Saturday, June 1, 2002

From Workers Solidarity #70 - May/June 2002* - Israel/Palestine: Roots of the conflict

Around the end of the 19th century the area then internationally known as Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. The vast majority of the indigenous population were Muslim with a minority Christian and smaller minority Jewish (around 3%) population. The indigenous Jewish community were not involved in nor supportive of the Zionist movement which began in 1882 with the first wave of European Jewish immigration to Palestine.

Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, has the core belief that all Jews constitute one nation (and not simply a religious or ethnic community). Zionism, supported by the Western empires, was influenced by nationalist ideology and by European settler colonialism, and its goal at the outset was the concentration of as many Jews as possible in Palestine and the eventual establishment of a Jewish state there.

The Arabs of Palestine were overwhelmingly opposed to an exclusively Jewish state and to the large-scale Jewish immigration which led to eviction from their small farms, which had been sold to settlers by their landlords. European Jewish immigration to Palestine increased dramatically after Hitler's rise to power in 1933 leading to new land purchases and Jewish settlements. Palestinian resistance climaxed in 1936-9 when, after the failure of a long strike, a national revolt was attempted. The revolt was defeated by the British who had been in control of the area since the 1st world war.

After the 2nd world war, survivors of the Nazi Holocaust were not really given a choice of places to which to emigrate, opportunities to emigrate to the United States or into other countries in the Western Hemisphere being very limited. On the other hand, the indigenous Arab population rejected the idea, accepted as natural in the West, that they had a moral obligation to sacrifice their land to compensate for the crimes committed by Europeans.

In 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab. Days after the adoption of the UN partition plan fighting began between the Arab and Jewish residents of Palestine. By early 1948, the Zionist forces had secured control over the territory allotted to the Jewish state in the UN plan, as well as territory assigned to the Palestinian state, and Zionist leaders proclaimed the state of Israel. Neighbouring Arab states, whose rulers had territorial designs on Palestine, then invaded Israel-Palestine. By 1949 half the proposed Palestinian state was incorporated within Israel, East Jerusalem and the West bank was occupied by Jordon and the Gaza region was divided between Israel and Egypt. During this conflict massacres of Palestinian people took place and around 750,000 fled or were expelled. Of this refugee population, approximately one-third fled to the West Bank, another third to the Gaza Strip, and the remainder to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon or farther afield.

In 1967 Israel attacked Egypt, Syria and Jordon in a war which lasted six days and resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West bank, the Gaza strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

Since l967 a harsh military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been maintained, with the systematic humiliation and degradation of the Palestinian population an instrument of policy.
Israeli policies and practices in the West Bank and Gaza have included extensive use of collective punishments such as curfews, mass land expropriations, house demolitions, assassinations, forced movement of populations and closure of roads, schools, universities and community institutions.

Hundreds of Palestinian political activists have been deported to Jordan or Lebanon, tens of thousands of acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated, and thousands of fruit trees have been uprooted. Since 1967, over 300,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned without trial, and over half a million have been tried in the Israeli military court system. Torture of Palestinian prisoners is common practice and dozens of people have died in detention.

Palestinians are denied freedom of expression, press and political association. Every aspect of Palestinian life is regulated, and often severely restricted by the Israeli military administration. For example, the Israeli state even forbids the gathering wild thyme, and no one may plant a tree or a vegetable in the West Bank without written authorisation.

Within Israel, the minority Palestinian population live as second class citizens. Israel is the only state in the world which is not the state of its actual citizens, but of the whole Jewish people who consequently have rights that non-Jews do not. For example, 93% of the land of the state is characterised as Jewish land, meaning that no non-Jew is allowed to lease, sell or buy it.

Land expropriation, to make way for new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories has been ongoing since 1968 as more and more Arab land is ethnically cleansed. Immense networks of bypass roads linking settlements to each other have been constructed while further fragmenting and diminishing Palestinian living space and land holdings.

It is now estimated that there are almost 3.2 million Palestinian refugees living in the West bank, the Gaza strip, Jordon, Syria and the Lebanon. Of these, around a million live in refugee camps.

Israel's reign of terror in the occupied territories, accompanied by its policy of blocking economic development, aims at driving large numbers of Palestinians to emigrate and to convert the remaining population into a captive market and cheap labour force for Israel with the eventual aim of integrating the occupied territories within Israel. The minority of the Israeli ruling class who don't agree with this are not much better. Their preferred option is a weak Palestinian statelet existing alongside Israel and under it's effective control (the 'two states' solution).

The first Intifada, a mass uprising against Israeli occupation initially involving hundreds of thousands of people, took place from 1987 to 1992. After the failure of the Oslo agreement the second Intifada began in September 2000 and since then over 1,400 Palestinians and nearly 450 Israelis have been killed. Islamic religious terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have claimed responsibility for most of the suicide bombings and other attacks inside Israel, which have claimed over 160 civilian lives as of April 2002.

Israel's military response to the uprising and guerrilla war escalated in intensity and scale throughout 2001 into 2002, culminating in the recent military attack on the West Bank and Gaza strip, where the Israeli military has completely demolished entire sections of refugee camps and massacred hundreds of Palestinians living there. Villages and towns throughout the occupied territories have been raided, civilian homes shelled and demolished, electricity and water supplies cut, people assassinated and thousands of residents detained at military bases. Medical personnel and ambulances attempting to evacuate the dead and wounded have been shot at and ambulances destroyed.

Deirdre Hogan

The role of the US

Israel's economic and military development is entirely dependent on massive material and military support from the U.S. In 1982 for example a conservative estimate of the aid from the US amounted to $1000 per year for each citizen of Israel and since 1978 Israel has received something between a third to a half of total US military and economic aid in the world. "What the United States wants from Israel is that it become a technologically advanced, highly militarised society without any independent or viable economy of its own so that it's totally dependent on the United States and therefore dependable."(Chomsky) The major interest for the US lies in the energy reserves of the region. For the US, Israel is a strategic asset which serves as a barrier against indigenous threats to US control of Middle East oil.

Israeli anarchists on the occupation

This declaration written in May 2001 is an "unofficial text of small libertarian communist group in Israel". We reproduce it here to show that there is anarchist resistance to the occupation within Israel. This is part of the broader peace movement that unites some Israeli Jews and Arabs and which has attempted to break the army blockade of Ramallah on a couple of occasions. This text also provides a valuable local perspective.

The truth is now there for all to see: there is no peace agreement between Zionist Israel and the Palestinian Arab people, and there will never be. Zionist Israel is a state which adheres to discrimination between its Jewish citizens, and the rest of its citizens.

Every agreement achieved in the short run between Israel and the Palestinians will express the present power balance between an occupying force and the occupied, between the oppressor and the oppressed between the strong and the weak between the masters and the enslaved.

The solutions suggested for the present are based on "compromise" between two sides that are not equal. The formula for a "Palestinian state besides the Israeli state" is in the present conditions a big fraud. Even if Israel will agree in the near future to the establishment of such a state ruled by the PLO, it will necessarily be like a Bantustan in the time of Apartheid in South Africa: A state inflicted with high unemployment, flooded by
hundreds of thousands of returning refugees, while a very high percent of its population will be dependant on the Israeli economy.

This is the reason we do not find any value in searching for or offering any solution for the present or the near future. However, there is a strong reason to put forward principled demands worth fighting/struggling for:

1) Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Israeli army from ALL the territories occupied in 1967 war.

2) Recognition of the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination.

3) Cancellation of all the discriminatory rules that Israel has and replace them with fully equal rights for all those who live in Israel .

4) Recognition of the right of the Palestinians ("refugees") to return to their homeland.

Only a social revolution of all the region (as part of change in the social order of all the world) which will abolish the capitalist exploitation and the hierarchical structure of the states and other oppressing and discriminating mechanisms - will put end to the conflict ignited in the region by the super power states and the Zionist project they nourished.

A fuller version of this statement is available in Against War and Terrorism 2 for 2 Euro from the WSM bookservice or on the web at

Relevant links
* Anarchism and nationalism
* Stop the war