Source: Haifa Conference
This paper is written as a contribution to the discussion in the Anti Imperialist Camp about perspectives for work within the imperialist countries. The situation in Palestine is very different from that of Europe or the US. Since the beginning of the Zionist colonization of Palestine, some 130 years ago, Jews in Palestine were a small enclave of settler population in the midst of the Arab homeland. Colonialism is not external expansionism of some imaginary ‘western-capitalist Israel’, but the essence of Israel’s existence. Palestine is an occupied colonized country, where the real center of political life is the struggle against the occupation. Any progressive struggle within the Jewish community in Palestine should be part of the perspective of Palestinian liberation.
From many aspects, the democratic struggle in Israel, as a remote outpost of imperialism, may differ from the general perspective for revolutionary struggle in the imperialist centers. Anyway, I tried to keep my analysis strictly committed to the facts on the Palestinian ground, and let the audience treat it critically to decide what lessons may be drawn for other fronts.
Part 1: How the Zionist system works
Zionism and Imperialism
A lot was written about the evils of Zionism as a colonialist movement and Israel as a racist regime, but the role of Zionism in the Imperialist Hegemony over the Arab East is much less known and understood. Still the main role of Zionism is not the exploitation of the Palestinian people, of which they prefer to get rid by continuing ethnic cleansing, neither the building of a Jewish society in Palestine (and the subsequent exploitation of the Jewish working class). The main role of Israel is as an advanced military outpost in the middle of the Arab East to prevent Arab independence, Arab unity and the building of a national economy and democratic society.
The military character of the Israeli project is enshrined in many strategic agreements between Israel and the imperialist powers, guaranteeing the ‘strategic superiority’ of Israel in the region.
The current imperialist hysteria against Iran’s nuclear program has only one meaning – imperialist determination to keep Israel as the only power with nuclear weapon in the area, so as to enable it to use it on need. In many recent writings by Zionist leaders they tell openly how close they were to using nuclear weapons in some of their past conflicts…
For their role in keeping imperialist hegemony over this strategically important region, the Zionist military-capitalist elites receive a wide range of economic and political privileges, which are a small fraction of the imperialists’ profits from the subjection of the Arab nation and the robbery of its natural and human resources.
Colonialism and Class
In order to be able to expel and oppress the Palestinian people, and in order to be able to militarily terrorize the whole region, the Zionists need the best of all imperialist weaponry, but they also need soldiers to fight their wars. The state of Israel uses those Jewish masses it succeeded to tempt to come to Palestine as its base of support and as the foot soldiers for its colonization, oppression and aggressive wars. It needs this immigrant community to be satisfied, to prevent it from re-immigrating to safer places, and to keep its loyalty as a fighting force.
Fear is one major force behind the intense control of Zionism over the Jews in Palestine. In this sense, Zionism is the main beneficiary of anti-Semitism and it shares its conviction that Jews can’t assimilate in the societies where they live. It also benefits, to some degree, from terrifying Jews in Palestine from the possible consequences in case Israel will loose it military dominance.
In order to provide replacement to the expelled Palestinians, the Zionist movement is bringing in Jews from all over the world. At a process of internal colonization, Jews from Arab and other third world countries are deprived of their culture and social structure, which are declared by the state as ‘inferior’, and their society is crashed to provide defenseless ‘human raw material’ for the Zionist manipulation and exploitation.
But the main mean used by Israel to keep the loyalty of the Jewish masses is to make their daily way of living depend of a complex system of privileges as against the native Palestinians. This system of privileges includes every aspect of daily lives in Israel: Health and Education, Housing, Welfare, Acceptance and promotion at work, just everything. Much effort is done to involve as many Jews (from all classes) as possible in actively expropriating Arab land, in the ’48 occupied territories as well as in the West Bank and the Syrian Golan heights.
This system allows only one way for effective struggle for sections of the Jewish masses that aspire to improve their daily lives: To struggle to enhance their privileges and distance themselves from the much more oppressed and exploited Arab masses. It is not a coincidence that the most successful struggle of Oriental Jews in the last years was a campaign for more equal distribution of expropriated Arab land, waged under the slogan ‘this land is also mine’.
The Alternative can’t come from within the Jewish Community
Capitalist exploitation in Israel, like anywhere else, creates its contradictions and class struggle. But the acute polarization of society under colonialism prevents the class struggle from naturally evolving to a political conflict over power. Arab workers are marginalized by systematic discrimination, many of them working in unofficial or semi-official sectors of the economy where class organization is almost impossible. The most organized and combative workers are those in the more privileged, almost fully segregated, sectors. As much as struggle and local organization develops, it is put to vain by the Histadrut, the all powerful tool of the Zionist movement that is responsible to assure that trade unionist struggle is subjected to the interest of the colonialist system.
The so-called ‘Israeli Left’ is not left at all. Sometimes it is taken to include the Israeli Labor Party, which was the central instrument of Zionist colonialism, directly responsible for both the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the occupation of 1967. ‘The Labor’ is till this day a full partner in all of Israel’s aggressive and racist policies and is a partner in most of its governments’ coalitions. Economically the Israeli Labor Party is as tightly connected to big business as its openly Right wing twins and it promotes neo liberal policies like privatization.
Labor’s shadow in the Zionist ‘left’, the small ‘Merez’ party, which is now in opposition, is only a shade more moderate, and don’t hesitate to take part in Zionist governments of occupation and war when it gets a chance to do so. It claims to be more moderate in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but its main political activity is to try to engage the Palestinians in virtual negotiations and to blackmail them to give up the right of return of the refugees in order to make them more acceptable to Israeli public opinion… Merez is also well known to rely on the well to do elite, which might be a bit less aggressive than other flanks of Zionism as it sees its interest well defended in any possible settlement.
There are anti war movements, of which Peace Now was the most famous and numerous. While it expressed some popular tendency to distrust the military-political leadership and pressed the government to be less aggressive, it mostly remained under the political wings of Labor and Merez. Its logic was that Israel might allow itself some concession from a point of strength, thus denying the Palestinian refugees right of return and clinging to Jewish domination.
For a long period, the Israeli communist party tried to build an Israeli Patriotic non-Zionist left. They thought this left could cooperate with the mainstream Zionist ‘left’ and influence it toward peace with the ‘external’ Palestinians and to reduce discrimination against ‘internal’ Palestinians. For this purpose they tried to limit the Palestinian struggle inside the 48 occupied territories to an agenda of civil rights, equality and peace. While they tried to heal some of the symptoms of Zionism, they accepted its main proposition of the establishment of a Jewish state. This experiment came to its futile climax when the Communist (and other Arab) votes in the Knesset were crucial to sustain the Labor government led by Rabin at the time of the Oslo agreement. Even than, Labor refused to include the Israeli Communist Party, or any other party representing Arab voters, in its governing coalition, thus stressing the exclusive Jewish character of the Zionist state and the de-legitimization of those Palestinian Arabs who are formally citizens of Israel.
As an echo of the international radicalism of the sixties of the previous century, several radical movements were formed between Jewish youth, best known by the name ‘Matzpen’ – Compass in Hebrew. In spite of some important principled positions against Israeli colonialism and the dedicated struggle and sacrifices of some militants, those groups failed to integrate as a significant component in the Palestinian Liberation movement even while it was at its leftist radical heights. Finally those groups dried and died out within the walls of the reactionary Jewish Ghetto.
Part 2: Zionism doesn’t work any more
The limitations and reversal of Zionist military superiority
As the mainstay of Zionism is military dominance, as part of imperialist Hegemony, the crisis of Zionism came with the proof of the limitations of Israel’s military power and intensified as the imbalance of power lost its irreversible look. The top moment of Israel’s dominance was the 67 war and its occupation of the whole of Palestine and vast other Arab lands. The Arab awakening came fast: Within a few years came the insurgence of the Palestinian resistance, the ‘war of attrition’ and the October 1973 war – in which Israel badly needed direct American airlift to escape defeat. But than the ruling bourgeois in Egypt, the main frontline Arab state, decided to capitalize on the changing balance of forces for its selfish interests by jumping on the American wagon, and made the Camp David peace agreement with Israel.
For Israel ‘peace’ with Egypt was an opportunity to try to crash the Palestinian resistance by launching a war on Lebanon, which lasted from 1982 till 2000. Israel occupied Beirut, massacred Palestinians by the thousands, and for a short period forced a collaborators government. But the resistance continued and prevailed – and it proved that bare military force can destroy and occupy a country, but can’t force its own political order.
The first Palestinian Intifada (1987-1993) made chunks of occupied Palestine ungovernable. It forced Israel to make the Oslo agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), bringing its exiled leadership from Tunis to be its partner in providing some self rule under the occupation. The PLO leadership was cheated to believe that Israel is interested to give up the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip, and officially renounced armed resistance while Israel continued creeping ethnic cleansing and colonization.
The disappointment from Oslo brought the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000. After heroic and bloody struggle the Palestinians succeeded for the first time to force Israel to give up a small chunk of Palestine, the Gaza strip, which Israel evacuated from settlers and direct military occupation in 2005. Still Israel, with imperialist and Egyptian collaboration, put Gaza under severe siege and converted it to an open air prison and the scene of daily massacres. Meanwhile the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, won the 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. In 2007 Hamas succeeded to establish effective rule over the Gaza strip, and in 2008 it succeeded to force Israel to accept the first bilateral truce.
In July 2006 Israel tried to redraw the balance of forces by attacking Lebanon again. For 33 days its air force kept bombing civilian infrastructures in Lebanon, causing ethnic cleansing of the population in the south and destroying parts of Beirut. For 33 days its elite ground forces and its most advanced tanks failed battle after battle against the resistance of the Hisbullah militia. For 33 days the northern part of Israel was paralyzed by Hisballah artillery and rockets. Lebanon’s grand victory in that war established Hizbollah’s leader Hassan Nassrallah as the most popular leader in the Arab world and Hisballah as the main party in deciding the future of Lebanon.
Meanwhile, while the Zionists’ only ‘achievements’ are more suffering and bloodshed, they called in direct American intervention in Iraq, to prevent any real or imaginary threat of Arab oil money being used to build independent Arab national entity. But the invasion of Iraq proved to be the one extra war too much, even for the superpower. The Iraqi resistance dealt a massive blow to the ability of the Unite States to force its way over the oppressed and exploited people all over the world.
Like they did all along the way, the Zionists only perspective is to try to ‘correct’ the damage of the last war by plotting the next war. Now they are trying to make the United States fight another disastrous war against much larger and stronger Iran, what might prove their most bloody and costly adventure still. It seems that the US, after its bloody experience in Iraq, is now at last resisting the temptation to follow Israel’s war mongering against Iran.
The Internal Crisis of the Israeli Regime
The lost of direction in its external and internal permanent wars is the main reason for the internal crisis that is engulfing the Israeli regime. For many years no Israeli government succeeded to spend its whole period, and the different organs of government are in constant strife. Corruption is everywhere: Israel’s honorary president had to resign for charges of rape; its previous Finance Minister is now sentenced for theft; Its head of Police had to resign for allowing local criminals to influence the police; its War Minister and the army’s Chief of Stuff had to resign for their clumsy handling of the war on Lebanon and Prime Minister Olmart is now obliged to give up his job after endless charges of corruption.
Neo Liberalism and privatization where adopted by Israel more vigorously than in most western states, and damaged the welfare state and social solidarity that used to be the glue of the Jewish society. A small group of local and external oligarchs is strengthening its grip over the economy, and the gap between the poor, many of them ordinary working people, and the super reach is ever wider.
As an immigrant community, Israel is more sensitive to the evils of capitalism. From the Zionist point of view unemployment and poverty between the Jews are threatening its constant effort to bring more Jews to live in Palestine. On the other side of the social spectrum, the prospering high-tech industry is creating globalized educated elite that find it easier to leave Israel and relocate to the imperialist centers of power. It is a main indicator of the crisis that there is now more outward immigration from Israel than inward immigration.
Echoes of the second intifada in the Jewish community
The first intifada (1987 – 1993) was led by the PLO, and very much directed by its leadership’s prospect of establishing a Palestinian state in the 1967 occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. It didn’t require any re-alignment in the Jewish street, as it fitted with the perspective of the Israeli peace movement, to be a moderating force on the side of the Israeli government. It all came up to the Oslo agreement and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority under the occupation and not as a replacement to it.
The second intifada (2000 – ?) came as a result of Palestinian disillusion from the Oslo ‘peace process’. It erupted just as the Israeli side, including much of the so called ‘Israeli Left’, believed that the Barak Labor government went as much as it could toward the Palestinians. The second intifada challenged the Israelis’ concepts on the conflict for several reasons:
- Hamas and Islamic Jihad took major part in leading the intifada, and were not part of the imperialist controlled ‘peace process’.
- There were more Israeli military and civilian casualties.
- For the first 10 days there was also intifada of Palestinians inside the 48 occupied territories. Even after their direct mass struggle was suppressed by the systematic killing of demonstrators, it remained clear were ‘internal’ Palestinians stand.
- Israel intensified its destructive oppression toward the Palestinians.
The initial response was a loud convergence around the Zionist consensus, with many luminary figures of the Israeli ‘peace camp’ accusing the Palestinians of ingratitude in so violently uprising just as peace was at a hand’s reach. But than a different kind of response came out, which broke the dead end perspective of the traditional peace process.
Within a short time after the breaking of the second intifada, some elements around the Communist Party, as well as independent minded leftists, established ‘Ta’ayush’, a movement that stressed the common struggle of Jews and Arabs against the occupation and against discrimination, and avoided posing a political program. The very selection of the movement’s name, the Arabic word for ‘living together’, was a refreshing break with the previous dominance of Hebrew and the Israeli narrative even in left circles. In the first years of the intifada Ta’ayush succeeded to mobilize thousands of Jewish militants to join Palestinian struggles both in the West Bank and inside the green line. The avoidance of the till than ‘natural’ perspective of the two states solution allowed active participation of more radical elements. Under the pressure of partners in the refugee camps in the West Bank, as well as the committee of internally displace Palestinians, Ta’ayush was forced to take a clear stand on one issue – the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. After some productive years, activism for itself was not enough to keep Ta’ayush as a major force, and it is now confined to some local activity groups.
The main organizers of participation of Jews in the daily mass struggle against the occupation are now ‘Anarchists Against The Wall’. They take part alongside Palestinians and international volunteers in daily demonstrations against Israel’s building of the so called ‘separation wall’ in the West Bank, a wall that separates Palestinians from their lands and from each other in order to enhance Jewish settlements. This partnership in struggle converted the Anarchists to the flag bearers for all the opponents of the occupation, and many people of different views take part in the demonstrations. Yet, concerning political perspective, it seems that in Tel Aviv it is sometimes easier to be ‘against all states’ than to single out Israeli Apartheid as an evil regime that should be confronted for very simple democratic reasons.
As compulsory draft is forced on all Jews (and Druze, an Islamic tendency) in Palestine, resistance of army service is a constant component of the democratic struggle. Here again the center of activity is changing. In the past the main trend of political ‘refuseniks’ was to be good soldiers in the Israeli army, as defenders of ‘legitimate Israel’, and to selectively refuse either serving in Lebanon or policing the 67 occupied West Bank and Gaza. Now the center of the movement is refusal to take any part in the Israeli army, recognizing that there is no way to distinguish between a legitimate ‘defensive’ role and the occupation. The open political refuseniks movement is now much more in coherence with widely spread disillusion and alienation toward the state’s institutions that lead thousands of youth to dodge military service without openly declaring refusal.
One aspect of the ideological control of Zionism over the Jewish community is the denial of the existence and the history of the Arab people of Palestine, and especially denial of the Palestinian Naqba – the ethnic cleansing against most of the population of Palestine in 1948. Palestinian insistence on their rights, especially the yearly commemoration of the Naqba by mass demonstrations for the right of returned, succeeded to break this self serving ignorance, to the level that the word Naqba is now very much used even in Hebrew. There is also systematic work by democratic activists within the Jewish community to raise consciousness to the Naqba, most significantly by the ‘Zochrot’ (feminine for remembering) association.
Another challenge to the level of cooperation of Jewish militants with the Palestinian intifada was posed by Tali Fahima, which offered herself as human shield to disrupt the constant attempts by the Israeli army to kill Palestinian militants. In 2004 she was arrested and accused of ‘collaborating with the enemy’. A lively campaign in here defense succeeded to expose the political nature of the accusations, until the prosecution was forced to compromise on lesser accusations and two and a half years imprisonment. Her name became a symbol of victimization of democratic anti occupation activists.
The anti war movement against the second invasion of Lebanon (summer 2006) was another example of the shifting balance from Zionist fake left to radical pro Palestinian opposition. As Labor was part of the government, and its ‘left wing’ leader Perez was the minister of ‘Defence’ that initiated the war, the organized Zionist ‘left’ was completely in collaboration with the war propaganda until the last days of the war. On the other hands, the Arab and Jewish left in Haifa led the opposition to the war by daily demonstrations from the first day of the war, even as the city was partly evacuated due to rocket attacks. In several mass anti war demonstration in Tel Aviv, Palestinian flags were raised and the mixed Jewish and Arab public was led by a mix of Communists, Arab nationalists, Anarchists, Gays and Lesbians’ militants, etc.
Part 3: Building the Alternative
The Official Palestinian Position
The struggle against Zionism is led by its main victims – the Palestinians – but victory requires Arab anti-imperialist unity, international solidarity and also breaking the Zionist monopole over the Jewish community in Palestine.
The traditional program of the Palestinian liberation movement, The Secular Democratic state in Palestine, posed a positive and progressive alternative. Some Jews were active in the PLO and were handled important positions.
Soon the PLO’s Fatah leadership’s perspective shifted to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the ‘67 occupied territories (some 20% of Palestine), through an agreement with a still dominant Israel. Respectively, its interest in the Jewish community shifted to building relation with the ‘peace movement’ within the Zionist camp as a bridge to the establishment.
Now, as the Islamic resistance movement Hamas is competing with Fatah for the leadership of the Palestinian struggle, it is cooperating with all sorts of peace activists on the ground, but still has to develop a consistent approach toward the Jewish community.
The Abnaa elBalad movement, as a progressive Palestinian movement that is active within the 1948 occupied territories, declares in its basic principles that it represents that historic interest of all the people of Palestine, including the historic interest of Jews in Palestine to get rid of their role as canon powder for imperialist and Zionist wars.
For more than twenty years, Abnaa elBalad incorporates comrades from Jewish origin, but it concentrates on its main task to organize the Arab Palestinian masses for defense of their daily rights against Zionist racism. It has only sporadic intervention in democratic struggles within the Jewish community or in organizing among the Jewish masses.
The Haifa Conference – June 2008
In 2007 the central committee of Abnaa elBalad adopted an initiative to raise the perspective of the Secular Democratic state in Palestine as the framework for the realization of the return of Palestinian refugees and as a solution to the continuing bloody conflict. The timing of the initiative was decided by the obvious collapse of the imperialist sponsored ‘peace process’ and the crisis of the Zionist and Imperialist Hegemony, which cause Palestinians and Jews alike to look for more profound solutions.
In order to open the doors wide for people of different convictions and from different organizations, movements and parties, the framework that was adopted is an open conference, organized by an independent initiating committee.
The conference succeeded to promote the discussion of the secular democratic alternative and was attended by many activists from different Palestinian movements, parties and NGOs, mostly from the 48 territories, but also from the West Bank and the Palestinian diaspora. The list of speakers in the conference, more than 50 of them, constitutes a parade of support for the conference’s cause. There was a very significant presence of Jewish activists as well, probably the widest participation in a Palestinian political event ever (except, of course, mass demonstration, where everybody comes but there’s not much interaction). There was also a significant presence from international solidarity movements. All in all between 300 and 400 people took part in different workshops, with lively discussion about many aspects of the problem, the struggle and the solution.
The Haifa conference is part of a wider movement for re-assessment of Palestinian strategy. Other conferences were held before in Europe, and different groups are working for the same goals in the West Bank, Gaza and refugee camps in different Arab countries.
View to the future
As Zionist racism and its role as a military outpost for imperialism bring more bloody conflict, as Arab resistance is starting to break imperialist Hegemony, Jews in Palestine have no other alternative but to look for a future for themselves that will not be based on constant wars but on integration in a future democratic Palestine as part of a democratic Arab East.
To separate Jews in Palestine from Zionism, we need an active approach from the Palestinian liberation movement toward the Jewish masses and the active role of revolutionaries from within the Jewish community in the anti Zionist and anti-imperialist struggle. This approach can help to dismantle the Zionist time bomb and prevent the conflict from declining into a quagmire of communal killings or exploding in a nuclear final war.
A socialist alternative is the natural continuation and the best way for implementing of the democratic alternative for Palestine, as is the state for all liberation movements. Only a socialist regime can mobilize all the economic and human resources of Palestine for the huge task of reconstructing the life of millions of destitute Palestinians returning refugees, and preventing economic apartheid from replacing the military apartheid that is now implemented by Zionism. Only a socialist regime can in an orderly way deprive Jews in Palestine of their immorally acquired privileges and yet provide the conditions for their integration in a future Democratic Palestine to the benefit of the whole liberated society.
Date: August 27, 2008
(*) The writer is a member of the political bureau of Abnaa elBalad, a Palestinian movement active inside the 1948 occupied Palestine, and one of the initiators of the Haifa Conference for the Right of Return and the Secular Democratic State in Palestine.