Friday marked the conclusion of Israel’s latest round of violent aggression against Palestine. The eleven-day bombardment of Gaza saw Israel destroy 40 schools, four hospitals, an Associated Press and Al-Jazeera newsroom, and at least 19 medical facilities including the city’s only COVID-19 testing site. In the end, 248 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, compared to 12 Israelis. Yet the narrative we constantly hear from the corporate media is that “both sides” are to blame for the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict.
Not a Symmetrical War
Let us be perfectly clear: Israel provoked the latest round of violence with its assault on the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim celebration of the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Indeed, Israel’s occupation of Gaza is itself a constant act of aggression and provocation. The Israeli government denies Palestinians access to food, water, shelter, and basic medical needs. It severely restricts their ability to travel, prohibiting them from using certain roads and highways. It forcibly seizes their homes. And Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip have increased exponentially since Israel’s establishment in 1948. Israel has turned Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison.
Given such brutal treatment (which amounts to ethnic cleansing) and horrific living conditions, can we truly blame the Palestinians for fighting back? If the state of Texas were suddenly invaded by an occupying military force, are we really to believe the gun-toting, “stand-your-ground” residents would not do everything within their power to defend themselves and their property?
(This is perhaps a poor analogy given that the U.S. actually stole Texas — along with the south western areas that now include Utah, New Mexico, California, Arizona, and western Colorado— from Mexico. Indeed, perhaps this shared penchant for empire-building is what is truly at the heart of the “special relationship,” between the U.S. and Israel.)
The rockets Hamas fires at Israel pale in comparison to the massive, technologically advanced, U.S.-subsidized Israel Defense Forces (IDF). And let’s not forget the fact that Israel is a nuclear-armed state. Are we truly to expect the people of Palestine to merely accept their subjugation as less than second-class-citizens? Should they just lie down and die? No doubt this is, precisely, what the Israelis would prefer they do.
Palestine Also Has a Right to Defend Itself
The ruling class and its echo-chamber in the corporate media constantly invoke Israel’s “right to defend itself.” But what about Palestine’s “right to defend itself”? What about Palestinians’ “right to exist”? Such rights, when applied to Palestine, are little more than an afterthought.
As Jeremy Scahill writes in The Intercept, in a recent piece titled, “But What About Hamas’s Rockets?”:
…[A]nyone who speaks of the horrors meted out against the overwhelmingly defenseless Palestinians is presented with a demand to denounce the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel. It is an effort to “both sides” what is an asymmetric campaign of terror waged by a nuclear power against a people who have no state, no army, no air force, no navy, and an almost nonexistent civilian infrastructure.
And the United States funds Israel’s apartheid state to the tune of $3.8 billion a year. In a recently resurfaced video clip of then-Sen. Joe Biden speaking on the Senate floor in 1986, he excoriates his colleagues for (allegedly) constantly “apologizing” for Israel. “There is no apology to be made,” Biden says in the clip. He then defends the exorbitant spending on Israeli weaponry as the “best $3 billion investment we make.”
Then, in a rather startling instance of “saying-the-quiet-part-out-loud,” Biden insists, “Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect [our] interests in the region.”
There is little tangible evidence that now-President Biden has changed his views significantly on the need to “stop apologizing” for Israel. But remember, we “cannot afford” Medicare for All. It would “bankrupt the country.”
To view the massacre in Gaza as anything other than the ethnic-cleansing of an oppressed people by an apartheid state is to deny the basic, objective reality. It is not, as it is so frequently presented in the media, a traditional “conflict” in which “both sides” are evenly matched and share an equal amount of the “blame.” It is Israel which has committed numerous human rights violations and is almost certainly guilty of war crimes. The Palestinians’ only “crime” is attempting to fight back.
Noam Chomsky is correct when he describes Israel as a “client state” of the U.S. that “inherits from its master the ‘right’ of terrorism, torture and aggression” toward the Palestinians.
Yet, reporters or professors who dare voice the truth about Israel and its right-wing Zionist project are promptly fired or denied tenure. Their voices are silenced. Just look at the plight of Norman Finkelstein, whose academic career has suffered immensely due to his unrelenting criticism of Israel. Any iota of criticism of Israel’s war crimes is immediately regarded as “anti-semitism,” and has the effect of silencing the critics. This, my comrades, is the real “cancel culture.” It is directed not at the right, but at the left.
A Shifting Terrain on Palestine
Fortunately, attitudes toward Israel are starting to shift. Israel has lost a great deal of credibility in the last decade or so thanks largely to movements like Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). This shift is most pronounced among young Americans who tend to be much more critical of Israel. A Gallup poll from March found 53 percent of registered Democrats support “putting more pressure on Israel.” (That said, an overwhelming majority of Americans, 58 percent, still “sympathi[ze] more with the Israelis than the Palestinians,” according to the poll.)
Socialists must stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine. We must support the rights of all oppressed people to self-determination. Likewise, we must support their efforts to rebel against their subjugation — violently, if need be.
This is where the liberal fetish for exclusively peaceful, “non-violent” protest can actually obscure the truth. It creates a moral and rhetorical cul de sac that equates the violence of the oppressor with the violence of the oppressed. The two are not comparable. Marxists understand that those who wield power rarely relinquish it willingly — or peacefully.
Capitalism is Violence
Leon Trotsky took up this question of morality in his 1938 pamphlet, Their Morals and Ours. Trotsky defended the working class’s use of violence against the counter-revolutionaries during the Russian Revolution and tackled the question of whether the “ends justify the means.”
“When a murderer raises his knife over a child, may one kill the murderer to save the child?” Trotsky wrote.
Will not thereby the principle of the “sacredness of human life” be infringed? May one kill the murderer to save oneself? Is an insurrection of oppressed slaves against their masters permissible? …
Does life cease to be sacred when it is a question of people talking another language, or does [Karl] Kautsky consider that mass murders organized on principles of strategy and tactics are not murders at all? Truly it is difficult to put forward in our age a principle more hypocritical and more stupid. As long as human labor power and, consequently, life itself, remain articles of sale and purchase, of exploitation and robbery, the principle of the “sacredness of human life” remains a shameful lie, uttered with the object of keeping the oppressed slaves in their chains. … To make the individual sacred we must destroy the social order which crucifies him.
Socialists have a duty to support the fight for self-determination of oppressed people from Gaza, to Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq, to Hong Kong and China. “If Socialism — international, revolutionary socialism — does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly, and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands,” said Eugene Debs, “then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretense and its professions a delusion and a snare.”
The current cease-fire offers Palestinians a much needed respite from Israeli violence. But it is just that — a temporary respite. It is not an end to their suffering. And it would be foolish to look to the hawkish Biden administration to craft any kind of long-term negotiation in the long-simmering Israel-Palestine “conflict.” Biden, like all presidents before him — Republican and Democrat, alike — pays the obligatory deference to Israel, while making a few minor critical remarks to Netanyahu, here and there. Only the organized power of the international working-class can end Israeli apartheid and free Palestine.
As the popular slogan goes, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”