(Part one of this article, based on a visit by an international medical team to Israel/Palestine, discussed the horrendous apartheid-like conditions imposed by the Israeli rulers on the Palestinians in Gaza).
Modern Israel was born over 100 years ago, as Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in Europe began to immigrate there. This accelerated greatly after World War II when England and the U.S. refused to admit Jewish refugees from the holocaust. The Zionists’ view of racism as a particular evil used only against them made them believe that only a Jewish state would guarantee safe harbor for Jews. This allowed the Zionists to invoke racism against the Arabs living in Palestine, claiming it was a “land without people for a people without land.”
They bought up land and by the late 1940s had hatched a plan to forcibly remove Palestinians from as much territory as possible. Over 500 Arab villages and urban areas were destroyed and about 900,000 Palestinians were murdered or displaced (see “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Ilan Pappe). Many modern towns, parks and forests are built on top of these destroyed areas. This history is unknown to nearly all Israelis. It is forbidden to teach about it in the schools.
Most Palestinians, whose population about equals the Jews, live on 22% of the land of Palestine as defined before 1948, divided between the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. A system of passes keeps them confined to one of these three areas, a tall separation wall surrounds them, and check-points dot the roads. Families are divided from one another, farmers are separated from their land, students from their schools, and patients from health care.
Israel controls 90% of the water, each Israeli using 15 times more water than a Palestinian. In Gaza, the Israelis have cut off most supplies, leaving the hundreds of dangerous tunnels dug from Egypt as the major supply routes for all goods. Hunger, malnutrition and unemployment affect the majority of Gazans.
The Israeli government continues to build more settlements in the West Bank, which is dividing the territory into three disconnected areas. This makes any proposed two-state solution impossible. Now more Palestinians and dissident Israelis are calling for one state.
As long as Israel continues to receive more foreign aid from the U.S. than any other country, about $3 billion a year, it is unlikely to change its policies. The U.S. needs Israel as a bastion of strength against the other countries of the Mid-East, who have the oil the U.S. covets or who oppose U.S. policies. Anyone who had hopes that Obama would change this should witness his groveling before the Israeli lobby and his appointment of Chief of Staff, Rahm, who had an Israeli terrorist father and is hard-line for Israel.
Palestine is also a class society, with a few wealthy families and the rest living very poorly (see Communist magazine, summer ’08). Its leadership is divided between the corrupt Fatah party, which represents the ruling elite and is all too willing to make deals with Israel, and Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic nationalist party which controls Gaza. No Palestinians we met had any use for either of them, but there is little alternative leadership.
The opposition “leftist” parties call for more democracy and one or two states, but do not discuss the structure of the society, classes, racism or critique nationalism. There appears to be little organized opposition to occupation of any kind, except the few rockets from Gaza and regular anti-wall actions in two villages. Many predict a third spontaneous intifada, or rebellion, when some atrocity sparks mass anger.
It is difficult to devise strategies in this apartheid situation, but certainly the need to understand the role of Israel, racism and nationalism in the context of world imperialism is primary. Then the task of building a movement of Palestinian and Israeli workers based on the call for an egalitarian, multi-racial society is at least clearer. Hopefully the contacts we made on both sides of the divide will advance this goal.