Brutal Occupation Underpins Class Inequality for Israelis and Palestinians, MK Ofer Cassif

MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash), a leading member of the Communist Party of Israel, spoke with Talia Baroncelli from about the war in Gaza, noting its direct connection with the current political impasse in Israel and far-right Prime Minister Benjamiin Netanyahu’s attempts to maintain control of the country. He also elaborates on his party’s vision for ending the conflict, highlighting the primacy of ending the occupation as a first step toward a just solution. Following are excerpts from the talk.

MK Ofer Cassif, a leading member of the Communist Party of Israel, at the last Hadash National Convention held in Kafr Yasif to demand an end of the Gaza war, December 16, 2023 (Photo: Zo Haderech)  

Talia Baroncelli:  We’ve seen the situation in Gaza progressively deteriorate. The UN has said that over 90% of the population has been forcibly displaced. Human Rights Watch said that Israel is now using starvation as a tool of war, and the death toll has reached almost 20,000 Palestinians, of whom 9,000 are children. In your view, what would you say needs to be done to end this cycle of violence?

Ofer Cassif: First of all, we have to get rid of the seeds of this massacre. This is a peaceful solution to the situation. We’ve been saying for ages, since 1967 and more so as the years went by, that the only solution is a political one, not a military one. That means ending the occupation and the siege. The only way that the two peoples of the land, the Israelis and the Palestinians, Arabs, Jews, and others, can live together and live in peace, security, and prosperity is, first and foremost, to end the occupation.

The Palestinians, as a people, are entitled to have their own independent state. The compromise, the historical compromise, is by dividing the land alongside the state of Israel, an independent, sovereign, Palestinian state, which would exist in the old territories that Israel occupied in June ’67. That means the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. There is no other way. In the long run, I wish it was in the short run, but that’s the solution that we must reach for. There is no other solution. The two sides must understand that we are going to be here forever, both peoples. The only way to live together is not by killing each other but by living side by side, together as good neighbors, in good relations.

In the short run, of course, what should be done is to stop the war. As you said before, the war incorporates, unfortunately, war crimes. What Hamas did on October 7 is a war crime and a crime against humanity. This barbaric massacre against innocent civilians, children, women, the elderly, and others that Hamas did on October 7 is something that no one can justify, whatever the situation was before. Even the crimes of the occupation and siege cannot justify such a carnage. At the same time, the carnage that Hamas committed cannot justify the massacre that Israel has been carrying out against the Palestinians in Gaza.

As you said before, the death toll is incredible. I’m afraid that it’s not 20 or almost 20 because there are so many missing, and unfortunately, the assault still goes on. I am afraid, of course, I don’t know the numbers, but I’m afraid that the death toll is already much closer to 25,000-30,000. As you said before, and it was published as well, at least 70% of those who were killed were innocent civilians, especially children and women. This is something that is intolerable. Unfortunately, the international community doesn’t do anything to stop that. That should be done immediately.

First, because, as I said before, it involves war crimes, this is a massacre that should be stopped. First and foremost, of course, for the well-being and benefit of the Palestinians, but this is also of Israeli interest as far as I’m concerned. The government of Israel is anti-Israeli. I put it that way because the government of Israel, the only thing that the government of Israel, first and foremost, the Prime Minister, is interested in, is their own survival. Nothing else. They don’t care about the lives of Palestinians for sure, but they don’t care either for the lives of Israelis, those who are killed, or the hostages. The hostages are still there suffering. I’m afraid that many of them have already died. I’m afraid that some of them are going to die in the future because they live under terrible conditions. Israel, unfortunately, the government of Israel, is much more interested in revenge against Gaza rather than releasing the hostages and bringing them home safely.

A ceasefire, ending the war, releasing hostages, exchanging prisoners, and beginning a real and rapid political process toward ending the occupation and reaching a just peace between both parties is a must.

Talia Baroncelli: It’s really important that you brought up the class element because, arguably, there’s a class divide within the Palestinian territories as well. Perhaps there are some Palestinian elite who are somehow benefiting from the occupation. But most importantly, the network of Israeli elite who are propped up and supported by the U.S. and different military and industrial defense tech companies are able to perpetuate the occupation. How do you see this convergence of elite interests propelling the conflict further?

Ofer Cassif: Look, Lenin, of course, wrote a lot about national conflicts and occupation, and especially, of course, the era of imperialism, analyzing the First World War, given imperialism, as they say, and then capitalism. Imperialism as a stage of capitalism. I would like to use, if I may, one thing that I think is very, very important that Lenin referred to in length in more than one essay. I think it’s very crucial to understand this situation, which I don’t want to call a conflict, because conflict assumes a symmetry or a balance that does not exist. What Lenin said is that a situation of occupation and war assists the bourgeoisie on both sides

He said that the bourgeoisie of the occupying nation and the occupied nation use the situation to mobilize their own parliamentarian to their own side. Why? Once there is a sense of conflict, once there is a war or an armed struggle between occupied and occupier, I do not refer to the situation in the Middle East, between Israel and Palestinians, but in general; instead of struggling against your exploiter, which is the bourgeoisie, you join forces with your bourgeoisie against the other people. Whether as an occupier that oppresses the resistance, or you have an occupied that carry on with the resistance to the occupier. Lenin himself used the term hostility. National hostility serves the economic and political interests of the ruling classes because that way they can divert the rage, the frustration, the alienation from a class-based one to a national-based one. This is exactly what I think we should pay attention to. Those who actually benefit from the ongoing occupation on top of using cheap labor, Palestinian cheap labor, or in the north of Qatar, for instance, there are apparently some resources like gas, etc., beyond that, the hostility serves them because as long as the occupation goes on, the Palestinian proletarian, and even peasants will see the Israelis, generally speaking, of course, I have to simplify the picture; obviously it’s much more complicated. For our conversation, for analytical purposes, if I may say so, the ruled classes, Palestinian-ruled classes, are going to see not their own Palestinian exploiters as the so-called rival or enemy but the Israelis and vice versa. They are exploited within Israel. The exploited Israelis, especially the proletarians, will not see their own employers as their exploiters and class enemies but as the Palestinians. Who benefits from that? Who’s going to benefit from that? The exploiters. So, ending the occupation, besides being an end in itself because it involves direct oppression and exploitation, will also reduce, using the language of Lenin, the hostility between the peoples. In that sense, it will not only give us a better future to live as good neighbors but will also allow us to make it easier for us to divert our rage against our so-called domestic exploiters. There is a huge class issue.

Talia Baroncelli: We can’t forget the role that the United States plays in delivering weapons and delivering unconditional aid to Israel. I did want to pivot to something historical that took place in the ’90s to the Oslo Accords. Oftentimes, people say that it was Yasser Arafat who just walked away, and the conversations or the negotiations fell apart because of him. What was it that was being offered at the time? What was the Palestinian state being offered? It doesn’t seem like it was really much.

Ofer Cassif: I do believe that Arafat and the PLO believed that the Oslo Accords would eventually lead to a Palestinian liberation and independent state alongside Israel. I cannot tell you that for sure. I wasn’t there. From what I know, I tend to believe that they thought, and perhaps they were quite optimistic. I’m saying that because I heard an interview with Hanan Ashrawi, who you may know. I think it was on the anniversary of the Oslo Accords, the 30th anniversary, in September. She said not these exact words, but she said that she warned Arafat that Israel was not working towards the solution he believed they were going to. She warned Arafat and probably others, we say, closed ones politically, that if they believed that the Israelis were going with them side by side towards ending the occupation was a false belief.

I take from that Arafat and others, again, I unfortunately have never met him, so I never asked him and never talked to him, so everything I say is speculation. I tend to believe what I’ve read and heard that there was a belief, an optimistic belief, I don’t want to say a naive belief, that at the end of the day, a Palestinian independent state is waiting.

The assassination of Rabin brought Netanyahu in ’95 to power. Although Netanyahu continued one way or another with all the problems and the reservations, it didn’t totally abolish the Oslo Accords. We know that he followed the agreement, etc.  The assassination of Rabin created a decline, a continuous decline, which we can see now the consequences. Israel, unfortunately, has turned into a more brutal occupier controlled by the most fanatic, Messianic, and deadly settler. It’s much more dangerous to the region as a whole, not only to Palestinians and Israelis. I lament that the world doesn’t want to be aware of that and doesn’t want to do anything about that.

Talia Baroncelli: I would like to ask you quickly about Bibi Netanyahu because he recently said that he doesn’t believe in a Palestinian state. The day after, he is the one to ensure that a two-state solution won’t come about and that his legacy has been to prevent the creation of a two-state solution. How would you say or how would you assess his legacy? Is it true, according to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that he was involved in propping up Hamas to ensure that the Palestinian Authority wouldn’t be a legitimate partner with which Israel could negotiate with and that, instead, they would want Hamas to be there to ensure that there’d be no

Ofer Cassif: Netanyahu’s only interest is Netanyahu. He cares only about himself. Even in the late ’80s, when he ousted [Yitzhak] Shamir from the Likud Party, who was even more to the right than Netanyahu, he warned the Likud about Netanyahu. Before Netanyahu was in Israeli politics, he was the Ambassador to the UN, if I remember correctly. Already then, Shamir warned about him, and he said that Netanyahu is dangerous. What’s going on within Israel now, which Israel is in the process of fascisation and toward dictatorship. Basic civil rights are under attack. People like myself and others are persecuted. Students have been suspended from universities because of posts and tweets. People were fired from their jobs, especially Palestinian citizens and others. There’s a total prohibition on demonstrations in Arab-Palestinian cities within Israel. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is a move towards a full-fledged fascist dictatorship on top of the ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and the criminal assault on Gaza.

Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich, probably the most fanatic and extremist in this government, said in 2015, and I quote, “The Palestinian Authority is a burden. Hamas is an asset.” It’s not only words. Under the rule of Netanyahu, Qatar transferred more than a billion dollars to Hamas via Israel, thanks to Netanyahu. Netanyahu supported that. He was in charge of those suitcases full of dollars that went to Hamas, not to the people of Gaza. Hamas is a brutal dictatorship. Hamas doesn’t do anything in favor of the people of Gaza. It does everything in favor of itself. What do you think they use the money for? For those tunnels that are now bombarded? For weapons? That was not only under the rule of Netanyahu; it was given the consent of Netanyahu and the active cooperation of Netanyahu. He wanted a strong Hamas and a weak Palestinian Authority because that way he could create a division among the Palestinians, a classic divide and rule, a classic colonialist attitude, and use the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip to say that there’s no one to talk to because they are extremists. That’s part of the legacy of Netanyahu, if you like. He will be remembered not only as the worst Prime Minister in the history of Israel but also as the deadliest one. Not only for assaulting and killing thousands and thousands of Palestinians but also because of his responsibility for the carnage that Hamas did in the south of Israel, and also because he doesn’t care and doesn’t do anything to save the poor hostages that Hamas holds. He will be remembered for that.

The full interview: