Shulamit Aloni is a former leader of Israel’s liberal Meretz party who served as education minister in Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor-led government in the early 1990s. Her ideological commitment to Zionism has not, however, prevented her from candidly discussing the Israeli state’s brutal treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. In one report, Aloni describes traveling on one of the “Jewish only” roads that crisscross the West Bank:
“Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night—all that on stolen land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated and he is sent on his way.
“On one occasion I witnessed such an encounter between a driver and a soldier who was taking down the details before confiscating the vehicle and sending its owner away. ‘Why?’ I asked the soldier. ‘It’s an order—this is a Jews-only road’, he replied. I inquired as to where was the sign indicating this fact and instructing [other] drivers not to use it. His answer was nothing short of amazing. ‘It is his responsibility to know it, and besides, what do you want us to do, put up a sign here and let some antisemitic reporter or journalist take a photo so he that [sic] can show the world that Apartheid exists here?’…
“Indeed Apartheid does exist here.”
—“Yes, There is Apartheid in Israel,” CounterPunch, 8 January 2007
Aloni is of course dismissed by Zionists as a “self-hating” Jew, but this smear (and its equivalent—“anti-Semitic”) to describe those who object to Israeli crimes is increasingly losing impact. The ritual incantations—that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East,” that it possesses “the most moral army in the world,” etc.—become more ludicrous with each atrocity.
Norman Finkelstein’s defense of Palestinian rights and his exposure of what he terms the “Holocaust Industry” have always been particularly galling to America’s powerful “Israel Lobby.” In an outrageous act of academic censorship, Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in 2007 after arch-Zionist Alan Dershowitz orchestrated a grotesque slander campaign against him. But such desperate measures have failed to reverse the shift in popular opinion, as Finkelstein himself recently observed in an interview:
“If you are, as I am quite frequently, speaking at college campuses in the United States, it’s quite clear that support among Jews for Israel has dried up.
. . .
“You’ll find there is a handful of people that you might call the Hillel faithful, who will still have some public events in support of Israel, but barely anybody shows up for them, and when critics of Israeli policy speak, the ‘Hillel faithful’ no longer really show up to protest, to demonstrate, to shout down, to hand out leaflets, because they realize how isolated they are.”
—“It Wasn’t a War,” ZNet, 5 August 2010
Peter Beinart, former editor of the New Republic, a journal well known as an apologist for Israeli crimes, offended many of his erstwhile allies when he observed that in the U.S. today there is “an American Zionist movement that does not even feign concern for Palestinian dignity and a broader American Jewish population that does not even feign concern for Israel.” Beinart blamed the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its ilk, for whom “the Holocaust analogies never stop, and their message is always the same: Jews are licensed by their victimhood to worry only about themselves.” He also observed that rather than checking their liberalism at Zionism’s door, “many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead” (New York Review of Books, 10 June 2010).
However, the traffic has not been entirely one way. In “The Lede,” a New York Times blog, Robert Mackey reports that some leading figures in the European far right are lining up in support of Israel:
“Geert Wilders, whose anti-immigrant party supports the government of the Netherlands, said in a speech this month in Tel Aviv, ‘Jews need to settle Judea and Samaria,’ using the ancient Hebrew name for the West Bank. He added, ‘Without Judea and Samaria, Israel cannot protect Jerusalem.’
“Mr. Wilders told Reuters, ‘Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism and [the Israelis] are fighting our fight.’ He added, ‘If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.’
“During his trip to Israel, Mr. Wilders also met with Israel’s most prominent settler, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as Radio Netherlands reported.
“The day after Mr. Wilders spoke in Tel Aviv, a delegation of anti-immigrant politicians from Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Britain and Sweden toured West Bank settlements. Arutz Sheva, a settler news organization, observed: ‘Sixty-five years after the defeat of the Third Reich, a senior delegation of European right-wing politicians toured Samaria Monday in support of the Jews who live there, whom they see as a bridgehead in the struggle against a common foe—Islamic jihadism and expansionism.’”
. . .
“The settler spokesman David Ha’ivri, who helped host the European delegation, told Arutz Sheva: ‘If these European leaders—with their ties to anti-Semitic groups and their past—come around and declare that Israel has a right to exist securely in all of the areas under our control, and that Europe has a moral responsibility because of the crimes of their past, then I believe that we should accept their friendship.’ Calling their statements of support for the settlements, ‘the strongest possible tool in the war against anti-Semitism,’ Mr. Ha’ivri added:“‘No skinhead cares what [Anti-Defamation League Chairman] Abe Foxman has to say, but if Filip Dewinter and Heinz-Christian Strache make these statements they will have real impact. For that reason I am considering appearing with them in their countries for pro-Israel rallies.’”
One important factor in Israel’s diminishing popular support is its brutality toward the residents of the tiny Gaza Strip. The international wave of mass protests that began in December 2008 when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched “Operation Cast Lead,” a 22-day assault against Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants, reflected widespread revulsion at Zionist bullying and relentless cruelty. Gazans had already been under siege since 2006 after displeasing the Israelis and their U.S. sponsors by voting for the Islamist organization Hamas. The response of Tel Aviv, in the words of Israeli government advisor Dov Weisglass, was to “put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger” (Observer [London], 16 April 2006). With help from its imperialist patrons and the Mubarak regime in Egypt, Israel imposed a full blockade on this tiny sliver of land, halting all exports and most imports. While Israel claimed to permit “basic humanitarian supplies” to enter the territory, this apparently did not include pasta, light bulbs, shoes or blankets.
Documents obtained by the Israeli human rights group Gisha revealed the equations used by the Israeli government to calculate the amount of food, fuel and other supplies necessary to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This is eerily reminiscent of the Nazi blockade of the Warsaw Ghetto, where occupation authorities also calculated the minimal nutritional requirements of their victims. Not a single mainstream bourgeois English-language news source reported Gisha’s sensational revelations (see “Put the Palestinians on a Diet,” MediaLens.org, 17 November 2010).
Cut off from the outside world, Hamas was incapable of meaningful armed resistance, and could only resort to occasionally launching crude homemade rockets into adjacent Israeli territory. Compared to the pain inflicted on Gaza, Israel suffered minimal casualties: a total of 16 Israelis (all, unfortunately, civilians) were killed between 2004 and the start of “Operation Cast Lead” (Economist, 19 September 2009). Tel Aviv had fully anticipated such attacks prior to unilaterally pulling out of Gaza in 2005. In a 20 May 2004 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Arnon Soffer, the architect of the withdrawal plan, suggested that the problem could be managed by inflicting collective punishment on Gaza’s population:
“the Palestinians will bombard us with artillery fire—and we will have to retaliate. But at least the war will be at the fence—not in kindergartens in Tel Aviv and Haifa.
“…we will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed and houses will be destroyed….
“…The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”
—quoted in “The Carnivores and the Ivy League Apologist,” CounterPunch, 9 December 2004
In March 2008, Israel’s deputy defense minister, Matan Vilnai, warned that the Palestinians faced a “holocaust” if homemade rockets continued to land in Israel (Guardian [London], 5 March 2008). Hamas observed a ceasefire for several months in an attempt to induce Israel to gradually lift the blockade. But the siege continued unabated, and when the ceasefire ended on 4 November 2008, the resumption of rocket attacks was seized on by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the pretext for a policy of “kill and kill and kill.” “Operation Cast Lead” was not a “war” but a one-sided blitzkrieg against an impoverished and essentially defenseless population. As the Economist (10 January 2009) observed: “Gazans have long felt they lived in an open prison; now they are trapped in a shooting gallery.” Civilian ministries, food-processing factories, sewage treatment plants and electricity stations were all targeted for destruction. The IDF finally ended its murderous vendetta in January 2009, after killing 1,400 Palestinians (40 percent of whom were women and children). Of the 10 Israeli soldiers who were killed, at least four were felled by “friendly fire.”
Despite the ferocity of the assault, Hamas was not destroyed, so the blockade was further tightened, making everyday life for average Palestinians in Gaza even worse. Unemployment stands at almost 40 percent, and 80 percent of Gaza’s residents are dependent on food aid for survival (Independent [London], 10 October 2010). Most of this aid is distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), while other agencies avoid Gaza because U.S. law makes it a crime to provide money, material goods, training or services to individuals or groups that are in any way affiliated with Hamas. Since Hamas is the actual civil authority in Gaza and the chief source of employment, this makes providing assistance almost impossible. Moreover, serious tensions exist between UNRWA and Hamas, largely because of UN complicity in Israeli crimes.
In May 2010, when the local director of UNRWA, John Ging, welcomed the flotilla of nine boats from Ireland, Turkey and Greece that sought to break the siege, he was partly motivated by what the Economist (29 May 2010) termed a desire “to preserve his beachhead of foreign influence.” Israel had previously permitted a flotilla to dock in Gaza in August 2008, so nothing unusual was expected.
This time, however, the Israeli leadership decided to punish those who dared demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians. Even before the flotilla departed, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, ludicrously insisted that “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” and denounced the aid shipment as a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel.” When IDF commandos executed nine activists aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara while it was still in international waters, outraging tens of millions around the world, Ayalon brazenly defended this hideous crime and cynically denounced the flotilla as an “armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organisation” (Le Monde diplomatique [English], July 2010).
However, statements from those who witnessed the horror revealed what really happened:
“Greta Berlin, a representative of the Free Gaza Movement, said that she and her fellow activists were watching the live stream from the Mavi Marmara when the assault took place. ‘We saw them come off the helicopter, we saw them turn around, look at each other and then shoot. We were speechless watching this,’ she said.
“Hanin Zoabi, an Arab-Israeli member of the Israeli parliament, was aboard the Mavi Marmara. [She] said: ‘It was clear from the size of the force that boarded the ship that the purpose was not only to stop this [voyage] but to cause the largest possible number of fatalities in order to stop such initiatives in the future.’”
—Financial Times [London], 1 June 2010
Protests against the Zionists’ piratical assault were even more massive than those of a year and a half earlier, particularly in Turkey. Israel has long cultivated extremely close relations with Turkey, involving joint military exercises and extensive arms sales. Israel’s bombing of an alleged Syrian “nuclear reactor” in 2006 was approved by both Washington and Ankara. While constantly invoking the Nazi holocaust against European Jewry to justify Zionist crimes, Israel has cynically refused to acknowledge the Turkish genocide of Armenians during World War I.
As Washington’s attempt to turn Iraq and Afghanistan into stable client states floundered, the Turkish bourgeoisie (which was a reliable U.S. vassal throughout the Cold War and still hosts an important American airbase at Incirlik) has sought to chart a more independent course in the region. On the eve of the flotilla assault, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced that, with the help of Brazil, it had hammered out an agreement to restrict Iran’s enrichment of uranium. The Obama administration welcomed this initiative at first, presumably anticipating an Iranian rejection, but became incensed when Tehran responded positively. The U.S. not only moved to block implementation of the deal, but also pushed for a new round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. This, along with popular outrage at the flotilla massacre, pushed the AKP into hardening its stance toward Israel and moving closer to Iran and Syria.
America’s imperial strategists are concerned that the rupture of the Ankara-Tel Aviv axis represents another blow to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. Anthony Cordesman, a well-connected military analyst in Washington who vocally supported the IDF’s 2008-09 rampage in Gaza, commented that Israel’s disregard for the geopolitical implications of its attack on the flotilla posed the question of whether it was becoming a “strategic liability” for its patron: “It is time Israel realized it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test [sic] the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews” (“Israel as a Strategic Liability?,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2 June 2010).
It is not only the egregious actions of Tel Aviv that have put Zionists on the defensive. The energetic campaign of a new generation of Palestinian solidarity activists and the burgeoning “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement (see accompanying article), which took off in 2005, has also had a significant impact. By focusing attention on the indisputable parallels between apartheid in South Africa and Israel, the BDS campaign has embarrassed and enraged the Israeli establishment and its apologists.
In a diatribe against pro-Palestinian activists, the ardently Zionist Anti-Defamation League (ADL) whines: “affirmation that Israel practices apartheid defies logic and poses a basic question: Why, out of all the countries in the world in which national, religious or ethnic minorities claim discrimination, is Israel selected for the apartheid label?” (“Israel and Apartheid: The Big Lie,” 29 August 2005).
In Afrikaans, “apartheid” means “apart-ness” or “separate-ness”—a translation that literally renders Israel’s “separation fence” an “apartheid fence” (or Apartheid Wall, as Palestinian activists more aptly call it). In 1973, the United Nations defined apartheid as: “Any legislative measures or other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups.” An apartheid regime was defined as one which denies a particular group “the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (www.un.org/Depts/dhl/resguide/resins.htm).
Apartheid South Africa’s white rulers actively sought to emulate Israeli methods of control in the Occupied Territories:
“South Africa’s army chief, Constand Viljoen, visited Israel’s occupied territories in the spring of 1977, marveling at the Israeli checkpoint system and the searches of Arabs conducted by soldiers at each roadblock. ‘The thoroughness with which Israel conducts this examination is astonishing. At the quickest, it takes individual Arabs that come through there about one and a half hours. When the traffic is heavy, it takes from four to five hours,’ he observed admiringly. In addition to studying how Israel controlled the movement of Palestinians, the SADF [South African Defence Force] was also interested in Israel’s battlefield training methods and sent twenty-two members of the army to Israel to study the IDF’s combat school with the goal of establishing a replica in South Africa.” —Sasha Polakow-Suransky, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, 2010
Collaboration between apartheid South Africa and Israel extended far beyond population control techniques, as Polakow-Suransky documents. In 1975, then-Israeli defense minister (and current Israeli president), Shimon Peres, offered to sell South Africa nuclear missiles:
“On March 31, 1975…the Israeli delegation formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal—the same missiles that were readied for use during the Yom Kippur War. South Africa’s leaders yearned for a nuclear deterrent—which they believed would force the West to intervene on their behalf if Pretoria were ever seriously threatened—and the Israeli proposition put that goal within reach. Excited by the offer on the table, R. F. Armstrong, chief of staff of the South African Defence Force (SADF), wrote an enthusiastic memo analyzing the benefits of nuclear weapons for South Africa’s defense strategy.”
. . .
“Israel’s offer of nuclear missiles, code-named ‘Chalet,’ came up again two months later, on June 4, when Peres and [then South African defense minister, P. W.] Botha held a second meeting in Zurich. Now the discussion turned to warheads. Minutes from the June meeting reveal that Botha expressed interest in buying the Jerichos if they came with ‘the correct payload,’ and that ‘Minister Peres said that the correct payload was available in three sizes.’ Armstrong’s exclusive focus on nuclear-armed Jerichos in his March 31 memorandum makes clear that Botha was talking about nuclear warheads when he asked for ‘the correct payload.’ Eventually Botha backed out of the deal—due to its high costs and the fact that planning for nuclear weapons in South Africa was only in its early stages—and the nuclear transfer never occurred. The abortive deal in 1975 was only the beginning of Israeli-South African cooperation on nuclear missile technology, however: a decade later, the two countries would begin work on a secret testing range along South Africa’s rugged Indian Ocean coast.
“Nuclear missiles notwithstanding, the Israelis were extremely eager to sell anything and everything to Pretoria, including weapons from third parties. South Africa conveniently used Israel as an intermediary to buy arms from countries off limits to them because of embargoes.”
Secret collaboration on nuclear weaponry continued until at least 1989, two years after Tel Aviv had ostensibly imposed military “sanctions” on Pretoria.
Zionists in the United States were acutely aware of the South Africa-Israel axis. In the 1980s, ADL chief Irwin Suall turned his organization into a vigorous opponent of the anti-apartheid movement:
“[Suall] believed that the greatest threat to Israel emanated from the Soviet Union and the American left. As a result, Suall’s fact-finding department shifted its focus from white supremacists and Aryan nationalists to every imaginable left-leaning organization in the country—from pro-Nicaraguan Sandinista groups to the anti-apartheid movement. Suall’s ace fact-finder was a man named Roy Bullock.”
. . .
“As the anti-apartheid campaign turned its attention to Israel’s links with South Africa, the ADL entered the propaganda fray, publicly attacking Nelson Mandela’s ANC [African National Congress] with arguments that mirrored those of the hard-line security officials in Pretoria. In May 1986, ADL national director Nathan Perlmutter co-authored an article arguing, ‘We must distinguish between those who will work for a humane, democratic, pro-Western South Africa and those who are totalitarian, anti-humane, anti-democratic, anti-Israel and anti-American. It is in this context that the African National Congress…merits a close, unsentimental look.’
“The ADL also became involved in the Israeli-South African propaganda war in a more covert manner, dispatching Bullock to attend the meetings of U.S.-based anti-apartheid groups, collect their publications, and take down the license plate numbers of leaders’ cars—including visitors such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani.”
In addition to his work for the ADL, Bullock also filed several reports every month for South African intelligence.
The existence of Israeli apartheid in the Occupied Territories is so obvious that it is acknowledged by various mainstream liberals, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and John Dugard, the special rapporteur for the UN Commission on Human Rights. After the 2008-09 Gaza massacre, South African parliamentarians told the Israeli ambassador that IDF abuses “made [South African] apartheid look like a Sunday school picnic” (Le Monde diplomatique [English], August 2009). Comments on the issue by Condoleezza Rice—who aided and abetted Israeli and U.S. imperialist war crimes as a member of the Bush administration—infuriated many American rightwingers:
“And for the past year and a half, Rice has repeatedly undermined the administration’s credibility by making statements suggesting that Israeli security checkpoints set up to prevent terrorists from entering Israel and blowing themselves up are somehow analogous to the mistreatment of Southern blacks under the Jim Crow laws.”
—Joel Himelfarb, Accuracy in Media, 31 March 2008
It is important to note, however, that these bourgeois worthies all carefully restrict their criticism to the IDF-ruled Occupied Territories, as distinct from “democratic” Israel proper. This echoes the well-rehearsed Zionist claim that while 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation may endure certain inequalities, Israel’s 1.3 million Arabs are “equal citizens.” Apartheid within Israel is less obvious partly because it is more long-standing and well entrenched, as Jonathan Cook, a leftwing British journalist based in Nazareth, observed in a talk he delivered in the West Bank village of Bilin:
“Certainly, it is true that apartheid in the territories is much more aggressive than it is inside Israel. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the apartheid under occupation is much less closely supervised by the Israeli civilian courts than it is in Israel. You can, to put it bluntly, get away with much more here. The second, and more significant, reason, however, is that the Israeli system of apartheid in the occupied territories is forced to be more aggressive and cruel—and that is because the battle is not yet won here. The fight of the occupying power to steal your resources—your land, water and labour—is in progress but the outcome is still to be decided….
“In Israel, by contrast, apartheid rule is entrenched—it achieved its victory decades ago. Palestinian citizens have third or fourth class citizenship; they have had almost all of their land taken from them; they are allowed to live only in their ghettoes; their education system is controlled by the security services; they can work in few jobs other than those Jews do not want; they have the vote but cannot participate in government or effect any political change; and so on.”
—“Israel’s Big and Small Apartheids,” CounterPunch, 26 April 2010
The 8 November 2010 New Statesman notes: “The Mos-sawa Centre, an organisation that lobbies for equal rights in Israel, maintains that there are at least 20 laws that discriminate against Israeli Arabs. The US state department accepts that ‘institutional, legal and societal discrimination’ exists.” As a result, Israeli Arabs, who constitute 20 percent of the population, occupy only 3 percent of the land. Israel was consolidated in the late 1940s through a process of ethnic cleansing and war with surrounding Arab states. Ninety percent of the land owned by 750,000 Palestinian refugees was confiscated under the so-called “Absentees’ Property Law,” as was much of the land owned by the 180,000 Palestinians who remained within Israel. Access to this nationalized land requires vetting by quasi-governmental organizations like the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund, which ensure that the land is held in trust for world Jewry (i.e., off limits to Arab “citizens”). In “democratic” Israel more than 700 communities (rural kibbutzim and suburban moshavim) bar non-Jews from residence (Canadian Press, 26 April 2010). As most Israelis prefer to live in larger urban centers like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the chief purpose of the majority of these sparsely populated outposts is to stake an administrative claim to most of the inhabitable land and resources.
Land confiscations within Israel continue to this day, with government agencies routinely declaring Arab villages “illegal” before razing them to the ground. A stark example of this is the plight of the growing Bedouin population in the arid Negev desert, most of whom live in “unrecognized villages” deprived of all services, including water and electricity. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly warned his cabinet last year that “different elements will demand national rights within Israel—for example, in the Negev—if we allow for a region without a Jewish majority” (“Israel plans mass forced removals of Bedouin,” ZNet, 6 August 2010). In the Bedouin village of al Araqib the houses—mostly wooden shacks and concrete homes—were knocked down twice, first by bulldozers and later by 1,500 police. After uprooting 850 olive trees, the Zionist authorities designated the land of al Araqib a “peace forest” to be administered by the Jewish National Fund. The government’s objective is to force the Bedouin into seven deprived townships, but so far 90,000 of them (half the total) have resisted pressure to move.
Similar “Judaization” campaigns are underway both in the heavily-Arab region of Galilee and various urban centers. The Israeli cabinet has proposed “strengthening” Lod (a city near Tel Aviv populated by 20,000 Arabs and 45,000 Jews) by increasing its Jewish population while harassing Arab residents. Seventy percent of Arab homes have been declared “illegal,” not only posing the potential danger of demolition, but also ensuring that they are deprived of many municipal services, including street lighting and garbage removal (Economist, 16 October 2010). Local authorities also recently finished constructing a three-meter high wall to separate Jewish districts from Arab ones. Lod’s Arab suburbs are cordoned off to prevent their growth, while no comparable restrictions apply to Jewish expansion. Several gated estates reserved for religious Zionists have recently been built across the city. In Safed, a city in northern Israel, residents have been barred from renting rooms to Israeli Arabs—even though 1,350 Arabs are enrolled at a nearby college. A courageous 89-year-old Holocaust survivor defied this ruling, only to be threatened with having his house set on fire and declared a traitor for “returning the Arabs to Safed” (Independent [London], 15 November 2010).
State-sanctioned discrimination means reduced access to jobs and social services for Israeli Arabs. Per capita spending on education is as much as nine times greater for Jewish students than for Arabs, and there are no state-funded Arabic-language universities (ZNet, 9 September 2009). Employment discrimination, particularly for better paying jobs, accounts for the fact that the average per capita income of Israeli Arabs in 2009 was roughly a third of that of Jewish Israelis—$6,756 and $19,150 respectively (“Israel’s Domestic Ticking Time Bomb,” Middle East Monitor, June 2010). Arabs comprise less than 10 percent of government employees, a figure likely to decline further if recent proposals to give preference to IDF veterans are implemented. Social mobility is further constrained by reactionary laws which prohibit all Israelis from marrying outside their respective religious group, or with Arabs living in the Occupied Territories or “enemy Arab states.”
While Arabs are allowed to vote, establish political parties and become members of the Knesset (MKs), the Israeli parliament, these rights are limited by the fundamental framework of the Zionist state, which is based on the negation of Palestinian national rights. Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaimed it a “Jewish and democratic” state. In 2007, the Israeli Arab MK Azmi Bishara was stripped of his parliamentary immunity for advocating a non-racial democracy and defending the right of Palestinians and Lebanese to resist Zionist aggression. Three Arab parties were banned from running in the February 2009 elections because they had opposed the assault on Gaza (ZNet, 14 January 2009). The Knesset recently voted to strip the parliamentary privileges of Hanin Zoabi, the Israeli Arab MK who participated in the May 2010 flotilla and told the truth about the bloodbath she witnessed. Zoabi was viciously harassed by her “peers” and denied the right to leave the country or hold a diplomatic passport (“Israel’s Shrinking Minority Rights,” Foreign Policy in Focus, 4 November 2010).
The current Israeli coalition government has taken reactionary anti-Arab and anti-democratic legislation to new depths. One Israeli Arab MK commented: “In this Knesset…anything that’s anti-Arab can pass, even if it says the sun rises in the west” (Economist, 30 May 2009). The most notorious example is the so-called “loyalty oath” bill requiring new citizens to pledge allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic” Israel. In addition to denying Palestinian refugees any right of return, the legislation sets the stage for a “transfer” (i.e., ethnic cleansing) of Israeli Arabs—a policy associated with Avigdor Lieberman’s fascistic Yisrael Beitenu party and the ultra right, but which even “left” Zionists hold to be potentially necessary. In October, Israeli security forces staged a massive, five-day “training” drill simulating the forcible relocation of Israeli Arabs to a new Palestinian “state” (“Israeli Forces Test Transfer Scenario,” ZNet, 15 October 2010).
The underlying connection between apartheid practices within the Green Line (the pre-1967 border) and those in the Occupied Territories is evident in Israel’s two-tier nationality and citizenship laws. Most states make no distinction between citizenship and nationality—someone who is a citizen is also a national. The Zionist ruling class does not recognize “Israeli” as a nationality so that, in fulfillment of its self-definition as the “Jewish state,” the collective “nation” of Jews around the globe have rights that supersede those of people whose families have resided within Israel’s borders for centuries. This is accomplished by creating two categories of citizenship: one for “Jewish nationals” and another of lesser status for “Arab nationals.”
The Law of Return makes immigration all but automatic for any Jew around the world who wishes it (although devising criteria to distinguish members of the “Jewish nation” has proven extremely difficult, and the definition has undergone numerous revisions throughout Israel’s history). The Citizenship Law, for non-Jews, decrees that Palestinians expelled by force in 1948 have no right to return to their homes and land. These legal distinctions underlie the practices of apartheid and are both integral to the foundation of the Zionist state and essential to its maintenance. The myth of a global “Jewish nation” and the negation of rights for the Palestinians are two sides of the same Zionist coin.
The uncomfortable parallels with South Africa have, on occasion, been mentioned by leading Israeli politicians. In a 2003 interview with Haaretz, Olmert (then deputy prime minister) observed:
“More and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against ‘occupation,’ in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle—and ultimately a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state.”
—13 November 2003
Four years later Olmert warned: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished” (Haaretz, 29 November 2007). Defense Minister Ehud Barak offered an even blunter assessment: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic.…If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state” (Guardian [London], 3 February 2010).
Such statements, while accurate, do not signal any openness on the part of Israel’s rulers to recognize the national rights of the Palestinians. For them the “two-state solution” formula negotiated by Rabin and Fatah’s Yasir Arafat in the 1993 Oslo Accords was never more than an agreement that the Palestinian Authority would police Gaza and the 20 percent of the West Bank in “Area A,” leaving Israel in charge of the rest of the territory of the West Bank (“Areas B and C”). “Final status” negotiations were deliberately dragged out by an endless series of new Zionist demands and provocations, most recently Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state.
Since 1993 the Jewish settler population has more than doubled, reaching 300,000 in the West Bank and nearly 200,000 in East Jerusalem (Economist, 26 September 2009). A Zionist settler, reflecting the ambition of Israeli state policy, commented: “What Arab East Jerusalem?...Today it’s all Jewish” (Economist, 6 March 2010). About 270,000 Arabs remain in East Jerusalem, but the district is becoming less Palestinian every day. The Wall has separated it from other West Bank cities, and citizenship papers for Arabs are regularly revoked: “Israel, since occupying [East Jerusalem] in 1967, has stripped more than 14,000 native Palestinians of their residency rights, including a good 5,000 in the past two years” (Economist, 14 August 2010). Today, the settlements, attendant infrastructure and Jewish-only connecting roads cover an estimated 42 percent of the West Bank.
The cumulative effect, as Jeff Halper points out, is to pre-empt any possibility of even a marginally viable Palestinian “state”:
“Israel’s concentration of settlers in strategic blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank destroy any Palestinian territorial contiguity, and do so even if Israel removes the dozens of tiny settlements within the densely populated Palestinian ‘cantons.’ Those settlement blocs have already been incorporated into Israel proper through the construction of some twenty-nine major Israeli highways, meaning that Israel has expanded organically from the 1967 Green Line to the border with Jordan. Even if the Separation Barrier is dismantled, the entire country has been fundamentally reconfigured; there is simply no more room for a coherent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state.”
—“Breaking the Vessels,” MRZine, 19 November 2009
This voracious settlement building is integral to the Zionist drive for Lebensraum and the creation of a “Greater Israel.” In carving up the West Bank into a series of small, impoverished and disconnected cantons, Zionist planners made sure that Palestinians were deprived of the richest agricultural land, natural resources and water. The hilltop settlements scattered across the rural West Bank constitute an auxiliary military force—armed and sanctioned by the state—which routinely engages in the harassment, brutalization and dispossession of Palestinians. The Israeli ministry of agriculture reports that some 500,000 Palestinian-owned olive trees have been bulldozed, burned down or uprooted since 2000 (Economist, 17 October 2009). Many Palestinian farmers actually live in their orchards or among their herds of sheep to prevent settlers from seizing them. Three-quarters of the output of West Bank quarries is controlled by Israel (ZNet, 11 May 2009), as is 89 percent of its water resources (CounterPunch, 15 October 2010).
The fertile farmland, abundant raw materials and strategic mountain water aquifer of the Jordan Valley, an area that constitutes 30 percent of the West Bank, are deemed vital for Israeli capitalism. Netanyahu’s recent assertion that “Israel will never cede the Jordan valley” (Economist, 27 November 2010) is explained by the following comment made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001: “Is it possible today to concede control of the hill aquifer, which supplies a third of our water?...you know, it’s not by accident that the settlements are located where they are” (Jamil Hilal [ed.], Where Now for Palestine? The Demise of the Two State Solution). After almost a half century of Israeli occupation, the Palestinian population of the Jordan Valley has shrunk from over 200,000 to fewer than 60,000. Many of those who remain have fled to the town of Jericho because Zionist intimidation has made it impossible to eke out a living in the rural areas. In 2010, the Israeli army posted “danger” signs in front of the camps of Jordan Valley Bedouin, who lacked residency permits, declaring the area a military firing zone (Economist, 27 November 2010).
Some 9,000 settlers claim jurisdiction over 90 percent of the valley, and, backed by the IDF, use their control of water resources to pressure what remains of the indigenous population. Without sufficient water, Palestinian farmers’ land is scorched, its meager produce uncompetitive. Since 1967, Palestinians have been forbidden from drilling new wells, while Jewish settlers are free to drill as many as they like, thereby diverting water from the mountain aquifer to feed their own agro-export plantations (Irish Times, 1 October 2010).
In other areas of the West Bank, particularly those cut off by the Wall or adjacent to the Green Line, settlements are not constructed as scattered militarized outposts, but rather as massive urban blocs largely populated by recent Russian Jewish immigrants. This land has also been expropriated from its Palestinian owners; but unlike in other areas of the West Bank, the agency formally in charge of land transfer, the Land Redemption Fund, has major investments from big Israeli capitalists looking for high returns (New Left Review, July-August 2006). Hundreds of Israeli enterprises do a brisk business in providing goods and services to the settlements. Those that have set up production in the various “industrial zones” benefit from cheap (expropriated) land, tax perks and weak labor law enforcement. Increasingly, Israeli-owned enterprises in the West Bank are hiring only Jewish labor. The occupation has also provided considerable impetus for Israel’s highly profitable arms and “homeland security” industries, which form the bedrock of the country’s ballyhooed high-tech sector. In 2006, Israel’s military exports reached a value of $3.4 billion, the fourth highest in the world (ZNet, 29 September 2010).
The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank has been grotesquely complicit in the occupation. When the Oslo agreement was signed in 1993, Fatah (the most significant component of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO]) was widely disdained by many working-class Palestinians who had made heroic sacrifices and suffered brutal Israeli repression, only to see their supposed PLO “liberators” arrive from Tunis to set themselves up with villas and black sedans. The noxious mixture of corruption, profiteering, repression and collusion which characterized this period was personified by two of the most senior members of Fatah: Muhammad Dahlan, who ran the reviled Preventive Security Force in Gaza; and former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, whose family business raked in profits by selling Israel the cement used to build the Apartheid Wall (Economist, 15 March 2009). When Fatah lost the 2006 Palestinian elections to Hamas, its attempt to overturn the result (with the support of U.S. and Israeli authorities) set off a small-scale civil war in the summer of 2007 that resulted in the eviction of Fatah from Gaza.
Today, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rules a fifth of the West Bank (“Area A”) essentially by decree, exercised through an appointed “emergency government” headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Although Fayyad’s party won only 2 of 132 seats in the 2006 election (Economist, 14 August 2010), his extensive background working for the IMF and World Bank qualified him as the best figure to ensure a “stable” West Bank (i.e., heavily policed and open for business). The American military (with the assistance of Canadian, British and Turkish personnel) has trained tens of thousands of new Palestinian security officers in Jordan. Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, who oversaw the project for the U.S., candidly described the plan to the House of Representatives as “truly important to advance our national interests, deliver security to Palestinians, and preserve and protect the interests of the state of Israel” (Al Jazeera [English], 8 February 2010). One of the primary ways that this new force has sought to carry out its mandate is by keeping close tabs on all political activity and collaborating with Israeli forces in quelling protests against rampant land theft and settlement construction. Some 40 demonstrations occur weekly, mostly out of sight of the international media in the rural areas (Economist, 22 May 2010). Activists in Ramallah who attempted to protest the Zionist assault on Gaza were met with savage repression. Journalist Naela Khalil recounted:
“Every time people went to the Manara [Square] for a demonstration, security forces prevented them. They beat them and threw tear gas. Prevented people from going to the checkpoints. We are normal people and they came to beat us. These things slowly add up.”
—Le Monde diplomatique [English], April 2010
Despite this shameful record of collaboration, Israeli security forces do not entirely trust the quisling PA, and continue to routinely patrol the area around its headquarters in Ramallah (Economist, 22 May 2010).
The petty-bourgeois nationalists of the PLO have always advocated the creation of an independent capitalist Palestine and, since 1974, they have projected this as existing side by side with Zionist Israel. Lacking significant military capacity, the PLO leadership sought to achieve its objective through diplomatic maneuvers, initially with the Arab regimes, and subsequently with the United States and Israel. The destruction of the Soviet bloc in the early 1990s removed the PLO’s chief diplomatic and military ally, and left Arafat and his cabal to settle for a perspective of building an “independent” Palestine on whatever Bantustans the Zionists were willing to concede.
In 2007, Abbas and Fayyad imposed a series of austerity measures in the West Bank as part of a “Palestinian Reform and Development Plan” (PRDP). The PRDP was drawn up in collaboration with imperialist institutions like the World Bank and the British Department for International Development (DFID), which pledged to put $7.7 billion into a “PRDP Trust Fund” headquartered at the World Bank, to be disbursed if and when the plan was implemented. Aiming to foster an “enabling environment for the private sector” as the “engine of sustainable economic growth” (“Palestine in the Middle East: Opposing Neoliberalism and US Power,” MRZine, 19 July 2008), the PRDP has provided cover for one of the most savage attacks on the public sector ever witnessed in the Middle East. The PA committed to cut the state workforce by 21 percent—a total of almost 40,000 jobs—while freezing salaries at a time of double-digit inflation. These measures are particularly punitive because Israeli capitalists drastically reduced the number of Palestinian workers employed within the Green Line after the first and second intifadas. Millions more Palestinians have been affected by the removal of subsidies for electricity and water, a matter of life and death for the 50 percent of West Bank Palestinians who live in poverty.
Palestinian workers have sought to resist the PRDP attacks. On 5 December 2008, public-sector workers launch-ed a strike and demanded an end to the wage freeze and cuts in subsidies. The strike achieved little, however, in part because of the union leadership’s political subservience to Fatah. A similar problem undermined a major Palestinian labor action a decade ago when teachers fought for higher wages. The leadership of that strike, which bypassed the traditional Fatah-allied union structure, faced severe repression, and dozens of teachers were arrested. Strike action continued intermittently until the onset of the second intifada in 2000 created so much political pressure for “national unity” that the teachers returned to work (Ibid.).
According to PRDP planners, gutting the public service and lowering living standards by slashing subsidies will kick start “development” by swelling the ranks of unemployed Palestinian workers who will then find jobs in the new industrial zones and parks that are expected to spring up on the edges of Palestinian cantons. The idea is that Palestinian, Israeli and other Mid-Eastern capitalists can hire workers at low wages without having to worry about labor laws, environmental regulations or safety standards. Despite its connection to Fatah, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) has not been granted the right to represent workers in the industrial zones. Movement in and out is to be jointly controlled by Israeli and PA security forces. In May 2008, a “Palestine Investment Conference” was attended by over 1,000 delegates, including Abbas, Fayyad and other PA bigwigs, wealthy expatriate Palestinians from Europe and North America as well as Arab capitalists. The conference was sponsored by Palestinian business groups from the West Bank and Gaza (including the Arab Bank and Bank of Palestine), foreign corporations (CISCO, Intel, Coca Cola and others) and imperialist agencies (USAID, the British DFID and the French Development Agency). Israeli capitalists were also quietly encouraged to attend.
The process of laying the groundwork for developing a capitalist Palestinian quasi-statelet necessarily legitimizes and normalizes the structures of occupation. The land on which the projected Jenin Industrial Estate (JIE) is to be built was twice confiscated—first from Palestinian farmers in 1998, when the PA initiated the project, and again in 2000, by the Israeli military to build their Apartheid Wall (which is to form the estate’s northern border). Another element in the plans for an “independent” capitalist Palestine is the grotesquely misnamed “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity,” a project for an agro-industrial “free trade” zone in the Jordan Valley, premised on acceptance of the wholesale appropriation of resources, water and land that has already occurred. This program aims to convert remaining small-scale Palestinian farmers into day-laborers and subcontractors for agro-business.
Given the very bitter fruit of previous “liberation” struggles and the ugly realities of the quisling PA’s ambitions to administer a future splintered Bantustan on behalf of the Zionist oppressors, it is hardly surprising that many Palestinians are exhausted, demoralized and infuriated. Even within Fatah there is enormous anger at the current predicament. When a delegate from Jenin who attended the PLO’s sixth “general assembly” in 2009 (the first in 20 years) commented that negotiations had led nowhere and proposed, “We must go back to the guns and throwing stones,” the PA’s ambassador to Japan responded: “Resistance has many forms and colours. One is economic development, which I believe is the only way” (Economist, 8 August 2009).
Many working-class Palestinians are dismayed by the prospect of “economic development” under continued Israeli occupation that will serve to enrich a thin stratum of Palestinian capitalists. In Qalandia, an impoverished refugee camp near Ramallah, one family expressed their predicament to a visiting reporter:
“[Muhammad Abdullah Ahmad] Wahdan long ago dismissed the dream that the PA could help him recover the lands of citrus and olives that his family were driven from during the creation of Israel 6 decades ago. Now, after losing a son to the struggle…he is wary of any more sacrifice for the Palestinian leadership. As she served us refreshments, Wahdan’s wife said that these are the people who ‘put our kids under the cannon fire.’
“Wahdan said: ‘This particular class of the bourgeoisie exploited the people who fought the struggle. We did this for their benefit. They were the ones who got something out of it.’ Wahdan’s 15-year-old grandson Anas, sitting under a large portrait of his martyred uncle, added: ‘They wanted us, with no weapons, to [make the] sacrifice. Their kids have cars and villas, they own phone companies. There’s no equality between someone like that and someone like me, who lives in a house that’s falling apart, and whose father may or may not have enough money to bring bread or have clothes.’
“And if he and his friends should voice their displeasure? ‘We’ll be told, “Well, you’re just refugee camp kids,”’ said Anas’s friend Munir….Refugee-camp teenagers like these once fuelled the resistance to occupation. Not now, said Munir: ‘All that anger has been absorbed by depression.’ Perhaps some day, that anger will again rises [sic]. But for now, said Anas: ‘People say “I’m exhausted, and rocks will not liberate me.”’”
—Le Monde diplomatique [English], April 2010
The complete political bankruptcy of the PA’s petty-bourgeois nationalist leadership was dramatically illustrated by its attitude to the Goldstone Report on the Gaza assault commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council. Despite being an avowed Zionist, South African jurist Richard Goldstone delivered a clear indictment of numerous Israeli war crimes. Yet Abbas and the PA did not seek to press the UN Security Council to act on the report because they did not want to make trouble for the Obama administration. Ali Abunimah, the well-informed co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, has suggested that a more important factor may have been Abbas’ business interests (“Abbas helps Israel bury its crimes in Gaza,” ZNet, 2 October 2009). Telephone companies have long provided senior PA leaders with substantial revenue streams. When the report was released, Wataniya Mobile—a joint venture between Gulf investors and the Palestinian Investment Fund, which is closely associated with Abbas’ son—had already applied for control of a new share of the radio spectrum. The Israeli authorities apparently indicated that the application would be approved if the PA abandoned efforts to advance the report (Independent [London], 1 October 2009).
Despite everything, Palestinians in the West Bank continue to courageously defy settlers, the IDF and the Palestinian security service on a daily basis. Tel Aviv, Washington and Ramallah are all concerned that, if the population is pressed too hard, the situation could spin out of control and potentially destabilize the entire region. Washington’s foreign policy establishment worries that Israeli intransigence could soon extinguish all illusions in any possibility of an eventual “two-state” solution, a development that could have negative repercussions for American hegemony in the Middle East. U.S. Lieutenant General Dayton has warned that the loyalty of the PA security forces—the supposed nucleus of the military apparatus of a future Palestinian state—cannot be taken for granted: “There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you’re creating a state, when you’re not” (Le Monde diplomatique [English], April 2010). Many Palestinians have, of course, already lost faith in the PA leadership and its plans. After the murderous Israeli intervention in Gaza, the mouthpiece of British finance capital reported:
“Over the past year, scores of Palestinian intellectuals and analysts have been writing about the demise of the two-state solution—and a raft of opinion polls last year showed that more and more Palestinians were calling for a single, binational state shared by Israelis and Palestinians, a concept that is vehemently opposed by Israel.”
—Financial Times, 21 January 2009
The publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy in 2007 represented the increasing influence of “realists” relative to liberal and neo-conservative Zionists within American foreign policy circles. (For a Marxist assessment of the “Israel Lobby,” see “Imperialism, Zionism & the Middle East,” 1917 No.29, 2007.) The occasional public expression of frustration with Israeli policy by senior American government and military figures reflects growing tension between Washington and Tel Aviv. When Netanyahu ostentatiously announced the construction of 1,600 more Jewish homes in East Jerusalem on the eve of a visit by Joseph Biden in March 2010, the U.S. vice president complained: “This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace” (Guardian [London], 5 July 2010). American General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command (Centcom), who is currently running the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, offered an even blunter assess-ment to the U.S. Senate:
“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbours present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in [Centcom’s] AOR [Area of Responsibility]….The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.”
—Le Monde diplomatique [English], April 2010
Petraeus’ concerns about Israeli recklessness apparently led him to suggest that the Occupied Territories should be placed under Centcom’s area of responsibility—which would be a major affront to Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, America’s Zionist propagandists dismiss any suggestion that U.S. military difficulties in the Muslim world are related to its support for Israel. As Abe Foxman of the ADL put it: “This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive” (Ibid.).
There has long been a range of opinion within the American ruling class over Israel’s role as chief gendarme in the Middle East. For the first two decades of Israel’s existence, the U.S. State Department was dominated by “Arabists” who feared that too close a relationship with Tel Aviv could inflame Arab nationalism, damage relations with the Arab regimes and ultimately endanger U.S. control of the region’s petroleum deposits. On three separate occasions in only seven years, Washington threatened Israel with sanctions. The first was in May 1949:
“In that month, the United States demanded that Israel allow the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, regardless of the cause of their flight and not even pending the conclusion of a final settlement. On May 29, 1949, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, James McDonald, conveyed a very sharp letter from President Truman to [Israeli Prime Minister David] Ben-Gurion which made an explicit threat of severe sanctions if Israel did not adjust its policies. This was accompanied by the suspension of a promised loan.
“In June 1949, Israel succeeded in conveying the impression that it was about to heed the pressure but asked for time to deal with some technical aspects of the request. In the meantime, conflicts broke out in different parts of the globe as the cold war began to heat up; hence, until the end of Truman’s administration, that pressure was never attempted again.”
—Ilan Pappé, “Clusters of History: U.S. Involvement in the Palestine Question,” in Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé, Gaza in Crisis, 2010
In 1953 the Eisenhower administration suspended aid when Israel inflamed Arab opposition by unilaterally embarking on the National Carrier Project to divert water from the Jordan River. The biggest showdown came in 1956, when Israel collaborated with France and Britain in an attempt to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt. Eisenhower feared that the military intervention of the Zionists, in league with the region’s former colonial masters, could radicalize the Arab masses and open the door for increased Soviet influence. American pressure forced Tel Aviv to make a humiliating retreat from the Egyptian Sinai, and compelled London and Paris to acknowledge the U.S. as the pre-eminent imperialist power in the Middle East (Ibid.).
Israel’s easy victory in 1967 over the combined Arab armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the “Six Day War” represented a turning point in U.S.-Israeli relations. Under the Nixon Doctrine, Israel became the main pillar of U.S. policy in the Middle East, although the traditional “Arabist” aim of maintaining a free flow of oil was not abandoned. The Arab states’ rhetorical support for Palestinian rights and occasional acts of defiance (e.g., the 1973 oil embargo) were accepted in Washington as necessary to maintaining some domestic legitimacy for these brittle autocratic regimes.
Israel, America’s Mid-East watchdog, is the top recipient of U.S. foreign “aid”—some $3 billion annually. Egypt, where U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was overthrown by mass protests in February that were touched off by the fall of Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali the previous month, has long been the second largest recipient. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States are also important American clients. In 2010, the Arab regimes in the Gulf “embarked on one of the largest re-armament exercises in peacetime history,” with an order for $123 billion in U.S. weapons (Financial Times, 20 September 2010). The overturn of Mubarak has enormous implications for the rest of America’s Arab vassals:
“Obama abandoned America’s protege for vague promises of democracy, but his considerations were also practical: He presumably judged that Mubarak’s regime is a lost cause and that it’s better to be on the winning side. Obama’s position must worry the leaders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which fear similar uprisings at home and now recognize that the Americans will throw them under the bus.”
—Haaretz, 31 January
While feigning concern about the plight of the Palestinians, none of the Arab regimes really cares about them. Jordan and Egypt have a long history of oppressing Palestinian refugees and complicity in the Israeli occupation. In 1970, the infamous “Black September” massacre of Palestinian fighters by Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy drove the PLO into Lebanon. The Egyptian military, which lost territory to Israel in 1967, has served as the gate-keeper of Gaza ever since the Sinai was returned in 1977. One of the first acts of the military junta set up after Mubarak’s removal was to pledge to continue this unpopular policy.
The last time an American administration seriously pressured Israel to make some concessions to Palestinians was in 1991, when George Bush Senior leaned on Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to cease expanding Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and actively pursue “peace talks.” U.S. Secretary of State Jim Baker told Shamir that if building in the settlements did not stop, the U.S. would withdraw $10 billion in loan guarantees. Baker’s ultimatum created a major political crisis for the Israeli ruling class, which resented Washington’s dictates but could not afford to lose imperialist sponsorship. Many influential members of the Israeli bourgeoisie decided in the 1992 elections to dump Shamir and back the Labor Party, led by “dovish” Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was no dove—he had overseen the repression of the first intifada and personally ordered Israeli troops to “break the bones” of stone throwing teenagers—but he was shrewd enough to make short-term tactical concessions in order to strengthen Israel’s position in the long term. The 1993 Oslo “peace” accord he signed with Arafat, which was supposed to open the door to Palestinian statehood, in fact reduced the PLO to little more than a Zionist auxiliary, and freed Tel Aviv to continue creating “facts on the ground.”
Today things are entirely different. In return for Netanyahu’s assent to a mere 90-day freeze on settlement building, the Obama administration promised to request no further freezes; to approve Israel’s continued occupation of the Jordan Valley; and to agree to Israeli control of the borders of any future Palestinian “state,” security guarantees, increased “aid,” advanced weapons systems, a regional security pact against Iran and a year’s veto of any UN Security Council resolutions detrimental to Israel. The U.S. also signaled that it was prepared to recognize “subsequent developments” since Oslo, widely interpreted as a reference to the influx of settlers into the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The shift in U.S. policy over the past 20 years is commonly attributed to the machinations of an all-powerful “Israel Lobby” in Washington. But the reality is more complex. U.S. policy has always been calculated in accordance with its own perceived imperial interests, including factors often cited by the “realists” themselves—in particular the fragility of America’s “moderate” Arab clients. These concerns have been validated by recent events in Tunisia and Egypt. Emboldened by the first Gulf War and the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, the U.S. was prepared in the early 1990s to lean on the Israeli bourgeoisie in pursuit of a broader vision of a “New World Order.” The Obama administration, in contrast, is licking its wounds after a series of humiliating setbacks for U.S. imperialism, and does not seem inclined, at least in the short run, to want to risk alienating its foremost regional ally. At the same time, the U.S. has an interest in maintaining the pretense that some sort of “peace process” is still alive, as Robert Satloff, of the pro-Zionist Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explained:
“it is still important that the administration create a functioning diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians—not because serious observers believe a near-term breakthrough is in sight but because an active and ongoing diplomacy denies both critics and naysayers an opportunity to make mischief. Furthermore, it frees the administration to inject international urgency into the Iran issue.”
—“Biden’s Israel Visit and its Aftermath: The Importance of Maintaining Strategic Direction in U.S. Middle East Policy,” PolicyWatch No.1642, 15 March 2010
The U.S., which has sanctioned every Zionist crime for years, cynically manages the “peace process” as a means to “free” itself for operations in the region, including against Iran. The negotiations are a charade in which the main players know in advance that the final result must correspond to Israeli wishes. This gives the whole process a very peculiar character: Israel refuses to participate in “negotiations” unless the outcome is stipulated in advance. The PA leadership, which has given up on achieving any semblance of the nationalist project they long espoused, understands the situation but continues to participate, partly to avoid vindicating Hamas and other “critics and naysayers.” But pressure is building, and Fayyad has occasionally floated the possibility of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood (Haaretz, 18 December 2010).
While such talk by the PA is often seen as a defiant response to Israeli intransigence, implementation would amount to sanctifying the “facts on the ground,” thus accomplishing de jure what Abbas and Fayyad have striven for de facto: a capitalist Palestinian quasi-statelet made up of a welter of micro Bantustans sprinkled across the West Bank. A unilateral bid of this sort would spare the PA the ignominy of officially abandoning the struggle for Palestinian national rights (especially the right of return), without requiring the Zionists to make territorial concessions. The PA may hope that a unilateral declaration would give it the upper hand over Hamas, but it could end up providing the Israeli ruling class with a destination for the “final transfer” of its Arab population.
The political bankruptcy of the PLO has enabled the Islamists of Hamas to pose as principled and uncompromising defenders of Palestinian national interests simply by upholding the right to resist occupation. While Hamas is on the receiving end of unrelenting diplomatic and military hostility from both the Zionists and the imperialists, its political program amounts to little more than an Islamist version of the policy that led the PLO to abject complicity. The forerunner of Hamas, the Islamic Center, was established as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when Gaza was still under Cairo’s control. After Gaza’s seizure by Israel in 1967, the Islamic Center promoted reactionary religious revivalism with a “quietist” political focus on rooting out “un-Islamic” behavior, while largely abstaining from resistance to the occupation. Organizations linked to the Center provided the only social welfare and healthcare services available to Gaza’s residents. Israeli authorities supplied funding and assistance to the Center as a counterweight to the dominance of secular, left-nationalist trends in Palestinian politics.
With the outbreak of the first intifada, the Islamists, facing marginalization, established the “Islamic Resistance Movement” (Hamas) as their political arm. The 1988 charter of Hamas (routinely invoked by Zionists today) combined bourgeois nationalism with the reactionary anti-Semitism of the Brotherhood and called for the establishment of sharia law across Palestine. In condemning the Oslo accords and championing the right of return, Hamas positioned itself to grow rapidly when the PLO leadership took over administration of the PA.
Control of smuggling across the border is a vital source of income for the Hamas leadership, which takes a cut from everything transported. The group also gets funding from Palestinian businessmen and Arab capitalists in the Gulf and receives practical support from the Muslim Brotherhood. These connections, while providing a lifeline, have also made the Hamas leadership reluctant to destabilize the existing social order. In January 2008, when its engineers in Gaza successfully detonated charges that opened the wall separating the Rafah camp from Egypt, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians streamed across the border to obtain food, water, medicine and other necessities. The Mubarak regime pressured Hamas to restore the wall, which it promptly did.
Hamas has sought to identify a “resistance culture” with Islamic morality. In Gaza, its military wing, the Qassam Brigades, has prohibited pop music, torched resorts for allowing girls and boys to swim together and instructed restaurateurs and hoteliers to segregate unmarried men and women. Hamas, like Fatah before it, combines armed resistance and “pragmatic” diplomacy, with the former tending to condition the latter. Only by creating a viable military apparatus does the Hamas leadership expect to gain a place at the negotiating table and win diplomatic support from the Arab states. But today Hamas possesses even fewer military resources than the PLO of the 1970s.
Before the Israeli “withdrawal” from Gaza in 2005, Hamas relied heavily upon suicide bombings, including indefensible—and counterproductive—attacks on Israeli civilians. Since then, Hamas has resorted to firing home-made rockets into Israel. As neither tactic made a dent in the Zionist fortress, Hamas has attempted to strike some sort of deal with Tel Aviv. Ahmed Yousef, the group’s deputy foreign minister, insists that “Hamas is very close on recognition of Israel….We show all sorts of ideological flexibility on this” (Economist, 1 August 2009). Hamas, which has made several offers of a unilateral ceasefire, is prepared to uphold all previous agreements made by the PLO with Israel (including Oslo) and accept the 1967 borders. Yet Israel and the “Quartet” (Russia, United States, European Union and United Nations—which are supposedly working to promote the “peace process”) have demonized and isolated Hamas to demonstrate that no act of resistance, however minor, will go unpunished.
There are three interlocking facets of Israeli apartheid/Palestinian oppression: the denial of the right of return for the victims of Zionist ethnic cleansing in 1948; the ongoing occupation and effective colonization of the West Bank and Gaza that began in 1967; and the special oppression of those Arabs who, remaining on their ancestral lands, are now within the borders of the Israeli state. All three injustices are expressions of the Zionist character of Israel, a state born in a wave of bloody pogroms which can only be maintained by denying any genuine expression of Palestinian self-determination. At every step, one or another imperialist power has provided military, diplomatic and financial support to Tel Aviv in pursuit of broader strategic considerations. Under American sponsorship, Israel has developed into a formidable garrison state, with advanced conventional armaments as well as nuclear “weapons of mass destruction.”
Yet it is not only the Zionists and imperialists who have committed historic crimes against the Palestinians—neighboring Arab rulers also sought to carve out pieces of Palestinian territory for themselves, whether in secret collaboration with Zionist leaders (as the Hashemite monarchy did in 1948) or through open warfare with Israel (in 1948, 1967 and 1973). They also have a record of brutally repressing Palestinian refugees on their territory. Both Jordan and Egypt, after reaching an accommodation with the Zionists, have provided important support for the continuing occupation.
Without sufficient military capacity to create an independent capitalist state by force, Palestine’s nationalist leaderships, both secular and Islamist, have sought to substitute a combination of symbolic acts of armed struggle, diplomatic maneuvers and appeals to the Arab elites and imperialist power brokers who share responsibility for the Palestinians’ present situation. The PA’s wretched collusion with the Zionist occupation in the name of “economic development” is an entirely logical product of this bankrupt program.
A strategy for Palestinian liberation must begin by identifying the agents that possess both the objective interests and potential social power to successfully challenge not only the Zionist oppressors, but the entire complex web of imperialist domination in the Middle East. Viewed from this angle, the problem with moralistic appeals to the “international community” to come to the aid of the desperately oppressed Palestinians (which is the basis of the current campaign for “boycotts, divestments and sanctions”—see accompanying article) is immediately apparent.
Many ostensibly Marxist groups involved in promoting the boycott campaign invoke South Africa as a positive example of what can be achieved even within the parameters of capitalism. Equating the common practice of apartheid in both societies, and their common origins as “settler-colonial states,” they argue that a strategy that apparently succeeded in South Africa should eventually prove successful in Israel/Palestine.
There are, however, important differences between the forms of apartheid in South Africa and Israel, which represent two variants on a spectrum of settler-colonialist practices over the past several centuries. At one end (in the U.S., Australia and Canada), European settlers eradicated most of the native population and forcibly isolated the remainder in impoverished “reservations.” At the other end of the spectrum, in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), a tiny stratum of white settlers super-exploited the indigenous population. Israel and South Africa, which both fall somewhere between these two extremes on the scale of “settler colonialism,” are only roughly analogous to one another. The distinctions between them derive from the different ways in which class questions have intersected democratic and national ones during the course of capitalist development.
South African apartheid grew out of the requirements of British mining interests at the end of the 19th century. After expropriating the land of the indigenous African population (thereby destroying the basis of their pastoral, pre-capitalist economy), the colonialists consigned them to the role of migrant laborers hired only for short-term contracts and forbidden to settle in the vicinity of their jobs. Administered by a complex system of pass laws, the intent was to create a massive low-wage, socially atomized and politically disenfranchised labor force.
For most of the 20th century, apartheid proved to be a stable and extremely profitable arrangement for South African capital and international investors. The white ruling class used their ownership of the means of production and the political framework of apartheid rule as a means of extracting super-profits. White workers enjoyed the status of a super-privileged labor aristocracy, with a guaranteed monopoly of skilled jobs and artificially high living standards at the expense of black workers. The enormous expansion of the South African economy in the 1960s undermined the foundations of the apartheid system by creating more demand for stable, skilled labor than the white population could supply. The migrant labor system gradually became an impediment to growth, and by the 1980s white capital had become dependent on the labor of six million increasingly restive black workers.
In liberal and social-democratic mythology, apartheid rule was replaced by the “rainbow democracy” of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) as a result of the “isolation” of South Africa through morally-guided boycotts, divestments and sanctions. There was indeed significant divestment, and western capitalist governments did impose various forms of sanctions on the apartheid state. But liberal accounts leave out both the geopolitical changes that turned South Africa into a liability for the imperialist “free world” cabal that had long embraced it as a reliable ally against the Soviet Union, and more importantly, the domestic class dynamics that propelled the process. The ultimate result, a system of neo-apartheid presided over by the ANC, turned out to be a betrayal, rather than a triumph, for the masses who bore the burden of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Appeals by the bourgeois-nationalist ANC to Britain, the U.S. and other “democratic” imperialist powers to pressure the apartheid regime for reform went unheeded for decades as South African investments produced ample returns for international capital, and the apartheid regime served as a vital bastion of “Free World” anti-Communism on the African continent. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the South Africans conducted military and covert operations against left-nationalist forces in the region, particularly in Angola where the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) regime was backed by Cuban troops and Soviet military assistance. In November 1975, Cuban and MPLA forces defeated a South African armored column headed toward Luanda to overthrow the “People’s Republic.”
The defeat of the vaunted apartheid military by a predominantly black force was a major factor in sparking a rebellion in Soweto seven months later, which in turn ignited a wave of mass social struggle that the white supremacist regime in Pretoria was unable to suppress. A series of successful militant labor actions in the 1980s that won significant wage gains and spurred the rapid growth of powerful black-centered trade unions dampened enthusiasm for investment in South Africa. The inflexibility of the hidebound racists who controlled the apartheid regime posed the possibility of social revolution in South Africa, a prospect that terrified both the white rulers and their imperialist sponsors. This led the Reagan administration to shift from “constructive engagement” (i.e., across-the-board support for the white supremacists) to the pursuit of an accommodation with the ANC to rein in the radicalizing black masses. The more sophisticated elements among the South African bourgeoisie recognized that the advantages of stabilizing the labor pool, expanding social investments and granting formal political equality for all citizens outweighed any reason to cling to the unsustainable apartheid system.
The celebrated “end” of apartheid came as a deal between Mandela’s ANC and Prime Minister F.W. de Klerk’s National Party which guaranteed the property and privileged position of the white ruling class. The “Tripartite Alliance” of the ANC, South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) sold their followers a vision of “democratic” capitalism which would free them from the burdens imposed by white supremacy and offer a road out of poverty. But racial exploitation is inextricably fused with South African capitalism, and in guaranteeing the latter, the new “black faces in high places” agreed to maintain a form of neo-apartheid.
While important gains were achieved—the legal edifice of official racism was abolished, universal suffrage was granted and black political leaders took the helm—neither the social order nor the state apparatus protecting it changed fundamentally. The vast majority of South African wealth is still held by the white bourgeoisie, and their state machine remains committed to the defense of privilege and inequality. The chief beneficiaries of the promised economic “redistribution” under the ANC-dominated government (which to this day maintains a close economic relationship with Israel) have been the thin layer of black petty-bourgeois careerists who occupy executive positions in corporations or the civil service. Instead of the white-supremacist regime of yesteryear, today it is the Tripartite Alliance that breaks strikes and unleashes police terror on rebellious township youth. What has not changed is that white incomes are still, on average, seven times that of blacks, just as they were in the 1980s (Economist, 5 June 2010).
The South African experience powerfully vindicates one of the central theses of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution:
“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.”
—The Permanent Revolution, 1931
“Progressive” forms of capitalism, traditionally promoted by petty-bourgeois nationalists and Stalinists, are simply pipe dreams. What was tragically absent in South Africa was a proletarian vanguard party that could have led the oppressed masses in ripping out the capitalist roots of the apartheid system. A revolutionary leadership would have necessarily been based on the black working class and other victims of white supremacy, and openly espoused as its goal the creation of a black-centered workers’ government. In pursuit of this objective, it would have also had to win over a “fifth column” of whites to the side of proletarian insurgency, not least to paralyze the SADF, as we pointed out at the time:
“In the present situation—barring a massive and powerful military intervention from outside the borders of the apartheid slave state—the SADF can only be defeated with the active collaboration of at least a fragment of the white conscripts. And this can only be achieved by a revolutionary party built on a program of class struggle, in opposition to every variety of class-collaborationism and nationalism.”
—1917 No.1, 1986
The aspirations of the founders of the Zionist colonial-settler project were very different than those of the rulers of apartheid South Africa. Yet the separate trajectories of South African and Israeli capitalist development demonstrate the enduring relevance of Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution: in neither society can basic democratic and national demands be meaningfully achieved short of proletarian social revolution.
Israel’s citizenship laws are premised on the Zionist proposition that the Jewish population of every country on the planet is part of a single distinct “nation.” The Zionist claim to the Palestinians’ land was based on biblical mythology:
“[Zionists] believe that these people—their ‘nation,’ which must be the most ancient—wandered in exile for nearly two thousand years and yet, despite this prolonged stay among the gentiles, managed to avoid integration with, or assimilation into, them. The nation scattered widely, its bitter wanderings taking it to Yemen, Morocco, Spain, Germany, Poland, and distant Russia, but it always managed to maintain close blood relations among the far-flung communities and to preserve its distinctiveness.
“Then, at the end of the nineteenth century, they contend, rare circumstances combined to wake the ancient people from its long slumber and to prepare it for rejuvenation and for the return to its ancient homeland. And so the nation began to return, joyfully, in vast numbers. Many Israelis still believe that, but for Hitler’s horrible massacre, ‘Eretz Israel’ would soon have been filled with millions of Jews making ‘aliyah’ [ascent] by their own free will, because they had dreamed of it for thousands of years.
“And while the wandering people needed a territory of its own, the empty, virgin land longed for a nation to come and make it bloom. Some uninvited guests had, it is true, settled in this homeland, but since ‘the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion’ for two millennia, the land belonged only to that people, and not to that handful without history who had merely stumbled upon it. Therefore the wars waged by the wandering nation in its conquest of the country were justified; the violent resistance of the local population was criminal; and it was only the (highly unbiblical) charity of the Jews that permitted these strangers to remain and dwell among and beside the nation, which had returned to its biblical language and its wondrous land.”
—Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People
While few leading Zionists actually took such biblical claims seriously, enormous energy was invested in promoting them after Israel’s creation. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion organized fortnightly study circles in his home where professional historians, Bible interpreters and political figures gathered to work out the details of a patently false but politically convenient “national statement”:
“This national statement, which was simplified into a useful and popular slogan for the Zionist movement, was entirely the product of an imaginary history grown around the idea of the exile. Although most of the professional historians knew there had never been a forcible uprooting of the Jewish people, they permitted the Christian myth that had been taken up by Jewish tradition to be paraded freely in the public and educational venues of the national memory, making no attempt to rebut it. They even encouraged it indirectly, knowing that only this myth would provide moral legitimacy to the settlement of the ‘exiled nation’ in a land inhabited by others.”
The Zionist myth serves to justify the historic crimes against the Palestinians while also obscuring the actual record of Jewish struggles. For centuries Jews resisted vicious segregation and discrimination throughout Europe and fought for political equality and social integration within the nations of which they were a part. Many leading figures in the socialist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were secular Jews who identified their fight for liberation with the broader struggle against class exploitation and other forms of social oppression. While Zionism held little appeal for working-class Jews and most Jewish intellectuals in this period, many capitalist politicians (including overt anti-Semites) regarded it as a useful counterweight to Marxism:
“in a 1920 article, ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’, [Winston] Churchill wrote that Trotsky hated Zionism because it thwarted ‘his schemes of a world-wide communistic state under Jewish domination.’ For Churchill, Zionism helped thwart Trotsky, directing ‘the energies and the hopes of the Jews in every land towards a simpler, a truer, and a far more attainable goal’.”
—Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall
The Zionist project was only realizable through the consistent direct and indirect assistance of imperialist states. British support was essential for the establishment of a Zionist presence in “mandate” Palestine, a territory carved out of the Ottoman Empire in the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. The famous Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917 read:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
—cited in Christopher Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel
Issued five days prior to the October Revolution, the declaration was intended to undercut Jewish support for the Bolsheviks, who were intent on terminating Russian participation in World War I. In an August 1919 memorandum, Balfour was somewhat more candid about his attitude toward Palestinian rights: “in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.” Balfour considered Zionism to be “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land” (Ibid.).
Among the less publicized episodes in the history of Zion-ism was the attempt to assist the Nazis in solving Germany’s “Jewish problem” through mass emigration to the Holy Land. In 1938, Ben-Gurion, who subsequently founded the IDF, stated: “If I knew that it was possible to save all the children in Germany by transporting them to England, but only half of them by transporting them to Palestine, I would choose the second—because we face not only the reckoning of those children, but the historical reckoning of the Jewish people” (quoted in Tom Segev, The Seventh Million). Ben-Gurion was also worried that the savage brutality of the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom might stir the “human conscience” of other governments and lead them to open their doors to Jewish refugees fleeing Germany. If that were to happen, Ben-Gurion warned, “Zionism is in danger” (Ibid.). He needn’t have worried: even after the horrors of the Nazi holocaust against European Jewry were exposed at the end of World War II, the “democratic” imperialists refused to accept any significant number of desperate Jewish “displaced persons.” Most of those who sought refuge in Palestine did so not out of Zionist conviction, but because they had no other option.
The Zionists sought to construct a purely Jewish state in which the immigrant settler population not only owned the means of production and occupied all professional and politically significant posts (as in South Africa), but also comprised the entire labor force. Rather than seeking to exploit the indigenous population, the Zionist policy was to exclude them—expressed by Shimon Peres as “maximum space, minimum Arabs” (maximum shetah, minimum aravim) (Le Monde diplomatique [English], March 2010). The expansionist dynamic of Zionism inherent in an ideological commitment to “Eretz Israel” aimed at conquering land and resources (e.g., the Jordan Valley) for an exclusively Jewish capitalist state.
The Zionist project was therefore much closer to the white settler colonialism of North America and Australia than that of South Africa—the indigenous peoples were viewed as an obstruction to be removed. The minority of Palestinians who managed to remain on their ancestral lands after 1948 undermined the legitimacy of the Zionist claim by serving as a reminder of the ethnic cleansing that accompanied Israel’s birth. The conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 brought millions more Palestinians under Israeli administrative authority.
In the 1980s the Israeli ruling class began hiring large numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza as menial, low-paid laborers in Israel. At one point there were at least 100,000 (and perhaps as many as 200,000) migrant Palestinians employed inside the Green Line. With the outbreak of the first intifada, Palestinian labor was largely replaced by Russian immigrants and workers from East Asia. After the second intifada, work permits were no longer issued to Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. Today Israeli capital employs some 20,000 Palestinians in West Bank industrial parks and another 10,000 in settlement construction.
Zionism has produced a geographically compacted Hebrew-speaking nation, with a common culture, language and political economy. The exclusion of Palestinian labor from Israel’s economic life means that for the most part Israeli capitalists exploit Jewish workers. In Israel, as in all capitalist societies, the most fundamental division is that of social class. However, there are other deep and potentially explosive fault lines within Israel’s Jewish population—most notably between the European-derived Ashkenazim and the generally less educated and darker skinned Sephardim from the Middle East and North Africa. The Sephardim, who are forced to compete for lower-paid jobs with Israeli Arabs, provide the popular base for the most virulently chauvinist religious parties, especially Shas.
Another increasingly significant division is between secular Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredi). Half of Haredi men do not work, but instead enjoy significant state subsidies for devoting themselves to religious studies. The misogynist religious ideology of the Haredi has produced a birthrate many times higher than the national average, and some elements of Israel’s ruling class are expressing concern that the Haredi (many of whom reject Zionist ideology on theological grounds) are a drag on “competitiveness.”
While Jewish Israeli workers are privileged relative to their Israeli Arab counterparts, they are not part of a closed color-caste with the sort of grotesque disparity in living standards that characterized South African apartheid. The allegiance of Jewish workers to Zionist ideology is a form of false consciousness through which the grievances and frustrations arising from capitalist social relations are displaced onto targets which bear no responsibility (i.e., Palestinians). The reactionary attitudes prevalent among Jewish workers in Israel are comparable to the toxic mix of flag-waving xenophobia and religious irrationality embraced by plebeian supporters of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party in the U.S.
Since the late 1970s, the Israeli ruling class has been systematically attacking working-class living standards to boost flagging profitability. During the 1980s, a massive privatization of state-owned industry was pushed through while redistributive tax and transfer payments were curtailed. In the 1990s, as education and healthcare were semi-privatized, many Israelis were forced to pay to supplement increasingly meager state services. The Sharon government followed this up with yet another round of harsh austerity:
“The recession, coupled with a sharp increase in military spending due to the intifada, occasioned six rounds of budget cuts and structural economic changes between September 2001 and September 2003. In overall monetary terms, the state budget was cut by nearly 20 per cent. In broader political-economic terms, the cumulative effects of the fiscal austerity and structural changes were greatly detrimental to the interests of the working class. Levels of employment, wages, unionization, social services and retirement plans declined, while employers benefited greatly from increased labour ‘flexibility’ and lower wage-costs and taxes.”
—Yoav Peled, “Profits or Glory,” New Left Review, September-October 2004
Jewish workers were told that any attempt to improve their situation posed a danger to national “security”:
“The chairman of the Manufacturers Association in Israel said that because of the struggle with the Palestinians, because of the intifada, Israelis have to learn that they cannot expect an increase in the minimum wage, or perhaps even they should expect a decrease in the minimum wage, meaning that the security constraints are used as a justification to stifle social struggle.”
—Shir Hever interviewed by Paul Jay, “The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation,” TheRealNews.com, 6 July 2010
As conditions have worsened for those at the bottom of the Zionist pyramid, it has been a different story at the top. According to the 2009 Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report, “Between 2005 and 2007, Israel produced more millionaires per capita than any other country” (reported in New Jersey Jewish Standard, 19 June 2010). The growth in social inequality and the increasing concentration of wealth prompted Yuval Steinitz, Israeli finance minister, to remark: “The fact that the Israeli economy is controlled by 30 families does not constitute corruption. But it does cause economic problems and damages competition” (Haaretz, 2 May 2010).
Cuts in social services and the shortage of jobs and affordable housing within Israel have pushed many working-class Jews into the burgeoning settlement blocks near the Green Line. Unlike the fascistic zealots who populate the hilltop settlements throughout the interior of the West Bank, most of these settlers are enticed by the subsidized wages, cheap housing and comparatively generous social services:
“‘But even if they didn’t come here for ideological reasons,’ said the spokesman for the Settlers’ Council with confidence, ‘they won’t give up their homes so easily.’ The mechanisms that incorporate people into the colonial process, making them settlers despite themselves, occasionally emerge into the open. In 2003, the mayor of Betar Illit [another large settlement], Yitzhak Pindrus, went so far as to tell the reporter that the ultra-orthodox were sent to the Occupied Territories against their will, to serve as ‘cannon fodder’.”
—Gadi Algazi, “Offshore Zionism,” New Left Review, July-August 2006
The more ideologically motivated settlers used as foot soldiers in the continuing campaign to dispossess the Palestinians are also, in many cases, ruthlessly exploited by their Zionist employers. In the settlement of Mod’in Illit, religious proscriptions are judiciously used by software companies to wring super-profits from low-paid ultra-Orthodox women:
“‘Although many are mothers of six, they miss fewer days of work than a mother of two in Tel Aviv’, an Imagestore project director in Mod’in Illit told a journalist. ‘These women have no issues. They just work. No smoking or coffee breaks, chatting on the phone, or looking for vacation deals in Turkey. Breaks are only for eating, or pumping breast milk in a special room. Some women can pop home, breast-feed and come back.’”
. . .
“Personal conversations in the work room of Matrix’s development centre are forbidden, not only between men and women, but among the women. ‘They pay you for eight hours of work,’ says Esti [one of the workers], ‘so they expect you to work. If someone is talking too much…someone else will tell her, “Hey, that’s gezel [a religiously-infused term for stealing]”, as though we are taking from the company. Once we asked if we could take a break of five minutes for prayer, but the Rabbi said that the ancient Sages didn’t take a break but would call out the Shma‘ while working, and thus we can put off the prayer until after the working day.’”
The Jewish Israeli and Palestinian peoples, interspersed within a single geographical territory, both have a right to self-determination. Yet under capitalism, one people can only exercise this right at the expense of the other. For more than 60 years, the Israeli ruling class has viciously oppressed the Palestinians—expelling most from their land, disenfranchising those who remained and corralling those in the occupied West Bank into tiny Bantustans. Today there is little talk among either Islamists or secular nationalists of “driving the Jews into the sea” and reclaiming the entirety of Palestine. Even if such a project were feasible (which it is not, given the enormous disparity in the existing balance of forces), it would only mean reversing the terms of oppression.
The walls of the Zionist fortress cannot be breached by any combination of symbolic guerrilla actions and diplomatic maneuvers with corrupt Arab rulers and their foreign patrons. The PLO’s willingness to forfeit Palestinian national rights in exchange for policing the residents of a tiny and unviable capitalist mini-state has completely discredited it. The leaders of Hamas have signaled they are open to negotiating a similar arrangement, although Israel has thus far refused any contact because of their militant posture.
The only way the right of self-determination can be equitably realized for both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis is through the creation of a new egalitarian economic order linking the countries of the Middle East in a Socialist Federation. This requires the overthrow of not only the odious Zionist state but also imperialism’s Arab clients and the Iranian theocracy. Only through the establishment of institutions of working-class rule—collectivized property and international planning—can the resources of the region be employed for the benefit of all the peoples of the Middle East. And only within that framework will it be possible to achieve a just division of the land claimed by both the Palestinian and Jewish Israeli nations.
The Zionist state—armed to the teeth with hundreds of nuclear weapons and backed by the American military colossus—must be smashed if such a revolutionary transformation is to be achieved. Jewish workers, subjected to increasing pressure from their rulers in recent years, have a great deal to gain by escaping from this militarized prison state within which they are assigned the roles of wage slaves and cannon fodder.
The Zionist behemoth can only be destroyed through proletarian revolution from the inside. This requires the construction of a bi-national Leninist-Trotskyist party in Israel-Palestine, intransigently committed to the defense of Palestinian national rights. A revolutionary workers’ party would side militarily with any Palestinian resistance to Zionist repression, while opposing indiscriminate attacks on Jewish civilians and making no political concessions to bourgeois-nationalist, Islamist or other petty-bourgeois misleaders.
It is a profound mistake to view the Jewish working class as one large undifferentiated reactionary mass. There has always been a layer of Jewish Israelis who have had the courage to oppose the crimes of their rulers. While mercilessly combating all variants of Zionism as inherently reactionary and anti-working class, Marxists must seek to develop connections with the more advanced elements of the Jewish proletariat and find ways to intervene in their conflicts with the Zionist master class.
The struggle to build a vanguard party rooted in both communities that is committed to the creation of a bi-national workers’ state within a Socialist Federation of the Middle East will be an extremely difficult one. But there is no other historically progressive solution to the poisonous morass that imperialism and Zionism have created. Only a perspective of joint class struggle by Jewish and Palestinian workers against Zionist tyranny can lay the basis for the equitable resolution of the deep-seated national antagonisms and open the road to social emancipation for all the exploited and oppressed peoples of the region.