Socialist Worker

Why are the Palestinians and Israelis in conflict?

Issue No. 1718

Why are the Palestinians and Israelis in conflict?

By Matthew Cookson


THE PRESENT clashes stem from the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people for the last 52 years. The state of Israel was founded after the Second World War in 1948. Before that the area we now know as Israel was called Palestine. It became a British colony after the First World War.

A small minority of Jewish leaders wanted to create a homeland for the Jews in Palestine-despite the fact that there were only 56,000 Jews in Palestine, compared to one million Palestinians. This ideology is known as Zionism. These leaders looked to the dominant Western powers in the region, first Britain and then the US, to help them take over Palestine.

The United Nations (UN) drew up a partition plan. This granted 55 percent of Palestine to the Jews and 45 percent to the Arabs. Even this was not enough for the Zionist settlers. They wanted to control all of Palestine and they pursued this aim by using terror on a mass scale. Israeli soldiers murdered between 200 and 300 civilians in the village of Deir Yassin on 9 April 1948.

The terror created by this massacre was used to drive Palestinians out from settlement after settlement. Over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from the new state of Israel. Some 460,000 fled to Jordan, 200,000 to Gaza, 100,000 to Lebanon and 85,000 to Syria. Here they lived in poverty in refugee camps. Israel was established on 14 May 1948 on the stolen land of the Palestinians. It has continued to oppress and persecute them ever since.

Israel passed "The Law of Return", which meant that every person of Jewish descent is allowed to emigrate to Israel. But the Palestinians were not allowed to return to their own homeland.


PALESTINIAN REFUGEES fled to the West Bank and Gaza, both parts of historic Palestine, in 1948. But then Israel seized the two regions in 1967 during its war with Jordan and Egypt. Israel plundered its new Occupied Territories. It pumped water from the West Bank to Israel, destroying local agricultural communities.

Land was seized from tens of thousands of Palestinians, and Israelis settled throughout Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli state used Palestinian labour from the refugee camps to power its economy. Arabs provided cheap menial employment for Israeli bosses. Workers from Gaza and the West Bank received 40 percent of the wages of Israelis in 1977.

The Palestinian flag was illegal. Palestinian organisations were banned. Israeli troops patrolled camps and towns. Israel's desire to put down any resistance to its control of this area led it to invade Lebanon in 1982. An Israeli bombardment of West Beirut killed tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians. Around 2,000 Palestinians were massacred at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in September 1982.

Israel occupied a 15 kilometre "security zone" in South Lebanon, despite a UN resolution demanding it withdraws, until May of this year. Israeli intervention cost the lives of 20,000 people. Mass resistance finally forced Israel to pull out.


SINCE ITS creation in 1948 Israel has been a watchdog for US interests in the oil-rich area of the Middle East. The US, the most important world power after the Second World War, wanted a client state in the region. It was worried about the instability its control of oil could cause amongst the mass of people.

As the influential Jewish paper Ha'aretz said in 1951, "Israel is to become the watchdog. If for any reasons the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighbouring states who were discourteous to the West." The US has funded Israel on a massive scale ever since. The US gave Israel $1.5 billion of arms in the four years after the 1967 war.

The US has given Israel over $80 billion worth of aid since 1974. The majority of the money has been to make sure that Israel is one of the most heavily armed states in the world. But a large amount of the money has been to keep the Israeli economy afloat and guarantee a "West European" standard of living for the Israeli population.

In 1984, when Israel's economy was on the brink of collapse, Ronald Reagan, then president of the US, authorised a $1.5 billion emergency aid programme. The US also gave Israel $3 billion in non-emergency aid. This is one of the very few times in the last 20 years that the US Treasury rather than the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank has bailed out an economy.

The US funding of Israel is still going on. As Ehud Barak, current Israeli prime minister, said last year, "Our friends in Washington know that support for Israel is in the American national interest."


THE EVENTS of 1948 and 1967 created huge bitterness amongst Palestinians. They fought back heroically by launching armed resistance against the Israelis. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) emerged out of this. Some 200 Palestinian guerillas fought for 12 hours against the Israeli army at Karameh, in Jordan, in March 1968.

The PLO became Arab heroes overnight and continued to fight Israeli oppression with mass support for the next two decades. But the most significant rebellion by Palestinians against Israeli rule was the Intifada, or uprising, which began in December 1987. An Israeli tank transporter crashed into Arab cars, killing four passengers, in Gaza.

Their funeral turned into a 10,000-strong demonstration. Israeli troops killed a 20 year old man on another demonstration the next day. His funeral turned into a protest against Israeli occupation. Demonstrations spread across the Occupied Territories to be met by Israeli repression. Tens of thousands of Palestinians built barricades, marched and fought against the army.

The Palestinian Arab population of Israel staged a general strike in support of the Intifada on 21 December. The uprising continued for over two years despite mass terror, arrests and economic blockade. The Intifada forced Israel to look to reach some kind of settlement with the PLO. This came about in the Oslo Peace Accord of 1993.


THE Arab/Israeli peace process has changed very little for ordinary Palestinians. The accord allowed the Palestinians to jointly administer Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho. This created the Palestinian Authority, but it has very little power.

It allowed Yasser Arafat of the PLO to create the Palestinian Security Force, which represses any opposition to him or the Israelis. At the same time Israel has continued to build settlements in the Occupied Territories. There are now 200,000 Israelis in the West Bank, 180,000 in east Jerusalem and 6,500 in Gaza.

There are still over three and a half million Palestian refugees scattered through Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. While Israel was to receive over $4 billion dollars in aid from the US this year, the Palestine Authority was to receive just $100 million.


SOCIALISTS STAND with the Palestinians. They have been oppressed and persecuted throughout the century. They were ethnically cleansed from their homeland in 1948 and they have been refugees ever since.

Israel is a heavily armed tool of the US government in the Middle East. The Palestinian struggle is that of an oppressed people against a powerful military force. Socialists argue for a democratic secular state in Palestine where Jews and Arabs have equal rights. The Palestinians must be allowed to return to their homeland.

A longer term alternative in the Middle East is revolution across the region to overthrow the corrupt regimes which live in wealth while their populations live in grinding poverty. This would also liberate Palestine, creating a republic with full rights for Jews and all national minorities. Both Palestinian and Jewish peoples have a fine tradition of solidarity and internationalism. That is what needs to be reclaimed.

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Sat 14 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1718
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