Zionism, Palestine, Israel


23 Mai 2007

In the last years the Near and Middle East were of central importance for international politics. Besides the imperialist intervention in Iraq, the Palestine conflict plaid a major role. In the discussions of the German-speaking Left this importance was reflected as well. That's why we want to draw an outline of a Marxist analysis of the situation and put it up for discussion.

A side note on terminology: we are very aware of the problem that many people of Jewish origin do not consider themselves religious. Therefore they are not Jews in a religious sense and do not call themselves so (on the other hand many non-religious people of Jewish origin do attach great importance to that term). For a better understanding we will still use the term Jews. On the one hand this allows us to present in Europe the specific history and culture related to this people. On the other hand it shows a difference to Palestinians with an Israeli passport.


1. In the Middle Ages Jews were the central mediators of merchants in Western Europe. With the rise of capitalism their economic scope was narrowed. Persecutions increased and the majority of the Jewish population emigrated to the economically backward Eastern Europe. There they were welcomed with open arms as progressionists. At the beginning of the 19th century most Jews were still active as merchants or had jobs closely connected to them. But the advance of the capitalist mode of production in Eastern Europe caused their pauperization and proletarization, accompanied by anti-Semitic riots and pogroms, which were often incited by the States authority. Many Jews emigrated to Western Europe and overseas where they were mostly employed as workers. Simultaneously the 19th century was the peak of a mostly Yiddish-speaking Jewish culture and the process of the development of a proper Jewish nation in Eastern Europe was accelerated. Its outcome was unclear, but in any case it was stopped irrecoverably by the holocaust.

2. While one part of the Jews throve for assimilation, a second one tried to demand national-cultural rights besides the citizens' ones, a third and for the time being minoritarian part turned towards Zionism (in the workers movement all these three tendencies could be found as well). Zionism is a variety of Jewish nationalism that propagates emigration and the foundation of a Jewish state. It is a bourgeois ideology that reflects the interests of the doomed petty bourgeoisie. Still, the political directions combined with Zionism were far-reaching: it included Zionists considering themselves as Marxists as well as rightwing ones. The Zionist workers movement was nowhere in Europe dominant, but it had a proletarian mass basis in wide parts of Eastern Europe. Leading were the "Bund" (General Jewish Labor Union) which fought for national-cultural autonomy as well as different national social-democrat, socialist and communist parties.

3. Initially the location where to found a Jewish state was controversial and for many Zionists even irrelevant. But soon the option Palestine was generally accepted, so the originally secular Zionist movement could win the interest of parts of the religious Jews for their project. "A land without a people for a people without land" was a famous Zionist slogan. The declaration that Palestine was essentially unpopulated together with the offer to colonize and "civilize" Palestine for the West already made up the ideological basis for the expulsion of the Palestinians.

With the first Alijah (literal: ascension) 1882 the Jewish immigration into Palestine started. In the following 40 years until 1933 around 180 000 Jews immigrated into Palestine, in the five years after another 200 000 followed, mostly victims of the Nazi regime. Also earlier the increase of anti-Semitism and recurring anti-Semitic pogroms especially in Eastern Europe (Poland, Russia) formed the background of the immigration waves. The majority of the Jews did not flee from this anti-Semitism to Palestine, but to Middle and Western Europe and overseas. On the whole it can be stated that it was above all anti-Semitism that turned Zionism into an attractive option for many Jews even within the workers movement.


4. Since the seventh century under Arab leadership, the historical landscape Palestine at the Mediterranean southeast coast became part of the Turkish Empire at the beginning of the 16th century. Jews and Christians were called Dhimmis and had to pay a poll tax, were not allowed to carry weapons, but were subjects to the sultan and had religious freedom. Mostly they were urban merchants, whilst Arabs constituted peasants and great landowners. The long planned cutting up of the Turkish Empire took shape during WWI: in 1916 Great Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot treaty. With the 1917 Balfour declaration Great Britain promised the Jews to install a „national home" in Palestine. That should make the Jews backup the allied forces in WWI on the one hand. On the other hand it would secure the control of the Suez channel. The Zionist perspective was only to be put through as an imperialist project, and as such it should finally be realized.

5. Jewish immigration into Palestine was managed by diverse Zionist agencies and was backed up by parts of the Jewish bourgeoisie. Land was bought off Arab great landowners (who often lived in Beirut, Damascus or Cairo). The tenant farmers who were actually living on the land were chased away. The Jewish trade union Histadrut played a central role: the beginning of the Jewish immigration was determined by united resistance of Arab and Jewish workers. Inspired by socialist ideas the Jewish workers even had a central function in propagating class war to Arab workers. Instead, Histadrut built on a pure Jewish organization and tried to push through a purely Jewish occupation policy in the name of Jewish colonization. On top of that Histadrut was not only a trade union but also a corporation that owned diverse companies. Their goal was to push Palestine's colonization.

6. Arab great landowners (who actually sold the land to Jewish colonists) and the weak Arab bourgeoisie tried to turn anti-colonial resistance against the Jews. The big popular uprising in 1936 broke out after a six months general strike and led to a three years guerrilla war. It was addressed against British imperialism as well as Zionist colonization. A stop to Jewish immigration and the selling of land to Jews were the central demands. Whilst parts of the Zionist movement yielded terrorist attacks against Arabs, the Arab bourgeoisie tried to introduce anti-Semitic tendencies into the battle - and betrayed it at the end to the colonialists.

7. But Israel as project for important parts of Jewry cannot be thought of without the holocaust, the mass extinction of Jews (as well as Roma and Sinti, Slavs, handicapped, homosexuals, political activists, etc.) by the Nazi terror. The extermination camps of Nazism were a culmination of growing anti-Semitism during the 100 preceding years. Understandably, for many of the survived Jews it appeared neither secure nor attractive enough to keep on living in Middle and Eastern Europe, and mass immigration to Palestine began. Understanding and respecting these facts it has to be stated though, that the consequences of the holocaust were not borne by those responsible for NS terror - the big capital and its fascist helpers - but by Arab people in Palestine, who faced mass expulsion in order to make space for a new "Jewish" state in Palestine.


8. As a consequence of the Arab and Zionist battle against the British after WWII, Great Britain retreated. The territories east of the Jordan River became the kingdom Transjordan under the Hahemite dynasty in 1946 already. The UN proposed a dividing plan for the western territories, promising the Jews (33% of the population) 54% of the land.

In 1948 expulsions of Arabs (who still were the majority in the Jewish territory) took place and an attack of Arab armies was fought off by Israel, backed up by the US, the Soviet Union and Czech arm supplies. Israel occupied 73% of the land. The rest was divided between Egypt, Syria and Transjordan. 750.000 Palestinian Arabs were driven away. The Zionist paramilitary Haganah (the militia of the social democratic party, that later became the core of the Israeli Defence Forces, IDF) and rightwing Irgun spread calculated and murderous terror in order to create panic amongst Arab civilians and put them to flight. A major part of the Arab villages with their infrastructure and agricultural means of existence were annihilated systematically to exclude a return of the refugees and to cover up ethnical clearing. Most of the Arab Palestinians ended up in miserable refugee camps in Arab countries. Partly they have been dwelling there until today. The Arab governments are to blame for that as well, because they purposely don't integrate Palestinians for political reasons.

9. In 1956 the Suez war took place. Great Britain and France pushed Israel to war against Nasser's Egypt who had nationalized the channel of Suez. This was a significant turn of Israel's international orientation. Since then, the USA are obvious protecting power of Israel. Israel was and still is the subordinate ally for US imperialism and has an important controlling function in this region so rich in mineral resources. It also serves as a counterbalance against the often insubordinate Arab nationalism. The Six days war of 1967 (against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) on the one hand was meant to smash the Palestinian resistance, and on the other hand was a strike against Nasser's Arab nationalism. Israel occupied the Golan, the West Bank, the Gaza strip and the Sinai (which was returned to Egypt with the peace treaty of Camp David in 1979). This led to further expulsions and flights of Palestinians. When Israel was on the edge of defeat in the 1973 Yom-Kippur war, the Zionist establishment started to discuss the future and further goals of the state: one part still asked for an Israel within the "historical" boundaries including "Judea and Samaria" (the West Bank), others were more in favour of exerting indirect dominance over a semi-colonial backyard.

10. In the beginning Israel's economy was strongly depending on German "compensation" payments that were mostly invested directly into companies in order to back up the "national project". The following years saw the so-called "Palestinian -boom", because Israel's economy was boosted due to cheap Palestinian work force, that was available thanks to Israel's victory in the Six-days war. In the late 1960ies still four out of the five major industrial complexes were controlled by the state, the trade union Histadrut and labour Zionism. Just one of them was private. These companies profited a big deal from the increasing military expenses due to the Six-days and the Yom-Kippur war. Military production became the center of Israel's economy.

The 1980ies brought about an opening to the world market. Foreign direct investors (often linked to the Zionist movement), Israeli small capital, and parts of the State bureaucracy formed a new class of big capitalists. This went hand in hand with increasing exploitation and attacks on workers. In the last years the attacks on the living standard of Israeli workers led to ever growing resistance and some general strikes against neo-liberal politics.

11. A varied modern class society slowly started evolving from the 1920ies and 30ies onwards. Until the 1970ies the State and semi-public Zionist organizations (e.g. Histadrut) economically dominated the Israeli society. Within Israel's class society European immigrants formed mostly the labor aristocracy and played a central role in Labor Zionism, Histadrut and the State. In the first three years after independence 690.000 Jews immigrated to Israel. They came above all from Arab countries and were the majority of the proletariateproletariat. Palestinians with an Israeli passport formed an even lower class, making up nowadays 20% of the population. From the 1960ies until the first Intifada the lowest strata of the working class were Palestinian proletarians from the occupied zones. In the early 1990ies they were replaced by foreign workers from Eastern Europe and Southern Asia. So Palestinian workers would not have any influence on the smooth functioning of the Israeli economy anymore. The immigration of Jews from Russia after the break down of Stalinism increased the work force potential another time.

12. In the beginning after the foundation of the state, Israel - following the classical Zionist tradition - understood itself as counter pole to the Jewish Diaspora. Contrary to the "infirm Diaspora Jews" (following the Zionist argumentation which reproduces finally anti-Semitic clichés) who endured anti-Semitic pogroms and let themselves be lead "like lambs to the slaughter" by the holocaust, together with the state Israel a new Jew should be created, strong and self-confident. Only in the 1960ies with the Six days war and the Eichmann process Israel changed its national propaganda and presented itself as a bastion that was raised out of the holocaust and served all Jews against anti-Semitism. Since then the evolvement that started in the 1920ies and 30ies of an Israeli nation, including the Jews living in Israel, was completed.

Present situation and valuation

13. In the beginning the Palestinian struggle for national autonomy was uphold mostly by organizations coalesced in the PLO (founded in 1964). Al-Fatah, the majority faction inside PLO, and their long term leader Yasser Arafat had a bourgeois nationalistic program (for a secular, arab Palestine) and counted on guerilla strategy. Only with the first Intifada in 1987 resistance was backed up by the broad Palestinian population. The Israeli occupation force fought this palestinian popular uprising with brutal repression, killing many civilians and destroying innumerable houses. After six years, in 1993, the conflict was ended by the treaty of Oslo, a result of the weakening of the Palestinians after the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the Golf war of 1991, and the wish of the rich, Arab oil monarchies to make a deal with imperialism. The PLO leadership accepted the borders of Israel of 1947/48 and so the Zionist expulsions. 3,5 million Palestinian refugees were hence deprived of any possibility to return to their homes. The Oslo treaty only resulted in autonomy of the Gaza strip and parts of the West Bank, which joint the aims of those layers of the Israeli bourgeoisie represented by the Labor party who wanted to create a semi-colonial zone rather than have direct military control.

14. For Palestinians the situation got worse. Between 1992 and 2004 the amount of Jewish settlers in the 1967 occupied territories doubled (450.000 Jewish settlers). The settlements were based on land theft and destruction of houses, and claimed the best resources (such as spring water) and infrastructures. In 1993, 130.000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza had permanent work permission in Israel. In 2005 it was only 15.000. The economic and social situation further deteriorated. There was a 40% decrease of living standards between 1993 and 2001. Israel's military repression was only partially withdrawn but ever present. PLO and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority quickly developed into a corrupted institution of the Palestinian bourgeoisie.

15. Together with the first Intifada a new political factor arose: Hamas. It developed as the military arm of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of Gaza. Particularly in Gaza the Muslim Brotherhood could gain influence on the Palestine masses through social welfare as well as Israel's backup (in order to break the hegemony of PLO). Hamas became an important determinant with the second Intifada beginning in 2000. Mass struggle was accompanied by terrorist (suicide-) attacks, a form of combat that shows military weakness confronted to Israel's military apparatus. Hamas' role is double-edged: on the one hand it is – as an Islamist organization – a mortal enemy to the organized workers movement. On the other hand for many Palestinians Hamas appears the most consequent warrior against the occupational regime.

16. In the early 20th century anti-Semitism (as reception of European anti-Semitism) grew strong within parts of the Arab bourgeoisie. Before it was a rather unknown concept in Muslim countries. In the 1960ies anti-Semitism gained mass influence in Islamic countries of the Near East: Islamic forces (like Hamas) backed up their solidarity with Palestine's liberation struggle with the ideology of European anti-Semitism. It served them as an easy 'explanation' (e.g. the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" which was produced by the czarist secret service and imagined a Jewish world conspiracy serves as "proof" for many anti-Semites until today). For the ruling class anti-Semitism was of no harm, because it has no class theory.
Still, Arab anti-Semitism cannot be compared one to one with the European one. In the last centuries Jews were a persecuted minority in Europe. In Arabic countries the "Jewish state" and the Israeli army were perceived as aggressors and colonial oppressors, especially after 1948.

17. Even when after 1945 some European (conservative) right wingers admire a "strong state" Israel, anti-Semitism remained a major factor for parts of the extreme right as well as in many bar discussions - despite or because of the holocaust. Israel's politics were used to relativize the holocaust, because "the Jews are not any better", and the US backing up Israel is explained by the "power of the East coast".

18. The new Intifada arose because of the disappointment about the Oslo treaty and the hopeless situation in the West Bank and Gaza. But Ariel Sharon also clearly provoked the new Intifada.
The pragmatic parts of the Israeli right wanted to revoke the Oslo treaty and put through a new "solution" in cooperation with US imperialism. Point of departure for Sharon and his instigators in the Bush administration was the fact that in 2005 for the first time since 1967 in the territories of Israel, Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank and Golan, there was no Jewish majority anymore. Despite of immigration of eastern European Jews, the Arab population was growing faster.
A new mass expulsion would not have helped the somehow stable relationship between Israel and its Arab neighboring countries. Therefore Israel's "Jewish character", which is based on systematical anti-Arab racism, had to be secured differently.

The solution to the "demographical problem" that Sharon started to put through together with the allied Labor Party meant closing off and separation following the motto: "Give up the irrelevant in order to keep the relevant." That means to withdraw from some highly populated and strategically less important areas, like the Gaza strip (which partly happened also due to Palestinian resistance). But at the same time the permanent occupation of other zones: the widening of Israel into the West Bank by means of the boundary wall, integration of settling areas into the state of Israel (especially around Jerusalem, where 200 000 settlers live), cut up of the West Bank near Jerusalem, and probably the maintenance of the military control over Golan and the Jordan valley. For Palestinians this signifies to live in ghettos which are under the economic and military control of Israel. One cannot talk about Sharon's so-called "peace treaty", but a reactionary, imperialist pacification project, which has to be refused.


19. We Marxists believe that the solution to the conflict in the Near East that is not just a crumbling "peace" under imperialist dominance, is a socialist Palestine/Israel embedded into a socialist federation of the Near East, which includes (Jewish) Israelis as well as (Arab) Palestinians (no matter if they have an Israeli passport or not) as state-building nations. Precondition is the unrestricted right for Palestinian refugees to return to Palestine/Israel. If they prefer to stay in their "host countries", we do not only stand up for their full rights as citizens, but also for their national rights as a minority.

20. A binational socialist state can only be reached by unite class war of Israeli and Palestinian workers (and the support of the worldwide working class movement). The starting position for such a project is not easy: the Israeli working class indirectly takes advantage of the oppression of the Palestinians; the social composition of the Palestinians (high unemployment rate, many wage workers are employed by the Palestinian Authority) is not the ideal prerequisite for methods of a proletarian class war.

For Marxists neutrality between oppressing and oppressed nations cannot exist. Therefore we see it as essential to support Palestine's struggle for self-determination. Put aside a concrete political analysis, we hold attacks against Israel's Zionist state machinery (that is, their repressive regime of military, police, justice and bureaucracy) justified. They constitute a useful addition to mass actions in the Palestinian struggle for liberation. But we are against suicide attacks against Israeli civilians (even though we can understand them as acts of despair), because they only lead to national division and hinder a unite class war.

It is primarily the responsibility of the Israeli working class to fight a class war against their own bourgeoisie and in doing so open up the perspective of a unite struggle to Palestine's workers and oppressed. The Israeli working class is part of the oppressing nation and could arise only due to the expulsion and oppression of the Palestinian people. It is an absolutely necessary requirement for an Israeli left to fight for Palestine's right of self-determination, the right to return for refugees, and against Israeli anti-Arabian racism. A central role of any Palestine left is to oppose to any anti-Semitic tendency.

21. The task of European revolutionaries is to make propaganda for this proposed outline and along these guidelines join solidarity actions for the Palestinian resistance. In particular in German speaking countries this has to go hand in hand with a consequent fight against anti-Semitism. It has to be underlined again and again that the politics of the Israeli state does not equal the politics of the Israeli population, and even less of "the Jews". Part of our orientation must be the fight for a right to free migration and resistance against the ever growing anti-Islamic racism in imperialist countries.


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