Gaza: Voices that must never be silenced

The systematic attempt by Israel’s ultra-right government to shut out, submerge, forcibly silence, and criminalise the voices of progressive individuals and organisations within Israel’s borders and the occupied Palestinian lands which seek to challenge the IDF’s genocidal attack on Gaza is surely one of the greatest affronts to democracy in Israel’s history, writes Liz Payne

A prominent feature for the duration of the Israeli Defence Forces’ genocidal attack on Gaza and its people has been the systematic attempt by the ultra-right which controls the state of Israel to shut out, submerge, forcibly silence, and criminalise the voices of progressive individuals and organisations which seek to challenge it. In what is surely one of the greatest affronts to democracy in Israel’s history, the war machine has been put into ideological overdrive to ensure that all such voices from within Israel’s borders and the occupied Palestinian lands cannot be heard – not only in Israel but by the world public.

One such voice is that of the MAKI Party’s Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish member of the left Hadash-Ta’al coalition (The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) in the Knesset. Cassif is currently the subject of impeachment proceedings for signing a petition supporting South Africa’s bid to have the Israeli government charged with genocide in the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

A year ago, in January 2023, Cassif was in London, speaking at the Marx Memorial Library at a meeting organised by Liberation. Here he gave a stark prophetic warning. For the first time, Israel had a fully-fledged fascist government with neo-Nazi elements and a supremacist vision and plan to match. It was moving at break-neck speed to concentrate all power into the hands of the executive. We stood on the brink of a bloodbath, he warned. Palestinians in the occupied territories and state of Israel would be the first victims and they would be “butchered”. The cry for a second Nakba was already being raised. But they would not stop with the Palestinians. The fascists would come for all “liberal” Jews followed by the Jewish socialist left in Israel. The conflict would then spill out of Israel’s borders, drawing in the whole Middle East. The world would pay the price – unless, that is, the international movement of peoples, not governments, could stop them. They had to be stopped.  

Immediately the war on Gaza started, the Movement of Democratic Women in Israel (MDWI) spoke out. This affiliate of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), whose membership brings together progressive Jewish and Palestinian Israeli women, had no hesitation in describing the 7 October attacks on civilians as a “bloody assault”. But they said it was nonetheless crucial to view what happened within the context of “the ongoing occupation, blockade on Gaza, and the daily transgressions of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem”. The statement, which circulated around the world, accused the “pro-fascist [Israeli] regime” of having led attacks on Palestinians “amounting to ethnic cleansing” with hundreds already dead and thousands injured in the very first days. They condemned the US role in arming Israel and sending battleships to the Mediterranean and said that only a two-state solution, including an independent Palestine with 1967 boundaries, could possibly bring lasting peace.

Once the assault on Gaza had begun, the Knesset was quick to move against prominent opposition voices, signalling loud and clear that, even though they were in a tiny minority in the house, no challenge could or would be tolerated. Hadash-Ta’al MK, Aida Touma, renowned campaigner for women’s rights, was banned from for two months. Her crime had been to speak out via social media against Israeli attacks on Gazan medical facilities. Ofer Cassif’s simultaneous exclusion was for 45 days – for publicly calling for an immediate ceasefire.      

But the coalition has continued to refute the ultra-nationalist rhetoric of ‘war to obliteration of the enemy’ and has asserted at every opportunity that the Israeli government is “an enemy of the people of Israel” as well as of the Palestinians and that ceasefire and peace are essential to both.

“The assault on Gaza,” Ofer Cassif told Truthout in December 2023, “has nothing to do with security. It has nothing to do with the well-being of Israelis. It has everything to do with revenge, a realisation of the subjugation plan, and preserving this fascist government in power.”

The People’s Party of Palestine (PPP), representing left-wing forces and in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has stated that the Israeli government has moved from tactics of daily repression and subjugation of Palestinians in the occupied lands to brute force “to the point of genocide and ethnic cleansing” as a means of “liquidating” the Palestinian issue.

In an 11 December 2023 interview with People’s Dispatch, Bassam Al-Salhi, the PPP’s general secretary, was critical of official Arab reaction, stating that it was “not at the required level”. This contrasted with Arab popular positions as expressed in huge demonstrations in major cities.

Meanwhile, said Al Salhi, the West, with all its talk of human rights, freedoms and democracy has been “completely exposed”. The US, Britain and France have made certain that the UN has been unable to halt Israel’s aggression. 

The PPP calls for international unity, including by boycotting and isolating Israel, to stop the aggression and siege, “ending the occupation and guaranteeing the rights of the Palestinian people to liberation and establishing their independent state, as well as to return in accordance with UN Resolution 194.” 

Cassif has also expressed disappointment at the lack of response from some international quarters – including progressives in the Democratic Party in the US and others in Europe and the Arab countries. However, there are exceptions, and he has praised, for example, the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) which works to end “US complicity in the genocide of Palestinians – and all US support for Israel’s apartheid regime”. 

One of the most powerful messages of condemnation, as 2023 drew to a close, came from the community of Palestinian Christians which makes up some 2% of the West Bank. In a sermon in Bethlehem on 23 December, Palestinian pastor, Rev Munther Isaac, said: “If Jesus were born today, he would be born in Gaza amid the rubble…Stop this genocide now! This is our call, this is our plea, this is our prayer.” In his church, the nativity tableau showed the baby wrapped in a kaffiyeh in a pile of debris. Beside him burned a single candle. The image was seen across the world.

For those everywhere who support peace and justice, one of the greatest tasks is to ensure that the voices featured here cannot be suffocated by force, intimidation, nor any other authoritarian tool. Another is to join them in demanding an immediate halt to the genocide in Gaza and to state and settler brutality in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a permanent ceasefire, and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state in accordance with UN resolutions and international law. Nothing less will bring peace and freedom.

The last words must be Ofer Cassif’s as he awaits the Knesset’s impeachment vote:

“We are under persecution, but we shall never surrender and give up. We will continue our struggle for the benefit of both peoples of the land, of Palestinians and Israelis, of Arabs and Jews, of everyone. I’m sure that we will win eventually. I’m just afraid of how many people are going to pay the highest price before.”

Liz Payne is convenor of the British Peace Assembly and member of Liberation’s Education Committee

Photo: Aida Touma-Suleiman (centre) and Ofer Cassif (right) in Sheik Jarrah, East Jerusalem

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