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With Rafah in the Crosshairs, the Working Class Can Stop the Genocide in Gaza

As Israel prepares an invasion of Rafah, workers’ organizations around the world must take action before it’s too late.

James Dennis Hoff

February 21, 2024
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Once home to less than a quarter of a million people, the city of Rafah — on Gaza’s border with Egypt — now hosts more than 1.5 million displaced refugees: victims of Israel’s genocidal war. Like much of the rest of Gaza, food, fuel, water, medicine, and medical care are growing increasingly scarce, despite the city’s close proximity to the border, where humanitarian aid has been stalled thanks to Israel’s punishingly slow and harsh inspection process. Now these refugees (already facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis) are being threatened with imminent attack and forced displacement by the Israeli military. With nowhere left to go, many of these Palestinians, who have already fled their destroyed homes in other parts of Gaza, face the prospect of being permanently driven across the border into Egypt. Such a scenario, Egypt says, could mean an end to the country’s current peace treaty with Israel. In response, Egypt, rather than offering to help or protect the Palestinians fleeing Israeli violence, is instead building a massive border wall to keep out any potential flood of refugees.  

Despite these dire conditions, and despite recent concerns raised by several other states, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil — a clear sign of Israel’s declining legitimacy on the global stage — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given every indication that an Israeli ground invasion and evacuation of Gaza is imminent. In fact, he has openly suggested that Israel’s success in the war depends upon an invasion there. “Whoever tells us not to operate in Rafah, is telling us to lose the war,” Netanyahu said. That Israel is even considering such an action, which would surely result in the death of hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, is abhorrent. It is also more evidence that the assault on Gaza has all along been based on a genocidal plan to eliminate or greatly reduce the Palestinian population as a form of punishment and as a way of preparing the ground for Israeli settlements and the slow permanent annexation of depopulated areas of Gaza. Such actions, as Caludia Cinatti explains, can only be described as a new Nakba.

And the Palestinian Center for Human Rights concurs: 

The forced mass displacement of Palestinians from Rafah is a continuing Nakba of the Palestinian people. In just four months, Israel’s genocidal acts of killing and displacement have surpassed that of the Nakba between 1947 and 1949, when around 15,000 Palestinians were killed and 800,000 Palestinians were expelled.

Meanwhile, the White House, despite pushing for a temporary — and highly qualified — suspension of hostilities in the United Nations, has remained steadfastly committed to supporting Israel’s war, and vetoed a stronger call for a ceasefire on Tuesday in the Security Council. While President Biden has signaled time and again that he is uncomfortable with the level of civilian deaths, the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza has gone on unabated. In fact, Biden has gone out of his way, even bypassing congressional approval, to make sure that Israel receives the funding and weapons it needs to continue its assault on Gaza, earning him the nickname: “Genocide Joe.” In a conversation with Netanyahu on Friday, Biden refused to draw a line in the sand on Rafah, stating only that “a military operation should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians in Rafah,” a phrase that has been repeated in one form or another since the beginning of the assault to no avail. Indeed, as he has done time and time again, Biden offered no credible threat of any consequences in the event that such suggestions are ignored and thousands more civilians massacred.

Of course, Israel’s genocidal actions, and the millions of people across the world who have continued to take to the streets to condemn them, has radically shifted public opinion, and calls for a humanitarian ceasefire are gaining momentum from countries and institutions around the world. However, such calls are largely rhetorical and quite obviously insufficient to stop Israel. For instance, Australia and Canada, two countries that have recently called for a ceasefire in Gaza, continue to send hundreds of millions of dollars in military exports to Israel. The government of the Spanish state, which has claimed not to have provided any weapons since the start of the conflict, was forced to admit that it had in fact sent more than a million dollars in ammunition to Israel in November at the height of its assault on Northern Gaza. 

Even the so-called “Axis of Resistance,” which includes the Syrian state and several militant groups aligned with the bourgeois regime in Iran, has failed to stop or even hinder the unfolding genocide in Gaza. Despite declared support for Palestinian independence, and scattered attacks on U.S. and Israeli interests, this is largely a cover for their own national and regional interests and aspirations. In fact, Iran in particular, has used the cause of Palestinian liberation to promote a network of military groups, including Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen, in order to expand its political and economic influence across the Middle East.

At the same time, Iran’s regional agenda and its promotion of these groups for its own national interests has hindered the ability of the Palestinian working class to forge crucial alliances with working people in the rest of the Arab world, as well as within Israel. While even some on the Left, including those who continue to offer political cover for the Axis of Resistance, have written off the Israeli working class as politically irredeemable, this economistic perspective abandons any attempt to break off a sector of the Israel working class from Zionism. While we must prioritize the self-organization of the Arab working classes to fight imperialism, we cannot give up on the Israeli working class, which has the power to undermine the Zionist project from within. Indeed, true liberation for all of the people who now live in historic Palestine, and the creation of a socialist Middle East, will require working-class resistance across the Arab world, including support from anti-Zionist working-class Jews in Israel. 

Clearly the governments of the world have utterly failed to follow even their own rules laid out in the Genocide Convention of 1948; but where governments fail, the working class can succeed. 

Demonstrations in the street are important, and the global movement for Palestine that has erupted and advanced since Israel’s assault on Gaza in October has had an enormous impact on public sentiment. The vast majority of the world, including many Americans, now say they support a ceasefire, and more than a third of Americans say they believe Israel is committing Genocide in Gaza. But these demonstrations, as powerful as they have been at building public opposition to the conflict, have largely failed to translate that sentiment into any kind of real action that could force an end to Israel’s assault. This is in part because of varying levels of state repression, particularly in countries like Germany, France, the UK, and the United States, that are closely aligned with Israel’s interests. 

Likewise, while many labor union bureaucracies around the world and in the United States, including the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the AFL-CIO, have now called for a ceasefire, responding to increasing pressure by their members, those calls have not been backed up by any threat or actions capable of bringing the conflict to a halt. In fact the UAW Executive Board has nullified local resolutions calling for the union to divest from Israel. And perhaps worst of all, they have continued to support the imperialist Democratic Party, endorsing Biden even though he continues to provide material and political cover for the genocide in Gaza. And while direct blockades against weapons manufacturing and weapons shipments to Israel have taken place in the U.S. and elsewhere, including, most recently, in India, where workers refused to unload Israeli-bound weapons, this is quite obviously also insufficient. 

Just as it was the rank and file of these unions that pushed their leadership to take a stand for a ceasefire, the rank and file has the power in its hands to force their unions to take real action to defend Palestne with working class methods of struggle. These methods must include mass strikes, walkouts, and Union-led demonstrations that connect rank and file workers with with the millions already in the streets across the world, to demand not only a ceasefire, but an immediate end to U.S. military and financial support for Israel and the establishment of a unified, democratic, secular, and socialist Palestinian state where Arabs and Jews can live side by side in peace.

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James Dennis Hoff

James Dennis Hoff is a writer, educator, labor activist, and member of the Left Voice editorial board. He teaches at The City University of New York.

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