The case against Israel
Andrew Cheeseman writes in Socialist Alternative that the media and education system both portray the continual conflict between Palestine and Israel as one of two things. Sometimes it is described as an ancient, unsolvable religious conflict. Other times it is described as a David versus Goliath struggle where “underdog” Israel tries to survive amidst a sea of “terrorist Arabs”.
Neither of these narratives could be further from the truth.
The origins of the “Israel-Palestine conflict” do not date back to times immemorial. It began in the last hundred years with the mass expulsion of Palestinians that took place when the state of Israel was formed. This is not a conflict about religion, but about land. And Israel is no David, but one of the world’s top ten military powers and a major pillar of US hegemony in the Middle East.
Israel: a major military power
Modern day Israel is a major imperialist power in its own right, and according to the Bonn International Centre for Conversion it is the most heavily militarised state in the world. Israel’s Air Force is about the same size as the British Air Force and a quarter of the size of the US’s; its overall conventional military might is considered to be tenth in the world by think tank Global Firepower.
Israel has become such a substantial military power through enormous amounts of US aid. The US Congressional Research Service estimates that direct US military aid to Israel will total $30 billion between 2009 and 2018 and also states that “US military aid has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world”.
In addition to this extremely strong conventional army, Israel is one of nine countries to have nuclear weapons – an estimated 100-200.
The horrors of occupation
Life under Israeli occupation is a nightmare. Palestinians are subject to constant discrimination and harassment by Israeli forces.
The Gaza Strip has been under siege since a democratic election in 2006 produced a government that Israel did not like. The siege has made it virtually impossible for life to continue within the area. Ninety-six percent of Gazan factories have been forced to close as a result, leading to Gaza having one of the highest unemployment rates in the world: 45 percent in 2010. Sanctions ban the importing of concrete and medical equipment.
Israel frequently assassinates its opponents and shows no regard for bystanders. The website Remember These Children maintains a list of children killed in the occupation. Among the horrific stories detailed is the death of Aisha Nizul Abdul-Qader Rayan, and her siblings Asad, Halima, Reem, Abdul-Rahman and Maryam. They were all aged under seven when they and eight other family members were killed by a missile strike that targeted their father in 2009.
Protests against Israel’s occupation are regularly met with gunfire or worse, and political dissidents often just disappear into Israeli jails. Those that are seen again often speak of torture, but many never get the chance.
The West Bank, the largest Palestinian area, is criss-crossed by so many Israeli-only roads that it looks like a block of Swiss cheese. These roads service Israeli “settlements” – which are heavily armed militarised Israeli towns. Even the United Nations Security Council, no friend of the Palestinians, declared these illegal in resolution 446:
The policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
These settlers frequently kill Palestinians, and in the city of Hebron have been behind vile racist graffiti calling for Palestinians to be “sent to the gas chambers”.
Travel within the Occupied Territories is restricted by military checkpoints, where Palestinians can be arbitrarily detained. On many occasions this has resulted in people dying because checkpoints prevented them getting emergency medical attention. Of course, illegal Israeli settlers aren’t harassed in this way.
On top of this, Israel has been constructing an enormous wall surrounding the West Bank. Construction of this eight metre high wall has separated some towns from their farmland and has resulted in nearly 10 percent of West Bank land becoming inaccessible.
Palestinians have faced serious military attacks by Israel, most notably the slaughter of over 1400 people in the 2008 attack on Gaza, but also other large scale attacks such as a 2002 military assault on the Jenin refugee camp.
But perhaps worst of all is having to live under the constant domination of a military that is so thoroughly racist that some of its soldiers designed and wore T-shirts encouraging snipers to target pregnant women.
There is a word for the systematic discrimination and violence Arabs face in Palestine today. That word is apartheid.
The US-Israel relationship
These atrocities don’t particularly concern the United States, Israel’s main ally. Israel’s relationship to the big imperialist powers was spelled out by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz way back in 1951:
[S]trengthening Israel helps the Western powers maintain equilibrium and stability in the Middle East. Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the US and Britain. But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighbouring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.
In the sixty years since that Ha’aretz article was published, the only thing that has really changed is that Israel is now America’s watchdog instead of Britain’s. One aspect of this is that Israel is essentially an unsinkable aircraft carrier from which the US can project force throughout the Middle East.
Also, Israel can be relied upon to do dirty work that the US would rather not be directly associated with. Some of the better known things Israel has done include carrying out the 2006 attack on Lebanon, assassinations, and selling weapons to apartheid South Africa.
Less well known today is the role Israel played in the 1970s and 80s – training Idi Amin’s security forces in the early months of his dictatorship in Uganda, providing weapons to the murderous dictatorships of Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil and Chile, and the Somoza regime in Nicaragua.
In exchange for playing this role of US bully in the region, Israel gets substantial military aid, access to US military technology, political and diplomatic support.
The ideology used to justify most of Israel’s atrocities is Zionism. It was first promoted by Theodor Herzl in the 19th century, and argues three main points:
Firstly, that anti-Semitism (systematic discrimination against Jews) is natural whenever Jews and non-Jews live together. Secondly, Zionism argues that Jews must therefore live together away from other faiths to escape anti-Semitism, and that this must involve setting up a Jewish-only state. Thirdly, it recognises that the world (even in the late 19th century) had no uninhabited places left that were fit for human habitation, and therefore understood that the project of creating a Jewish-only state would entail displacing an existing population. Furthermore Zionism argues that the way to establish this state is by collaboration with imperialism – by cutting a deal whereby they prove their value to imperialism in exchange for imperialist assistance in their project.
The argument that non-Jews are inherently anti-Semitic remained a tiny minority current among Jews until the 1930s, leaving Zionism a fringe ideology, albeit one with some support from anti-Semitic politicians (most famously Lord Arthur Balfour, a nasty piece of work who sponsored laws restricting Jewish immigration into Britain and supported the Zionists because he considered every Jew that emigrated to Palestine to be one less Jew in Britain).
Zionism offered no solutions to the horrors of anti-Semitism, and some of its leading proponents were willing to sacrifice many Jews during their darkest hour of need, the Holocaust. The first Prime Minister of Israel, David Bun-Gurion, even went as far as to say:
If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them to Israel, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children but also the history of the people of Israel.
The utter barbarity of the Holocaust led to much more sympathy for Zionist arguments among Jews. For many it seemed the only solution, particularly with so many of the Western powers mistreating those Jewish refugees who managed to escape the hell of Hitler’s death camps.
For well over a thousand years before the formation of the Israeli state, Palestine had been inhabited by both Jews and Muslims who lived together largely in peace and fought alongside each other to defend Jerusalem during the Crusades. In the 1931 census (conducted when British imperialism dominated Palestine), the population was around 73 percent Muslim, 17 percent Jewish, 9 percent Christian and 1 percent other.
Due to the rising popularity of Zionism, the 20th century saw enormous Jewish migration to Palestine. This increased after the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which pledged limited British support to the Zionist project.
By the mid-1930s, the British were starting to lose control in Palestine, with both Zionists and Palestinians wanting them gone. Between 1937 and 1946, a massive general strike by Palestinians and several high profile terrorist attacks by Zionists (including a massive bombing at the King David Hotel that killed dozens) led to the British getting the United Nations involved.
The 1947 United Nations “partition plan” for Palestine was the start of the dispossession of the Palestinians. The plan saw historic Palestine divided into two states – a Palestinian state in 43 percent of historic Palestine, and an Israeli state in 56 percent, with Jerusalem as a shared capital. Prior to this partition, Jewish ownership of land in Palestine had only been around 6 percent and the Jewish population was estimated at 30 percent.
This wide-scale theft of land by Zionists led to rebellion and war. During this war, Zionist militias conducted massacres aimed at terrorising the Palestinian population into fleeing, in what would today be called “ethnic cleansing”.
The most famous of these is the Deir Yassin Massacre. On 9 April 1948 members of the Irgun (a Zionist terrorist organisation) assaulted the village of Deir Yassin with guns, grenades, and heavy explosives. At the end of the attack, Jacques de Reynier, an International Red Cross observer declared:
The first room was dark, everything was in disorder, but there was no-one. In the second, amid disembowelled furniture and all sorts of debris, I found some bodies cold. Here the cleaning up had been done with machine guns, then hand grenades. It had been finished off with knives, anyone could see that. The same thing in the next room but as I was about to leave, I heard something like a sigh. I looked everywhere, turned over all the bodies, and eventually found a little foot, still warm. It was a little girl of ten, mutilated by a hand grenade, but still alive; everywhere it was the same horrible sight … there had been 400 people in this village; about fifty had escaped. All the rest had been deliberately massacred in cold blood for, as I observed for myself, this gang was admirably disciplined and acted only under orders.
Word of Deir Yassin got out and, in addition to terrorist attacks on the Arab Quarter of Haifa twelve days later, led to an atmosphere of terror; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled. This mass expulsion of Palestinians is referred to in Arabic as al-Naqba – the catastrophe.
Over sixty years later, they and their descendants have not been able to return, and today literally millions of Palestinians languish in refugee camps or in exile around the world. Yet several leading figures of the Zionist groups involved in the massacres have since held high office in Israel – among them Menachem Begin who was the Irgun’s leader, masterminded the King David Hotel bombing, and later became Israel’s sixth Prime Minister.
Since its foundation, Israel has shown itself to be a fiercely expansionist state. In 1967 it seized what remained of Palestine, occupying the Gaza Strip and West Bank as well as parts of Syria and Egypt in the space of only six days.
It was this Six Day War, in which Israel rapidly defeated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces, that proved to the United States how powerful an ally Israel could become. The next years would see aid from the US to Israel increase to a significant fraction of what it is today.
However it was developments in Iran that cemented the alliance. US President Jimmy Carter’s Middle East policy focused on three pro-US governments – Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel – that were described as the “three pillars” of US foreign policy. Revolution in Iran in 1979 showed the US the dangers of relying upon despots that were hated by their population. Israel, by contrast, was the only state in the region that not only had a pro-US government, but a large colonist population that could be relied upon to remain ideologically wedded to imperialism. This factor explains why US support for Israel massively increased toward current levels in the wake of the Iranian revolution.
The “peace process” and the right of return
Unfortunately for the United States and Israel, the Palestinians would not just lie down and die. They continued to struggle for their rights, including the right for Palestinians expelled in 1948 and 1967 to return to their homelands. Two major rebellions, or Intifadas, have taken place as Palestinians in the Occupied Territories continue to resist.
The response of Israel has been twofold. First they have entrenched the country’s dominance in the Occupied Territories, creating “facts on the ground” by building illegal settlements, Israeli-only roads, and most recently the 8 metre high Apartheid Wall. Second, they have undertaken numerous “peace talks” – the Camp David and Oslo Accords being among them – to try to force Palestinians to renounce the right of refugees to return (among other things) in exchange for so-called “concessions” such as temporary freezing of Israel’s illegal settlement construction.
Shamefully the Palestinian leadership has made even more compromises than you might expect, including suppressing demonstrations and collaborating with Israel to capture and even assassinate dissidents. And what have Palestinians got from these concessions? More settlements than ever before.
What would a real solution look like?
Many have argued for a return to the pre-1967 borders and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the existing Israeli state. This would offer nothing to those expelled during al-Naqba. And the events of the 2008 Gaza War showed that such a Palestinian state would forever be insecure with such a powerful, aggressive and well-armed neighbour.
The only just solution in Palestine is to have one democratic state that offers equal rights for Arabs and Jews, and the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Achieving this “one state solution” would require dismantling the racist apartheid state of Israel and breaking the power of US imperialism in the region. But it is the only way Palestine can be free.