Right wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon is forcing Israeli settlers to move from the Gaza Strip. Why is this?
While all this palaver about leaving Gaza is going on, the colonisation of the West Bank is moving full steam ahead. There is something significant about the construction of the horrible Israeli “security” wall.
The wall is not on the old Green Line between Israel and the Occupied Territories but bites into the territories quite significantly. The wall is not only a way of separating Israelis and Palestinians, but of separating Palestinians from their lands and from each other.
The wall is nine metres high in places. A lot of people think it is one continuous line that snakes into the Occupied Territories because on the western side there are some Israeli settlements.
But among these settlements there may be one or two Palestinian villages. These villages are on the Israeli side of the wall.
So the Israelis surround these villages with a separate ring-like wall, making it like an island. These villagers are in a sort of concentration camp, surrounded by the wall.
There will be a tunnel which the Palestinians in these areas have to go through to get to the main part of the Occupied Territories. In the tunnel there will be a portcullis which the Israeli government can bring down at any moment, imprisoning these people.
The Israeli plan is not about creating a viable Palestinian state. It’s not even Bantustans, like in apartheid South Africa, that they have in mind. It’s more like Indian reservations.
The comparison made with apartheid is misleading, although there are many similar features.
Apartheid was based on the idea that non-whites would serve as labour power for the settlers, but they should not have any civil rights. They had to be segregated but kept close at hand. Bantustans were a way of implementing this.
Israel does not belong to this model of colonisation. It is based on another kind of colonisation, like in North America, where the indigenous people were ethnically cleansed.
The Native Americans were pushed into Indian reservations, temporary concentration camps, before being cleansed altogether.
Sharon and his main coalition partners are not religious Zionists. They are secular Zionists.
They don’t think in terms of sacred things. For the religious maniacs, every piece of the land of Israel is sacred and you shouldn’t give it up. But Sharon thinks more pragmatically.
The West Bank shares a border with Jordan. When the opportunity arises, Sharon wants to push the Palestinians into Jordan.
But the Gaza Strip borders only with the Sinai desert, which is part of Egypt. You can't push the Palestinians into the dessert and you can’t fool around with Egypt. So there is no convenient place these Palestinians can be ethnically cleansed to, and I don’t think Israel is planning their physical annihilation.
This means that the Gaza Strip has to be evacuated by the Israeli army and turned into a big concentration camp.
It is in Sharon’s interest to make this evacuation seem as difficult as possible. Then he can say to the US and Europe, “Look, I’m making huge sacrifices.”
He is creating a situation in the Gaza Strip where there will be resistance and he will have to use a certain amount of force. At the same time the West Bank is being chopped up into pieces. Israel is occupying all the land, but withdrawing from Palestinian population centres (except Hebron).
What is the nature of Israeli society?
It is a colonial settler state — the last remaining one. There are many countries in the world that started this way. But the difference is like that between an extinct volcano and an active one.
New Zealand, Australia, the US and the others developed as settler states; but there colonisation is over, no longer expanding. The Zionist colonisation of Palestine started later than all other colonial settler states. It began in the last third of the 19th century and got seriously going after the First World War.
The ethnic cleansing model on which Israel is based defines the whole structure of society.
The country is also divided within itself. Throughout its history Zionism tried to avoid using Palestinian labour. In the decades before the creation of Israel they tried to enforce this by strong arm methods.
Individual bosses preferred to use Palestinian labour because it was cheaper and more experienced in agriculture. Zionist organisations, especially the so called trade union, the Histradut, used strong arm methods to intimidate bosses and expel Palestinian workers.
Most Palestinians were ethnically cleansed and became refugees after the creation of Israel in 1948. Those that remained were put under military rule. They couldn’t be kept away from the Israeli economy, but it wasn’t such a problem because there weren’t that many of them.
After 1967 — when Israel occupied the rest of Palestine, with a much larger Palestinian population — there was a period, lasting about two decades, when it seemed that Palestinian labour was being used in the Israeli economy. It seemed that the Israeli colonial model was reverting to the South African one. In the long run this would have been good news for the Palestinians because, though they were being severely exploited, they could hope for change like in South Africa.
But Israel used the first Intifada, the Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s and early 1990s, to stop Palestinian labour being employed. Israel is now importing labour from around the world.
There are masses of Chinese workers in construction. There are Philippine workers in domestic services, Polish and Romanian workers in smaller construction projects and Thai workers in agriculture. Now there is a recession in Israel and they are trying to get rid of some of these foreign workers.
By ending any reliance on Palestinian labour Israel is reverting back to the classical Zionist model. As far as they are concerned the Palestinians are surplus to requirements.
Internally, Israeli society is divided along quasi-ethnic lines. Israeli Jews originate from different places and there is discrimination according to place of origin, which corresponds more or less to class.
There is an Israeli working class, which is composed of immigrants from Asia and Africa.
What role does the US play in the Middle East?
A lot of people who oppose Israel and Zionism claim that Israel is controlling the US. This is like saying the tail is wagging the dog.
Of course the Israeli lobby in the US is very strong. But it is not just the Jewish lobby, which is a very small part of the pro-Israel lobby. It is predominantly the Christian fundamentalists. This group is much bigger and stronger, and also anti-Semitic. It supports Israel for its own reasons. Anti-Semitism and Zionism often go hand in hand.
But none of this backing for Israel would materialise unless the capitalist elite in the US thought that Israel was useful for its purposes. Israel is the staunch ally of the US in the Middle East. It is their watchdog, gendarme and policeman. Israel is the only country in the Middle East which has serious weapons of mass destruction — its massive nuclear arsenal.
This is not something new in essence. It is traditional in the Zionist pattern of colonisation. In the cases of the colonisation of the US or Algerian, the settlers came from imperialist mother countries — England and France.
In the case of Zionism the settlers were not citizens of a country that had conquered a territory, so they needed the protection of an imperialist power.
Zionism has always been the junior partner of whichever imperialist power was dominant in the Middle East. After the First World War it was Britain. The document that sealed this alliance is called the Balfour Declaration, which was issued on 2 November 1917.
Ronald Storrs, the first governor of Jerusalem, said that the Zionist enterprise was to be “one that blessed him that gave [Britain] as well as him that took [the Zionists], by forming for England ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of hostile Arabism”.
It was a plan to use this colonial project as a force in the service of British imperialism. Then there developed a conflict of interests. The settlers demanded more than the British empire was prepared to give. Britain didn’t want a fully independent Israeli state.
When Britain lost its hegemony in that part of the world, Zionism switched its allegiance to the US. The process began following the Second World War and became sealed after Israel proved its power to control things in the Middle East.
Without the US’s support — political, economic, military — Israel could not fulfil this role.
There is some anti-Semitic intent behind this idea that the tail is wagging the dog — that everything that is happening in the Middle East is the fault of the Jews. This removes any blame from the dog — the US capitalist elite. This is reactionary and false.
Previous hard core supporters of Zionism are now questioning the whole ideology of the state of Israel. Why is this?
Labour MP Gerald Kaufman fits your description. The more rational, secular supporters of Israel, among Jews especially, have come to realise that far from Israel defending the security of Jews it’s putting them in danger.
A lot of people ignorantly confuse Jews with Zionism. Israel is contributing to this confusion by denouncing anyone who criticises Israel as anti-Semitic.
This works both ways. The intention on the part of Zionist propaganda is to deter people from criticising Israel. A lot of simple-minded people are drawing the conclusion that since Israel is behaving so badly then if criticising Israel is anti-Semitic, then OK — I’ll be anti-Semitic.
There is a certain amount of disillusionment among people who were secular Zionists on the less reactionary wing of Zionism. Someone who comes to mind is Meron Benvenisti who was the deputy mayor of Jerusalem. He has said if this is what Zionism is like I don’t want anything to do with it.
But don’t be mislead by the hypocrites like the authors Amos Oz and A B Yehoshua. They criticise the present Israeli policies up to a point, but they are Zionist apologists. A B Yehoshua is in favour of a two state “solution”, not because Palestinians should have a state but because Jews and Arabs shouldn’t live together.
Their defenders in Britain, such as Linda Grant and Jonathan Freedland, are Zionist Trojan horses. They criticise current Israeli policies, but justify the legitimacy of Israel as it as constituted presently—a settler state. They claim that all Jews around the world have a “right” to settle there; but the Palestinian refugees have no right to return to the land of their birth, from which they were expelled.
Since the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the election of Mahmoud Abbas, the US and Israel have claimed that the Palestinians are finally moving towards peace.
That is rubbish. When Israel under Peres and Rabin wanted to create a Palestinian Bantustan around 1991 they needed a leader for this. Arafat presented himself and signed on the dotted line. This agreement was highly detrimental to the Palestinians.
He capitulated to a very unequal agreement. That was based on creating a kind of semi-state for the Palestinians. Israel wanted Arafat to be responsible for the security of Israel. But from the point of view of Sharon and his allies, who are planning further ethnic cleansing, Arafat was an obstacle.
Sharon would order the assassination of Islamic leaders knowing this would provoke a response, that Israelis would be killed in revenge. Then he could say the agreement was not working, and he could blame Arafat. Bush bought this willingly. But Arafat was still a prestigious leader who could say no to certain things.
They wanted to get rid of him and get someone with much less prestige in the eyes of the Palestinian masses, who the US and Israel could control even more easily — Abbas fills this role.
If he fails to do what they want him to do they will demonise him as well.
What kind of hopes do you have, and what kind of solutions do you think there needs to be?
In the short and medium term I see very little hope. I don’t say that with an easy heart. A peaceful solution has to be stable and equitable. The balance of forces is such that this is not possible at present. Israel is powerful and in alliance with the only superpower. There is a danger of further ethnic cleansing.
I am hopeful in the longer term. Nothing lasts forever. In principle any solution would be based on equal rights, individually and for the two national groups present — the Palestinian Arabs and the Hebrew speaking Israeli Jews.
The number of states — zero, one, two — is a secondary question.
This would require a massive change in the balance of forces. I cannot see this happening without a radical transformation of the whole Arab east.
This region is ruled by reactionary elites, mostly controlled by the US. A profound transformation is going to happen someday. Part of this is national unification of the Arab peoples, which are constituent parts of the Arab nation.
I would look forward to a united socialist Arab east, within which there would be accommodation of and self-determination for the non-Arab nationalities — the Israeli Jews, the Kurdish people and the south Sudanese.
Within the context of a federal socialist Middle East there can be a solution also to the problem of the Palestinian people.
Moshe Machover is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at King's College, London.