Gaza is in flames once more. An already devastated population is reeling from yet another Israeli offensive. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinian homes are being raided and in some instances demolished, young people are being disappeared, and political activists are being jailed in almost unprecedented numbers.
The full force of one of the world’s largest military powers is bearing down on the Palestinians. Palestinian organisations are responding with whatever means are at their disposal: street protests, rocks, rockets, anger, tears.
In the West, journalists and commentators shake their heads and bemoan this “cycle of violence”. Such commentary implies proportional forces arrayed against each other. Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel is an aggressive nuclear power, an apartheid state backed to the hilt by the biggest imperial power in the world, the United States.
Its project of colonisation began in the 20th century and is motivated by power, control and imperial dominance. The Palestinians are an oppressed, colonised population. Palestinians have no state of their own and no serious military forces. Their economy has been systematically devastated by decades of blockades and bombings.
Racism and ethnic cleansing
The Israeli state was founded on terror. In one infamous 1948 incident, 300 Palestinians were killed in the village of Deir Yassin by the Irgun, one of a number of terrorist militias.
Fahimi Zeidan, who was 12 at the time, testified: “They ordered all our family to line up against the wall and they started shooting us. I was hit in the side, but most of us children were saved because we hid behind our parents. The bullets hit my sister Kadri  in the head, my sister Sameh  in the cheek, my brother Mohammed  in the chest. But all the others with us against the wall were killed: my father, my mother, my grandfather and grandmother, my uncles and aunts and some of their children.”
Many hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians were forcibly driven out of their homes and off their land. Journalist John Pilger has described the situation since as a “slowly creeping genocidal project”. This genocidal intent is built into the foundations of Israel, and is now part of its DNA.
Israel is a fundamentally racist state. It is a state which valorises one particular religious identity as central to citizenship. Many top Israeli political leaders have been direct participants in acts of terror against Palestinians. Menachem Begin, prime minister from 1977 to 1983, had been a leading member of the Irgun. He and his defence minister Ariel Sharon presided over the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the massacres at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. Sharon was prime minister in 2004- 05. Today’s leading Zionists continue this abhorrent tradition.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in 2004, Arnon Soffer, head of the military’s National Defence College, commented on the siege of Gaza: “When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today … It’s going to be a terrible war. So if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day … If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist.”
The continued survival of the Palestinians poses an existential threat to Israel as a “Jewish state”. If the Palestinian population continues to grow, it represents a demographic threat to the Jewish majority. This is the logic behind genocide.
Never content with the borders designated by the first partition plan, Israel has routinely engaged in open offensive actions to acquire more territory. In 1967 it went to war with Egypt, Jordan and Syria to gain control over Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.
“Settlement expansion”, as it is euphemistically known, is the current method by which the Israeli state carves up Palestinian territory in the West Bank. Often, Israeli colonists earmark Palestinian homes, suburbs, land or villages, and set forth to conquer by force. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been made homeless through this process.
In the most recent round of colonisation, Palestinians report being awakened in the middle of the night and told they have an hour to gather their most prized possessions before they are forced to leave. Images show them sitting on the pavement, behind lines of Israeli soldiers, watching as their homes are bulldozed into rubble. To rub salt into the wound, the Israeli Knesset passed a law in 2012 mandating that Palestinians whose homes are bulldozed will have to pay the cost of the bulldozing.
In June, this process accelerated rapidly. The Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry issued tenders for almost 1,500 housing units in the West Bank, 560 of which are in east Jerusalem, the symbolic capital of Palestine.
The Palestinian territories are also criss-crossed with Israeli-only roads and military checkpoints. These checkpoints are designed to humiliate Palestinians during their day-to-day activities. Any Palestinian can be stopped, searched and held indefinitely. Getting to school or work is a daily ordeal that can take hours.
This serves two purposes: to signify to Palestinians that they have no real control over their lives, and to make Palestinian control over any contiguous piece of land impossible.
Palestinians who reside inside the boundaries Israel established in 1948 are treated as second class citizens. Their schools are underfunded, they are harassed on the streets for speaking Arabic, and they are routinely denied the same rights as their Jewish counterparts. Some Palestinian villages don’t even appear on maps of Israel – the government then claims they don’t exist, and therefore they aren’t linked into the electricity grid or allowed water supplies.
Israel’s role in the world
Israel was founded as a colonial settler state in one of the world’s strategically most important regions. The Middle East sits on huge reserves of oil. Control of this has long been vital to the capitalist system.
The big imperial and colonial powers of the day have desired either to directly control countries in the region or to rule them by proxy. Israel protects US economic and political interests in the region. It acts aggressively towards Arab national movements when they threaten US imperial interests. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 1951 expressed this perfectly:
“Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the US and Britain. But if for any reasons the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighbouring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.”
Israel does things that the US feels it can’t always get away with – like selling arms to apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, or using Mossad (Israel’s secret service) to assassinate political radicals in the region.
In order to maintain Israel’s overwhelming strength, the US provides financial and political backing. Israel is the biggest recipient of US military and economic aid. Every year, the US hands over around $3 billion. This is a bipartisan policy. The political backing extends to blocking almost every criticism raised against Israel in the UN. The Australian ruling class is also one of the most unswerving supporters of Israel.
Israel is not the only state in the region to get major support from the US. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are also large recipients of military and economic aid. However, several factors make Israel unique. Israel is a much more stable ally than Arab states. Because it is a colonial settler state, its Jewish citizens are committed to the Zionist project. They overwhelmingly support Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. They see themselves as an island of civilisation in a sea of Arab backwardness.
Many also benefit materially from Israel’s plunder of Palestinian water, land and crops. Israeli houses and settlements are surrounded by lush, green, sculptured gardens. Palestinian towns often have raw sewage running through their streets and receive less than 100 litres of water per person a day.
The Arab states, on the other hand, rule over often hostile and discontented populations. They are vulnerable to internal revolt, as the revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring have proven. Many working class Arabs oppose ties with the US and with Israel, as well as the repressive domestic policy of their own regimes.
It is very hard to imagine there being the kind of revolutionary wave in Israel that occurred in Tunisia and Egypt. This makes Israel extremely valuable for the US.
Despite deliberate mystification of the Israel-Palestine conflict by the capitalist media, there are an oppressor and an oppressed, an aggressor and an aggrieved, a coloniser and a colonised. As the South African anti-apartheid figure Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Leftists must stand unequivocally with the Palestinians and against Israeli oppression.