Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza is not a simple response to the Hamas raids on 7 October last year; the roots of the conflict over Palestine are deep within the history of imperialism and a by-product of the capitalist system of exploitation and competition.

1. “Western values” aren’t what politicians say they are

The West, we are routinely told, is the inheritor of a set of ethical precepts and cultural practices bequeathed to us by the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European Enlightenment. At its core are the so-called values of a free society: rationality, scepticism, liberty, freedom of thought and perhaps some form of human rights.

These values are supposedly universal—which suggests that some ideas or principles are fundamentally true and ought to be recognised as applying to all humans in all societies. However, it’s clear these values are not being applied in Gaza and human rights are not being afforded to the Palestinians.

Sometimes, this collection of rights and values is referred to as the “Judaeo-Christian tradition”, despite European religious authorities being historically the most resistant to philosophical, political and scientific progress. Throughout so-called Western history, progress often comes in spite of, not because of, the religious affinities of the Enlightenment’s most influential thinkers.

For some time, the purported “defenders” of these values have argued their case in Manichean terms: “Western civilisation” is a beacon in a world of increasing darkness. But the West’s intellectual and cultural achievements face existential threats and must be defended at all costs.

Put aside for a moment the dubious contention that “the West” is some hermetically sealed, homogenous, cultural entity or philosophical innovation, rather than a recent political invention.

The Palestinians have been made aware, for decades, that the values Western politicians and rulers claim to uphold are not at all universal. The right to self-determination, for example, has been denied to them for generations.

Many of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document that purports to be the highest political expression of Enlightenment universalism, seem not to apply to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. The first article of the declaration: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, is simply not applied in their case.

Indeed, Zionism, as embodied by Israel—an ethnically exclusivist and increasingly theocratic state that systematically oppresses and discriminates against the non-Jewish population—is hardly compatible with humanist universalism. The separation of church and state was one of the great political achievements of the Enlightenment; in Israel, the government is instituting an ever-closer marriage of the two.  However, these obvious contradictions haven’t been cause for any wavering of support from Western leaders.

It’s not only the Palestinians who are excluded from Western universalism. A cursory glance around the world, including within Western countries, indicates that the main form of “universalism” practised by ruling classes (those with the economic and political power), is that they “universally” make exceptions to the very values which they purport to defend so vigorously.

2. Money is more important than (some) people

For all the talk about values, there is only one value that really matters to the people who run global capitalism: economic value. The value of their profits and fortunes.

For an illustration of this, look no further than the joint statement about the Gaza conflict issued by fourteen governments on 3 January. The ongoing attacks in the Middle East were, it noted, “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing”; a “significant international problem that demands collective action”.

“Let our message now be clear”, the announcement continued: “we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks”.

At the time, Gaza’s Ministry of Health was reporting that more than 20,000 Palestinians had been killed by Israel’s invasion and bombing of the territory. A further 7,000 were missing, presumed dead, and nearly 60,000 were injured.

Yet the joint statement wasn’t about the carnage in Palestine. The White House released it while simultaneously funding and arming Israel. What was the issue that moved the US and its co-signatories to such strong language? It wasn’t systematic mass murder, but the interruption of trade through the Red Sea because of intermittent attacks on shipping vessels by the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The statement came after Operation Prosperity Guardian was initiated by the US military a couple of weeks earlier (“prosperity” being the only thing worth guarding, apparently—though not the prosperity of anyone in Gaza). The operation involves a coalition of more than 20 countries “committed to defending international shipping”.

“These attacks are impacting global trade and commerce, negatively impacting the economies of nations around the world and costing commercial shipping firms billions of dollars”, US Air Force Major General Pat Ryder said at a Pentagon news conference in December.

To underline what is at stake, what animates capitalist governments, and what moves them to action, Ryder reiterated the view that the Houthi blockade was “negatively impacting billions and billions, billions of dollars in global trade”.

The coalition has since launched yet another war; this time bombing Yemen again and again, because shipping companies have been forced to re-route their vessels around Africa, “adding significant cost and weeks of delay to the delivery of goods”.

If only the Palestinians could pass themselves off as economically valuable, tradable commodities. Then they might earn the sympathy and protection of the people who run global capitalism.

3. The “rules” are only for some

“We remain committed to the international rules-based order and are determined to hold malign actors accountable”, the 3 January White House statement proclaimed.

Yet, if values are selectively applied and selectively held, so too are the rules in a so-called rules-based order.

For example, it is inconceivable, that the terror unleashed on Gaza could have been conducted with impunity on Tel Aviv. Imagine for a moment the response of the “international community” if some actor or country was obliterating schools, universities, hospitals and synagogues, month after month, in Israel’s main city, killing tens of thousands of people.

The double standards are clearly on display regarding Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has, rightly, been condemned for committing war crimes and denying Ukraine its right to self-determination. The International Criminal Court has even issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader.

But, as is standard practice, whether someone is considered a war criminal depends on what side of the fence they sit on. So while the US supports Ukraine and denounces Russia, it takes the opposite position in the Middle East, supporting the oppressor nation against the oppressed and occupied Palestinians. Despite clear evidence of war crimes, the West continues to proclaim that Israel has a right to defend itself. This too is a double-standard, even according to the West’s own rules.

Moreover, the rules are often about protecting the people and states who write them. Or the jurisdiction of the courts is simply denied. Not one US leader, for example, has ever faced serious sanction for the myriad crimes of empire: the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the carpet bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the overthrow of democratically elected governments, the military support for dictatorships, the obliteration of Iraq—on and on it goes.

4. Criminality extends beyond “the West”

While Western countries have been at the forefront of supporting Israel, they are not the only ones. Neither the Russian nor the Chinese ruling classes care about the liberation of the Palestinians. Why would they? They hardly have a principled opposition to killing Arabs and Muslims, robbing them of their democratic rights and stealing their land.

It was only six years ago that Russia flattened the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, outside Damascus, because it was a base of opposition to the Syrian dictatorship. President Vladimir Putin’s rise to the top was helped by his brutal eradication of the Chechnyan separatist movement. When it comes to carpet-bombing Arab and Muslim “barbarians”, Putin is a regular Likudnik.

China is one of the few modern states that, like Israel, is ethnically cleansing a Muslim nation through a process of settler colonialism. The Uyghurs of Xinjiang might raise an eyebrow at the Chinese government’s complaint that the UN is “evading the fundamental issue of independent statehood for the Palestinian people”.

Genocide, ethnic cleansing and the oppression of national minorities—along with the ideological lies that justify them, such as “counter-terrorism” or rank Islamophobia—are tools common to every imperialist power. Europe, the US, Russia and China all use them when it serves their interests—and they all condemn them when doing so also serves their interests.

For the Middle Eastern ruling classes, grandstanding about the Palestinians is good politics. Doing anything meaningful for the Palestinians isn’t. Arabs and Muslims in the region, suffering under a motley crew of American- and Russian-backed dictatorships, rightly view the Palestinian cause as the most pointed expression of the long fight against imperialism and colonialism in the region.

But their rulers are happy to deal with the Israeli state and sign away the rights of the Palestinians while paying lip service to the need for justice. Egypt’s US-backed dictatorship has been Israel’s great partner in the slow strangulation of Gaza through blockade. The tyrannical Arab states have no interest in human liberation: they see Palestinians as mouths to feed, potential terrorists and fodder for demagogic posturing.

5. We live in a world of permanent war

The state of almost permanent war against the Palestinians, from 1948 to today, is not an aberration. From the moment of its emergence, capitalism has been synonymous with violence. Karl Marx described in his 1867 book Capital:

“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production ...

[Then came] the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China.”

Once most of the world was carved up and a global system of production and trade established by the end of the nineteenth century, capitalist competition resulted in a constant contest over and re-division of resources and spheres of influence between states that were, in the words of Russian Marxist Nikolai Bukharin, “armed to the teeth and ready to hurl themselves at one another any moment”.

There has not been a day of peace since. Indonesia fought for independence from Dutch colonialism, only now to violently deny the same freedom to West Papuans. China suffered at the hands of the Japanese and the Europeans, only now to oppress the Uyghurs and threaten its neighbours. India gained independence, only to split in two and engage in decades of territorial conflict with Pakistan and China. On almost every continent, every decade, the conflicts continue as countries jockey for power, influence and resources.

But few areas have witnessed as much destruction and warfare as the Middle East, which, because of its abundant oil reserves, has been at the centre of global imperialist competition for a century. The cause of the conflict is not simply the nature of Israel itself; other states arguably have been more brutal toward civilian populations., It is the role Israel has historically played as an ally of Western imperialism, which has determined the fate of the Palestinians.

They are up against not only Israel, not only the West, not only the Arab regimes, but world imperialism. That tells us something else: the fight for Palestine is not just a fight for the Palestinians; it is part of the fight for a different sort of world.

There will only be peace in the Middle East when we get rid of capitalism once and for all.