Middle East

Background to crisis is “Israel’s colonial hubris” – interview with Ofer Neiman, Israeli anti apartheid activist

Ofer Nieman

Ofer Neiman is an Israeli socialist and Palestinian rights, anti apartheid activist. In this interview he discusses the present crisis and some of its background

What were the conditions, what was the situation, in Gaza that led to these attacks?
Israel’s colonial hubris and contempt for Palestinians. The Israeli government regarded Gaza as a pacified compound under its control which can be managed with lots of sticks and some minor carrots. The carrots are never about ending the siege and connecting Gaza to the West Bank and the outside world. At most, a limited number of work permits (inside Israel) are given to Gazans.

Just last month, Israel’s National Security Council head, Tzachi Hanegbi, stated that Hamas is “restrained”. This was foolish and patronizing.

Even before this situation, Gazans lived in extreme poverty, largely due to Israel having maintained a state of seige for decades.

Inside Gaza, life is terrible. The water is polluted, people feel trapped. If the world forgets about them, their suffering does not go away. The potential for resistance, and for some – vengeance – always exists.

Netanyahu and the Israeli military establishment have been keen on preserving a divide between Gaza and the West Bank. They assume Hamas can be controlled or pacified, but still be used as a bogeyman by Israel and its advocates to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. They also assume that the Gaza – West Bank divide will weaken the Palestinian authority, which is demonstrably a subcontractor for occupation and apartheid, doing the daily maintenance for Israel and the US.

Related to that, did the situation in the West Bank play a role and if so how?
It did. The world, and surely Gazans, see that the messianic right wing is now in government and is attempting to roll back the status quo at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, These extremists do not hide their plans to build a ‘third temple’ there, and it is clear their wish is ultimately to demolish the mosque. Furthermore, Gazans see the wave of pogroms perpetrated by Israeli settler militias against Palestinian communities in the West Bank, with Israeli military support. They see that the government is controlled by hardline supporters of the Greater Israel project, some of whom are openly advocating for another Nakba – ethnic cleansing – of Palestinians..

Can you just describe what people you know are saying?
It comes as no surprise that many people support a major attack on Gaza and openly call for ‘revenge’. Some call for genocide. In fact, the annihilation of entire families and shutting down water and other supplies to Gaza are genocidal actions happening right now. 19 members of Knesset have called on the government to take back Gaza permanently and push Palestinians into Sinai. But there are also many who point the finger at the Netanyahu government. Its failure is colossal. We now know that forces were recently transferred from the Gaza border to West Bank, to protect settlers amidst the latter’s assaults on Palestinian communities and very provocative actions, such as erecting a Sukka (festive religious tabernacle) in the middle of Huwara, a Palestinian village under constant settler and Israeli military attacks. This means that ‘mainstream’ Israelis, including many liberal ones in the Kibbutzim around Gaza, were abandoned by the government and Israeli military, and one interpretation is that their lives were deemed less valuable than those of extremist settlers. This amplifies the growing rift between the current government and those who were already protesting against the judicial reform aimed at curbing the Israeli Supreme Court’s power and ushering in more religious and discriminatory policies. Furthermore, while the extreme right calls for mass destruction in Gaza, many on the mainstream, while not having much sympathy for Gazans, are opposed to Israeli attacks that could kill Israeli prisoners of war and hostages in Gaza.

This is being compared to both the onset of the 1973 war and to 9/11. What are the similarities and the differences?
The failure here is much worse, because civilians have been killed, and the number of casualties is overwhelming. Some similarities are striking. In both cases, information was available. There are credible reports that the Egyptian Intelligence Minister phoned Netanyahu 10 days ago and warned of something terrible about to happen on the border. Netanyahu reportedly played down the threat and said that events in the West Bank are more important. Another similarity is that various protective measures (which are also very aggressive measures for the warehousing of Gazans in their enclave), such as electronic sensors on the border, did not work properly or did not cover the whole border. In addition, like in 1973, this happened on a holiday, and Israel did not have enough soldiers on the border to stop the attack. Military outposts were overwhelmed and occupied. Pictures of large groups of Israeli prisoners of war in 1973 had a dramatic impact. Now we have something much more shocking for the Israeli public: hostages – including women, children, elderly people – taken to Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Minister of Defense Dayan and Chief of Staff Elazar were pushed out after the 73 war. The Agranat Commission -a National Commission of Inquiry – concluded that they had failed. A similar commission will surely be established now. Netanyahu and others are unlikely to come out clean.

I am reading that the protest movement against the far right has completely disappeared in a matter of hours. This is what happened after 9/11. In that case, a worldwide movement against “globalization” had been developing for several years. Workers were starting to get involved. All of that collapsed immediately. This was not just a short term collapse. In fact, the movement never recovered. Do you expect something similar in Israel?
Netanyahu is unlikely to continue pushing for his judicial reform, in the foreseeable future at least. The protesters are still opposed to what has been legislated so far. They will not protest as long as this “war” is on, but if and when things calm down, they will be back with a vengeance, blaming Netanyahu for the aforementioned colossal failure. Most protesters are vehemently opposed to Netanyahu beyond the issue of judicial reform.

In the case of 9/11, it was just a relatively few people with almost no hardware. In this case, it must have been months of preparation, including the storing of thousands of rockets, as well as other hardware. Also, it must have involved all sorts of organizing and coordinating. How could that have been possible? How is it possible that Israel didn’t detect it?
911 hijackers had apparently trained for years, at least the commanders of the mission. I don’t know what Israel knew. My guess is that, like in the runup to the 1973 war (Egypt was constantly moving forces and holding large-scale drills on the border) there was constant large-scale training by Hamas in Gaza, and the Israeli intelligence did not tell the difference. American readers should note that the area is tiny in American terms, and it only takes a few minutes to get from the Gaza strip to nearby Israeli communities. Nothing short of a very rapid response can prevent that.

Do you expect serious attacks from Hezbollah?
It’s possible, if Israel opts for a ground invasion of Gaza or kills an even larger number of people in Gaza in its air force bombings. For now, we are likely to see more minor fighting on the northern border, which is already happening, with casualties on both sides.

Do you think Israel will send troops into Gaza? What do you think will be the consequences of either doing so or not doing so?

It’s hard to see the endgame for Israel here if it chooses a ‘mad dog’ response. The Israeli mainstream supports ‘the destruction of Hamas’ but this is impossible, since support for armed resistance in Gaza comes from the masses, based on their suffering. The Israeli right wing may openly support another Nakba – ethnic cleansing of Gaza. But it’s hard to see how Israel can do that in 2023, with close media coverage and international law.

In any case, such attacks are unlikely to help return the prisoners and hostages home.

As I wrote to you before, I cannot see a military solution to the extreme oppression of the Palestinians. Nor can I see a solution outside of a regional one that involves socialism. What are your thoughts on that?
This is a very tough question. While there is no military solution to the whole problem of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism here, the use of force can shape reality in various ways. Armed resistance by Gazans was a major reason for Israel’s ‘Disengagement’ plan in 2005, with the removal of settlements. This, of course, was not about making Palestinian lives better, but Gazans living next to settlements in Gaza probably did breathe a sigh of relief when they were gone and the area was open to Palestinians.

Oaklandsocialist is deeply grateful to Ofer Nieman for his having taken the time to answer these questions. We hope to have further coverage of this crisis in the coming days and weeks.

Also see:

Israel’s political crisis: Interview with Ofer Neiman in Jerusalem

Crisis in Gaza and Israel: Preliminary thoughts and

The New Apartheid: The rise of Zionism and the founding of the Israeli State

Categories: Middle East

3 replies »

  1. For Marxists, “apartheid” was not simply a term of abuse or an expression of revulsion at racism, but had a definite class content. It was a peculiar social system in which a white caste, intertwined with the capitalist ruling class, denied the black majority elementary political rights in order to enforce their super-exploitation. The answer, short of socialist revolution, was a single state with equal rights for all. For democrats, let alone socialists, there could be absolutely no question of ‘national rights’ for the whites, of collective rights for whites as a group (as distinct from living with individual equal rights after the overthrow of apartheid). The majority of the people in the single state of South Africa supported the boycott. It was therefore right to support it, with whatever criticisms and scepticism.
    The Israelis are not a narrow caste, and Israeli is not an apartheid state, but a nation – one that denies rights to and oppresses the Palestinians, but a nation nonetheless. Iraq, Iran and Turkey are not “apartheid states” because they oppress the Kurds, and Russia is not an “apartheid state” because of its occupation of Chechnya.
    Israel’s social structure is decisively different to that of apartheid South Africa. It is a national entity, not simply a narrow settler-caste. Within Israel, there are Israeli-Jewish-Hebrew speaking capitalists, workers, intermediate layers. The great majority of the working class is ethnically ‘Jewish’, and for the reasons explained above, their view matters. They do not have the right to support the denial of rights to the Palestinians, but they do have the right to want to keep their own national rights. That is why in Palestine, unlike in South Africa, the best immediate settlement from a working-class point of view is two states (with equal rights for everyone in both states, of course).
    We can see why the Palestinian trade unions and others support a boycott. In the desperate situation they face, this is understandable. But we do not agree. The existence of two nations, with two working classes, makes things more complicated.
    In terms of the Arab citizens of Israel, they face discrimination in many areas of life. We oppose and condemn this. But the situation more resembles the racism and discrimination historically faced by black and ethnic minority people in the UK or US than it does apartheid South Africa. Israeli Arabs have formally equal rights, they can vote, there are Arab members of the Knesset. There are Arab members of the Israeli national sports teams which some want to boycott. None of this is to suggest that their situation is anything other than one of a very severely discriminated-against minority facing intense racism, but apartheid is simply not an accurate description.
    Some of the military-administrative techniques of oppression adopted by Israel in its war against the Palestinians resemble those used by the South African regime. But the social and political realities of Israel-Palestine and South Africa are fundamentally dissimilar. Recognising that in no way lessens our hostility to the oppression of the Palestinians; in fact it grounds it in reality.

    • Whether we call Israel an apartheid state or not is not the fundamental issue. But one quesion is what you mean by the Jewish working class has its rights to its stqte. Do you mean to a Jewish state? Who has what rights is not a moral question; it’s a very practicql one, and one based on history. The “Jewish state” was built on mass murder and land theft and that continues to this day. Not only is repression of the Palestinians inherent within the “Jewish state”, it also means the complete degradation of the Jewish working class as long as it goes along with it. As for the “solution” of two states: First, a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank would inevitably be an economic colony of Israel. But anyway, given the spread of the settlements in the West Bank, it’s an impossibility.

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