The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Middle East:
A Bloody Trap for Its Peoples

Oct 20, 2000

We are reproducing below the translation of an extract of a speech given by Arlette Laguiller, the spokeswoman of the French Trotskyist organization, Lutte Ouvrière, concerning the situation in the Middle East. This speech, which was given in a public meeting in Paris on October 20, appeared on the Lutte Ouvrière internet website (https://www.lutte-ouvriere.org).

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The situation in the Middle East dramatically illustrates the absence of currents which fight on the basis of the common interests of all the exploited and oppressed in this region, as in the rest of the world.

In a territory of less than 30,000 square kilometers, the equivalent of a few departments in France, two peoples exist side by side. They each have as much right as the other to have their own nation and state.

In the first place, the Palestinians, the inhabitants of this land, were deprived of the right of national existence by a long period of Turkish domination, followed by another period of domination by British imperialism. We should recall that Palestine was a British protectorate until 1948.

As for the Jews, almost all of them are immigrants who, since the last century, fled the waves of anti-semitic pogroms in Europe. But, above all it was the "death camps" and the infamy of genocide which pushed hundreds of thousands of Jews – who had survived the war, but been displaced by the hazards of war in Europe – to flee the barbarism of the European continent. To live in Palestine during the first period, they had to overcome the hostility of the British colonial power. To win the right to govern themselves, they had to fight using the terrorist methods for which the rulers of Israel now reproach the Palestinian organizations.

Those who fled Europe did not see any other choice at that time except to cling to this land where there lived, already, another people who had nothing to do with either Nazism or its crimes.

Unfortunately, history cannot be rewritten. But at that time, the possibility existed for the two peoples to forge a common history. This history could have been forged in struggle because the situation in the Middle East was already explosive.

It was explosive because of the archaic social structures, with kings, emirs, sheiks, military dictators – all of whom subjected their people to oppressive regimes, whose purpose was to maintain the privileges of a parasitic caste against a malnourished population.

It was explosive also because of the rivalry between the imperialist powers, trying to pillage this region and its petroleum resources.

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Hundreds of thousands of men and women coming to this land, coming from developed countries with all that meant in terms of culture and knowledge, among whom many had socialist and egalitarian ideas – this could have been a major support for the people in this region, helping them to liberate themselves from their oppressors and, beyond that, from the imperialist powers that divided up the Middle East and the Arab peninsula according to their rivalries or shifting interests.

The men and women who were responsible for the creation of Israel were sufficiently motivated to be able to accomplish miracles. They were able to cultivate deserts, push a backward region into a modern country. They had the material and human means to win the confidence of the poor populations of the region, to build with them a common future based on equality. But that is something they would have had to work for consciously. They couldn't have acted like nationalists with one simple philosophy, "get out so that I can put myself here." They would have had to have the courage to propose to all the peoples living there to liberate themselves together from both the domination of colonialism and the social domination of the feudal leaders in the hire of the multinational oil companies.

But the leaders of Israel chose the opposite policy, the policy of Zionism, which consisted of arrogantly affirming that Israel was the country of all the Jews. In effect, any Jewish person – even coming much later from any country for any reason – could become a citizen, while at the same time the Palestinians who had always lived on this land were denied citizenship. Making the political choice for Zionism closed the door on the chance the Jewish people had to live together with the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab peoples.

Zionism inevitably led Israel to find allies amongst the western imperialist powers. The United States, which already controlled several reactionary Arab regimes in the region, starting with Saudi Arabia, took advantage of the situation by making the state of Israel its privileged ally in the region. Israel paid for this privilege with its total dependence – economic, political and military – on the United States. The state of Israel, having the support of its entire people, became the principal cop for imperialism in this region. It was a cop well paid for its services, a bit of the West tucked in this largely underdeveloped region.

But acting as the agent of American imperialism could only reinforce the hostility of the peoples in the region toward the state of Israel – and not only of the Palestinian people, but of all the people of the region who suffer from the pillage of imperialism. Paradoxical as this might seem, Israel and its policy reinforced the most reactionary and oppressive Arab dictatorships. Posing as Israel's adversaries, they become, in the eyes of their own people, friends.

Thanks to its technical and military superiority, thanks to the support of imperialism, Israel won all the wars – in 1948, 1967 or in 1973 – forced on them by the Arab states.

But Israel also carried out wars against others who had not attacked them. [In 1956] Israel debased itself by doing the dirty work of French and British imperialism against Egypt, when its leader, Nasser, decided to nationalize the Suez canal. [In 1982] the Israeli army directly intervened against the Lebanese people when they were inspired by the example of the Palestinians to revolt. And in each of these wars, Israel expanded its borders and forced a new contingent of Palestinians off their own land.

As the result of this policy, there are today millions of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria. Some have been living there for three generations. Among those who remained in Israel, some tens of thousands of Palestinians were finally allowed to become Israeli citizens, but second class citizens, subjected to hate and racism. The Palestinians who live in the occupied territories, live under an occupation which is intolerable, especially since they don't have access to the Israeli economic miracle.

So yes, the Palestinian people have no other choice but to revolt. That is clear. The history of the Israeli occupation is littered with revolts, including the first "Intifada," the first "revolt of the stones." To put an end to the Intifada, the state of Israel chose to reach an agreement with the Palestinian nationalist leader Yasir Arafat and to create the Palestinian Authority, an imitation state which nonetheless has its own police, its own forces of repression, its own prisons, established for the purpose of repressing its own people in collaboration with the Israeli army.

But the territories given to the Palestinian Authority are only a mosaic of territories of a few square kilometers each. They are cut off from each other and surrounded by barbed wire, both in a material and moral sense. Even the Gaza Strip, the largest of these territories, is nothing but a huge concentration camp where more than a million people are crowded into an area of barely 300 square kilometers. More than half of those people are unemployed. Those lucky enough to find work inside this camp earn wages that are 10 times lower than what is earned in Israel. The few who are offered the chance to be exploited by the Israeli economy must have authorization to leave Gaza, which can be withdrawn from one day to the next.

Moreover, the policy of the Israeli government, whether it has been run by the left or the right, has been to encourage the settlement of Jewish colonists in the very zones that had been conceded to the Palestinians.

So, it is not at all surprising that the smallest provocation can lead to an explosion. All the maneuvers of international diplomacy will never find a solution which could satisfy the Palestinian people. The only tangible result of the supposed peace process is that the Palestinian population is increasingly losing confidence in Arafat and his policy.

Those who pose as the alternative to Arafat, the fundamentalists of Hamas, propose terrorism as a method of struggle and the forceful removal of the Jews out of the region as a goal. The drama of the Palestinian people is that this can only widen the gulf between the two peoples, while at the same time reinforcing the Israeli right wing which is as violently anti-Palestinian as the Hamas is anti-Israeli. This policy of mutual exclusion is even more criminal since the two peoples are completely intermingled, neighborhood by neighborhood, even house by house.

Nonetheless, the determination and combativity of the Palestinian people could be the key factor in a considerable upsurge in the region. Certainly the Clintons, Chirac-Jospins, Mubaraks and Abdullahs are not acting out of a sense of humanitarianism. Nor is it out of a willingness to deal with the two peoples in an even- handed way that Clinton had himself photographed at Sharm el- Sheik flanked on one side by Ehud Barak and on the other side by Arafat, as if that could mitigate the anger of the Gaza young people.

The Arab leaders who went to Sharm el-Sheik claiming to defend the Palestinian cause are equally the Palestinians' enemies. Just remember that during Black September in 1970, the Jordanian army massacred more Palestinians in the refugee camps than the Israeli army killed in the occupied territories. And how many more Palestinians were victims, direct or indirect, of the Lebanese state, or that of Egypt or Syria?

What all these heads, whether crowned or not, fear, what the imperialist powers, standing behind them, fear is that these people, who are already an example of combativity for the poor of the region, could find a policy to unify in one and the same struggle all the oppressed and exploited of the Middle East. If the people of Syria, Jordan or Saudi Arabia fought with the same determination as the Palestinians, neither Israel, nor the mini oil kings, nor the potentates of the Arab countries could resist.

Yes, the Palestinian revolt represents a considerable force. But in order for it to be fully effective, for it to shake imperialism, it would have to aim at uniting all the exploited, all the oppressed of the region on the basis of their own class interests, instead of being sidetracked in the dead end of nationalism.

On this basis it would also be possible to find the ear of the exploited in Israel. Even if the Israeli state occupies a privileged position in the region, there are nonetheless inside the Israeli population exploiters and exploited, rich and poor. Moreover, even if the majority of the Israeli population doesn't, for the moment, see another solution than to align itself behind the bellicose policy of its leaders, life itself and the current and future Palestinian revolt will demonstrate that a people who oppresses another people cannot be free. Because yes, even the jailers live in prison.

The Israeli state is already strongly marked by religious fundamentalism. If, in addition, it were to be led by a man of the extreme right like Sharon, it would not be a prison just for the Palestinians, but also for the Israeli people themselves.

No one has put forward over the last half a century of violent coexistence, neither on the Israeli side, nor on the Palestinian side, a policy able to unify the interests of the laboring classes, of all the people of the region, Israeli included.

But are we in France better off?

Of course, the situation is far from being as dramatic as in the Middle East. But the working class of this country is not less tricked, nor less betrayed by its leaders who claim to speak in its name.

Yes, Israel and Palestine are far from here geographically, and the situation is far more serious. But here, also, the workers are deprived of their own political perspectives because no party exists that represents, really represents their policy both in the short and long term.

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The basic problem is the same here as it is there. It reflects the absence of a communist current on the international scale, a current with the goal of fighting for the emancipation of the workers from all exploitation, which is, at the same time, the only way to fight to end all the forms of oppression that this society based on exploitation maintains around the world. The maintenance of a society based on exploitation, the maintenance of domination by a few hundred industrial and financial groups over the entire planet is what engenders such dramatic situations as the one taking place in the Middle East. The perpetuation of this society of exploitation is what has called up a resurgence of the most horrible forms of nationalist, ethnic, and religious strife, which cost humanity so much.

This is why, beyond this or that demonstration in support of the Palestinian people, real solidarity consists in working for the rebirth of an international communist current.

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