Hamas (Harakah al-Mukawamah al-Islamiya), an Arabic phrase meaning Islamic Resistance Movement, on October 7, 2023, launched a surprise attack on Israel by surging through Israel’s heavily fortified separation fence and crossing into the country from Gaza. In the wake of the attack, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the attack was a response to Israel’s attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque. He claimed that Israel was determined to take over this mosque, which the Palestinian people would not allow. Israel responded by declaring war, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel would destroy Hamas and take revenge for the attack.
Now fully backed by the United States (US) and the European Union (EU), Israel has responded to the Hamas attacks by intensifying air raids and land invasion of Gaza, which resulted in the death toll in Gaza exceeding 10,000 by the first week of November. Tel Aviv also declared a state of siege on the already blockaded Gaza. The Gaza Strip has a population of about 2.1 million, including some 1.7 million Palestinian refugees. Over the last decade and a half, that is, since Hamas came to power in 2007 through the democratic process, the economic and social condition in Gaza has been steadily deteriorating due to the Israeli blockade supported by the US.
With the backing of the US and supported by the major European countries, Israel imposed a blockade on land, air and sea since the electoral victory of Hamas in Gaza in 2006. The reason was Hamas’ refusal to turn Gaza into a Bantustan like in the West Bank under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), where in the West Bank land has steadily been confiscated by the Israeli government to make room for continuing Jewish settlements with the Israeli military providing logistical support to the settlers in their land grabbing endeavours.
Bantustans were the territories designated as “homelands” for South Africa’s black African population. They were forcibly relocated to the Bantustans from white-populated areas in South Africa during the white apartheid rule. These homelands were utterly reliant on financial support from the white apartheid regime in South Africa, thus maintaining complete control over them.
In the process, Hamas has emerged as the principal Palestinian resistance force against the dispossession of Palestinians from their homeland as the PLO, under the leadership of Abbas, completely capitulated to the US diktats.
While the attack was not surprising, as reflected in UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ comment that it “did not happen in a vacuum”, the scope and the nature of the attack against Israel have no precedence in the 16 years of Hamas rule in Gaza. It appears the severity of the attack stunned Israelis and shaken their sense of invincibility.
In the wake of the Hamas attack, with full military backing from the US, Israel has drawn up blueprints for the use of force and promises to annihilate Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even told the world that” our civilisation is at stake” to continue its bloody massacre in Gaza. The Israeli cabinet declared war on Hamas and began aerial bombardment indiscriminately, killing thousands of civilians, including children, destroying major hospitals and basic infrastructures and displacing around one million Palestinians.
Avi Shlaim, an Israeli and British historian and now an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College at Oxford and the author of some of the best works on how to understand the Middle East region, claims that Israel’s current military campaign against the Gaza Strip is “state-sponsored terrorism.”
Aid supplies to Gaza have also been choked since Israel began bombarding the densely populated enclave. In a television interview on November 6, the former Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon told Indian journalist Karan Thapar that “Israel will eliminate Hamas no matter what the Palestinian toll.” Israeli defence minister has called Hamas fighters “human animals” and announced a blockade of food, water and energy.
On October 28, departing senior UN human rights official Craig Mokhiber wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, saying, “We are seeing a genocide unfolding before our eyes, and the Organisation that we serve appears powerless to stop it.”
Israel also mobilised hundreds of thousands of reserve troops and repositioned ground forces close to Gaza. Strangely enough, Netanyahu’s 32-year-old son, Yair Netanyahu, is not among the 300,000 reservists mobilised. He is spending his time in Miami, presumably doing voluntary charity work, which has made many Israeli reservists going to the war front very unhappy. All Israelis are subject to compulsory military service and reserve call-up until age 40.
Meanwhile, Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza started about two weeks ago but is making slow progress. Despite Israel’s ceaseless bombing from the air killing hundreds and thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, the urban war in Gaza seems to have not gone to Israel’s satisfaction. It is not yet house-to-house and down in the tunnels. It is to be noted that Israel has attacked Gaza many times before, killing thousands of people. It is a repeated action by the Israeli army, and the current slaughter of Palestinians is an amplified version and the continuation of that history.
The US has also heavily weighed in with armament supply and troops deployment along with warships to back Israel and is actively involved in providing defensive cover for the Israeli armed forces and providing logistical support to the Israeli army. It has been reported that US President Joe Biden also requested that Congress appropriate an additional US$14 billion US military assistance to Israel. US taxpayers currently finance twenty per cent of Israel’s budget. The US also voted along with 13 other countries against the UN General Assembly resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on October 27.
US President Harry Truman was the first world leader to officially recognise Israel as a legitimate Jewish state on May 14, 1948, only eleven minutes after its creation. Also, on May 17, 1948, three days after Israel declared its independence, the former Soviet Union, the champion of the global proletariat at the time, officially recognised Israel. Stalin’s support for Zionism was vital in consolidating the state of Israel in its current form. In fact, one could say that Israel might not exist in its current form had the Soviet Union not offered its backing.
However, it was the British alliance with Zionism, a racist ideology to create a greater Israel, what in Hebrew called Eretz Yisrael Hashlema, encompassing the present-day Israel with Palestinian territories for the “Ingathering of Exiles” that had led to the infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917 creating the basis for the establishment of a colonial settler state in Palestine leading to Nakba (catastrophe) to occur the Palestinians. The brief declaration containing 67 words was the turning point in contemporary Palestinian history. The declaration turned a country with almost 90 per cent Palestinians into a contested land.
David Llyod George, the British prime minister at the end of the First World War, was one of the many Christian Zionists who supported the Balfour Declaration and the concept of Zionism. However, the Balfour Declaration, in essence, was an attempt to deal with rising antisemitism in Europe by creating a state for the Jewish people outside Europe, and the Zionist leaders agreed to make such an entity in Palestine. British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain (from 1895 to 1903) proposed to create a Jewish homeland in Uganda to enable the Jews to escape rising antisemitism in Europe.
Shlomo Sand (pronounced Zand) is an Israeli Emeritus Professor of History at Tel Aviv University. He challenged the Zionist idea of a Jewish people and the very concept of a Jewish state in his two books titled “The Invention of the Jewish People” (2009) and “The Invention of The Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland” (2012).
Sand clearly demonstrates that the ancestry of most contemporary Jews stems mainly from outside the land of Israel and that a nation-race of Jews with common origin never existed. He also points out that Jews are also converted people, and Judaism, like its two cousins, Christianity and Islam, is a proselyting religion. He holds that conversions were first brought about by Hasmoneans and continued until Christianity rose to dominance in the fourth century CE.
He also argues that the Romans did not exile Jews following the Kokhba revolt but rather permitted most Jews to remain in the country. The story of the exile was a myth promoted by early Christians to recruit Jews to the new faith. He says that Jews thought of themselves as Jews because they shared a common religion, not a common ethnic background. Also, the idea of Jews being obliged to return from exile to the Promised Land was alien to Judaism before the birth of Zionism.
Sand then goes on to say that following the Arab conquest of Jerusalem in the 7th century, many Jews converted to Islam and were assimilated among the Arab conquerors. He concludes that these converted Jews are the ancestors of the contemporary Palestinians. In essence, “Jewish people” is a political construct, an invention.
Following the Islamic tradition of tolerance, in 1500, the gates of Palestine were opened to Jews fleeing persecution in Spain and other parts of Europe. Muslims, Christians and Jews all thrived together under Ottoman rule (1516-1918) in Palestine until the British took over the control of Palestine as envisaged in the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.
The British ruled Palestine from 1917 to 1948. From the beginning, duplicity and double-dealing were the hallmarks of British policy towards Palestine. During this period, the British fostered Jewish settlers from Europe to settle in Palestine while privately promising Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca, to support an independent Arab kingdom after the war if he would mount an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The Sharif kept his side of the bargain, but Britain did not.
This policy resulted in the Jewish settlers’ number rising from 11 per cent in 1920 to 30 per cent of the population in Palestine in 1939. With the blessing of the British rulers, Palestine was partitioned in 1948, establishing a Zionist colonial settler state, thus turning Europe’s longstanding problem of antisemitism into Palestine’s Zionist problem by the British.
Since the colonial settler state of Israel was created, there has been no break in the US complicity in the financing, arming, protecting and sustaining the Zionist colonial project right in the heart of the Arab world. This US-Zionist relationship has exacted an unimaginable price on the Palestinians and all the people in the Arab world.
Now, US Secretary of State Antony Blinkes, visiting Israel after the Hamas attack, provided a religious undertone to the conflict to declare his affinity with Israel and said, “I come before you not just as the United States Secretary of State but as a Jew.” In the US, the opposite side of his politics (the Republican Party) also weighed in this religious war. Senator Lindsay Graham declared on Fox News that, “We’re in a religious war, and I unapologetically stand with Israel.”
The current genocidal attacks on Palestinians in Gaza are designed to crush Palestinian resistance by crushing Hamas to enable the US and Israel to create another Bantustan in Gaza by installing a Mahmoud Abbas-like PLO operative to run Gaza and to tie the Arab world with Israel. Hamas’ attack on Israel has blown up the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians, creating a very new political reality on the ground. Also, to crush the idea of Palestinian resistance to occupation and to tie the future of the Arab world with Israel miserably failed on October 7. Now, questions are being asked about the long-run survival of Israel as a Zionist entity once the US can no longer provide sustenance for its existence.