In looking at the background to the current violence in Gaza and on the West Bank, and also the Hamas attacks on Israel, many people are taking 1947 as a starting point. An obvious place, given that the state of Israel came into existence following the Balfour Declaration and the experiences of the Holocaust.
In the two years since Critical Mass began publication, the Palestinian cause has never been far from our thoughts. Our first article on Palestine in August 2021 raised issues that are still pertinent today: “When news struck the headlines in early May that Israel had launched a campaign against the West Bank and Gaza, I was convinced that the entirety of the left would be condemning Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for what were, quite frankly, evil attacks. However, I was proved badly wrong. The mainstream Parliamentary Labour Party was discussing Israel’s right to self-defence, instead of advocating Palestinian’s rights as a state.” Nothing much has changed it seems.
On January 5th 2022, we reported on the use of ‘administrative detention’ in the West Bank: “Hisham Abu Hawash has been held since he was taken from his home in Dura, south of Hebron, in October 2020, and will be released on February 26th. He has ended his hunger strike but he is still being held in an Israeli hospital as he is too weak to be moved to a Palestinian hospital on the West Bank.” Of course, Mr Hawash is not the only Palestinian held without trial, but due to his hunger strike was fortunate to be released. The Jewish Network Syndicate published an opinion piece at the time headed: “Why is Israel letting the hunger-striking Palestinian terrorist die?” in which it was confidently asserted that Mr Hawash, a father of five, was a dangerous Islamic terrorist. Israel Hayom, another news source, stated that when Islamic Jihad issued a list of their prisoners, his name was not on it — but the security forces said he was a terrorist, so he must be.
Two days later, we reported that: “A study carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute yesterday found that 42% of Israeli Jews believe they should have more rights than non-Jewish citizens. Meanwhile in the occupied territories two more Palestinians were killed yesterday.” The routine killing of Palestinians goes virtually unnoticed by the western media. We could write a news report virtually every day in which a Palestinian has been killed by the ironically named Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
By February 3rd 2022, we were able to report that Amnesty International had issued a well researched report which concluded: “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including those with Israeli nationality, amounts to systematic oppression and apartheid”. Mike Stanton noted that according to Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a message posted online in March 2019: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens… [but rather] the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them.” Amnesty International is not the only international organisation to refer to Israel as an apartheid state. Both Human Rights Watch and B’tselem have used the same language. It should probably be noted that these organisations are not left wing radicals, they are very careful in the language they use.
On May 6th 2022, we published a report headlined “Outrage as settlers storm al-Aqsa Mosque again”. The al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the holiest of sites for Palestinians but, spurred on by a campaign on social media and with army support, Jewish settlers stormed the site, raised the Israeli flag and sang Israeli songs. Meanwhile, 16 Palestinians were arrested. It is rarely noticed in the western media that so-called settlers are forcing Palestinians from their homes and land in areas that they have no right to be in. This is forced annexation and ethnic cleansing carried out one house at a time. Nobody ever asks where the Palestinians, many of whom have lived on this land all their lives, are supposed to go?
The murder, by Israeli forces, of veteran reporter Shireen Abu Akleh led to huge protests throughout the Middle East and Europe. In London, about 75,000 people marched to support the Palestinian people. Eastbourne PSC Chair, Sarah Kishawi, reported from London: “Tens of thousands of people came together in London on Saturday, to stand in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people and to acknowledge 74 years of the Nakba….55 blue press flak jackets were held up at Downing Street, to commemorate the 55 journalists murdered by Israel since 2000. Israel continues to kill with impunity. So far this year, 10 Palestinian children have been murdered.”
Tanweer Dar added: “That so much of the world, in particular the developed western world, has turned a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinian people, and indeed aided and abetted Israel in enforcing a brutal regime of apartheid, should be a monumental source of shame. Instead the United States, in particular, continues to send billions in military aid to Israel, as well as supplying it with some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world.”
In December, we continued to report the day to day degradations faced by Palestinians. Human rights lawyer, Salah Hammouri, born on the West Bank, was being deported. He was accused of terrorism over his work for Addameer, a Palestinian legal aid and prisoners’ rights group which was designated a terrorist organisation by the Israeli defence ministry in October 2021, along with five other Palestinian civil society groups.
On January 27th we reported: “Israeli forces are continuing to raid Palestinian refugee camps in the occupied West Bank. Yesterday they killed nine people, including 60-year-old Magda Obaid; 20 others were wounded, and four are on the critical list after troops attacked the Jenin refugee camp….. Al Jazeera has reported that Israeli forces opened fire on ambulances attempting to reach the wounded and fired teargas towards a hospital where it entered a children’s ward.” We noted that there had been no international condemnation for any of these acts of aggression by the Israelis.
“The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA), which monitors conflicts, suggests 89 Palestinians have been killed already this year in the so-called occupied territories. Most of these have died at the hands of heavily armed Israeli soldiers. It is very rare for anybody to be charged with these deaths. Indeed, official figures show that, whilst 71% of Israeli deaths end in a conviction, only 23% of Palestinian deaths do.”
In May, we published an editorial prompted by the European Broadcast Union’s (EBU) refusal to allow Ukrainian President Zelensky from speaking at the Eurovision Song Contest. It was not, the EBU claimed, a political platform. Fair enough, we pointed out, but that being the case why was Israel allowed to participate and use its flag since the competition began. Of course, many Critical Mass readers were already aware of the different treatment of Ukrainian refugees compared to those from Palestine.
Then, in July we reported that “In the largest military operation in Jenin in 20 years at least ten Palestinians have been killed and many more wounded. Israel launched air attacks to support ground raids carried out by hundreds of soldiers. They are targeting the Jenin Brigades, mainly young men who have never known peace and see no hope of peace while the Israeli army continues its occupation of the West Bank. And Israeli settlers, in breach of international law, continue to seize Palestinian land.” We also pointed out, rather pointedly considering recent events, that “the USA has made the usual noises about Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorists. But Israel is not under attack. Palestine is under an illegal occupation and, according to the UN Charter, has the right to resist by any means necessary, including armed struggle.” The ability of Palestinians to defend themselves was to become severely tested not long after this.
Over the two years we have been publishing, Israeli brutality against Palestinian civilians has been routine and has become more and more brutal. Every person on mainstream media, speaking on behalf of the besieged Palestinian people, is asked first whether they will condemn the attacks by Hamas last week. I am trying hard to think of an occasion when a Zionist has been asked to condemn the illegal occupation of the West Bank by Israel, the deaths of children from Israeli bullets (bullets supplied, incidentally, by the USA and Britain) or the denial of basic human rights to the 2 million occupants of Gaza. And, by Zionist, I do not mean hard-line Israeli right-wingers, but people such as Rishi Sunak, Keir Starmer, and the legion of Israeli apologists who even now have only started calling for restraint because a Tory MP, Crispin Blunt, has pointed out that in failing to restrain Israel they may well find themselves complicit in war crimes.
Nobody wants violence as a political solution, but we cannot support a situation where only one side is permitted violence — when, as soon as the other responds in kind, they must be condemned even as Israel prepared an entirely disproportionate response. Critical Mass, with our limited resources, will continue to try to tell the truth and avoid over-emotional and often context-less rants which simply avoid condemning one side whilst condemning the other instead. Condemnation may make people feel good, but in the end it is understanding we require, and that will remain our mission.
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.