Israel and its defenders argue that the bombing campaign and ground invasion of Gaza are about “destroying Hamas”. But this is not the first time Israel has conducted such a campaign—the history of the Zionist state is one of permanent war against the Palestinians. Israel committed countless assaults on the Palestinians well before the formation of Hamas in 1987.
During the Nakba of 1948 that founded Israel—a process of ethnic cleansing and genocide that forced 1 million Palestinians to flee into the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the neighbouring Arab countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt—the Zionist paramilitaries were supposedly preventing the barbarity of another Holocaust from taking place.
Zionist leaders warned of a second Holocaust perpetrated by Palestinians (who were defending themselves from the colonising forces), and Zionist militias were instructed by their superiors to liken Palestinian villagers to Nazis. “[T]his was a deliberate public relations ploy to ensure that, three years after the Holocaust, Jewish soldiers would not lose heart when ordered to cleanse, kill and destroy other human beings”, Israeli-born historian Ilan Pappé writes in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
In the lead-up to the 1967 Israeli war against the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, the Arab states were presented as a threat to the security of Israel’s borders—an existential crisis that would culminate in Israel’s Jews being “driven into the sea”.
The reality was that the Israeli establishment had always refused to accept the borders established at the end of 1948 (the “Green Line” or the “1967 borders” as they are known today). The Israeli establishment provoked their Arab neighbours into a war they knew Israel would win—providing them cover for further expansion and expelling more Palestinians from their land—defeating their combined armies in six days.
During this time Israel seized the West Bank of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Syria’s Golan Heights and the Sinai Desert up to the Suez Canal. They also forced another 325,000 of the 900,000 Palestinians in the West Bank to flee into Jordan.
Throughout the 1970s, “defending Israel against terrorism” was the main justification given for a whole series of atrocities committed in the West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian refugee camps of the surrounding countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and large parts of the Palestinian diaspora were located.
Before Hamas, the PLO was the declared target of these campaigns against “terrorism” because of its commitment to armed struggle to liberate Palestine. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas’ predecessor organisation) was promoted by the Israeli establishment as a moderate alternative to the PLO.
During the Jordanian civil war of 1970-71, Israel supplied the Jordanian armed forces with ammunition and other supplies used to massacre more than 3,000 Palestinians in the refugee camps under the pretext of fighting the PLO.
During the Lebanese civil war, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon several times in campaigns it said were about wiping out the PLO. Its third invasion in 1982 involved the wholesale destruction of West Beirut, in which 19,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed and more than 30,000 civilians were wounded. This included the massacre of between 3,000 and 3,500 Palestinians in the refugee camp of Sabra and Shatila, carried out by the Lebanese Phalange (a fascist paramilitary organisation) under the supervision of the Israeli army.
Then there is Israel’s supposed commitment to “peace” from the early 1990s to the present day. The “peace process” involved the PLO renouncing its commitment to armed struggle to liberate Palestine in return for a Palestinian mini-state in the occupied territories. In reality, the peace process was a continuation of war and occupation by other means.
During this time, Israel has maintained a permanent siege on Gaza and used the pretext of Hamas’ retaliations to carry out repeated offensives against the enclave. Israel also expanded the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank in a slow-motion war of land dispossession and ethnic cleansing. The invasion of Gaza and the ramping up of terror in the West Bank are an acceleration of these processes of ethnic cleansing and dispossession under the cover of “destroying Hamas”.
Israel has had many different names for the targets of its campaigns: Holocaust supporters, terrorists, the PLO, Hamas. But there has only ever been one target: the whole of Palestinian society.