According to the Gaza health ministry, Reuters reported on 16 October, at least 2,750 Palestinians had been killed and 9,700 wounded in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip since 7 October. By the time of writing, the death toll was much more. Before this latest round of bombs and death most of Gaza’s population relied on aid for essential goods. Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for 16 years. Medicine, education, housing: all of this is uncertain in ‘normal’ times. In times like this, millions of people in the tiny area, just 10km wide, face attack from one of the best-armed militaries in the world. Deaths and destruction have also been visited on the Palestinian West Bank. A human catastrophe is unfolding, aided and encouraged by the governments of the United States, Britain, Australia and, ultimately, New Zealand.
So we stand for solidarity. Palestinians are fighting for their lives and their land against a occupying force aided and assisted by the most powerful, and most murderous, state on earth: the United States.
Every march, every demonstration, every Palestinian flag raised and message shared is in defiance of this deathly attack. It is a way of showing Palestinians, in historic Palestine and across the diaspora, that we stand with them.
Nothing justifies attacks on civilians, political leaders from Washington to Wellington intone. They are right, of course: nothing does. But history did not start on 7 October when Hamas raids captured and killed Israelis. Years of oppression from Israeli occupation, and from a political project determined to destroy their existence, has produced the desperation of the current moment. In July 2023 Israeli bulldozers demolished much of what surrounded Jenin in the occupied West Bank. “It looked”, according to journalist Ameed Shahada, “like an earthquake had struck.” 3,000 people had to be evacuated: at least 10 died in the rubble of Israel’s demolition of homes. In late February 2023 in Huwara, another town on the West Bank, a mob of Israeli colonists smashed up windows, set cars alight and attacked Palestinians, facilitated and protected by the military. The chairman of Israel’s National Security Committee cheered this on: “we need burning villages.” In 2022 220 Palestinians on the West Bank were killed by Israeli forces, at least 48 of them children. Meanwhile, in Gaza, Israeli forces control people’s movements, the arrival of goods and food, and often kill. Airstrikes in 2022, for example, killed an elderly woman celebrating a wedding, five children in a cemetery (an act Amnesty International believes should be investigated as a war crime), and another dozen children. According to Defense for Children International, every year between 500 to 700 children, some as young as twelve, are detained and tried in Israeli military detention and military courts. Israeli colonists move into Palestinian land with impunity, while Palestinian citizens of Israel face multiple legally-sanctioned discriminatory practices.
There is no military comparison between Hamas and the Israeli Defence Force. The latter is supported by massive military aid from the United States (about $3.8 billion per year) and is applauded by Western political leaders.
Israel’s war on Palestine is part of the wider imperialist subjugation of the Middle East. Israel’s rulers have proven, over the past sixty years, that they will act for imperialist interests in the region, fighting with rival powers, acting, in the words of a famous 1951 Ha’aretz newspaper editorial, as a “watchdog” for Western interests in the region. This is why Joe Biden calls himself a Zionist. This is why Chris Hipkins and Chris Luxon both made statements stressing Israel’s “right to defend itself”, as if Palestinians had no such right. This is why Western leaders’ condemnations of Hamas attacks on civilians are so much hypocritical posturing: they do not speak out when every day attacks are carried out against Palestinians. For Western capitalism, their “friend” Israel is an ally in keeping a geostrategically important region dominated by the US. For this end, quite simply, Israeli lives matter more than Palestinian.
These past decades have witnessed a sea change in public opinion towards Israel, however. Seventy years of atrocities and occupation cannot be covered over by propaganda indefinitely. Outrage, from the New Zealand Herald to the ACT Party, greeted former Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s mild statement calling “for an immediate cessation of the violence.” Within hours she had joined the usual calls blaming only Hamas. But the intensifying censoriousness of supporters of Israel internationally cannot obscure the fact that they are losing the moral argument.
Palestinians have the right to resist. This includes military resistance. Every Palestinian uprising, from the First Intifada in the 1980s to the battles of the early 2000s to today, has drawn attention to their plight. No one can expect an occupied people facing oppression to accept this without a fight. The massive outpouring of solidarity with Palestine globally shows that their brave stand finds a response. The growth of groups like Alternative Jewish Voices in Aotearoa also gives the lie to the claim that Israel represents Jews. Jewish people have the right to be safe wherever they live.
Palestinian military actions, or terrorism, though will never truly challenge the might of US imperialism and the Israeli military. That is why movements like Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in recent years are so significant. So is the development of village- and community-based resistance to Israeli land seizures. These have focused on solidarity from below, and have made links between unions, indigenous groups, students and others globally with Palestinians. A new generation, disenchanted with the politics of the PLO that sought to negotiate with Israel and carve out a Palestinian state-let from the ruins, is rediscovering a vision of liberation.
This matters for us all. The misery in Palestine is necessary to stablise US interests. This means the liberation of Palestine challenges US imperialism and the imperialist system. The Palestinians’ natural allies for this liberation are the working class of their immediate region and, eventually, the wider world. The first shoots of that possible alliance are visible in the massive demonstrations globally, the growth of BDS, and the growing pro-Palestinian consciousness in trade unions, community groups and amongst youth.
Palestinians in Gaza now, even amidst this horror, have not surrendered. Their suffering should make us mourn, and make us angry. Their determination should inspire us to march, mobilise and protest for a free Palestine.