The Gaza Carnage in Context

A great tragedy is taking place in Gaza where more than two million Palestinians are being bombarded daily by the Israeli armed forces, with scarce or no water, electricity, and medicine because of the siege imposed by the Israeli army to prevent the entry of every kind of goods and services to the area. Gazans are also confronting an Israeli army invasion that has killed many more innocent civilians than those who perished in southern Israel on October 7, and that appears to be an attempt to eliminate by whatever means the Hamas and Palestinian presence in Gaza.

The U.S. mass media (newspapers, radio and television) have become an almost northern version of Granma, the Cuban Communist party newspaper, with a virtually unanimous political line, although in this case, in their uncritical defense of Israel while entirely blaming Hamas for the conflict. This is a fundamentalist Islamic organization that has governed the small (141 square miles) but densely populated territory located on the Mediterranean coast since 2007. The territory is surrounded by Israel on the north and east, and on the south by Egypt, which has for a long time been an ally of Israel in the systematic mistreatment of Gaza’s inhabitants.   

The immediate origin of this massacre took place in the early hours of October 7 when the Hamas armed forces penetrated Israeli territory and committed many grave war crimes. Aside from attacking military posts, legitimate targets in war operations, the Hamas army massacred hundreds of unarmed people that were attending a rock concert in Israel’s southern border zone. As a result of these incidents, more than 200 young people were killed, an important part of the 1,300 people killed and 3,600 injured on October 7. These were not the spontaneous “excesses” that have historically been associated with popular uprisings infused with the hatred of the oppressors, but a highly organized and efficient operation carried out by the troops of an organized government with a well-defined political and religious orientation.

The Hamas government is a fundamentalist Islamic dictatorship ruling over a territory where no elections have been held since 2006 and where the government has on various occasions repressed dissident Palestinian groups and individuals. Although a spokesman for Hamas, Ghazi Hamad, who is also the deputy foreign minister of the Gazan government, said that the troops that invaded southern Israel on October 7 had no intention to kill Israelis and that these deaths were due to “clashes and confrontations,”  Hamas sympathizer Zubayr Allikhan was much more frank when commenting about the events of October 7. He stipulated that those targeted by the Hamas army “were, are, colonizers, settlers, the primary agents, actors, impellers of the colonization and genocide of Palestine” and that “the term “Settler-Colonialism” is not without reason, and that a colonizer is a colonizer, in uniform or out.” Allikhan concludes that “we must raise the banner of searing bullets and blood-stained knives. [emphasis in the original] We must utilize every tool towards collective liberation, from Haifa to Al-Naqab, from the river to the sea.” In other words, according to Zubayr Allikhan, for the Hamas government and the Palestinian movement all Israelis, without any exception, are legitimate targets of justified Palestinian violence.

It is not necessary to consult the official pronouncements of Hamas or of its supporters to find an implicit political logic in the concrete actions of that organization on October 7. These seem to point to achieving a decisive defeat of Israel’s armed forces and society that would produce the massive exodus of Israelis to other countries as it occurred to a large degree in the case of Algeria in the 1960s with the exodus of the French residents in that country. But there are many important differences between Argelia and Israel. Israeli Jews do not have the equivalent of a France where they can flee as was the case of the Algerians of French origin. Also, the Jewish presence in Israel and the territories that it has occupied (approximately 50 percent of the population of the area) is proportionally much higher than that of the French settlers of the Algeria of the 1950s, where they constituted 10 percent of the Algerian population.

Apparently, the strategy of Hamas is to fight precisely in the openly military field where the Zionist regime has the best possibilities to defeat them. Also, Israel is a nuclear power that could develop, if they have not done so already, tactical nuclear weapons (it is very doubtful that Iran or Russia would provide Hamas with such weapons, which would in turn provoke a very strong and unpredictable reaction by the United States). At the same time, there’s little doubt that before such supposedly final moments arrive, the Israeli army would have probably physically eliminated a large part of the Palestinian population in a barbaric genocide. This would signify an implicit suicide and homicide pact between Hamas and Israel.

As it responds to the current crisis, the global left owes its solidarity to the Palestinian nation and movement. That does not, however, imply agreement with its dominant politics at any given time.

The Situation in Gaza

Gaza has been described for a long time as an open-air prison created by Israel. Although the Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year-long occupation, the Zionist government imposed a total blockade not only on the ground but also in the air and sea. Israel totally controls the entry and departure from the zone, aided by Egyptian authorities that have not been any less harsh in enforcing the border controls in the south of Gaza. Fishing in Gaza, once an important activity for the people in the area, has been reduced by order of the Israeli government to a maximum of 10 kilometers from the coast. Israel does not allow Gaza to have a port or an airport.

The control of the entry points from Gaza to Israel is very costly for Gaza’s economy because the Israelis do not allow the import of many machines and materials, which they claim could be potentially used for military purposes. Those border controls are also damaging to the relatively few thousands of workers authorized to participate in the Israeli labor market, and to sick Palestinians that need to travel abroad, be it Israel or another country, to obtain an adequate medical attention. The import of food to Gaza has been reduced to the minimum necessary for the survival of its inhabitants. Also, the Israeli authorities can at any moment deprive Gaza of water, electricity, and access to cell phones and to the Internet.

Considering these conditions, it is not surprising that the unemployment rate is very high and that young people, who represent a much higher proportion in Gaza than in similarly less developed countries, are justified in not hoping for a better future. The horrible realities confronted every day by the Palestinians in Gaza, as well as the Palestinians who live in the West Bank, have been scrupulously documented by well-known human rights organizations such as the Palestinian Al-Haq (repressed by Israel) and B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization. International organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have used the term “apartheid” to describe and condemn the situation in the West Bank where, aside from the giant walls and new highways built by the Israeli government to separate the Jews from the Palestinians, the Jewish settlers (generally religious fundamentalists) have organized “pogroms” that rely on the support or at least the indifference of the Israeli army to displace the Palestinians from their lands.

Zionist History and its Relationship with the Palestinians

Jewish emigrants, especially in Poland and other regions of the Tsarist empire, historically showed very little interest in emigrating to Palestine. As the historian Zachary Lockman pointed out in his book Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948, among the approximately 2.4 million Jews who emigrated from Tsarist Russia and eastern Europe between 1881 and 1914, 85 percent emigrated to the United States, 12 percent emigrated to other countries in the Western hemisphere, especially Canada and Argentina, as well as to other countries of western Europe and South Africa. Less than 3 percent emigrated to Palestine, and for many of these, Palestine was a temporary stay in their way west.

This situation changed with two extremely important events that affected Jewish emigration, as well as that of other peoples. One was the virtual closing of emigration to the United States as an outcome of the immigration quotas established in the first half of the decade of the 1920s. This openly racist legislation, abolished in 1965, severely limited the massive emigration from countries like Russia, Poland, Italy, and the Balkans to favor the emigration of more “purely” white and Protestant countries such as Great Britain, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. This stimulated a clear growth in the Jewish immigration to Palestine. Even more important was the rise to power in Germany of Hitler and his Nazi Party. As a result of these two factors, 35,000 Jewish refugees arrived in Palestine in 1933, more than 45,000 arrived in 1934, and more than 65,000 arrived in 1935. The immigration to Israel of only these three years surpassed the three waves of the ideological Zionist immigration that took place at the end of the nineteenth century and in the first twenty-five years of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, in the 1930s, 60,000 German Jews emigrated to Palestine. Although these refugees were not settlers in either the social or political sense, they eventually followed the far more organized political and ideological leadership of the old Zionist leaders that had arrived to Palestine at least a decade earlier.

With the intention of restoring the economic “normality” of the Jews in Palestine, and in this fashion avoid their concentration in certain occupations and professions as had been the case in the Tsarist empire when Jews could not, for example, legally work the land, the Zionist leaders of the second and third Zionist migratory wave at the beginning of the twentieth century (1904-1914 and 1919-1923) adopted certain measures. To assure the long-term survival and stability of Zionist colonization—and guarantee that the land would not be sold or rented to farmers not committed to the Zionist cause and especially if these were not Jewish—the Zionist leaders established the cooperatives and communal farms in lands financed by public funds. This was the basis for Jewish “socialism” that deliberately excluded native Palestinian from laboring in their workplaces. The politics of agricultural exclusion were accompanied by the politics of the “conquest of labor for the Jews” that minimized and degraded when it could not eliminate the participation of the Palestinians in the country’s economy.

Although for many years the Jews were a clear minority of the population of Palestine, which was under British control from 1918, they did not for that reason abandon their projections for the Jewish state that would reestablish the borders of the biblical Jewish state two millennia earlier. As Tom Segev, one of Israel’s “new historians,” pointed out in his biography of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion, the right as well as most of the Zionist left had territorial ambitions long before the foundation of the state of Israel. For example, at the Zurich Zionist congress in 1937, Ben Gurion, leader of the Jewish labor organizations, was an “enthusiastic supporter of a Jewish state within the geographic framework of the historic borders of the Land of Israel.” Segev also presents a detailed narrative of how in 1954 under Ben Gurion’s leadership, the heads of the Israeli armed forces produced a study that claimed that it was necessary to expand the borders of the country for various economic, social, and demographic reasons and presented various alternatives in pursuit of those ends. The most ambitious of these proposed the expansion of the Israeli border with Egypt to the shores of the Suez Canal; the occupation of parts of Saudi Arabia in the south, and, if possible, the control of the Arab oil fields; the occupation of Syrian lands; and the establishment of a new frontier with Jordan far to the east of the Jordan River. This proposal, which would have included much more territory than that currently occupied by Israel, demonstrated that although the Israeli government always tried to justify territorial expansion during grave moments of crisis, those plans had been prepared by that government before the occurrence of those crises.

To justify the taking of Palestinian land during the war that broke out after the declaration of Israel’s foundation, the Zionist leaders created the myth that the Palestinians had voluntarily abandoned their homes and lands following the exhortations of their leaders. Segev and the other Israeli “new historians” destroyed that myth—although Palestinian historians and Palestinians in general had previously challenged it—showing that the majority of the Palestinians had been expelled by force by the Israeli army or had fled in terror fearing for their lives because of the threats and actions of the Israeli armed forces. In the long and detailed list of examples cited by Segev, these actions included the Israeli bombardment of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Haifa as well as the forceful expulsion by the Israeli army of the Palestinians of the city of Lod and of the Christian village of Iqrit.

The new Jewish nation was primarily built based on a modernized Hebrew language spread especially through Ulpan, the national program of linguistic immersion for new immigrants. As part of that linguistic program, Yiddish, the predominant Jewish language in eastern Europe, was institutionally rejected and even forbidden. It was the Hebrew language that united Jews coming from different parts of the world and that also functioned as the instrument to socialize Jews in Israel in the context of Zionist values. Beyond the creation of a language in common, the almost universal participation of Jewish men and women in the Israeli military forces and the sense of national superiority resulting from the clashes with Arab armed forces reinforced the creation of a new Jewish nation. Given the enormous power differences between Jews and Palestinians and the forceful subjugation of the latter group, the Jewish nation rapidly converted itself in an oppressor nation of the Palestinians.

The Difficult Road to a Democratic and Progressive Solution

The liberal and social democratic politicians in the developed capitalist countries in the United States and Europe, like for example President Joe Biden, insist that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the “two state solution,” the already existing Israeli state and another Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. What Biden and the other politicians do not mention is that the constant Israeli expansion and expulsion of the Palestinians inside the West Bank has made the “two state” proposal inoperable. The supposed Palestinian state would need to be established inside small discontinuous zones inside the West Bank. Also, this Palestinian state has never been proposed as a truly sovereign state, because it would not have its own armed forces and its police forces would in any case be under Israeli supervision. Further, any agreement with Israel to establish a Palestinian state would not likely recognize the right of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to what is now Israeli territory if they so wished.

The roughly 2.7 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank live under the direct and total control of the Israeli government except for those who live in the so-called Areas A and B administered to various degrees by the Palestinian Authority headed by the Palestinian faction Fatah, but also ultimately controlled by the Israelis. The Israeli right has spoken about annexing the West Bank but under the exclusive control of the 430,000 Jewish settlers who live in that zone (as well as the 220,000 who reside in East Jerusalem and the 25,000 who reside in the Golan Heights).

Like many other people, I think that the only truly democratic and equitable solution to the conflict between the Palestinians and the state of Israel is the creation of a single state that includes the present Israel and all the zones that this state has militarily occupied without the slightest respect for the democratic rights of those who live there. A democratic state in the whole area would mean a secular and multinational state where all its residents, be they Palestinian, Jewish or members of other minority groups (such as the Druze) would have equal rights and duties. While the Israeli government remains Zionist, it cannot concede equal citizenship and democratic rights to the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza. Such a concession would gravely endanger the persistence of Zionism as official state policy since Jews would soon cease to be a majority of the people who live there (if it has not happened already) in a country that would include the present territory of Israel proper plus the West Bank and Gaza.

This is why there is a powerful contradiction between Zionism and democracy. Democracy requires that all who are born and live permanently in a country have equal civil and political rights in the context of a strictly secular state. A multinational, secular, and democratic state in the area would necessarily have to repeal the law of return that potentially gives more rights to a Cuban Jew who resides in New York like me than to a West Bank Palestinian refugee who cannot move to Israel even if she or he marries a Palestinian citizen of that country. Such a binational state would also have to eliminate the role of various agencies and institutions such as the Jewish Agency and the Department of Colonization of the World Zionist Organization, among others. Such a plan would not be immediately realizable, but it nevertheless can point toward the necessary changes that will allow these national groups to enjoy their respective democratic rights.

This first appeared on FPIF.