“Either the power of popular outrage—channelled into strikes, mass protest and rebellion—will restrain a murderous elite who show no hesitation in carrying out flagrant war crimes, or we will emerge at the other end inhabiting a world in tatters—permanently diminished and fractured by western rulers’ complicity in genocide.” Brian Kelly writes about the magnitude of the current moment.
Let’s start with the moment we are in, and consider the obscenity that confronts us, in plain sight. Two of the most powerful, well-resourced, and technologically advanced armies on the globe—the most efficient killing machines in world history—are, as you read this, bringing every resource at their disposal to the task of pummelling into the dust one of the poorest civilian populations on earth. One figure captures the scale of the disparity: even before new pledges of ‘emergency’ funding, in 2023 Israel received some $3.8b in US military aid; that amounts to nearly 6 times the total annual GDP of a desperately impoverished Gaza. And this in a territory that has endured four previous rounds of intensive Israeli onslaught; 16 years of a ruthless blockade aimed at starving its people into submission; and following a century of brutal, meticulously planned massacres, ethnic cleansing and repression across historic Palestine.
In a world already buckling under the weight of multiple, interlocking crises—rapidly expanding inequality, climate catastrophe, a brutal, protracted war in the Ukraine, the growing menace of a resurgent far Right—the turn to merciless slaughter in Gaza has brought us to a precipice. We are almost certainly at a point of no return: one way or another the world will not be the same in a few weeks or months. Either the power of popular outrage—channelled into strikes, mass protest and rebellion—will restrain a murderous elite who show no hesitation in carrying out flagrant war crimes, or we (the fortunate among us, at least, who are not living under the bombs) will emerge at the other end inhabiting a world in tatters—permanently diminished and fractured by western rulers’ complicity in genocide, a world in which those at the top have stacked the deck even more heavily against any possibility of a challenge to oligarchic rule, and in which any vestiges of democracy have been shredded. The chant heard everywhere on solidarity actions, ‘In our thousands/ In our millions/ We are all Palestinians,’ is not just a cliché or a neat rhyme. Whatever corner of the globe we happen to occupy, humanity’s collective future is very much on the line, right now, in Gaza and across historic Palestine. The stakes could not be higher.
War Crimes and the Turn to Genocide
Some in respectable circles dismiss talk of genocide as hyperbole: they need only listen to the words of Netanyahu’s far-right cabinet and the Israeli military leadership, who make no attempt to conceal their intent, and who have been open about their aims since well before the Hamas raids of 7 October. The agreement forged between Netanyahu and his coalition partners at the end of 2022 stated plainly that “The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right over all areas of the Land of Israel,” and committed the government to “promote and develop the settlement of all [its] parts,” including Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Addressing the UN on 22 September, Netanyahu brandished a map illustrating Israeli plans for a ‘New Middle East’ from which Palestine had been completely eliminated—the Occupied Territories fully absorbed into ‘greater Israel’. It’s no coincidence that the past year has been the “most deadly for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank since the UN began recording deaths in 2005,” and also the year the most Palestinians have been held in administrative detention.
Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the October 7th Hamas incursions Netanyahu declared the “entire [Palestinian] nation…is responsible,” and his cabinet went out of their way to emphasize that civilians would not be spared. Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Israel Katz ordered Gazan civilians to “leave immediately[.]” “They will not receive a drop of water or a single battery until they leave the world,” he vowed. Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari openly declared the wanton and intentionally destructive nature of Israel’s bombing in Gaza: “The emphasis,” he insisted, “is on damage and not on accuracy.” Former Netanyahu adviser Danny Ayalon gave the game away when he hinted that Gazans would be driven into “tent cities” in the “almost endless space” in Egypt’s Sinai desert. For anyone paying attention, Israel’s operations in Gaza are aimed, transparently, at realising Netanyahu’s ‘greater Israel’ through deliberate mass murder and the forced expulsion of the people of Gaza across the border into Egypt. These are patent, premeditated violations of international law, and necessarily involve a whole series of flagrant war crimes. Biden’s pilgrimage to Tel Aviv earlier this week confirms (in case anyone needed it spelled out) that the US is unequivocally on board with this project.
The brutality being meted out in Gaza draws upon deep reservoirs of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism built into the foundations of the Israeli state, and aggressively peddled in the US and across much of the west even before the launch of its so-called ‘War on Terror’. The West Bank settlers organising pogroms against Palestinians they refer to as “sewer rats” and the American landlord who viciously stabbed a 6-year old Palestinian boy to death in front of his mother are infected with the same vile bigotry, rooted in imperialist domination of Palestine and the wider Middle East. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s declaration that Israel was “fighting human animals” and would “act accordingly” is cut from the same cloth: he followed it by announcing that he had “removed every restriction” on the IDF. “Gaza won’t return to what it was before,” he pledged. “We will eliminate everything.” The following day, the general overseeing Israeli operations in the Occupied Territories addressed a message directly to Gaza residents: “Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water, there will only be destruction. You wanted hell, you will get hell.” Whatever happens over the coming weeks, no one can ever claim that the mass murder which lays in store was unforeseen.
The Al-Ahli Hospital Bombing and the Fog of War
This is the context required for framing any serious discussion of the horrific atrocity at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City. Before diving into a technical discussion around culpability, a number of prior developments need to borne in mind. 3000 Gazan civilians had already been killed in airstrikes before the bombing: as we have seen, Israeli officials boasted openly that this would be the result. The IDF had earlier ordered the evacuation of 22 hospitals across the northern Gaza Strip, and World Health Organization officials noted that 51 health care facilities had already been damaged by airstrikes prior to the Al-Ahli bombing. The residence of the hospital director had been bombed and two Israeli shells had been fired into the Al-Alhi on the 14th, causing extensive damage to its Cancer Treatment Center. IDF commanders followed up the shelling with a menacing second warning to evacuate.
The horrific loss of life on 17 October caused deep indignation around the world, and especially across the Middle East and North Africa. In response Israeli officials went into overdrive attempting to deflect responsibility. Early tweets in which officials had gloated about the atrocity or boasted of having “bomb[ed] the Baptist Hospital…and give them euthanasia” were deleted, as were a series of crude early IDF posts quickly exposed for using fake video evidence. By the next day, however, reeling from global outrage it hadn’t anticipated (and with Biden en route), the Israeli military presented audio and video ‘evidence’ which, it insisted, proved that Al-Ahli was struck by a failed missile fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The same official who had joked about euthanasia insisted, farcically, that since the Israeli military “does not bomb hospitals,” it couldn’t have struck the Al-Ahli. The IDF’s case was accepted almost without question by the western print and television media, and more importantly by the Biden administration. Within hours headlines around the world had shifted to the Israeli version of events, to the point where “several [US] news outlets questioned why” Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib “still had a Palestinian flag” in her office, and demanded an apology for claiming that Israel was behind the bombing.
A definitive answer as to who bombed the Al-Ahli can only come through a completely independent and transparent investigation, something which neither Israel nor the US has ever in the past allowed. Since the IDF press conference, however, experts working through the evidence forensically have cast serious doubt on Israeli claims. Even on its own terms, the presentation offered two incompatible explanations for the IDF theory, displaying a map that suggested a failed missile originated a considerable distance from the hospital, but accompanying this with an alleged telephone intercept that placed the launch on hospital grounds. Within hours analysts reaffirmed what many in the Arab world (and the PIJ itself) had already said: that the audio was fabricated. Experts told Channel Four’s Alex Thomson that “the tone, syntax, accent and idiom are absurd.” A forensic analysis of all available video by Al-Jazeera’s Sanad team concluded that “Israeli statements seem to have misinterpreted the evidence to build a story that one of the flashes recorded by several sources was a rocket misfire” when it was “in fact consistent with Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system intercepting a missile fired from the Gaza Strip and destroying it in mid-air.”
All of this casts serious doubt on Israeli attempts to divert blame onto armed Palestinian factions in Gaza, and especially in light of the IDF’s long history of denying war atrocities they are later compelled to retract. Their blundering attempt to deny murdering the Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022 is a classic example (one observer noted that the Israeli account “changed more often than a baby’s diaper”), but there are dozens of major incidents in which they have lied through their teeth, including the 1982 massacre of up to 3500 Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, in which the US “yielded feebly” to a set of lies fed them by Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. As one expert puts it the US were “browbeaten by Sharon’s false insistence that ‘terrorists’ needed ‘mopping up’,” and gave the green light to a two-day massacre under IDF supervision, and which the UN General Assembly termed “an act of genocide.” In terms of the scale of the ‘big lie’ being perpetrated by the IDF, in the US’s willingness to indulge Zionist atrocities, and in the likelihood that all this will lead to genocide, it is difficult to shake the sense that history is on the verge of repeating itself.
Israel, the US and Imperial Rule in the Middle East
The brutality being meted out in Gaza draws upon deep reservoirs of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism built into the foundations of the Israeli state, and aggressively peddled in the US and across much of the west even before the launch of its so-called ‘War on Terror’. Biden’s address to the American public on the 10th never once mentioned the plight of Palestinians living under brutal occupation—or US complicity in stringing them along on the ‘two-state’ fantasy and abandoning them to Netanyahu’s armed pogromists. Instead, he offered up lurid references to ISIS, attempted to draw an outrageously false equivalence between the Hamas operation and Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust, and told the world that, come what may, “the United States has Israel’s back.” Partly this reflects cynical electoral calculation; Biden’s green light for Israeli murder may help him pull votes from the Trump base, many of whom (Jews and right-wing Christians alike) are fanatical Zionists. Partly it reflects a longstanding commitment to Israel as an outpost for the US empire: following his press conference with Netanyahu, Ha’aretz has described Biden as “the most important Zionist leader in the world,” and they are not far off the mark. But the indifference to Palestinian life, the deeply-rooted Islamophobia, the cynical resolve to evade even the mildest confrontation with Israeli expansionism have been fundamental to US policy in the region since the founding of the Zionist state.
No one in the mainstream seems to want to acknowledge it, but the intensity of Biden’s reaction against the Hamas operation of 7 October is at least partly down to the way it derailed carefully-laid US plans for reorganizing its imperial domination of the region. Biden came into office pledging to distance the US from the dictatorial Arab regimes, with harsh words aimed at Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who was known to have overseen the brutal murder and mutilation of Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi in the back room of Riyadh’s Turkish consulate. But once in office he pursued the initiative (begun under Donald Trump) to bring the Arab autocrats into a process of ‘normalisation’ with Israel. Critics denounced his ‘fist-bumping’ with Bin Salman and charged Biden with “committing America to unprecedented security guarantees that would obligate [the US military] to uphold the rule of this dictator…something that not even the Trump administration did.” Aimed strategically at de-railing China’s attempts to become a player in the region, a key premise in the ‘Abraham Accords’ was that the suffering of Palestinians could be safely and permanently ignored once rapprochement between Arab autocrats and the Zionist state had been consummated. Its attractiveness to an Israeli administration bent on realizing ‘greater Israel’ is obvious.
However one approaches the moral dimensions of the Hamas operations on October 7th, there can be little doubt that they have buried the Abraham Accords, and probably permanently. As an astute left-leaning observer wrote in the Hebrew language Local Call, “Hamas declared in the most clear, painful, and murderous way possible that…the idea that [Palestinians] can be bypassed via Riyadh or Abu Dhabi, or that the 2 million Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza will disappear if Israel builds a sufficiently elaborate fence, is an illusion that is now being shattered at a terrible human cost.” The outrage being vented by the Zionists and their allies in Washington is largely an expression of their dashed hopes that Palestine might be painlessly set aside: among other impacts, the Hamas raids shattered that illusion.
The Arab Regimes on a Tightrope
The events have not only buried Netanyahu’s hopes that he was “on the cusp” of a deal with the Saudis; the carnage in Gaza has made it politically impossible for Arab elites who hoped to reap a windfall from the new arrangements to be seen to be engaged in ‘normalisation’. Many of them barely clung to power during the Arab Spring (Egypt’s rulers lost it temporarily) and can’t afford a rerun. This, and not some newfound attachment to human rights or the plight of Palestinians, is what explains Jordan’s cancellation of the four-way summit it was to host with Biden, the corrupt Palestinian Authority’s withdrawal from meetings with its benefactor, and the Egyptian regime’s uncharacteristic rhetorical militancy.
The cynicism of the Arab elites can be seen clearly in the maneuvering of the Egyptian regime over recent days. It is now crystal clear that a key element of the IDF’s medium-term operational plan is to forcibly drive those Palestinians in Gaza who survive the bombing south over the Egyptian border at Rafah crossing and into the Sinai. This explains the US’s veto of the Brazilian proposal for humanitarian aid in the UN Security Council: together they and the Israelis are determined to wield unilateral control over dispersal of any humanitarian aid, and will ensure that it comes through the south, with the implicit expectation that desperate civilians will be driven by starvation to abandon Palestine for Egypt. This—the use of “threats and other coercive measures…to remove civilians from their homes and prevent them from returning”—is a war crime. Tellingly, the Egyptian regime’s objections to these plans have nothing to do with the suffering it will bring to Palestinians: the entire basis of their complaint is that this will threaten stability in Egypt by transforming the Sinai into “a base for attacking Israel.” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has reportedly been angling to swap his consent for a US write-off of Egyptian debt. Like the other Arab leaders he has to pretend outrage, but is (with Israel) part of the same corrupt imperialist structures through which the US dominates the region.
Into the Abyss: Horror and Opportunity
The collapse of Washington’s imperial designs, Israel’s return to merciless bombardment of civilians in Gaza, and Biden’s rapid dispatch of overwhelming military power to the Mediterranean have opened the gates of hell for millions of Palestinians caught in the crosshairs, and potentially for hundreds of millions across the Arab world who may be drawn, involuntarily, into a devastating regional conflict. Certainly there are powerful, nuclear-armed actors in Washington and Tel Aviv who want to push on into Syria, into Lebanon, into Iran. In a worst-case scenario that we would be foolish to dismiss, powerful forces are coming into alignment that could oversee a devastating war in the Middle East—one that delivers even more horror and devastation than the world endured in Syria or Iraq. Clearly at present there is no one among the western ruling classes inclined to apply the brakes.
But the power to do this exists among ordinary people. In Ireland and the UK and across much of Europe, massive popular sympathy for Palestine is barely reflected in corporate or state media, but in cities and towns hundreds of thousands have turned out night after night to demand a halt to the madness. BBC and RTÉ parade before us a rogue’s gallery of well-dressed thugs and Israeli apologists who pile lie upon lie in service of war, but it has little effect on opinion. France, Germany and the UK have seen flagrant attempts to criminalise dissent—even to the point of banning the Palestinian flag—while in the US those who dare speak out against the brutality are doxed and blacklisted, threatened with violence straight out of the fascist playbook. In Israel itself Netanyahu’s far Right police chief, Kobi Shabtai, pledges there will be ‘zero tolerance’ for anti-war protests and threatens that any who take part will be “put him on buses heading [for Gaza] now,” where they can weather the bombs alongside Palestinians. Across the Arab world pro-US dictators strain to walk the fine line between bowing to popular pressure and sending out armed gangs to beat people off the streets. All of this can make it seem as if the US-dominated world order is strong, invincible even. But in truth it reveals its brittleness.
Twenty-first century capitalism is increasingly marked by desperate inequality, by the relentless degradation of our planet, by imperialist rivalry and the ramping up of militarism, and by a relentless assault on the most basic democratic rights. All these ills appear in their most concentrated and outrageous form in the scenario unfolding before the eyes of the world in Palestine. The dark clouds gathering around us portend horror, but they carry the possibility of another, more hopeful outcome. We need, desperately, a flood of popular anger than can halt the march toward genocide and upend a global system of exploitation whose failings are on display everywhere. Everywhere we will rise, or fall, alongside Palestine.