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A new book that explains the roots of Israel's bloody war
How will Palestine be freed?

August 9, 2002 | Page 8

JENNIFER ROESCH reviews a new book from Haymarket Books that explains the roots of Israel's war on Palestinians and makes the case for a secular, democratic state in all of Palestine.

NEARLY NINE years after the Oslo Accords were supposed to bring peace to the Middle East and create a new Palestinian state, life has become immeasurably worse for the vast majority of Palestinians. Illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories have doubled, and violence is a daily occurrence. Palestinians are forced from their jobs in Israel. Poverty is epidemic.

The failure of Oslo to live up to its promises is the reason for the current Palestinian uprising, known as the Intifada, which began in September 2000. This Intifada has been met with an unprecedented level of brutality on Israel's part. Near-constant curfews have locked down the towns of the Occupied Territories, and Israeli tanks and bulldozers regularly demolish the homes of Palestinians.

This brutality and the ongoing Palestinian resistance to it have sparked a solidarity movement that extends from the countries of the Arab world to Europe to the U.S. But for many people, the real causes of the conflict may be hard to see, thanks to the mainstream media's one-sided focus on Palestinian suicide bombings--which paints Palestinians as inherently violent and hateful.

It has never been more important for those who wish to see peace and justice in the Middle East to have clarity on core questions: How was Israel formed? Why does the U.S. support Israel? Why did the peace process fail? Could there ever be peace in the Middle East? What would constitute justice for the Palestinians and how can it be achieved?

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THE STRUGGLE for Palestine makes an invaluable contribution by addressing these questions. Made up of articles from Socialist Worker's sister publication, the International Socialist Review, as well as original material and reprints from the socialist tradition, the book provides a historical framework for understanding present-day struggles.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is titled "Israel, Zionism, and Imperialism," and it rejects the idea that the conflict is rooted in centuries-old religious hatreds--instead showing how Israel's actions result from its role as watchdog for U.S. interests in the Middle East.

In their chapters, Lance Selfa and Phil Gasper show how Zionism was a colonial-settler movement aligned with the major imperialist powers from its beginnings. As Selfa puts it, "Early Zionists made no secret that they hoped the Jewish state would be what [Zionism's founder Theodore] Herzl called 'a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.'"

Paul D'Amato explains how U.S. support for Israel arose from the need for a stable ally in the oil-rich Middle East. Following Israel's quick victory in the 1967 war against several Arab countries, the U.S. dramatically increased its aid. It saw in Israel an effective defense against the threat of Arab nationalism, which could limit U.S. access to cheap oil.

Far from being the "only democracy in the Middle East," as is so often claimed, Israel is the source of constant violence. "Israel remains the chief guarantor for the U.S. of 'stability' in the Middle East," D'Amato writes. "Preserving stability means preserving the region's status quo. And preserving the status quo means maintaining repressive conditions that can only be a catalyst for future wars."

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THE SECOND section of the book describes the failure of the Oslo peace process and how this led to the outbreak of the new Intifada. Contributors argue forcefully that Oslo was never about peace, but was about legitimizing the state of Israel and subcontracting the policing of the territories to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

What's more, writes Naseer Aruri, Israel used the peace process as a cover for territorial conquest. "More Jewish settlements have been built since the start of Oslo than at any other period in the past," Aruri writes. "Palestinians simply sat and watched the expropriation of their land for settlements and bypass roads--built for Israelis only--to connect the settlements to each other and to Israel proper…Oslo provided a cover for these conquests, as people around the world watched a diplomatic charade that was packaged by the U.S. media and Israel's propaganda apparatus as peace negotiations."

Rania Masri details how the failure of Oslo led directly to the Al-Aqsa Intifada. She documents the horrific attacks on Palestinians since the Intifada began. From border closings to constant curfews to house demolitions, Israel has used a strategy of collective punishment and destruction of Palestinian infrastructure.

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THE FINAL section of the book, "The Struggle for Palestine," addresses issues of strategy in the movement for justice today. Together, these essays point to the potential for a socialist alternative in the Middle East.

In an interview with David Barsamian, Edward Said challenges the media's labeling of all resistance as terrorism--and instead points to the violence of the United States and Israel. "[Terrorism] is fabricated to keep the population afraid and insecure, and to justify what the United States wishes to do globally," Said says. "Any threats to its interests, whether it's oil in the Middle East or geo-strategic interests elsewhere, is labeled as 'terrorism,' which is exactly what the Israelis have been doing since the mid-1970s in response to Palestinian resistance."

Interviews with Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, editors of the Jerusalem-based magazine Between the Lines, describe the debates taking place in Palestine about strategies for the liberation movement.

The final two chapters provide a vision of a secular, democratic state in Palestine, where Arabs and Jews could live together peacefully. Far from being a utopia, this was the mainstream aim of the Palestinian movement until the last two decades.

A reprint of the Joint Statement of the Palestine Popular Front and the Israeli Socialist Organization, first published in the wake of the 1967 war, argues for the right of Arab workers throughout the region to control their own destinies by controlling the world's richest resource--the oil they produce.

In the final chapter, Mostafa Omar explains why the main organizations of Palestinian resistance have been unable to provide a strategy for liberation. He shows how the main Palestinian resistance groups have always been undermined by their alliance with Arab regimes and their refusal to take up the struggles of workers throughout the region. Omar looks to the self-activity of the Arab workers and peasants to break the back of U.S. domination in the region--and thus undercut Israel's ability to repress the Palestinians.

The collapse of a democratic, secular alternative--the socialist alternative--in the Middle East has left a vacuum filled by Hamas and other fundamentalist forces. But ultimately, peace in the Middle East can only be achieved if Palestinians win justice. And justice will only be won if a different kind of movement is built.

That movement must try to link the heroic resistance of Palestinians to the struggles of Arab workers throughout the region to free themselves from U.S. domination and the forces--including their own Arab rulers, as well as Israel--that back it.

The Struggle for Palestine is an important contribution to rebuilding that tradition.

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