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Israel-Hamas War: The Left Must Condemn Atrocities on Both Sides

Image of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
Image by Matthew Pellow, CC BY

Staff Writer Matthew Pellow argues that for left-wing groups to hold a morally defensible position they must condemn all atrocities committed by both sides in the Israel-Hamas War.

Editor’s note: This article was originally written on 12 October. The conflict is ongoing and is constantly developing, as such some of the statistics used may not be up-to-date by the time of reading.

On October 7 the Palestinian-based militant group Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel. Children and elderly were killed in a massacre at kibbutz Kfar Aza. Entire families were murdered. In total, over 1,200 Israelis have been killed, with more than 2,700 wounded (as of writing this piece). Additionally there were several alleged cases of sexual assault reported by the Times of Israel and there’s a reported case of a woman’s naked corpse being paraded on the back of a pickup truck and spat on in Gaza City.

Hamas’ actions during its raid on the border region between Israel and Gaza must be called out for what they were: crimes against humanity (Article 7, Rome Statute of the ICC). No reasonable person should be mistaken in thinking that what Hamas has done over these past few days is anything other than a disgusting attack based on antisemitic hate. However, not enough of those expressing support for Palestine within the leftist community have called out the attacks as such.

Picture of memorials at Yad Mordechai, one of the kibbutzim attacked by Hamas, taken in June 2023 | Matthew Pellow, CC BY

Though Hamas’ current charter, written in 2017, attempts to project the organisation in a more moderate light, its founding charter, written in 1988, is antisemitic to its core. Article 7 of the charter explicitly incites violence against Jewish people, quoting a hadith which begins “the Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)”. Several outlandishly false statements are made regarding Jewish people as well as Zionism. For example, in Article 28 of the charter, Zionists are said to be behind the “drug trade and alcoholism in all its kinds so as to facilitate its control and expansion”.

Surely then, it would be easy for anyone who seeks a just solution to the Israel-Hamas conflict to condemn Hamas for its actions last week? How is it not morally consistent to believe that Palestinians have a right to self-determination and also to condemn the antisemitic terrorism of Hamas? Seemingly, at least in the opinion of several leftist groups, this is not the case. According to The Times, several university societies in the UK have openly stated their support for Hamas’ incursion; Hanin Barghouti, women’s officer for the student union at Sussex University, allegedly endorsed the attacks by Hamas while at a rally in Brighton by calling them “a victory”.

Some leftist political parties in Europe have shown tacit support for Hamas’ attacks; the Greek Communist Party said that Palestinians “have a right to fight against long-term occupation” in a comment following the attacks by Hamas.

Were the murdered children in Kfar Aza agents of occupation? No.

Even Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the Labour Party who remains a significant figure within the British leftist movement, initially neglected to condemn Hamas specifically when asked by Channel 4 News. He has since condemned the attacks as “horrifying” in an opinion piece for Tribune, but his initial resistance to doing so shows a lack of sensitivity.

Jeremy Corbyn when asked if he condemned Hamas’ attacks on Israel – Channel 4

Some leftists recognise the hypocrisy in not criticising the war crimes of Palestinian fighters while calling out those of Israel, and as such criticise both sides when they commit morally repugnant actions.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a US congresswoman and prominent figurehead of the American democratic-socialist movement, criticised a pro-Palestine demonstration which took place in Times Square on 8 October, whilst condemning Hamas’ attack. She put it perfectly: “the bigotry and callousness expressed in Times Square on Sunday… did not speak for the thousands of New Yorkers who are capable of rejecting Hamas’ horrifying attacks against innocent civilians as well as the grave injustices and violence Palestinians face under occupation.”

Likewise, Sinn Féin’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, condemned the Hamas attack as “truly horrific”, in what the Irish Times called “the most critical comments on a Palestinian organisation made by a leader of Sinn Féin to date”. She also equally condemned the ongoing aerial attacks on Gaza by Israel.

And rightly so.

None of this means Palestinians do not have a right to self-determination. Nor does it mean that normal Palestinians deserve to be attacked by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Since Hamas’ attack on 7 October, the Gaza strip has faced almost constant bombing by the IDF. More than 1,500 Gazan Palestinians have been killed so far by Israeli bombardment. Some 500 of these are reported by Gaza’s Health Ministry to be children. The morgue at Gaza’s largest hospital is reported to be overflowing. Drone footage by Gazan journalist Mohammed Alaloul illustrates the level of destruction following Israeli bombing.

Picture of the ruins of Gaza taken 8 October 2023 | Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Israel imposed a “complete closure” on Gaza, meaning the humanitarian aid upon which Gazans heavily rely to survive: food, medicine and fuel are unable to enter the strip. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says “the health system in the Gaza Strip is at a breaking point”. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, food and clean water supplies will “run out very soon”.

Some UN experts have termed Israel’s response to the Hamas invasion “collective punishment”; if this judgement is upheld it represents a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This is nothing but wrong. Revenge is not a reasonable policy for a liberal democracy like Israel to take.

There is worse to come for the civilians of Gaza. The UN announced on 13 October that it had been told by the Israeli military that 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza City and surrounding areas should relocate to the south of the strip within 24 hours. In response, the UN says this is impossible. Already, more than 420,000 people have been displaced, with some attempting to cross through the humanitarian corridor to Egypt – despite news agencies reporting Israeli air strikes hitting the crossing several times.

Hatred to an atomic level is endemic on both sides of the argument. Incendiary comments by some of Israel’s Knesset members ring similar to those of Hamas representatives. Ariel Kallner, an MK for the ruling party Likud called for “a Nabka that will overshadow the Nabka of ’48” in a tweet on 7 October. Another Likud MK Revital Gotliv said “it is time to kiss doomsday”, which could be inferred as a call for the use of nuclear weapons.

As the IDF readies for a ground invasion of Gaza, killing and suffering in both Palestine and Israel will continue. In this context, international leftist communities must take care to equally condemn all atrocities committed against civilians in order to retain a morally defensible position.

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