Workers Vanguard No. 1114
30 June 2017
Fifty Years of Occupation
Palestinians Under Israeli Jackboot
For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!
Only months after the June 1967 Six-Day War and Israel’s seizure of the Palestinian Arab lands in the West Bank and Gaza (as well as the Syrian Golan Heights), the first Zionist settlement was up and running in the occupied West Bank. In the 50 years since, the number of settlers has soared to over 750,000. The so-called Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border, has been replaced by a concrete “separation barrier” built on confiscated Arab land. Between this monstrous ghetto wall and the Jordan River, more than two and a half million Palestinians struggle for survival. Almost all of them are crammed into 40 percent of the West Bank, where they are surrounded by military checkpoints and fortifications, divided by Jewish-only highways and subjected to unceasing brutality at the hands of soldiers and fascistic settlers.
Another two million Palestinians are confined to a living hell in the tiny Gaza Strip. After Israel removed its small settler population there in 2005, Gaza was turned into a free-fire zone for repeated massacres by the Israeli military. These have amounted to collective punishment against the people of Gaza for the 2006 electoral victory of the Islamist Hamas over Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, which maintains control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. A draconian Israeli blockade, enforced with the assistance of Egypt, ensures that the population remains destitute, overwhelmingly reliant on international aid packages and denied any possibility of rebuilding bombed-out housing and infrastructure.
Emboldened by the Trump White House, what was already the most right-wing government in Israeli history is now further strangling the Palestinian populations of Gaza and the West Bank. In early June, the Israeli government sharply curtailed the supply of electricity to Gaza’s residents, who will now have only two to four hours of electricity a day. The electricity cut was reportedly requested by Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in order to undermine Hamas. This request is only the latest in a long line of betrayals of the Palestinian people by the PA, which is widely despised and rightly seen as little more than the Zionists’ overseers in the West Bank. The political bankruptcy of the PA has driven many Palestinians into the arms of Hamas, a reactionary, anti-woman and anti-Jewish outfit.
On the eve of a visit to Israel by Trump’s “peace envoy” (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner, the Netanyahu government brazenly announced that it was beginning construction of a new settlement outside Ramallah, the first one in 25 years. Previously, successive Israeli governments have euphemistically described the massive settlement construction as merely expansion of existing settlements. Now even that flimsy cover has been dropped. Hands off Gaza—Down with the starvation blockade! All Israeli troops and settlers out of the Occupied Territories!
In the collective memory of the Palestinian masses, the 1967 conquest has come to rival the Nakba, the Catastrophe of 1948, when 80 percent of Palestinian inhabitants were driven out of what became the State of Israel. The ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people has fueled decades of national resistance and has won the sympathy and solidarity of thousands upon thousands of activists around the world. What the Palestinians and their supporters lack, however, is a strategy that addresses the root cause of Palestinian oppression.
The Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jewish nations both lay claim to the same small corner of the Near East. Under the dog-eat-dog capitalist profit system, this necessarily means that one nation will be on top and the other on the bottom. To ensure the rights of both peoples to a national existence, capitalist class rule must be overthrown throughout the region. The road to the emancipation of the Palestinians—for those in Israel and the Occupied Territories as well as for the millions more living in squalid refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere—lies in the fight to forge revolutionary proletarian parties that can lead the workers and all the exploited and oppressed in victorious socialist revolutions. Only through the creation of a collectivized, planned economy in a socialist federation of the Near East can conflicting claims over land and water be equitably resolved and all languages, religions and cultures be placed on an equal footing.
As we wrote in “Palestinian Uprising—A Year of Defiance” (WV No. 466, 2 December 1988):
“There can be a place—a full place—for Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, Kurds, for all the various peoples who make up the national and religious patchwork of the Near East. But to bring this about, the property-holding classes must be smashed. Then the working peoples can with renewed confidence impose their dominance on a new egalitarian society, deeply respecting the different national components.”
Resistance and Betrayal
For many years, the petty-bourgeois nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), whose leading faction is Fatah, looked to the Arab monarchs, sheiks and dictators to “liberate Palestine.” This was always a pipe dream. The Arab bourgeois rulers are no less enemies of Palestinian national liberation than the Zionist oppressors. In 1970’s “Black September” massacre, some 10,000 Palestinians in Jordan were slaughtered by order of the Hashemite King Hussein—with the acquiescence of Egyptian president and Arab nationalist idol Gamal Abdel Nasser.
In the wars fought between Israel and the Arab states, the emancipation of the Palestinians was never on the agenda. This was the case in 1967 and also in the 1948 and 1973 wars, during which the Arab bourgeois regimes sought to grab as much Palestinian land as they could. In these wars, revolutionary Marxists, Trotskyists, called for the Jewish and Arab workers to turn their fire against their own capitalist exploiters. (In contrast, it was necessary in 1956 to defend Egypt against an attack by imperialist Britain and France, joined by Israel.)
The patent unwillingness of the Arab bourgeoisies to defend the Palestinians pushed the PLO to beg, ever more openly, directly at the feet of the imperialists. Over the years, the imperialists and their Arab bourgeois lackey regimes have sought to solace and silence the Palestinian people through umpteen UN resolutions and a multiplicity of “peace” plans promising a bogus “two-state solution” to their oppression. Two years ago, PA president Abbas presided over the raising of the Palestinian flag for the first time outside the United Nations building in New York. This empty gesture was a consummate expression of the bankruptcy of the strategy of reliance on the imperialists pursued by Abbas’s PLO.
It was the French and British imperialists who carved up the Near East at the end of World War I. It was the UN that partitioned Palestine in 1947. And today, the imperialists, chiefly the U.S., provide billions in financial and military backing to Israel’s rulers while laying waste to countries in the region—from Iraq to Libya and Syria. Since March, hundreds of civilians have been killed each month by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. U.S. out of the Near East! Down with U.S. aid to Israel!
Years of futile “peace negotiations” and toadying to the Zionist oppressor have left Abbas and the PA thoroughly discredited. Diana Buttu, who served for several years on the PA team “negotiating” with Israel, noted in an op-ed piece in the New York Times (27 May) that many now view the PA as “simply a tool of control for Israel and the international community.” When Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, led by Abbas’s rival Marwan Barghouti, himself a prisoner, launched a hunger strike in April, the PA chief barely feigned support for them. In the upshot, after 40 days the prisoners managed to extract a modest concession from their Zionist jailers. More recently, Abbas slashed salaries for former PA employees in the Gaza Strip, thus cutting off a vital source of income to the beleaguered population.
When the U.S.-sponsored Oslo accords establishing the PA were signed in 1993 by then PLO head Yasir Arafat, they were met with acclaim not only by capitalist governments but also by reformist socialist groups around the world. In contrast, we Marxists declared that this deal “does not offer even the most deformed expression of self-determination,” but rather “would place the PLO’s seal on the national oppression of the long-suffering Palestinian masses” (“Israel-PLO Deal for Palestinian Ghetto,” WV No. 583, 10 September 1993). We added, “Its essence is that in exchange for formal Israeli recognition of its existence, and promises of imperialist/oil money, the PLO will take over the job of policing the Palestinian masses.”
In the most immediate sense, the Israel-PLO deal was a betrayal of the widest and most deepgoing mobilization ever of the Palestinian masses. Beginning in December 1987, the first Intifada galvanized Palestinian society and shook Israel. Popular committees took control of economic, social and political life in the West Bank and Gaza. Women advanced into the forefront of the struggle. The PLO leadership worked to contain this explosion of popular anger while using it to pressure the Arab rulers and the imperialist overlords to push the Zionist rulers into accepting a Palestinian mini-state in the Occupied Territories. At the same time, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 deprived the PLO and the more radical-sounding Arab capitalist regimes of a key backer. Oslo was the upshot.
The PA’s writ, such as it is, extends to only 18 percent of the West Bank. The rest is either totally or largely under Israeli control. Settlers outnumber Palestinians in fully 60 percent of the land. Growing numbers of Palestinian spokesmen, including Buttu and Ali Abunimah of the online publication Electronic Intifada, now acknowledge that the “two-state solution” is dead in the water.
Such types now advocate a “one-state solution.” When raised by radical nationalists and their left hangers-on in the 1960s and ’70s, the call for a “democratic, secular Palestine” was an expression of hostility to the national rights of the Israeli Jews, who were deemed to be a “colonial-settler population” and an “outpost of imperialism.” This outlook served only to drive the Jewish working masses deeper into the embrace of Zionist chauvinism.
Today the appeal for a “one-state solution” is simply an accommodation to the Zionist status quo. To call on Israel to give equal citizenship rights to the millions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is basically to call on Israel to stop being Israel, i.e., a Zionist state.
The latest riposte from the Netanyahu regime to the notion of “equal rights within a single state” is legislation now making its way through the Knesset (parliament) to strip Arabic of its formal status as an official language alongside Hebrew and to enshrine the right to self-determination in Israel as “unique to the Jewish people.” This proposed law is a further attack on the language and national rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel. At the same time, a glance at the conditions of these Palestinians demonstrates that it is in large part a codification of the existing reality.
Israeli society is deeply segregated: Jews and Arabs attend different schools, live in different cities and are even separated in hospital maternity wards. An article in the Times of Israel (13 April 2016) notes, “Though Arabs make up nearly 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, Israel’s largest, is nearly 95 percent Jewish.” It adds, “Eight of Israel’s 10 poorest towns are Arab.” Average salaries are 30 percent lower for Palestinian Arabs than for Jews. Per capita funding for Arab schools is one-fifth what it is for Jewish schools. One could go on with such statistics.
The oppression of the Palestinians, including those who are citizens of Israel, is not simply the result of policies enacted by a string of overtly chauvinist and right-wing Israeli governments, but of the inexorable logic of Zionism. The rulers of Israel aim not to exploit the Palestinians but to displace them. Until the 1990s, Palestinians from the Occupied Territories had been a component of the working class in Israel, overwhelmingly confined to the poorest paid, dirtiest work. However, after the Oslo agreement Israel’s rulers replaced many of these Palestinian workers with horribly oppressed and exploited migrant laborers from Africa, Asia and East Europe.
The founders of the Zionist movement sought from the outset to dispossess the indigenous Arab population in order to carve out a “national homeland for the Jewish people.” It was Hitler’s Third Reich and the Holocaust that allowed the Zionists to realize their reactionary dream. The U.S. and Britain refused entry to desperate Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi horror both before and after World War II. Instead, they were pushed to Palestine.
Proletarian Power vs. Liberal Moralism
Israel, bolstered by billions of dollars annually in American aid, is the pre-eminent military power and the only nuclear-armed state in the Near East. On the eve of the 1967 war Israel had plans to detonate a “demonstration” nuclear bomb on a mountain near an Egyptian base in the Sinai Peninsula should its military offensive falter. The Zionist rulers are not about to be convinced to share power with the Palestinian Arabs on the basis of moral arguments. Diana Buttu observes that when PLO negotiators pointed out to their Israeli counterparts that the settlements were illegal, “Israeli negotiators laughed in our faces. Power is everything, they would say, and you have none.” This situation will not be changed by the liberal movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) promoted by many Palestinian activists and fake socialists.
A May 15 statement by the BDS National Committee posted on the Electronic Intifada website “calls on people of conscience the world over to further intensify BDS campaigns to end academic, cultural, sports, military and economic links of complicity with Israel’s regime of occupation.” Academic and cultural boycotts serve only to further isolate opponents of Zionist occupation within Israel. We would support time-limited, trade-union actions against the Israeli state, but we are politically opposed to standing economic boycotts, divestment and sanctions, which in any case could only be enforced through the exercise of imperialist might. Such boycott campaigns serve to reinforce the view of a monolithic Israeli society, denying the fact that it is a class-divided country.
Israel’s rulers and their imperialist allies have responded to the BDS movement with naked repression. BDS activists in the U.S. and other countries have been subjected to vicious witchhunts and arrests. Last year, Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz called for “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders. In March, the Knesset enacted legislation denying entry into Israel to those who advocate BDS. The wording of the legislation is so broad that the ban can be applied to anyone who opposes Israel’s settlements. However much we disagree with the liberal strategy of BDS, we vigorously defend BDS activists against victimization and repression.
The power to defend the oppressed Palestinian masses resides in the millions of proletarians throughout the Near East—including in Turkey, Iran, Egypt and, not least, in Israel itself—whose class interests are irreconcilably opposed to those of their capitalist exploiters. So long as capitalist wage slavery remains, the contradiction between exploiter and exploited can ultimately only be resolved, as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels noted in the Communist Manifesto, “either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
Israel is no less governed by the laws of the class struggle than is any other capitalist country. Though the Israeli Jewish workers are deeply intoxicated by Zionist chauvinism, this does not protect them from being attacked by their capitalist exploiters. As Perry Anderson observed in “The House of Zion” (New Left Review, November-December 2015), between 1984 and 2008, average wages stagnated while housing prices shot up, spending on healthcare declined and a fifth of the population fell below the poverty line. Anderson noted: “At the other pole of this growth model, wealth is fabulously concentrated among a handful of nouveaux-riche tycoons.” The Israeli proletariat will not free itself from exploitation by its capitalist rulers unless and until it takes up the fight of the Palestinian people.
Wherever revolutionary struggle breaks out first in the Near East, what will be decisive is the intervention of a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party built on the basis of proletarian class independence and uncompromising opposition to any hint of national or religious chauvinism. The perspective of proletarian power in the region must be linked to the fight for socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries of the U.S., West Europe and Japan. In short, the struggle for national emancipation in the framework of a socialist federation of the Near East is directly and inextricably part of the fight to forge Trotskyist parties as sections of a reforged Fourth International.