February 2001 

Defend the Palestinian People!

Insurgent Palestinian youth confront Israeli army on the West Bank, October 2000. 
Photo: Reuters

For an Arab/Hebrew Workers Republic
in a Socialist Federation of the Near East!

Day after day for the last four months, thousands of Palestinian youths have gone out to the barricades and checkpoints that surround their cities and towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to confront the Zionist forces that imprison them. Launching stones with slingshots, they brave the fire of cold-blooded assassins of the Israeli army and fanatical Zionist settlers. Tanks against children, high-powered sniper rifles against rocks, Israeli helicopter gunships firing on Palestinian cars and homes – this is the bloody reality which the imperialist media even-handedly describes as a “conflict.” So far some 350 Palestinian Arabs have been killed and more than 12,000 injured in this one-sided slaughter. 

The bravery of the Arab youths in launching a new intifada (uprising) is a courage born of desperation, of people who have nothing to lose. It is the valor of the Jews who, ignoring the impossible military odds, rose in the Warsaw ghetto revolt against Hitler’s Wehrmacht and the Nazi SS. Only today it is the self-proclaimed “Jewish state,” which came into existence as a result of the genocidal Holocaust, that is engaging in “collective punishment” for rebellion, which sends out Sonderkommandos to shoot down an “enemy population” with impunity.

The Palestinian revolt was set off by the “visit” of right-wing politician Ariel Sharon to the religious site in the heart of Jerusalem that is known by Jews as the Temple Mount above the Western (“Wailing”) Wall. The same site is known by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), and the area Sharon strode through was the esplanade in front of the Al Aqsa mosque. Even the United Nations called this act a provocation. While Sharon protested that as a Jew he had the right to walk through the holy site, in fact he was accompanied by the entire leadership of the Likud party and 1,000 Israeli police and soldiers, with another 2,000 cops and troops posted throughout the Old City to put down the anticipated Palestinian protests. 

 Israeli soldiers brutalize Palestinian demonstrator in Hebron, October 2000. Photo: DPA

This supposedly private affair was approved in advance by then prime minister Ehud Barak and top Israeli generals and secret police officials. The government had a specific purpose in approving Sharon’s provocation: at the Camp David summit meeting in July with Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, the U.S. president presented on Barak’s behalf a bogus “peace” plan that would exclude Palestinian sovereignty over the religious site and the rest of East Jerusalem. When Arafat balked at accepting this diktat, the talks were called off and Clinton denounced the Palestinians’ unwillingness to “compromise.” The purpose of Sharon’s armed stroll was to drive home the Zionists’ insistence that Jerusalem was the “indivisible, eternal” capital of Israel and their refusal to go back to the borders of 1967. 

By focusing on the Jerusalem mosque, the Sharon provocation was perhaps intended to set off a religious war, and in some Palestinian sectors the revolt is referred to as the Al Aqsa Intifada. But the Islamic fundamentalists have played only a marginal role in the clashes, which have been led by youth and militia groups associated with Arafat’s secular nationalist outfit, Fatah. And contrary to the Zionists’ pretense that the Palestinian rais (leader) could turn the militancy on and off at will, the angry young militants denounced their own corrupt and impotent leaders for capitulating to Clinton and Barak. At bottom, the current uprising is the continuation of the first intifada that began in late 1988 and lasted until the Palestinian-Israeli “peace” talks in Oslo, Norway in the early ’90s. When the “peace process” broke down, the fighting resumed. 

The first uprising convinced Israel’s top generals and “Labor” politicians that occupation of the territories was becoming too costly, and that they should turn over policing of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The talks which led to the 1994 handshake by Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat in the White House Rose Garden were intended by the Zionists to gain security for Israel under the slogan “land for peace.” A Palestinian Authority (PA) was set up that was entirely dependent on Israel, the U.S. and Europe for its income, was divided into two distinct sectors (West Bank and Gaza) separated by Israeli territory, and received full control over no more than 9 percent of the Occupied Territories. This “authority” could do nothing to improve the lives of Palestinians and had only one function: under CIA supervision it built up a bloated police apparatus (seven different secret police organizations) tasked with jailing Muslim fundamentalists in order to stop terror bombing. 

Yet terror bombing is exactly what the Zionists have done to Gaza, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and other Palestinian cities over the last few months, on a vastly larger scale than the occasional Islamic Jihad car bomb in Tel Aviv. And with hardly a mention in the press, the entire population of Hebron has been hermetically sealed off for months, thousands locked down in their homes by an unending 24-hour curfew, as Zionist settlers maraud. As the Israeli army engages in wanton mass murder, a dozen Israeli soldiers and a couple dozen settlers have been killed in retaliation. In addition, several Jewish civilians were slain by Islamic fundamentalists, who consider every Jew a target, and by youths enraged by the monstrous Zionist massacre. This has been used by Israel’s rulers to whip up a climate of “insecurity” that led to the landslide election on February 6 of the butcher Ariel Sharon as prime minister. Former general Sharon is a mass murderer who was responsible for the 1982 slaughter of over 2,000 Palestinians in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. 

Ehud Barak, the butcher of intifada 2000 (left). Ariel Sharon, the butcher of Sabra and Shatila (right). 
Photos: DPA (left), Tsafir Abayov/Impact Visuals (right). 

So-called liberal Zionists supported Barak during the elections and blamed the Palestinian revolt for having “doomed Mr. Barak’s peace policy” (New York Times, 7 February). They now call on Sharon to keep his promises about a “unity” government and urge him to “continue moving on the path of reconciliation with the Palestinians, set in train by his predecessors” (editorial in Ha’aretz, 7 February). But while Sharon campaigned on a phony platform of “peace and security,” what he means by peace is something quite different. In 1982 he masterminded the Israeli invasion of Lebanon under the code name “Peace for the Galilee.” In 1971, Sharon carried out a campaign called “Pacification of Gaza” which bulldozed thousands of Palestinian homes in the Gaza strip and deported thousands into the Negev desert. The unmistakable significance of the recent elections is that Israel is preparing for full-scale war on the Palestinian population, or as Ha’aretz delicately put it, “a broad-based armed confrontation.” 

On the Israeli side, everything has long been prepared. Since last summer, the Israeli army has done nothing but put into practice plans that were drawn up well over a year ago, supposedly to respond to a “declaration of independence” by Arafat. Army reservists have been notified that they may soon be called up. Already the former “Green Line” (the pre-1967 border) has been fortified with concrete barriers and fences and moved several kilometers into the West Bank. Sharon will soon start issuing ultimatums. If he orders a unilateral “separation,” annexing the settlements to Israel, he will simply be implementing the policy Barak first threatened in response to the new intifada last October. “We are facing a real war,” the head of the Settlers Council is quoted as saying. “A Likud official who is slated to be a minister told me this morning: ‘Until now, this was child’s play. Now, it’s the real story’” (New York Times, 8 February). 

In this threatened war, as in the present bloody confrontation, Marxists must defend the Palestinian people and stand solidly on the side of their revolt and resistance against the Israeli occupation forces, including the Zionist settlers. Class-conscious workers throughout the world must demand that Israel get out of all the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. We defend the Palestinian right to an independent state and full democratic rights for the Arab population of Israel, as well as the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the country they were driven out of in 1948 and 1967. At the same time we point out that a pseudo-state limited to the barren Gaza Strip and rocky West Bank can only be a glorified ghetto for the Palestinian population. Moreover, as internationalist communists we defend the right of self-determination as well for the Hebrew-speaking people, a democratic right which is counterposed to the inherently anti-democratic “Jewish state” of Israel. In the face of these competing national rights on the same territory, genuine liberation for the working people of both nations can only come about through Arab/Hebrew workers revolution and a socialist federation of the Near East.

The Oslo “Peace Process” Hoax

From the beginning, the “peace” negotiations initiated by the Zionist rulers and orchestrated by the U.S. were intended to subject Arabs to continued Israeli dominance, dividing them into isolated enclaves, separated by military highways, and leaving them with no means of self-defense against the Zionist military juggernaut. In the West Bank and Gaza, conditions have gotten steadily worse. The Israeli army pulled back to the outskirts of the cities and towns, so it wouldn’t have to deal with daily clashes in the crowded streets. But the military vise is just as tight. The number of Zionist settlers has increased by almost half. And every time Israel’s government was displeased, it would seal the Green Line, thus preventing Arab workers from commuting to jobs in Israel. The economic strangulation has led to a sharp drop in income, so that the average Palestinian family is now earning less than half what it did in 1994. To top it off, because the PA chairman signed agreements for Israeli troop “redeployments,” the United Nations no longer considers the West Bank and Gaza occupied territories. Arafat became chief jailer and legalized the occupation!

The coverage in the Zionist and imperialist media is shot through with racism. They rail at Palestinian youth for refusing to reconcile themselves with their oppressors. Palestinian parents are denounced for supposedly sending their children out to be killed. This echoes the British and American colonialist refrain that for Asians “life is cheap.” But who is doing the killing? The Israeli government argues “stones kill,” and then sends army sharpshooters to assassinate children. A medical team of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) sent to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank at the end of October 2000 found that roughly 50 percent of fatal gunshot wounds were to the head, which “suggests that given broad rules of engagement, soldiers are specifically aiming at peoples’ heads.” Over half the fatalities in Gaza were killed by high-velocity weapons (sniper rifles), and almost 40 percent of those killed were under the age of 18.  Palestinian ambulances were deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers, and 17 were destroyed in 64 separate attacks. The so-called “rubber bullets” used against Palestinians are actually steel bullets with a thin rubber or plastic coating and are quite lethal. 

Now the press is trying to make the new Israeli prime minister out as a man of peace. Every time the Sabra and Shatila massacre is mentioned, newspaper accounts add that an “official investigation” found General Sharon only “indirectly” responsible for the killing. The report, by an Israeli commission of inquiry, was a whitewash. The two refugee camps in Beirut were surrounded by the Israeli army. Sharon’s troops allowed the fascistic Christian Phalange forces to enter the camps. A 7 February report by the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights notes:

“Israeli searchlights illuminated the camps, while Israeli army personnel watched through binoculars as the death squads spread unchallenged through the camps. Whole families were murdered, many were raped and tortured before being killed. So many bodies were heaped into lorries and taken away, or buried in mass graves, that the exact toll will never be known, but Palestinian sources estimate at least 2000 people were killed.”
And this was not the only massacre staged by Sharon. In 1953 he founded and led the infamous Unit 101 which attacked the village of Qibya in Jordan. Under his command soldiers moved through the village blowing up houses, throwing hand grenades and firing into doorways and windows, killing 69 civilians, mostly women and children. Following the 1967 war, he drove 160,000 residents of East Jerusalem out of their homes, bulldozing houses, blowing up refugee camps, imprisoning hundreds of youth. 

But Sharon is far from the only war criminal in the leadership of the Zionist state. His predecessor, former general Ehud Barak, led killer commandos under Sharon’s command. The reputed “dove” Shimon Peres was the prime minister who ordered the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon led by Sharon that killed more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian refugees. And the supposed “prime minister of peace,” former general Yitzhak Rabin, carried out the massacres at Lydda and Ramleh in the 1948 war on the orders of Israel’s founding leader David Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion, Rabin, Peres and Barak were all leaders of the misnamed Israeli “Labor” Party, which is in fact a bourgeois party that founded and led the Zionist state for the first three decades of its existence. Sharon will govern as leader of the rightist Likud Party, whose founder Menachem Begin was responsible for the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948 that killed more than 250 unarmed Palestinians. That bloodbath was carried out in an attack that was authorized by the “Labor” Zionist leadership of the Haganah, forerunner of the Israeli army, and was part of its “Plan Dalet” aimed at emptying Palestine of its Arab population. 

Both in numbers of Arabs killed by their leaders and in their policies in the Occupied Territories, the differences between “Labor” and Likud are virtually imperceptible to the Palestinians. Sharon in earlier stints in the Israeli cabinet, first as agriculture minister and then as housing minister, presided over the setting up of Zionist settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. But those settlements were first authorized by “Labor” and have continued apace under Barak, now totalling roughly 400,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (almost half of them in areas annexed to “Greater Jerusalem”). Sharon has vowed that he won’t give up East Jerusalem or the Jordan River valley or the settlements to a Palestinian state. But Barak boasted that he didn’t give one square inch of territory to the Palestinians and “80 percent” of the settlements would be annexed to Israel. While reports “leaked” to the media claimed that he had proposed to give up “95 percent” of the West Bank to the PA, this was after subtracting the areas annexed to “Greater Jerusalem” and similar subterfuges.

The new prime minister of Israel is a vicious war criminal, no doubt about it. In response, various human rights groups and “peace” organizations in Israel are circulating a petition calling on international tribunals to arrest Sharon for violating the Geneva conventions on war. How absurd! They are appealing to the imperialist forces who in 1999 terror-bombed Yugoslavia in the name of “human rights,” who in 1991 carried out the Desert Slaughter of the Persian Gulf War, whose UN-authorized economic embargo has since killed a million and a half Iraqi children, and who have backed Israel for decades. Of course, it is no less absurd to look to the United Nations or the European Union or the United States to bring about a Palestinian state. Yet that has been the policy of Arafat and the PLO from the beginnings of an organized Palestinian independence struggle. 

When you add it up, it’s obvious that far from Sharon being an exception, being a verifiable war criminal is an occupational requirement for leading Israel. This only underscores the fact that to bring them down what’s required is a revolution that does away with the racist state that they head. But such a revolution cannot be brought about simply by valiant youth throwing stones at tanks. Their actions may dramatize the tremendous disproportion in power between Israel and the still largely disarmed Palestinian population, but after a few weeks or months the media stop showing pictures and the killing goes on unnoticed. 

Palestinian youth throws back tear gas canister at Israeli 
soldiers during protests in Ramallah, West Bank, 
25 October 2000. Photo: Enric Marti/AP.

What is required is a victorious fight for power, and the Palestinians cannot wage that struggle alone. As they have demonstrated repeatedly since 1948, the Arab bourgeois regimes are no allies of the Palestinian masses. In tacit (or in the case of Jordan’s King Abdullah, open) connivance with the Zionists they carved up the remains of Mandate Palestine, taking the parts that Israel didn’t yet have the strength to conquer. Jordan brutally suppressed the 1970 Black September uprising in the Palestinian refugee camps against the Hashemite monarchy, which Arafat himself refused to support as it was directed against a fellow Arab leader. Succeeding Lebanese regimes, both Christian and Muslim, have laid siege to the Palestinian camps, condemning their residents to a miserable existence. Gaza under Egyptian rule was just as much a prison for its inhabitants as it has been under Israel.

Genuine peace in the land of Palestine will require a civil war in Israel, and in the surrounding Arab countries. The Israeli fortress must be taken from without and within, which can only be accomplished by a revolutionary working-class mobilization that breaches national divisions. There are plenty of fissures. The pressure of the first intifada took a deadly toll on Zionist unity in Israel. Right-wing Orthodox rabbis declared Rabin a “traitor” for initiating the Oslo “peace” talks, and a Zionist fanatic involved in fascistic circles carried out their implicit sentence by assassinating the “Labor” prime minister. A new round of clashes has again heightened tensions in Israel, so that a prominent rightist, Nadav Shragai, could write on the eve of the elections that it was necessary to “relegitimize the Zionist enterprise,” because a sense of “powerlessness” has “generated a mood of despair and a feeling that Israel has reached the end of the road,” and it was necessary to “restore the feeling that was once prevalent in Israel: the belief that the foundations of the Jewish state in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people are just” (Ha’aretz, 30 January).
A prominent Russian Jewish writer, Israel Shamir, replied to Uri Avnery, guru of the left-Zionist “Peace Bloc” (Gush Shalom) and longtime proponent of a “two-state” policy: 

“Face the harsh truth: the idea of two states in Palestine is, and has always been, a bluff. After being partitioned for only 19 years, Palestine has been united for 33 years….
“Mr. Avnery, have you visited Maalot or Ophakim lately? In those towns you hardly encounter anyone that you would consider to be a ‘Jew’. If you speak Ukrainian or Amharic, you might get by. The fact is that we have not two nations, but a variety of communities. The Moroccans of Ramle, the Russians of Ashdod, the software wizkids of Hertzliya Pituah, the millionaires of Caesarea, the settlers of Tapuah, the scholars of Mea Shearim, the Ethiopians of Ophakim, these wildly diverse communities constitute a Jewish nation only in the imagination of the Zionist establishment, the pre-’48 settlers and their aging children. ‘The first Israel’ has good reason for this flight of fantasy, as this minority still monopolizes power over the other communities and retains all its perks.”
–“The Future Is Now” (19 January) 
Palestinian nationalists looking at Israel see only a Zionist monolith. This will no doubt be reinforced by the landslide for Sharon in the recent elections. But in addition to the rightward electoral shift there was a huge increase in abstention, by Israeli Arabs and by many Jews who could not stomach voting for Barak. There are numerous fault lines in the Zionist state: a secular majority, an ultra-Orthodox minority, Ashkenazi (European) and Mizrahi (Oriental) Jews, Arabs, Russian immigrants, Druzes, a growing population of immigrant workers (Filipinos, Romanians), some of them “legal” and others “illegal.” In the absence of a revolutionary party fighting for proletarian unity across communal lines, such contradictory forces will polarize to the right. But a class polarization is possible, even in Israel, but only through a sharp political struggle for communism against Zionist domination, as well as opposing the Arab nationalism that is a bourgeois ideology of despair for the oppressed Palestinians just as Zionism was for the oppressed Jews of Europe. 

Two Peoples, One Land

One of the most prominent Palestinian critics of Arafat and the chaotic corruption of the Palestinian Authority is Edward Said, a professor at New York’s Columbia University. (There he has been the target of a nasty academic witchhunt and vilification by Zionist pundits for the “crime” of having thrown a stone at Israel’s northern border following Barak’s withdrawal last June after almost two decades of Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon!) Said was a member of the Palestine National Council (the “parliament” of the PLO) from 1977 through 1991, when he resigned because he considered the terms accepted by the PLO leadership for participation in the Madrid and later Oslo negotiations as “disastrous.” “The gains of the intifada were about to be squandered,” he wrote, while “Arafat and a few of his closest advisers had already decided on their own to accept anything that the United States and Israel might throw their way, just in order to survive as part of the ‘peace process’” (Edward Said, Peace and Its Discontents [Random House, 1995]).

Said called the PLO leader’s policies “misguided,” the U.S.-orchestrated “peace process” “vulgar and distasteful,” the Palestinian negotiating team “weak” and “incapacitated.” He pungently declared that Arafat’s “capitulation” had converted him from “being the leader of his people’s quest for independence into Israel’s Buthelezi” (head of the South African sponsored Zulu bantustan) “or the head of a Vichy government” (the Nazi puppet regime in World War II France). Yet Said declared himself for “a two-state solution peacefully arrived at,” and ignored the fact that throughout his tenure in the Palestine National Council, the PLO was explicitly for a West Bank/Gaza mini-state, which could not be anything but such a bantustan or puppet regime. 

The Oslo talks and the U.S.-sponsored negotiations were not just an Israeli imposition, or the product of betrayal or incapacity of the PLO leadership, as Said portrays it. The phony “peace process” expresses the logic of the bourgeois nationalist program of the PLO and all of its components, including petty-bourgeois “left” nationalists who in the past have cloaked their program in Marxist-sounding phrases and who today are part of the corrupt and capricious “Palestinian Authority.” Ever since the 1948 debacle, in which more than 80 per cent of the Arab population was driven from their land by the victorious Zionists, Palestinian nationalists have been well aware that their military and economic strength is vastly inferior to that of Israel. Though they may at times assume militant postures, they ultimately seek accomodation with the imperialists, competing with the Zionists for their favor. This is also true of the Islamic fundamentalist groups, which in fact were set up with the connivance of the Israeli secret services as a counterbalance to the PLO. 

Israeli tank taking aim at Palestinian town of Beit Jala. 
Photo: Yaghob Zaded/SIPA Press

In a recent book with the prophetic title, The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (Pantheon, 2000), Said takes a different tack. He now considers:

“The present crisis is, I think, a glimmering of the end of the two-state solution, whose unworkability Oslo, perhaps unconsciously, embodies. Israelis and Palestinians are too intertwined with each other in history, experience, and actuality to separate, even though each proclaims the need for separate statehood and will in fact have it. The challenge is to find a peaceful way in which to coexist not as warring Jews, Muslims, and Christians, but as equal citizens in the same land.”
Yet while Said now writes that “nationalism had become the dead end of our political life,” he remains a liberal and looks for peaceful coexistence on a purely democratic (bourgeois) basis. This is impossible under capitalism, which sets the two peoples at each other’s throats.

This can be shown by many examples, but in the parched lands of the eastern Mediterranean, separated by a desert from the “fertile crescent” of Mesopotamia (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) and the heavily populated Nile, water is a key question.  Since 1967, water in the West Bank has been under military control. Palestinians are forbidden to dig new wells, and 82 percent of the water from West Bank aquifers (underground water sources) is reserved for Israel. On the West Bank itself, settlers consume an average of six times as much water as Palestinian villagers (Journal of Palestine Studies, Winter 2000). Thus the average Israeli consumption of water is 375 cubic meters per person per year while for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories it is 115 cm2. Israeli agriculture, which contributes 2 per cent of the gross domestic product, has one of the highest percentages of irrigated land in the world (roughly half the cultivable land), while in the Palestinian territories, where agriculture is 15 percent of the GDP, only 6 percent is irrigated.

The Zionists focused on the question of water in Palestine long before the birth of Israel. In 1919, World Zionist Organization leader Chaim Weizman wrote to British prime minister Lloyd George to say, “The whole economic future of Palestine is dependent upon its water supply for irrigation and for electric power.” In his letter, Weizman advocated making the Litani River (now in Lebanon) the northern boundary of Palestine. At the end of the 1948 war, Israel bordered only a section of the Jordan River. By 1953 it was draining vast quantities of water from Lake Tiberias to irrigate the coastal plain and the Negev, without consulting Syria or Jordan. It also began diverting waters from the Jordan. When Syria began building storage dams on the Yarmuk River in the early ’60s, to prevent water from reaching Lake Tiberias where Israel would siphon it off, the Israelis launched attacks on the work sites. Lebanon also suspects Israel has been pumping underground water from the Hasbani River basin (David Paul, “Water Issues in the Arab-Israeli Conflict”).

It is not just Palestinian Arabs and Israel who are at loggerheads over water. When Turkey cut off the flow of the Tigris River to construct the giant Atatürk Dam, Syria responded by sponsoring the guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Turkey turned the water tap back on. Similar conflicts opposed Turkey and Iraq over the construction of dams that would cut the flow of water down the Euphrates, and thus drastically affect Iraqi agriculture. Iraq, in turn, has been draining the Basra Marshes, home of the Shi’ite Muslim minority which has long opposed the Sunni Muslim Ba’athist nationalist regime. The list could be multiplied endlessly. The same could be said about conflicts over the oil wealth of the Near East, which is concentrated in the hands a few ultra-reactionary Gulf emirates and the Sa’udi monarchy. Under capitalism, these vital resources will “belong” to the nation that controls them for exclusive exploitation by its rulers. Yet this will powerfully determine the prosperity or poverty of the inhabitants and neighboring peoples. Without its water supply, the West Bank will remain impoverished, yet the Israelis control the underground water, and postponed any agreement on this vital issue to the “final status” negotiations.

Only socialist international economic planning can overcome such conflicts. 

Marxism and Interpenetrated Peoples

Various pseudo-socialist organizations have long tailed after the PLO, declaring that Palestinian nationalism is “progressive,” as they do with nationalist groups throughout the world. In Israel, the grouping associated with the late Ernest Mandel’s United Secretariat actually supported the Oslo “peace” hoax. Thus an open letter by leading Mandelite Michel Warschawski to a friend in Israel’s “mainstream” peace movement quotes from an earlier letter written the day after the signing of the Oslo accords: “…the two of us are now committed to the same campaign: to bring about the full implementation of the Oslo agreement, in hopes that the new arrangements will prepare the ground for a true peace between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘In hopes,’ I say, because unlike you I do not rely on ‘historical necessity’ nor on Yitzhak Rabin and his government” (“Mutual Respect or Religious War,” Workers Liberty No. 68). Even today, Warschawski writes that the 1993 Washington declaration produced “certain, certainly not insignificant changes,” and argues:

“Yasir Arafat, and still more the hundreds of thousands of militants and combatants who support him, are not puppets of Israel. If they accepted the Israeli diktats, it was with the idea of obtaining, at the end of the interim period, the total end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a sovereign state in the liberated territories, with Jerusalem as its capital. History will say if the method was good….”
International Viewpoint, November 2000
It appears that history has spoken, and the verdict is negative.

On the other hand, today many leftists who are no less opportunist than Warschawski proclaim “Victory to the Intifada!” and correctly denounce Arafat for selling out to Israel. This is the case of the British group Workers Power (November 2000), which notes that “the continued existence of the Zionist state of Israel and the full democratic national right of the Palestinians to their own state are incompatible,” but while WP makes a ritual reference to the Jewish workers and Histadrut general strikes it says nothing about national or even democratic rights of the Hebrew-speaking population and raises no perspective of struggle for the Israeli working class. How then is the intifada to achieve victory? WP calls (presumably on the imperialists) to “break all diplomatic and trade ties with Israel,” and for “unconditional and immediate aid by surrounding Arab states,” that is, by the colonels, kings and sheiks. 

In a similar vein, the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) in the U.S. calls for “Self-Determination for Palestine: All of Israel is ‘Occupied Territory’!”  The LRP doesn’t even bother to mention Hebrew workers, declaring that “Israel serves as a heavily subsidized, heavily armed outpost for the United States” – in other words, an extension of imperialism. The LRP, which termed the Soviet Union “statified capitalism,” comes from the tradition of Max Shachtman, who split from Trotskyism in 1940 refusing to defend the USSR on the eve of World War II, while the WP is derived from Tony Cliff’s tendency which refused to defend the Soviet Union in the Korean War and labeled the USSR “state capitalist.”  What the LRP and WP have in common is that oblivious to the class line they tail after nationalism and ultimately line up with imperialism.

The most grotesque version of this line was put forward some years ago by the pseudo-Trotskyist current led by the late Nahuel Moreno in Latin America, who in his organ Correo Internacional (September 1982) declared that “there is no other way to destroy the Zionist state than throwing out the Zionists.” He made clear what he meant by this by adding that if anyone thought there were “non-Zionist Jewish residents” in Israel, “those imaginary inhabitants do not exist.” And to be doubly and triply clear, he added that destruction of the Zionist state “necessarily implies the removal of the present inhabitants,” for otherwise this would mean “accepting the accomplished fact of the Jewish occupation of Israel.” This is unadulterated anti-Semitism, which comes down to the call to “drive the Jews into the sea.” It is a great service to the Zionists, who claim this is the real position of anyone who opposes their “Jewish state.”

The ultimate logic of the Morenoite position is genocide, as is the case for all nationalism if taken to the extreme. Hitler’s Nazis were extreme German nationalists, and the Zionist fascists of Kahane Chai and Kach are not bashful about spelling out their plans to eliminate the Arab population of “Judea and Samaria.” Located on the West Bank where they have a good deal of support from ultra-rightist settlers, their main figure, Benjamin Kahane, son of the former head of the Brooklyn-based Jewish Defense League Meir Kahane, and his wife were ambushed at the beginning of this year. 

The more “moderate” pseudo-socialist camp followers of Palestinian nationalism simply deny that Israeli Jews have the right to self-determination, since Israel is an oppressor nation. Some try to give this a “theoretical” justification by claiming that Zionist Israel is a “colonial-settler state,” as the American Cliffites do in an article with that title in the International Socialist Review (December 2000-January 2001). This would equate Israeli Jews with white settlers in Rhodesia. But while the Zionist implantation in Palestine began as a colonization scheme, it ended up creating a Hebrew-speaking nation of four million people. And although Zionist Israel requires imperialist backing, it has its own national interests and has in the past broken with one Great Power sponsor to side with another, switching from the British to the Americans. Today it is indeed heavily subsidized by the U.S., but so are Egypt and Jordan.

At most the “socialist” supporters of Palestinian nationalism would grant the Hebrew-speaking population vague “democratic rights,” but not national rights, as a minority in a bourgeois, majority-Arab Palestine. This was the original position of the PLO as well as the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) of Nayef Hawatmeh. But denying the right of national self-determination to the Hebrew population means to offer them no perspective but that of a discriminated-against minority. As Leninists, we defend the oppressed Palestinians against the Zionist oppressors, at the same time as we recognize the right of self-determination for all nations – that is, both Palestinian Arabs and the Hebrew-speaking population have a democratic right to an independent state. 

Palestinian refugee in Gaza, January 2001. Photo: Reuters.

This does not mean recognition of a right to exist of Israel, which was born out of a heinous crime against the Palestinian people, expelling the Arabs from their land and depriving them of their right to national existence by military force. The Zionist state is inherently discriminatory and oppressive toward non-Jews (such as the almost one-fifth of the Israeli population that is Arab or Druze). Thus even liberal Zionists like Uri Avnery oppose the Palestinian Arabs’ clear democratic right to return to the land from which they were driven, saying this would destroy Israel. Indeed. Whether Jews are defined in religious or ethnic terms, whether the regime is openly theocratic or has the trappings of bourgeois democracy, an explicitly “Jewish state” is necessarily anti-democratic, as were the “Christian” or “Aryan” states proclaimed by rightist authoritarians and fascists in Europe of the 1930s. Communists fight against the present Zionist state of Israel as we do also against the “Islamic republic” of Iran, which is necessarily discriminatory against Jews, Zoroastrians and other religious, ethnic and national minorities. 

Moreover, since the right of self-detemination is a democratic right, the exercise of this right becomes problematic where two nations occupy the same territory. While the origins of Israel are unique, as the product of a colonization project that cohered as a nation, the conflict posed by the existence in the same confined geographical space of Palestinian Arabs and the Hebrew-speaking people is not. Examples of “interpenetrated peoples” are to be found throughout the Near East, which has been at the crossroads of history, and in various parts of the former Ottoman Empire. Next door in Lebanon there are Shi’ite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Druzes, Aluwites, Maronite Christians, Greek Orthodox Christians, all organized on a communal basis. In Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran there are large Kurdish minorities. 

Europe at the close of feudalism was dotted with such minority peoples, who were then subjugated by the ascendant capitalist nations by fire and sword, their rulers put to the stake as heretics, their languages wiped out. But in the imperialist epoch of decaying capitalism, it is no longer possible for the dominant bourgeoisies to “assimilate” such peoples through economic development. Under capitalist rule there is no way that competing rights of national self-determination for two peoples occupying the same territory can be democratically resolved. In an economic system based on competition and exploitation, one or the other will be oppressed. Control of scarce resources such as water and oil or vital transportation routes will determine who prospers and who lives in misery. Moreover, a forced separation, as Barak and Sharon now talk of, will be a brutal affair as the bloody national/ethnic conflicts that have ripped apart the former Yugoslavia demonstrate. 

Thus in the case of interpenetrated peoples and nationally mixed populations the right of self-determination can only be equitably implemented under workers rule, where a collectivized economy and international planning make possible use of these resources for the common good. In that framework, we Trotskyists advocate an Arab/Hebrew workers republic. Separate national states would be difficult to organize in this tiny country where the shortest distance between two places almost always passes through territory occupied by another people (hence all the “by-pass roads”), where Jewish and Arab communities face each other across gullies and are fed by the same aquifers, where there has been a single economy and state power for more than four decades. The fate of the Arab and Hebrew nations in the land of Palestine is inevitably intertwined, “for better or for worse.” 

Nevertheless, if the level of hostility is such that by democratic means one or the other people wishes to lead a separate national state existence, a revolutionary workers government would recognize this as their right, which, unlike under capitalism, could be accomplished (with difficulty) in a way that is not discriminatory toward one or the other community, in the framework of a socialist federation of the Near East. Yet such workers states could only be created through sharp struggle against Zionism and Arab nationalism, and to make possible such a federation and international division of labor requires the participation of Arab and Hebrew workers in revolutionary struggle throughout the region. 

Internationalist Group posters in October 2000 protests against Zionist repression. 

For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!

While many reformist and centrist opportunists shamelessly chase after Arafat and other nationalist forces, the International Communist League and the Spartacist League in the U.S. long upheld a uniquely internationalist program on the question of Israel and Palestine. The SL first amplified and developed the Trotskyist understanding of the national question among interpenetrated peoples derived from the experience of the early Communist International. A two-part article on the “Birth of the Zionist State: A Marxist Analysis” published in 1973-74 stated:

“When national populations are geographically interpenetrated, as they were in Palestine, an independent nation-state can be created only by their forcible separation (forced population transfers, etc.). Thus the democratic right of self-detemrination becomes abstract, as it can be exercised only by the stronger national grouping driving out or destroying the weaker one.
“In such cases the only possibility of a democratic solution lies in a social transformation…. Under capitalism the right to self-determination in such a context is strictly negative: that is, against the abuses of national rights of either the Arabs or the Hebrew-speaking population. Thus, had there been an independent armed force of the Palestinian Arabs in the 1948 war, Marxists could have given it military support in the struggle against the expansion of the exclusionist Zionist state and the onslaught of the Arab League armies, which together suppressed the national existence of the Palestinian Arabs. Likewise, had there been an irredentist onslaught of the Arab states which threatened the survival of the Hebrew nation in Palestine, Marxists would have taken a position of revolutionary defensism of the survival of that nation.”
Following an extensive discussion the SL issued a motion beginning:
“The democratic issue of self-determination for each of two nationalities or peoples who geographically interpenetrate can only conceivably be resolved equitably within the framework of the proletariat in power.”
Workers Vanguard No. 45, 24 May 1974
For three decades, the SL/ICL represented the continuity of Trotskyism internationally. But following the counterrevolutionary victories in East Europe, centrally East Germany and the Soviet Union, a defeatist program came forward in the organization. This led to the expulsions of long-time Spartacist cadres in several countries who formed the Internationalist Group and joined with the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil in founding the League for the Fourth International. The IG/LFI stands on the programmatic achievements of the ICL and continues the struggle to reforge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International, a fight that the ICL has abandoned in practice. Thus in an article on the new intifada, the “new” WV wrote: “While today the possibility of revolutionary working-class struggle may seem no less a pipe dream than the biblical injunction to ‘turn swords into ploughshares,’ there is a rich history to be plumbed by would-be revolutionaries, including incipient workers revolutions in Iran in 1953 and Iraq in 1958-59” (WV No. 744, 20 October 2000).

This openly defeatist outlook shows that for the ICL today, the program of workers revolution has become a pacifist pipedream, and their injunction to “plumb” the history of revolutionary struggle in the Near East is not accompanied by a program of struggle derived from that history. This is of a piece with their new view that working-class consciousness took a qualitative leap backwards following the demise of the Soviet Union, and hence, they claim, the crisis of revolutionary leadership is no longer the crisis of humanity, as the founding document of Trotsky’s Fourth International, the Transitional Program, starkly states. For those to whom the Bolshevik program of world socialist revolution does not appear as a swords-into-plowshares utopia, what are some of the key lessons to be drawn concerning the Near East?

Israel possesses powerful military forces including more than 200 nuclear weapons. While Zionist fanatics dream of a Greater Israel extending to the Euphrates, and key Sharon associates talk of bombing the Aswan dam and Teheran (leading Sharon’s prospective cabinet to be known in shorthand as the “Aswan-Teheran” government), this is all the more reason why it is vital to defeat the Zionist garrison state from within. Arab and Hebrew communists must join in demanding the release of Mordechai Vanunu who courageously revealed to the world the existence of this atomic arsenal in the hands of Zionist butchers who are perfectly capable of incinerating the world. Trotskyists would call to mobilize defense of Israeli soldiers who refuse to act as assassins in repressing the Palestinian youth. 

They would also fight to mobilize joint Arab/Hebrew workers defense in the face of pogromist attacks on Arabs, like those in the Nazareth and Umm al-Famm region in mid-October, where police and Zionist mobs shot 13 Arabs in cold blood, a crime that was then defended by the racist district police chief. (In fact, some Israeli Jewish leftists patrolled to defend an Arab neighborhood in Haifa against a threatened right-wing demonstration last October, according to a report by a local follower of British “Trotskyist” Ted Grant.)

Palestinian nationalists who today see Israel as nothing but a solid Zionist bloc have the same outlook as the European Zionists who in the early 20th century could see in the gentiles nothing but a solid anti-Semitic bloc. Seeing no allies and no possibility of resistance, the Zionists could only flee (in shameful collusion with the fascists who were glad to see them go).  But where shall the Palestinians flee? We have pointed out how the Zionist project of building a “Jewish state” in Palestine was inimical to the interests not only of Arabs but also of millions of Jews. We have also detailed the history of joint struggle by Arab and Hebrew workers throughout the British Mandate. Indeed, such struggles continued right up to the eve of the birth of Israel, and the Zionists deliberately attacked working-class sectors known for their common struggles in order to drive the Arab workers out.

But a perspective for socialist revolution in Palestine cannot be limited to this tiny corner of the Near East. In fact, the entire region is rife with revolutionary potential. While we disagree with his liberal bourgeois program, Palestinian critic Edward Said makes an important point in his latest book on The End of the Peace Process. There he notes that following the debacle of the 1967 Arab-Israel war:

“The great irony is that every Arab regime of consequence is still essentially unchanged today, thirty years after the greatest collective defeat in Arab history. True, nearly every government has switched its allegiance to the United States and formerly belligerent Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestine Liberation Organization have signed peace agreements with Israel. But the structure of power in the Arab world has remained in place, with the same oligarchies, military cadres, and traiditional elites holding precisely the same privileges and making the same general kind of decisions they did in 1967.”
In fact, the Near Eastern region probably has the greatest concentration of decrepit ancien régimes of any area of the globe today. It is not hard to envisage a wave of revolution sweeping away the bankrupt ruling dynasties, cliques and dictators. 

But for such an upheaval to mobilize the tremendous power of the working class and the oppressed peasant masses, it must be based on an internationalist program of proletarian revolution. The Near East is an overwhelmingly Arab region, but it also includes, in addition to the Hebrew people in Palestine, Kurds, Turks, Persians, Armenians, Turkomens and a host of religious/ethnic communities, including Coptic Christians and black Nubians in Egypt. In fact, many of the early leaders of the Communist parties in the region came from such minorities. Revolutionary vanguard parties must be cohered that can lead the working people of all these groups and peoples in a common struggle against capitalist imperialism. 

With its reformist program of “two-stage” revolution, Stalinism abandoned the struggle for international socialist revolution and replaced it with tailing after whatever bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nationalist current was then dominant. This had disastrous consequences in Palestine, where it led to repeated splits of the Communist Party along national lines; in Egypt, where it led to defeat of a powerful strike wave and opened the door to Nasserite Arab nationalism; in Iraq, where it spelled defeat for the 1948 CP-led workers uprising against British colonial domination; in Iran, where it meant tying the powerful oil workers to the weak nationalist Mossadeq regime that was toppled by the CIA in 1953 palace coup. 

Genuinely communist parties in the Near East must be based on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution, the program realized by the Bolsheviks in the tsarist empire in 1917, giving rise to the multinational Soviet workers republic. In the present imperialist epoch, the weak national bourgeoisies are incapable of achieving the fundamental tasks of the classical bourgeois revolutions, including agrarian revolution, democracy and national liberation. Tied by a thousand threads to the forces of domestic reaction and thoroughly subordinated to imperialism, the native capitalist classes face a sizeable proletariat and vast impoverished peasant populations. To bring the working people to power and emancipate the downtrodden requires the leadership of revolutionary workers parties that can place themselves at the head of all the oppressed. Upon taking power, the working class will from the outset combine the resolution of urgent democratic questions with the socialist measures necessary to secure its rule and promote economic development. 

Such parties must make special efforts to win women cadres to mobilize the explosive potential of the deeply oppressed female population. This fight will directly counterpose the communists to bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalists of all sorts. In Algeria, folllowing the victory of the war of independence, women fighters who had played a leading role in the struggle were demobilized and sent home where they were subjected to patriarchal and religious oppression. Among Palestinians in the deeply conservative Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, “honor killings” of women deemed to have “shamed” their families are still frequent. The party that forthrightly denounces this terrible blight will face ferocious opposition, but it will win the allegiance of the most oppressed and potentially revolutionary sector, who as the Bolshevik experience in Soviet Central Asia shows will be some of the most courageous and determined fighters for communism. Trotskyists proclaimed “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” against the CIA-backed mujahedin, and today champion the cause of Afghan women who have suffered most from the victory of the mujahedin over the Soviet-backed Kabul government.

Given the ethnic and religious mosaic of the region, a Marxist attitude toward religion will be of great importance. While waging a class war against imperialism, the communists give no quarter to calls for a jihad (holy war) which only feed the flames of Islamic reaction. It will be urgently necessary above all to spread the revolution to the imperialist centers, first and foremost to Europe, which under workers rule can provide the necessary state aid and technological and military backing to carry the revolution forward. That socialism can only be international is a key lesson from the demise of the USSR. Imperialist mlitary intervention and economic pressure on the young Soviet Union combined with the isolation that resulted from the failure of the European workers revolutions of the early 1920s led to the consolidation of a conservative nationalist bureaucratic caste that undermined the proletarian foundations of the USSR. This ultimately led to the capitalist counterrevolution of 1991-92, a historic defeat for the world working class that led to the ill-starred Oslo “peace process” and an intensification of the terrible oppression of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian workers and youth with nothing to lose but their chains, dispersed throughout the region in a cruel diaspora, also include many potential cadres who have the most cosmopolitan experience of any people in the region. Communists of Jewish origin who wage a determined struggle against Zionism will be able to play a vital role in developing communist parties side by side with their Arab comrades. Together they can enrich culture, develop the resources of the region and truly make the desert bloom. Today a symbol of the bankruptcy of all nationalism and the bloody oppression of capitalism in decay, the Near East can become a cockpit of socialist revolution for the emancipation of the working people throughout the world. n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com