Workers must act to stop Rafah massacre

17 February 2024

KD Tait

ISRAEL IS poised to attack Rafah, a city on the Egyptian border which has become the last refuge for more than one million Palestinians driven from northern and central Gaza. 

Despite declaring Rafah a ‘safe zone’, the city’s schools, hospitals, and refugee camps have been subjected to aerial bombardment from the beginning of the war. 

UN general secretary Antonio Guterres described the conditions of people ‘living in overcrowded makeshift shelters, in unsanitary conditions, without running water, electricity and adequate food supplies.’ 

Disease is killing children and adults weakened by months of starvation, thanks to Israel’s near-total blockade on food and medicine entering the territory. It is in these conditions that the United States, and nine other countries, including the UK, have unilaterally suspended funding to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNWRA.  

Imperialist hypocrisy

After the indiscriminate slaughter of 30,000 civilians, president Joe Biden has belatedly acknowledged that ‘there are a lot of innocent people who are starving… and it’s got to stop’. Of course, the US could put a stop to Israel’s war anytime it wants. Yet it continues to supply Israel’s war machine and use its veto power to protect it at the UN. 

In ‘normal’ years, Washington provides Israel with around $3.8bn in military aid, which goes directly into arming the IDF’s occupation forces. Israeli TV has run footage boasting of the devastating impact that US-supplied bunker-busting bombs have on civilian tower blocks. 

Since the US has no intention of bringing its attack dog to heel, it is no surprise that calls for ‘restraint’ in Rafah from Biden have gone unheeded. On 7 February, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared ‘there is no other solution but a complete and final victory’, adding that he had ordered troops to ‘prepare to operate’ in Rafah. 

Even more ominously, he noted plans for the ‘evacuation’ of the civilian population. According to Netanyahu, ‘total victory’ over Hamas is mere months away. Yet, US military sources quoted in the New York Times calculate that Israel has only killed a third of Hamas’ fighters, and fighting continues up and down the strip. 

The Zionists know they cannot ‘liquidate’ Hamas or the other military resistance organisations without liquidating the civilian population whose oppression sustains an inexhaustible supply of fresh recruits. 

Ethnic cleansing

It is this simple truth that is leading the whole dynamic of Israel’s war in Gaza into a campaign of ethnic cleansing, a second Nakba. Indeed, this outcome has been openly canvassed by Israeli government ministers who have called for the expulsion of the Palestinian population and their replacement with Israeli settlers. Netanyahu himself, whose government rests on the support of these extremists, has declared that security within the Gaza strip must remain in the hands of the IDF—i.e. a return to military occupation. 

Around the world, mass demonstrations of a size unmatched since those against the 2003 invasion of Iraq have undoubtedly forced Israel’s allies, chief among them the US, UK and Germany, to temper their unconditional support for its war. 

But while Israel’s allies urge ‘restraint’ out of fear that a massacre in Rafah could prompt the Middle East powder keg to blow up, they refuse to take the simple measures that could end the war overnight: suspend all military and financial aid; impose sanctions, and enforce repeated UN resolutions. 

Instead of condemning Israel’s vengeful campaign of ethnic cleansing, they are attacking the growing solidarity movement. Legal bans on the BDS campaign are being rushed through parliaments, and baseless accusations of antisemitism are deployed in a witch-hunt by the bosses’ media to silence critics of Israel. 

But the fate of the Palestinians does not have to be left in the hands of its oppressors. With one breath the Egyptian working class could close the Suez canal and paralyse the entire imperialist order overnight. Likewise, the organised labour movements in the US, UK and Europe could impose their own sanctions on Israel: refuse to transport all arms and goods originating in or destined for Israel. Investment, research and cultural collaboration with the Zionist state should all be rejected out of hand, under the principle—no cooperation with occupation!  

On 16 October 2023, the Palestinian trade union movement issued just such a call to the world’s labour movement. It is a shameful indictment of the reformist trade union leaders that, with a handful of honourable exceptions, they have failed to lift a finger. Many have found it difficult even to issue an unequivocal condemnation of the war. 

The working class in those countries providing Israel with weapons and diplomatic protection have a particular duty to act. This is not only Israel’s war. It is a colonial war carried on equally with the participation of several of the western imperialist powers. 

The victory of Israel in this war strengthens the position of western imperialism, and with it the strength, confidence and belligerence of our ruling classes. That is why the Palestinians’ fight is our fight; that is why we must redouble our efforts to fight for internationalist, working class action to stop the war, and hasten the downfall of the entire imperialist-sponsored order in the Middle East, beginning with the smashing of the Israeli state at the hands of a Middle Eastern socialist revolution. 


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