Socialist Worker

Questions and answers on Israel and Palestine

Issue No. 2330

» Why does Israel exist?

Israel was founded in 1948 on land grabbed from Palestinians. It was created as a settler state based on the ideas of Zionism—which argues that Jewish people can only find peace by living in a separate state.

Zionists demanded Palestine as the site of historic Israel. Then they took Palestine through brutal violence, based on the notion it had been the site of ancient Israel 2,000 years earlier. They could only gain control with the support of imperial powers.

At first, Zionism was not supported by the majority of Jewish people across the world. But after the Nazi Holocaust the separatist ideas found more support.

In 1947 the United Nations passed a declaration giving the Zionists 55 percent of the land. But despite decades of settlement they only made up around 30 percent of the population.

In 1948 Palestinians were hounded and murdered by Zionist gangs until they fled. Generations have grown up in refugee camps. They are unable to return to their homeland. Yet the Israeli state has ruled that anyone of Jewish descent is entitled to “return” and live in the country.

Since 1967 Israel has occupied the remaining parts of Palestine—Gaza and the West Bank.

Gaza is a prison camp. Israel controls almost all travel in or out—apart from the goods smuggled through tunnels and the border connected to Egypt. Israel complains that the tunnels allow weapons in, but these contraband supplies keep people alive.

» Why does the West back Israel?

National liberation movements were challenging Western imperialist powers in the region when Israel was formed.

The West sought to create as many allies as possible to maintain control of resources and vital trade routes such as the Suez canal. Once oil was discovered in the region the West was determined to keep control.

Britain’s Balfour Declaration in 1917 supported the creation of Israel. It began the process of turning Zionist settlements into colonial outposts.

Israel later became the West’s watchdog in the region. When the US became the dominant power, Israel made its allegiance to it clear.

While the US struggled in Vietnam, Israel defended its interests in the region, defeating Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six Day War.

Israel has been a reliable ally ever since. That is why it gets billions of dollars in aid every year.

» What is the solution?

There are frequent calls for Israel and Palestine to negotiate a settlement. But Israel can only exist by denying the rights of Palestinians. And its growing settlements push Palestinians into ever smaller enclaves.

The only solution is to create a single state that allows Jews and Arabs to live alongside each other and allows all Palestinians the right to return.

The “peace process” is sponsored by the US, which sides with Israel. The US and Israel will only negotiate with leaders who give up resistance. That’s why they refused to recognise Hamas, the democratically elected government of Gaza.

» Who are Hamas?

Hamas emerged from a failed peace process that repeatedly robbed the Palestinian people.

It got support because it said it would not negotiate while Israel was building settlements and holding Gaza hostage.

But instead of focusing on grassroots resistance to Israeli domination, Hamas has found itself governing Gaza.

A history of oppression

November 1917

British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour writes a letter to Lord Rothschild which becomes known as the Balfour Declaration. It is the first significant backing by a major power of a Jewish “national home” in what was then Palestine. Balfour wrote that this “may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”


Around 56,000 Jewish settlers are living in Palestine compared to around one million Arabs


The United Nations draws up a partition plan for Palestine that would give Zionist settlers 55 percent of the country

March 1948

Zionist gangs launch a campaign of terror to drive Palestinians from Palestine. They murder hundreds and ethnically cleanse over 750,000 people. Palestinians flee to Gaza, which was grabbed by Egypt, and the West Bank, then controlled by Jordan

May 1948

The state of Israel is created and Zionists grab around 80?percent of historic Palestine. It acts as a “watchdog” in the region for imperialist powers and helps them to smash any rebellions that threaten Western control


Israel joins Britain and France to launch a war against Egypt

June 1964

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation is formed. It campaigns against Zionism and for the right of return for Palestinians


Israel goes to war with Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six Day War. This proves to the US that Israel can be relied upon to protect its interests in the Middle East at a time when the US is bogged down in war in Vietnam. Israel grabs the rest of historic Palestine and is now in control of the Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem

September 1970

King Hussain of Jordan, where the PLO is based, launches an assault on Palestinians to try to undermine their backing. He kills thousands in what becomes known as Black September. The PLO moves to a new base in Lebanon


Israel is involved in another war with Egypt and Syria


Israel invades Lebanon

June 1982

Israel invades Lebanon again

September 1982

Israeli troops and Lebanese fascist Phalangists enter the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps and, over 36 hours, systematically rape and murder. Around 2,000 people were killed. Israel occupies southern Lebanon until 1985

November 1987

The first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, begins. Despite massive repression it lasted for five years.


Hamas is founded during the Intifada as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It pledges to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation

September 1993

The Oslo accords are signed. They are meant to give Palestinians autonomy in just 17 percent of the West Bank and 60 percent of the Gaza Strip. Eventually this was meant to lead to a Palestinian state—but it never happened. Illegal Israeli settlements continued

September 2000

The second Intifada breaks out after Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visits the holy Muslim site of Harim-Al-Sharif.


Israel begins building a wall around the Gaza Strip


Israeli troops withdraw from Gaza but Israel retains control of its borders


Israel invades Lebanon again sparking protests around the world. Hamas wins the Palestinian general elections. It stood against some of the more humiliating compromises that the more moderate Fatah offered to Israel

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