Israel-Palestine: Apartheid, Imperialism & Class

22 March 2021

Audio of a talk based on this article at an online meeting on 20 March 2021:

On 23 March, Israel will hold its fourth election in less than two years, following the collapse of the right-wing “unity government” between Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance. Gantz, whose coalition and polling numbers have crumbled, is the former head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who personally oversaw the brutal 2014 military assault on Gaza dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” in which over 2,000 Palestinians were killed and 11,000 wounded, approximately 70 percent of them civilians. Netanyahu, who appears set to continue as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is facing trial for fraud, breach of trust and bribery, and is unpopular among wide layers of the Israeli population. Regardless of the outcome of the election, all wings of the Jewish-Israeli ruling class are committed to the Zionist project of Jewish supremacy and Palestinian oppression and are incapable of addressing any of the most pressing issues facing working people.

Since June 2020, Netanyahu has seen near-weekly anti-government protests calling for his resignation. Thousands of Jewish and Arab-Israeli workers, youth, students and the self-employed have taken to the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest corruption and the cascading impact of his mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis. Israel’s economy contracted by over 4 percent in 2020 and one in five Israelis are now unemployed. Meanwhile, thousands of small businesses have closed or are struggling without any substantial financial aid from the government.

As Israel emerges from its third national lockdown, there is also deep public anger toward the country’s ultra-Orthodox community, which regularly flouts Covid health protocols by continuing to hold large weddings, funerals and group prayers. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredi) represent only 12.6 percent of the population, yet account for 28 percent of Covid infections. Despite having Israel’s highest rates of infection, Haredi cities have the lowest proportion of Covid-related fines, a mere 2.3 percent. Ultra-Orthodox men, half of whom do not work, are exempt from compulsory military service, and instead receive welfare payments for spending their days studying religious texts. This has only further inflamed many secular Israelis who oppose the growing influence of the country’s religious zealots and see Netanyahu’s leniency toward them as a means of consolidating a significant component of his electoral support.

Covid-19 & ‘Vaccine Nationalism’

Israel has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world. Some 60 percent of Israelis have already received at least one dose, and the government claims to be on target to have vaccinated the country’s entire 9.3 million inhabitants by election time. This includes the almost 2 million Arabs within Israel, as well as the 200,000 Jews in East Jerusalem and the nearly 400,000 Jewish settlers scattered throughout the West Bank.

The vaccination program does not, however, include the 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Despite Israel’s obligation under international law such as the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines in the Occupied Territories, it has so far essentially refused to coordinate with the Palestinians. When pressed about this “vaccine nationalism,” Yuli Edelstein, the Minister of Health, arrogantly asked: “If it is the responsibility of the Israeli health ministry to take care of the Palestinians, what exactly is the responsibility of the Palestinian health minister—to take care of the dolphins in the Mediterranean?” (Independent, 24 January).

Israel only reluctantly agreed to vaccinate the 120,000 Palestinians who live in the West Bank but work in Israel and its settlements when pushed by Israeli capitalists. Raul Srugo, president of the Israel Builders Association, explained that the concession was not a lapse in racism but an acknowledgement of the vital role Palestinian labor plays in the Israeli economy and profit-making:

“We are depending on 65,000 Palestinian workers who are working in the core jobs of construction and we need them because without them, we cannot construct. Now I think this is logic [sic] that we have to vaccinate the Israeli people and also the Palestinians, at least [those] that are working with us.”
—BBC News, 25 January

The situation facing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is desperate. The Palestinian Authority running the West Bank has been working with the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, which supplies vaccines to poorer nations, but this is expected to cover only 20 percent of the population, and even then there are funding shortages and no dates specified for when most of the vaccines will arrive. Gaza, which is under total Israeli and Egyptian military blockade, has so far received very limited doses of the vaccine and is unlikely to get much more assistance any time soon.

Israeli Apartheid & Palestinian Oppression

Covid-19 “vaccine nationalism” is simply the latest expression of the long-standing apartheid character of the Israeli state and its racist policies toward the Palestinians. The Zionist state was established with the expressed intent of providing a Jewish homeland on territory already occupied by Palestinian Arabs, euphemistically referred to as “a land without a people for a people without a land.” This resulted in the violent dispossession of some 750,000 Palestinians and the confiscation of over 90 percent of their land. Arabs expelled from their homes were denied the right of return, and the land was instead made specifically available to Jews anywhere in the world, who automatically have the right to immigrate to Israel at any time as part of “the Jewish nation.”

Within Israel, Jewish supremacy over land and resources is enforced through a series of discriminatory laws similar to those in apartheid South Africa or to Jim Crow “separate but equal” segregation in the US South. In January, Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of Israel’s largest human rights group, B'Tselem, denounced what it now calls an Israeli “apartheid regime” that enforces “Jewish supremacy” from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea:

“One cannot live a single day in Israel-Palestine without the sense that this place is constantly being engineered to privilege one people, and one people only: the Jewish people.…
“In fact, one government rules everyone and everything between the river and the sea, following the same organising principle everywhere under its control, working to advance and perpetuate the supremacy of one group of people—Jews—over another—Palestinians. This is apartheid.
“There is not a single square inch in the territory Israel controls where a Palestinian and a Jew are equal. The only first-class people here are Jewish citizens such as myself, and we enjoy this status both inside the 1967 lines and beyond them, in the West Bank. Separated by the different personal statuses allotted to them, and by the many variations of inferiority Israel subjects them to, Palestinians living under Israel’s rule are united by all being unequal.
“Unlike South African apartheid, the application of our version of it—apartheid 2.0, if you will—avoids certain kinds of ugliness. You won’t find ‘whites only’ signs on benches. Here, ‘protecting the Jewish character’ of a community—or of the state itself—is one of the thinly veiled euphemisms deployed to try to obscure the truth. Yet the essence is the same. That Israel’s definitions do not depend on skin colour make no material difference: it is the supremacist reality which is the heart of the matter—and which must be defeated.…
“We demographically engineer the composition of the population by working to increase the number of Jews and limit the number of Palestinians. We allow for Jewish migration—with automatic citizenship—to anywhere Israel controls. For Palestinians, the opposite is true: they cannot acquire personal status anywhere Israel controls—even if their family is from here.…
“We engineer land control by expropriating huge swaths of Palestinian land, keeping it off-limits for their development—or using it to build Jewish towns, neighbourhoods, and settlements. Inside the green line, we have been doing this since the state was established in 1948. In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, we have been doing this since the occupation began in 1967. The result is that Palestinian communities—anywhere between the river and the sea—face a reality of demolitions, displacement, impoverishment and overcrowding, while the same land resources are allocated for new Jewish development.
“And we engineer—or rather, restrict—Palestinians’ movement. The majority, who are neither citizens nor residents, depend on Israeli permits and checkpoints to travel in and between one area and another, as well as to travel internationally. For the two million in the Gaza Strip travel restrictions are the most severe—this is not just a Bantustan, as Israel has made it one of the largest open-air prisons on Earth.”
Guardian, 12 January 2021

The impact of apartheid on Palestinian Arabs within Israel has been profound. Arab Israelis, who make up 21 percent of the population, only occupy 3 percent of the land. State funding for Jewish schools is nine times that of Arab schools (primary schooling is largely segregated). Arab Israelis earn on average just two-thirds of the wages of their Jewish counterparts and nearly half of them live in poverty, compared to 13 percent of Jews. A similar pattern exists in other societal metrics such as life expectancy, infant-mortality rates, infrastructure services and prison population.

While Palestinians are relegated to second or third-class citizens within Israel itself, the situation under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza is much worse. Israeli rule is much more brutal in the Occupied Territories because there is little civilian oversight of the IDF’s activities, and the battle for Jewish supremacy is not yet complete.

Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 it has carried out three wars against the besieged enclave and imposed an ongoing military blockade designed to inflict “collective punishment” on the territory’s 2 million Palestinians. Not surprisingly, the result has been devastating for the people of Gaza. According to a recent report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine:

“[Gaza’s] unemployment rate has increased from 30.8 percent in 2012 to 46 percent this past year, among the highest in the world.… Virtually the only economic pulse that Gaza still has is the result of external aid and remittance transfers, which made up close to 100 percent of its economy in 2014, and have been declining in volume since 2017.
“Gaza’s population has increased by 25 percent since 2012 to two million people, but its living standards have sharply declined. The UN Special Coordinator has stated that: ‘Gaza in 2020 does not provide living conditions that meet international standards of human rights, including the right to development.’ The numbers of Gazans living under the poverty line, as of 2017, stood at 53 percent (up from 39 percent in 2011), and the World Bank predicts that this will rise to 64 percent. Food insecurity increased from 44 percent of the population in 2012 to 62 percent in 2018.”
—Human Rights Council, 15 July 2020

In the larger and more fertile West Bank, which plays a vital role in the functioning of Israeli capitalism and its expansionist project, the Zionists have opted for a different approach. Here Israeli apartheid largely takes the form of “Judaization”—settler colonialism designed to displace the existing population, force them into disjointed bantustans, and prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Today there are almost 400,000 Jewish settlers in some 250 settlements and outposts scattered throughout the occupied West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law. They are connected through Jewish-only roads, separated by security barriers and controlled by IDF checkpoints.

Since the Oslo II Accords in 1995, which established three administrative areas in the West Bank, Israel has gradually forced Palestinians out of “Area C” (Israeli-controlled, comprising 60 percent of the West Bank) and into “Area A” (18 percent, controlled by the PA) and “Area B” (22 percent, under joint Israeli-Palestinian administration). Area C includes the key Jordan Valley, the roughly one-third of the territory that contains most of the natural resources such as water, farmland and minerals, valued by the World Bank at an estimated $3.4 billion. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palestinians now have access to less than 1 percent of these Area C lands (Washington Post, 19 May 2020).

US Imperialism & Zionism in the Middle East

Israel has largely been able to carry out its Zionist project due to the unwavering support of American imperialism. The US provides approximately $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel every year, which “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world” and “has been designed to maintain Israel’s ‘qualitative military edge’ over neighboring militaries” (U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, 16 November 2020). Washington also routinely runs diplomatic interference to shield Tel Aviv from international criticism, using its UN Security Council veto 43 times between 1967 and 2017 to quash critical resolutions aimed at Israel.

As we have noted in the past, the purpose of the strategic alliance between the US and Israel is to further American imperialism’s geopolitical interests in the oil-rich Middle East:

“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.
“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.”
—“Israeli Apartheid & Palestinian Oppression,” 1917 No.33

American imperialism has often found it advantageous to at least feign balance and neutrality when mediating the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” but under Donald Trump the US openly endorsed the Zionist political project of establishing a Greater Israel in the Middle East. The Trump administration’s close relationship with Netanyahu resulted in the self-styled “Deal of the Century” announced in January 2020. The plan was supposedly authored by Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, who pretentiously lectured the Palestinians not to “screw up another opportunity like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence” (New York Magazine, 29 January 2020). At no point did the negotiations even involve the Palestinians, and the deal was intended from the outset to be unacceptable to them. It recognized Israeli sovereignty over territories Tel Aviv considers part of the state of Israel (i.e., most of the West Bank), permitted Jewish settlers to remain in Areas B and C, and proclaimed “undivided Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital. In exchange, the beleaguered Palestinians were to receive a non-contiguous and truncated “state,” encircled by “Israeli enclave communities” connected via “Israeli access roads” that penetrate deep into the projected future Palestine. The Palestinians were given three possible options for a capital city, all on the outskirts of East Jerusalem.

Despite the perceived reset in Washington with the Democrats back in power, the defining feature of the Biden administration will be one of imperialist continuity, with some of Trump’s rougher edges smoothed off. Biden has long been a steadfast ally of Israel and committed to maintaining the long-standing US-Israel partnership. In June 1986, he boasted:

“‘It’s about time we stop apologizing for our support for Israel. There’s no apology to be made, none.… It is the best $3 billion investment we make. If there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.’”
Haaretz, 7 November 2020

In 2013, while addressing the annual conference of the liberal Zionist J Street organization, then-Vice President Biden reaffirmed that “America’s support for Israel’s security is unshakable, period. Period, period” (Politico, 30 September 2013). It was under the Obama/Biden administration that the US agreed to increase funding to Israel to record levels:

“In 2016, the US promised even more aid. The Obama administration, often mistakenly seen as hostile to Israel, increased US funding by a significant margin. In a 10-year memorandum of understanding, Washington and Tel Aviv reached a deal whereby the US agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid covering the financial years 2019-2028. This is a whopping $8 billion increase compared with the previous 10-year agreement, which ended at the end of 2018.”
Arab News, 28 December 2020

Biden’s new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has confirmed that the US will be keeping its embassy in Jerusalem, after Trump provocatively moved it from Tel Aviv in May 2018, and he recently declared: “Our commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct” (Israel National News, 28 January 2021). Blinken has also all but officially recognized Israel’s May 2019 illegal annexation of the Golan Heights “as a practical matter … [that] I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security” (Reuters, 8 February 2021).

In February, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that its jurisdiction now extends to the occupied Palestinian territories, thereby paving the way to investigate Israeli war crimes, both Israel and the US condemned the announcement. The ICC has already launched an investigation into the war crimes (torture, rape, sexual violence, assassinations, etc.) committed by American imperialism and its coalition partners in Afghanistan during the two-decade-long occupation, which prompted Trump to impose sanctions on ICC officials for supposedly “infringing on US sovereignty” (Al Jazeera, 25 February). The US under Biden has so far continued these sanctions in the hope they will also act as a deterrent to ICC investigations of its Israeli ally. Neither country was a signatory to the treaty that established the ICC in 2002 and essentially they do not recognize its authority.

The Biden administration will also continue to foster diplomatic relations between Israel and key Arab allies in the region (Bahrain, UAE, Sudan and Morocco all signed agreements with Israel last year). Advanced under Trump and hailed as the so-called “dawn of a new Middle East,” this “normalization” of relations is largely designed to remove barriers to business and facilitate lucrative trade and investment opportunities. Israel estimates that bilateral trade with the UAE alone will eventually be worth $4 billion a year and create 15,000 jobs. Rapprochement between Israel and these Arab states will also allow for closer military planning and coordination for the US in the shifting geopolitics of the Middle East.

Topping the list of US imperialism’s enemies in the region are Iran and Syria. Yet again the Biden administration’s approach has so far been similar to that of Trump. As we recently noted:

“One area of supposed sharp disagreement between Trump and Biden was the latter’s promise to return the US to the ‘Iran nuclear deal’ that the former abandoned. Earlier this month, however, Biden’s secretary of state trotted out the well-worn claim that Tehran was ‘weeks’ away from building a nuclear weapon. During his Senate confirmation, he noted that ‘We are a long way’ from re-entering the JCPOA agreement due to uncertainty over whether or not Iran was ‘actually making good if they say they are coming back into compliance’ (Business Insider, 8 February 2021). The range of debate within American imperialist politics is limited to how the US—which possesses by far the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet and is the only country ever to use atomic weapons—can stop Iran from developing enough fissile material to make a single nuclear bomb.”
—“Democrats in Power: ‘Woke’ Liberalism in the Service of Imperialism,” 23 February 2021

The Democrats were essentially content with Trump’s “maximum pressure” containment strategy vis--vis Iran, which is why Biden will continue enforcing the punitive sanctions imposed after the US withdrew from the Iran deal in 2018. This will please hardliners in Tel Aviv, along with their new Arab allies, who are troubled by what they see as the Biden administration’s supposed conciliatory approach toward Iran and who are anxious to prevent any US steps toward re-entering the JCPOA.

A direct US-Israeli attack on Iran is a very real possibility. In February, Biden ordered airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Syria. Israel regularly bombs Iranian targets in Syria and is widely believed to be responsible for the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in Tehran in November 2020. In late-January, Israel announced that the IDF was revising its “operational plans” for a possible military assault against Iran and cautioned that a US return to the 2015 nuclear accord would be “bad and wrong” (Al Jazeera, 27 January 2021). Of course, unlike Syria or Iran, Israel actually does have nuclear weapons, and any military provocations by it (or Washington) could quickly escalate into an all-out regional or global conflagration—especially dangerous given inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and Russia for influence, military advantage, oil and profits in the Middle East. Last year, after Trump ordered drone strikes that killed top Iranian military commander Qassim Suleimani in Baghdad, we wrote:

“Marxists call for all imperialist powers to be driven out of the Middle East. We side with Iran (and Iraq or any other neocolonial country under imperialist attack) and favor the defeat of all imperialist forces. We defend Iran's right to retaliate against imperialist military targets, as it has just done in Iraq. This does not entail any political support to the likes of Suleimani and the ruthless regimes in Iran and Iraq. Our perspective is for the working classes of the region, organized in communist parties and allied with revolutionary workers in the imperialist powers, to overthrow these despots and bring about a Socialist Federation of the Middle East. In the U.S., we call for workers’ strikes against the imperialist war machine—a step that could aid in the struggle to build a revolutionary party to bring down capitalism and the imperialist system.”
—“Defend Iran! Imperialists Out!1917 No.42

Palestinian Leadership: Pro-Capitalist & Politically Bankrupt

The Palestinian people have long demonstrated resolute willingness to resist Israeli apartheid, but the pro-capitalist and politically bankrupt leadership of both Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, have instead opted for collaboration and compromise.

Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the petty-bourgeois nationalists of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the forerunner of Fatah, were able to strike a more militant posture and advocate for the creation of an independent capitalist Palestine existing side-by-side with Zionist Israel. However, since the Soviet bloc and its strategic support to national liberation struggles collapsed, the existing Palestinian leadership has by and large settled for endless “peace” negotiations and accepting whatever crumbs the Zionists have been willing to offer—all while acting as Israel’s junior partner in managing Palestinian oppression.

There is a long history of imperialist-sponsored joint Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on security matters within the Occupied Territories dating back to the 1993 Oslo Accords. This has led to a vast expansion of the Palestinian security sector, essentially subcontracted by the Zionists to police resistance to the occupation and protect the interests of Israel:

“To understand the magnitude of the security coordination enterprise, it is useful to note that the Palestinian security sector employs around half of all civil servants, accounts for nearly $1 billion of the PA budget, and receives around 30% of total international aid disbursed to the Palestinians. The security sector consumes more of the PA’s budget than the education, health, and agriculture sectors combined. The sector is currently comprised of 83,276 individuals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including 312 brigadier generals, of whom 232 report to the PA and 80 to Hamas. In comparison, the entire US Army has 410 brigadier generals. The ratio of security personnel to the population is as high as 1 to 48—one of the highest in the world.
“Security collaboration between Israel and the PA has fulfilled the Oslo Accords’ objectives of institutionalizing security arrangements and launching a peace process that is tightly controlled by the security sector in order to enable Israel to fulfil its colonial ambitions while claiming to be pursuing peace. This process of ‘securitized peace’ is manifested in a number of ways, including the PA security forces’ arrest of Palestinian suspects wanted by Israel (as in the recent case of Basil Al-‘Araj who was arrested and released by the PA only to be chased and eventually assassinated by the Israelis); the suppression of Palestinian protests against Israeli soldiers and/or settlers; intelligence sharing between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the PA security forces; a revolving door between Israeli and PA jails through which Palestinian activists cycle for the same offenses; and regular joint Israeli-Palestinian meetings, workshops, and trainings.”
Al-Shabaka, 16 May 2017

The sprawling Palestinian security state is largely kept afloat by loans and foreign aid from imperialist-backed financial institutions intended to keep Palestinians dependent on the US-sponsored “peace process” and further entrench Israeli domination:

“Funds from Western donors have comprised the majority of the more than $36.2 billion in development assistance spent on the Palestinian economy from 1993 to 2017. This spending, done in support of the Oslo peace process under US political leadership and World Bank technical guidance, has largely been disbursed for Palestinian institution building and economic growth, as well as for humanitarian assistance.
“Meanwhile, Palestinians are not allowed to select their own leaders and the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory] economy is a mess: suffocated in East Jerusalem, captured in the West Bank, and blockaded in Gaza. It has been structurally hollowed out and de-developed, while Palestinian labor is exploited for the benefit of Israeli, rather than Palestinian, state building. Further, the Palestinian economy is dominated by Israel to such an extent that a 2015 study estimated that 72% of OPT aid money ends up in the Israeli economy.”
Al-Shabaka, 19 June 2019

The majority of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza consistently oppose security coordination with Israel. The PA’s collusion in enforcing Palestinian oppression has unsurprisingly made them unpopular, with a December poll indicating that 86 percent of Palestinians view PA institutions as corrupt. Polls over the last six years show over 60 percent of Palestinians calling for the resignation of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, including last November when he resumed security cooperation with Israel after a six-month suspension due to Netanyahu’s plans to annex large swathes of the West Bank under the “Deal of the Century” (Middle East Monitor, 17 December 2020).

Hamas, which emerged from an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the late-1980s during the first intifada, has run Gaza since 2007 after a short-lived unity government with Fatah fell apart. Although it postures as a more militant alternative to the overtly corrupt Fatah-led PA in the West Bank, its political program—a mix of bourgeois nationalism, guerilla military tactics, antisemitism and sharia law—essentially amounts to the Islamist version of the same approach that led the PLO/Fatah down the path to servile complicity. The leadership of Hamas is heavily dependent on smuggling across the border into Gaza, obtains significant financing from Palestinian capitalists and Arab financiers in the Gulf region and receives backing from the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, has also engaged in suicide bombings and indefensible attacks on Israeli civilians, which only alienate potential allies of the Palestinian cause within the Jewish-Israeli working class and further cement the hold of reactionary Zionism.

The current state of Palestinian politics is clearly a byproduct of decades of Israeli apartheid divide-and-rule policies and the systematic dismantling of Palestinian territory into increasingly smaller geographic units. Yet it is no less the result of the pro-capitalist and nationalist outlook of the Palestinian leadership itself. Fearful of destabilizing the existing social order and incapable of advancing a class-struggle program uniting the working class, the petty-bourgeois leadership of Hamas and Fatah opt to rely on imperialist powers and regional Arab autocrats to protect the interests of the Palestinian people. This impossible balancing act is a result of a global capitalist order—imperialism—in which there simply is no room for petty-bourgeois nationalist outfits, like those running the PA, to chart a course politically independent of the great capitalist powers and their regional partners.

For Labor Strikes Against Israeli Apartheid!

The corruption and political bankruptcy of the PA and Hamas, along with the many faultlines dividing the Zionist fortress from within (class, along with ethnicity, religion, gender, military service, etc.), provide opportunities for revolutionaries to advance a class-struggle program that unites Jewish and Palestinian workers around their common class interests.

During the 2011 Arab Spring, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in a series of mass demonstrations lasting from mid-July to late-October. Beginning as opposition to the high cost of housing, the movement had by August grown in scope to embrace calls for a sweeping overhaul of Israeli society, condemnation of the government’s neoliberal privatization schemes and demands for Netanyahu to resign. On 3 September 2011, at the height of the demonstrations, up to 400,000 people protested in major cities throughout Israel.

In July 2018, after the Knesset enacted the controversial “Nation State Law,” which explicitly outlined the modern-day apartheid character of the Jewish state, protests erupted in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. In the months that followed, tens of thousands of Arab and Jewish Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv to oppose the racist law, which had downgraded the Arabic language, proclaimed national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people” and declared Zionist settlements to be a “national value.” When Palestinians in the Occupied Territories called for a general strike throughout the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in solidarity with those protesting, Israel’s Arab community reciprocated by coordinating their own general strike in the country’s private sector. Although there is still a long way to go in building support for Palestinians within Israeli society as a whole, actions such as these demonstrate both the possibility and the necessity of Arab and Jewish workers uniting against a common class enemy.

There is a glimmer of hope in increasing numbers of young Jewish Israelis refusing compulsory national military service, many serving prison time as a consequence. In early January, a letter by high school students pointed out the bloody role of the IDF in enforcing Palestinian oppression and made the connection to oppression in Israel itself:

“We are ordered to put on the bloodstained military uniform and preserve the legacy of the Nakba and of occupation. Israeli society has been built upon these rotten roots, and it is apparent in all facets of life: in the racism, the hateful political discourse, the police brutality, and more.
“This military oppression goes hand in hand with economic oppression. While the citizens of the Occupied Palestinian Territories are impoverished, wealthy elites become richer at their expense. Palestinian workers are systematically exploited, and the weapons industry uses the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a testing ground and as a showcase to bolster its sales.…
“Young people our age are required to take part in enforcing closures as a means of ‘collective punishment,’ arresting and jailing minors, blackmailing to recruit ‘collaborators’ and more—all of these are war crimes which are executed and covered up every day. Violent military rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is enforced through policies of apartheid entailing two different legal systems: one for Palestinians and the other for Jews.”
2021 Shministiyot Letter

Labor actions in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians have occurred outside Israel’s borders. In February 2009, after the IDF’s military assault on the Gaza Strip (“Operation Cast Lead”), dockworkers in Durban, South Africa refused to offload Israeli cargo to protest “apartheid Israel’s massacres in Gaza” (see “From San Francisco to Durban: Labor Action Against Racism & Apartheid,” 1917 No.31). When Israeli commandos executed 10 activists aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, part of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla,” in May 2010, a mass community/labor picket of more than 700 workers and activists successfully blockaded the Israeli ship Zim Shenzhen from docking at the Port of Oakland, California for 24 hours (see “Mass Picket Blocks Israeli Cargo”). That action prompted the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions to write to the Bay Area militants who initiated the boycott:

“Dear brothers and sisters, trade unionists, workers, and people of the San Francisco Bay Area, we remember and salute your historic and massive action on the docks in 1984, when you acted to boycott the apartheid regime in South Africa.
“We look to you today from the Gaza Strip and all of Palestine, and call upon you to repeat that courageous stand today. This genuine solidarity is something we have longed for and expected. As you are responding to our appeal, we expected from you nothing less because of your history of defending the oppressed, including our people suffering under Israeli occupation, and your stand in opposition to the attack on the unarmed Gaza Freedom Flotilla seeking to deliver humanitarian assistance to the besieged Palestinian people in Gaza. Your action today is a milestone in international solidarity from honest and brave U.S. workers and trade unionists.”

As the letter states, many of these actions were inspired by those carried out a generation ago by labor militants who fought to bring down the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, notably the 11-day strike against South African cargo in the Port of San Francisco (see “Memories of the 1984 Longshore Boycott”). While small in number and limited in scope, acts of solidarity such as these demonstrate the social power of the working class and point the way forward for the entire labor movement.

For a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!

A revolutionary approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must begin by acknowledging that both Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs are nations, each with the right to existence and to defend itself against oppression. Given the current terms of Zionist domination, Leninists today must emphasize defending the Palestinians. We call for unconditional Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, an end to the second-class treatment of Arab Israelis and the right of return for Palestinians displaced from their homeland. While rejecting the various utopian mini-state schemes for a future Palestine, we nonetheless defend the right of Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza as a very deformed and inadequate expression of their national rights.

The numerous “two-state” solutions proposed over the years to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have only allowed Israel to buy time to establish fresh “facts on the ground” while it carries out its Zionist project. At the same time, the liberal idea of a “single, democratic and secular state” in which Jews, Palestinians and all peoples somehow live harmoniously side-by-side under capitalism is equally unrealistic. These proposals invariably abstract from the political reality of Zionism and class divisions within Israel-Palestine, the reactionary role of imperialist intervention in the region and the fundamental irrationality of the capitalist world order.

The root of the conflict lies in the fact that Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs are interspersed throughout a single geographic territory to which they both lay claim. In cases of “interpenetrated peoples” such as these, revolutionaries argue that:

“simply advocating the right of self-determination in such situations does not resolve the problem, because two (or more) hostile populations cannot both self-determine themselves on the same piece of land. Under capitalism the exercise of the legitimate right of self-determination by either population can only come at the expense of the other. Such a ‘solution’ can only result in maintaining or inverting the existing relations of oppression.”
In Defense of the Trotskyist Program, Trotskyist Bulletin No.3

The only historically progressive solution to this seemingly intractable problem lies through joint Arab/Jewish working-class struggle to smash Zionism from within while seeking to establish a bi-national workers’ state as part of a larger socialist federation of the Middle East. A voluntary socialist federation, led by a class-conscious proletariat rooted in the region’s diverse national, ethnic and religious communities, is the only political framework capable of equitably resolving the competing territorial and national claims.

A working-class seizure of power requires a Bolshevik-Leninist party based on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution, which links the democratic and economic demands of the proletariat with implacable struggle against imperialism, the racist Zionist state and the reactionary Arab regimes of the region. While this may seem a distant goal given the current state of Middle East politics, it is the only path forward.

Related articles:
Israel Apartheid & Palestinian Oppression (1917 No.33)
On the “Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions” Campaign (1917 No.33)
Defend the Palestinians! (1917 No.26)