Behind the Palestine/Israeli Crisis

Posted December 11, 2006

Introduction to Reissued Statement on the Palestine/Israel Crisis, November 2006

THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT was written by Solidarity in December, 2000. As severe as the crisis in Palestine/Israel was at that time, it is more acute today, and constantly worsening. We’re posting our statement as written six years ago, because its presentation of the principles remains valid and – sadly – the basic facts have not changed much.  Since September 11, 2001, however, this crisis is now part of a larger imperialist war – with the United States bogged down in Iraq, with Afghanistan unraveling, with another failed Israeli invasion of Lebanon in summer 2006, and with threats of an even wider explosion.

In November 2006, the U.S. electorate repudiated the Iraq war and the administration which produced that disaster. As the Democrats prepare to take majority control in the new Congress, debates will rage over “phased redeployment” and other proposals. But it’s important to remember that the Congressional Democrats, including opponents of the Iraq war, with a few exceptions, have signed on as endorsers of the Israeli attempt to crush the Palestinian nation.

The few examples we cite below are barely an overview of the horrors confronting the occupied Palestinian territories today. But if one point stands out even more clearly than six years ago, it is the murderous futility of attempting to “transform the Middle East” through the application of massive, overwhelming Israeli and U.S. military firepower – the so-called “shock and awe” strategy.

In 2003, the United States launched a preemptive war, on false pretenses, for “regime change” in Iraq. The result has been, as everyone knows, a disastrously failed occupation, Iraq’s slide toward sectarian civil war and national dissolution, a death trap for American soldiers and a slaughterhouse for Iraqi civilians. In the summer of 2006, Israel launched a massive bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion intended to destroy Hezbollah, the nationalist and Shia resistance movement in Lebanon, and to prepare the way for yet another “regime change” war — against Iran.

Although supposedly a defensive reaction to the capture of Israeli soldiers, this operation, as Israeli military analyst Gerald Steinberg boasted to the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE (July 21, 2006), had been long planned by Israeli and U.S. strategists. Steinberg called it “the best-prepared war in Israel’s history.” Some preparation it turned out to be! A failure for U.S. and Israeli aims, the war has nonetheless left Lebanon in ruins – wiping out 20 years of reconstruction efforts – while Hezbollah and the Iranian regime emerged politically stronger.

Prior to the November election, well-documented U.S. preparations were underway to bomb Iran, possibly to be followed by an invasion. Such a course of action, promoted by factions in the Bush administration against the judgment of the military and every sane political analyst, would dwarf the disasters we’ve seen up to now.

Although voters in the United States have overwhelmingly rejected this insanity, Democratic politicians have been virulent in their own rhetoric about the Iranian “threat.” Whether a war with Iran is imminent, or will have to go on the back burner for lack of popular support for it, depends in part on the strength shown by the organized antiwar movement in this country. That movement needs to be advocating Bring the Troops Home Now – from Iraq and Afghanistan – but also, Stop the War Drive Against Iran!

The Assault on Palestine

Sometimes hidden by the flurry of headlines on Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, the Israeli war on Palestine – which is more accurately called the Israeli-American war on Palestine – has become continually more intense and brutal, with over 3000 Palestinians killed by Israeli firepower since the Second Intifadah began in late 2000. In the year 2006, following the victory of the Islamist movement HAMAS in the Palestinian election, the war has become an outright siege, aimed at reducing the population to absolute misery and the point of starvation.

Not only has Israel confiscated $60 million every month in tax revenues it legally owes to the Palestinian Authority, but the U.S. Congress has adopted legislation, enthusiastically backed by both imperialist parties, that blocks aid to Palestine and attempts to choke off all international funding. So much for respecting the Palestinian people’s democratic vote! In addition to this:

  • Israel has expanded its dual-purpose Wall, designed both for annexation and apartheid. Built deep inside the occupied West Bank, the Wall has ruined Palestinian agriculture and commerce, cutting the territory into disconnected outdoor prisons and putting the critical water reservoirs under Israeli control. If this Wall stands, the hope for a “two-state solution” based on establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel will be gone.
  • Nearly half of the elected Palestinian government has been kidnapped and imprisoned by the Israeli military. Thousands of ordinary Palestinians, including children, remain in detention.
  • The ostensible Israeli “withdrawal” from Gaza was, in reality, a withdrawal of settlers who were too expensive to protect. Gaza has become a prison for its population and a free-fire zone for Israeli incursions, bombardment and death squads. The rubble and toxic waste from settler homes and businesses have been left behind with no provisions for cleanup. The water supply in Gaza is full of salt and chemical poisons, while in the West Bank Palestinian wells run dry as Israeli settlements enjoy unlimited supplies.

This U.S. and Israeli war aims at the humiliation and emotional, as well as physical, destruction of a nation. More than ever before, it is the expression of the arrogance of an empire drunk with power, believing it can have its way with a people who have no military option at all, let alone parity. Despite everything, however, resistance continues.

As this Introduction was being written, Israel’s assault escalated with the horrific massacres at a mosque and a home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. The Palestinian resistance, however, may also have reached a new level. When the Israeli Air Force phoned a family’s home to tell them that the house would be bombed, instead of fleeing the family called for support – and the neighborhood flocked to the home, standing on the roof and in the courtyard, forcing the military to back off. If this kind of popular heroic action can be sustained – and if world public opinion responds to it – the struggle for Palestinian self-determination may realize a new and unexpected breakthrough.

While Palestinians continue their resistance with whatever means they have, the international outcry against this genocidal war is of critical importance. Rallying under the general banner of “stopping Israeli apartheid,” a number of campaigns are growing for various forms of divestment, sanctions and boycott based on the example of the South Africa solidarity movement.

For example, activists are demanding divestment from Caterpillar, which makes the giant bulldozers that crush Palestinian homes, sometimes with people still inside, and from other U.S. corporations doing business with the Israeli military and settlements. It was a Caterpillar machine that murdered the U.S. activist Rachel Corrie as she blocked its path to protect a Gaza family’s home.

Developing on campuses and within churches in the United States, these various campaigns are important ways to educate an American public that is generally blocked from learning the truth about the deepening crisis in Israel/Palestine and its global implications.

Solidarity promotes and supports these efforts. We also reaffirm our support for the democratic right of return of Palestinians expelled from their homeland, the struggles inside Israel for equal rights for all its citizens, and for the broad U.S. antiwar and global justice movements to find effective ways of including peace and justice for Palestine in their own programs.

Behind the Palestine/Israeli Crisis

– December 2000

TO BEGIN TO understand the crisis in Palestine/Israel today–before you get into the politics, the religion, the history and all the rest of it–you have to start with two basic facts, which must be simultaneously kept in mind throughout:

There are two societies, two peoples, two nations in historic Palestine, an Israeli-Jewish one and a Palestinian Arab one.

One of those societies, organized in the Israeli state, is the oppressor nation with its foot on the neck of the other, the Palestinians.

These are the essential facts. Please note: We are not speaking here of ancient nations based on Biblical history or mythology, but modern nations created by twentieth-century history. Both have claims–based on modern history and culture–to the land and its resources. But that’s where the “symmetry” ends: No progress toward peace and equality is possible until the oppressor’s foot is removed from the oppressed people’s neck.

And there is a third fact that is critical to understanding the immediate situation: Israel and Palestine are today at war. Among all the wars between the state of Israel and Arab nations since 1948, this is the first armed confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian population, on Palestinian territory, in which both sides are armed (however unequally).

By all accounts, after seven years of a “peace process” the level of bitter hatred between the two communities has never been greater, with consequences that, in other situations of intercommunal violence, have been known to last for generations. Almost every day sees more killings, with most of the victims being Palestinian civilians under high-power Israeli army weaponry. Atrocity follows atrocity: Towns under siege, hospitals hit by missiles, specific Palestinian activists (alleged to be armed, whether accurately or not) targeted by Israeli helicopters and special assassination squads.

Only a fraction of these incidents reach the western mass media. Meanwhile, much more slowly, the Israeli military and civilian casualty toll has also begun to grow as the Palestinian resistance turns to guerilla tactics.

While this war is an intensely local nationalist conflict, it also has a profoundly international dimension. The events in Palestine have helped to trigger a wave of angry protests from Morocco to Yemen to the Persian Gulf. This anger directly threatens the interests of United States imperialism–as we have seen in the destruction of the USS Cole [hit by Al-Qaeda suicide bombers], in the gradual crumbling of the enforcement of sanctions against Iraq, in the fear shown by the pro-U.S. regimes in the Arab world that the popular anger could turn against them.

This arc of revolt must be seen as an inevitable response not only to the explosion in Palestine, but also to the domination of people’s lives throughout the world by the neoliberal “religion of the free market and the World Bank.” In that respect it must be welcomed by everyone who identifies with the struggle for global justice.

Yet we must also recognize that the forces currently mobilizing most of these protests are not those seeking to advance secular, democratic or anti-imperialist politics. In many cases they are led by fanatical or opportunist religious elements, deadly enemies of democratic freedoms, especially for women, in their own societies. Many of these forces also promote hatred of non-Muslim peoples, and of Jews in particular–bigotry that will poison these societies and will strengthen the ideological power of Zionism in its claim to represent “the safe haven” for persecuted Jews. The outcome of these tangled and contradictory factors is difficult to predict.

Behind the daily headlines, what is the character of this Israeli-Palestinian war? What are its politics and its possible outcomes?

You can view it from various angles. In some ways, the present explosion can be seen as part of a war that has now lasted for almost eighty years, since the first armed confrontations between the Zionist movement and Arab villagers in the town of Hebron. It can also be seen in the historical context of the desperate Palestinian revolt of 1936-39 against the combined forces of British colonial rule and Zionist settlement.

It can be viewed as a revolt against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, territories that Israel took over in 1967 and has now lasted over thirty years–the longest military occupation in modern world history, an occupation that has humiliated and impoverished the population beyond endurance. Or, it can be viewed as a second intifada, a renewal of the popular uprising that began in December 1987 and lasted until the early 1990s.

Yet even with these historical antecedents, we believe this war marks fundamentally a new stage–potentially a protracted armed confrontation between Israeli and Palestinian society–with profound and ominous implications. These are its main characteristics:

  1. The state of Israel has declared war on the Palestinian population. This fact is particularly vital to emphasize because it reflects a reality that is completely inverted in most of the U.S. mass media coverage.

  2. Israel’s declaration of war has been made not so much in words as in deeds, which are more important. The war was declared when, from the 1993 Oslo peace accords on, the Israeli governments of Rabin and Peres expanded the illegal settlements rather than stopping them as Israel had promised, and by promoting a whole new settlement project in Arab East Jerusalem. It was declared when Israel broke its promise to release Palestinian political prisoners if they had been convicted of “shedding Jewish blood.” (Those who had murdered “only” other Palestinians were freed.)

    War was declared when Rabin and Peres responded to every Palestinian act of resistance by repeated “closures” that devastated the fragile Palestinian economy. It was declared when the government of Binyamin Netanyahu threatened to annex the West Bank if an independent Palestinian state was proclaimed.

    Most important of all, the Israeli government of Ehud Barak has declared war by stating a goal of  “separation”–of creating a situation of minimum connection between the two peoples, while maintaining the maximum possible degree of Israeli sovereignty and control over the land. This is an apartheid prescription for “peace,” one that would restrict the Palestinians to bantustan-style homelands.

    This is a formula for permanent Palestinian poverty: not enough land or water for viable agriculture–Israel will retain control of the critical underground aquifer that supplies the critical water for both societies–major job losses for Palestinians commuting to jobs in Israel; Israeli control of the Palestinian city of East Jerusalem.

  3. Israel is at war with the Palestinian population in order to impose by force a settlement that could not be achieved through the negotiated “Peace process.” After years of United States and Israeli pressure forced the Palestinian Authority to make enormous concessions on fundamental issues, Clinton at the Camp David summit attempted to force Yasser Arafat to accept a deal on Jerusalem even though Arafat warned that this could only be pushed through if major Arab governments accepted it. Israeli and U.S. elites had expected to reach an apartheid “solution” through diplomacy; instead Israel must now physically impose it.
  4. The alternative to war has been clear for many years: Israeli withdrawal from all the Occupied Territories (meaning the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights), as specified in numerous United Nations resolutions beginning with Resolution 242, going all the way back to 1967. Since the mid-1970s an international consensus has existed for such a solution, at least to enable the creation of a genuine independent Palestinian state, alongside Israel within its own internationally recognized borders.

    Whether such a solution is feasible is hard to say. (We will have a little more to say about this below.) What is crystal clear is that the state of Israel had to choose between withdrawal and war–and chose war.

  5. The Palestinian population, on the other hand, has no choice but to fight for their independence. The alternative is essentially to surrender to the prospect of living in an outdoor prison for generations to come.
  6. The war is utterly and completely unequal, on every level:
    1. Israel has overwhelming military power, an organized state, a high-tech rich economy and the unconditional backing of the United States. The Palestinians have no army, a barely organized militia, practically no political institutions and after thirty-three years of occupation, essentially no economic base.

    2. Even worse, political forces in Palestine are sharply divided between secular and religious forces, in a state of conflict and potential internal civil war. The Palestinian Authority, while it is the recognized leadership and responsible for resisting Israeli power, is widely distrusted for profound corruption and incompetence. The PA has been deeply compromised because it has so often shifted between opposing the occupation and administering it.

    3. The Palestinian population is incredibly vulnerable to an effective Israeli state terror machine. No Palestinian in the West Bank or Gaza can walk down the street, or go to bed at night, without facing the threat of being shot or having a missile come through the roof.
    4. The repeated “closures” that Israel imposes on the Occupied Territories deprives Palestinian workers and farmers of their jobs, markets, access to essential services. Even the Palestinian Authority basic operating budget depends on payments Israel agrees to make, which can be withheld at will.

  7. Despite all this, the state of Israel is also vulnerable–not because it is poverty-stricken and weak, as in the case of Palestinian society, but because Israel is rich and strong:
    1. The Israeli state’s enormous military power, backed up by the United States’ guarantee of Israeli superiority, has led to a political decision to maintain the settlements created by mainly religious-nationalist fanatics. This means also holding on to a network of Jews-only “bypass roads.”

      In short, rather than guarding its own internationally recognized borders, Israel is committed to defending a practically infinite perimeter. For the first time in the history of the Palestine-Zionist conflict, this has made Israeli forces and settlers vulnerable to guerilla warfare tactics (as successfully employed by the resistance movement in southern Lebanon).

      The settlers are generally not very popular, even despised by many ordinary Israelis. Yet in many ways it is they who set the agenda. A Palestinian resistance that clearly distinguishes military and settler targets from the civilian population within Israel’s internationally recognized borders–i.e. which renounces bombings and other operations aimed at killing civilians inside Israel (such as the gruesome Hadera bus bombing)–could benefit greatly from this contradiction.

    2. Israeli politics are deeply fractured. Barak is deeply discredited and will almost certainly fall from power, and it is far from clear what new leadership the “One Israel” party (formerly the Labor Party) can come up with to replace him. There is also a factional war inside the right wing. A secular-vs.-religious polarization also makes Israeli politics highly volatile.
    3. Israel is potentially economically vulnerable, if it becomes entangled in a protracted conflict that forces its male population to perform dangerous extended reserve duty every year. At the same time, an Israeli strategic decision to escalate the war to the level needed for “decisive victory” could risk an international explosion that would cut Israeli access to international markets or threaten its highly favorable economic relationship with the European Union.

    4. This brings us to the crux of the problem. If the Israeli and United States program for an apartheid “peace” has to be imposed by force rather than negotiations, then this becomes a war that Israel cannot “win” without physically removing a significant proportion of the Palestinian population.

      This kind of  “solution” in fact has happened before–but the international conditions today simply do not allow Israel in 2000 to accomplish the ethnic cleansing that occurred in 1948, when close to 800,000 Arabs were expelled and close to 400 villages made to disappear, or what happened on a smaller scale in 1967.

    5. The internal confidence of Israeli Jewish society has also been shaken by the revolt of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel–who are part of the fabric of both Israeli and Palestinian society, who are in growing solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian self-determination but who are also no longer willing to settle for less than full equality as citizens of the Israeli state.

  8. The situation, then, is one of a war which neither side may be able to “win”–and the longer it continues, the deeper the hatred between the two populations is likely to grow, making long-term solutions ever harder to imagine.

Israel is unlike to “win” without raising the level of violence and repression to a level similar to that of the Serbian army in Kosova in 1999–a level of violence that may produce a regional explosion that in turn forces outside intervention. The Palestinians, on the other hand, do not have the power on their own to win the minimum immediate step toward a viable future, to force Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and recognition of their own independent state.

But while Israel enjoys the overwhelming backing of the United States, as it has ever since 1967–when Israel proved its military capacity to assist imperialism in the system of global management–we have already noted the arc of revolt in sympathy with the Palestinian struggle spreading out from the Middle East. It is a revolt that ultimately threatens the stability of imperialism, and all the regimes allied to it.

The discrediting of the United States in the Middle East, resulting from its unconditional guarantee of Israeli supremacy and from the continuation of the genocidal sanctions against the people of Iraq–further complicated by the likelihood of a weak Bush presidency–may draw in some coalition of European nations with Russia to undertake regional diplomatic initiatives. Should this occur it would be another blow to U.S. global political management.

What conclusions should be drawn by socialists and social justice activists here in the United States?

We should recognize that the heart of the problem does not lie far away, but close to home. It is the U.S. guarantee of Israel’s military power that blocks any possible solution.

We should recognize this war is a tragic struggle between two peoples claiming a common national homeland, but also understand that we must take sides–the side of the Palestinian population that is resisting an occupation that has become unendurable, and struggling for the national independence that has been denied for decades.

We should see our support for the Palestinian struggle in the context of the struggle against racism and apartheid everywhere. It is part of the same struggle we wage against racism in the United States, of our solidarity with the struggles of indigenous peoples, of the struggle against anti-immigrant and anti-Arab racism, and against anti-semitism.

Finally: While we outside Israel/Palestine cannot determine the shape and form of the ultimate just resolution of this conflict–nor do we expect those whose lives will be shaped by that resolution to pay much attention to our opinion–we owe it to ourselves and our own movement to state the basic democratic principles which we believe must be implemented if any solution is to be ultimately viable.

  1. The Palestinian people have the right of self-determination. When an independent Palestinian state is proclaimed, as is likely to occur in the relatively near future, the right of that state to exist must be unconditionally defended.
  2. At this point in history, after thirty-three years of Israeli military occupation and settlement in the Occupied Territories, there are many questions as to whether the project of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel (known since the mid-1970s as “the two-state solution”) remains or ever was viable. This will be decided only in struggle.
  3. At the same time, the alternative that has been put forward–a struggle for some kind of unitary state that would involve full and equal rights (variously known as a “binational” or “democratic secular” state), which is the most attractive from a democratic and revolutionary point of view–also seems like a utopian fantasy given the lack of significant support for it on either side.

    All we can say with certainty, then (especially from the outside), is that any solution must emerge through the struggle itself, and that this solution must be based on the principle of full equality between Jewish and Palestinian residents of the region. Otherwise it is no solution at all.

  4. Whatever the long-term future might hold, the struggle inside Israel for the principle of full equality for all citizens, to supplant the Zionist institutions of Jewish privilege and supremacy, is of critical importance. This struggle for a democratic, non-discriminatory state is in opposition to Zionism, not to Israel’s right to exist.
  5. We reiterate that our struggle is here at home–in the heartland of imperialism, where the blank check written every year by Washington to underwrite Israeli aggression makes any vision of peace and justice in the Middle East a “utopia.” This blank check is responsible for the destruction of Palestine today and for the ultimate degradation of Israeli society as well–a long-term degenerative process that threatens to turn that region into a new Bosnia, and also catastrophic consequences for the world.

[The orientation of this statement was adopted by the Political Committee of Solidarity, December 3, 2000.]