The following article was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 53 (Winter 1997).
The uprising of the Palestinian masses in late September, and the murderous response of the imperialist-backed Israeli occupier state, exposed the fraud of the “peace process” between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization for the whole world to see.
To the consternation of the U.S. and world imperialism, Israel and the PLO cannot reach agreement on even the most limited issues: the Jewish settlers in Hebron, a tourist tunnel opening onto the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The masses’ resistance forces Yasser Arafat to harden his stance if he hopes to maintain any shred of credibility. It also makes the Zionists see the futility of trying to appease them into submission with surface concessions.
The tourist tunnel was the immediate provocation that set off mass protests, marches and general strikes in the West Bank and Gaza. But the roots of the resistance reach down to the essence of the occupation itself, most clearly expressed this year by the closure of the Territories, in effect since March. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been cut off from jobs in Israel proper, causing mass unemployment, desperate poverty and the resulting misery, hunger, sickness and deaths.
Israel responded by extending and tightening the deadly state of siege. Checkpoints were thrown up at all entrances to West Bank cities, preventing Palestinians in nearby areas from entering for access to health services, employment and education. Epidemics threatened to spread among Palestinian children because vital immunization programs were halted when doctors and nurses could not be transported to work posts in primary care clinics. Even patients being transferred to hospitals were turned back.
The bloodiest confrontation occurred when a march from Ramallah to Al-Aqsa was halted at an impromptu checkpoint deep in the West Bank. Then, after Israel used Apache helicopter gunships, tanks, mortar launchers and portable grenade launchers—obtained courtesy of the United States, of course—to assist in killing scores and injuring hundreds of Palestinians, doctors were fired on while trying to treat and evacuate the injured. (For more of the outrageous details, see the informative Bir Zeit University site on the World Wide Web at www.birzeit.edu.)
The clashes further demonstrated many points that revolutionary communists have been making for a long time about Zionism, the PLO, and other players in the region—such as the militant Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas and the rulers of Arab countries in the Middle East:
The mass resistance continued, expressed in distorted form this spring through Hamas’s suicide bus bombings, and the illusion of peace between oppressor and oppressed was shattered. Israel dropped the facade and turned to naked force: the closure of Gaza and the West Bank and the destruction of entire villages suspected of harboring Hamas militants. (At the same time, Israel terrorized half a million civilians in southern Lebanon into desperate flight through a separate war against Hezbollah—including the bombing of refugee camps.) The logical consequence was the triumph of more openly defiant oppressors, the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, followed by their provocations and the more widespread Palestinian resistance this fall.
In the face of such a record, communists support the most fundamental democratic demand for the liberation of the Palestinian masses: Self-determination for All of Palestine! All of Israel Is “Occupied Territory."
We do not stop at this demand. We explain that only revolution by the working class can achieve Palestine’s liberation, and that any lasting liberation depends upon the success of working-class revolution throughout the Middle East and ultimately the world.
Arafat and the PLO provide the clearest example of how bourgeois forces, tied to the maintenance of capitalism and imperialism, cannot play any progressive role in the struggle of the oppressed Palestinian people. Throughout the “peace process” Arafat has dropped basic democratic demands, one after another, in the effort to cut a deal with Israel and world imperialism. As a bourgeois-nationalist leader in this epoch, he knows no other way.
The recent events backed Arafat into a corner. To retain any mass support, he and his Palestinian Authority (PA) police were forced to take a militant posture against Israel and even fire back at Israeli forces in the clashes in Gaza and the West Bank. But his momentary approval among the masses will not last long. By the end of the week’s disturbances, PA police were again controlling and dispersing crowds. The protests and general strikes in towns such as Nablus against PA police torture of Hamas militants and others this August show how shaky Arafat’s position is. While he negotiates with Israel over whose troops will patrol the Beitar religious settlement in Hebron, the masses march in the street shouting “Destroy Beitar!"
Arafat keeps turning to imperialist powers for assistance like a hopeless addict: even Israel and the U.S. were stunned by his proposal to bring U.S. troops into Hebron. He shamelessly gave French President Jacques Chirac, whose government has brutally oppressed and harassed its Arab population, a hero’s welcome—in return for some empty pro-Palestinian words Chirac spouted in a display of inter-imperialist gamesmanship. Such futile cravenness will not play for long with oppressed and impoverished Palestinians.
As the most prominent anti-Arafat force, Hamas currently enjoys support among more militant Palestinians. But Hamas is also connected to the Palestinian bourgeoisie and thus a direct obstacle to the masses’ liberation. It wants to cut a deal with world imperialism more favorable to the bourgeois layers it represents. Thus it prefers terrorism as a pressure tactic on the imperialists rather than mass self-defense of the workers and oppressed.
Consistent demands for jobs and decent living standards would expose Hamas as well: like all religious movements, its promise of a paradise after death appeals to the masses only when they lack a decent life in this world. Hamas in particular depends upon mass suffering for its influence, as it uses its “social welfare” network of hospitals, clinics, etc. to gain mass sympathy and support.
Mass resistance did not just pressure political leaders inside Israel and Palestine. Arab rulers like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Hussein have maintained a public posture in support of the Palestinians since the latest flare-up occurred. Though they are committed to cooperation with Israel and the United States, they felt the pressure of the masses’ public opinion in their own countries.
Revolutionaries in Palestine must warn their brothers and sisters not to look to such figures for assistance in the liberation struggle nor to believe their posturing. Arafat welcomes governments like Jordan’s with open arms, but they have a history of oppression of Palestinians almost as brutal as Israel’s. If these Arab leaders were serious about their support of Palestinians, there are many concrete actions they could take—none of which they will ever dare to do.
Such a basic step as economic aid to suffering Palestinians is beyond the pale for these leaders. King Hussein, for example, already kowtows to the IMF and attacks the living standards of workers in his own country, raising bread prices in August in a move that set off riots across Jordan—riots Arafat disgracefully called on Palestinians not to join in.
Opening the borders between Gaza and Egypt and the West Bank and Jordan is a demand no bourgeois leader in any country will touch, but Palestinian protestors in Gaza took the matter into their own hands in the September uprising, ripping down a fence marking the Egyptian border. Israel could not tolerate such an affront to the established imperialist division of the Arab masses of the Middle East, and its troops opened fire on the offending Gazans.
If there were any genuinely pro-Palestinian leaders of Arab nations, the spectacle of rock-throwing youth being met with everything from guns to Apache helicopters would have led them to arm and train the Palestinian masses using the resources at their disposal as heads of sovereign states. In reality, as anti-Zionist dissident Israel Shahak has observed, these rulers don’t even arm and train their own armies decently, so great is their fear of the toiling masses they must enlist. As a result, two-tier armed forces are prevalent in Arab nations—a well-armed and trained elite force to protect the ruling stratum and the substandard mass army—which lead to military debacles like the United States slaughtering 500,000 Iraqi soldiers with ease in the Gulf War. The Arab ruling classes prefer weakness and defeat from without to the threat of armed resistance from within.
Therefore revolutionaries do not actually call on such brutal enemies of the working class to carry out these demands. The only call revolutionaries in occupied Palestine must make is for the masses in Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries to rise up against their ruling classes. To achieve that goal, just as for Palestinians to achieve liberation, the working class of each nation must build its revolutionary party as part of the re-created Fourth International.
The oppression of the Palestinians has been key to the existence of Israel and thereby to the maintenance of imperialism’s death grip on the workers and oppressed of the Mideast. The Palestinians’ uprising must likewise unleash and spread workers’ revolutions, if imperialism is to be smashed.