The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

A Dead End for the Israeli People

Jan 31, 1983

In Israel, for weeks now, hearings have been underway, supposedly to determine who was responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps in West Beirut. The implication of the hearings is that to the extent Israel was involved, the massacre was an aberration. We can imagine that the result of the hearings will be to identify some individual, or set of individuals, upon whom blame for the massacre can be placed.

This result may very well suit the sectarian interests of opposition politicians of the Israeli Labor Party, who would like to topple Israeli Prime Minister Begin and his coalition government from power. The reaction against the massacre among the Israeli people themselves has created an issue that the opposition can use to attack Begin, Defense Minister Sharon, and other government leaders. However, by posing the issue of responsibility for the massacre in this way, the Labor Party politicians also help to ensure that the issue is confined to one of simple individual responsibility. They can help to ensure that no deeper questions concerning policies supported by all of Israel’s Zionist leaders, including the politicians of the Labor Party, are brought to the fore.

The Beirut massacre was certainly not the first time that Israeli troops have participated in attacks on the Palestinians. Nor is the occupation of Lebanon the first time Israeli troops have been stationed as an occupying army in other countries. Talks are now just beginning between Israeli and Lebanese officials concerning the time and conditions for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon. It appears that there are many points of disagreement, and that Israeli troops will therefore remain as an occupation force for some time at least.

But even if a quick withdrawal of Israeli troops could be affected, Israeli troops will remain as an occupation force in the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and West Bank – areas invaded by the Israeli Army in 1967.

The entire history of Israel, and of the Zionist colonization of Palestine that preceded the creation of the state of Israel, is a history of attacks against the Palestinians, and wars against other Arab peoples. Israel’s Zionist leaders offer the Israeli people no other prospect today than to continue to exist on a war footing.

For young Israelis this means they must look forward to years of service doing occupation duty in a hostile population, where they can at any moment be faced with the choice of either killing or being killed. And for the rest of the population, to continue on a war footing means they must go on making the economic sacrifices necessary to support large military forces.

Zionism has always claimed to offer the Jewish people a way to escape from the oppression they faced all over the world. But is it true that the only choice is oppression, or these continued wars? So long as the Israeli people remain within the framework of Zionism, they have no other way to pose the problem.

Zionist Colonization Meant Palestinian Expulsion

In the 1880s, when the first Zionist settlements were founded in Palestine, there were only about 24,000 Jews in Palestine out of a total population of about 450,000 people, or only about five percent of the population. Between 1882 and 1917, Zionist settlements were started in Palestine, ordinarily on land purchased from Arab owners. The lands the Zionists chose to settle on at this time were generally not those already occupied. So in these early years there were no big problems. But these problems lay ahead.

While the Zionists talked of establishing a homeland to which all Jewish people could come, in fact their goal was to establish an exclusively Jewish state on territory already occupied by other peoples, that is, by the Palestinians. To do this was going to require that the Zionists build up the Jewish population of the area, and seize control of it. To accomplish this, the Zionists eventually would expel the majority of the Palestinians.

But if the Jewish population of Palestine was to go from being a small and weak minority to one capable of creating a state, the Zionists needed a powerful backer, who would give them the protection allowing them to colonize many thousands of Jewish people from the outside into the area.

From the beginning of their colonization efforts, Zionist leaders sought the support of the imperialist powers for the creation of a Jewish homeland and state in Palestine. The Zionists foresaw the replacement of the Turks, as the dominant power in the Middle East, by the British or the French. They therefore sought approval and support for their colonization efforts in Palestine from these powers.

World War I brought the battle between the contending imperialist powers in the Middle East to a head. In 1917, Britain gave its official endorsement to Zionist colonization efforts. British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour issued a declaration supporting the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration was designed to gain world-wide Jewish support for Britain in its war against Germany and Germany’s ally Turkey. To gain Arab support

for its war effort, Britain also gave assurances at this time that it supported Arab leaders who desired national independence from the Turks.

Following the defeat of Germany and Turkey in the war, Britain became the main imperialist power in the Middle East. As in other areas of the world, the British maintained their domination by dividing the people they oppressed, and playing off one section of the population against another. In Palestine, this meant they played off Jews against Arabs and Arabs against Jews.

The Zionists accepted being used in this way. During this period, the Zionists significantly increased the pace of the colonization. This stepped-up colonization resulted in the expulsion of increasing numbers of Palestinians from their lands. And the Zionists faced growing resistance from the people they dispossessed.

By 1936, the pace of Jewish colonization in Palestine had reached a new high. Many thousands of Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution in Europe were coming to Palestine. Many of them had no choice about where to go, because the doors of the imperialist countries were closed to them.

Rioting and isolated acts of terrorism by Palestinians, among whom there was a growing opposition to British domination, and who were being pushed off more and more of their lands by the Zionists, escalated into a full-scale general strike in Jerusalem, and rebellion throughout Palestine against the British authorities. The British put down the rebellion with the help of the Zionists.

But to give a sop to the Palestinians and thus to maintain stability in the area, the British began to restrict further immigration by Jews into the area. The British announced that Palestine was supposed to become an independent Arab-Jewish state within ten years. Jewish immigration was to be limited to only 75,000 more people during the next five years – just enough to bring the Jewish population to one-third of the total for the whole area. Any subsequent Jewish immigration was to require the consent of representatives of the Palestinians living in the area. The purchase of land by Jews was also to be restricted to just a small part of western Palestine.

By this time, after more than fifty years of Jewish immigration and Arab expulsion, the Zionists had succeeded in substantially altering the proportion of Jews in the total population of Palestine. In 1940, shortly after the British announced new policies officially restricting Zionist colonization efforts, there were approximately 457,000 Jews out of a total of about 1,530,000 people in Palestine, or about thirty percent of the population.

Britain’s official program for Palestine now ran against the Zionists’ desire to continue unrestricted immigration of Jews into Palestine. It also ran against the dire need of Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe for someplace to live. Between 1940 and May 1948, more than 110,000 Jewish immigrants managed to arrive in Palestine, the vast majority of whom had fled from Nazi Europe. Many of these immigrants arrived only by braving British bullets, or by eluding British detection altogether by sneaking in. More land was bought from Arab landlords, and more Palestinian tenants were evicted from these newly purchased lands, despite British restrictions.

This is sometimes called the period of “tower and stockade” settlement. New settlements were built literally in one day to serve as armed outposts in the middle of hostile Palestinian residents whose lands were being seized out from under them. The logic governing the location of such so-called “settlements” was completely political, even directly military: to establish Jewish outposts on land, and surrounding lands, frequently occupied by Palestinians, that were desired for inclusion in the Jewish state yet to come. In 1946, eleven such armed outpost settlements were founded in the Negev region in the course of just one night.

During this period the Zionists had been forced to fight against the British, who dominated the entire Middle East, and who were also the enemy of the Arab peoples. The Zionists never sought to make an alliance with the Arabs against the British. The Zionists fought against the British, and at the same time continued the expansion of the settlements at the expense of the Palestinians.

The Establishment of the Israeli State

In November 1947, the United Nations passed a resolution ending Britain’s mandate to rule Palestine, and calling for the partition of the area into two new nations, one Jewish and the other Arab. On May 14, 1948, Britain completed withdrawal of its troops from the area. The state of Israel was proclaimed by the Zionist leaders in the area on the same day. Fighting quickly broke out between Zionist para-military forces that were now incorporated into the new Israeli state, and the armies of several Arab nations that invaded the area.

While a Jewish state was established, no Palestinian state was ever created. This is not surprising. The leaders of the Arab states bordering on Palestine had no interest in seeing any more states, either Jewish or Arab, created in the area. They wished to have as much of Palestine as possible incorporated into their own boundaries.

With the declaration of the existence of the state of Israel, Zionist para-military forces moved to immediately expel massive numbers of Palestinians, and seize large areas of land. It has been estimated that if it had not been for the fighting in the area, the population of Palestine would have been about 2,065,000 in May, 1948, including about 650,000 Jews, or about thirty-one percent of the total population. Even at this late date, less than six percent of the total land area of Palestine, including only fifteen percent of the arable land, was owned by the Jews.

The Zionist leaders used the pretext of their battle against the invading Arab armies to drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents from the area. In fact, starting weeks before the founding of Israel, and before the outbreak of war, Zionist forces began terrorizing Palestinians into leaving areas desired for inclusion in the new Jewish nation.

By November 1948, when most of the fighting between Zionist forces and the invading Arab armies had ended, many thousands of Palestinians had been killed, and 650,000 to 700,000 had fled or been driven from their lands. During this same short time, about 100,000 more Jews had immigrated into the area. So those parts of Palestine that were then incorporated into the new Israeli state had a total population of 873,000 people, eighty-two percent of whom were Jewish.

Following Israel’s victory in the 1948 War, the new Jewish state took over the lands and buildings within Israel that were abandoned by the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who left during the fighting. A series of laws were adopted confiscating these lands. This robbery of the property of the so-called “absentee” Palestinians was approved by all the Zionist political parties from Right to Left.

The lands abandoned by the Palestinians constituted more than eighty percent of the entire land area of Israel in 1948. Nearly a quarter of all the buildings in Israel at that time had been occupied by the Palestinians who left. Half of all the land in Israel that was planted in citrus fruit was abandoned. It has been estimated that by 1954, one-third of the entire Jewish population of Israel was living on so-called “absentee” property.

Israel Becomes Imperialism’s Main Cop in the Middle East

In the years following the creation of Israel, the ties between Zionism and imperialism were strengthened. The existence of Israel as a sort of “nation-fort” built by terrorism toward and the expulsion of the Palestinians had a logic that pushed Israel’s rulers to seek the support of imperialism more than ever.

Despite the Zionists’ success in establishing a state apparatus, and in defending and consolidating the lands they had seized, Israel remained surrounded by an Arab world in which some leaders immediately began to use the expulsion of the Palestinians from their lands, and the problems these Palestinian refugees faced in their camps in these countries surrounding Israel, as a pretext to propagandize against the “Zionist invaders” of the Middle East.

Israel became a convenient external enemy that Arab rulers could use to rally their population behind their own leadership. Some spoke of “driving the Jews into the sea”, “liquidating Israel”, and other acts of bloody reprisal. And these fighting words could strike a responsive chord among many Arab people in many Middle East countries, who sympathized with the plight of the Palestinians at the hands of the Zionists.

The threats against Israel by the Arab leaders also helped to create a situation in which the Zionists could persuade the Israeli people that they had no choice but to tie themselves to imperialism in order to survive.

Unlike many of the Arab regimes, the Zionist regime in Israel faced no significant internal opposition from its own citizens, or at least not from its own Jewish citizens. The decades-long development of the Jewish homeland against the sometimes violent resistance of the Palestinians who were dispossessed in the process, as well as the hostility of the Arab states surrounding Israel, had welded Israel’s Jewish citizens to their rulers tightly. Thus Israeli forces rarely had to be utilized by Israel’s rulers to police their own subjects. These forces were therefore available and reliable for use in policing areas outside of Israel’s borders. Because the Jewish population of Israel accepted the need for national unity, Israel’s leaders could keep their nation continually ready for war, or actually in a war, without the need for dictatorially imposed discipline.

For these reasons, imperialism found the Jewish state that the Zionist leaders now led to be very useful to them. The Zionists commanded a standing army whose services imperialism could use throughout the Middle East. And in some very important ways, the Israeli Army was better-suited to play the role of imperialism’s main Middle East cop than any other army in the area.

In 1956, Israeli military forces joined those of Britain and France in attacking Suez. Egyptian President Nasser had created problems for both Israel and imperialism. He played on Arab feelings against the British and Israelis. He denied the right of free passage to Israeli vessels wishing to use both the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba. In 1956, he ended British control of the Suez Canal by nationalizing it.

In joining Britain and France to deliver a blow at Nasser, Israel made a striking display of how defense of its own interests could mesh with the needs of imperialism in the area. Between 1956 and 1967, as the Unites States consolidated its position as the leading imperialist power in the Middle East, it also replaced Britain and France as Israel’s main backer. The U.S. desired a strong ally in the area, and Israel had demonstrated that it was ideally suited to play this role.

In 1967, using the massing of Egyptian troops on its Sinai border as a pretext, Israeli forces struck out simultaneously against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The Gaza Strip, Sinai Desert, Golan Heights and West Bank were all seized and held by Israeli forces. Nasser’s wings were clipped as never before. Important defensive positions facing Syria were secured. And the Palestinians in the West Bank were put under the repressive rule of Israeli occupation authorities.

The whole Middle East was temporarily re-stabilized in the interests of both Israel and imperialism. But at the same time, while Israel’s leaders had pushed some of their enemies one step further back from Israel, they had also set themselves up to become the oppressors of hundreds of thousands more Palestinians, and had created many more new enemies in the process. And for the first time, the Israeli Army had to become a permanent occupation force in areas outside the border of Israel itself.

After 1967, U.S. support for Israel was increased dramatically in recognition of the value the U.S. placed on having a reliable Middle East ally whose interests and policies usually meshed very well with its own in the area. And Israel became dependent on the U.S. more than ever before for economic and military aid.

By 1977, for example, U.S. economic aid amounted to 1.5 billion dollars, or almost fifteen percent of what Israel’s entire gross national product (GNP) was for that year. By 1981, U.S. economic grants and credits had gone up to 2.2 billion dollars.

Israel became dependent on the U.S. for almost all of its arms, too. In 1977, for example, Israel officially spent 2.9 billion dollars on its military forces. Yet one billion dollars of this amount, or almost thirty-five percent of it, was military aid that the U.S. gave to Israel in the form of weapons. These U.S. weapons constituted about ninety-five percent of all the arms that Israel imported that year, and Israel imports a very large proportion of all the arms it uses. In addition, most of the arms that Israel does not import are produced in factories in Israel that have been set up with the help of U.S. weapons manufacturers.

Now, in 1982, we have seen the Israelis use their military forces to invade Lebanon and smash the PLO forces there. For years, both Israel and imperialism have been faced with the threat to regional stability created by the collapse of the Lebanese state, and the control of large areas of Lebanon by the PLO. In 1975 and 1976, a full-scale civil war was fought in Lebanon. Under the impact of the civil war, the Lebanese Army split apart along Christian-Muslim lines. With the disintegration of the Lebanese Army, large areas of Lebanon came under the direct control of armed PLO and Muslim leftist forces, while other areas came to be controlled by right-wing Christian forces.

Syrian troops invaded and occupied a large part of Lebanon in 1976 in an attempt to eliminate the threat to the stability of the region created by this situation. But the Syrian Army was not able to completely subdue the PLO and Muslim leftist forces, and thus make possible the reestablishment of a viable Lebanese state that could control the country.

Israel’s invasion of Lebanon was designed to accomplish what the Syrian invasion and occupation had failed to do earlier. But despite the killing of over 15,000 Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims in the invasion, Lebanon has not been stabilized. The PLO fighters may have been scattered, at least temporarily. But Israeli forces now find themselves faced with the need to have their troops remain in Lebanon, at least for a time, to keep the population under control, while Lebanese Christian leaders secure the imperialist aid and the support from Lebanese Muslim leaders that is necessary to rebuild the Lebanese Army, and to reestablish their own authority throughout the whole country.

Thus, by invading Lebanon, the Israelis have once again attempted to eliminate an existing threat to their security, only to create new problems for themselves.

The Consequences of Zionist Policies for the Israeli People

As a result of Zionist policies, Israel has been molded into the main cop for imperialism in the Middle East. In developing from the early Zionist settlements to the present Israeli nation, the Jewish homeland in Palestine has increasingly come to resemble a big fort.

Today, an extremely high proportion of Israeli production is devoted to meeting its military needs. In 1980, for example, Israel had a GNP of about 13.3 billion dollars. But 4.32 billion dollars, or almost one-third of this amount, was spent by Israel on its military forces. These relatively huge expenditures on its military forces lower the standard of living for the masses of Israeli people.

Almost the whole Israeli people also have to be part of Israel’s army – an army that pulls an increasing amount of unpopular guard duty in occupied areas outside of Israel’s borders. As a recent edition of The Almanac of World Military Power put it:

Virtually the entire Israeli population, excluding Arabs, is assigned civil defense and home guard duties. Communal farms are well-organized for defense with fortifications and stocks of arms and ammunition. Older men, youths and women are well-trained to man these positions; many are veterans of the Defense Forces or participated in the guerilla struggle in Palestine before 1948.

The principal para-military force is called NAHAL (Fighting Pioneering Youth), an organization that combines military service with agricultural training. NAHAL’s prime military mission is to serve as the first line of defense against ground attack along the borders and to prevent infiltration. A secondary mission is to assist and support the army in performing duties in the occupied territories.

Is the continual fear of Palestinian attack that many Israelis have had to live with the “security” that the Zionists have claimed that the existence of a Jewish state would offer the Jewish people? Is this garrison state the “homeland” that the Jewish people desire? How do the people of Israel break out of the nation-fort that they have been building for themselves for decades?

Real Peace and Security Requires a Break with Zionism

Zionism offers no solution to these problems, because Zionist policies have created these problems. And the situation the Israeli people find themselves in today is not likely to improve in the future, but probably will get even worse, so long as the Zionists rule Israel.

If the Israeli people want a future other than being soldiers and living in an increasingly militarized society, then they are going to have to reject Zionism, and fight against both the Zionist regime and against imperialism. The domination of the Middle East by imperialism is the root cause of the violence in the area. But the Zionist regime is allied with imperialism in its domination of the area.

In breaking with Zionism, the Israeli people are going to have to establish a new relationship with the Arab peoples around them, based on the pursuit of their common interests. The masses of people in both Israel and the Arab nations need and desire peace. They gain nothing from the never-ending wars that they have been called upon to fight.

The Israeli and Arab peoples also share a common interest in breaking the strangle-hold that imperialism now has on the resources of the Middle East. Because the resources of the area are controlled by imperialism, there is incredible poverty and deprivation among tens of millions of people in the area, while at the same time, a few Arab rulers who have tied themselves to imperialism live in incredible wealth.

It is in the common interests of both Israelis and Arabs to end this situation. But the Israeli people must take the initiative to do this. Since the creation of Israel, they have accepted being imperialism’s most important foot soldiers against the Arab peoples in the Middle East. They should show to the Arab peoples that they are ready to change their policy, that they are ready to propose an alliance against imperialism, if they want the Arab peoples to change their attitude toward them.