Israel: rising repression, rising resistance

07 February 2023

By Alex Rutherford and Marcel Rajecky

ON 30 DECEMBER, the Israeli parliament voted into office a government headed by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. This time, Netanyahu has included in his coalition representatives of a number of extreme religious and far right parties, who form the Religious Zionism (RZ) bloc.

A statement by Netanyahu on the government’s key policies began: ‘The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel. The government will advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel – in the Galilee, Negev, Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria.’

The latter refers to the Occupied West Bank, the truncated remains of Palestine left to 2.5 million of its original inhabitants but also, now, to 500,000 Zionist settlers.

The incoming finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, a member the RZ bloc and himself an illegal settler, said in an article in The Wall Street Journal that there would never be any ‘changing the political or legal status’ of the West Bank.

What he meant was that the ‘two states solution’, officially supported by the US and the so-called international community ever since the Oslo Agreements of 30 years ago would no longer even be paid lip service. The reality would continue to be land seizures, demolition of Palestinian homes and constant raids on the over 50-year old ‘refugee’ camps.

Another pivotal extreme right minister in the new government is Itamar Ben-Gvir, a settler in the occupied West Bank. At the age of 16 joined he joined Kach, the notoriously racist Meir Kahane’s ultra ‘Religious Zionist’ organisation.

Ben-Gvir was active, last year, in inciting the confrontations in occupied East Jerusalem, in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Israeli authorities are attempting to evict Palestinian families. Then he was waving a gun and urging police to open fire on Palestinian demonstrators.

Now this man is Minister of National Security in charge of the police force, prisons and the border guards. He advocates instituting the death penalty for ‘terrorists’ and even harsher conditions for the 4,450 Palestinian prisoners (including 150 children) held in Israeli jails. He also advocates the expulsion of all of Israel’s Palestinians citizens who will not give a pledge of allegiance to the Jewish state.

It is therefore no surprise that in the weeks since the installation of Netanyahu’s government there has been a major uptick in attacks by the Israeli state on the West Bank and likewise resistance from the various Palestinian Islamist guerrilla organisations.

Once again, Jenin

On 26 January, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) massacred nine Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp, in the occupied West Bank. A tenth Palestinian was later killed by Israeli troops in a protest against the atrocity.

Jenin has long been the site of countless brutal raids by the so-called Israeli Defence Forces. One that hit the world’s headlines on 11 May last year involved an IDF sniper killing the famous Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

The Palestinian health ministry identified three of those killed in the 26 January assault as Magda Obaid (61), Saeb Izreiqi (24) and Izzidin Salahat (26). 20 people were also wounded. Reportedly Israeli troops initially prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded. The children’s ward of a local hospital was also hit by Israeli tear gas.

In response the Palestinian Authority (Israel’s usually reliable collaborator in the oppression of the Palestinians living in the West Bank) temporarily broke off security relations with the occupation forces. PA president Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning and a general strike across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

The violence is not new. At least 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank so far this year, and last year they killed more than 150. Netanyahu’s new government does not signal a change of course.

Despite small disagreements amongst various Zionist parties, the main pillars of the settler-colonial project – confiscation of lands for the construction of illegal settlements, repeated bombing campaigns against Gaza, lobbying against recognition of Palestine – are the consensus amongst the Israeli political class and, to an extent, Israeli civil society at large.

However, it would be wrong to assume it is business as usual. The most right wing forces yet assembled in an Israeli cabinet and the Knesset could hold Netanyahu to ransom to gain strategic concessions or use their ministerial positions to commit atrocities with impunity. That potential is lodged in the core of the governing coalition.

Global context

The continuing violence against the Palestinians is being carried out with the quiet approval of Israel’s main sponsor, the United States. Washington and its regional gendarme Tel Aviv have an agreed programme: more land confiscation alongside normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states.

During Trump’s presidency, this plan was expressed most clearly in the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’, unveiled in January 2020. In this, the US signalled that it would support extensive annexations of Palestinian land and the ‘judaisation’ of East Jerusalem, thus ruling out the possibility of a Palestinian state in any meaningful sense.

It also promised billions to its regional ‘partners’, that is the Arab states, to invest in the occupied West Bank, thereby developing their ties with the once hostile Zionist state.

Currently heavily embroiled in conflicts with Russia in Ukraine and China in East Asia, the US cannot afford a major explosion in the Middle East. With Anthony Blinken’s visit to Israel it is trying to integrate its key Arab client states – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar – with Israel economically and strategically.

The intention is also to strengthen the hands of these states against internal threats, be they political or religious opposition or, in Israel’s case, the Palestinian national liberation movement. The current intensification of inter-imperialist rivalry makes these objectives – and the obedience of its regional ‘partners’ – ever more urgent for the US.

However, Netanyahu’s bloc has its own problems within Israeli society. Weeks of demonstrations have taken place against the new government’s plans to weaken the Israeli Supreme Court so that a majority in the Knesset can override its decisions.

One reason is to be able to block the conviction of Netanyahu on corruption charges. Another is that this would allow the government a freer hand over new settlements and pursuing the religious right’s theocratic social agenda.

These proposals have provoked large scale resistance within Israeli society, with weeks of protests culminating in 100,000 demonstrating in Tel Aviv on 21 January, headed by various Zionist Parties, former prime ministers, plus human rights groups and the LGBT+ community that the religious bigots have threatened with new repressive legislation.

But it excluded the issue of Palestinian rights and no Palestinian flags were allowed, although they would be the first target of a government fully off the leash of any legal restraints.

Solidarity with Palestine!

Israel has a settler-colonial political system, rightly likened to the racist Apartheid system. This means that, despite the outpouring of moral panic in the Israeli liberal bourgeois press regarding the new government, Israel’s ongoing policy of oppression towards the Palestinians is supported by the entire political class and will not be fundamentally altered by any Israeli election.

Today, the majority of the Israeli working class is completely integrated into the settler colonial project, via the 800,00 strong Histadrut, which has been a vital part of the Zionist colonisation project since its foundation in 1920, and was never a genuine trade union. The official working class organisations do not represent Israeli workers and their interests as workers, but rather their interests as occupiers and a privileged working class vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

Of course socialists in Israel and across the world must oppose this latest manifestation of Israeli violence against the Palestinians. But, just as crucially, we must stand resolutely opposed to Zionism in all of its forms. This is a racist ideology which is used to justify the oppression of the Palestinian people on a daily basis.

Our goal must therefore be the destruction of the racist Zionist settler state and its replacement by a single secular state for all the people of Palestine: Arabs and Israelis, Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists.

This goal can only be achieved through a socialist revolution, which draws in the entire Palestinian working class with advanced sections of the Israeli working class. But it must also be part of such a revolution across the whole Middle East that overthrows the autocratic regimes, whether military-secular like Egypt or ‘Islamic’ like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. International solidarity with all the progressive struggles of the region is crucial.

We reject with contempt the argument that support for Palestine is antisemitic and oppose every re-appearance of anti-Jewish agitation. We praise the courage of many Jewish people both in Israel and around the world who support Palestinian rights and denounce Zionist oppression.

We must all stand together in the struggle for the overthrow of the Zionist apartheid state and its replacement with a binational secular socialist state, in which all citizens have equal political and economic rights.

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