The Middle East and the World After October 7, and Israel’s War on Palestine

The October 7 attack by Hamas militants from Gaza into Israel, across one of the most closely guarded borders in the world, constitutes nothing less than a global turning point. Some 1300 Israelis were killed, military bases overtaken, parts of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance apparatus expertly dismantled, and 150 hostages transported back into Gaza. Nor did Israel’s vaunted international intelligence agencies, whether Mossad, Shin Bet, or military intelligence, let alone their counterparts in the CIA or European intelligence agencies, catch wind of what was coming.

Never has the delusion of rulers that they have created “security” for themselves and their regimes through repression and walling people in been exposed in so stark a fashion. Surely, this pertains not only to the nuclear-armed, technologically advanced, and militarily hyper-organized Israeli state, but also to those everywhere who rule over subject peoples through vastly superior force and relentless surveillance, from China to Turkey, and from Russia to the U.S.

The grand illusion of the U.S., Israel, and their allies and client states was that, after having been politically isolated, confined, and driven to despair, the Palestinian people would gradually disappear or acquiesce to the new “reality” in which even Arab states were increasingly normalizing relations with Israel in agreements that no longer even pretended to help Palestine, what even King Abdullah of Jordan called agreements that “fly over” Palestine. October 7 shattered that myth, showing that, as in Poland, Ireland, or South Africa in earlier times, or the history of the Jews themselves, oppressed peoples who’ve acquired a clear sense of identity and organization are capable of outlasting their oppressors, even in the face of decades and even centuries of setbacks. This too is reality.

It is also clear that Israel, which is lurching toward authoritarianism, even fascism, in recent years, is not launching a “surgical” operation to free the hostages grabbed by Hamas fighters. In fact, it is showing absolutely no regard for them. Instead, with full acquiescence from the U.S., a genocidal crackdown on the entire Palestinian people of Gaza is occurring. At this writing, thousands of Palestinians have been killed by relentless airstrikes, with tens of thousands, or even more, sure to follow. The Israeli military has indiscriminately levelled schools, hospitals, and mosques.

Israeli government ministers have called the Palestinians “human animals,” also beginning a medieval-style siege reminiscent of Sarajevo in the 1990s, which has cut off electricity, food, fuel, other supplies, and even water. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated openly that Hamas members are “dead men,” signaling to his military that no prisoners need be taken. Most ominously, the Israeli state is forcing Palestinians in the northern half of Gaza, home of some one million people, to flee their homes or die. This includes large hospitals and their patients, another clear war crime. Is Gaza as a whole to be ethnically “cleansed,” its 2.5 million people to be driven into the Sinai desert?

As these horrors transpire, with more to come, the U.S. government and its political class have unified around a policy of giving Israel a free hand, even more so than in previous conflicts. While highlighting Israeli deaths, they have ignored events like the October 9 death from Israeli bombs of 14 members of a single family in Gaza, let alone the thousands killed in reprisal by Israeli bombs since October 7. The European Union has had a remarkably similar response, with not only Germany, but even France, a purported ally of Palestine, banning all pro-Palestine demonstrations. Sadly, the Ukrainian government has sided with the forces of colonial occupation too, even as it battles Russian colonialism inside its own borders. Inside the large capitalist countries, the October 7 attack is solidifying a conservative and reactionary politics of militarism, vengefulness, and Islamophobia. In the U.S. and elsewhere, McCarthyite witch hunts are targeting voices that support Palestine, not only ones did not highlight Hamas atrocities first and foremost, but even those who postulate an equivalency between Hamas and the Israeli state. Blacklists of pro-Palestine students are being assembled by U.S. employers, and some have already lost their jobs.

Another regional war is a possibility, with two U.S. aircraft carriers now off the coast of Israel and Lebanon to “protect” Israel. Will the war extend into northern Israel and Lebanon, with Israel and even the U.S. vs. Iranian-backed Hezbollah?

At a general level, we must proclaim as a clear principle the right of the oppressed and the colonized to rise up. According to Elias Sanbar, a Palestinian diplomat and writer, “Yes, some actions committed in the course of military operations are war crimes. But public opinion needs to understand that we are also faced with a legitimate war against an occupying army” (Interview with Benjamin Barthe, Le Monde, Oct. 13, 2023). Thus, if we can support Ukraine, we also should support Palestine.

But we need to ask another question too: What has Hamas actually achieved with its October 7 incursion, dramatic as it was? Did Hamas think it could defeat Israel in fighting on the streets of Gaza with its 35,000 disciplined fighters? Or did it think in the end that because its fighters were “godly” that they would win? Did it even weigh in its calculus the mass deaths of Palestinians sure to follow from a regime like that of Netanyahu? For another lesson of history is that one can assassinate leaders or stage small-scale dramatic attacks, but actually achieving national independence, let alone real liberation from colonialism or capitalism, requires a truly mass movement, rooted in the working people, not a secretive cadre of dedicated young men substituting themselves for those masses. (For some astute critiques of Hamas from the Left, see Gilbert Achcar, “Initial Comments on Hamas’s October Counter-Offensive,” International Viewpoint, Oct. 9, 2023). Ultimate victory also requires a positive, humanist vision that would inspire those masses, including some inside the oppressor countries themselves. Massacring and taking civilians as hostages, all the while espousing a narrowly nationalist, conservative ideology, does not fulfill that need.

That said, it must be reiterated that the fragility of global systems of oppression and exploitation has been laid bare by October 7. This has led to gigantic demonstrations in Jordan and other Arab and predominantly Muslim countries, where a sense of despair and disengagement had followed the defeat of the Arab Spring of 2011. The same kinds of forces that touched off 2011 are now back on the streets. Around the world, too, young people are hitting the streets or demonstrating on their campuses in support of Palestine and against the impending genocide in Gaza.

Unfortunately, such liberatory forces are not at present strong enough to compel powers like the U.S. to stay the hand of Netanyahu and his accomplices in what is now a genocidal “unity” government including top generals of all political persuasions. For as is well known, a single call from Biden to the U.S.’s client, the Israeli state, could save untold lives.

We and our friends and allies need to be part of the broader movement of resistance, always putting forth a revolutionary humanist alternative to the powers that be. At present, that means doing all we can to support Palestine and to stay the hand of genocide in Gaza.

— Approved as a Statement of the Steering Committee of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization