A reader of Our Place in the World (OPITW)—an older New York Jewish woman who lives in Costa Rica (let’s called her Judy)—has asked me to remove her from the OPITW weekly letters list because she disagrees with Jeff Mackler’s “Stop the Israeli Invasion of Gaza!” (post 1492).
Those on the OPITW “friends” list receive more or less weekly updates with a brief note and hyperlinks to the most recent posts. Judy got on the list mostly because of her expressed interest in the Cuban revolution.
In her email, Judy complains that Mackler’s article is skewed in its treatment of what she saw as the conflict between Israel and Hamas which she calls “a longstanding terrorist organization.” She also claims that Mackler’s article did not even mention “the horrific period of the Holocaust.” She ends by decrying that “The world only wants the Jewish people to be weak once again.”
Of course, Judy could have expressed her concerns as a comment to Mackler’s article on OPITW, thereby encouraging discussion. Disagreements are no reason to cut off relations in normal circumstance. So, let’s deal with her concerns here.
First, Hamas is a relatively recent political formation among the Palestinians and the terrorist designation of it is the work of the Israeli and the American governments. As we know after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the imperialist fear mongering campaign has shifted, especially after 9/11 terrorist attacks, from “Communism” to “terrorism.” As I will discuss below, in this conflict it is the Israeli regime that is the real terrorist.
Second: how about the Holocaust? Jeff Mackler’s article, in fact, does mention the Holocaust but understandably its focus is on the current crimes of the Israeli regime against the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip.
Third, the outrage at Israeli criminal assault on defenseless Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has ignited a wave of protests across the world, including among a minority of Jews in Israel and in the United States. The aim of these protests is not to make the “Jewish people weak once again” but to stop the Israeli government’s murderous war against the people of Gaza Strip and Palestinians in general. This is crystal clear as the protest include a number of Jewish peace organizations, including in Israel and the United States. In Israel, the protest has been crushed by rightwing and neofascist physical attacks.
Another Jewish woman who receives my weekly letters and learned about Judy’s views as I related them to those on that list wrote to me expressing her sympathies with the Palestinians. She wrote in part:
“I’ve lived with this stuff all my life, from the time my parents sent me to my room, during the 1967 war, when I was 8, for questioning why they and an uncle were discussing the news and supporting violence against Arabs.
“I’ve found Israel to be one of those issues where liberals tend to go off the deep end and endorse the most hideous things, revealing that they are not ‘progressive’ at all.
“Last week I wrote on Facebook that it is beyond disgraceful to see fellow Jews, descendants of survivors of pogroms, waging pogroms in Gaza.”
Zionism and the Israeli Apartheid
Why would two Jewish women arrive at such different understanding of the reality of Israel state’s policies? The answer is Zionism.
Judy is blinded to the sufferings of the Palestinian people. The key to understating the crisis in the Middle East is to understand Zionism. That is why Jeff Mackler’s article is so valuable as it places the atrocities of the Israeli government in the Gaza Strip in its historical context. And that is why it has outraged Judy.
The Zionist movement emerged in late nineteenth century as part of the general European colonialist movement. It represented a major split in the Jewish community that endures to this day—one between the Jewish revolutionary socialists who combined the fight against anti-Semitism with the struggle for socialism and those who wanted to escape European anti-Semitism by establishing a Jewish State somewhere else as part and parcel of the world capitalist order.
Despite the prevalent Zionist propaganda that tries to justify the occupation of Palestine on the basis of the Jewish mythology of The Chosen People returning to The Promised Land, the Zionist movement considered a number of other locations for colonization. For example, in 1903 at the sixth Zionist Congress Theodor Herzl, the “Father of Modern Zionism,” proposed Uganda as the site for the Jewish State. However, in the aftermath of the First World War and division of the Middle East and North Africa between the English and French imperialism, Palestine became the target of the Zionist movement. This was codified in the Balfour Declaration that was first proposed in a letter from the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to the British Zionist financier Baron Walter Rothschild dated November 2, 1917, and later incorporated into the Sèvres peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire and the Mandate for Palestine.
Subsequently, the Zionist movement organized settlements of European Jews in the historical Palestine to lay the basis for a Jewish State. Like in all European colonies, the process of land grab was pursued by any means necessary, including through the use of force and terrorist Zionist groups such as such as the Irgun, the Lehi, the Haganah and the Palmach. In fact, Menachem Begin, a leader of the terrorist group Irgun, later became Israel’s Prime Minster (He was succeeded by another terrorist, Ariel Sharon).
The Nazi persecution of Jews and the Holocaust caused the mass migration of European Jews. However, key destination countries such as the United States limited Jewish immigration and encouraged their settlement in Palestine, a policy supported by the Zionist leaders. By the end of the World War II, the United Stated had emerged as the undisputed imperialist power. As part of the consolidation of its empire, the United States moved to establish Israel as its outpost in the Middle East. The recently formed United Nations very much under the sway of the Allies, especially the United States, drew the partition plan for Palestine voted for by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. U.S. President Harry S. Truman recognized the new nation on the same da
Thus, Israel was established as the Jewish State in violation of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. However, as Mackler points out Israel is no ordinary nation-state. It has never defined its borders because the Zionist movement has always claimed the Greater Israel, shifting geographical designation, as its “homeland” that often extends well beyond the historic Palestine. The history of the Jewish State has seen the relentless push to expand its territory and force Palestinians to flee their land. It has also been marked by war with its Arab neighbors (for a history see, Middle East Research and Information Project—MERIP).
Israel has degraded the Palestinian people by dividing them into variously oppressed groups. About 20% of the population of Israel are “Arabs” (that is Palestinians). They have lived as second-class citizens. Then there are Palestinians who live in the West Bank who were under the Jordanian administration from 1948 to 1967 and after the Six Day War have lived under Israeli occupation. The Gaza Strip was mostly administered by Egypt (1959-1967) and then under the Israeli occupation from 1967 to 2005. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza Strip but placed it under a tight blockade that has remained in place, with Egyptian help, until today. In fact, one of the demands of Hamas and the people of Gaza Strip is the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Then there are Palestinian refugees who live in camps mostly in Jordan and Lebanon. Finally, millions of other Palestinians are scattered all over the world in hope of returning to their homeland.
Frankenstein in the Promised Land
Thus, the Zionist movement and its imperialist backers have created a Frankenstein in the Promised Land: a nineteenth-century European-inspired colonial-settler state founded on the basis of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of its native Palestinian population that is inherently racist and at war with its Arab and other neighbors. As such, Israel has been the reliable key imperialist outpost, a garrison state, in the Middle East and North Africa. It is the only nuclear state in the Middle East with an estimated 300 nuclear devices. Although the Israeli government never denies having nuclear weapons it is shielded from international scrutiny by the United States that has supported it constantly with $3 billion dollars of military aid every year even as it curtails social programs for the American working people due to claimed budgetary constraint. Although created by a U.S. inspired U.N. resolution, Israel has never abided by the decisions of the United Nations for its repeated violation of international norms, always shielded by the U.S. veto power in the Security Council. Israel is a bulwark of international reaction; it was a staunch supporter of the South African Apartheid regime but has opposed every anti-imperialist and revolutionary movement in the Middle East and around the world. It supported the United States in its Indochina war, opposed the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979, and is the only country in the United Nations General Assembly that consistenly votes in support of the U.S. embargo of the Cuban revolution. Thus, the Jewish people who fled anti-Semitism in Europe and Nazi Holocaust, especially those who came to Palestine with socialistic aspirations, have been betrayed by their Zionist leaders, and, in many cases have been transformed into racist oppressors that serve the interest of imperialism and oppose the Arab revolution.
As long as this Frankenstein exists in the heart of the Middle East there will never be peace. There will never be a stable two-state solution to “the Palestinian problem” because of the very racist and expansionist nature of the Zionist regime as the failure of the Oslo Peace Accord has demonstrated. The only possible solution to the 66 year-old crisis is the replacement of Israel (the Jewish State) with a democratic secular state with its historic name, Palestine, where Palestinians and Jews live as citizens with equal rights and opportunities. Contrary to Judy’s view (as quoted above), the Jewish people can be strong only when they learn to live alongside their Palestinian brothers and sisters as equals not as their oppressors. That is the only road to peace in the Middle East. (Of course, there are other monsters in the Middle East but that need separate discussion and analysis; see my three part article “From Nasser to Mubarak: The Rise and Fall of Arab Nationalism, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
However, it is important to note that the demand for a democratic secular Palestine that was first raised by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1969 cannot meet the current requirements of the regional and global crisis that are also environmental and ecological (see my “Economics, Socialism and Ecology: A Critical Outline, Part 1 and Part 2). The 1969 perspective of a national liberation movement did not concern itself with the ecological crisis of the Middle East. Rapid population growth, pollution, degradation of land, rivers, natural habitats combined with the national, regional and world capitalist crises require urgent action that will transcend the artificial borders of countries created based on inter-imperialist negotiations in the aftermath of World War I and World War II. The civil war in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the rise and fall of the Egyptian revolutionary movement, the sectarian and tribal wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and the conflict between Israel and Palestinians and Israel and its Arab neighbors are accentuated or in part originated by such environmental and economic crises.
The most forward looking Palestinian, Arab, Jewish and other peoples of the Middle East and North Africa would realize the need for a common effort to address ecological and social justice issues in tandem and across the bioregion. A United Ecological Socialist Middle East and North Africa is the only truly viable perspective for the peoples of the region. That, and not the nationalistic and religiously inspired formations, is the only perspective that can emancipate the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa and join similar struggles elsewhere towards an ecological socialist world.