Yanis Varoufakis answers FAQs on Israel-Palestine

The Israeli-Palestinian Question could not be more complex, urgent and emotionally charged. Those of us who take a position on it have a duty to a full disclosure of the thoughts, assumptions and beliefs that motivate our commentary. To this effect, I collected a number of questions I am frequently asked by friends and critics which I answer below. They may not be a comprehensive, all-encompassing, set but it will inform you sufficiently on where I stand on the crucial issues involved.


Is Israel not engaged in a war for its very existence?

No, it is not. Israel is a nuclear-armed state with perhaps the most technologically advanced army in the world and the panoply of the US military machine (including aircraft carriers at the ready) having its back. There is no symmetry with Hamas or Islamic Jihad, groups which can cause serious damage to Israelis but which have no capacity whatsoever to defeat Israel’s military, or even to prevent Israel from continuing ethnically to cleanse Palestinians under the system of Apartheid that has been erected with long-standing US and EU support.

Are Israelis not justified to fear that many Palestinians would love to throw them into the sea (if not exterminate them in some gigantic pogrom)?

Of course they are! Many Palestinians, sadly, dream of a Palestine either free of Jews or with the Jews fully subjugated – exactly like many Israelis, sadly, share the ultra-Zionist dream of a Greater Israel either free of Palestinians or with the Palestinians fully subjugated. This is the tragic reality of the Land of Palestine today. And, yes, given that Jews have suffered a Holocaust that was preceded with pogroms and a deep-seated antisemitism permeating Europe and the Americas for centuries, it is only natural that Israelis live in fear of a new pogrom if the Israeli army folds. However, by imposing Apartheid on Palestinians, Bedouins etc., by treating them like sub-humans (or human animals), the Israeli state is stoking the fires of antisemitism, is strengthening the Palestinians who dream of pushing Jews into the sea (against those who dream of peaceful co-existence with the Jews), and, in the end, contributes to the awful insecurity consuming Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. Apartheid against the Palestinians is not the Israelis’ best defence – to put it mildly. Ergo, Europeans and Americans do the Jewish people an incredible disservice when supporting, or turning a blind eye to, Israel’s Apartheid and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

But, surely, Israel is at war with Gaza

Israel is not, and cannot be, at war with Gaza. Gaza is not a country. It is a Palestinian territory illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. The fact that Ariel Sharon, Israel’s then PM, decided to withdraw Israel’s army (and a few settlers) from Gaza in order to turn it into an Israeli open prison for millions of Palestinians (totally blockaded, ceremonially bombed, and absolutely dependent on Israel for water, food, fuel, everything), does not make Gaza a country. Nor does the fact that Hamas took over Gaza after the Israeli army’s withdrawal. [For cinema buffs, who remember John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, it is like saying that, in that movie, Manhattan was a country with which the USA was at war.]

Did you expect Israel to supply an enemy population with water, food and medicine?

It does not matter what you or I expect in this regard. International Law, including the Geneva Convention, demands it! Indeed, withholding water, food, medicine, fuel etc. from an occupied population that Israel keeps imprisoned in Gaza constitutes a war crime. It is equally a crime to withhold the basics of life from a population in order to force it to accept its transfer to another land.

Even if its existence is not threatened, for now, does Israel not have the right to defend itself?

Of course it does. We all have a natural right to defend ourselves. However, just as my right to defend myself when an intruder breaks into my home is limited by law (e.g., I have no right to kill him after I have disarmed him, and certainly not to kill his family while pursuing him), so is a state’s right to self-defence against a state or an armed resistance group in an occupied territory. This is why we have the Geneva Convention and the International Criminal Court whose statutes make it abundantly clear that Israel’s military assault on Gaza after the October 7 Hamas assault constitutes a series of war crimes. (See Appendix 1)


Do I condemn Hamas’ atrocities?

I condemn every single atrocity, every war crime (as defined in International Law, see Appendix 1) whomever is the perpetrator or the victim: Hamas, Israeli settlers or the Israeli armed forces. The Geneva Convention holds for everyone or it holds for no one. What I do not condemn is armed resistance to an occupier, to an Apartheid system designed as part of a slow-burning, but inexorable, ethnic cleansing program. [In the same way I do not condemn legitimate IDF military action in defence of its soldiers or Israeli citizens within Israel-proper.]

But is Hamas not a terrorist organisation?

As we know well, one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Were Yitzak Shamir (Israel’s PM between 1986 and 1992) and his Stern Gang terrorists? The British government, and most European ones, thought so but many Jews did not. Was the IRA a terrorist organisation? Perhaps, except that without the IRA (and its political wing, Sinn Fein, which today is the largest Irish party both North and South of the border) there would be no Good Friday agreement and no end to the troubles. Was Nelson Mandela a terrorist? Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan certainly thought and said so – and, as a result, the ANC and its cadres were on the US and UK terrorist list.

Returning to Hamas, there is no doubt that Hamas uses terror tactics and/or commits war crimes. But, then again, so does the State of Israel for (more than) seven decades (illegal evictions, illegal settlements, illegal imprisonment of civilians and civil society representatives in occupied territories, murders and the ritual humiliation, white phosphorous bombs, wholesale destruction of hospitals, whole neighbourhoods etc.).

Hamas is no different to ISIS or Al Qaida. Surely, Israel has a right to take Hamas out like the US, Iran, the Kurds and others eradicated ISIS

False analogy. Al Qaida had no roots in the local population, anywhere. They were not a homegrown, roots up movement – unlike the ANC, the IRA, the PKK in Turkey, the Tigers in Sri Lanka. Al Qaida were a bunch of imported gunmen with no organic connection to the Sudanese or the Afghans. As was ISIS. Hamas, on the other hand, in one way or another (with massive intertemporal help from Israel, who were keen to see Hamas rise up as an internal foe to PLO), ended up growing deep roots in Palestinian society (especially in Gaza) – providing services to a desperate population that no one else provided. So, even if you choose to call Hamas a terrorist organisation, it is simply factually wrong to say that Hamas is no different to Al Qaida or ISIS. And this is doubly important because any Peace Process must involve Hamas (like that in Northern Ireland had to involve the IRA).

But Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields

Israel and Palestine, taken together, is a tiny land with two (main) populations at war with one another for eighty years. In such a confined area, it is impossible to conduct war without ‘human shields’. Put differently, the idea of a war in that neck of the woods where the combatants are neatly separated from the civilians is ridiculous. Case in point: Where are the Headquarters of the Israeli army, which has a lot more room for manoeuvre than any Palestinian armed resistance group? In downtown, densely populated Tel Aviv! Does this mean that the Israeli army is using the nearby population as human shields? Would Palestinian fighters (Hamas or anyone else) be justified to flatten the whole neighbourhood, including the nearby hospitals, on the strength of the argument that “the Israeli army is hiding behind human shields”? That would be a ludicrous argument. Exactly as ludicrous as the Israeli statements justifying mass civilian deaths on the basis of the ‘human shields’ argument.

Hamas do not care for their own people whom they know will be bombed when Hamas unleashes attacks from within Gaza on Israeli targets

This is an argument used by every occupying force to shift the blame for civilian deaths to the armed resistance against their occupation. Indeed, every resistance movement in History faces the accusation that, in raising arms against an occupying force with overwhelming firepower, it is risking its own population. Here in Greece, that was the argument of Nazi collaborators against the Greek Resistance: Greek partisans knew that, when they shot at a Nazi patrol, the Nazis would kill at least 10 Greek men for every one of their soldiers that the partisans killed. Therefore, the Nazis’ and their collaborators’ argument was, the partisans were responsible for the Nazi’s criminal reprisals. Ergo, acquiescence to the occupation was the only ‘humane’ choice. Do Israeli officials think it is a good idea for them to employ such an argument? I don’t think so.

The Palestinians voted for Hamas in Gaza – they are not innocent

Israelis must beware this argument – for it is ever so easily reversible: Netanyahu and other genocidal Israeli government ministers (e.g., Bezalel Smotrich, Ben-Gvir) were elected with a clear agenda of war crimes; of ethnically cleansing Palestinians. This does not, and should never, legitimise any Palestinian armed group killing Israelis on the grounds that they are collectively responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The very notion of collective guilt is not only racist but also a war crime in itself.

If they Palestinians are innocent, why are they not turning the Hamas men over to Israel?

First, because the Hamas fighters have guns and, thus, the weak and the infirm that Israel is bombing to oblivion cannot hand them over to Israel even if they wanted to. Secondly, consider what you are telling the people of Gaza. You are telling them this:

Israeli troops killed your grandfather in 1948, took your olive grove and your home and chased your family into Gaza. Since then, their bombs murdered your brother, cousins, mother and friends while confining you to an open-air prison where your children grow up malnourished, with no prospect of a decent education, no chance of a dignified job, no capacity to travel, zero hope. Every few months, bombs rain down from the sky and, periodically, Israeli troops enter your village shooting at you and your neighbours indiscriminately. The neighbourhood’s kids, having no other outlet for their frustration or dignity, join Hamas as nurses, teachers or, yes, gunmen eager to shoot back at the Israelis. And, now, the ‘civilised’ West – who have not lifted a finger on your behalf all these decades -point the finger at you for not handing over these young gunmen to the army that has destroyed your nation and whose commanders answer to a government that proudly pronounces the end of any chance of you becoming an equal citizen of any state. And all this while the West knows what will happen in Gaza if Hamas surrenders: the kind of ethnic cleansing that proceeds apace in the West Bank, where there is no Hamas.

I submit to you dear reader that we, Europeans and Americans, should hang our heads in shame for even thinking of telling the people of Gaza anything like the above.

Why don’t you agree that Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamist group intolerant not only of Israel but also of secular people like yourself Yanis, must be eradicated so that Gazans can return to a normal life?

What does it mean to eradicate Hamas today? Who counts as Hamas? Do you ‘eradicate’ the nurses employed by the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza? The teachers employed by the Hamas-run Education Ministry in Gaza? Are you forgetting that, unlike Al Qaida which was never integrated with the Afghan communities, Hamas is utterly interwoven with Gazan society? In this sense, Netanyahu and his fellow genocidal Israeli politicians are more logically consistent than those (possible well-meaning people) arguing for an eradication of Hamas in Gaza so that the Gazan Palestinians can live happily ever after. For Netanyahu and his fellow supporters of genocide aim at the murder of as many Gazans as it takes to persuade the rest to move from Gaza to some arid desert in the Sinai or to any country that will have them. In short, anyone who believes in the physical elimination of anyone connected with Hamas is supporting genocide in Gaza (as a first step to genocide across the West Bank).

How should Israel have responded after the October 7 Hamas attack?

The first duty of the Israeli army was, of course, to neutralise the attackers. The second duty fell to the Israeli government to free the Israeli hostages that Hamas had dragged into Gaza – which would mean negotiations involving the international community. The government’s third duty to Israeli society, one that every Israeli government has had for decades but eschewed, is to announce the end of Apartheid and the admission that, as long as Israel enforces a State of Apartheid on the Palestinians, violence will beget violence with the result that Israelis will never be able to live in Peace.


Are you seriously saying that Israel is enforcing a State of Apartheid on the Palestinians?

Don’t take my word for it that Israel is imposing Apartheid on the Palestinians. Tamir Pardo, a former Director of Mossad said it: “…Israel’s mechanisms for controlling the Palestinians, from restrictions on movement to placing them under military law while Jewish settlers in the occupied territories are governed by civilian courts, matched the old South Africa… There is an apartheid state here,” he said. “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.” And it is not just him. The former speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, Avraham Burg, and the renowned Israeli historian, Benny Morris, are among more than 2,000 Israeli and American public figures who have signed a recent public statement declaring that “Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid”.

Are you drawing a parallel between Mandela’s ANC and the thugs of Hamas?

Those who scream blue murder when any comparison is made between South African Apartheid with Israel’s must be reminded that Nelson Mandela was never in doubt that Palestinians lived under Apartheid. [Or that Israel was openly the best ally of the White Supremacists in Pretoria].

Similarly, Desmond Tutu, another hero of the Anti-Apartheid Resistance in South Africa was under no illusion: Palestinians suffer under Israel’s Apartheid.

Why don’t Palestinians pursue their objectives by peaceful means?

They did. The PLO recognised Israel and renounced armed struggle. And what did they get for it? Absolute humiliation and systematic ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That is what nurtured Hamas and elevated it the eyes of many Palestinians as the only alternative to a slow genocide under Israel’s Apartheid – leading to Hamas’ takeover of the government of Gaza.


What about antisemitism? Is it not a scourge?

Of course it is. Antisemitism is deeply ingrained in the West, and worldwide, and needs to be fought against constantly. The question is: Does the genocide of Palestinians serve, or does it hinder, the purpose of defeating antisemitism? My specific question to Europeans who feel the need to support Israel come what may, due to our collective guilt over the Holocaust, is this: How far will you allow Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians to proceed before our fully justified guilt over European antisemitism and over the Holocaust no longer permits us to tolerate Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians? Put in more emotive terms: How much more Palestinian blood is necessary to cleanse our guilt over the Holocaust? Surely, NEVER AGAIN means NEVER AGAIN FOR EVERYONE & ANYONE – Jews, Palestinians, everyone.

For my take on Antisemitism, as penned long before the October 7 Hamas assault, please see this long article.

The West must recognise that the current Israeli game plan is Palestinian genocide

This is what the Israeli government and main opposition are telling us. They reject both a Palestinian State and the idea of a single state in which Palestinians enjoy the same civil and political rights and liberties as the Jews. What option does this leave? Ethnic cleansing, Apartheid, genocide. Indeed, Israel’s authorities do not hide the ambition for an Israel that has annexed all the occupied territories and has ethnically cleansed all Palestinians (except perhaps for a small number who accept second-rate status and who provide menial labour to their Israeli masters). In addition, for decades (and even more so after October 7), the Israeli authorities are telling the world something incredibly chilling:

Israel’s army has the right to KILL ANY AND EVERY PALESTINIAN in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Armed men, unarmed men, journalists, women, older people, doctors, nurses and farmers – whoever is killed by Israel is officially declared a legitimate murder target as either directly culpable or as human shields (for whom blame is shifted to the Palestinians hiding behind them) or as a complicit population (due to their sympathy for the armed resistance). Even days-old babies are declared deservedly dead because, had they lived, they would grow up to be terrorists.

What should be done now? What might bring Peace to Israel-Palestine?

A global campaign of boycotting, divestment and sanctioning of Israel and of Hamas until there is an immediate ceasefire, all hostages are released (Hamas’ and the thousands held by Israel), Israel recognises the State of Palestine and a Peace Process begins under the United Nations supported by a commitment by the International Community to end Apartheid and to safeguard Equal Civil Rights & Political Liberties for All. Whether this will end in a single federal state or two side-by-side multi-ethnic states sharing the Ancient Land of Palestine, this is up to Israelis and Palestinians to decide.

Yes, but you (and DiEM25, the movement to which you belong) have already come out in favour of a Single Secular State solution

Yes, we have. But that is only our opinion. As internationalists, we have a duty to have an opinion about the substantial political conflicts and issues all over the world – but that, of course, does not mean that we shall tell the people directly involved what to do. Speaking personally, I was persuaded by the great, late, Ed Said that the Two-State Solution is untenable (at least for progressive internationalists) and that the only humanist outcome would be something along the lines of a One State Solution. As for DiEM25, two years ago we had a long, vigorous and hotly contested debate amongst ourselves which resulted in this joint position. But, lest I am misunderstood, this is a matter for Palestinians and Israelis, Israelis and Palestinians, to decide.

We, the international community, have a duty to help our Israeli and Palestinian friends and comrades to smash Apartheid, to eradicate antisemitism and to edge bigotry out so that, whatever the specific solution the peoples directly involved come up with, everyone living, labouring and dreaming on the Land of Ancient Palestine is vested with the same civil rights and political freedoms.

Appendix 1 – What International Law Says

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – Genocide

Article 6(c): Deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Article 25(3)(c): For the purpose of facilitating the commission of such a crime, aids, abets or otherwise assists in its commission or its attempted commission, including providing the means for its commission.

Article 25(3)(e): Directly and publicly incites others to commit genocide. War crimes –Grave breaches of the 1949

Geneva Conventions Article 8(2)(a)(i): Wilful killing.

Article 8(2)(a)(ii); Torture and inhuman treatment.

Article 8(2)(a)(iii): Wilfully causing great suffering and serious injury to body and health. Article 8(2)(a)(iv): Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.

Article 8(2)(a)(vii): Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement. Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law

Article 8(2)(b)(i): Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.

Article 8(2)(b)(ii): Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives.

Article 8(2)(b)(iii): Intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, as long as they are entitled to the protection given to civilians or civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict. Article 8(2)(b)(iv): Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.

Article 8(2)(b)(ix): Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives. Article 8(2)(b)(xii): Declaring that no quarter will be given.

Article 8(2)(b)(xiv): Intentionally directing attacks against buildings, material, medical units and transport, and personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions in conformity with international law.

Article 8(2)(b)(xx): Employing weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering or which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict, provided that such weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare are the subject of a comprehensive prohibition and are included in an annex to this Statute, by an amendment in accordance with the relevant provisions set forth in articles 121 and 123.

Article 8(2)(b)(xxv): Intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival.

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