The Colonial Character of the Zionist State

A racist system at the service of imperialism

The U.S. corporate media coverage of the siege of Gaza is a reflection of the interests of the class they serve. Major media outlets do their best to provide as little coverage as possible of the criminal atrocities perpetrated by Israel. To the extent that they are forced to cover some of the barbarity, they almost invariably put it in the context of Israel struggling for its survival and retaliating against Hamas "terrorism."

Palestinian refugee camp school following the al-Nakba
A Palestinian refugee school
following the Al-Nakba.

Aside from simple omissions and outright misrepresentations, there is also the framing of the discourse itself. Coverage of the conflict lies within the narrative of a thousand-year-old fight between Jews and Arabs over land. An implicit theme of this narrative is that the Israelis are more civilized and have a democratic system. Indeed, it is asserted that Israel is the most democratic state in the entire region.

This framing of the conflict is in line with the political ideology of Zionism, the basis for Israel’s existence as an exclusionary Jewish state. But the real character of the conflict is a struggle for independence, a Palestinian national liberation movement against colonialism—in the form of Zionism.

What is Zionism?

Zionism is a racist ideology, premised on Jewish people being god’s "chosen people," entitled to rights and privileges of which others should be deprived. This applies especially to the Palestinians—the indigenous people of the region.

In fact, over the long term, Zionism is harmful even to the interests of the majority of Jewish working people. However, the Palestinians suffer the most direct and immediate consequences of this racist ideology.

It has been a common imperialist tactic to elevate and reward a given nationality or group to consolidate predatory imperialist interests. These short-term gains will ultimately weaken the people from that privileged group and make them more dependent on imperialism. This is precisely what the Zionist project has done to Jewish people.

In the late 19th century, against the backdrop of extreme racism against Jewish people—pogroms in Russia and other racist attacks elsewhere in Europe—two main views emerged within Jewish communities on how to fight this racist repression. On the one hand, Jewish workers and intellectuals played a major role in the socialist, communist and other progressive movements of the day, fighting for equality within the countries where they lived. In contrast to the integrationist view of the majority of Jewish society, Zionism was the solution offered by the Jewish bourgeoisie.

The early proponents of Zionism promoted the idea of colonizing a non-European country as part of the great colonial plan to divide the planet. Historic Palestine was not the only area considered for colonization—Manchuria was also an early candidate for Jewish settlement.

In the early 1900s, Zionism gained the backing of the British government. The 1917 Balfour Declaration stated: "His Majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." At a time when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lived in Palestine, the Zionist slogan advocated "a land without a people for a people without a land."

Vladimir Jabotinsky, an early Zionist leader, described what was necessary: "Zionist colonization must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population, which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population—behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach." This is clearly a formulation of an alliance with a colonizing power against the indigenous people.

Between the Zionists and the British, discussion of "transfer" of the native Palestinians intensified. Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department, explains this policy of ethnic cleansing: "Between ourselves, it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal if the Arabs are in this small country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries—all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left."

In the 1930s and 1940s, German capitalism used the Jewish people as a scapegoat to break the unity of the German working class against a false enemy. This resulted in the horrible crimes of the holocaust with millions of Jewish people being exterminated at the hands of the fascists. While Jewish people were being massacred in the millions, the imperialists did not lift a finger to stop their murder, nor did they even ease immigration laws to facilitate their escape from being sent to the death camps. It was the Red Army that decisively defeated the Nazi war machine, leading to the liberation of those imprisoned in the death camps.

After WWII, imperialist and Zionist leaders channeled sincere worldwide sympathy for the plight of Jewish people into support for the creation of an Israeli state. Under intense U.S. government pressure, the United Nations passed a resolution on Nov. 29, 1947, allocating 56 percent of historic Palestine to Israel, with 44 percent to go to the creation of a Palestinian state. In the war that followed, Israel—with its far superior economic and military resources thanks to support from Europe and the United States—conquered 78 percent of Palestine. Nearly 90 percent of the Arab population was forcibly "transferred."

On May 14, 1948, the Zionist state of Israel was formed. Some 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. Thousands were killed and many thousands more were brutalized. For the Palestinian people, the formation of the state of Israel is known as Al-Nakba—the catastrophe.

The relationship between Zionism and imperialism

Having been created by imperialists, Israel now offered its services to them in exchange for badly needed aid. The Sept. 30, 1951, issue of the daily Ha’aretz explains this relationship well: "Strengthening Israel helps the Western powers to maintain equilibrium and stability in the Middle East. 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 United States and Britain. But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy towards the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible."

In the Middle East, the key U.S. interest has been control of the region’s vast oil reserves. During the 60 years since its formation, Israel has played the role of a military outpost guarding against the Arab people’s struggle for self-determination and control of the region’s natural resources. Any Arab state that has tried to exert its independence from imperialism has had to consider what Israel would do in response. Israel has staged military campaigns against Lebanon in 1978, 1982 and 2006. In 1981, Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear plant in Osirak to end Iraq’s nuclear program.

Beyond enforcing U.S. interests in the Middle East, the Zionist state has repeatedly acted as a U.S. surrogate around the world. In the 1980s, when the U.S. could no longer do business with the apartheid regime of South Africa, Israel subcontracted for imperialism and traded with the racist regime. This relationship is no coincidence. Zionism and apartheid have many things in common.

Israel also assisted U.S. imperialism in its "dirty wars" in Latin America. For example, the Israeli army helped train and arm the Guatemalan army that was carrying out genocide against its indigenous people at a time when the U.S. Congress had cut off direct aid to Guatemala.

For these services, the United States gives more than $3 billion a year in direct aid alone to Israel. The U.S. government fully supports Israel not because of the strength of the "Jewish lobby" in Washington, but rather because of the services rendered by Israel to the U.S. imperialist system. Nor does U.S. support for Israel have anything to do with sympathy for Jewish people. In fact, some of Israel’s staunchest supporters, like Truman and Nixon, were virulent anti-Semites.

Israel was founded as a colonial project. It had to be a garrison military state in perpetual conflict with the native population. Before Zionism established itself in Palestine, people of different nationalities, cultures and religions lived together in harmony. It was only the intervention of colonial powers, from the Ottoman Empire to the European colonialists to U.S. imperialism, that brought about division and rivalry.

A few words about Hamas

If the bourgeois media lie about the nature of the state of Israel, they lie even more about the character of Hamas. What we hear on a daily basis is that Hamas is the real cause of the conflict; it is a terrorist organization; it is extremist, fundamentalist and refuses to negotiate.

In Jan. 2006, Hamas—the Islamic Resistance Movement—won a majority in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. All the imperialists were hoping that the election outcome would enable them to orchestrate an agreement with a newly elected Palestinian National Authority that would break the back of the Palestinian resistance movement. The expected outcome was a victory by Fatah, the dominant Palestinian party whose leadership has increasingly turned towards Washington. That is when this current phase of violence started against the Palestinian people.

Imperialist propaganda calls Hamas a terrorist organization based on the fact that it has an armed wing. All Palestinian parties have military forces. How else would any force engage in a struggle against the criminal state of Israel that is armed to the teeth and uses its military force indiscriminately? Nearly all liberation movements worldwide that have fought colonialism have had both political and armed wings.

Historically, Hamas was formed in 1987 by forces from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. During the Intifada that began in 1987 and lasted until 1991, the Israeli occupation forces allowed Hamas to function without much repression. Meanwhile, Israel severely repressed Fatah, the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other member organizations of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO is a coalition of forces, not one political party. Hamas is outside the PLO and initially was not involved in resistance activities.

Israeli leaders wanted to draw support away from the secular PLO organizations, and portray the resistance as a religious conflict between Muslims and Jews rather than as an anti-colonial struggle. But within a short time and under conditions of a sweeping national uprising, Hamas’ leadership and orientation changed, and it joined the resistance struggle. By the late 1990s, Hamas emerged as the largest, most active resistance force.

Meanwhile, as limited as the promises of the Oslo Accord were, the Israeli government throughout the 1990s consistently blocked its implementation. Successive Israeli governments led by both the Labor and Likud parties stepped up the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The aim was and is to make the emergence of any kind of real Palestinian state impossible, even one that encompassed only the West Bank and Gaza—a mere 22 percent of historic Palestine.

In June 2007, Hamas took control of Gaza. Imperialist media called it a coup. But the reality is that Hamas is the popularly elected government. In fact, it is the Palestinian Authority, with Israeli support, that staged a coup and took the West Bank out of the control of Hamas. Whatever legitimacy Mahmoud Abbas might have had, his time in office has run out now and he no longer has an elected office. He does, however, have the support of the United States and Israel.

The popularity of Hamas has continued to grow, and Hamas is now seen by a majority of Palestinians as leading the continuing fight for independence.

The political outcome of the Gaza massacre

Since Dec. 27, 2008, the Israeli massacre has claimed over 1,300 lives. The current cease-fire has put an end to the Israeli bombs, but Palestinians continue to die due to the lack of medicine and food caused by the continued blockade.

This was by no means a typical military conflict. Using fighter jets, Apache helicopters, tanks and guided missiles, Israel rained down devastation upon the people of Gaza, a people who lack an army, air force or formal military of any kind, and who could resist using only what light arms they had as well as crude, highly inaccurate rockets.

From a military standpoint, there was never any question of Israel suffering a military loss. Palestinian losses compare to those of Israel at the rate of 100 to one. But politically, Hamas and the Palestinian people are coming out of this victorious, although at great human cost. The siege of Gaza has only managed to strengthen the popularity of Hamas as the main force leading the struggle against Israeli genocide. If the Israeli massacre was intended to erode Hamas’ popular support and incite a riot against it, it has produced the opposite effect.

The three main enemies of the Palestinian people

Ever since the early 1970s, the PFLP has emphasized that the Palestinian people are faced with not one but three enemies: the Zionist state of Israel, U.S. imperialism and the reactionary client states of Arab countries.

With the outpouring of international condemnation against the siege of Gaza, the U.S. government is finding it more difficult to unconditionally defend every crime Israel commits. There are voices within the U.S. ruling class questioning the Bush administration’s uncritical support. This should not be confused with a progressive current. All factions of the U.S. ruling class support Israel, but some think that Israel’s most extreme expansionist, genocidal tendencies should be reigned in. Moreover, international outrage at blatant Israeli crimes has become a serious factor. The U.S. ruling class remembers what happened in South Africa and knows that the day may come when it will not be feasible to continue unconditional support for Israeli apartheid.

For Israel, the realization of a Jewish-only state on historic Palestine has become a more distant dream. The apartheid state of Israel is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the appearance of a stable bourgeois democracy while routinely engaging in mass slaughters of Palestinians. Scarcely noticed in the shadow of the Gaza massacre, the banning of Palestinian Arab political parties from running in the upcoming Israeli elections is a strong indication of the depth of this crisis.

Regional U.S. client Arab states such as the ones in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are running into serious difficulties serving the interests of both imperialism and Zionism while also maintaining any legitimacy among their people in order to maintain stability at home. The main function of the state of Israel is to keep the oil-rich region of the Middle East under imperialist control. So the survival and stability of client Arab states is no small matter to the U.S. ruling class.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation continues to extend its solidarity and support to the people of Palestine. We continue to struggle against the Zionist state of Israel and its masters, U.S. imperialism. Any defeat of the imperialist colonization project in the Middle East will be a victory for the oppressed people of the region and a victory for the U.S. and global working class.

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If you sit by a river long enough, you'll see the body of your enemy float by.
Old Japanese proverb