The media has led us to believe that the conflict in the Middle East is occurring simply because Jews and Arabs hate each other and desire the same land. In fact, this conflict serves the broader purpose of Jewish, Arab and US elites in maintaining control of the ever restless working people.
US Instigates Mideast Conflict
The last thing US leaders like Clinton and Bush want is for popular democratic movements to take power anywhere in the world. Mass movements in the Middle East are particularly troubling. Not only does the region hold the richest oil deposits in the world; it also is home to powerful mass movements which constantly threaten to assume a revolutionary character and overthrow the corrupt and reactionary Arab client regimes which dominate the area. Because much of the workforce in the Middle East countries consists of Palestinians and other migrant workers from the Near East and Africa, an inspiring revolutionary movement there could well engulf a huge and strategic swath of the world. Considering how fiercely the US elite fought a popular revolutionary movement in Vietnam -- whose population was relatively isolated from the rest of the world -- the attention the US devotes to controlling the Mideast is not surprising.
Israel's role is to act as a lightning rod for class conflict in the Middle East: when Arab workers rise up, Arab leaders direct their anger at "the Israelis." When Jews rise up, Israeli leaders point to the Arabs as the enemy.
The rebelliousness of Egyptian workers illustrates the Arab elite's need for this Israeli lightning rod. Despite a no-strike law, public sector workers in Cairo and Alexandria staged more than ten strikes in April 1999. Egyptian laws punish strikers with two-year jail sentences and more for "inciting a strike." Nonetheless, in the months from June to December 1999, there were four sit-down strikes and nine hunger strikes by government workers in Egypt. During the entire year, there were a total of 52 work strikes and 32 sit-down strikes.
For the lightning rod to work, Israel must cultivate a reputation as an enemy of Palestinians and other Arabs. It does this by savagely oppressing and provoking them. The present Intifada, for example, began with a deliberate provocation by the Israelis. On September 29, 2000 General Ariel Sharon -- Israel's present Prime Minister and the man most responsible for the massacres at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982 -- went under armed guard to a site in Jerusalem sacred to Moslems and Jews, in a calculated affront to Palestinians. When Sharon was met by protesters, Israeli troops opened fire, killing six. Israel's security forces then launched days of violent repression, in which they killed nearly 90 Palestinians and injured more than 1,000. With Israeli warplanes flying over Beirut and hundreds of tanks moving north, then-Prime Minister Barak declared that Israel would not hesitate to fight on two fronts and take harsh action against Syria and Lebanon, if three Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on Israel's northern border were not returned safely. Even before Barak's ultimatum had expired, Israeli security forces had razed to the ground two multi-story apartment blocks bordering an Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip, used their US-supplied attack helicopters to blast hilltop positions near Hebron in the West Bank, and drove Palestinians living near the isolated Zionist settlement of Psagot out of their homes. The army and police then claimed that Arab Israelis were also a threat to security and mounted attacks against them as well.
The Role of Terrorism
Terrorism is a key tactic of political domination and division used by Arab and Jewish elites. Arab governments support terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to great advantage. By killing innocent Jews with bombs at bus stops and similar acts, the terrorists help to keep Arab workers passive. The terrorist organizations are secretive, "professional," and controlled from above, but their acts are highly visible and dramatic. The terrorists declare the struggle against the Jewish state to consist of their deeds; ordinary Arabs are encouraged to cheer them on, but not to engage as active participants in an open mass struggle themselves. The terror killing of Jewish civilians, more than anything else, defines the struggle as Jew versus Arab, which is exactly what elite rule requires to turn working people against each other in the Middle East. The Intifada, on the other hand, is the opposite of terrorism. It is a mass movement relying on ordinary people standing up against the military forces who are oppressing them; it is not under Yasser Arafat's control and constantly threatens to turn on the PLO leaders themselves.
Terrorist attacks against Jews by Arabs also fill important needs of the Israeli elite. Terrorism enables the Israeli government to present itself to ordinary Israelis as their protector and to justify reprisal attacks on the Palestinian population.
Though the US media have successfully linked the words "Arab" and "terrorist" in people's minds, Israel conducts a vigorous campaign of state-sponsored terrorism and collective punishment against Palestinian civilians -- bulldozing 2,000 Palestinian homes, uprooting tens of thousands of olives trees, launching air strikes with F-16s and tanks and missiles against Palestinian villages -- more savage and lethal than anything directed at Jewish civilians, helping keep ethnic anger at a fever pitch.
Oppressing Arabs to Control Jews
The main threat to Israeli leaders is not Palestinians but Jewish workers who periodically threaten to break the bonds in which they are contained. For example, from December 3rd through 7th, 1997, 700,000 Israeli workers mounted a general strike against the government. The country was paralyzed, with airports, seaports, banks, government offices, state-owned industries, and the national stock exchange effectively shut down. After the first day of the strike, the nation's teachers joined in the walk-out and the national journalists' association declared their support for the strike. The strike was a response to indications that the Treasury was attempting to violate wage and pension agreements signed in 1995 and 1996. Israeli workers were also protesting government privatization plans which would entail large-scale layoffs. Opposed to the strike were not only the Manufacturers Association, the Israeli Merchants Association, the Banks Association, and the national religious party, but also high-ranking Israeli government officials, like Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman, who called the workers "exploding bombs" which were as much a threat as the bombs of terrorist enemies.
The strike was precipitated by the attack of Israeli capitalists on Israeli workers. Israeli capitalists have been attacking Jewish workers in the same ways that US capitalists have been attacking American workers. Starting in the 1990s, privatization of formerly state-owned enterprises began. The Israeli health service is in the process of being sold off to private industry. Education, particularly in working class areas, is chronically under-funded. In 1996, the average number of pupils per classroom for Jews was 27 (31 for Arabs), reflecting the diversion of human resources from socially useful activities like education into anti-social military uses. Unemployment is officially around 9 percent. Working conditions have been savaged. Over 10 percent of the workforce are now employed by manpower agencies which hire their workers out to different industries. Manpower workers have no security of tenure and are forbidden to join unions. They do not receive the same conditions as organized workers in the same factories. According to official studies, the inequality of wealth in Israel is greater than in any other advanced industrialized economy, apart from the US, and is growing.
The only time that Israeli capitalists are safe from Israeli workers is when they are at war against the Arabs.
The main thing Israel's leaders offer Jewish workers in exchange for their allegiance is the "Jewishness" of the state. The only way to make a state "Jewish" is to discriminate against non-Jews.
This the Israeli leaders have done with savage relish. They began with the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the land designated by the great powers for Israel in 1948, attacking the men, women, and children who lived there with state terror designed to drive them off the land. The Israelis' brutal campaign succeeded, causing 68 percent of the former inhabitants to flee. (Palestinians living as refugees now total 4.5 million.)
Israel's elite also knows that in order to control the Jewish working class they must ensure that Jewish workers fear Arab workers and look to Jewish leaders for protection. Therefore Jewish leaders must ever more sharply oppress Palestinians to maintain a warlike relation between Jews and Arabs. This they do in many ways -- by constantly increasing illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian lands seized by the Israeli military in the 1967 war; by dividing Palestinian lands on the West Bank and Gaza into small, isolated cantonments linked by roads open only to Jews; and by confining the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza in what is little more than a very large concentration camp, surrounded by barbed wire and Israeli military outposts.
The Role of Zionism
It is no accident that Israel's rulers use ethnic hatred as a means to attack and control Jewish workers in Israel. Israel was founded on the concept of ethnic division. Israel is based on the philosophy of Zionism, another name for Jewish nationalism -- the idea that Jews need a nation of their own and that they have a God-given right to the land now occupied by Israel.
Nationalism is used by elites everywhere to manage "their own" people and demand allegiance from them. Nationalism is always counterrevolutionary, and Zionism is no exception.
Zionism was begun in the 1890s by Theodore Herzl, and was funded by wealthy Jews for the explicit purpose of winning Jewish workers --who were heavily represented in the trade unions and Socialist and Communist movements of the time -- away from revolutionary ideas and revolutionary connections with non-Jewish working people. Zionism proclaimed that all non-Jews are, at bottom, the enemy of all Jews. Thus building a workers' movement for an equal and democratic society in solidarity with non-Jews was a betrayal of the Zionist ideal.
With its counterrevolutionary goals and its belief that Jews and non-Jews have nothing in common, Zionism has a close ideological affinity with Nazism, and at several crucial points this affinity led the Zionists to eager collaboration with the Hitler regime.
During the Holocaust, Zionists were more interested in bringing certain Jews to Palestine than they were in opposing the Nazis and helping the Jewish population in Europe. In 1933, the New York Jewish War Veterans called for a boycott of German goods and got support from trade unions and other organizations around the world. In response, the World Zionist Organization made a deal with the Nazis to break the boycott. In return, wealthy German Jews were allowed to emigrate to Palestine after putting their money in a bank that would only let them use it to purchase German goods.
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