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Israel — an apartheid state

Protest in Melbourne, January 4, 2009. Photo by Margarita Windisch.

By Tony Iltis

January 6, 2009 -- In a 1969 interview, then-Israeli PM Golda Meir, referring to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, said: “It is not as though there was a Palestinian people … and we came and threw them out and took their country … They did not exist.”

Of course, the Palestinian people did, and still do, exist. This inconvenient fact helps explain why Israel is forced to continuously resort to brutal military force.

Meir herself was part of the Zionist leadership that threw out 800,000 Palestinians in 1948 and took 78% of their country in a meticulously planned war to establish the new, exclusively-Jewish state in historic Palestine.

Palestinian villages and towns were systematically razed and new European-style communities built.

It is impossible to understand the current bloodbath in Gaza without understanding the inherently racist nature of Israel. The slogan of Zionism (the ideology that advocates an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine) since it began in the 1890s has been, “A land without people, for a people without land”.

Making that slogan work means, by necessity, the Palestinians had to be viewed as non-people.

Ethnic cleansing

The ethnic cleansing that accompanied Israel’s founding in 1948 was required because the Zionist project of creating a “Jewish democracy” in Palestine required a Jewish majority.

In October 1948, Israel’s first PM David Ben-Gurion declared with satisfaction: “The Arabs of the land of Israel have only one function left to them — to run away.”

The 1967 conquest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (the Occupied Palestinian Territories — OPT), which formed the 22% of Palestine not conquered in 1948, led to the exodus of a further 250,000 Palestinians.

Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan stated: “We must understand the motives and causes of the continued emigration of the Arabs, from both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and not to undermine these causes after all, we want to create a new map.”

Thus the right of all refugees to return to their homeland remains a key demand of the Palestinian movement.

Much of the population of the territories occupied in 1967 were refugees from 1948. Today, 80% of the population of the Gaza Strip (the world’s most densely populated area) are, or are descended from, 1948 refugees driven from lands now within the borders of Israel.

When makeshift, homemade rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel, they hit land that, until just six decades ago, belonged to those firing them.

Israeli control of Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip exacerbated the contradictions inherent in the racist notion of a “Jewish democracy”. For instance, while the half-million Jewish settlers currently living in the West Bank have full Israeli citizenship rights, this has been denied to the 4 million Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

Until the late 1980s, Israeli capitalism used Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza as a source of cheap labour.

However, since the Palestinian uprising known as the first intifada broke out, Israel has preferred to rely on the less rebellious guest workers from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, while confining the Palestinians of the 1967-occupied territories to ghettos.

Palestinian ghettos

This process has underpinned the endless “peace processes” that have occurred since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Agreement.

The most the Palestinian negotiators have been offered is authority over a dozen geographically-separated walled-in ghettos, carved up by Jewish-only roads and “security zones” that annexed most of the West Bank. The authority came with the demand that it be used to crush any Palestinian movement deemed a threat to Israel’s interests.

The largest ghetto was created in 2005 when Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, while retaining total control of airspace, coastal waters and the entry or exit of goods and people.

Sponsoring these “peace processes” have been the US and other Western powers, in particular the European Union. Deprived of an economy, the Palestinian Authority (PA) that has governed the OPT with limited powers was made dependant on Western aid.

Western rhetoric stressed the “promotion of democracy”, which backfired in February 2006, when Palestinians elected a coalition led by the Hamas party — rejecting the Fatah party of collaborationist PA president Mahmoud Abbas.

The Western reaction to the 2006 elections demonstrated a perspective identical to that of Israel: the only Palestinians who were suitable as “partners for peace” were those willing to collaborate in the annihilation of the Palestinians as a people.

Aid to the PA was suspended in the hope that this would encourage Palestinians to overthrow the leadership they had just elected. Israel began the systematic abduction and assassination of elected Hamas representatives, with the West echoing the justification that Hamas members were, by definition, terrorists.

In June 2007, the US sponsored a Fatah coup against the Hamas-led government. While Abbas’s collaborationist forces took control of the West Bank ghettos, in Gaza the US-armed Fatah gangs were defeated.

With Western support, the siege of Gaza became total. Since then, there have been two Palestinian Authorities and no Palestinian state.

While the Hamas-led PA has been willing to enter into a permanent truce with Israel if it returns to its 1967 borders — and has observed many ceasefires since, none of which have been honoured by Israel — Hamas’s refusal to recognise Israel’s eternal right to exist as an exclusively Jewish state and unilaterally renounce Palestinians’ right to resist occupation makes negotiations with it impossible in the eyes of the West and Israel.

The reaction of Western politicians and media to the current massacre in Gaza confirms that the West sees Palestinians the same way Israel does: as non-people with no right to exist.

Western support for the Zionist project is not new, but predates the establishment of Israel by three decades. Israel’s existence would be impossible without Western sponsorship. Since 1948 US military aid to Israel has averaged almost US$4 billion a year.

The reason is the desire of the imperialist West, especially the US, for a loyal ally in the oil -rich Middle East that would defend its interests in return for support. For Israel and the US, the relationship is mutually beneficial.

Imperialism

When Britain conquered Palestine in 1917 and Britain’s then-foreign sectretary, Lord Balfour, proposed the establishment of a Jewish homeland there. Balfour’s motives were the same as those that inform Western support for Israel today: the creation of a pro-West “beach-head” in the Middle East.

The genocidal history of colonial-settler states such as the US, Canada and Australia provided the template.

Before World War II, there was little support among ordinary Jewish people for the Zionist project. The Nazi Holocaust changed this.

Many of its victims had not previously thought of themselves as Jews (being neither adherants of the Jewish religion or speakers of the European Jewish language, Yiddish) but the Holocaust strengthened the notion of a Jewish race.

Second, the attempted extermination of Jews increased support for the concept of a land based on being Jewish as protection from anti-Semitism. The refusal of the Western “democracies” to take large numbers of Jewish refugees reinforced this view.

Brutalised young men, who had grown up in the Nazi death camps, became the shock troops for the Zionist leadership in the ethnic cleansing of 1948.

The horrors of the Holocaust not only provides the basis for the “us against the world” ideological indoctrination in Israel, it is central to the West’s justification of its pro-Israel stance.

While in Balfour’s day, racism needed no excuses in the West, the post-World War II anti-colonial movements (and the US civil rights movement) changed this — making explicit appeals to anti-Arab racism unpalatable.

The horrors of the Holocaust create an understandable sensitivity to accusations of anti-Semitism that is exploited by Israel and its Western imperialist backers to silence criticism of Israeli crimes.

Western politicians and media routinely accuse Hamas of denying the Nazi Holocaust took place. This lie actually obscures the lessons Hamas has drawn from that tragedy.

In an April 17 Washington Post article, Mahmoud al-Zaher, Hamas negotiator and health minister, said: “Resistance remains our only option. Sixty-five years ago, the courageous Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose in defense of their people. We Gazans, living in the world’s largest open-air prison, can do no less.”

This is hardly Holocaust denial.

Zaher’s argument was partly directed at collaborationist Palestinian leaders. While the Warsaw Ghetto fighters — who had to deal with Jewish collaborators as well as the Nazis — suffered appalling casualties, their survival rate was higher than those who did not resist. It is a doomed strategy to seek to collaborate with those who see you as “sub-human exterminable filth”, to use the Nazis’ term.

While Israel and the West are less candid in their language, the extreme violence repeated continuously by Israel against the Palestinians since its founding shows clearly how the latter are viewed.

Equality

You would never know this from following the Western media, but all the main Palestinian factions, including Hamas, hold a position of full equality within the territory of historic Palestine between Jewish and non-Jewish people. That is, the stated position of the Palestinians, including Hamas, is for equal rights.

If the West Bank, Gaza and Israel are taken together (that is, historic Palestine), Palestinians and Jewish Israelis are roughly equal in number.

As many have pointed out, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the status quo of a state for one segment of people over and above other peoples is apartheid.

This means that solidarity campaigners should treat Israel as the anti-apartheid movement treated South Africa — as a rouge state. If the US announced a cessation of military aid to Israel, the latter would be forced to end its violence.

The global solidarity movement needs to demand an end to Israeli apartheid and support the creation of a democratic, secular, multicultural state that belongs to all its people — where no one religion or race subjugates all others.

[Tony Iltis is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist organisation affiliated to the Socialist Alliance of Australia. This article first appreared in Green Left Weekly issue #777, January 6, 2009.]

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