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

The Israeli State:
Created and Used by U.S. Imperialism from Its Beginnings

Oct 16, 2023

The Israeli state currently creating an enormous human disaster in Gaza is a direct product of U.S. policies aimed at dominating the Middle East. The Israeli military is deploying U.S.-made weapons, largely paid for by U.S. taxes, and the U.S. has already announced new weapons shipments. U.S. naval forces have moved to back up the Israeli military. U.S. political leaders, starting with President Biden, have announced unlimited political support for Israel.

The foundation of Israel as a Jewish state was only possible from the beginning because of U.S. support. The U.S. did not support the creation of this state out of any altruistic concern for the Jewish people, or out of a desire to create “democracy” in the Middle East, but because it intended to use the state of Israel as the most reliable armed outpost to ensure its domination of this oil-rich region.

Israel’s Origins in British Palestine

At the conclusion of World War I, Britain took Palestine from what had been the Ottoman Empire. As everywhere, the British used the policy of divide and rule to maintain their control.

They allowed, and even encouraged, a limited Jewish immigration into this overwhelmingly Arab territory. These Jewish immigrants were themselves fleeing oppression in Europe. They might have sided with the Arabs, also oppressed. But instead, the Zionists, or Jewish nationalists, sought to find a place for only their own people. They bought land from large Arab landowners—then evicted the Arab peasants who often worked as sharecroppers, setting these peoples against each other. When the Great Arab Revolt broke out in 1936, the Zionists sided with the British, even providing auxiliaries to the British Army that repressed this revolt with enormous bloodshed. And so from the beginning, the Zionists constituted an armed force that could be used by imperialism against the Arab population. They were also a convenient target for Arab rulers, who sought to direct the anger of their populations against the Jewish people, instead of the big powers, in order to be able to maintain good relations with the dominant imperialist countries.

The U.S. Helps Found the State of Israel

After World War I, Zionism attracted only a relatively small minority of Jews. A large number participated in the socialist and communist movements, standing for international working class solidarity, rather than Jewish nationalism, and many were trying to assimilate into whatever country they lived in.

With the Great Depression of the 1930s, antisemitism was ramped up by forces defending the interests of the capitalist class, serving to divert the populations’ anger away from the capitalist system. By the end of World War II in 1945, six million Jews had been murdered, and hundreds of thousands were homeless refugees. The U.S. and the countries of Europe accepted only a small number. Many turned to Palestine, hoping to find peace and safety there.

Britain did not want to let these refugees into Palestine because they would help the Zionists launch a Jewish state, and Britain intended to keep the region for itself. But the balance of power had shifted—the U.S. was now the world’s dominant power, in the Middle East as everywhere else.

U.S. corporations had increasing interests in the region’s oil. But their interests were potentially threatened by rising Arab nationalism. They saw that a Jewish state surrounded by hostile Arab countries and dependent on the U.S. might be useful in that situation. The U.S. pushed Britain to allow the Jews entry into Palestine and to allow for the creation of a new country that would be divided between two states, one Jewish and one Arab—with no one proposing that the two peoples might live together in a shared homeland.

In fact, there was no real shared Jewish national identity among the hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving from more than a dozen different countries. To impose a new Jewish state, the first religion-based state in the Middle East, its founders artificially created a supposed Jewish identity to unite the population behind them. They brought back a dead language, Hebrew, that was only spoken in religious services, and made it the national language. And even though most of the founders were themselves secular, they made Jewish religious dogma the law of the land. This opened the door to the rise of today’s Jewish religious fundamentalists and terrorists.

The moment the Zionists declared the state of Israel in 1948, the new state found itself at war with both the Arab states surrounding it and the bulk of the population of Palestine itself. In the ensuing war, the Israeli army and the paramilitary groups linked to it carried out a planned policy aimed at “Judaizing” the territory, to drive out the Arab population and create an ethnically pure state. Between 700,000 and 800,000 people fled. Hundreds of thousands of these Palestinians were forced into vast refugee camps. Many who live in Gaza today are the grandchildren—or great-grandchildren—of these refugees.

Proving Itself Useful to Imperialism

In the period after World War II, movements against the regimes the British or French had put in place swept the Arab countries. For instance, in Egypt, nationalist military officers took power and took a somewhat nationalist, independent stance against the domination of their region by Britain, France, and, increasingly, the United States.

When in 1956 Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, which had been owned by British and French investors, the Israeli military jumped in to help British and French forces try to stop the Egyptians. Then, in 1967, Israel attacked the surrounding Arab states, taking the West Bank and Gaza and weakening the states it defeated militarily. In 1973, Israel fought another war with these same states. These wars and the pressure of the Israeli military helped push Egypt more or less permanently under the domination of the U.S.—a domination which continues to this day.

And yet, the Egyptian regime remains fragile, like the other Arab dictatorships. An explosion of the poor population or even a revolution is always possible, like those that swept the region in the Arab Spring starting in 2011. The Israeli state, on the other hand, rests on a population pulled behind the Zionist project and thus totally dependent on U.S. support.

While proving once and for all Israel’s usefulness to imperialism, the conquests of 1967 also created a new problem. The Israelis could not just drive out the populations of the territories they conquered in 1967, as they had in 1948. They could have tried to integrate these populations into their own country, which was more developed and had the possibility of offering a higher standard of living. But doing so would have meant abandoning the project of having a Jewish state.

And so instead, Israel has militarily occupied these territories for the last 56 years.

From Intifada to Suicide Bombing

In 1987, the first Intifada broke out. Every day, for six years, young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza threw stones at Israeli soldiers. These responded with batons, tear gas, and bullets. But they could not contain the revolt against an Israeli occupation which kept the Palestinian population trapped in a permanent prison camp.

Finally, Israel and the U.S attempted to find a way out by agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state in 1994 that they hoped would control the Palestinian population, something Israel had found itself unable to do.

Up to this point, the Palestinian resistance had been organized by nationalists who did not emphasize religion. But seeing themselves increasingly bypassed, the Islamists in 1987 created their own political organization, Hamas.

The Israeli state continued to tighten the screws, continued to take land and build settlements in the Palestinian territories for Jews only, pushing the Palestinian population into deeper poverty. The new Palestinian Authority was unable to meet even the most modest expectations of the population. It was in this context that Hamas was able to win young Palestinians to agree to carry out suicide bombings aimed at Israeli civilians. It is a mark of the desperation of the population that Hamas found young people willing to blow themselves up in this way—but it was also a dead end not just for the bombers, but for the population. Instead of a mass mobilization against an occupying army, as had characterized the first Intifada, Palestinian resistance increasingly took the form of terrorism against the Israeli population—which threw that population more fully into the arms of the most reactionary Zionists, and behind them, the U.S.

When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel almost completely cut it off, depriving people of any way to leave. Gaza has remained an open-air prison ever since.

The Only Way out Is Solidarity Among the People

Today, about five and a half million people live under Israeli occupation or blockade in Gaza and the West Bank, compared with about six and a half million Israeli Jews and two million Arab citizens of Israel.

The history of the Jews themselves demonstrates the dead-end of nationalism: they were first the victims of European nationalisms that excluded and then massacred them by the millions, and those who accepted Jewish nationalism (Zionism) are now trapped in the prison of the Israeli state, even if they now play the role of the prison guards.

But more fundamentally, this entire situation is the result of the imperialist domination of the world. It is imperialism—first British, and then American—that has set these peoples against each other. And it is U.S. imperialism that benefits first of all from the existence of an Israeli state, armed to the teeth, counterposed to the peoples of the region, and totally dependent on the U.S. for survival.