“Rafah is burning”: civilians massacred as IDF bombs refugee camp

Millions of people around the globe collectively reeled in horror on Sunday after an IDF airstrike laid waste to a tent camp for displaced civilians in Rafah, killing at least 45 people. Social media is filled with images of charred and dismembered men, women and children, murdered while they slept. Lenin once wrote that capitalism is horror without end: in Gaza, those words are being spelt out in the language of fire and blood for all the world to see.

As we have reported in previous weeks, the southern city of Rafah was supposed to be a refuge for Palestinians displaced by Israel’s relentless war on the Gaza Strip, which has already reduced Gaza City to rubble, as well as killing and maiming at least 100,000 people. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long threatened an invasion of the southern city, claiming this is necessary to achieve Israel’s war aim of destroying Hamas.

Despite prevaricating for weeks, and coming under pressure from Israel’s allies in the West not to proceed with the operation (not, we should add, out of concern for the Palestinians but for fear of the situation spiralling out of control), it commenced three weeks ago, with Israel seizing the crossing point with Egypt. The city has since been subject to heavy aerial bombing, and tanks have now rolled into its centre.

A million Palestinians have fled Rafah in the past three weeks, having already been forced from pillar to post multiple times over the last seven months. And where are these desperate people now supposed to go? All that awaits them further north is bombed-out wreckage, unexploded ordinance, and a total absence of basic infrastructure like sanitation, water and medical facilities. Aid has been reduced to a trickle, and starvation is rampant.

Those who remain in Rafah cannot flee into Egypt, since Israel controls the crossing. And as we saw in Sunday's tragic events, even in the ‘safe’ areas of the city, they stand to be torn to shreds or burned alive by 2000-pound bombs dropped on their heads in the dead of night. In other words: their options are to stay put, and risk death; or to flee, and risk death.

The IDF released a statement about the bombing, claiming that it conducted an “intelligence-based strike” targeting two Hamas commanders. According to Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman, “somehow a fire broke out” amongst tents for displaced people near a UN facility in the Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood.

Despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary, Israel denies that the strike occurred in the humanitarian area in al-Mawasi, to which civilians had been encouraged to evacuate. The IDF statement claims that “measures” had been taken to avoid collateral damage and “it was assessed that there would be no expected harm to uninvolved civilians”, adding that it “regrets any harm to uninvolved civilians during combat.”

These sickening lies fly in the face of Israel’s conduct throughout the war. How many times have refugee camps, hospitals, civilian apartment blocks, mosques and UN facilities been bombed in Gaza to kill this or that individual Hamas commander? The events on Sunday are par for the course. As a UNRWA based in Rafah representative told the BBC: “No place is safe in Gaza. No-one is safe, including aid workers.” Social media was full of messages of solidarity and anger in the face of this horrendous crime, with "Rafah on fire" and "Rafah is burning" both trending.

As usual, the IDF combined its mealy-mouthed display of “regret” with a promise to conduct an “investigation”. We have heard this song before: every single time a war crime is committed, the IDF kicks the promised inquiry into the long grass, before concluding there was no wrongdoing. Such it was after the murder of popular Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by an IDF sniper, for instance; and the shooting of 15 civilians heading towards a checkpoint in northern Gaza in April. There are many examples of this routine and no reason to imagine anything different now.

Netanyahu trading lives for a political lifeline

Netanyahu has issued a personal statement to Israel’s parliament, in which he called the bombing a “tragic mistake” / Image: own work

In a rarer move, Netanyahu has issued a personal statement to Israel’s parliament, in which he called the bombing a “tragic mistake”, echoing the Army’s promise to investigate the incident. This stance from Netanyahu, who is typically unrepentant about Palestinian deaths, reflects the pressure of public opinion. It is a testament to the utter fury this latest atrocity has provoked, at a time when Israel’s crimes are ramping up pressure at home and abroad.

As we wrote at the start of IDF operations in Rafah, Netanyahu’s considerations are primarily driven by domestic politics. He is facing growing frustration with the progress of the war, which has manifestly failed to destroy Hamas; and with the lack of any progress towards returning the Israeli hostages held by the organisation. Considering his position in the polls, and with the main opposition bloc around Benny Gantz threatening to move for an early election as soon as the war ends, Netanyahu knows that his future depends on dragging out the conflict.

At the same time, his coalition government depends on the support of far-right ultra-Zionist thugs like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who have made their intentions abundantly clear. They want a new Nakba, with the total liquidation and/or expulsion of the Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied territories. These extreme reactionaries have threatened to bring down Netanyahu’s administration and force new elections should any progress be made towards a lasting ceasefire.

Moreover, Netanyahu is at the centre of several legal cases for corruption, which he can forestall as long as he remains in office. Therefore, he is adamant about prosecuting a full invasion of Rafah, and keeping the war going for as long as possible, with all the death and destruction this will entail. In other words, Netanyahu is purchasing a lifeline for his political career and personal freedom with the blood of thousands of innocent Palestinians.

The consequences of this intransigence reach far beyond Israel’s borders. The Arab masses throughout the Middle East feel a deep sense of sympathy and solidarity towards the Palestinians. Every new horror unleashed by the IDF in Gaza ratchets up the rage bubbling under the feet of the despotic regimes of Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and so on.

The capitalist dictators leading these countries have all been exposed by the Gaza War. While they pay lip service to the plight of their ‘Muslim brothers’, all of them were undergoing a process of ‘normalisation’ of relations with Israel before the conflict. Subsequently, they have at best done nothing to help the Palestinians, and at worst directly assisted the Zionist regime. In the case of the military junta in Egypt and Jordanian royal family, by serving as their border guards to hem the Palestinians in; or in the case of the Saudis, helping to protect Israel from rockets fired by Houthi forces in retaliation to the massacre of the Palestinians.

Where protests have broken out in these countries demanding action to protect the Palestinians, state forces have been sent in to crush them, contributing to the rising resentment. If Netanyahu keeps upping the ante, the pressure within society will become more and more difficult for these regimes to contain. There is the danger of an eruption, which could see the war spill out of Gaza, or provoke a new revolutionary wave like the one that swept the Middle East after 2011, but on an even higher level.

Imperialists anxious at spiralling situation

fire pic 2 Image fair useAll of this has only deepened the indignant fury of workers and youth worldwide / Image: fair use

This possibility has not escaped the notice of the imperialists in the West, who are increasingly alarmed at the impact of Israeli’s ruthless conduct in this war. The last thing they want is a wider war or revolutionary explosion that could threaten their interests in the region, or push the fragile world economy into a full-blown slump.

They are also concerned about their domestic situations. In one country after another, there have been continuous protests and marches in solidarity with Gaza for a period of seven months. This movement was given a further boost by a powerful wave of student encampments, established at over 100 university campuses worldwide. This struggle has endured vicious police repression, press slander, and baseless legal attacks, while Israel makes a mockery of every tenet of international law.

All of this has only deepened the indignant fury of workers and youth worldwide, and exposed the sham of so-called capitalist democracy, under which free speech and protest are permitted until the interests of the imperialists and their allies are threatened.

The hellish scenes coming out of Rafah risk throwing petrol on the flames. They have sent the ruling classes in the West into a panic, with politicians who have backed Israel to the hilt thus far (including French President Emmanuel Macron and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron) issuing hurried statements criticising the IDF and calling for a ceasefire. This all follows the International Criminal Court allowing prosecutors to seek arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes, and ordering Israel to cease its operations in Rafah.

Israeli leaders replied with typical disdain, accusing the world’s highest court of being driven by “antisemitism.” Decisions by the governments of Ireland and Spain to recognise Palestinian statehood were similarly met with howls from Tel Aviv that this was tantamount to “rewarding terrorism.”

While US President Joe Biden rallied to Israel’s defence, condemning the ICC and echoing complaints about Spain and Ireland, the fact is that US imperialism is becoming increasingly exasperated with its main ally in the Middle East. No number of stern words are dissuading Netanyahu from his present course. The trouble is, stern words are all the Americans are prepared to use against Israel. Indeed, despite the crocodile tears now being shed over the scorched bodies in Rafah, all of the Western governments – including Ireland and Spain – continue to arm and fund Israel’s war in Gaza. They have hitched themselves to Netenyahu’s murderous Zionist regime, and none are prepared to take any serious measures to protect the Palestinians.

The sorrowful statements we have seen in recent days are a sop to the masses at home. Gaza is a factor in several elections, including Britain and the USA, where the main parties are being forced to at least pay lip service to the idea that Palestinian lives have worth.

Biden is looking at losing key swing states as the youth and Muslim vote turns against him. In Britain, both the Tories and Labour (who have stood full square behind Israel since the beginning of the war) have expressed their ‘concern’ with the situation in Gaza. Several MPs for the Labour Party, which barring a miracle seems certain to win the 4 July general election by a landslide, issued identical statements on social media expressing sorrow for the deaths in Rafah; calling for a ceasefire, a two-state solution, and a “secure Israel.”

Nobody takes this seriously after Labour leader Keir Starmer stated that Israel had the “right” to besiege Gaza, and at every turn has affirmed Israel’s right to “defend itself”, while the latter conducts a genocide.

Bring down these disgusting hypocrites!

Biden Netanyahu Image The White House TwitterMillions of people see before their eyes the double standards of a system that claims to uphold democracy and the rules-based order, but jettisons both where its interests are concerned / Image: The White House, Twitter

The bourgeois press has similarly begun to change its tune, with such reactionary pundits as Piers Morgan suddenly discovering that “slaughtering so many innocent people as they cower in a refugee camp is indefensible.” We wonder why Morgan lacked such moral clarity when Israel bombed the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, or the al-Maghazi refugee camp, or any other time it obliterated a civilian target.

Behind all this disgusting hypocrisy lies the fact that the question of Palestine has become a factor in the class struggle in every country in the world. Amidst a general crisis of capitalism, it has become a lightning rod for all the anger and discontent at endless war, poverty, instability and injustice.

Moreover, millions of people see before their eyes the double standards of a system that claims to uphold democracy and the rules-based order, but jettisons both where its interests are concerned. Had the bombing in Rafah happened to a refugee camp, or a school, or a hospital in Ukraine, there would be no question in the Western press and political establishment of condemning another Russian war crime, and quickly calling for sanctions. Yet all Israel need do is issue a half-hearted apology, and continue as normal: rewarded for its trouble with an unbroken stream of money and munitions.

The events of 7 October, in which hundreds of civilians were killed, were exploited by the Western press, who then went into overdrive whipping up hysteria with lurid details about Hamas’ atrocities, some of which have never been proved, and some of which have actually since been disproved. The purpose of this was to preemptively justify Israel’s resultant retaliation and collective punishment of the Palestinian people, by depicting the whole of the population of Gaza as barbaric “human animals”. One of the fabricated claims, plastered over dozens of newspapers, was that Hamas beheaded babies on 7 October. Now, undeniable images of Palestinian babies beheaded by IDF bombs are evident for all to see.

And while there has been some lamentation in the press, we have seen nothing on the scale of the torrent of propaganda after 7 October. Nor will there be any significant consequences, as Israel quietly seeks to brush this unfortunate ‘incident’ under the carpet. One thing the events of the past seven months should teach us is that no amount of innocent Palestinian blood spilt will spur our ruling classes to take serious action. There are no depths of moral depravity to which the Zionist regime can sink that will compel the imperialists to break ties with their key ally in the Middle East.

This means that the only way to assist the Palestinians is for workers and young people to take the fight to their imperialist ruling classes in every country on earth. A coordinated campaign of strike action targeting key industries, building to a general political strike against the warmongers, could isolate the Israeli war machine. A revolutionary struggle is necessary, in the Middle East and throughout the world, to free the Palestinians from their nightmare, and put an end to the capitalist system that is the ultimate cause of their hardship. There is no time to lose.


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