Fri 19 Apr 2024 3:47 pm - Jerusalem Time

War on Gaza: Why Israel's savagery is a sign of its impending defeat

Joseph Massad

 The realisation that the loss of settler-colonial power is at hand drives colonial forces to use the most barbaric methods to defeat the revolt of the indigenous people

The final years of all settler-colonies are marked by more protracted colonial savagery, including genocide. The realisation that the loss of settler-colonial power is at hand drives colonial forces to use the most barbaric methods to defeat the revolt of the indigenous people.

In Kenya, the British are estimated to have killed as many as 100,000 Kenyans during the war of national liberation that ended white supremacist colonial rule in 1963. The wars of liberation in Angola and Mozambique against their Portuguese colonists and white supremacist rule cost tens of thousands of lives between 1956 and 1976.

Fearing that the two independent countries would accelerate the demise of apartheid South Africa, the US and South Africa alongside mercenary African forces waged racist wars against the peoples of both countries between 1975 and 1992, killing 1.5 million people in Angola and Mozambique out of a combined population of 23 million. Twelve million more were made refugees.

In South Africa, once the settler-colonial regime had no choice but to negotiate with the African National Congress (ANC) in 1989, it attempted to break the unity of Black South Africans by continuing to support the politician and Zulu prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whose followers began to clash with ANC supporters.

It was revealed that the government provided financial and military training to Buthelezi's right-wing and separatist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Supported by the police, IFP members attacked people in the townships. Close to 15,000 Black Africans were killed by the South African police and security apparatus between 1989 and 1994 during this so-called peace process.

Israel has similarly killed thousands of Palestinians since signing a preliminary "peace" treaty in September 1993. In the 30-year period of the "peace process" through September 2023 - just before the current genocide in Gaza - Israel killed upwards of 12,000 Palestinians.

But of all these precedents, Algeria is perhaps the most apposite example of what has been unfolding in Gaza.

Violent suppression

In January 1955, former French minister of the colonies and anthropologist of pre-Columbian civilisations Jacques Soustelle, a Protestant anti-fascist from Montpellier, was appointed governor-general of Algeria.  As the new Edgar Faure government, which came to power a month later, was busy suppressing anti-colonial struggles in Tunisia and Morocco, Soustelle was running Algeria on his own. He created the Sections Administratives Specialisees (SAS) to undermine the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and win over the Algerians.

But of all the precedents, Algeria is perhaps the most apposite example of what has been unfolding in Gaza

The army, meanwhile, began to depopulate Algerian villages, relocating whole villages away from FLN areas of activity. It further established Algerian anti-FLN militias, depicting the FLN fighters as "locusts" in a huge propaganda campaign while representing itself as saving the Algerians from the evils of communism and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser's Arab nationalism.

This is not unlike the American and Israeli attempts to "save" Palestinians from the evils of "terrorism" and Iranian solidarity.

By April 1955, the French declared a state of emergency in some areas, which gradually extended to all of Algeria. Collective punishment of Algerian villages and indiscriminate torture of those arrested were now the order of the day as the government called in the army reserves among the colonists to join the fight.

An uprising in August 1955 saw Algerians attack the colonists in the colony of Philippeville, as well as police and army soldiers. They killed 100 Europeans, and many of them were hacked to death.

The French army, police, and the colonists responded by killing thousands of Algerians. Dozens were shot on the spot, and hundreds were herded into the Philippeville football stadium and executed. Anywhere between 12,000 and 20,000 people were killed. A new phase of the revolt had just begun.

Even the assimilationist and assimilated Algerians, referred to as "evolved" or "elus", were horrified by the scale of the repression and abandoned Soustelle.

By June 1956, 450,000 French soldiers were stationed in Algeria. They engaged the 20,000 revolutionaries who were supported by 40,000 auxiliaries. The FLN also recruited close to 2,000 Algerian women into its ranks.

The French burned down villages, pursued a policy of summary executions, and tortured captured FLN fighters or those mistaken for them. FLN prisoners were also executed by guillotine in Algiers. The FLN killed ten colonists to avenge them. The colonists, in turn, blew up the Algerian quarter in Algiers, killing 70 people. The FLN struck back, blowing up two cafes in the white area of Algiers, killing four colonists.

Imperial justifications

Although secret negotiations between the French government and the FLN political leaders were simultaneously taking place in Cairo, on 22 October 1956, the French army decided to intercept a plane flying from Morocco to Tunis while passing through Algerian airspace. The five FLN political leaders on board, including Ahmed Ben Bella, who were travelling for one such secret meeting with the French, were arrested and detained until 1962.  

Blaming Egypt for the revolt in Algeria, France launched an invasion of the country with the British and the Israelis in November 1956, which would end in defeat and increase Nasser's popularity across the Arab World.

The young Martinican psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, who had joined the FLN in 1956, understood the significance of the French motivations for the invasion: "The Suez expedition was meant to strike the Algerian Revolution at the summit. Egypt, accused of directing the struggle of the Algerian people, was criminally bombarded."

In contrast, German Jewish philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, the founders of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory who fled the Nazis to the US in the 1930s, became Zionist cold warriors after the war and enthusiastically supported the invasion of Egypt. They considered Nasser "a fascist chieftain" who "conspires with Moscow".

They added that "No one even ventures to point out that these Arab robber states have been on the lookout for years for an opportunity to fall upon Israel and to slaughter the Jews who have found refuge there."

If these imperialist justifications remind us of how Iran today is targeted as the force behind the Palestinian revolt in Gaza and the West Bank and is constantly being threatened and attacked by Israel, the US, and their Arab allies, it is because the rhetoric is the same.

International isolation

The mobilisation of resistance against the colonial-settler order led to massive French repression during the Battle of Algiers, fought from January to September 1957, including the widespread torture of civilians.

By October 1957, French repression and mass murder by the army, police, and colonists, in which key leaders of the FLN resistance were captured or killed, effectively ended the Battle of Algiers.

However, while the FLN was defeated militarily, it scored major diplomatic victories. In December 1957, the Afro-Asian Conference meeting in Cairo gave its full endorsement and support to the FLN and the call for independence, as had then-US Senator John F Kennedy, who supported Algerian independence earlier in July.

There was also growing support for Algeria's independence at the UN. The US, however, abstained on a General Assembly resolution in December 1957 recognising Algerians' right to independence.


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