Why won’t the world save the Palestinians?

29 October 2023
D Taylor

Who can make this stop? The question can keep you up at night. The Israeli state and its American backers have shown the world how sadistic and brutal they can be. So who’s going to do something about it?

The European Union, which sometimes claims to be the more enlightened and humanitarian centre of Western power? The United Nations, which supposedly exists so that the “international community” can prevent things like this from taking place? The Russian or Chinese governments, which say they oppose Western colonialism and imperialism? The Arab and Muslim states of the Middle East, which say they are the champions of the Palestinian cause?

Each day brings news of more children killed, more families displaced, more life-sustaining resources destroyed. One can feel quite powerless witnessing this wholesale destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza. But these states and coalitions aren’t powerless. They are the powers that rule our world: it’s their world, as the saying goes, and we’re just living—and dying—in it. So the Israelis and Americans have, once again, revealed themselves as out-of-control killers. Why aren’t any of the other states or organisations of states stopping them?

Because, in reality, they don’t want to. For the governments and organisations that make up the “international community”, this isn’t about the life and death of Palestinians. They care about only one thing: gaining power and prestige at the expense of their rivals.

The European Union has been reprehensible. After much agonising, it finally put out a statement calling for a “pause” in the Israeli massacre of Palestinians. Not for the massacre to stop, but only for it to be “paused” a little before it resumes. When a serial killer is on the loose, do the police ever call for a “pause” in the murder spree?

Yet even this statement was too much for some. It was achieved only after heated debate among the European states. Germany’s foreign minister, a member of the German Greens, had earlier vetoed a similar declaration. Several EU states fought hard to make sure the final statement could not in any way be read as a criticism of Israel’s mass murder campaign. As an article at news website Politico put it, they insisted on “nuanced” language that would recognise Israel’s right to “knock out Hamas”. The enlightened leaders of Europe, witnessing a genocide carried out by their ally, worry that even calling for a “pause” might be too extreme a condemnation.

Why is there even a debate in Europe? The Germans want to send a signal that they will back their imperialist allies in the Middle East, no matter what atrocities they carry out. But the other players in the European dispute are hardly fighting for Palestinian liberation. Emmanuel Macron had a typical ultra-imperialist brainwave: a massive international coalition to invade Gaza.

That’s “humanitarian” Western imperialism in a nutshell. Some argue that Western allies should be free to massacre their oppressed minorities with impunity. But some are concerned about their own international position. They want to play more of a role. So they try to participate in other states’ massacres too. They want to negotiate themselves into a coalition to carry out a massacre. The French government views the Israelis and Americans taking charge of a massive war crime, involving a huge deployment of military power into the strategic zone of the Middle East, and its thought is: How can we be a player in this?

None of the Western imperialists want justice for the oppressed, or even peace. They only want their own states to gain influence and power out of the horror in Gaza.

What about the United Nations? It seems absurd to raise it. It was founded as a coalition of the global ruling classes. Its aim, claimed in the preamble to the group’s charter, is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. The results speak for themselves.

At the lower levels, UN workers deliver aid to Palestinians (when Israel allows it), and the group employs various bureaucracies that can produce useful research about Palestinian oppression—while doing nothing to end it.

At the top level, it’s a debating society for the global ruling classes. The UN represents different currents in world imperialism, so it occasionally produces statements recognising the oppression of Palestinians (and, you’ll be shocked to hear, is denounced by Israel as anti-Semitic for doing so). That should surprise nobody. After all, it is the peak body for the world’s politicians: issuing nice-sounding statements that do nothing to improve the world is something of a speciality.

But it does nothing. Not because it’s powerless—the UN is quite capable of organising and projecting military force. It does nothing because it is a meeting house for the world’s main military powers, including those that are responsible for maintaining and enforcing the oppression of the Palestinians. So the Western powers on the Security Council can simply veto any resolution even slightly offensive to Israel’s rulers, and everything carries on as before.

The UN, of course, also has representation from rival currents in world imperialism. The Russian and Chinese states move the motions that the US vetoes. Many on the left used to dream about a future “multipolar world” in which powers hostile to the West might restrain the worst excesses of US, European and Israeli aggression. A few still do. But the reality is obvious.

Neither the Russian nor the Chinese ruling classes care about the liberation of the Palestinians. Why would they? Because they have some principled opposition to blowing up Arabs and Muslims, to robbing them of their democratic rights and stealing their land? Hardly.

It was only in 2018 that Russia flattened the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, outside Damascus, because it was a base of opposition to the Syrian dictatorship. President Vladimir Putin’s rise to the top in Russia was helped by his brutal eradication of the Chechnyan separatist movement. When it comes to carpet-bombing Arab and Muslim “barbarians”, Vladimir Putin is a regular Likudnik when Russia’s imperialist interests require it.

China’s imperialism has not yet expressed itself in so much open warfare, but it is one of the few modern states that, like Israel, is ethnically cleansing a Muslim nation through a process of settler colonialism. The Uyghurs of Xinjiang might raise an eyebrow at the Chinese government’s complaint that the UN is “evading the fundamental issue of independent statehood for the Palestinian people”.

Genocide, ethnic cleansing and the oppression of national minorities—along with the ideological lies that justify them, such as “counter-terrorism” or sheer rank Islamophobia—are tools common to every imperialist power. Europe, the US, Russia and China all use them when it serves their interests—and they all condemn them when doing so also serves their interests. Each of these powers views, in its own way, the attack on Gaza as a chance to gain power and influence. Russian and Chinese condemnations of Israel are just as hypocritical as Western grandstanding about democracy and human rights.

For the Middle Eastern ruling classes, grandstanding about the Palestinians is good politics. Doing anything about it isn’t. Arabs and Muslims in the region, suffering under a motley crew of American- and Russian-backed dictatorships, rightly view the Palestinian cause as the most pointed expression of the long fight against imperialism and colonialism in the region.

Their rulers are happy to deal with the Israeli state and sign away the rights of the Palestinians, while paying lip-service to the need for justice. Egypt’s US-backed dictatorship lectured Anthony Blinken on the plight Palestine, but Egypt has been Israel’s great partner in the slow strangulation of Gaza through blockade. The tyrannical Arab states have no interest in human liberation: they see Palestinians as mouths to feed, potential terrorists and fodder for demagogic posturing. Their rulers fear a pro-Palestinian uprising of their own people much more than they hate Zionism.

But there are two international communities. There is the community of rulers, all eyeing the current crisis in the Middle East and calculating how they can turn it to their advantage, to better oppress their own populations, extend their military might and strengthen their coalitions with other oppressors.

There is also the community of the oppressed: all those who recognise their solidarity with the Palestinians, and who have been challenging their own rulers to demand justice and liberation. The ruling classes organise internationally to force their agenda onto the world. The oppressed can, and must, do the same. Global imperialism has created what we’re seeing in Gaza; international socialism will end it.

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