by Ellen Isaacs
January 19, 2023
There is much consternation about Israel’s move sharply rightward under Netanyahu’s new government, but it is really just a move to more overt fascism, by which is meant rule by force without any pretense of democracy or respect for human rights. The change is really minimal as Israel has created a society of inequality, racial and gender discrimination and has unleashed terror upon Palestinians since its founding in 1948. This article will discuss some of the ways in which these conditions are manifest and how any substantive change will demand unity between Arab and Jewish workers within all of historic Palestine and most likely with workers of the world. Unity not only to struggle together but to build a non-racist, non-exploitative society beyond capitalism.
As soon as Israel achieved statehood, it undertook a campaign to drive out Palestinians and succeeded in expelling six out of every seven, 700,000-900,000 people, killing hundreds and levelling 530 villages. Many became refugees in what is now the West Bank (WB) and Gaza, making up about a third of the population there; others fled to surrounding countries. Those who remained in Israel, making up about 19% of the population, have been treated as second class citizens ever since.
Since its inception, Israel has tried to “Judaicize” the Negev region of southern Israel and East Jerusalem, which has led to thousands of house destructions and forced displacements. 68,000 Negev Bedouins are denied any water or electric services. For all Israeli Palestinians there are deficits of transportation, sanitation, water, access to health and education services, and job discrimination. The Israeli courts have a system of laws that codifies these practices against Palestinians.1 Just to make its interests clear, Israel passed a law in July, 2018 which declared that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people, while still claiming to be a liberal democracy. Over 600,000 Israelis have settled within the WB, where settlers can kill Palestinians with impunity and steal lands and crops.
Israel has maintained the illegal military occupation of Gaza, the WB and the Golan Heights since 1967, where Palestinians are little more than prisoners without rights. Surrounded by a wall and military check points, travel is severely restricted, even for medical emergencies. Palestinian families in the Occupied Territories (OT) cannot live with or visit those in Israel. Houses and property such as olive groves are regularly destroyed, services are very limited and difficult to access, and a totally separate military legal system imposes harsh sentences on many. In Gaza, home to 2.1 million people, 95% lack clean water, 80% rely on aid, 50% are underfed, and youth unemployment is 70 %. Palestinians are often required to become informers in order to receive urgent medical care. Israel attacked Gaza in May, 2021, for the fifth time in 15 years. Overall Israel has killed 5418 Gazans and destroyed 12,631 homes since 2007.2
These conditions led Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations to label Israel an apartheid state in April, 2021.3 In the last year alone, under the liberals who are now the opposition, there were
- 235 Palestinians killed by Israelis (vs 27 Israeli deaths)
- 3500 injured
- over 150 Palestinian homes demolished
- 6300 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including 150 children, five Legislative Council members, 15 journalists.4
Thus the current government of Israel is only carrying forward the policies and ideology they have practiced for decades, although such actions may now be more overtly applauded and expanded. In fact, according to a report by Jewish Voice for Peace, 30 Palestinians were killed from January 1-14, and Israeli forces have been raiding many towns and carrying out nighttime arrests, many of children. According to an Israeli friend, the new government represents a populist position analogous to that of Trump, in which a proponent of unrestrained capitalism claims to represent the interests of disadvantaged Mizrahi (darker skinned) Jews through rabid nationalism. The liberal opposition has, like in the US, nothing to offer these workers and strongly opposes all left-leaning movements.
The new Netanyahu cabinet includes Security Minister Itamir Ben Gvir, convicted in Israeli courts 2007 for supporting a terrorist organization and inciting racism, who proposes to increase the ability of security forces to fire on Palestinians and wants to disband the Palestinian Authority; Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, known for extreme anti-Palestinian racism and homophobia who will oversee settlements in the WB which he wants to see expanded and annexed; and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, leader of an ultra-orthodox party and convicted of tax fraud and accepting bribes,5 whom the Supreme Court today has said must be removed. The government is withholding tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority (PA) and proposes banning the Palestinian flag within Israel and allowing Supreme Court decisions to be overturned by Parliament.6 Netanyahu has declared “The Jewish people has an exclusive and inalienable right to all areas of the Land of Israel,” which overtly includes areas of the WB and Golan Height.7 But none of these practices are very different from what has been done in the past although with less legal cover.
Economic structure of society
As we have considered in several past articles on this blog, where many references can be found,8,9,10 both Israel and Palestine, despite being occupied, are capitalist economies run by small elites and suffused with inequality. Even though the levels of deprivation are much greater for Palestinian than Israeli workers, there is a lack of adequate housing, health care and good wages in Israel and a great deal of internal racism against dark-skinned Jews as well as Palestinians. For Palestinians in the OT, of course, the levels of poverty, killing, imprisonment and movement restriction are much greater. However, neither the demand for a Palestinian state or even one state, without a change from the current capitalist structure, will guarantee a full life for any workers of either nationality.
Within greater Palestine, despite the predominance of nationalism among Arabs and Jews, there were working class communist led struggles involving unity of workers in general strikes in many occupations from 1920-1946. However, the Palestinian and Jewish rulers relentlessly attacked this unity and promoted nationalist unions such as the Histadrut and the Arab Union of Workers. Even the Communist Party divided into separate national factions.11 Despite the absence of large scale multiethnic struggles in Israel, there has always been a small number of Jews, perhaps 5-10%, who have opposed the occupation, or at least its excesses, and the mistreatment of Palestinians within Israel. Some of the better known human rights groups are Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Ta’ayush, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and Physicians for Human Rights Israel. They organize regular demonstrations, informational activities and perform social services. Some groups, like Hadash which is allied with the Communist Party, are binational but have a reformist program and participate in the Israeli parliament as part of the “Joint List.”
Protest in Israel Today
Recently, in response to the increasing right wing judicial policies of the new government, tens of thousands have protested in Israel. Some were members of Standing Together, a multiracial group tied to the Communist Party, with whom it shares social democratic politics. That is, it is not revolutionary – does not call for an end to capitalism – and demands the end of the occupation and equality within Israel but not the end of Zionism.12 Other leaders were members of Parliament who object to new judicial rules giving the legislature the right to overrule the Supreme Court. As 800 Palestinian homes face demolition in East Jerusalem, local Palestinians organized a general strike in March 2022, and many Jewish activists have demonstrated in support. There has also been a small increase in the numbers of young Israelis refusing to serve their compulsory Israel Defense Forces tour at age 18 in opposition to the occupation. Most of the several thousand annual draft evaders claim mental health or some other disability, but recently four young men have been jailed for overt political refusal.13
Very small groups of Trotskyites and anarchists call for demolishing the wall and ending the occupation, but their general goal is for national self-determination for all peoples, not class based unity of workers and an end to capitalism. Only the One State Movement actually involves participants on both sides of the wall, but even they call for democracy and equality and resist considering what social/economic system might bring that about.14 The main international movement uniting Jews and Arabs is the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Movement (BDS) calling for a boycott of Israeli products and institutions allied with the Zionist government, but it has little real effect within Israel. It does serve as a tool for education abroad, but it builds the illusion that the situation is analogous to South Africa and the idea that the regime was toppled by a boycott as opposed to mass struggle and that blacks actually achieved meaningful liberation.
There is no doubt that Fatah, the official leadership of the West Bank, is in collusion with the Israeli government to help suppress any protest movement, as described in detail in many sources cited below. Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, while railing against Israel and supporting futile small cross-border attacks, massively s exploits the impoverished workers in its territory.15,16 It is clear from an outside perspective that in any armed struggle between Israel and Palestinians, those in the OT are bound to lose. Israel is a mighty nuclear armed military power, with sophisticated weapons of urban warfare and the world’s most advanced spy systems. In fact, the people of Gaza have paid a huge price in lost life and infrastructure as the Israelis have pummeled then over and over with overwhelming force.
If we think about the success of a struggle of lesser armed groups against mighty militaries, like that of the North Vietnamese versus the US, the Viet Cong was able to mobilize much of the population behind goals with national appeal, and they were able to move beyond their borders. The Palestinians are barricaded in their areas, have their own governments as their enemy and are heavily surveilled. It would seem that at a minimum they would need a program involving large numbers of the population and alliances with Israeli Palestinians and Jewish workers and actions that involved strikes, bilateral movements at the wall, and international solidarity actions. Some such actions are being planned. Most important is the need for a call beyond just Palestinian independence under the same corrupt leaders that are now in power, but for a new social order in the interests of international workers. Nor is it possible to rely on other Arab rulers, since Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates have now signed peace deals with Israel for their own opportunistic ends.
What we read about is the emergence of groups of armed young men in places where Israel has been the most brutal, in Jenin, Nablus and surrounding areas, as well as the rise of armed wings of Islamic Jihad and Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.17,18 The PA has cracked down on these groups, making the work of the Israelis easier. Both Fatah and Hamas wish to enlist imperialist powers to pressure Israel for concessions and to side with Russian imperialism and Assad in Syria.19 In August, 2022, a leader of the PFLP proposed that the way to bring change was new elections in the West Bank.20
As an outsider with limited sources of information, it seems that there is no organization within Palestine with an internationalist class based anti-capitalist position. Perhaps some such group exists whom we cannot know about due to security precautions. We can only hope so. In any case, resistance is extremely difficult under the extreme fascist repression that exists in the OT. Only by mobilization of a large part of the population and the building of alliances with workers in Israel and elsewhere could there be hopes of much success.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that the conflict within Israel/Palestine can be settled in isolation. The US and its allies rely on Israel as a nuclear outpost close to potential trouble spots like Iran, the Arab Middle East or even Russia. The US has no love of Jews per se, but is thankful to have this faithful military friend despite its inhumane excesses that alienate many. However, US politicians accuse those who criticize the Israeli state of anti-Semitism, even as more international Jews are doing so. The Palestinians in the OT are isolated and militarily weak, despite their widespread sympathy, and seem to have no goals beyond national liberation. Only worldwide cataclysmic struggles that shake the power of imperialist ruling classes will aid the workers in Israel or Palestine. Thus our commitment must be to build that anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement wherever we may be, while we do whatever we can to support anti-Zionists in Israel and Palestine.
9. https://multiracialunity.org/2018/05/21/one-state-in-palestine-israel-cannot-bring-equality-if-it-is-a-capitalist-state/ 10.https://multiracialunity.org/2021/05/22/corrupt-leaders-kill-arabs-and-jews-in-the-name-of-nationalism-and-racism/)
11. A Class Analysis of the Israel-Palestine Conflict,The Communist Magazine, Fall 2007, p 20, http://www.plp.org
Some Background Books and Films
Blumenthal, Max, Goliath
Pappe, Ilan, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine & A History of Modern Palestine
Suarez, Thomas, State of Terror
Tears of Gaza, film on Netflix
Born in Gaza, film on Netflix