mounted on Rolls Royce armoured cars opened fire on the Palestinian village before the Royal Ulster Rifles arrived with flaming torches and burned homes to the ground. Villagers were rounded up while troops later herded men onto a bus and forced them to drive over a landmine which blew up, killing everyone on board.”
As the historian, A J P Taylor, later observed, the British aerial bombardment which formed part of the collective punishment in Palestine, became a prototype for the Allied bombing campaign during WW2. “Bomber” Harris was its principal protagonist and, as Chief of British Bomber Command during the war, he was an unrepentant advocate of the genocidal intentions of this being openly stated to include:
“the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany ... the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale”.
Seeing this now, is like reading a template for Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
Moshe Dayan’s application of this method in 1950 was limited to a series of punitive cross-border reprisal raids into Gaza, but nothing on the scale of the current slaughter.
Under the banner of cleansing the area of the “barbaric hordes”, the relentless bombing of civilian targets and the ultimatum against a million residents of north Gaza to move south, where they can be penned into an even greater death trap, is preparing the ground for the elimination of any semblance of Palestinian control.
For every bomb that falls and every block of flats reduced to rubble, Tel Aviv, Washington and Westminster are hammering one more nail in the coffin of any aspiration for a Palestinian homeland. This is their opportunity it seems, to achieve a final solution, a lasting peace resting upon a mass Palestinian graveyard.
It is now clear for all to see that, for all the talk of a two-state solution, Washington, London and Brussels have not the slightest intention or interest in helping to broker a deal that would concede any meaningful expression of self-determination for the Palestinian people. With every atrocity committed by the Israeli onslaught, comes a visit by a senior spokesperson for Washington, Westminster and Brussels declaring their undying support for what is ludicrously labelled as self-defence.
If nothing else, the current events confirm that the task of Palestinian freedom has only ever belonged to the Arab masses and, should they rise to the occasion, supported by whatever allies they may be able to find from within the working class of Israel.
Why the West supports Israel
It is common knowledge that the Israeli state was founded upon the expulsion of Palestinian people from their natural homeland. Known as the Nakba, at least 750,000 Palestinians, from a population of 1.9 million, were forced to flee their lands. Zionist forces had taken more than 78 percent of historic Palestine, ethnically cleansed and destroyed about 530 villages and cities, and killed 15,000 Palestinians in a series of mass atrocities, including more than 70 massacres.
In subsequent wars with neighbouring Arab states, similar atrocities were carried out with Israel expanding its borders to the point where Palestinian territory was reduced to the marginal enclaves of Gaza and the West Bank
Virtually without exception, Western “democracies” have supported this endeavour with billions of dollars in economic and military aid. The current expression of uncritical support for the Israeli war effort – despite the apartheid nature of the state, its explicit racism and the genocidal character of the military offensive – forms part of this policy continuum, punctuated with the occasional nod to a peaceful two-state solution.
The West’s continuing and unconditional support for the occupation can only be understood in the context of Israel’s role as a buffer state for imperialist rule in the Middle East as a whole. Both before, during and after the 2nd World War, the Middle East was a hotbed of revolt against British and French colonial rule in the region, including within Palestine itself.
Israel’s role as a buffer state was foreseen by the first British governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, who talked of a Jewish state “forming for England a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”
Eventually, Westminster and the Elysee Palace were forced to cede political control but continued to enjoy superprofits from the exploitation of the vast tracts of mineral resources, raw materials and agricultural supplies, with oil in particular growing in value to the post war economies of the West.
The 1953 coup which returned the Shah to power in Iran, was one example of installing a client regime to serve Western interests. However, a compliant administration installed through the medium of the CIA and the military brass was no substitute for a settler state enjoying popular support.
Thus it was that, just 8 years since its foundation, the State of Israel established itself as an outpost of Western imperialism. Armed to the teeth with every conceivable weapon of mass destruction – the country became the only nuclear power in the region – the Israeli state acted as the most consistent ally of Western foreign policy. The earliest and clearest manifestation of this surfaced when the Egyptian government nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956, Israel joined with a British and French invasion force.
Other flagrant examples of this include its support for the French imperialism against Algeria, its training of paratroopers for the Mobutu regime in the Congo and its support for the US intervention into the Lebanon in 1958.
Besides supporting Washington and Westminster in their attempts to topple Arab nationalist regimes, Tel Aviv figured amongst the only Middle Eastern governments to back the apartheid regime in South Africa and the war in Vietnam. From that time through to today, Israel has consistently stood by Washington’s incessant blockade of Cuba.
This unique feature of Israeli foreign policy – constantly aligning itself with the most reactionary pro-Western regimes and policies – is an inherent part of its function as an outpost of imperialism. With 169,500 active military personnel in the army, navy and paramilitary, and a further 465,000 reservists, alongside its nuclear hegemony in the region, Israeli offensive capability outstrips that of any other regional power.
A demonstration of this capacity was provided by the Israeli Air Force when it destroyed first the Iraqi and then the Syrian nuclear reactors in 1981 and 2007 respectively.
The message has been simple: any movement that challenges imperialist interests in the region will have to confront a military garrison on its doorstep, one that will act as an advance guard for US and European intervention.
Following the Israeli victory in the 1967 war, this function of the Israeli state was explained by the US magazine Newsweek as follows:
“To Washington, the combination of Israeli military muscle and U.S. sweet talk had produced eminently satisfactory results............ As an indirect beneficiary of the Israeli blitz, the U.S should at least be in a position to neutralise the Middle East, so that the oil can be profitably marketed and its waterways used for the benefit of world commerce”
Following on the heels of the second Intifada – an uprising against the failure of the Oslo accords - the Arab Spring which began in 2010 was a stark reminder that the fundamental aspirations of the Arab masses, had yet to be realised.
It began in Tunisia with a popular uprising against the repressive regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Within a year the Arab world became a powder keg of revolt as insurgencies engulfed, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, the Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Despite its alleged commitment to democracy in the region, Tel Aviv saw the crumbling of the autocratic Arab regimes first and foremostly as a potential threat to regional security and stability.
This was expressed in November 2011 by Netanyahu who stated that “the chances are that an Islamist wave will wash over the Arab countries, an anti-West, anti-liberal, anti-Israel and ultimately an anti-democratic wave.“
For a brief period the tent cities which had been at the heart of the uprising in Egypt, were emulated in 40 towns and cities across Israel, in protest against homelessness and the high cost of living.
In neither instance was this a challenge to the Israeli state and the occupation, but it did serve as a reminder that the apparently stable architecture built around the Oslo accords and the aftermath of the war in Iraq was somewhat shaky. With the Palestinian Authority essentially upholding the occupation and unable to halt the new wave of settlements, Hamas stepped into the vacuum where Palestinian resistance sought some vehicle to express itself.
The Zionist final solution
The unwillingness of the Israeli state to grant at least a modicum of Palestinian self-determination is built into its very foundations which rest upon the original dispossession, colonisation and partition of their homeland.
In addition to the virtual imprisonment of the entire Palestinian population within Gaza, since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, it has arrested an estimated one million Palestinians. Up until the Hamas attack, the number of Palestinians currently behind Israeli bars was 5,200, including 33 women and 170 children. This figure includes 1,264 Palestinians in administrative detention, which means that they are held indefinitely behind bars without facing trial or any charges. Those who do get charged face trial by military courts.
Since October 7, Israel has arrested 4,000 labourers from Gaza and more than 1,000 people in the occupied West Bank, thus doubling the number of prisoners.
The 1993 Oslo peace accord which foretold a possible two-state solution, has been lost in a hailstorm of bloody massacres, a fresh wave of Israeli pogroms in the West Bank and a relentless siege of Gaza. Accompanying this has been the virtual fortification of an apartheid structure against all Palestinians within Israel and the occupied West Bank. Granted, it is not exactly like the apartheid regime in South Africa, but a recent investigation by Amnesty International produced this damning report:
“Amnesty International’s new investigation shows that Israel imposes a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians across all areas under its control: in Israel and the OPT, [Occupied Palestinian Territory - author ] and against Palestinian refugees, in order to benefit Jewish Israelis. This amounts to apartheid as prohibited in international law.
“Laws, policies and practices which are intended to maintain a cruel system of control over Palestinians, have left them fragmented geographically and politically, frequently impoverished, and in a constant state of fear and insecurity.”
According to the final report, the key components of this system can be summarised as follows:
“territorial fragmentation; segregation and control; dispossession of land and property; and denial of economic and social rights.”
The continued extension of the apartheid structure of the Israeli settler-state demonstrates at least one of the essential fault lines in a two-state scenario: namely, the national oppression of the Palestinian population remaining within Israel.
Since the Nakba of 1948, the Israeli state has undertaken partial retreats, but only under mass pressure or in exchange for Arab guarantees for its security. With these guarantees in place and the complicity of Fatah, it has expanded its borders in such a fashion that any two-state solution could only result in meaningless entities of self-rule that would still be dependent upon Israeli benevolence. It is what some Arab commentators have described as a Palestinostan - an Israeli version of the bantu enclaves of supposedly black self-government in South Africa.
The Amnesty International report detailed how this bantu settlement was established:
“The establishment and promotion of Israeli settlements in the OPT, which are illegal under international law, and populating them with Jewish Israeli civilians has been an Israeli government policy since 1967. To date, some 38% of land in East Jerusalem has been expropriated from Palestinians, most of it privately owned.
“The Israeli authorities have used these major land expropriations for the construction of 13 Jewish Israeli settlements in strategic locations to surround Palestinian neighbourhoods and therefore disrupt Palestinians’ geographic contiguity and urban development.”
The expansion of Israeli settlements referred to by Amnesty has accelerated following the Hamas attack. In an October 21 article in The Guardian, headed “The most successful land-grab strategy since 1967’,
“The tiny settlement overlooking the Bedouin village of Ein Rashash is named “Angels of Peace”, but, says Sliman al-Zawahri, its residents have visited only violence, fear and despair on his family.
“This week the Bedouin community packed up most of their belongings and drove all the women, children and elderly people from the West Bank ridge they had called home for nearly four decades, perched above a spring and beside an archaeological site.
“They didn’t leave us air to breathe,” said Zawahri, 52, describing a months-long campaign of violence and intimidation that intensified in the last two weeks. First villagers were barred from grazing lands, and the spring, then violence reached their homes.
“They came into the village and destroyed houses and sheep pens, beat an 85-year-old man, scared our children. Slowly our lives became unlivable.”
According to Yehuda Shaul, the director of the Israeli Center for Public Affairs thinktank, over the last year alone 110 sq km (42 sq miles), was effectively annexed by settlers on herding outposts. All the built-up settlement areas constructed since 1967 cover only 80 sq km.
This then is the essential context for understanding Israel’s final solution to the Palestinian problem. It is based not on solving the problem by means of mutual respect or consideration, but on eliminating the problem via unyielding Israeli brutality.
Israel is not a fascist state, but its current siege of Gaza and the marshalling of its fearful military juggernaut ready to crush all resistance, bear all the hallmarks of Nazi power. The intention is not just the elimination of Hamas, but the complete eradication of all Palestinian resistance. It is a brutal and naked attempt at regime change on the basis of absolute terror.
Exactly what ghastly results will emerge from the ashes of this final solution are hard to predict with any accuracy. What can be stated with some certainty is that the Israeli state is looking at an end game in which the national aspirations of Palestine and its people have been completely extinguished.
One solution: a democratic, secular Palestine
The two-state solution envisaged in the Oslo accords is dead and buried. It was sent to an early grave by a colonial settler state intent upon regional hegemony at the behest of Western powers. Every new settlement within the occupied territories has underlined and re-enforced this fundamental truth.
A viable and contiguous Palestinian state in these circumstances would be a near impossibility, encompassing as it would even smaller Palestinian enclaves surrounded by Israeli territory. Moreover, even in the best of circumstances envisaged by Oslo, the national oppression of Palestinians within Israel would be untouched.
Moreover, the most fundamental aspect of the national oppression of Palestinians is not addressed by the supporters of two states. Not only would it be necessary to dismantle the racist institutions within Israel – which would also entail the disestablishment of the Jewish religion as part of its essential identity – the Palestinian right of self-determination could only be fully exercised through the right of return to their stolen lands within Israel itself.
Were these two features granted – or more importantly, fought for and won in struggle – then the Israeli state as we know it would be virtually unrecognisable. It would make far greater sense to have a unitary, secular Palestine in which Arabs and Jews could live together in a country where the historical wounds of colonialism have been completely healed. It would mean an end to partition, the creation of a truly popular and democratic government serving the needs of its people and not acting as a bulwark for imperialism.
Some will say that this is an impossible dream and, in the name of realism, will continue to dally with the notion of compromise between the settler state and the dispossessed Palestinian population. At best that was an implausible scenario, which recent events have now rendered impossible. It is a solution entirely contingent on the goodwill of the oppressors rather than the mass movement of the oppressed people themselves.
The fundamental task of all supporters of freedom and justice for Palestine, particularly those of us in the imperialist countries that back the Israeli state, is to get the Israeli boot off the neck of the Palestinian people. This means unconditional support of the right of self-determination of the oppressed Palestinians, including the right of return to their lands.
In essence, the proponents of a two-state solution are invalidating this right of self-determination. By asserting the right of self-determination for Israel - the oppressor state - they are not only denying Palestinian self-determination but leaving the door open for providing legal status to a Bantu-style settlement of Palestinian territory.
It may well be the case that the monstrous brutality of the Israeli state machine - with its constant massacres, sieges, repression and other so-called “security measures” - could succeed in imposing such a two-state solution and the Palestinian people see no alternative but to accept it. However, that is not an outcome which we should fight for or endorse in advance
A way forward
The Hamas assault across the border area was not a legitimate expression of Palestinian resistance and most certainly not an advertisement for a unitary, democratic and secular Palestine. Besides the futility of it as a military operation, the attacks on civilians merely served to justify the Zionist argument that Palestinian freedom entails the elimination of Israeli Jews. It provided the perfect pretext for the Israeli regime to launch its final solution and garner international support for the recolonisation of the Gaza strip.
i. Caste and class in Israel
The establishment of the Israel state and the extension of its borders was made possible on the basis of a settler caste which bound together antagonistic social classes. Together with the Israeli ruling rich, the Jewish working class was incorporated into a state structure through the medium of substantial material privileges and outright discrimination against Arab workers who either remained or crossed over as migrant labour.
Like its Loyalist counterpart in Northern Ireland, Jewish labour in Israel has consistently identified with the ruling capitalist parties and, for the most part, has passively supported the occupation and repression of Palestinians. This was enabled by a corporatist trade union federation, Histradut, which was fully integrated into the Zionist project.
However, the material privileges which continue to bind Israeli Jewish workers to the settler caste are being eroded by a capitalist crisis which has seen a rise in unemployment and an increasing number or Jewish workers living below the poverty line. This has provoked a small number of strikes in the public sector which succeeded in winning salary increases and better conditions for both Jewish and Arab workers involved.
In the scheme of things, these are minor skirmishes that are far from representing a serious fracturing of the settler caste along class lines. Nevertheless, they do demonstrate that the Israeli state is not a homogeneous entity. As a minimum, any successful Palestinian revolution will have to convince at least a section of the Jewish working class that a unitary state will serve its interests.
ii. The spectre of a third Intifada
As the Israeli stormtroopers gather for the impending military offensive, it is hard to envisage a way forward other than supporting and joining the resistance. There are some signs, however small, that the Israeli onslaught is creating stress fractures within the region and opening the door for the Arab peoples to enter the fray.
The clearest signs of this are in the West Bank itself. Prior to the recent bombing of the al-Ahli Arab Hospital there were growing tensions between the Palestinian population and the authorities. Under its President, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority has in effect become a Vichy-like collaborationist regime. With neither Presidential nor parliamentary elections having taken place for the last 17 years, the embryonic Palestinian statelet has policed the territory on behalf of the occupying forces.
At the very best, the local Palestinian cops have stood by as the current Israeli offensive in Gaza has been accompanied by a wave of murderous assaults and repression by both the Israeli army and armed settlers, sometimes acting in unison.
Dalia Hatuq, a freelance journalist sent this report from Ramallah:
“The West Bank has been on Israeli military lockdown ever since the attacks, making it difficult to leave or enter the territory or move between towns and cities. Israeli forces quickly placed large cement blocks and earth mounds around places like East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron.........”
As the occupation forces seek to impose an effective curfew in Palestinian areas, armed settlers are free to go on the rampage:
“Violence is spilling into the West Bank and East Jerusalem” reported the Oct 14 Wall Street Journal, “where demonstrations in support of Gazans have erupted, leading to confrontations with Israeli forces. Israeli forces killed 38 Palestinians while settlers killed five in the West Bank, as 700 Palestinians were injured, the United Nations said. Eight children are among the dead.
“In the week since Hamas militants attacked Israel, the U.N. said it recorded 63 settler attacks against Palestinians, in some cases giving them “ultimatums to leave their homes, which has led to several families leaving.”
At the time of writing, at least 56 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and a further 1,100 have been injured. All indications are that these numbers will rise considerably in conjunction with the ground offensive against Gaza.
Palestinians in the area were already organising to defend themselves and to stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Gaza, but the hospital bombing seems to have tipped the balance of forces against the Abbas administration.
In an October 14th article entitled Fear and anger rise on the West Bank, the UK journal, The Economist, warned that intensified Israeli repression “might well push large numbers of Palestinians and their new militant groups into open revolt.” and pose serious challenges to the Israeli offensive:
“Israel is trying to keep a lid on the West Bank with heavy policing. Even the short drive between Nablus and Ramallah is now pocked with checkpoints. Yet Israel’s armed forces are already stretched thin across several fronts: not just around Gaza but also on the border with Lebanon........ A wide eruption of violence and unrest in the West Bank on the scale of the last major intifada there, which lasted from 2000-2005 and claimed about 3,000 Palestinian and 1,000 Israeli lives, would stretch Israel’s forces even more thinly across a third front.”
iii. Mobilisation of the Arab masses
The Arab spring of 2011 was unsuccessful in achieving its democratic objectives. Nevertheless, it was a powerful illustration of the revolutionary potential of Arab workers and peasants to completely reconfigure the balance of forces in favour of the Palestinian struggle. Had a genuinely democratic and anti-imperialist government appeared in Egypt alone, there is no question that it would have sent shock waves across Israel and the occupied territories.
Even the current conservative Arab regimes are now under pressure to take their distance from cozy relationship they have enjoyed with Tel Aviv. The mass response to the slaughter in Gaza is a factor both they and their masters in Washington and Europe have to factor in to the final solution.
Neither they, nor the forces assembled by Tehran, are willing to trigger a mass movement which they rightly fear would threaten their own existence as well as that of Israel. At the same time, they cannot be seen to stand idly by while their avowed enemy slaughters the Palestinian people.
All across the region now, in Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, the Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of people are rallying to the side of the Palestinians with varying demands on their respective governments to do something concrete to stay the hand of the Israeli onslaught.
It is impossible to say how deep and wide this will spread in the time that is permitted. However, whatever the immediate outcome of this phase of the Palestinian freedom struggle, it is clear that only the mobilisation of the Arab masses in the region as a whole can provide the sustenance for effective Palestinian resistance and an end to the nightmare of occupation.
The worldwide movement in solidarity with Palestine also has a vital role to play. As yet it is limited to street protests with an almost total absence of organised labour involvement. In Britain this is conditioned by a trades union bureaucracy that is wedded to the pro-Zionist leadership of the Labour Party.
The TUC (Trades Union Congress) recent statement is indicative of this. Whilst bemoaning “the collective punishment of the people of Gaza by the Israeli government”, its mealy-mouthed stance is simply to appeal for dialogue to enable “a two-state solution, [and]security for both Israel and Palestine”.
Amongst the estimated 150,000 people who joined the London demonstration on October 14, there must have been tens of thousands of workers who are part of a multinational British working class. It is their voice that needs to be heard within the trades unions as part of the expression of international working class solidarity. The demands must be clear and unambiguous
END THE CARNAGE! HALT THE SIEGE OF GAZA!
NO TO OCCUPATION! STOP THE SETTLEMENTS!
FREE THE PRISONERS ! FREE PALESTINE!
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