Protest poster containing pictures of Palestinian health workers killed in Gaza 2023-24  (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Israel was poised to launch a murderous ground offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza at the start of this week—despite empty warnings from the US. If the assault goes ahead, it will take Israel’s genocide to even more appalling levels.

Last Saturday US president Joe Biden said he opposed an escalation of the conflict into Rafah—which he said was a “red line” for him—and that he could not accept “30,000 more Palestinians dead”.

He added Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel”. But Biden quickly added that, “I’m never going to leave Israel,” and would not cut off weapons.

Netanyahu brushed aside Biden’s feeble pleas.  He said, “You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is—that October 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”  He has not shifted from his determination to obliterate any Palestinian resistance and drive people out of Gaza.

Netanyahu said that “without a release [of captives], there’s not going to be a pause in fighting”.

Palestinian resistance group Hamas replied, “While we have engaged positively and continue to do so with the mediators, our utmost and foremost priority for accomplishing a prisoner exchange requires the enemy’s withdrawal, in addition to the return of displaced people and the reconstruction of Gaza.”

There is also imperialist hypocrisy over aid to Gaza’s starving people. The US drops aid from aircraft while at the same time Israeli jets, sourced from the US, use US-supplied bombs and missiles to blast the same starving people.

And when aid is dropped from above—as several states are now doing—it comes with its own risks. Five people were killed by an aid drop last week after a pallet’s parachute malfunctioned.

Biden said in his State of the Union address last week that he wants the US military to build a temporary port in Gaza to step up aid supplies. The US says it could take up to 60 days to construct such a facility.

But aid could be pouring into Gaza today by lorry and from existing nearby ports if it were not for the deliberate obstruction from Israel and state-backed settlers’ groups. The only reason Gaza itself doesn’t have a port is because Israel has banned it from having one as part of the 17-year blockade—which the US backs.

Yet on the same day Biden made the State of the Union speech, documents showed the US state has made more than 100 separate military sales to Israel since 7 October. These include over £82 million of tank ammunition and £114 million for components needed to make 155-millimetre shells.

Biden bypassed Congress to approve these sales.

Biden isn’t worried about the murder of now more than 31,000 Palestinians by the Israeli state. He isn’t worried that tens of thousands more are injured, starving or sick. He’s worried about whether an even bigger ­bloodbath in Gaza will mean more revolt in the Middle East that could threaten US imperialist interests.

‘I have no options’ says pregnant woman in Rafah

Even before any Israeli assault of Rafah, the city is filled with suffering, horror and death. Missiles hit several parts of the city where over a million people are trapped in the most terrifying conditions last week.

Jets bombed the 12-storey Burj al-Masri building last Saturday making dozens of families homeless. It was one of the tallest buildings still standing in the city. The air assault was continuing as Socialist Worker went to press.

It’s now so dangerous there that Ibitsam—who fled to Rafah from her home in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza—has been forced to return. She told Socialist Worker that she and her family aren’t safe anywhere, especially because she is heavily pregnant.

“The only hospital that still provides medical care is in the middle of Alawada, in Nuseirat, which is 30 minutes away from Deir Al Balah by car,” she said. “I am not sure about the quality of medical care provided there. But I don’t have options. My baby is due on 3 April.

“I know of many cases of pregnant women dying, either because they were they were far from a hospital, or because healthcare was bad.”

One reason why hospitals are on the brink of collapse is that Israel deliberately restricts the flow of food and medical supplies to them. Another two babies at the Kamal Adwan hospital died from malnutrition late last week.

That brings the number of Palestinians who have died of starvation or dehydration up to at least 25.

Israel’s lies about UN agency and 7 October attack unravel

Israeli forces tortured members of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa), forcing them to say that they belong to militant groups. That’s the shocking conclusion of a so-far unreleased report by the agency.

The report states that UN workers were subjected to torture, including beatings, waterboarding and dog attacks. It shows that Israeli claims that Unrwa workers were behind the 7 October Hamas attack were lies.

That fiction prompted at least nine countries to withdraw vital funding to the aid agency that has kept thousands of Palestinians alive. The US alone snatched-back some £350 million from the agency. Countries, including Canada and Sweden, have recently restored funding.

The report says, “Agency staff members have been subject to threats and coercion by the Israeli authorities while in detention and pressured to make false statements against the agency, including that the agency has affiliations with Hamas and that Unwra staff members took part in the 7 October 2023 atrocities.”

Israel’s case against Unwra has collapsed but that hasn’t stopped its lie machine. Last week, without providing any evidence, Israel said that 450 members of Unrwa were “militants”.

Raids on West Bank towns lead to arrest and beatings

Israeli forces tightened their grip on the West Bank just as Ramadan began this week. On Monday morning, troops conducted large-scale raids on several cities and towns in the occupied territories.  Arrests were made in Ramallah, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Hebron, Salfit and Jerusalem.

The raids were accompanied by beatings and vandalism of Palestinian homes. And last Sunday evening Israeli police assaulted Palestinians waiting to begin their Taraweeh prayer at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Troops and police blocked entrances to the mosque and arrested people at its gates.

Israeli forces have repeatedly barred Palestinians from worship at the mosque as a deliberate act of provocation.

The moves come as Israeli Army Radio reported the military will deploy 24 battalions, 20 companies and two special units in the West Bank. In addition to 5,000 reserve soldiers from West Bank settlements, a total of more than 15,000 soldiers will now serve in the West Bank.

The Israeli state also revealed plans to build thousands more setter homes in the occupied West Bank.

“Nearly 3,500 settlement units,” Israeli minister Orit Strock wrote on Twitter. “We promised–we are delivering… Together, we will continue to advance the settlements.”

Western politicians, including Britain’s foreign secretary Lord David Cameron, insist they are taking a tough line on Israel’s illegal settlement building. But Israel’s continuing expansion shows that their “tough words” mean nothing.

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