The making of Israel’s apartheid
recounts the history of how Israel was founded on the basis of the expulsion of the Arab population of Palestine.
ZIONISM IS a political movement that originally emerged in the late 19th century as a response to anti-Semitism, particularly in Eastern Europe.
Capitalist development had undermined the traditional commercial roles that many Jews had played in the old feudal economy. As the economy moved into periodic crises, ruling groups in many countries deflected mass anger by scapegoating Jews.
Zionists drew the pessimistic conclusion that anti-Semitism couldn't be eliminated--and that to escape persecution, Jews had to emigrate to a region where they could set up an exclusively Jewish state.
Theodore Herzl, known as the father of Zionism, wrote of "the emptiness and futility of trying to 'combat' anti-Semitism," and called for a Jewish state to be set up in an undeveloped country outside Europe.
Herzl was explicit that the program could be carried out only with the backing of one of the major imperialist powers. Once such support had been won, the Zionist movement would conduct itself like other colonizing ventures.
Herzl wrote that, if a Jewish state were created in Palestine, it would form "a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism." In other words, the new state would be part of the system of colonial domination of the rest of the world.
The founders of Zionism were prepared to ally themselves with the most vicious anti-Semites. Herzl approached Count Von Plehve, the sponsor of the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia, with the message: "Help me to reach the land sooner, and the revolt [against Tsarist rule] will end."
Zionist leaders offered to help guarantee Tsarist interests in Palestine, and rid Eastern Europe and Russia of those "noxious and subversive Anarcho-Bolshevik Jews"--in other words, the people who wanted to fight anti-Semitism, rather than capitulate to it. Von Plehve agreed to finance the Zionist movement as a way of countering socialist opposition to the Tsar.
WHEN BRITAIN took control of Palestine at the end of the First World War, Zionists turned their attention to lobbying the British government. The Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann argued, "A Jewish Palestine would be a safeguard to England, in particular with respect to the Suez Canal."
The International Socialist Review has extensive coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, with numerous articles covering the background. Annie Zirin's "The hidden history of Zionism" recounts the history of the Zionist movement and its alliances with right-wing and anti-Semitic forces. "Israel and the Nakba" by Paul D'Amato describes the violence at the founding of the state of Israel. Hadas Thier gives the background to the current conflict in Gaza in "The siege of Gaza." For books about the formation of the state of Israel, look for The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, both by Ilan Pappe, a radical Israeli historian. Pappe delivered a March 2007 speech titled "The History of Israel Reconsidered" that is worth the read. Norman Finkelstein's Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict is essential reading for picking apart the myths used to justify Israel's apartheid. For an introductory take on the subject, see Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, by Phyllis Bennis. Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. "War on Terror," by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, documents the apartheid-like conditions that Palestinians live under today. For background on Israel's war and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, read The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays edited by Lance Selfa on the history of the occupation and Palestinian resistance.
What else to read
The International Socialist Review has extensive coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, with numerous articles covering the background.
Annie Zirin's "The hidden history of Zionism" recounts the history of the Zionist movement and its alliances with right-wing and anti-Semitic forces. "Israel and the Nakba" by Paul D'Amato describes the violence at the founding of the state of Israel. Hadas Thier gives the background to the current conflict in Gaza in "The siege of Gaza."
For books about the formation of the state of Israel, look for The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, both by Ilan Pappe, a radical Israeli historian. Pappe delivered a March 2007 speech titled "The History of Israel Reconsidered" that is worth the read.
Norman Finkelstein's Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict is essential reading for picking apart the myths used to justify Israel's apartheid. For an introductory take on the subject, see Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, by Phyllis Bennis.
Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. "War on Terror," by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, documents the apartheid-like conditions that Palestinians live under today.
For background on Israel's war and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, read The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays edited by Lance Selfa on the history of the occupation and Palestinian resistance.
This argument began to seem increasingly attractive to the British ruling class. The war had underlined the importance of the Middle East, which guarded the sea routes to the Far East and contained the immensely profitable and strategically vital Persian oilfields. In November 1917, the British foreign minister Lord Balfour (a notorious anti-Semite) issued a declaration pledging his government's support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."
The Balfour declaration did not create a Jewish state, but it did encourage mass emigration to Palestine and the construction of an extensive settler community that was to become the basis of the state of Israel.
But there was one problem. Contrary to Zionist propaganda that Palestine was "a land without people for a people without a land," the area was, in fact, the most densely populated region of the Eastern Mediterranean, with an Arab population that had lived there for about 1,000 years and which had developed an extensive economy.
Small Jewish settlements had existed in Palestine from the late 19th century, but after 1917, the colonization process accelerated considerably. Jewish organizations bought up large areas of land from absentee landlords, displacing large numbers of Palestinian peasants.
The Zionists also began building an exclusively Jewish "enclave" economy, organized around the Histadrut--the general confederation of Hebrew workers in Palestine. The settlers refused to employ Arab labor and boycotted Arab goods.
In the 1930s, the rise of fascism in Europe gave a further boost to Jewish immigration, even though most Jews had no interest in moving to Palestine. Zionism was still a fringe movement among Jews, and only 8.5 percent of Jewish migrants went to Palestine during this period.
The number would have been even smaller if countries like the U.S. and Britain had not had racist immigration policies that excluded most Jews. But the refugees who did arrive in Palestine strengthened the settler community.
THE FOUNDING of a Zionist state is often justified as a response to the rise of fascism and the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, which exterminated 6 million Jews. But far from being fighters against fascism, Zionists frequently collaborated with the Nazis.
In 1933, the Zionist Federation of Germany sent a memorandum of support to the Nazis: "On the foundation of the new [Nazi] state, which has established the principle of race, we wish to fit our community into the total structure, so that for us, too, in the sphere assigned to us, fruitful activity for the Fatherland is possible."
The Zionist movement went so far as to oppose changes in the immigration laws of the U.S. and Western Europe, which would have permitted more Jews to find refuge in these countries. In 1938, David Ben-Gurion, who was to become the first prime minister of Israel, wrote: "If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative."
Jews in Palestine were given privileged status by the British colonial regime. The British helped establish and train a Zionist militia, granted Jewish capital 90 percent of economic concessions, and paid Jews higher wages than Arabs.
From the 1920s onwards, the British government used the Jewish settlers to help suppress mass Arab demonstrations against landlessness and unemployment, and for independence.
The most sustained uprising by the Palestinians took place from 1936 to 1939, and included a general strike of several months, withholding taxes, civil disobedience and armed insurrection. The British responded by declaring martial law and instituting mass repression, relying heavily on Zionist forces. Hundreds of Palestinians were executed or assassinated, thousands were imprisoned, and thousands of homes were demolished.
But Britain was greatly weakened by the Second World War and was forced to withdraw from Palestine. In 1947, the leading imperialist powers, including the U.S. and the USSR, decided to partition the country into separate Jewish and Palestinian states. Although Jews comprised only 31 percent of the population, the Zionists were given 54 percent of the fertile land.
Even this was not satisfactory for the Zionists, however. In 1938, Ben-Gurion had declared:
The boundaries of Zionist aspiration include southern Lebanon, southern Syria, today's Jordan, all of Cis-Jordan [the West Bank] and the Sinai...After we become a strong force as the result of the creation of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine. The state will only be a stage in the realization of Zionism, and its task is to prepare the ground for our expansion. The state will have to preserve order--not by preaching, but with machine guns.
The Zionist project could only be completed if the local Arab population was expelled. As Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department, had put it in 1940, "there is no room for both peoples together in this country...And there is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries. To transfer all of them; not one village, not one tribe should be left."
In 1948, this policy was put into effect. Zionist forces seized three-quarters of the land and expelled some 750,000 Palestinians.
Military groups whose leaders included the future Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, carried out massacres at villages like Deir Yasin--where over 100 men, women and children were murdered--designed to terrorize the rest of the Palestinian population to flee for their lives.
The official Israel Defense Forces carried out other massacres. One soldier gave the following eyewitness account of what happened at the village of Dueima:
They killed between 80 to 100 Arab men, women and children. To kill the children they fractured their heads with sticks. There was not one home without corpses...Educated and well-mannered commanders who were considered "good guys"...became base murderers, and this not in the storm of battle, but as a method of expulsion and extermination.
There were nearly 500 Palestinian villages in the territory that came under Israeli occupation after partition. During 1948 and 1949, nearly 400 of these were razed to the ground. More were destroyed in the 1950s.
In 1969, Moshe Dayan, former chief of staff and minister of defense, admitted: "We came here to a country that was populated by Arabs, and we are building here a Hebrew, Jewish state. Instead of Arab villages, Jewish villages were established...There is not a single [Jewish] settlement that was not established in the place of a former Arab village."
ISRAEL ALSO learned the lesson of portraying its own aggression as self-defense against hostile neighbors. But in 1948, it was only after Israel had launched its attack on Palestinians that other Arab countries mobilized a token force, largely in an effort to mollify their own populations, rather than as a serious military effort. The Arab states did nothing to reverse the expulsion of Palestinians, and by the time the 1948 war ended, the Zionists were in control of 78 percent of historic Palestine.
Moshe Sharett, an Israeli prime minister in the 1950s, admitted that the Israeli political and military leadership never believed the Arab governments represented any serious danger to Israel. Rather, Israel has sought to maneuver Arab states into military confrontations it was certain of winning, with the aim of destabilizing the regimes and occupying more territory.
Israel's goal, according to Sharett, has been to "dismember the Arab world, defeat the Arab national movement and create puppet regimes under regional Israeli power" and "to modify the balance of power in the region radically, transforming Israel into the major power in the Middle East."
Before 1947, Jews owned about 6 percent of the land in Palestine. In the process of establishing the state of Israel, the Zionists expropriated 90 percent of the land, the vast majority of which had formerly belonged to Arabs.
Entire cities were emptied of Palestinians, and Palestinian orchards, industry, rolling stock, factories, houses and possessions were seized. The majority of Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. Arabs who remained in Israel became second-class citizens, while Palestinians who were driven out of the country mostly lived in poverty in refugee camps throughout the Middle East.
Israel passed the "Law of Return," which allows every person of Jewish descent to emigrate to Israel. But Palestinians weren't allowed to return to their homes.
Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel occupied further territory, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, 55 percent of the land and 70 percent of the water were seized for the benefit of illegal Jewish settlers.
In Gaza, 2,200 Jewish settlers were given over 40 percent of the land, while 500,000 Palestinians were confined in crowded camps and slums. Israel finally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but it has maintained a blockade that reinforced conditions akin to a giant prison camp.
Israel's actions have been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, but the U.S. government ensured that nothing was done to enforce a series of resolutions.
Since its creation, Israel has been a defender of Washington's interests in the oil-rich Middle East. As the influential Jewish paper Ha'aretz put it in 1951:
Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and Britain. But, if for any reasons the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy to the west went beyond the bounds of the permissible.
As a consequence, Israel has received billions of dollars of U.S. aid every year, which has made it one of the most heavily armed states in the world--one easily capable of undertaking the slaughter in Gaza we see today.