Erasing Gaza

In the words of the UN Chief Antonio Guterres, the US-Israel assault has created “a graveyard for children” in Gaza, a tiny sliver of land that is home to several generations of impoverished refugees, half of whom are children. Gazans arguably make up one of the most vulnerable populations globally. They live in the “largest open-air prison” or the “largest concentration camp” in the world. Since 2007, Gazans have been subjected to a cruel siege by Israel, with cooperation from Egypt, and support from the US, which has led to unbearable conditions of life. As early as 2012, the UN warned that Gaza would become “uninhabitable” by the year 2020 with 60% of its households already “either food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity” in 2012 “even when taking into account the UN  food distributions to almost 1.1 million people.” The UN said Gaza was “kept alive through external funding and the illegal tunnel economy.” Since the siege began, Israel has militarily assaulted Gaza at least six times killing thousands, injuring many thousands more, and destroying homes and critical infrastructure in what it cynically calls “mowing the lawn.”

As bad as the conditions had been pre-October 7, they are now unimaginably worse. Between 7 October and 23 December, the US-Israeli assault killed 28,091 Palestinians (11,023 of whom are infants and children, 5,683 women, and 25,741 civilians) and injured 54,311. The dead include 95 journalists and 226 healthcare staff. By now 1.9 million Gazans of a total population of 2.2 million have been displaced.

Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using the starvation of civilians as a weapon of war. The Israeli forces, it said, are “depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival.” Israel bombed “Gaza’s last operational wheat mill on November 15” ensuring that “locally produced flour will be unavailable in Gaza for the foreseeable future.” The “decimation of road networks,” the destruction of “Bakeries and grain mills … agriculture, water and sanitation facilities,” and the “sustained bombardment, coupled with fuel and water shortages, alongside the displacement of more than 1.6 million people to southern Gaza, has made farming nearly impossible.”  The report states that “agricultural land, including orchards, greenhouses, and farmland in northern Gaza, has been razed,” and that “livestock in the north are facing starvation due to the shortage of fodder and water, and that crops are increasingly abandoned and damaged due to lack of fuel to pump irrigation water.” Another report by 23 UN and NGOs has found that the entire population of Gaza faces an imminent risk of famine if present genocidal policies continue, with 576,600 persons at catastrophic or starvation levels. “It is a situation where pretty much everybody in Gaza is hungry,” said the World Food Program economist.

At least 369,000 Gazans are suffering from infectious diseases under rapidly declining health conditions. “We are all sick,” the Times quoted Samah al-Farra “a 46-year-old mother of 10 struggling to care for her family in a camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah, in southern Gaza. ‘All of my kids have a high fever and a stomach virus.’” At the time of the gravest healthcare need, according to the World Health Organization, just 9 out of 36 health facilities in Gaza are operating, and only partially. At the same time, there are “no functional hospitals left in the north.”

The deliberate destruction of Gaza’s health system amounts to a slow and more painful death sentence for the tens of thousands of injured whose minimal urgent care needs cannot be met.

The US-Israel genocidal assault on Gaza reveals much about the US political system and the ‘rules-based international order” as well. For example, a poll in mid-December showed that 68% of North Americans, three-quarters of Democrats, and half of Republicans support a ceasefire. Contrast those numbers with not only the refusal of the Biden administration to support a truce but the fact that as of 21 December only 62 members of Congress (11.6%) had joined a call for a ceasefire. The persistence of a wide split between the political elites and the public is a clear indication of political dysfunctionality in the US despite ongoing protests including the largest pro-Palestine demonstration in US history on November 4. There remains a slight window of opportunity to influence policy as the 2024 elections approach and polls indicate that the Biden administration is losing public support on this issue. Reportedly “there was some concern in the administration about an unintended consequence of the pause: that it would allow journalists broader access to Gaza and the opportunity to further illuminate the devastation there and turn public opinion on Israel” and against the Biden administration. A growing public opposition may be all we have in constraining Washington from pursuing a wider regional war on behalf of Israel.

It is important to note that the US as the chief enabler of Israel can stop this genocide. Instead, it continues to give full military, diplomatic, ideological, technological, and economic support to Israel. For example, The Times of Israel reports that “244 US transport planes and 20 ships have delivered more than 10,000 tons of armaments and military equipment to Israel since the start of the war.”

Furthermore, investigations by several mainstream US news establishments like the New York Times and CNN show that in the first month of its assault on Gaza Israel used mostly US-manufactured 2000-pound bunker-buster bombs. These heavy munitions “can cause high casualty events and can have a lethal fragmentation radius – an area of exposure to injury or death around the target – of up to 365 meters (about 1,198 feet), or the equivalent of 58 soccer fields in area.” According to CNN’s analysis: “Satellite imagery from those early days of the war reveals more than 500 impact craters over 12 meters (40 feet) in diameter, consistent with those left behind by 2,000-pound bombs. Those are four times heavier than the largest bombs the United States dropped on ISIS in Mosul, Iraq, during the war against the extremist group there.” CNN quotes John Chappell, “advocacy and legal fellow at CIVIC, a DC-based group focused on minimizing civilian harm in conflict” stating that “The use of 2,000-pound bombs in an area as densely populated as Gaza means it will take decades for communities to recover.”

Crucially, the US also shields Israel from global initiatives at the UN Security Council that aim at halting its consistent and gross violations of international humanitarian laws and the UNSC resolutions, including those calling for an immediate ceasefire.

The most recent example of the latter occurred on 22 December. The US abstained from voting on a UNSC resolution (13-0-2) that called for aid access and temporary pauses in Israel’s bombing of Gaza. For 5 days, the US delayed the vote on an earlier draft, a tactic aimed at giving Israel more time, and vetoed an amendment calling for a complete ceasefire and the establishment of a robust UN inspection mechanism in Gaza. The hollowed-out and meaningless resolution that was passed is another triumph for the US obstructionism in support of Israeli genocide albeit in the form of an abstention; earlier the US twice vetoed resolutions calling for immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

The last time the US blocked a UNSC resolution calling for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages was on 7 December. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter (a rare Article akin to a global “panic button” to trigger a UNSC vote) and urged the UNSC to act on the war in Gaza. The UN Chief referred to the situation in Gaza as “apocalyptic” and stated that he believes Gaza’s humanitarian system and civil order are at risk of “complete collapse.” The US not only vetoed the resolution but on that same day approved the sale and immediate delivery of 14,000 tank shells to Israel without congressional approval, displaying its dedication to protecting Israeli terror.

Less mentioned in the news is the US vote on 19 December against a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly affirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The vote count was 172-4-10. The other three countries that joined the US to reject the resolution were Israel, Micronesia, and Nauru. Affirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination is the very heart of a just resolution of the Question of Palestine. US rejectionism ensures the continuation of Israel’s colonization, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, occupation, siege, and genocide, as well as Palestinian resistance to oppression and rightlessness.

Of course, the dominant view in the US equates Palestinian resistance with terrorism motivated by hatred of Jews. Such a view can only persist in the absence of historical context. To ensure that absence, corporate media rarely feature Palestinian voices. Propaganda often works not by spin alone; omission is a crucial part of manipulating public opinion. Omitting context has allowed the US and Israel to weaponize the October 7 Hamas attack to mobilize public support for the genocide and ethnic cleansing they are committing in Gaza, ostensibly in response to October 7. This is reminiscent of how the US hijacked the 9/11 attacks to silence dissent and push through its ruinous and criminal post-9/11 wars. Public opposition eventually emerged in the longer term to those 9/11 wars of choice.

The ongoing genocide in Gaza is no different although the shift in public opinion in the US has been much swifter this time as compared to the post-9/11 period. As mentioned above, by now most people in the US favor a ceasefire. Additionally, polls found that “more people ages 18-29 sympathized with Palestinians than with Israelis in the current conflict … 28 percent expressed more sympathy with Palestinians vs. 20 percent for Israelis.” There have been massive pro-Palestinian protests globally and huge ones in the US, including unprecedented ones by staff at the State Department and the White House. The Israeli Jews on the other hand have taken a super hawkish position on the use of force in Gaza. Polls found that just 1.8% believed Israel was using too much firepower in Gaza. That is a remarkable figure indeed and a sign of the general moral decline of Israeli society.

We might therefore say that to contextualize is to act radically because the understanding that necessarily accompanies contextualization undermines the dehumanizing and racialized language used to justify atrocities against the Palestinians: such as calling the Palestinians terrorists, human animals, and antisemitic Nazis.

What, then, is the missing context for understanding what has been taking place in Palestine? To answer, we can begin by asking “What are the Palestinians struggling against?” and “What are the Palestinians fighting for?”

The Palestinians struggle against a US-backed Zionist colonizing state of Israel itself allied with several reactionary Arab client states of the US. They fight not just against Israeli apartheid, ethnic cleansing, occupation, siege, theft of their lands, and colonization, but against US imperialism. Israel is a component of the US empire and serves its interests in this region by opposing radical Arab nationalism. The Palestinians fight for a free Palestine with equal rights for all its inhabitants, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Druze, the non-religious, and others. Because they cannot free themselves unless they defeat the forces of imperialism and reaction arrayed against them in the region, their liberation necessarily entails the possibility of liberation for all the peoples in the region.

In the broadest sense, the struggle for a free Palestine is a struggle for the liberation of all the peoples of that region from imperialism and domination. The proper context to view this is therefore a confrontation between imperialist domination and the people’s movements for liberation. A sub-context of this confrontation is that between the Palestinians and the Zionist colonizing state of Israel. The latter is bent on completing its ethnic cleansing of historical Palestine and uses every opportunity to advance its incomplete project of settler colonialism until it achieves its final goal of conquering what it calls Greater Israel which includes the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The goal of Zionism is to take as much land of historical Palestine with as few Palestinians as possible. The Zionist colonizing state has waged a war on the Palestinians since 1948, not October 7.

October 7 provided Israel with another opportunity to further its ethnic cleansing objectives in Gaza. On the night that Israel killed 250 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and injured another 500 just in the 24 hours over Christmas eve, Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing prime minister of Israel, announced “the three prerequisites for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors in Gaza”: “We must destroy Hamas, demilitarize Gaza and deradicalize the whole of Palestinian society.” These are impossible objectives. Hamas is a resistance group. Even if all its members are killed, its ideology remains as one form of resistance to Israeli genocide, colonization, and oppression. It’s dialectical, stupid! Repression generates resistance. Plus, the ongoing genocide will surely further radicalize the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank too, making Hamas more popular, not less, regardless of whether Israel can declare victory in Gaza. Even putting the latter point aside, the goal of deradicalizing the Palestinians essentially means turning Palestinians into Zionists. That is even more absurd than the goal of eradicating Hamas. No wonder the Israeli army Chief of Staff said on the same day that “achieving war’s goals ‘will take months.’” By the time Israel is done, there will be no structures left for any Gazans to come back to while many tens of thousands more will have died due to the spread of infectious diseases, hunger, despair, and hardships of disruptions and displacements, if not from US-made bombs.

The genocidal actions of Israel in Gaza are consistent with a leaked document produced by Israel’s intelligence ministry 6 days after the bombing of Gaza began, titled ‘Options for a policy regarding Gaza’s civilian population’ that recommended the ethnic cleansing of Gaza with its population expelled into “tent cities” in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula before constructing cities in a “resettled area” in the north of Sinai to house them. So far Egypt has refused to cooperate.

But the Egyptian intransigence may not have stopped Israel from its forced mass displacement plans. According to an Israeli daily newspaper report published in early December, Netanyahu plans in secret to “thin out” the population of Gaza. He has “instructed Ron Dermer, his minister of strategic planning and a close aide, to have a plan for the ‘day after’ in Gaza and, if necessary, one that ‘enables a mass escape [of Palestinians] to European and African countries’ by opening sea routes out of the strip.” The report said that “Netanyahu sees this as a strategic goal.”

Indeed, the UN expert warned on 22 December that Israel is working to expel the civilian population of Gaza. Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), said: “As evacuation orders and military operations continue to expand and civilians are subjected to relentless attacks on a daily basis, the only logical conclusion is that Israel’s military operation in Gaza aims to deport the majority of the civilian population en masse.”

It’s worth noting that Israeli Jews are overwhelmingly supportive of ethnically cleansing Gaza. A Direct Survey poll published on December 21 in Israel included the following question: “To what degree do you support encouraging the voluntary emigration of Gaza Strip residents?” The response was as follows: “68% support it strongly,” “15% are quite supportive,” “8% don’t really support it,” and “9% don’t support it at all.” That is, 83% favor what is euphemistically called “voluntary emigration” but is ethnic cleansing and a war crime.

The deafening din of Zionist propaganda in the US has drowned two essential truisms about the Question of Palestine:

1)     The Palestinians are not fighting Israel because they hate Jews. They are fighting against their dispossession, occupation, and erasure and for liberation from oppression, domination, colonization, and imperialism.

2)     The source of the problem isn’t the Palestinian resistance, in whatever form, but the US imperialist domination of the region in alliance with the racist Zionist colonizing state of Israel and a coterie of reactionary Arab states.

The historical contextualization would undermine the dominant dehumanizing Zionist narrative and open pathways for crucial solidarity work towards a free, democratic, equal, and inclusive Palestine from the river to the sea.

Faramarz Farbod, a native of Iran, teaches politics at Moravian College. He is the founder of Beyond Capitalism a working group of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities-Lehigh Valley PA and the editor of its publication Left Turn. He can be reached at Read other articles by Faramarz.