The Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), a UK radical socialist organisation, posted this statement on 8 October 2023. Fathom is reposting it here, with permission, not because we agree with every word, but because the AWL shows how a properly democratic socialist movement ought to react to the mass slaughter of civilians, ‘carried out by partisans of a violently reactionary ideology, hostile not only to the Israeli military or state but to Israelis as such, and specifically to Jews.’ ‘Socialists who cannot see this worldview has nothing in common with our own – egalitarian, democratic, humanist — perspective,’ they write, ‘have utterly lost their political bearings.’ The editors thank the AWL for permission to reprint. https://www.workersliberty.org/
At the time of writing, at least 300 people have been killed, with at many more injured, in a military incursion into Israeli towns by the Palestinian group Hamas, in conjunction with other groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
The incursions followed a massive barrage of rockets, fired at dawn, many against civilian targets. Hamas fighters have reportedly taken control of Israeli towns near the Gaza border, with reports of indiscriminate shootings of civilians. Hamas has taken dozens of hostages, including both military personnel and civilians. Air strikes and other actions by the Israeli military in response have killed over 200 Palestinians, with over 1,000 injured. Armed Israeli settlers have also attacked and killed Palestinians.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised ‘a retaliatory war with a strength and scope that the enemy has never known.’ Previous Israeli wars on Gaza, often formally launched as ‘retaliatory’ following rocket attacks, have killed and wounded thousands of Palestinian civilians. Given the far-right character of Israel’s government, Israel’s military response is likely to be brutal, with thousands of Palestinian lives again at risk. Conditions of life in Gaza, already unbearable for many, will become worse.
The Palestinians are an oppressed and colonised people. Revolutionary socialists, as anti-imperialists and consistent democrats, support the right to resist oppression, in pursuit of self-determination. It does not follow from that general principle that we must support (which in practise, for UK socialists, currently means: ‘cheerlead via social media’) any action undertaken in the name of ‘resistance’.
The indiscriminate firing of rockets at civilian targets, and the gunning down of civilians at random, cannot possibly serve emancipatory and democratic ends. One video circulating on social media appears to show fighters parading the mangled corpse of an Israeli child, stripped almost naked, through the streets on a truck, whilst chanting ‘god is great’. These are actions carried out by partisans of a violently reactionary ideology, hostile not only to the Israeli military or state but to Israelis as such, and specifically to Jews. Socialists who cannot see this worldview has nothing in common with our own – egalitarian, democratic, humanist – perspective have utterly lost their political bearings.
Hamas is not, in any case, merely an abstract expression of ‘resistance’. It is a sophisticated paramilitary party, with a developed political programme and social project, allied to several of Israel’s regional-imperialist rivals, including the clerical-fascist regime of Iran. Means cannot be divorced from ends. Hamas uses brutal means because its ends, the imposition of a theocratic state, are brutal. Other Palestinians, women, LGBT+ people, atheists and others, have also been victims of that brutality. Some leftist commentators have celebrated Hamas’s actions as an advance for ‘democracy and human rights’. But democracy and human rights cannot be advanced by a political force that explicitly opposes both.
Some have argued those who support Ukraine’s right to militarily resist Russian invasion should support all Palestinian resistance on the same basis. Politics by analogy is always limited, but the relevant parallel here would be to a hypothetical scenario in which a far-right Ukrainian militia was attacking Russian towns, indiscriminately shooting at civilians, and taking Russian civilian hostages, all on the basis of a political programme that advocated the wholesale destruction of Russia. There is no such situation in Ukraine, but if there was, there would be no socialist or anti-imperialist principle that could justify any support for that.
Whilst Hamas’s incursion is not merely reactive, but rather part of the proactive pursuit of its own political aims, the situation cannot be understood outside of its context. The current Israeli regime is the most far-right government in the country’s history. That government has an explicitly Jewish-supremacist policy. Settler violence is at an all-time high, with armed settler gangs carrying out pogroms against Palestinians. Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank has intensified its repression. The residents of Gaza continue to live in abject conditions, with widespread poverty, and lack of access to basic utilities. Those conditions are substantially a consequence of the blockade Israel enforces in alliance with Egypt. All of this cannot but have deepened a sense of desperation amongst the Palestinian people, which will have bolstered support for Hamas and PIJ.
While Hamas, PIJ, and other paramilitary factions can inflict significant damage, they cannot militarily overwhelm Israel by themselves. They could only hope to do that as part of a regional, possibly global, conflict, in which Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, and other states also intervene against Israel. Such a conflict would be a bloodbath out of which no democratic outcome could emerge, and in which any prospect for distinct Palestinian self-determination would almost certainly be squeezed out by the regional-imperialist aspirations of competing states.
Israel has a right to defend itself. Or, put another way, Israeli civilians in the places Hamas and PIJ have attacked, or may yet attack, have a right to security and to life. But the probable form of Israel’s response, devastating air assaults on Gaza that kill many more civilians, and further intensification of its military dictatorship over the West Bank, will stretch the definition of ‘self-defence’ past breaking point. Much of what Israel has done, and will now do, in the name of ‘self-defence’ is morally unjustifiable, disproportionate, collective punishment.
Israel’s right to even proportionate self-defence is opposed by many on the far left. But those who oppose any action to protect civilians or to free civilian hostages are saying, in effect, that all Israeli civilians, including children, are legitimate targets. Indeed, some on the left do explicitly say exactly that. This ‘leftism’ is a grotesquely distorted caricature of the principles on which our politics should be based.
Hamas’s incursion was launched a week after a Qatar-brokered deal saw Israel reopen border crossings from Gaza to allow residents who work in Israel to cross. The deal itself followed demonstrations at the border, to which Israel responded violently. In launching its incursion, Hamas has evidently decided to risk its own relations with Qatar — which may, in any case, have soured recently for other reasons. According to an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Hamas has also claimed that Qatar has also unilaterally reduced the amount it pays to Gaza in aid. Although, according to a deal with Israel, it is meant to pay $10 million per month, for the last several it has, Hamas says, paid just €3 million.
It may also be the case that part of Hamas’s aim is to snuff out prospects for a putative ‘normalisation’ deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Any such deal will be for the benefit of the Saudi and Israeli ruling classes rather than the Palestinian people. But if Hamas’s alternative is to spark an all-out war in order to torpedo the deal, that will likely benefit the Palestinians even less.
The attacks were clearly meticulously planned and must have taken weeks of preparation. That Israel, one of the most militarised states in the world, and possessing the most developed security apparatus in the region, was caught unawares by the attacks is extraordinary and, for now, inexplicable. Israel tells its people that militarisation, the occupation, and its periodic raids on Gaza are all necessary in order to protect Israeli Jews. That claim has been spectacularly undermined.
For now, the situation is unstable and unpredictable. Hamas leaders have called for a wider uprising; Iran and Hezbollah have celebrated the attacks. The risk of a wider war is acute. Israeli military retaliation has begun and is ongoing; further violence by paramilitary settler gangs is highly likely. Civilians on all sides will pay the price. Whatever happens in the immediate term will set back, rather than advance, prospects for social transformation that improves life for the Palestinians.
The activity of the sizeable Palestinian minority inside Israel will be an important factor in the developing situation. Although Palestinians in Israel face intensifying racism and discrimination, they have substantially more freedom to act than the occupied and blockaded Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Significant mobilisation, including strikes, by Palestinians in Israel for democratic demands could check the warmongering of the Israeli government, especially if such activity is able to unite in any way with continuing mobilisation by the anti-occupation wing of Israel’s democracy movement.
There has never been a ‘military solution’ to the political crisis in Israel/Palestine – neither for Israel, whose military occupation will never extirpate Palestinians’ aspiration for a national future in their historic homeland, nor for the Palestinians themselves. Progress is only possible on the basis of a framework that guarantees equal rights to both peoples, Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab, including an equal right to national self-determination via two independent states. However remote the prospect of such a framework is, and it is surely remote, it remains the only possible platform for moves towards the future unity and confederation that internationalists advocate.
In a frightening and tragic context, fighters for real democracy and equality in Israel/Palestine will have to redouble their efforts of advocacy and mobilisation. The best role we can play is to support them.