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From Apartheid to Genocide: Salvage Perspectives 14

by | April 18, 2024

Every issue of Salvage is accompanied by a pamphlet wherein the Editorial Collective presents a synoptic overview of certain key aspects of the political conjuncture as we see it – our perspectives. The below is the editorial perspectives essay that accompanies Salvage #14: Shrouded in Darkness.

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I.

And so we watch, as apartheid becomes genocide.

More than six months into the war on Gaza, and the assault on the means of Palestinian biological, cultural and spiritual existence has been relentless. 

By December 2023, three months into Israel’s ‘Operation Swords of Iron’, the Israeli military had killed an estimated 20,000 Palestinians. By February 2024, they had killed 30,000, of whom 12,300, some 41 per cent, were children. This was the fastest rate of civilian killing in any recent war, and the number of children murdered exceeded by orders of magnitude, both in number and proportion, those killed by Russia in Ukraine. Analysis of satellite imagery by City University of New York and Oregon State University found that 80 per cent of the homes in northern Gaza, from whence civilians had been ordered to flee on pain of death, were destroyed. In a population of just over 2 million people, 85 per cent have been displaced. 

Among the victims of this war is shock – such as that reverberated at the pronouncement, on 13 October, that the residents of the north of Gaza were ordered to evacuate within twenty-four hours, or that struck the first time news reached the West that Israel had
bombed a hospital. It has become clear to us unwilling spectators that there are no depths that Israel will not plumb, no horror that will give its Western backers pause enough to lift a finger. 

Targets have been generated by the hundreds using a novel AI-based system, ‘Habsora’ (‘Gospel’), ensuring that the IDF never ran out of places to bomb. The combination of aerial bombardment targeting hospitals, mosques, schools, bakeries and journalists’ homes, and a total siege cutting off food, electricity, fuel and water supplies, caused mass hunger with half a million outright starving according to the UN. Bakeries, a vital source of the scarce food available to the Gazan population under siege, are directly targeted. 

There has followed a health crisis as cases of meningitis, diarrhoea, influenza and Hepatitis A soared. Gaza’s health system having been all but destroyed, what hospitals remain are forced to operate well above capacity despite being only partly or residually functional. ‘The practice of medicine is under attack’, said the UN. This was all welcome, according to retired Israeli Major General Giora Eiland, whose editorial in Yedioth Aharanot argued that ‘severe epidemics in the southern Gaza Strip will bring victory closer and reduce casualties among IDF soldiers’. This is, as Israeli Holocaust scholar Raz Segal wrote, ‘a textbook case of genocide’. 

As in all recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, 90 per cent and above, support the war. ‘Death to the Arabs’ is a familiar cry of Israeli pogromists, as is ‘burn them, shoot them, kill them’. Israel’s psychological warfare catered to a popular Israeli demand for genocidal violence. Among its infowar efforts was a Telegram channel called ‘72 Virgins’, operated by the IDF, which fed audiences sadistic images of dead Gazans, which they are urged to share widely: ‘Burning their mother … You won’t believe the video we got! You can hear the crunch of their bones. We’ll upload it right away, get ready.’ ‘Exterminating the roaches … exterminating the Hamas rats. … Share this beauty.’ ‘Garbage juice!!!! Another dead terrorist!! You have to watch it with the sound, you’ll die laughing.’

In fact, the entire process was calculatedly theatrical, assiduously mediated by ritualised segments filmed by Israeli soldiers and packaged for social industry platforms. They produced voyeuristic footage of soldiers poring pruriently and gigglingly through abandoned possessions, thrilling to discover lingerie in the women’s dressers, and making themselves at home in the evacuated houses. They would film themselves playing in deserted playgrounds, or staging a mock maths class in an abandoned and wrecked classroom, the joke being that there were no children left in Gaza. They produced ‘skits’ where, for instance, a soldier would knock irritably on a door, only for the camera to reveal that the door was no longer attached to a house, the joke being that Gaza was a cemetery. The genocidal destruction of a people was continuously packaged as trolling entertainment.

 

 

In December, South Africa applied to make a case against Israel for the crime of genocide at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. As a legal precedent, it cited the case of The Gambia vs Myanmar, concerning the genocide against Rohingya Muslims. The case against Myanmar was significant, not only for establishing an expansive definition of erga omnes partes in which the court decided that parties to the Geneva Convention and statutes against genocide could make a case against an offending state purely on the basis of their legal obligation to prevent such crimes, but also because the relevant facts were very similar to those in Gaza: with the difference that the landmark UN report accusing Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya described the killing of over 25,000 people and the displacement of 750,000 people taking place over seven years, not months.

The provisional ruling of the ICJ, when it came on 24 January 2024, confirmed what had been dismissed as the fantasy of cranks, fanatics and antisemites: the claim that Israel has been guilty of genocidal acts is ‘plausible’. The ICJ could have demanded a ceasefire and did not. The court demanded a ceasefire in Ukraine: yet the Russian invasion continues, as would Israel’s assault on Gaza had South Africa’s petition been granted in full. The point is not what the ICJ ruling does, but what it can be used to do. Every arrested solidarity demonstrator, every persecuted activist, every proponent of BDS should carry it with them. For one thing, universities, local authorities and other institutions that do not practise BDS now stand in real legal risk of retribution for complicity in ‘plausible’ acts of genocide. ‘Between equal rights’, said Marx himself, ‘force decides.’ But sometimes the adjudication of rights can augment our forces.

Anyone in doubt of the upshot of the ruling should pay attention to how Israel and its political and ideological supporters responded. The intelligent ploy would have been to feign relaxed confidence and declare, as the Biden administration did, that the ruling was fully compatible with the government’s legal position. Or even to declare with blasé swagger, as far-right security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir did, ‘Hague-Shmague’. Yet with dreary, silly, predictability Yoav Gallant denounced the ruling as ‘antisemitic’: a complaint made nowhere during the proceedings nor in the dissenting opinion by the Israeli judge Aharon Barak. Far from preventing or punishing genocidal incitement, fifteen government ministers, including the finance minister and the minister for internal security, attended a conference dedicated to such incitement. Interviewed by Channel 4 News, the conference organiser, far-right settler activist Danielle Weiss, said:

There will be no Arabs in the Gaza Strip. They will go to Turkey, to Scotland, to Britain. I don’t want to kill them. I want them out of Gaza. We will use different methods. One of them is not to let in any humanitarian aid so that countries of the world will take pity on them and take them in.

This, unequivocally, is genocidal incitement. 

As though to underline Western solidarity with the genocide, however, the US decided on the same day that the ICJ’s findings were published to immediately suspend funding for the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), one of the the last remaining sources of food and medical care for Palestinians in Gaza. The occasion for this brutal doubling-down, swiftly emulated by a number of European allies including the UK, was a vague accusation from Israel’s Shin Bet, who claimed to have discovered evidence that a dozen UNRWA employees took part in Al-Aqsa Flood. This information was supposedly extracted from ‘suspects’ under interrogation. 

It would have been far from astonishing if a handful of UNRWA’s 15,000 Gazan employees had joined the assault, and no one suggested the organisation’s Western leadership actually knew about or endorsed, let alone did anything to enable, the assault. Yet, when some media outlets got hold of this evidence, it turned out to contain no proof of Israel’s assertion. Nor was any evidence ever handed over to UNRWA, which nonetheless fired the named employees immediately. In truth, this was a treble blow in Israel’s favour, distracting from the ICJ’s judgement, implicitly rebuking it (it is a UN court), and attacking one of its long-standing enemies. 

UNRWA was formed in 1949 in the hope that it would expedite the resettlement of ethnically cleansed Palestinians, and thus destroy all possibility of their return. Thanks in part to Palestinian resistance, however, its remit swiftly changed. Its sponsors, aiming to head off the danger of communism among the refugees, pivoted to the promotion of economic development and social services among the refugee population. The result was that, though it remained a quasi-colonial agency, it also became a basis for Palestinian identity formation as a refugee population. 

As the PLO emerged as the Palestinians’ internationally recognised political representation, UNRWA also had to engage in a complex relationship with Palestinian militant organisations while striving to remain ‘apolitical’. Since the Israeli ‘disengagement’ from the Gaza strip in 2005 and ensuing blockade, UNRWA has reverted to being an emergency relief service, staving off the worst social disasters as the strip was systematically ‘de-developed’. This is UNRWA’s crime: that it mitigates Palestinian suffering, provides some desperately needed shelter, and forms a basis for the claims of Palestinian refugees. Israeli politicians have long argued that UNRWA is, in the words of Danny Ayalon, an ‘obstacle to peace’. By this, they mean that another agency might more forcefully and swiftly resettle the Palestinian population for good, and thus expedite Israel’s genocidal goals by finally destroying the Palestinians as a people.

 

 

At what point did it become genocide? Genocide is a process, not an event, and one often finds that before the specifically genocidal act the perpetrators have been preoccupied with, tormenting, tormented by, and dreaming of the removal of the ‘problem’ population for some time. 

Throughout its existence as a political movement, Zionism has contemplated, dreamed of, the non-existence of Palestinians. Israel’s perdurable problem lurking behind a flurry of broken kettle rationalisations – the Palestinians never existed, why should ‘the Arabs’ resent us this tiny patch of land, we are the only democracy in the Middle East, the Arabs are Nazis, Hitlerites, ISIS, genocidal antisemites – has been the recalcitrant persistence of the Palestinians as a demographic and political reality. 

For the obverse of ‘the almost total disregard for the non-Jews or native Arab population’ in Zionist ideation, which Edward Said described in ‘Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims’, is the recurring fantasy that Palestinians could be ‘spirited across the borders’, or might ‘fold their tents’ and ‘silently steal away’ (Theodor Herzl). In the early years, it was hoped that the expulsion of the Palestinians might be ‘voluntary’, but only in the sense that it would be engineered with the help of Arab states. Alternatively, the force of imperialist arms, British arms after the Balfour Declaration, would solve the problem. 

All wings of the Zionist movement, bar dissenters like Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and Hannah Arendt – who were themselves not innocent of Zionist chauvinism toward the Palestinians – accepted this without controversy. At no point were the majority of Zionists prepared to negotiate with the residents of Palestine who were, Chaim Weizmann remarked, merely ‘some hundred thousands negroes’ who were of ‘no value’. Early Zionists argued furiously about what to do with the Palestinians. Exploit them as in Algeria or expel them as in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the US? From the 1920s, as Nur Masalha has documented in great detail, the idea of ‘transfer’ became ever more popular among the dominant layers of the Zionist movement – and ever more expansive in scope. 

So much the worse if they resisted, as during the Arab revolt of 1936–9, for then they were ‘Nazis’ (Yitzhak Tabenkin), reflecting ‘Arab fascism and imperialism and Arab Hitlerism’ (Berl Katznelson). By December 1947, the Zionist movement had been dreaming of Israel Zangwill’s ‘land without a people for a people without a land’ for some sixty-five years. As documented in Ilan Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by the 1940s the dream had become intelligence-gathering and military planning. The nascent state had been collecting detailed information on all Palestinian villages, their resources, their population, lists of who had participated in the revolt or was merely politically active, and surveillance photography, much of it supplied by the British. 

From December 1947, days after a UN resolution indifferently handed over 56 per cent of Palestine to the new state of Israel (at that point, settlers owned just 6 per cent of the land), the cleansing operations began. The first difficulty they faced, ironically, was the lack of resistance. As Pappé documents, in the first stages of the ethnic cleansing, following the training they had received from British officer Orde Wingate, they sought to provoke actions by Palestinians that could justify ‘retaliation’. However, the Palestinian national movement had been destroyed and its leadership dispersed by the British crackdown, with the assistance of Zionist paramilitaries, on the Palestinian revolt ending in 1939. It was so broken that little happened in response to the cleansings, most villages hoping to continue life as normal as the expulsions took place.

From March 1948, Haganah units were given lists of villages to cleanse which, alone or in coordination with far-right militias Irgun or the Stern Gang, they duly attacked with flamethrowers, barrel bombs, shells, and aerial bombardment. To expedite population flight, they mined houses, or set fire to them, or showered them with bullets. This achieved, they would demolish villages so that there could be no return. They also used psychological warfare, according to David Hearst, broadcasting ‘shrieks, wails and anguished moans of Arab women, the wail of sirens and the clang of fire-alarm bells, interrupted by a sepulchral voice calling out in Arabic: Save your souls, all ye faithful! Flee for your lives!’ 

Throughout the Nakba, even right-wing historian Benny Morris documents, they carried out at least two dozen massacres, from Deir Yassin to Tantura, Balad al-Shaykh and Ayn al-Zaytun, brutally penalising villages that resisted, and killing a total of 15,000 people as they drove out a population of 750,000. They claimed, not 56 per cent, but close to 80 per cent of Palestine. This was far short of their dreams, as Ben Gurion and others had envisioned, in which the state of Israel would go as far north as the Litani river in modern Lebanon, to the north-east into Syrian territory twenty miles south of Damascus, and as far east as ‘the furthest edge of Transjordan’. The remaining Palestinian population was held in a rightless limbo of severe military rule for decades, thousands of them held in pens and prison camps, many tortured, to obliterate any thought of reversing the outcome of the ‘war of independence’. 

The partial achievement of a dream that seems impossible to fulfil in its totality is the formative condition for Israel’s existence, and haunts it ongoingly. Later conquests of the whole of historic Palestine compounded the problem. More land meant more Palestinians – often the very same that had been expelled during the Nakba. Zionism never could make it a land without a people. 

Zionism, like all species of disaster nationalism, thrives on the cycle of threat and release through violent assertions of omnipotence. It craves victimhood, and Israel’s sense of its own victimhood is legendary. It is even victimised when it kills. Golda Meir, who was personally present at the aftermath of one of the Zionist massacres which drove out the indigenous population in 1948, once said with infamous sanctimony: ‘We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. But we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.’ However, the era of such lachrymose ‘shoot and cry’ Zionism has long given way to another species of psychopathic sentimentality, as when Benjamin Netanyahu responded to a call to remove West Bank settlements by calling it ‘ethnic cleansing’. Even as the ICJ heard a desperate bid to stop Israel’s genocide in Gaza, the state described such accusations as a ‘blood libel’. There is in principle nothing that Israel could do to the Palestinians that would modify its hypertrophic sense of rectitude, and of being unjustly persecuted.

 

 

II.

Seeing that the West would do nothing to stop Israel, the Houthi movement, an ally of Hezbollah and Hamas and the de facto (if not de jure) government of Yemen, began a heroic blockade of the Red Sea in response to the attack on Gaza. This specifically targeted ships heading to Israel. This was a gesture of solidarity to draw some Israeli fire away from the besieged population and multiply Israel’s military predicaments. The result of the Houthi campaign was that all the major shipping corporations, including the largest, Maersk, suspended operations in the Red Sea. It was estimated that this could cut global shipping by 20 per cent, and had already caused 40 per cent of containerships to experience significant delays. 

In response, the Biden administration launched ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’, an attempt to shepherd a loose multilateral coalition into bombing Houthi targets in Yemen. The attempted coalition immediately proved fragile. Of twenty supposed enlistees, eight declined to be named, while two, Italy and Spain, issued statements distancing themselves from it. Nonetheless, in January 2024, at short notice the US and UK decided to start a bombing campaign in Yemen under the pretext of defending what the Pentagon called ‘freedom of navigation’.

Called upon to explain the attacks, the British foreign secretary Lord David Cameron followed Biden’s lead in denying that it had anything to do with the war on Gaza, a claim so risible that it can only have been made out of necessity, namely that to acknowledge a connection would make it clear that the British state was risking a regional war to defend the state of Israel’s right to commit genocide. As to the strategic logic of bombing a movement that had hitherto survived and resisted almost a decade of Saudi and UAE bombing, defence secretary Grant Shapps could offer only that ‘enough was enough’ and that ‘we needed to act’ to protect ‘freedom of navigation in international waters’. The mere invocation of a need to act, a statement that might be made by anyone to justify any action taken for any reason, spoke with inadvertent elegance of the strategic void at the heart of the policy. Asked whether the bombing was working, Biden said with characteristic brusque illogicality: ‘When you say working, are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes.’ Biden has sacrificed his entire foreign policy orientation, which preeminently included getting out of the Middle East and escalating competition with China, and potentially his meagre chances at reelection for the sake of his commitment to the state of Israel.

However merciless and however unspeakable Israel’s response, Al-Aqsa Flood can thus claim to have achieved something more than carnage. Its first casualty, in diplomatic terms, was the ‘normalisation’ process through which Israel sought to marginalise the Palestinians by cutting a deal – backed by the Biden administration in blissfully oblivious prolongation of Trump-era policy – with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The second casualty was the status quo in which Hamas, ensconced as a ‘rebel government’ in Gaza, effectively secured the besieged enclave and spared Israel the burdens of occupation, allowing it to get on with colonising and annexing chunks of the West Bank. The third casualty, which is the flip side of the first, was US foreign policy. Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, boasted in a speech on 29 September that ‘the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades’. Turning on a dime after 7 October, the Biden administration put its contest with China on the back-burner and ploughed head-first into a renewed US engagement in the Middle East. Supporting Israel with his full chest, Biden also dispatched war ships to the Mediterranean to threaten those who might ‘take advantage’ of the war. The fourth casualty: Israel’s standing in the world and its status as a stable and crucial ally to Western power in the region. 

Six months into its genocidal assaults, support for sanctions and divestment made it into the halls of power. Japanese, Belgian, and Canadian suspensions of weapons deliveries; US, Dutch, and British foreign office personnel breaking rank and publicly denouncing their countries’ support for Israel’s actions; mass mobilisations across the world demanding a sharp change in government policy; all signs point to a rapid acceleration of Israel’s pariah status even among its most long standing supporters. 

As the White House denounced calls for a ceasefire as ‘repugnant’ and ‘disgraceful’, and the Senate condemned protests as ‘antisemitic’, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was despatched to try to persuade the Egyptian dictatorship to absorb an expelled Gazan population so that Israel could ethnically cleanse the strip. He predictably failed – though perhaps only for the time being, as evidence has emerged that Egypt is constructing a walled enclosure for refugees from Rafah in the Sinai desert. 

In the UK, foreign secretary James Cleverly refused to condemn Israel’s full siege as a war crime. The official opposition, never so strenuously the ‘loyal opposition’ as in its laborious effort to resemble whatever the Right thinks is ‘tough’, went even further: Keir Starmer, heavily marketed as a ‘human rights lawyer’ during his campaign for the Labour leadership, claimed that Israel had a ‘right’ to impose collective punishment on the population of Gaza. He was supported in this by the supposedly ‘soft left’ shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry. Shadow minister for International Development and noted ‘towns’ expert Lisa Nandy declined, when questioned, to clarify that collective punishment was a breach of international law. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, when asked by Nick Robinson about what ‘they call Palestine’, insisted in defiance of international legal consensus that ‘Gaza is not occupied by Israel’. Only after waves of resignations from Labour councils, and even a few from the shadow cabinet, did Starmer claim not to have said what he is captured on video saying.

It is no small offence to our piscine friends to say that the punditry and political class has the collective memory of a solitary goldfish in a tiny bowl that it mistakes for the wide ocean. Existing only in an eternal present circumscribed entirely by the narrowest of concerns, the majority of journalists and politicians awoke to the situation of the Palestinians on 7 October 2023 only to the extent of noticing the astonishing scope and brutality of the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. 

Gone from their minds, to the extent that they had ever countenanced it, was seventy-five years of ethnic cleansing, exile and war, fifty-six years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, decades of expanding ‘settlements’ across the West Bank, and sixteen years of brutal ‘de-developing’ siege in Gaza. Gone were the names of famous massacres in Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila, and Jenin. Gone too was any recollection of the blood-lettings of Cast Lead, Pillar of Smoke and Protective Edge, or of the indiscriminate slaughter of the March of Return – which in every particular resembled the ‘Gandhian’ resistance for which earnest liberal moralists hanker – or the violent suppression of the ‘unity intifada’ of 2021, or of the increasing momentum of pogroms in the West Bank, notably in Huwara in 2023. History is, to the extent it exists, only a litany of ‘their’ crimes and mistakes and ‘our’ heartfelt efforts to achieve peace. And thus, for the purposes of their tepid takes, the bloody history of Palestine began only on 7 October, with an assault explicable only as cruel fanaticism, and nothing more.

In fact, the origins of that attack can partly be traced to the butchery of the March of Return, scarcely more than five years before Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. Beginning in March 2018, tens of thousands of Gazans began marching to the Israel-built ‘border fence’ – in reality a camp fence reinforced with seven-foot high walls, surveillance and automatic machine-guns – in an act of civil resistance. Israel immediately declared the march zone an ‘area of terror’, treating it as a combat zone. Teams of snipers were detached and, operating under what B’TSelem called ‘illegal open fire regulations’, began cutting down the protesters with bullets. Hundreds were killed, and tens of thousands – including almost nine thousand children – were wounded (an antiseptic statistical descriptor that obscures the devastation wrought when an armour piercing round connects with a teenager’s limb). 

This was also the occasion for the formation of the ‘Joint Operations Room of Resistance Factions’. During the early days of the March of Return, about a dozen groups, among them the Izz-ad-Din al-Qassam brigades (Hamas), the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (Fatah), the Omar Al-Qasim Forces (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine), Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Mujahideen Brigades (Palestinian Mujahideen Movement) agreed to coordinate for armed resistance to the Israeli occupation. This declared an immediate practical alternative – a coalition from the far-left to the Islamist right – to the moribund PLO. There followed a series of joint drills over several years – to which Israeli officials were alerted, but were too complacent to perceive as a serious threat. On 7 October, this realignment of the factions culminated in Operation Al Aqsa Flood.

 

 

III.

Israel’s war, thus far, has been a failure on its own terms, and concomitantly a political and ideological disaster for US imperialism. If the goal was to destroy Hamas and retrieve hostages by military means, it hasn’t come close. Notwithstanding Israel’s claims to have killed 7,000 of the al-Qassam brigades’ 40,000 members, analysis by the Institute for the Study of War at the end of 2023 suggested that of twenty-six to thirty battalions operating in Gaza, each comprising 400-1000 fighters, only three had been destroyed and five had lost significant numbers of fighters, leaving the majority of the outfit intact. There was no reason, either, to believe that any of the other armed factions had collapsed. Months of brutal war of attrition will undoubtedly have further run down Gaza’s fighting force. In February, Netanyahu and Gallant claimed Israel had destroyed 70 per cent of Hamas’ battalions. This seems unlikely, and at the time US intelligence officials were telling Congress something very different: Israel was “not close” to destroying Hamas, and should revert to a more realistic goal of weakening their combat strength. In fact, as UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese documents in her report, ‘Anatomy of a Genocide’, Israel’s repeated claim to have killed huge numbers of ‘terrorists’ is itself expressive of genocidal intent. By early December, it claimed to have killed seven thousand ‘terrorists’, when less than 5,000 adult males had been identified among the dead, thus implying that all adult males killed were ‘terrorists’.

The IDF has repeatedly declared major success only for it to blow up in their faces. In November, the IDF claimed to have effectively subdued the northern Gaza strip. There was already reason to be sceptical of this when, during the temporary truce, the Joint Operations Room was able to orchestrate a comprehensive ceasefire and deliver hostages from houses in areas allegedly under Israeli control. In early December, just one day after the IDF once more claimed control of the north, it lost nine soldiers including senior commanders in an ambush in the suburb of Shujaya in Gaza City. In January, days after the IDF claimed that Hamas’s operation was a busted flush as a pretext for winding down its ground operations in the north, they also announced the death of a senior division commander during fighting in the north, most likely in Beit Lahiya. Israel’s tactic, under pressure from Biden to wind down the high-intensity phase of the operation, has been simply to declare success in most of Gaza and gradually withdraw its tanks. 

Israel has already effectively lost its war in Gaza. The Israeli military has been warning at increasing pitch for months that the ostensible goal of destroying Hamas is unachievable. There is as yet no serious plan for what will happen in Gaza when the war finally ends, as any plausible ceasefire agreement would – as it has so far – involve negotiating with Hamas as the de facto government of Gaza. 

The IDF has also been warning of a possible new intifada in the West Bank, where the scale of its ethnic cleansing operations have drastically increased since 7 October, and where the already feeble support for the Palestinian Authority, a desiccated husk effectively policing the West Bank for Israel, has collapsed. The likely result of this war is a further realignment of Palestinian forces across both Gaza and the West Bank, with Hamas effectively in the leadership. Nor does it seem likely that, even if Biden were to green light an assault on Lebanon, Israel would have any more luck than it did in 2006, meaning that such a hubristic offensive would compound the existing strategic quagmire. In the absence of any creative strategic thinking on the part of the Israeli ruling class, therefore, it has simply fallen back on the most messianic and dangerous pipe dream of Zionism: to make the Palestinians disappear. Genocide is now what passes for strategy, and there is no logical point at which it could end without triggering an immediate crisis for the Netanyahu government.

What remains of US strategic thinking? In the immediate aftermath of 7 October, both the British and American administrations abruptly rediscovered their interest in ‘a Palestinian state’. They turned to an elderly and dying Mahmoud Abbas, whom they have cheerfully marginalised for years, but he is not an effective interlocutor and his relevance has long passed. Lately, Lord Cameron has suggested that Britain might recognise a Palestinian state without waiting for a deal with Israel, while the Washington Post rumours that the Biden administration is contemplating a ceasefire agreement including a ‘timetable’ for such a state. If such a ‘timetable’ were included in a ceasefire agreement, however, it is difficult to see how it would be anything other than a temporising move. The US knows perfectly well that the Palestinians have no ‘partner for peace’, even if Oslo could be disinterred and reanimated. No Israeli government would accept it and, for the same reason that the Biden administration refuses to rein in its ally or do anything but shower it with largesse, weapons and diplomatic cover, no US government would risk a breach with a state in whose strategic importance it has invested so much.

 

 

As the US election season lurched toward its ineluctable, and utterly soul crushing, rehash of Biden v Trump 2.0, the palpable disaffection among the Democratic base has pushed Genocide Joe to ever heightening levels of farce. When the president’s approval rating fell precipitously several months into the slaughter, his press corp (official and otherwise) began what they seemed to believe was a charm offensive. First, by insisting that voters just didn’t understand everything their Commander in Chief was doing ‘in private’ to stop the bombs falling. This was followed by ‘leaks’ that began to pour forth from the White House, revealing that the most powerful politician in the world had taken to complaining (again, in private) that Bibi is a ‘bad fucking man’. That ‘restraint’ was being urged. The State Department, we were told again and again, was working tirelessly to get Israel to ‘protect civilians’. Horrified by the massacre being perpetrated against Palestinians with full US approval, Aaron Bushnell, an active duty service member, drenched his Air Force fatigues in accelerant and set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy while shouting ‘Free Palestine’ with his dying breath. Shortly after this self-immolation, the administration ramped up their rhetorical efforts.

From the campaign trail, Vice President Kamala Harris finally exchanged Washington’s euphemism of choice – humanitarian pause – for the toothier sounding ‘ceasefire’. This change in tone was quickly followed by the announcement that the US, after months of professed concern about the humanitarian crisis, would do something: they would begin airdropping emergency aid into the Gaza Strip. Of course no space was made in the self-congratulatory statements heralding the new initiative for any examination of why it might be necessary to deliver food relief from 30,000 feet. Nor, the State Department admitted in a subsequent press briefing, had there been any assurances from their Israeli counterparts that Palestinians seeking said aid would not be targeted by air strikes or sniper fire. In the bleakest imaginable of cosmic winks, not even a week into this flashy operation to rain MREs from the sky, Al Jazeera reported that a pallet filled with the pre-packaged meals crashed down on a crowd of starving people, crushing five to death and injuring several others.

Finally, when hundreds of thousands of primary voters (that is, the subset of the population who nominally should be the Democrats’ most enthusiastic supporters) opted to select ‘literally anyone else’ by voting uncommitted in state after state, Biden unveiled a new PR-heavy, substance-light, relief program to address the dire situation facing Gaza’s 2.3 million residents. Rather than threaten to suspend the shipment of US munitions to Israel, or any number of other actions that might materially impact their client state’s ability to conduct genocide with impunity, America would instead begin construction of a ‘temporary pier’ off the Gaza coast. In his State of the Union speech Biden explained that this solitary dock will massively increase the amount of aid making its way into the Strip. If this claim isn’t met with a priori scepticism, then the US military’s clarification that it would take sixty days to build their floating staging area, combined with the fact that all aid would ultimately be under Israeli control, ought to be sufficient to dent any illusions of American beneficence.

One is left to wonder who makes up the intended audience for these symbolic gestures. Spectacular flexes of American innovative muscle may continue to impress liberal champions of Pax Americana – a species of pundit all but extinct outside its native beltway habitat – but their ability to relieve the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before all of our eyes will be negligible. And their efficacy at halting the machinery of Israeli genocide grinding through Gaza will be exactly nil. The problem of Biden’s declining poll numbers is not, despite the administration’s desperation to cleave to this explanation, a result of Americans misunderstanding all that’s being done behind the scenes to reign in Netanyahu’s excesses. The problem is that growing numbers of Americans understand perfectly well that US tax dollars buy the US manufactured bombs that fall on Gaza right alongside every airdropped relief parcel.

Even when Canada, Australia and New Zealand, three of the ‘Five Eyes’, ultimately called for an ‘immediate ceasefire’ in February 2024, thus signalling a breach in imperialism catalysed by the ICJ’s judgement, the Anglo-American axis remained committed to allowing Israel maximum room for manoeuvre. Even when the state of Israel let it be volubly known that it would be undertaking a full assault on Rafah, the last ‘safe’ place in the Gaza strip where over a million civilians are packed in tents and huts, and where Israel has already carried out a demonstrative bombing during a highly publicised ad campaign in the American Superbowl, and even as Biden and Lord Cameron mumblingly pleaded with Israel not to do it, there was no relenting in their commitment to prolonging the war for as long as Israel wants to be at war. Nor are the Labour opposition likely to change anything when they are elected as, hiding behind deliberately vague calls for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’ (meaning a ceasefire on Israel’s timetable, at its convenience), they have twice refused to back a ceasefire when it came to a vote in the House of Commons. 

Finally, in March 2024, faced with an intransigent Israeli government that persisted in threatening to attack Rafah, and whose deliberate imposition of famine on Gaza through the obstruction of aid was beginning to cause the Biden administration political headaches, the US slightly relented by abstaining on a UN Security Council resolution calling for an ‘immediate’, though temporary, ceasefire. This was too much for the Israeli government, which promptly cancelled a planned diplomatic visit to the United States, and withdrew its negotiators from talks with Hamas, blaming the UN resolution for souring a possible deal by weakening their hand. At the same time, Republican candidate Trump appeared in Israeli media telling his erstwhile allies: ‘You have to end your war. You have to do it … You are losing a lot of support.’ 

This, a muted tactical dispute between US imperialism and its client, is an echo of a latent strategic rift. Israel’s secular drift toward the far-right is producing unwelcome political effects for Washington, which is reflected in the conduct of the war. Ha’aretz reports on a degradation of the IDF’s chain of command in Gaza, as low-level commanders and soldiers, encouraged by Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, repeatedly engage in and film evidence of gratuitous acts of murder, looting and destruction that, while only aggravating the overall genocidal course of the war, are in defiance of orders. Crucially, the military brass uttered not a word of criticism over any of this. The first, feeble attempt to rein it in came from the IDF’s advocate-general in February, a month after the ICJ’s preliminary ruling. He warned of the ‘strategic damage’ that such actions could do internationally. Yet there is scarce evidence of this having any effect, or of any soldiers being disciplined let alone prosecuted. The implication is that an armed force consisting overwhelmingly of reservists, skewed strongly to the right, chafing at the ‘restraint’ under which they operate, publicly demanding that the war aims be revised to explicitly include the re-colonisation of Gaza, are in rebellion against what they see as a failed, ‘leftist’ military establishment. And that the IDF leadership is unwilling to discipline the soldiers they need to carry out the genocide. The result is that the process is only partially under the control of the war cabinet, let alone the Biden administration. In this context, the political affinities of US presidents are secondary. Biden may prefer a government led by Benny Gantz, an impeccable specimen of the IDF establishment who visited the White House against Netanyahu’s wishes, and Trump may prefer to work with Netanyahu, but the needs of the US national security establishment take precedence: support for Israel remains unconditional, but the changing character of Israeli society and the Freikorps-like mentality of a chunk of its armed forces makes it an unpredictable ally. As this issue goes to press, Netanyahu appears to be staking his career on his ability to ignite nuclear war with Iran. Genocide Joe is counselling restraint. The result will be some indication of how much US influence remains over Israel’s maniacal government.

 

 

IV.

While failure to eliminate Hamas would constitute a tactical defeat for the state of Israel, it may yet achieve the objective of ethnic cleansing of the Gaza strip. The construction of a Sinai ghetto for Rafah refugees at least suggests that the Egyptian dictatorship is not as unyielding on this question as Sisi’s blunt rebuttal of Blinken early in the war suggested. Taken together with the demographically devastating consequences of famine and the obliteration of the vast majority of homes in Gaza, all conditions are being contrived to make existence in Gaza physically impossible. 

The Israeli attack on UNRWA, aided and abetted by the Biden administration and its allies, is a crucial component of this strategy, undercutting both the emergency relief sustaining Palestinian livelihoods and the institutional support for their political status as refugees. The mere fact that the majority of Gazans have resisted being driven out is indicative of their depth of resilience and political commitment amid unfathomable trauma.

It is not obvious that ethnic cleansing will be achieved: the explicit line from all of Israel’s allies including the Biden administration is that Gaza must remain for Gazans. The refusal of the US to veto a ceasefire resolution that was not conditional upon the immediate return of all Israeli hostages must be read in part as a warning to Tel Aviv, not least because of the unpredictable and probably combustible regional results of Gazans being driven into the desert. Nonetheless, were Gaza to be ‘cleansed’ with at most rhetorical gestures of alarm from Middle East regimes that both allowed and contained mass protest, would this by itself constitute a decisive strategic victory for US imperialism and the state of Israel and a further step toward ‘normalisation’ between complicit Arab states and a ‘Greater Israel’? And would Israel pay any price for the genocide, or would it be sufficient for Netanyahu and his far-right allies to be driven out of office so that Gantz could take control? The answer to this is partly contingent on Palestinian resistance: for example whether, as the IDF has been warning, rebellion breaks out in the West Bank against the wave of pogroms by settlers and soldiers, against the Palestinian authority, and in solidarity with Gaza. But it also depends on the global movement, and particularly the reanimation of BDS after years of anti-BDS laws and crackdowns.

 

 

Cause for muted and highly conditional optimism in this unspeakably grim situation has been the rapid growth and radicalisation of the global pro-Palestine movement, the regular mass protests from Tokyo to Washington, DC, combined with diverse tactics of direct action, sit-ins, occupations and pickets of armed factories, the explosion in Jewish anti-Zionism (represented most militantly in the US by Jewish Voice for Peace), Greta Thunberg’s coming out as an ally of Palestinians (‘no climate justice on occupied land’), the fractures within the states allied with Israel (from dissenting State Department employees to protesting civil servants in the Netherlands), the commercial impact of organic consumer boycott on firms like Starbucks and McDonalds, the political consequences for those backing Israel’s genocide (Labour’s loss of hundreds of councillors, the collapse of frontbench discipline, George Galloway’s victory in the Rochdale bye-election, the ‘uncommitted’ voting bloc in the Democratic primaries which is polling an average of 10 per cent), and the fissures within the pro-Israel coalition beginning with Macron’s defection to the ceasefire camp in November and eventuating in the Biden administration’s international isolation. All of this happened in the face of protests bans in France and Berlin, slander (‘hate marches’), US congressional resolutions demonising pro-Palestine protest, witch-hunts on campus, and an atmosphere of incitement resulting in lone wolf murders in the US and an inept attempt at far-right intimidation backed by the Home Secretary in the UK. The ruling-classes lined up behind Israel had clearly hoped that a post-9/11 atmosphere of terror and paralysis could be contrived, and were swiftly disabused.

Yet, the mass movement in support of Gaza, like all flash movements, will dissipate once the shooting has stopped and the proximate cause of protest has wound down. Everything then depends on Palestine solidarity activists slipping into a slower, more patient groove, building support for BDS in spite of the laws restricting it. This is where the ICJ’s preliminary judgement is likely to prove particularly helpful. If Israel runs the serious risk of being found guilty of genocide by the world’s highest court, then, as the Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Coordinating Committee was quick to point out, this puts heightened legal responsibility on all states and organisations doing business with Israel. Shortly after the judgement, the Dutch court of appeals blocked the shipment of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel. The ICJ judgement also played a role in the suspension of arms sales to Israel by Canada, Japan, Spain and Belgium, and was a factor in a wave of divestment resolutions passed at universities across California. Even where anti-BDS laws have passed, that is not the end of the matter. Law, as both the United States and Israel know very well, is shaped in its application by the contending social forces and their effects on the balance of juridical forces in the state. Israel’s actions have crossed a decisive threshold, legally and politically, in its journey to becoming a pariah state. While Western foreign policy seeks to limit the damage and preserve Israel’s normalisation, all activist efforts should be aimed at accelerating Israel’s de-legitimisation. Stopping the flow of arms to Israel, 99 per cent of which come from the US and Germany – where, not coincidentally, regimes of repression based on ‘new antisemitism’ discourse are at its most pathological – will be the most difficult yet efficacious contribution to this struggle.

Yet the war on Gaza has wider consequences for the global Left. The affiliation of liberal capitalist states with the Zionist project will tend to enmesh them in the internal dynamics of what is otherwise a minor, unstable capitalist state in the Levant. The decision, more or less conscious, to endorse and normalise genocidal violence against the Palestinians is a bonus for every ethnonationalist movement in the world. The effort to constrain pro-Palestine protest has catalysed the existing drift of liberal states toward authoritarian irrationality, Islamophobic crackdown, violent policing and aggressive border regimes. The insulation of decision-making from popular will and the decomposition and paralysis of weak parliamentary regimes has strengthened the authoritarian legal-police networks. In the context of capitalist instability, intensified geopolitical competition and ecological blowback raising production costs, the assault on democracy is likely to accelerate. Meanwhile, the repressive apparatuses are quick to learn from and profit by Israeli repression. What Antony Lowenstein calls the ‘Palestine Laboratory’ – in which weapons systems, surveillance and border walls tested out on the most infrahumanised population on the planet are then implemented in border systems, surveillance of activists, and militarised police tactics – is likely to increase its salience after this genocide.

Palestine is, in short, the symptom of the world system, the point where all its putative norms are openly inverted, where its racist violence, exploitation, and hatred of democracy exists in concentrated form – and, consequently, where the system is most perceptible as a totality, and where resistance ramifies into every aspect of the ecologically degraded, imperialist, world capitalist system. 

– Salvage Editorial Collective,
April 2024