Revolution #52, June 25, 2006
Palestine: A History of Occupation and Resistance
Recent events have focused new world attention on Palestine: the killing of seven Palestinians at a Gaza beach by Israeli artillery shells (and the Israeli government’s outrageous attempts to deny responsibility); the clashes between Palestinian groups, in particular Hamas and Fatah; and the intense suffering of the Palestinians because of the cut off of international aid. Revolution will analyze developments in occupied Palestine more in future issues. In this issue, we present a basic fact sheet on the history of Israeli occupation and Palestinian resistance.
A central reality about the state of Israel is that it serves as an attack dog for U.S. imperialist interests. In the Middle East, those interests focus on controlling this strategic crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa and its vast oil reserves.
Without U.S. backing, the state of Israel could not survive. The U.S. gives Israel $2 to $3 billion a year in aid, allowing Israel to build up one of the most powerful armies in the world. The book Deadly Arsenals estimates that Israel has 100 short-range and medium range missiles that are nuclear capable. And Israel has nuclear weapons that could be delivered from fighter jets or launched from ships.
Israel is a direct oppressor of the Palestinian nation. It has also carried out many vicious assaults on the masses and other crimes in the region and around the world on behalf of imperialism. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1976—and again in 1982, killing over 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians. In 1982 Israeli warplanes bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq. In 1991 and 2003 Israel supported U.S. wars against Iraq. Israeli agents have trained torturers from Guatemala to South Africa and sold weapons to reactionary pro-U.S. governments all over the world.
Imperialism, Israel, and the Palestinian People
From the 1500s up until World War 1, Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. In the course of resistance to Ottoman rule, the modern Palestinian nation was forged with a common culture, contiguous (connected) territory and a truncated, but coherent national economic life based on agriculture and processing agricultural products (like olive oil). At the end of World War 1, in 1918, there were 680,000 Palestinians and 56,000 Jews (some of whom were refugees from pogroms in Europe) living in Palestine, and Palestinians owned 97 percent of the land.
After World War 1, imperialist powers carved up the Ottoman Empire, including Palestine. The rivalry was intense because oil was now a precious economic and military commodity. In 1922 Britain got a League of Nations “mandate” to rule Palestine as a colony. Between 1933 and 1945, the British imperialists, along with the U.S., severely restricted Jewish immigration into their own countries in order to push Jews toward Palestine—at a time when Jews in Europe faced the Holocaust.
Zionist Jews from Europe began to colonize historic Palestine (what is today Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank) in the late 1880s. The Zionist movement arose in part as a response by sections of Jews to their persecution in Europe. But, in opposition to forces - often led by communists (who also had a significant following among Jews) - that were fighting to forge opposition to reaction and fascism, Zionist leaders instead offered to set up a settler-state in the Middle East in service of various imperialist powers. When British imperialism took up this offer in the early 1900s, a wave of Zionist settlement began.
In 1936 Palestinians launched an armed uprising against the British and the Zionist settler-colonialists. The British brutally crushed the uprising in 1939 and passed emergency laws condemning to death any Palestinian found with a gun.
Through World War 2, the U.S. emerged as the top imperialist power in the world and moved to replace Britain as the main power in the Middle East. In November 1947, a U.S.-backed UN resolution partitioned Palestine into a Zionist state and an Arab state. At that time, the Palestinians outnumbered Zionist settlers two to one and owned 92 percent of the land. But the partition gave Israel 54 percent of the land. In May 1948—after the Palestinians and the Arab countries refused to accept the UN partition—Israel launched a war against Palestinians. Israeli forces massacred 250 villagers in Deir Yassin, including 100 women and children. Israel used this atrocity to spread terror among the Palestinian people, and many fled their homes in panic. By the war’s end in January 1949, nearly 800,000 Palestinians—two-thirds of the population—had been driven into exile; Israel had seized 77 percent of the land.
The 1960s saw a revolutionary upsurge among Palestinians. Palestinian guerrilla organizations launched armed struggle against Israel in 1965, with the aim of creating a democratic, secular (non-religious) state throughout Palestine. In March 1968 Palestinian fighters held off a major Israeli attack at Karameh, Jordan. In 1967 the Israelis launched the “Six Day War” and seized the remaining 23 percent of historic Palestine—the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem—along with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights.
UN Resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from all areas seized in the 1967 war. But the Israelis began to build heavily armed settlements in the occupied areas. Since 1967, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been under harsh military occupation, denied basic rights and unable to develop any viable economy.
The Deadly “Peace Process”
The Palestinian intifada (uprising) that erupted the late 1980s deeply shook Israel and the U.S. imperialists. In addition to outright bloody suppression, the U.S. and Israel initiated a so-called “Peace Process.” A key part of U.S. strategy has been the “two-state solution”: official Palestinian “recognition” of Israel and end to all resistance, in return for a small state in the West Bank and Gaza. By the late 1980s Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had basically agreed to this.
The U.S. and Israel have never intended to allow a truly independent Palestinian state. Under the Oslo “peace process” begun in 1993, Israel transferred about 40 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority (PA). But this PA territory is only about 10 percent of historic Palestine and consists of small disconnected pieces of land surrounded by areas under Israeli control. The main roads, key water resources, and access to neighboring countries and the sea are all controlled by Israel. And the Oslo agreement made no provisions for the four million Palestinian refugees living outside of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza. During the years of the “peace process” (1993 through 2000), the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank doubled.
The U.S. and Israel dropped this “peace process” and pursued even more unrestrained tactics after the year 2000. Meanwhile Israeli settlements have multiplied, now numbering hundreds, with Israeli troops protecting their land grab and aggression.
Since the late 1980s Israel has at times promoted the growth of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas as a countervailing force against secular forces and to stoke clashes among Palestinian groups. Hamas, with its reactionary ideology, is in some ways a perfect foil for the U.S. and Israel, who try to portray themselves as modern democracies confronting obscurantist theocracies. (Enlightened people in the West who want to oppose fundamentalist theocracies can start at home: the U.S. has a president who is deeply connected to Christian fascist theocrats.) The U.S. and Israel have used the victory of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections to justify intensifying brutality against the Palestinian people by further embedding these attacks in the overall rationale of the “war on terror.”
Intensifying Brutality of Occupation
Israeli brutality against the Palestinian people became even more deadly after Ariel Sharon—the man responsible for the 1982 massacre of hundreds at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon—was installed as Israel’s prime minister in 2001.
In 2002 Israel began erecting a fortified barrier—concrete walls, electrified fences, electric sensors, razor wire, trenches, and watchtowers—across more than 400 miles of Palestinian land in the West Bank. This apartheid wall further isolates many Palestinian towns, separates farmers from their fields, and steals more land from the Palestinians.
In September 2005 Sharon carried out a “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip, dismantling Israeli settlements and military installments—as part of a plan to make Gaza into a big prison for the 1.4 million Palestinians there, while moving to annex more land in the West Bank. Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert, has continued on this path, announcing a plan for “unilateral withdraw” from the West Bank—which means consolidating Israeli control over the most valuable and strategic territory, while intensifying the siege around the scattered Palestinian enclaves.
Further adding to the misery of the Palestinian people, the U.S. and European powers invoked Hamas’ victory in the elections for the Palestinian legislature in early 2006 to cut off or restrict aid to the Palestinian Authority. This economic strangulation is having a traumatic effect on the Palestinian people. More than half of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza now live below the international poverty line of $2 a day. The UN’s World Health Organization has warned of a “looming” health crisis, with hospitals and clinics running out of medicine, fuel, and other vital necessities.
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