Revolution #152, January 11, 2009

Reply to John Nichols and Michael Lerner on Gaza

On the Nature and Role of Israel, the United States and Obama

As the horrifying results of Israel’s attacks on Gaza have become known —bodies lying in the streets of Gaza, houses destroyed, universities bombed and more—many people from different political viewpoints are opposing this slaughter.

In an article entitled “Obama Should Engage Now for Middle East Peace” (posted 12/29) on The Nation’s website, John Nichols, the magazine’s Washington correspondent, argues that there is “nothing surgical” about Israel’s attacks, citing the deaths of children by Israeli bombs. But Nichols then goes on to say the Israeli assault is “justified” and “understandable” because it is a response to attacks by Hamas. He argues, as “a friend of Israel” that Israel’s targeting of civilians and disproportionate use of force is counterproductive.

Nichols’ arguments are similar to those put forward by many others (see for example Michael Lerner’s essay “Israel in Gaza”). Despite their intentions, and we believe that Nichols, Lerner and others are sincerely outraged by the Israeli assault, the thinking and logic being put forward here is very wrong and prevents people from really understanding what is behind Israel’s massacre and what it will take to put an end to such horror.

Those who are outraged at the Israeli atrocities need to get to the root of the problem, the fundamental injustice of the existence of Israel and the role of its main backer, the U.S.—and act on this.

Israel Has No
“Right of Defense”

Nichols and Lerner do not like the Israeli response. They think it is disproportionate and counterproductive from Israel’s point of view.

But, wait a second! First of all, this is accepting the upside-down narrative put forward by Israel, the U.S. and the mainstream media—that Hamas broke a six-month truce by firing some rockets into Israeli territory and that Israel is only responding to this provocation. In fact, the reality is that it was Israel that broke the truce when it bombed inside Gaza’s territory, killing six Palestinians in early November. And then Israel followed this with a heartless tightening of the already brutal siege of Gaza, cutting off fuel and even supplies from humanitarian agencies that the people in Gaza are dependent on, creating a humanitarian crisis.

But, to really get at the root of the problem, it is necessary to take a step back from the current situation and look at the origins of the state of Israel and the brutal dispossession of the Palestinian people. One can no more understand the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by looking at the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel than you can understand the genocide of Native Americans by looking at an attack by Native Peoples on a settler wagon train. And such a narrow, non-historical view has in fact been repeatedly used to justify the genocide of Native Peoples.

Israel is a settler colonial state founded on the dispossession of the Palestinian people. As part of “founding” the state of Israel almost a million Palestinians (half the population at that time) were brutally forced from their land, villages and homes, fleeing with only the possessions they could carry. Many were raped, tortured, and killed. To ensure there would be nothing for the Palestinians to return to, their villages were so well razed that few visible remnants remain. There were 31 documented massacres; 531 villages and 11 urban neighborhoods were emptied of their inhabitants. (See centerfold on Nakba.)

The current military assault is an ongoing extension of all this. About a million of Gaza’s residents are registered with the UN as refugees. The Israeli military occupied the Gaza for 38 years during which time the people had no rights. As a result of the blockade imposed by Israel over the last two years, malnutrition affects 75 percent of the people in Gaza. People do not have access to medications. Electricity is only available for a few hours each day, causing raw sewage to back up into the streets.

So, we’d like to suggest an analogy to Nichols and others: What Israel is doing in Gaza is like the Nazis confining people in the Warsaw ghetto during World War 2 and then when people rebel, the Nazis say, “Aha—we are being attacked and anyone who says anything about the situation has to first agree on that—and before anything can be done to resolve the situation, the people in the Warsaw ghetto have to stop attacking us.”

Claims of “self-defense” on the part of Israel, even when they are coming from people who oppose the attacks on Gaza, serve to cover up for and silence criticism of the very real crimes carried out by the state of Israel over the last 60 years, and which are being intensified now. They hide the essential truth of the situation and as a result they hold people back from the kind of determined and passionate resistance that is urgently needed.

Can the U.S. be a Force for Good in the Middle East?

Nichols, Lerner, and others call on U.S. officials to “urgently engage with Israel, regional parties, and the international community to bring about an immediate halt to the rapidly escalating hostilities in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.” Arguing that this is in our interests as Americans because (Nichols quoting J Street’s Ben Ami) “...we too stand to suffer as the situation spirals, rage in the region is directed at the United States, and our regional allies are further undermined. Our goals must be a Middle East that moves beyond bloody conflicts, an Israel that is secure and accepted in the region, and an America secured by reducing extremism and enhancing stability. None of these goals are achieved by further escalation.”

First, the United States is not standing above the fray, a force for peace in the abstract. The U.S. has built up an empire of world domination—an empire based on imperialist control of a network of neo-colonies around the world. Over and over again the U.S. has resorted to the most brutal methods to defend its interests—from the war in Vietnam to backing murderous Contra mercenaries and death squads in Central America. A foundation of this empire has been its control over the strategic region of the Middle East and its large oil reserves. Over recent years, the domination of U.S. imperialism has been increasingly challenged by Islamic fundamentalist forces, and the U.S. launched the so-called “war on terror” to restructure the Middle East in a way that is more favorable to U.S. domination. To carry this out, they unleashed and continue to carry out a murderous war in Iraq that has killed an estimated one million Iraqis.

To be clear, the program of Hamas is not about liberating Palestine as a secular state free of imperialist domination; Hamas represents forces that would restructure the oppressive relations that enslave the people of Palestine within an Islamic theocratic framework. But it is U.S. imperialism (often, as in this case, acting through Israel) which has done by far the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity.

Second, whatever efforts the U.S. has been involved in to broker some deal over the decades in the Middle East have all been meant to stabilize the region under U.S. domination. All U.S. proposals have come down to strengthening and legitimizing the Zionist state of Israel, while spitting on the rights of the Palestinian people, reducing them to living in isolated, desperate conditions and even walled-off entities with no real political or economic independence.

And third, but not least, it’s way past time for progressive people to be clinging to false hopes and self-deceptions about the role of the U.S. and to be identifying their interests with what’s “good for America in the world.” The interests of the masses of the people here and around the world lie in opposing every move of the U.S. to strengthen empire on the backs of the masses. Rather than promoting illusions that the U.S. will step in and solve the problem, it’s time for people– particularly those of us in the U.S.—to stop thinking like Americans and to uncompromisingly oppose the U.S. godfather in the Middle East and its Israeli enforcer.

What About Obama?

Nichols argues that President-elect Obama “should be openly counseling the Bush administration to use every diplomatic avenue to promote a ceasefire and, above all, to urge against an Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza.”

As Nichols himself notes, Obama is doing nothing of the sort; in fact, through his spokespeople he has expressed nothing but support for Israel’s actions.

But no one who has with open eyes watched and listened to Obama during the campaign should be surprised by this at all. In fact, there is no reason at all to think that Obama’s position on Israel will fundamentally be any different than that of Bush.

In his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama said, “As president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security” and declared his “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.”

Obama went on to say “that starts with ensuring Israel’s qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat—from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened. As president, I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade—investments to Israel’s security that will not be tied to any other nation. First, we must approve the foreign aid request for 2009. Going forward, we can enhance our cooperation on missile defense. We should export military equipment to our ally Israel under the same guidelines as NATO. And I will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world.”

Here we see Obama arguing for an even more massive build-up of Israel than has taken place in recent years. And Obama’s comments about “not tied to any other nation” is a declaration that he will not use this aid to pressure Israel in any way.

At bottom, Obama’s positions are based not on justice and peace but on the interests of the U.S. empire—which he is poised to preside over. To think that Obama will act on something other than those interests is a dangerous illusion.


People who look with horror at what Israel is unleashing in Gaza need to understand the source of all this and deeply understand the injustice at the core of Israel’s existence and the role that it has played as a brutal enforcer for imperialism in a strategic region. And people need to do this as they act, energetically and boldly, to politically resist this atrocity.




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