Revolution #213, October 10, 2010
Bastion of Enlightenment… or Enforcer for Imperialism:
The Case of ISRAEL
The state of Israel is projected to the world as an outpost of democracy and tolerance in a sea of hostile, intolerant Islam bent on its destruction. To be considered a credible mainstream voice in U.S. politics, academia, or the media, one must present Israel as a front line of defense against Jihad, and a critical fortress defending "our way of life."
When Israel carries out acts that are simply indefensible under international law, such actions are defended by the U.S., rarely noted in the media, and allowable criticism in the U.S. is constrained to mildly taking issue with Israel's "disproportionate response" to what is always branded "terrorism."
To take just one recent example: In May of this year, the Israeli army violated international law by boarding the Mavi Marmara in international waters. This ship was part of a flotilla bringing relief supplies to Palestinians and challenging Israel's illegal and inhumane blockade of the Palestinian area of Gaza. Israeli military forces killed nine passengers in storming the ship.
An investigation of the deaths on the Mavi Marmara by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights determined: "The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution." The report found that two passengers, including a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, "were shot at near range while the victims were lying injured on the top deck." Four others "were shot on the bridge deck while not participating in activities that represented a threat to any Israeli soldier. In these instances and possibly other killings on the Mavi Marmara, Israeli forces carried out extralegal, arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law, specifically article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
The 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted to endorse this report with a single "no" vote—cast by the United States. The report received extremely limited press coverage in the U.S. (See "UN Report finds Israel 'summarily executed' U.S. citizen on flotilla," by Glenn Greenwald, Salon, October 1, 2010.)
* * *
What is the essential nature of Israel? How does one understand what seems to some to be a paradox of a country founded to make up for a great crime itself committing great crimes? And what defines the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel?
Answering these questions is not about "competing narratives"—the question here is what is true... and what is just. To get into this, we will examine the history of Israel to understand the actual dynamics that led us to today's situation, and we will analyze the role Israel plays in today's world.
Zionism—A Colonial Project Seeking Powerful Sponsors
For many centuries most of the Jewish people in the world lived as an oppressed people in Eastern and Central Europe, spread out across a wide area stretching roughly from the modern-day countries of Russia through Poland and Lithuania to the eastern part of Germany. In 1900, about three fourths of the world's 11 million Jews lived in this region, with the bulk of the remainder living in the U.S. and Great Britain—countries to which there were large waves of Jewish immigration in the preceding two decades. Jewish people in much smaller numbers lived throughout western and southern Europe, North Africa, and Central Asia.1
Jews in Europe were constantly hounded and persecuted, severely discriminated against in almost every sphere. They were often deprived of the right to own land, segregated from society, and frequently were the targets of murderous pogroms. These pogroms were outbreaks of mob violence, usually sponsored and organized by the authorities, and in any case the product of prejudice and hostility promoted by the ruling royalty and feudal landowners. Those oppressive exploiting classes were served by the channeling of the anger of the oppressed towards the Jews.
As an oppressed people, the Jews of this part of Europe sought many solutions. For most this meant seeking integration into the larger society (often accompanied by immigration to Western Europe or the U.S.). For many it involved getting into projects for universal human emancipation—that is, seeking an end to the oppression of the Jewish people as part of seeking freedom for everyone. Many were attracted to the cause of socialist revolution. For a minority it meant the Zionist movement, focused on building a separate Jewish nation-state for all Jews.
The founders of Zionism, most notably Theodor Herzl, formulated the Zionist ideology in the late 1800s. This was a time when the European powers, along with the U.S. and Japan, were entering the age of imperialism. Within these countries, capitalism had become increasingly dominated by monopolies, and these monopolies merged with banking capital to form huge financial blocs. These powers increasingly exported capital itself to the oppressed nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America in the form of super-profitable investments in those countries. Going with that, they began a feverish competition to dominate these areas of the world. These capitalist-imperialist powers carried out terrible military aggression against these areas; for example, the U.S. waged war against the Philippines in the early 1900s and murdered hundreds of thousands of people. And these powers increasingly contended with one another.
Herzl overtly "marketed" a Jewish state to these rising colonial powers, especially to England, as a colonial outpost. "England with her possessions in Asia should be most interested in Zionism, for the shortest route to India is by way of Palestine. England's great politicians were the first to recognize the need for colonial expansion. That is why Great Britain's ensign flies on all the oceans. And so I must believe that here in England the idea of Zionism, which is a colonial idea, should be easily and quickly understood in its true and most modern form."2
The early Zionist movement continued to tailor its aims to the ambitions and perceived needs of various imperialist powers. At one point, for example, when the British were considering the advantages of a Zionist settler state in their east African colonies, a major world Zionist conference seriously considered a plan for a Jewish "homeland" in what is presently Uganda (that project was abandoned before it came to fruition). Also at the instigation of the British, Zionist leaders considered establishing a Jewish "homeland" in British-controlled South America. And discussions took place between Zionist leaders and the rulers of Germany over a possible Jewish "homeland" in German-dominated Madagascar.
Britain Backs a "Loyal Jewish Ulster3" in Palestine
The very dynamics that led Britain and other European powers to carve up and plunder Asia and Africa, brought them into sharp conflict with each other. In 1914 this contention erupted into World War 1. On one side were Britain, France, the U.S. and Russia. On the other stood Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman (Turkish) empires. Neither side was fighting for any greater cause than a bigger share of the plunder. Sixteen million people died as the armies of contending imperialists slaughtered each other, and civilians, to determine which imperialists would expand and which would be crushed. In the course of that war, empires crashed to the ground—most importantly the vast Russian empire, where a socialist revolution emerged victorious. In other parts of the world, the old order collapsed but the victorious imperialists raced in with new forms of domination.
One of the focal points of the post World War 1 contention between the victorious imperialists, particularly on the part of Britain and France, was the oil-rich and strategically located Middle East. This part of the world was pried loose from the defeated Turkish Ottoman Empire. France seized Syria and Lebanon. England established control over much of the rest of the region, including Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.
As noted, the leaders of the Zionist movement—starting with Herzl—had pitched a Jewish state in Palestine as a strategic beachhead for imperialism in the region. In the wake of World War 1, the British ruling class moved more decisively to seize on the prospect of a Zionist entity. The famous Balfour Declaration of 1917 declared, "His Majesty's Government view [sic] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."
The Balfour Declaration stated that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." But Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British military governor of Jerusalem, was more candid about England's aims. He wrote that England's support for the Zionist "enterprise was one that blessed him that gave as well as him that took, by forming for England 'a little loyal Jewish Ulster' in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism."
The Palestinian People Were There First!
The mythology of the Zionist movement claims that Palestine was "a land without a people for a people without a land." But the main obstacle to the establishment of this "little loyal Jewish Ulster" in the Middle East was the fact that Palestine was already inhabited by the Palestinian people!
When modern Zionism emerged in 1880, and began to attract the interest of imperialist powers, 24,000 Jews lived in Palestine among 450,000 Palestinians. Palestinians owned and farmed virtually all the land. The small Jewish population was composed of some whose roots in the area went back centuries and more. Others were orthodox Jews from Europe who had migrated to the city of Jerusalem for religious reasons. Altogether, Jewish people made up 5 percent of the population of Palestine. By 1922, several decades of Zionist-sponsored Jewish immigration from Europe had only raised that percentage to about 11 percent, according to official British census figures.
In the period before and during World War 1, the Palestinian nation emerged out of people who had lived in that part of the world for centuries. A nascent national economy began to cohere among the Palestinians, with different social classes. Most Palestinians were Muslim, but a substantial minority—about 11 percent—were Christian. Palestinians shared a common culture and language (Palestinian people speak a dialect of Arabic), and a developing commercial infrastructure and authority, driven by the development of capitalist export agriculture and beginning industry (particularly olive oil production for the global market). This Palestinian nation was further forged in national resistance to the Ottoman Empire, and later in opposition to British colonial rule. As with all the emerging nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America in this period, the national development of Palestine was distorted and suppressed by the domination of the world by imperialism with its powerful monopolies, control of global commerce, and military force.
In the 1920s and 1930s, between the two World Wars, there was intense political polarization in Europe. There were growing revolutionary movements, along with the rise of vicious reactionary movements. In addition to Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, other fascist movements gained influence in Eastern Europe, with virulent anti-Semitism a leading edge. Under these circumstances, there was both pressure on Jewish people to emigrate out of Europe, as well as the "pull" to move to Palestine afforded by the Balfour Declaration. So there was increased Zionist emigration and both purchases and thievery of Palestinian lands. There were armed conflicts between the Zionists and Palestinians, and the emergence of a powerful Zionist paramilitary.
Further, the imperialist world was wracked by a huge economic crisis—the Great Depression—and this heightened both the political polarization within the imperialist powers and it exacerbated the conflicts between them. All this set the stage for what would be the decisive turning point: World War 2.
The Holocaust: A Great Crime of Imperialism
Only a couple of decades after the end of World War 1, the imperialist powers were again driven to a war to redivide the world. The German ruling class had turned to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to lead them out of severe internal social crises, and to violently restructure the international division of colonial plunder that was skewed in favor of the victors in the First World War.
World War 2 was fought between two main alliances. On one side was Germany, Japan and Italy. The other alliance was the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union. All the principals in the war were fighting for their own imperialist interests—with the exception of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was not imperialist and was fighting for its very life against a military onslaught by Germany that was historically unprecedented in its power and ferocity.
Going into this war, the Soviet Union at that time stood dramatically apart from centuries of tradition in many ways. One was that it granted equality to Jewish people. This had a great impact on the political sentiments of Jewish people in Europe. Broad attraction on the part of Jewish people to progressive causes, and to support for the Soviet Union, explains in large part why the German imperialists felt compelled to carry out the horrendous war crime that became known as the Holocaust—the systematic and wholesale murder of millions of Jews.4
Much as this has been greatly distorted in official U.S. history, the great bulk of fighting, death, and terrible destruction in World War 2 in Europe took place between Germany and the Soviet Union, in the Soviet Union. Over 14 percent of the population of the Soviet Union was wiped out during the war—almost 24 million people.5 Jewish people were active in resistance to the Nazis, and often aligned with the Soviet Union and the world communist revolution. As Hitler's armies and German imperialism advanced to the east and as Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the German rulers came up with a "final solution" to kill off the millions of Jews within the territories they occupied. In addition, Hitler's policies of exterminating Jews in the captured territories facilitated Germany's alliances with traditional reactionary and virulently anti-Semitic ruling class forces in those countries.
Here it must be said that the U.S. rulers saw it in their own interests to stand aside from, and not try to stop the Holocaust. Hitler's anti-Semitism was not utilized by the "Allies" as a significant propaganda factor in World War 2. In 1939, U.S. authorities turned away the USS St. Louis, a ship filled with Jews seeking asylum. They were sent back to Europe, many to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis. This highly publicized incident sent a clear message to the Jews of Europe that they would get no mercy or support from the U.S.
It went so far that Roosevelt not only refused to bomb the railroad tracks hauling Jews to their deaths in the gas chambers, he even refused to let the word get out that this was happening!
After the war, the victorious allies did publicize the crimes of the Holocaust, and some Nazi war criminals were prosecuted. But the driving forces behind the Holocaust—the German ruling class as a whole—and the passive complicity of other imperialists was never widely exposed or understood.
And Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were, overall, not provided with the kind of support and compensation they needed to rebuild their lives in Europe. Many desired to move to the United States. Between 1880 and 1914, some two million Jewish people had emigrated from Eastern Europe to the U.S., and many Holocaust survivors had family ties there, or prospects of finding a community that would welcome them. But the same heartless U.S. immigration policies that kept out Jews escaping the Holocaust before and during World War 2 remained in place until 1948. Denied resettlement in the U.S., many Holocaust survivors emigrated to Palestine.
The Outcome of World War 2 and the Establishment of Israel
In the aftermath of World War 2, the U.S. emerged at the top of the imperialist world order, in a position to dictate terms to both defeated rivals (like Germany and Japan), and allies (like Britain and France). Around the world, the U.S. moved to supplant old colonial powers and swallow up or encompass their spheres of influence.
But other important forces also emerged out of World War 2. For a short time, the Soviet Union and China formed a socialist camp that confronted the imperialist world. And another major factor on the post-war political stage was a powerful wave of national liberation struggles throughout especially Asia and Africa against the weakened colonial powers of Europe and Japan.
These two, related challenges to capitalism-imperialism in the wake of World War 2 had much to do with the way the U.S. rehabilitated Japan and West Germany (Germany was divided after World War 2, and the east became a separate country aligned with the Soviet Union).
These developments—and the conflicts within them—all played out in maneuvering and contending of the imperialist powers in the Middle East against national liberation struggles, and against each other. For different and conflicting reasons, and to different degrees, the U.S. and its rivals all saw their interests served by establishing, and gaining influence within, a Zionist state of Israel.
In 1947, United Nations Resolution 181 allotted the Zionists 56 percent of Palestine, even though population figures—setting aside the legitimacy of British sponsored Zionist settlement—were 650,000 Jews living among 1,350,000 Palestinians.6 The UN partition was unjust, and was sponsored by all the powers contending for control of the Middle East.7
The Nakba: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
A Voice of Conscience from the Holocaust
In its wars, Israel invokes the supposed moral "carte blanche" (blank check) of the Holocaust to declare itself absolved of terrible war crimes. During Israel’s bombing of Beirut, Lebanon in 1982, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi Holocaust living in Israel, Dr. Shlomo Shmelzman, went on a hunger strike in protest. He wrote, "In my childhood I have suffered fear, hunger and humiliation when I passed from the Warsaw Ghetto, through labor camps, to Buchenwald (a Nazi concentration camp). Today, as a citizen of Israel, I cannot accept the systematic destruction of cities, towns and refugee camps. I cannot accept the technocratic cruelty of the bombing, destroying and killing of human beings .... Too many things in Israel remind me of too many things from my childhood."1
1. Cited in Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians by Noam Chomsky, 1999, South End Press.
During the period from World War 1 up until the establishment of Israel, the British colonial authorities had essentially facilitated initial waves of Zionist ethnic cleansing waged against the inhabitants of Palestine. This erupted in an orgy of terrorist violence in the years after World War 2. By December 1947, the Zionists began mass expulsions of Palestinians. This wave of terror, know as The Nakba (from the Arabic word meaning catastrophe), continued into the early months of 1949.
During the Nakba almost a million Palestinians were brutally forced from their land, villages and homes, fleeing with only the possessions they could carry. Many were raped, tortured and killed.8 To ensure that there would be nothing for the Palestinians to return to, their villages and even many olive and orange trees were thoroughly destroyed. When the Nakba ended, there had been 31 documented massacres—and probably others.
Activists have worked to unearth the physical remains of these villages. Historians have studied the diaries and notebooks of Zionist leaders. The stories of the inhabitants of these villages have been collected in oral histories. Through this process, lists of destroyed Palestinian villages have been compiled that range from 400 to 500—constituting over half of all Palestinian villages. These villages served as centers of political and economic life for the largely rural Palestinian population and their destruction was accompanied by the dispossession of Palestinian farmlands.9
Former Arabic village and road names were given Hebrew names. Ancient mosques and Christian churches were destroyed. Theme parks, pine forests (trees not native to the region) and Israeli settlements sit atop many of the old Palestinian villages. Visitors from the U.S., including idealistic youth who spent summers working on Israeli so-called "socialist" kibbutzes (cooperative farms) were told that nearby demolished buildings were "ancient ruins." All this was to wipe out any physical evidence that the land belonged to Palestinians and give finality to the Nakba.
The Nakba—terrorist ethnic cleansing—was foundational and essential in the establishment of the state of Israel. It created the conditions, and set the stage, for other initiatives like the purchase of Palestinian land, and diplomatic initiatives.
The systematic destruction of Palestinian villages was, all along, the agenda of key Zionist leaders. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine makes a carefully argued case that the dispossession of the Palestinian people meets the legal definition of ethnic cleansing, and that it was the conscious plan of key Zionist leaders. The book draws on primary sources from the Israeli military archives, including the diary of David Ben-Gurion who played a key political and military role in the founding of Israel.10
One important strategic project guided by Ben-Gurion was the "village project" of mapping all of Palestine. Through the use of aerial photography and other means, details of every Palestinian village were recorded: its access routes, quality of land, water springs, main sources of income, sociopolitical composition, religious affiliations, names of its mukhtars (traditional village heads), relationship with other villages, the age of individual men and an index of "hostility" toward the Zionist project measured by involvement in a major 1938 revolt against the British policy of allowing increased immigration of Jews into Palestine (including those who may have killed Jews).
Blatant Israeli Terrorism
Along with the systematic destruction of Palestinian rural society, the Zionists used terrorist ethnic cleansing to clear the major cities of Palestinians. After the 1948 UN resolution dividing Israel and Palestine, the Zionists publicly proclaimed to uphold the resolution. But inside the country they began to implement their own plans. The morning after the UN resolution, the Hagana (the main military group that would become the Israeli army) and the Irgun (an early split from the Hagana, led by future prime minister Menachem Begin, which also later became part of the army) unleashed a campaign of terror on the 75,000 Palestinian residents of Haifa.11
Jewish settlers who had come in the 1920s and lived in the hills around the city took part in these attacks alongside Zionist military units. Frequent shelling and sniping was rained down on the Palestinian population of Haifa. Oil mixed with fuel was poured down the roads and ignited. Barrels full of explosives were rolled down into the Palestinian areas. When panic-stricken Palestinians came to put out the fires they were sprayed with machine-gun fire. Jews who passed as Palestinians brought cars stuffed with explosives to be repaired at Palestinian garages and the cars were then detonated. In a refinery plant in Haifa, Jews and Arabs worked shoulder to shoulder and had a long history of solidarity in their fight for better labor conditions against their British employers. The Irgun, which specialized in bomb throwing into Arab crowds, did so at this refinery. Palestinian workers reacted by killing 39 Jewish workers, one of the worst and also one of the last retaliatory skirmishes in that period.12
By March 1948, Ben-Gurion commented to the Jewish Agency Executive, "I believe the majority of the Palestinian masses accept the partition as a fait accompli and do not believe it is possible to overcome or reject it... The decisive majority of them do not want to fight us."
The armies of several Arab countries intervened in 1948 on behalf of the Palestinians. They were no match for well-equipped Zionist military units, with wide-ranging connections to modern weapons and munitions, modern military training, and a tightly organized army. Arab irregulars (small, non-centralized military units) ambushed Israeli convoys but refrained from attacking the settlements. Much of the organized Palestinian military capacity, as well as civilian governmental leadership, had been decimated by the British in the course of ruthlessly suppressing Palestinian independence struggles after World War 1.
Ben-Gurion Orders "Occupation, Destruction and Expulsion"
Ben-Gurion used the Arab world's intervention to frame the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as one of a tiny Jewish homeland besieged by hostile Arabs. Until March 1948, the Zionist leadership still portrayed their activities as retaliation to hostile Arab actions. Then, two months before the British were to leave, they openly declared that they would take over the land and expel the indigenous population by force. Ruthless expulsion went into high gear and the word retaliation was no longer used to describe what the Israeli military forces were doing. According to Ben-Gurion, there was no longer any need to distinguish between the "innocent" and the "guilty." Pre-emptive strikes and collateral damage became acceptable and necessary. According to an associate, Ben-Gurion ordered that "Every attack has to end with occupation, destruction and expulsion."13
On a hill to the west of Jerusalem lay the town of Deir Yassin. The massacre there reflected the systematic nature of Plan D14 as applied to hundreds of villages throughout Palestine. On April 9, 1948, Jewish soldiers burst into the village and sprayed the houses with machine-gun fire, killing many. Pappé writes, "The remaining villagers were then gathered in one place and murdered in cold blood, their bodies abused while a number of women were raped and then killed. Fahim Zaydan, who was twelve years old at the time, recalled how he saw his family murdered in front of his eyes: 'They took us out one after the other; shot an old man and when one of his daughters cried, she was shot too. Then they called my brother Muhammad, and shot him in front of us, and when my mother yelled, bending over him—carrying my little sister Hudra in her hands, still breast-feeding her—they shot her too.'"
On the blood and bones of such massacres, the state of Israel was built. And such terror is not "ancient" or even just "modern history." It frames the daily life of every Palestinian, today.
Here a terrible irony must be noted: Many in the military core of Zionists who carried out the Nakba —the terrorist ethnic cleansing of Palestine—were battle-hardened veterans of guerilla warfare against the Nazis in Europe in World War 2. This enlistment of people who had in great numbers fought against some of the most barbaric crimes of capitalism-imperialism, into an army of perpetrators of terrible crimes against other oppressed people—in service of the same criminal system responsible for the Holocaust—is emblematic of the birth of Israel as an outrageous crime of world imperialism.
The U.S. Confronts Postwar Challenges...
As noted earlier, World War 2 weakened the old-line colonial empires like Britain, France, Japan, Holland, etc. and it drew the colonized peoples into political life. Revolutionary struggles in Asia—particularly in China, but also in Vietnam—intensified, and within several years the revolution would be victorious in China. The most thoroughgoing of these national liberation struggles were led by communists, as in China. But beyond that, there was a tremendous rise of secular nationalism, in places like Indonesia, Iran, a number of nations in Latin America, and the "Arab world" as well.
In the Middle East, the most prominent representative of secular nationalism was Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Nasser came to power promising to stand up against the imperialist powers and put an end to the decades of Egyptian colonial and neocolonial humiliation and subjugation.
At times, the U.S. aligned with national liberation struggles as a wedge to edge out its rivals. This is what happened in the 1956 war between Israel, France, and Britain on the one side, and Egypt on the other. In 1956, Nasser moved to nationalize the Suez Canal—a legitimate assertion given that the canal was, after all, in Egypt. The Suez Canal took on new importance after the war, with half of its traffic being increasingly precious and strategically critical oil exports from the Middle East. In response, France, England, and Israel invaded Egypt, with Israel making rapid military advances into Egypt. The U.S. (and the USSR) pressured the invaders, including Israel, to back off. This was part of establishing that the U.S. was now the shot-caller in the region (and the world). In a limited and short-term way, Nasser's nationalist aspirations coincided with U.S. strategic objectives.
But in the main, secular nationalist movements like Nasser's were strategically seen as obstacles by the U.S. The U.S. worked to undermine and/or eliminate them, often through CIA-backed military coups, as in Iran, Guatemala and Indonesia—coups which took hundreds of thousands of lives. By the mid-1960s, Nasser's influence and power had been checked and knocked down, including by increasing U.S. sponsorship of Israel.15
One important national liberation movement that emerged in this period was that of the Palestinian people themselves. The Palestinian people had resisted the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and they rose up in arms against British rule after World War 1. In militias and in other forms of courageous resistance, Palestinians fought back against the Nakba. But their struggle went to another level in the context of the worldwide revolutionary upsurge in the '60s. Palestinian guerrilla organizations launched armed struggle against Israel with the aim of creating a democratic, secular (non-religious) state throughout Palestine. The struggle of the Palestinian people attracted broad support throughout the world (see "The Palestinian Resistance").
...And Forges a "Special Relationship" With Israel in the Cold War
Through the Nakba, and the 1956 war, Israel was strengthened as a military power in the Middle East. As such, it was eyed by all the world powers as a valuable agent. As the U.S. moved to establish domination in the region, and the world, the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel began to grow.
In the immediate wake of World War 2, a socialist camp had emerged in opposition to world capitalism. But that bloc was short-lived. In the 1950s, capitalist-roaders—that is, political representatives of the remaining and powerful capitalist relations in socialist society—came to power and restored capitalism in the Soviet Union. This restoration of capitalism in the USSR—the rise of Soviet social-imperialism—was a major event. The contention between the U.S. and this rival imperialist and its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and elsewhere was to shape much of the geopolitical landscape for decades.
This conflict—the "cold war"—had a profound role in defining the role of Israel and its relationship to the ambitions and requirements of the U.S.
A pivotal factor in the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel was Israel's overwhelming victory in the "Six-Day War" in 1967, when Israel invaded and occupied large sections of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Strategic thinkers in the U.S. government took note. Even as the U.S. was working to sponsor other allies in the region (most notably the brutal Shah of Iran, who they installed in a CIA coup in 1953), Israel stood out as a uniquely valuable asset for the U.S. as the "leader of the free world"—that is, the head of the bloc of western imperialists.
In 1967, the U.S. sold cutting-edge jet fighters to Israel for the first time, establishing the principle of U.S. support for Israel's qualitative military dominance over the Arab countries.
In the ensuing decades, much of the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel was framed by global contention with the Soviets. The new Soviet imperialists used the anti-imperialist reputation gained when the country was socialist—along with military and economic aid—to seek influence in the governments of Asia, Africa and Latin America. They aimed to gain a foothold through which to contend with the U.S. The 1973 war between Israel, on one side, and Egypt and Syria, on the other, (referred to in Israel and the West as the "Yom Kippur War") had significant elements of a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. At that time, Egypt was moving towards alignment with the Soviets and got substantial military hardware and advice from the Soviets, and Syria was closely aligned with the Soviet bloc.
Similar dynamics set the backdrop for Israel's bloody, U.S.-backed 1982 war against Lebanon. During the 1980s, Lebanon served as a base area for Palestinian forces, but also as focal point of contention between U.S.-aligned forces and the Soviet-backed Syrian regime and other Soviet-leaning forces in the region. That war had a devastating effect on the civilian population. Israeli jets waged a massive bombing attack on the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
It was in the course of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon that Israeli military forces surrounded and sealed off the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut while their Lebanese allies massacred between 750 and 3,500 people. Israeli military and allied forces were to occupy southern Lebanon for 18 years.
From the mid-1960s up until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship was in large part framed by the clash of these rival superpowers. Israel engineered both the coming to power of Idi Amin in Uganda and, when he outlived his usefulness, sped his demise, and facilitated genocidal slaughter by the Guatemalan death squads to strike at Soviet-aligned countries or forces in those parts of the world. And frequently, Israel supplied military aid to pariah regimes the U.S. did not want to be too openly associated with but which played critical roles in countering Soviet influence—like the apartheid regime in South Africa. The centerspread of this issue of Revolution documents such crimes around the world.
The End of the Cold War: The U.S. / Israel "Special Relationship" Evolves
The collapse of the Soviet Union was an unprecedented event that upended many global economic, military, and power relationships.16 One unexpected product of that collapse was the rise of the very Jihadist forces the U.S. built up to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these forces turned against the remaining superpower, the U.S. While Islamic fundamentalism does not challenge imperialist domination of oppressed nations, it does pose a real challenge to the whole matrix of global relations that the U.S. sits on top of.
With the emergence of the Islamic fundamentalist challenge to U.S. imperialist domination in the Middle East, Israel's role has morphed to serve U.S. needs in that conflict. In 2006, Israel launched a massive invasion of Lebanon to strike mainly at Hezbollah—Islamic forces aligned with Iran. (See "Drumbeat for Israeli Attack on Iran Grows Louder by the Day.") The Israeli invasion killed over 1,000 people, displaced over a million, and blanketed South Lebanon with over a million anti-personnel cluster bombs that today still maim and kill Lebanese farmers and children.
U.S. Imperialism: Sticking by, and Stuck with Israel
In much of the world, and in a very intense way in the Middle East, Israel's displacement and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people and other crimes makes that country the object of tremendous outrage and anger. That is a big problem for the U.S. as it seeks to counter oppositional Islamic forces and impose pro-U.S. regimes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Widespread outrage against Israel puts reactionary pro-U.S. regimes in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, in an awkward and even precarious position. And the close bonds between the U.S. and Israel provide openings for rival powers to exploit in their contention with the U.S.
When U.S. General David Petraeus (now commander in Afghanistan) told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the area of responsibility," he was identifying a real contradiction for the U.S. ruling class.
It has not proven easy for the U.S. to broker a settlement that would integrate the Palestinians into some semblance of a stable situation, and, at the same time, satisfy what the Israelis see as their need for unchallenged domination and a thoroughly Zionist state. This has remained a sore point in the region and around the world, and as Israel resorts to more and more extreme measures to lock down the Palestinians, this contradiction becomes sharper.
And yet, in profound ways, the U.S has not only stuck by Israel—it is stuck with Israel. Despite real problems and even significant differences at times, the unique "strategic relationship" between the U.S. and Israel continues because, from the perspective of U.S. imperialism, there is no real alternative on the chessboard in terms of the role Israel plays in the Middle East and throughout the world.
With the U.S. deeply mired in wars throughout the Middle East, the role of Israel is more critical than ever. In an op-ed piece, U.S. Representative Steve Rothman (a "liberal" Democrat and strong supporter of Obama), enumerated how "One strategic ally in particular has always stood out from all others: the state of Israel." He noted that Israel provides "America with vital security assistance in the Middle East and around the world." Rothman argued that "without our partnership with the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces—the Israeli army), the United States might need to have 100,000 or more additional troops stationed permanently in that part of the world to make up for the protection of U.S. interests and vital intelligence provided by Israel to the United States."17
One reason why Israel is so important to the U.S. is that it is the one country in the region where the pro-U.S. government has a big social base. That loyal social base, in turn, rests in large part on the history and present-day place of Israel in the world's "food chain"—that is to say, the ways in which it shares in imperialism's parasitical relation to the oppressed nations of the world. European-immigrant citizens of the country have a high standard of living measured in nice houses, wages, and access to gadgets and luxuries. Israel provides its citizens with the trappings of bourgeois democracy—various rabid Zionists along with some moderate critics of the government who accept the terms of Zionism can run against each other in elections, while any politics that opposes Zionism is violently suppressed.
In short, with its massive nuclear arsenal, its European/U.S. level of technology, and a substantial section of its population enlisted in the "logic" and immorality of Zionism, Israel plays an irreplaceable role enforcing U.S. interests.
It is these factors that make it very difficult for U.S. imperialism to alter the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel—particularly right now. And this is true even though U.S. support for Israel provokes further opposition to the U.S. in the region, and creates fertile ground for Islamic fundamentalist Jihad.
Needed: Resistance... and a Radical Rupture in Framework
Israel was, and is built literally on the blood, bones, land, and homes of the Palestinian people, stolen through terrorist ethnic cleansing that constitutes a great legal and moral crime. As such, the state of Israel is illegitimate, and no justice—for anyone—can be found within the paradigm of the Zionist state. And this state was a product of, and plays a special role in enforcing the global system of capitalism-imperialism.
Identifying the illegitimacy of Israel is not a "Palestinian perspective." Nor is it in any way anti-Jewish. As we have seen in earlier sections of this article, the existence of Israel is not any kind of "justice" for the crimes of the Holocaust, but is in fact a product of the same system that engineered the Holocaust. Israel is not a solution to the age-old oppression of the Jewish people as Jews. It is, instead, a settler state and a tool of imperialism. As such it should and must be opposed.
Over the past several years, growing numbers of people around the world, and within the U.S., have become outraged by Israel's crimes, and have been driven to political protest. Campus actions have had important impact. Solidarity actions, including the Gaza Freedom March, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and actions of the International Solidarity Movement and others, have sounded a call to the world and given heart to Palestinian resistance. BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) activity has raised awareness, generated necessary debate and controversy, and turned up the political heat on Israel—especially on campuses.
This movement of opposition to Israel and its crimes is growing, and must be built further. This is all the more urgent as Israel threatens war against Iran, and carries out vicious day-in/day-out repression against the Palestinians, with no end in sight. Much more protest and debate is needed over the nature and role of Israel. This special issue of Revolution is intended as a contribution to that. And it is a challenge to everyone, students in particular, to dig into the root causes behind Israel's crimes in a global system of exploitation and oppression, and to check out, and get with, the movement to end that system.
1. American Jewish Year Book Vol. 1 (1899-1900), p. 285, available at www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1899_1900_7_Statistics.pdf; Swatos, Jr., William H., Editor, Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, available at hirr.hartsem.edu/ency/jews.htm. [back]
2. Theodor Herzl: The Complete Diaries, cited from Abdullah Schleifer, The Fall of Jerusalem (New York: 1972), p. 23 in Our Roots Are Still Alive, chapter 2. [back]
3. For centuries, England—now the United Kingdom (UK)—maintained bloody and overt colonial domination over Ireland. England built up sections of Northern Ireland, sometimes referred to as Ulster, as a more industrially developed region with a substantial section of people who identified with and fought for the interests of British colonialism. Following Irish independence in 1922, Northern Ireland (Ulster) continued to be occupied by the UK. [back]
4. For a comprehensive exploration of the relationship of Jewish people to the economic, political and military factors behind the rise of Hitler and World War 2, see Why Did the Heavens Not Darken by Arno J. Mayer (Pantheon Books, 1988). [back]
5. See sources referenced at Wikipedia article on World War II Casualties. Some Western sources estimate the number of deaths at 20 million. [back]
6. "Special Report: What Will Israel Do as the Arab Demographic Tide Rises in Palestine?" by Andrew I. Killgore (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July/August 1998). [back]
7. While the Soviet Union mainly supported national liberation struggles during the time it was socialist, it also made a series of very serious errors in subordinating the revolutionary struggles and just causes of people in other countries to what they perceived to be the state interests of the Soviet Union, often to disastrous effect—as in this case. [back]
8. The role of rape of women by Zionist forces in the ferocious ethnic cleansing of Palestine is documented in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappé. Pappé (Oneworld Publications, 2006) draws on and cites reports from the UN and the Red Cross, along with first hand Israeli military sources, and Palestinian accounts; see especially pages 208-211. [back]
9. Khalidi, Walid (ed.): All that Remains. The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington, D.C: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992, App. IV, pp. xix, 585–586; and Sitta, Salman Abu: The Palestinian Nakba 1948. London: The Palestinian Return Centre, 2000. [back]
10. Much of the characterization of, and citations from, Pappé's book in this section of this article is taken from "The Nakba: Ethnic cleansing and the birth of Israel," distributed by A World to Win News Service, December 10, 2006. That article summarizes and analyzes Pappé's important work, and includes insights on limitations of Pappé's perspective and political analysis. Pappé himself has been forced to leave Israel. [back]
11. The Hagana (also spelled Haganah) was the main, and "mainstream" Zionist military force. The Irgun, ostensibly a "split off" of the Hagana, sometimes carried out particularly gruesome and odious operations that the Irgun required some distance from. The Stern Gang in turn was a split-off from the Irgun, and operated with even more freedom from international scrutiny. These Zionist armed forces and others worked in concert, if not in perfect synchronization, and all were later integrated into the Israeli army with the establishment of the state of Israel. Many of the key founding fathers of the state of Israel came from the Irgun and Stern Gang and openly invoked / invoke their association with particularly egregious atrocities against the Palestinians as defining their credibility to be major players in Israeli politics. [back]
12. Pappé, page 58. [back]
13. Pappé, page 64. [back]
14. Plan D was the terminology the Zionist leaders of the Nakba used to reference their master plan. [back]
15. Today, the rulers of Egypt function as U.S. puppets who collaborate with the U.S. and Israel to oppress the Palestinians. Egypt is the third largest recipient of U.S. "aid" (after Iraq and Israel), and much of that goes to fund a massive repressive apparatus.[back]
16. For more understanding of that event and its implications, see "The New Situation and the Great Challenges," (revcom.us/a/1256/ba-newsituation.htm) and Bringing Forward Another Way (online at revcom.us/avakian/anotherway or as a pamphlet from RCP Publications, 2007). Both are by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. [back]
17. "U.S.'s valuable, strategic relationship with Israel" by Rep. Steve Rothman, The Hill, June 3, 2008. [back]
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