Jan 26, 2009
The current war is a new stage in the battle which the State of Israel today and the Zionist movement has all along waged against the national rights of the Palestinians. The permanent instability of the region results from the contradiction between the Zionist project of establishing a specifically Jewish state in Palestine and the presence in this same territory of an Arab population also demanding the recognition of its rights.
The idea of creating a specifically Jewish state took shape at the end of the 19th century, when Theodore Herzl claimed to want to give “a land without people to a people without land.”
Except that Palestine wasn’t an uninhabited land: 700,000 Palestinians lived there. Palestine was a part of the Ottoman Empire up to 1917. After Turkey’s defeat in World War I, Great Britain wanted to seize it, getting the League of Nations, predecessor to the United Nations, to give it a “mandate” to make Palestine a British colony. Applying its usual colonial policy, Great Britain played off the different parts of the population against one another, declaring that it favored a “Jewish national homeland” in Palestine.
Jewish immigration to the country could have been handled in an entirely different way, except that the Zionist leaders never wanted to share what was there, never wanted to construct a world where Jews and Arabs could live side by side.
On the contrary, the Zionist organizations that bought lands from the big feudal Arab landlords systematically expelled the peasants who had often cultivated the fields for generations.
The presence of a Jewish population, which grew between the two world wars, served the interests of British imperialism and the Arab feudal aristocracy. It diverted the anger of the poor masses toward a conflict with the Jewish settlers.
Between 1920 and 1935, many tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants, fleeing anti-Semitism and persecutions in Poland and then in Germany, settled in Palestine. This development of Jewish colonies was accompanied by numerous expropriations and expulsions, provoking anti-Jewish riots.
In the years that followed, Palestine was the scene of important social movements. During these events, the Zionist organizations chose to act as auxiliaries of the British repressive forces. In no case did they ally themselves with the Arab masses against the colonial power.
The end of the World War II saw thousands of survivors from the Nazi concentration camps flow into Palestine. Palestine appeared to them as the sole possible refuge because the victorious “democracies” effectively refused to open their doors to the Jewish survivors of Nazism.
Among the Zionist organizations, there were groups claiming to be revolutionary socialists, indeed communists, who said they would reach out to the Arab population. But they were a drop in the bucket of what was happening between Arabs and Jews. The traditional social democrats and the extreme right set the tone. At the end of World War II, the social democrats and the right-wingers joined together to start an armed struggle, leading, they hoped to the creation of a Jewish State. But this armed struggle was as much directed against the Palestinian Arabs as against the British occupiers. Extreme right Zionist organizations engaged in terrorist attacks against the British forces but also against the Arab population. The objective of those who put bombs in Arab markets was to terrorize the population, in order to make them flee Palestine.
At the end of 1947, the U.N. proposed the division of Palestine into two states, one Palestinian, the other Jewish. The neighboring Arab states, which would have liked to put their hands on Palestine, immediately intervened to oppose the U.N. proposal. But the young State of Israel emerged victorious from the conflict. It profited from the conflict to push its borders well beyond the partition plan of the U.N., occupying 78% of the Palestinian territory.
Some 700,000 to 800,000 Palestinians fled before the advance of Israeli troops, especially after the Israelis engaged in massacres, as in Deir Yassin where in April 1948 commando raiders massacred 254 old people, women and children. Menachem Begin, the former Israeli Prime Minister, took credit for this carnage in 1961. He rejoiced that out of 800,000 Arabs living in what would become Israel, only 165,000 remained at the end of hostilities. The others became refugees, parked in camps in the West Bank of the Jordan valley, in Gaza and in neighboring countries.
The Palestinian state never came into existence. Instead, the part of the territory which had been left to Palestine was turned over to Egypt and Jordan.
In 1967, Israel took the offensive during the so-called “Six Day War,” winning a victory over Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The conquered territories weren’t annexed but were placed under Israeli military occupation. East Jerusalem was integrated into Israel.
This military defeat of the Arab countries discredited them in the eyes of the Palestinians. Militias were set up in the refugee camps. The leading role in this movement was played by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), led by Yasser Arafat, the leader of a group known as Fatah.
In his program, Arafat didn’t demand the overthrow of the social order in the future Palestine. His perspective, like that of the entire nationalist current, was to make imperialism and all the states of the region accept a Palestinian state.
In the mid-1970s, Arafat obtained a certain international recognition. But he had to wait until 1987 and the first Intifada (revolt of stones) to force Israel to negotiate with the PLO.
But no matter what concessions were offered, the Israeli state continued to encroach on the territory promised to the Palestinians. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority functioned in a drastically reduced territory. Throughout the West Bank, numerous Jewish settlements never stopped growing. The population of the Jewish settlers grew from 115,000 in 1993 to almost 500,000 today.
This settler policy of Israel’s undermined the authority of the PLO, which was incapable of carrying out any part of the 1993 Oslo Accords. It could not police those who resisted the Israeli occupation, and the PLO was riddled with the obvious corruption of some of its leaders. A growing part of the Palestinians turned toward an Islamist party, Hamas.
In the beginning, the Islamists restricted themselves to religious matters. Their principal enemy wasn’t the Israeli occupier, but rather other Palestinians, communist militants, secular militants or those they called “heathen.” At the beginning, Hamas benefitted from the benevolent neutrality of the Israeli authorities, who hoped in this way to lessen the influence of the PLO. The Islamists were legally allowed to receive subsidies from Saudi Arabia. They created hundreds of mosques and an Islamic university.
The turning point was 1987 with the first Intifada. Hamas rallied to the struggle because its leaders understood they risked being marginalized if their militants didn’t take part in the demonstrations. In 1993, Hamas distinguished itself from the PLO by opposing the Oslo Accords, which it denounced as a renunciation of Palestinian national objectives.
Ignoring Fatah as much as possible, the Israeli government pursued its policy of dispossessing the Palestinian population in the West Bank.
This policy led to the rise of Hamas, which in January 2006, became the leading Palestinian party. It took 45% of the votes in the election to the Palestinian consultative council. In June 2007, it took total control of Gaza.
The policy of the Israeli leaders not only transformed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into prisoners in their own country, it also put the Israeli population in the unenviable position of jailors, repeatedly called up for wars. It confirms the prediction of Trotsky in the 1930s, who saw in Zionism “a bloody trap.”