Picture: Adrian Dennis / AFP / Taken on October 14, 2023 – Protesters holding Palestinian flags climb the Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus during a March For Palestine, part of a pro-Palestinian national demonstration, in London on October 14, 2023, organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Stop the War Coalition, Muslim Association of Britain, Palestinian Forum in Britain and CND.
By Ronnie Kasrils
The Palestinian spirit is unbreakable. Like the mythical phoenix, defiant and heroic Gaza will rise from the fire.
The aerial bombardment of Gaza’s most crowded Jabalia refugee camp piles on one massacre after another. It signifies Israeli barbarism and a fascist inability to understand the heroic human spirit to resist repression.
History has shown that the bombing of civilians – from the Basque town of Guernica in 1937 to Soviet and British cities in World War 2, from America’s destruction of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to the massacre of Gaza today – strengthens the determination to resist.
As the Israeli state’s inhumane attack on Gaza continues, with the ground-zero onslaught grinding forward, civilians are being killed at a terrifying rate – the ghetto reduced to rubble.
By the end of October, well over 8,000 of the 2.3 million people packed into the walled sliver of land have been killed. The lives of more than 3,500 children have been taken, with women and the elderly accounting for most other deaths. Entire families have been wiped out. Over 20,000 people have been wounded, many with life-threatening injuries. A Palestinian child is being killed every 10 minutes. More children have been butchered in October than in all the world’s conflicts since 2019.
People across Gaza are in unspeakable pain and anguish. People across the world are reeling from television images of frantic parents rushing bloodied infants through shattered hospital wards or people digging through collapsed rubble with their bare hands in search of loved ones.
At this rate of slaughter, over 30,000 people will be killed by Christmas, 40 percent of them children, 30 percent women, and 150,000 injured.
Netanyahu and his generals declare that their “war” could last months, so these statistics are not improbable. This is a war crime, a crime against humanity on an unimaginable scale. These crimes are backed by the likes of US President Joe Biden and Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and much of the Western media, including Zionist outposts in my own country, South Africa – shamelessly ignoring the disproportionate blood bath Israel has visited on Palestinians.
Announcing the onset of a “total war”, Israel’s Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, declared in words that will shame Israel for all time: “I have ordered a complete siege of the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel… We are fighting human animals.”
I do not say this lightly, but it is a plain fact that these words could have come from the mouth of a Nazi exterminator.
Seared into collective memory is Gallant’s chilling warning to the 1,1 million in the northern part of the ghetto giving them 24 hours to flee their homes. Thousands of women and children sheltering at Gaza City’s Al Aqsa Hospital, are refusing to leave even under that deadline, for as at Jabalia, there is nowhere to go.
The Gaza population under siege for 16 years, was already suffering borderline starvation with only 500 trucks allowed in each day prior to the current onslaught. After intense pressure, Israel has permitted a trickle of UN relief to deliver food, water and medicine to enter through the Rafah border crossing. No fuel has been allowed. The tiny amount of supplies permitted through Egypt’s border allows Israel to claim it is providing basic necessities while denying sustenance to most people in practice.
It is evident that many will die of thirst and hunger, bereft of care and medication. Already 12 of Gaza’s hospitals have been destroyed and 32 medical centres partially damaged or put out of service. This includes the Al-Ahli Baptist hospital in Gaza City where 500 people died from a direct hit by an Israeli missile. Unlike the missiles used by Israel the rockets used by Hamas or Islamic Jihad don’t have the power to destroy entire buildings. This was another Israeli war crime.
Amidst this devastation there are an estimated 55,000 pregnant women with 5,000 of them close to giving birth. There are 130 babies in incubators and 140 in ICU.
In 1948, when Israeli fascists slaughtered 240 men, women and children in the Deir Yassin village near Jerusalem, its agriculture minister, Aharon Zisling, declared in horror: “We have behaved like Nazis and my whole being is shaken.”
The great physicist Albert Einstein, and the philosopher Hannah Arendt, an expert on the Nazis, correctly labelled the architect of that massacre, Menachem Begin, a fascist. He later became Israel’s prime minister. It is an undeniable fact that the government that is raining hell on the people crowded into the Gaza ghetto are proto-fascists driven by a racist myth: They are the chosen people and Palestine is their God-given land.
Israel is a settler colony, that has adopted apartheid practices, and its crimes have been funded and legitimated by the West since its illegitimate birth as a state in the 1948 Nakba. The US has vetoed and undermined UN resolutions and international law from that time through the 1967 occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Today the West colludes with Israel in its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, war crimes and aggression against neighbouring states.
The US currently provides $3.8 billion per year funding for Israel’s military alone. Biden has now announced a further $14 billion in support for the Israeli military with not a cent of humanitarian aid for Palestinians. The US has dispatched two aircraft carrier groups, with 2,000 marines, to “protect” Israel and has delivered more bombs and missiles for the “defensive” onslaught on Gaza. Israel likely requires an inventory of gas and flame throwers for the ground attack on the vast Hamas tunnel system now under way.
While Western support for Israel is driven by racism, there are also more personal motives at play in some instances.
Sunak’s wealthy family has enormous investments in Israel as do many others on the Zionist bandwagon, including many Western corporations. The claims made in support of Israel by most Western politicians and dutifully echoed by most of the Western media need to be rigorously assessed.
Let’s take the chorus of statements describing Operation Al-Aqsa Flood launched by Hamas on October 7 as ‘unprovoked’ and declaring that ‘Israel has a right to defend itself.
The two-billion-dollar Gaza security fence was breached, and 360 Israeli soldiers and 1,200 settlers killed by Resistance fighters engaged in a liberation struggle against apartheid settler-colonialism – although eye-witness testimony has emerged that scores of Jewish settlers died by indiscriminate shooting from their own side. Those settlers died because the Israeli state failed to protect them from guerrilla fighters who had broken out of perpetual open-air imprisonment.
The action of the mujahedeen takes place within the context of almost eight decades of brutal oppression, going back to the time of the dispossession of their grandparents. The Israeli towns, villages and kibbutzim that they raided were built on land stolen from their very own families in the 1940s, during the Nakba that had cast them into refugee limbo. Indeed, two- thirds of the residents of Gaza are refugees, many from those same destroyed villages.
Western media commentary has been awash with ‘fake news’. The claim that forty babies had been decapitated has been debunked, and it has emerged, as already stated, that many settlers died owing to frenzied shooting by Israeli soldiers, operating under the military’s ‘Hannibal doctrine’ that death is better than being taken captive by the Resistance.
When the West and its servile media claimed that this attack was ‘unprovoked’ no reference was made to more than the 75 years of ethnic cleansing, incremental genocide and collective punishment; the 16 years siege of Gaza; the five deadly onslaughts on Gaza since 2008, including the cold-blooded assassination of 220 protestors – 42 children among them – and injuring of 36,000 in the peaceful March of Return of 2018-19. Settlers from nearby Sderot ate popcorn and cheered Israeli snipers as they mowed down defenceless people.
Around the world people of conscience remember and celebrate the courage of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto who rebelled, guns in hand, against Nazi incarceration, prepared to die on their feet rather than passively await death like sheep. Although South Africans were declared to be terrorists when we took up arms against apartheid the armed struggle was widely recognised as wholly legitimate. Armed resistance against military occupation and tyranny is recognised as a universal right in international law and as a moral right in the theory of just war.
Hamas is a national liberation movement, engaged in an anti-colonial struggle. Israel, the USA and the wider West seek to delegitimate Hamas by conflating it with ISIS but this is a wholly bogus comparison. Hamas, unlike ISIS, is a political organisation emerging from an occupied and oppressed people with a clear project to end colonial occupation.
The hypocrisy and racial double standards of the West and much of its media has become crudely evident in the difference in the response to the situations in Ukraine and Gaza.
The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, often praising her grandfather who was a Nazi general, has declared that: “Russia’s attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, in Ukraine is a war crime. Cutting off men, women, children from water, electricity and heating with winter coming – these are acts of pure terror. And we have to call it as such.” However, when Israel does all these things, and worse, it enjoys the enthusiastic support of the West.
Israel’s End Game
We should recall that when Zionism’s 19th Century founder, Theodor Herzl, sought support from European powers, he promised that a “Jewish state” in Palestine, would build an iron wall “against Asian barbarism”. He was offering to securing Western imperialist interests against the Arabs and eastwards, by a European colonial settlement in what for centuries had been a flourishing land called Palestine.
Along with racism, this explains much of the financial, military, diplomatic and servile mainstream media support for Israel. It is an extension of Western imperialism. Oil and gas, including the recent discovery of vast reserves off the coast from Gaza to Lebanon, have compounded the West’s willingness to sacrifice the Palestinian people in its support for a loyal settler colony with shared economic interests.
As Israel rains death and destruction on Gaza we need to ask what its end game is. To answer this question, we must go back to the origins of Zionism, and its desire for great lebensraum at the expense of the Palestinian people – who had cultivated the fields, developed agriculture, trade and towns, and created a thriving culture, from the times of the Canaanite Kingdom.
Herzl explained that “Once in power, we will spirit the penniless Arabs across the borders”. This was the basis for ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people begun by Ben Gurion in 1948 when 750,000 people – three-quarters of the Palestinian population at the time who vastly outnumbered Jews – were forced into exile as refugees. Gaza and the West Bank, seized in Israel’s 1967 war of expansion, created more refugees.
It seems clear that Israel’s objective in levelling Gaza and terrorising the population is to force the survivors out into refugee camps in the Sinai Desert where they will become Egypt’s responsibility. Along with realising the avarice for Gaza’s offshore oil and gas fields.
The extreme nature of the crisis in Gaza must not overlook that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are in turmoil. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, and its mirage of a solution, Zionist expansionism has seen settlers increasing from 250,000 at that time to 700,000 today.
This makes the two-state solution impossible. The desecration of the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque, with the mob attacks on worshippers and residents of East Jerusalem peaking this year, has compounded the worsening situation. The pogroms launched by illegal settlers screaming “Kill the Arabs” and laying waste to the town of Huwwara have shown the fascist character of the settlers.
Almost 2,000 West Bank Palestinians have been injured and more than 120 killed since October 7, with 200 murdered in the preceding months this year. Those attacks were met by courageous armed resistance in towns such as Jenin, Nablus and Hebron, which has challenged the military occupation.
As popular resistance increased prior to October 7, numerous Israeli army battalions were transferred from Gaza to the West Bank and the number of Palestinians imprisoned (or taken hostage) by Israel has almost doubled to over 6,000, including 200 women and children as young as twelve.
Some 1,600 have been detained without charge or trial. The Israelis being held by Hamas are being offered in exchange for the freeing of those prisoners, held under abominable conditions, and many for longer than Nelson Mandela’s 27 years’ imprisonment.
Israel’s policy is not to negotiate a prisoner exchange. This has been exposed by Qatari and Egyptian mediation for the four women released by Hamas. All indicated they had been well treated although the experience had been traumatic. Another woman, Yasmin Poral, held hostage in kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, explained on Israeli TV that many Israelis had been killed by indiscriminate fire from their own soldiers. She clarified that the house she was sheltering in was destroyed by Israeli tank fire. The interview was swiftly removed from online platforms.
Anti-Fascism is not Anti-Semitism
It is not at all difficult to understand the hatred harboured by Palestinians for Israel given the barbaric treatment they have endured for generations. Any credible analysis of the situation would understand this.
However rational analysis is often made very difficult by the deeply cynical response of declaring criticism of the Israeli state and the settlers it supports as ‘anti-Semitic’. It is deeply offensive for Israeli proto-fascists to misuse the historical oppression of Jews to justify the oppression of Palestine. Nonetheless this tactic has successfully suppressed reasoned discussion in a number of societies and organisations.
In contrast, many Jews, including some courageous citizens of Israel, are deeply opposed to Zionism and to the Israeli state. In the United States large numbers of younger Jews have turned against Israel. International anti-Zionist Jewish networks have been proclaiming that Palestinians have every right to resist, declaring that Israel does not speak in their name. This is an important rebuttal of Zionist propaganda, claiming that Israel represents all Jews across the world.
Righteous people mourn the loss of life of all the civilians that have died, Jews and Palestinians. This is a basic point of moral decency. Yet decency also requires the recognition that the losses on both sides are incomparable and vastly disproportionate where 95 percent of dead and wounded, and thousands of children, are Palestinians.
Palestinians had no hand in the Nazi Holocaust but have been made to pay the price for a crime of European fascism. They have lost their land and rights as victims of a colonial project and are the ones suffering unspeakable brutality. Throughout history slave uprisings have targeted slave owners and their families as well as the system of slavery. These uprisings were just. We must regret all loss of civilian life, especially war crimes, but that regret cannot be misused to deny the justice of the Palestinian cause and the moral and legal right of Palestinians to armed resistance.
Whither Gaza – Whither Palestine – Whither Israel?
The gravity of the situation for Gaza, and all Palestinians, looks bleaker than ever. Or could there be a twist in the tale?
As horrendous as the situation is, Israel’s plans might not be as unchallenged as expected. It is never wise to deploy military force on the scale involved in an emotive knee-jerk reaction, with no clear military and political objectives.
Apart from the lack of a clear strategy, at the tactical level, the prospect of the ground invasion having to contend with the intricate tunnel system the resistance fighters have developed over the years would be daunting for any military.
Attacking in urban conditions, with rubble and collapsed buildings creating problems for tanks, against a formidable opponent, is the most difficult and dangerous of all military operations. Hamas has demonstrated extraordinary mastery of guerrilla tactics as illustrated by the lessons it dished out to the Israeli army on October 7, and in previous Israeli assaults on the territory.
The Israeli army cannot afford to face any further calamities. The Israeli public will not readily forgive the political elite and a military whose inadequacies have already been so rudely exposed – in part owing to racial hubris and complacency; in part because it has become a glorified police force dealing with stone throwing teenagers.
An occupation force of a corrupt and decrepit state, despite all its boasting, cannot produce sustained high morale, especially when up against a highly motivated opponent, contemptuous of death, with a deeply felt cause. Hamas knew that a ground force invasion would inevitably follow an operation such as Al-Aqsa Flood and would have carefully prepared much more than the anticipated booby-trapped tunnels. Who knows what surprises there are in store for the invaders?
Moreover, Israel has to maintain considerable force on its northern front with Lebanon, and its feared opponent, Hezbollah. Skirmishes have already been occurring there as guerrilla fighters probe Israel’s defences. Likewise, the West Bank resistance is likely to register a potent response, along with possible flare-ups within Israel itself.
Guerrilla fighters throughout the region have developed impressive operational capacity and daring and demonstrate a far greater threat to Israeli military prowess than the conventional Arab armies that Israel contended with in 1948 and 1967. The Israeli army’s deployment is already greatly stretched as will be Israel’s economy and military call up of its reserve force over a protracted period.
The Israeli families of those Hamas captured, are becoming extremely impatient with the Government’s reluctance to negotiate a prisoner exchange. The release of some captives with Western citizenship, through outside intervention, is placing enormous pressure on Netanyahu and his ilk. As possible prisoner exchanges like those take place, the obduracy of the Israeli state will become more objectionable. Recall that in 2011 the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Hamas is holding a very strong card. And its support will grow.
Furthermore, the US-Israeli objective of propping-up the Palestine Authority (PA), of dividing Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza, between Fatah and Hamas, has long rendered Mahmoud Abbas a lame duck with no credibility, the two-state solution as futile, and the notion of only peaceful forms of struggle as inadequate.
Current events have put paid to those plans or the idea that the PA could be brought in to govern the Gaza Strip. Gaza is uniting the determination and belief of Palestinians everywhere – in the occupied territories, within Israel itself, in the refugee camps of the region, in the prisons and in the Diaspora.
That’s not the only headache for Western objectives. Both the US and Israel are concerned at the possible setback to the Abrahamic Accord and Israel’s normalisation with its neighbours, which Netanyahu was only recently boasting about in his UN General Assembly address in September.
As spineless and even treacherous as most Arab governments have been regarding support for the Palestinians over the years – Algeria, Syria and Yemen Houthi’s, along with Hezbollah, are among exceptions – the unprecedented Palestinian resistance has galvanised the Arab masses as reflected in the huge protests in the Middle East and beyond and is bound to create a dilemma for those regimes.
The last thing the USA wants is a quagmire in the Middle East, with mass uprisings against client US regimes from Egypt and Jordan to Saudi Arabia. The US simply cannot afford this at a time when their proxy war in the Ukraine is unravelling, the Kiev counter-offensive grinding to a halt, and Russia gaining the upper hand. The US has recklessly generated tensions with China.
At the same time, the alliance between China and Russia is strengthening. They are being less stand-off in their dealings with Israel and would most likely support Iran if needs be, leading to a regional test of strength with the West.
Given such factors, Israel could find that there are limits to the backing it will receive from the US and Western Europe in a volatile situation. Moreover, while buildings might be reduced to rubble, and thousands killed, Palestinians have exhibited the most extraordinary resilience and steadfastness (sumud) over decades.
Ben Gurion once said that after the 1948 Palestinian generation, ‘the old will die, and the young will forget’. These hopes were in vain. Palestinians have not forgotten, and they have not accepted permanent oppression as their fate.
Hamas and the other resistance groups in Gaza and the West Bank are part of the people, not alien entities. This is a key tenet in successful guerrilla struggles. Much depends on how Hamas contains the ground invasion and forces the Israeli army into something of an impasse. Much also depends on international reaction.
It is vital we do everything possible to forestall the slaughter, and through the power of international solidarity enable and strengthen UN’s role, and apply pressure on the US and Western Europe, to support an immediate ceasefire.
Most important of all is People’s Power – direct action in the streets worldwide as never seen before; along with the intensification of the BDS campaign to completely isolate Zionist Israel.
The indiscriminate bombing of civilians deepens resolve and invokes resistance. The Palestinian spirit is unbreakable. Like the mythical phoenix, defiant and heroic Gaza will rise from the fire.
Ronnie Kasrils, veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, and South Africa’s former Minister for Intelligence Services, activist and author. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle