By Dave Stockton
THE DECISION by nine Western states – USA, UK, Germany, Italy, Canada Australia, Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland – to cut off funds for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) marks these countries’ open endorsement and collusion in the genocide being attempted by Israel.
The workers’ and progressive movements in these countries should immediately do all in their power to force their governments to halt this disgusting complicity, demand an immediate ceasefire and stop supplying weapons and materiel for the Zionist aggressors’ war of annihilation.
Their pretext is that ‘some’ of UNWRA’s staff participated in the 7 October breakout, by Hamas and other resistance forces, or celebrated when they heard the news of it. No one mentions the fact that the Israel Defence Force has killed 152 UNRWA staff since 7 October.
The agency employs around 13,000 people inside Gaza and provides healthcare, education and other humanitarian aid, including water desalination, sanitation and hygiene, on which the population depends. During the bombing, thousands took shelter in its facilities in the hope that there they might be safe. These places too have been deliberately hit, including a huge food and medicines warehouse, burnt to the ground in Gaza City. Only four of its 22 healthcare centres remain operational, while 145 of its installations have been damaged due to IDF attacks.
To halt or seriously restrict UNWRA staff’s work is not only an act of barbaric cruelty, a war crime under international law, but it is an implicit endorsement of Israel’s blatant attempt at genocide for the 2.3 million Gazans and the simultaneous settlement and ethnic cleansing of districts in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
A slap in the face of the ICJ
Indeed, the defunding of UNRWA, the main and only effective aid organisation currently serving Palestine, is an intended slap in the face of the ICJ (International Court of Justice) in Den Haag, which ruled only two days earlier that Israel must “enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip” (provisional measure 4). So much for these “law-abiding” Western powers!
What is under way, as many Palestinians have said, is a second Nakba, a repeat of the 1948 “catastrophe”. The fascist ministers in Netanyahu’s government, like Itamar Ben Gvir, openly say this should be Israel’s objective. Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich were among nine government ministers who attended a far right settlers’ “Conference for the Victory of Israel – Settlement Brings Security: Returning to the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria”, held on Sunday, 28 January. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported from the conference:
“We need to find a legal way to voluntarily emigrate [Palestinians],” said Israel’s far-right national security minister, before a Likud lawmaker explained that, in war, “voluntary is a state you impose [on someone] until they give their consent.”
This conference of genocidists openly called for the rebuilding of settlements in Gaza and for further encroachment on Palestinian land in the north of the West Bank. Again, the ICJ warned against this, ruling that “the state of Israel shall take all measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide [of the Gazan Palestinians]” (provisional measure 3).
There will be no such punishment nor will the Western powers call for any. Netanyahu will simply hide behind the phrasing, cynically employed in the Hague, that these are just the musings of ministers, not state policy.
The US, Germany, UK, etc., so loud in their defence of human rights and claims of humanitarian motives for their own bloody wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, have, for over three months now, brazenly refused to call for a halt to the pitiless Israeli onslaught on Gaza. They have blocked several UN draft resolutions to this end.
They have stood by and, in the US, UK and German cases, have supplied the weapons and ammunition with which Israel has killed 26,000 people, 8,000 of them children; destroyed 70% of homes. 390 schools and 20 out of 22 hospitals in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged. The sewerage and water supply has been smashed and contaminated over much of the territory.
In addition, 1,900,000 (85% of the population) have been displaced (many, multiple times) and herded into tent cities around Khan Younis, and they are now being told to move to Rafah. Here, waterborne diseases, like diarrhoea and amoebic meningitis, are epidemic. Médecins sans Frontières has warned that an outbreak of cholera is likely if nothing is done to restore basic sanitation and clean water.
Around the world, millions have demonstrated for months, demanding a total and permanent ceasefire. Despite this, in the Western democracies, governments have adamantly refused to call for this. More shameful still, parties that speak in the name of their labour movements have fully endorsed this refusal, smearing those who oppose it as antisemites.
In the Arab and Muslim world, too, apart from the Houthis in Yemen, little beyond words has been expended. Israel is seeking to replace the over 100,000 West Bank Palestinian workers it has blocked from entering it since 7 October with labourers from India, a move endorsed by Modi but which the trade unions there have condemned and are opposing.
It is now high time for the workers’ movement to take direct action, including workers’ boycotts of Israeli shipping, air and rail freight, and refusing all work which contributes to the Israeli war effort in factories, research facilities, offices, etc. Socialists should campaign for workforces and union branches to join protests with their union banners and, where possible, to take strike action, too, starting in Britain on 7 February, the day of workplace action for Palestine, called by the Stop the War Coalition and others.
Media workers, academics and teachers should demand an end to their employers’ lying propaganda claiming those supporting Palestine are antisemites or threaten Jewish people in general. They should defy bans by their employers and governments to broadcast views supporting the Palestinians. The growing number of anti-Zionist Jews demonstrating with the slogan “Not in my name!” testifies to the fact that it is entirely possible to oppose real antisemitism while remaining opposed to the Zionist genocide, lyingly being prosecuted in the name of “all Jews”.
To the Labour and Social Democratic parties of Europe currently supporting Israel’s war on Gaza we should say, “you do not deserve a single vote from workers”. But we can support those MPs, deputies and other representatives who unequivocally come out in support for the restitution of UNRWA funding and a permanent and total ceasefire.
We must continue to demonstrate for a massive increase of aid to Gaza, and the withdrawal of all Israeli land, sea and air forces. Indeed for a total end to its 17-year siege of Gaza and an end to IDF and armed settler killings on the West Bank (330 since October 7).
We are certain that the crimes of Israel in 2023-4 will be enrolled in their long record of crimes against humanity, and that, in spite of this, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” for both its Jewish and Palestinian citizens, will become an increasingly loud rallying cry for millions of the world’s workers and oppressed peoples.