Day after day, the list of the dead and wounded, in Israel and the occupied territories, grows longer.
In a region which has already been through five out-and-out wars since the end of the second world slaughter (not counting all the ‘peacetime’ military operations), a new war is hatching, without being officially started, and has already killed hundreds of people, especially children and young people.
Officially, everyone talks about ‘peace’ – the Israeli leaders, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, and all the governments of the developed countries, whether European or American.
In fact, despite all the conferences that have succeeded each other since last summer (Camp David in July, Paris on October 4, Sharm-el-Sheikh later on that month) the situation has got worse and worse: stone-throwing, bomb attacks, Israelis lynched by Palestinians, the use of live bullets by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian demonstrators, attacks on civilians populations by rockets, shells and helicopters.
Depending on which country we live in, or on which country we live in, or the political colour of the government, we are being called on to side with one camp or another in this conflict:
"Defend Israel against the threat of all these fanatical Arabs who surround the country"
"Support the just cause of the Palestinians against Israeli atrocities".
But no one is posing the real question: where are the interests of the working class in all this, whether Jewish or Arab, whether in Israel or Palestine, or in other countries?
The 20th century has been a century of wars, the most atrocious wars in human history, and not one of them has served the interests of the workers. It’s always the workers who are called upon to go and kill each other in their millions for the interests of their exploiters, under the banner of ‘defending the country’, or fighting for ‘civilisation’, ‘democracy’, or even the ‘socialist fatherland’ (which is how certain people described the USSR of Stalin and the gulag).
And after these terrible wars, particularly after the second world war, those who lived through them were again asked to make new sacrifices to reconstruct the national (i.e. capitalist) economy.
Today there is a new war in the Middle East, even if it hasn’t been officially declared.
On both sides, the ruling cliques call on the workers to ‘defend the country’ whether Jewish or Palestinian. The Jewish workers, who in Israel are exploited by Jewish capitalists, the Palestinian workers who are exploited by Jewish capitalists or Arab capitalists (and often more ferociously by the latter than by the Jewish capitalists because in the Palestinian enterprises, working rights are no different from what they were in the old Ottoman empire).
The Jewish workers have already paid a heavy tribute to the war madness of the bourgeoisie during the course of the five wars they have been through since 1948. As soon as they were taken out of the concentration camps and the ghettos of a Europe ravaged by world war, the grandparents of those who today wear the uniform of the Israeli defence Forces were dragged into the war between Israel and the Arab countries. Then their parents paid the blood-price in the wars of 67, 73 and 82. These soldiers are not frightful brutes who think of nothing but killing Palestinian children. They are young conscripts, most of them workers, constantly bombarded with propaganda about the ‘barbarity’ of the Arabs and yet many of them full of doubt and disgust at being forced to act as cops.
The Palestinian workers have already paid the blood-price. Kicked out of their homes in a war that their leaders wanted, they have spent the major part of their lives in refugee camps, enrolled into the various Palestinian militias (Fatah, PFLP, Hamas, etc). Frequently they have suffered the worst massacres not at the hand of the Israeli army but of the armies of the countries where they were in exile, like Jordan and Lebanon. In September 1970 (Black September), King Hussein exterminated them en masse, to the point where some of them had to flee to Israel to escape death. In September 1982 it was the Arab militias (albeit Christian, and allied to Israel) who butchered them in the Sabra and Chatila camps in Lebanon.
Today, in the name of ‘Palestine’, they want to once again mobilise Arab workers against the Israelis, the majority of whom are workers, just as the latter are being asked to get themselves killed for the defence of the ‘Promised Land’, Eretz Yisroael.
Both sides are being drenched with nationalist propaganda, which seeks to turn human beings into ravening beasts. The Israeli and Arab bourgeoisies have been aggravating these nationalist feelings for more than half a century. Both Israeli and Arab workers are told that they must defend the land of their ancestors. With the first, a systematic militarisation of society has been developed alongside a siege mentality in order to make everyone into good soldiers. With the second, the idea has been that if they can settle accounts with Israel, they will ‘get their land back’. And in order to achieve this, the leaders of the Arab countries have kept them for decades in concentration camps, subjecting them to intolerable living conditions and preventing them from integrating themselves into the ‘host’ country.
Nationalism is one of the worst ideologies that the bourgeoisie has ever invented. It makes it possible for the ruling class to hide the antagonisms between exploiters and the exploited, to rally them all behind the same flag, to get the exploited to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their exploiters.
And to cap it all, this war is also being fuelled by the poison of religious propaganda, which leads to the development of the most irrational forms of fanaticism. The Jews are called upon to defend the Wailing Wall, the remains of Solomon’s Temple. The Muslims are told to give their lives for the Mosque of Omar and the holy places of Islam. What is happening today in Israel and Palestine clearly confirms what revolutionaries said last century: religion is the opium of the people. Its aim is to console the exploited and the oppressed. Those whose lives on earth is a hell are told that they will be happy after their deaths as long as they know how to find salvation. And the road to salvation passes through sacrifice, submission, and offering your life for the ‘holy war’
The fact that, at the beginning of the 21st century, ideologies and superstitions that go back to antiquity or the Middle Ages are still being stirred up in abundance in order to get human beings to sacrifice their lives says a great deal about the depth of the barbarism stalking the Middle East and many other parts of the world.
As for the ‘developed’ countries, the ‘great democracies’ of Europe and the USA, which are today so keen to announce their compassion for the suffering of the people in the Middle East, their revolting hypocrisy deserves to be denounced from beginning to end.
It is the leaders of these same powers which have created the infernal situation facing the exploited of this region.
It was the European bourgeoisies, particularly the English bourgeoisie with its Balfour declaration in 1917, which, with its policy of divide and rule, permitted the formation of a "Jewish Homeland" in Palestine, opening the door to the chauvinist utopia of Zionism. It was the same bourgeoisies who, at the end of the second world war, arranged for the transportation to Palestine of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees and concentration camp victims. This made sure that all these refugees were kept well away from their countries. It was the same bourgeoisies, first the British and the French, then the American, who armed the state of Israel to the teeth in order to make it the spearhead of the western bloc in the region during the cold war. The USSR, on the other hand, poured weapons into its Arab allies. Without these big ‘patrons’, the wars of 1956, 67, 73 and 82 wouldn’t have been able to take place.
With the collapse of the eastern bloc we were promised a new era of peace. This lie was immediately exposed by the Gulf war in 1991. But after that, illusions about peace were spread far and wide by the politicians and the media. It was the period of the Madrid conference of October 91 and the ‘Oslo accords’ signed at the White House in September 1993.
But there can be no peace in capitalism. This was demonstrated by the horrible massacres going on in Yugoslavia at the same moment. As for the Middle East, peace meant a ‘Pax Americana’, a still more powerful presence of the US in the region. This is something that the other bourgeoisies did not want at a time when the disappearance of the ‘Soviet’ threat was leading them to affirm their own imperialist ambitions.
Today all the bourgeoisies claim they want peace. What they really want is to get their foot in the door, or strengthen further their position in the Middle East, one of the most coveted regions of the world because of its economic and strategic importance.
To end war, you have to end capitalism
This is why, in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, we find the US backing Israel while other powers, such as France (as we saw at the Paris meeting in October) are lining up behind the Palestinians.
Even after the disappearance of the USSR, the great powers are there to throw oil on the fire, as they have been doing in Yugoslavia over the past 10 years.
This is also why the workers of these countries, the ‘great democracies’, whose leaders talk about nothing but ‘peace’ and ‘human rights’, must refuse to take sides with either camp. Above all they must refuse to be taken in by the speeches of those parties which claim to be part of the working class – the parties of the left and the extreme left, who are calling on workers to show their ‘solidarity with the Palestinian masses’, to support their ‘right to a homeland’. A Palestinian homeland will never be anything but a bourgeois state in the service of the exploiters, oppressing the same Palestinian masses with its police and its prisons. The solidarity of the workers of the most advanced capitalist countries does not go out to the ‘Palestinians’ or to the ‘Israelis’, among whom you will find both exploiters and exploited. It goes out to the workers and the unemployed of Israel and of Palestine, who have their own struggles against their exploiters despite the constant brainwashing they are subjected to, as it goes out to the workers of all other countries. And showing solidarity certainly doesn’t consist in encouraging their nationalist illusions.
This solidarity means above all developing their own struggle against their own bourgeoisies, against the capitalist system which is responsible for all wars.
In the Middle East as in many other regions of the world ravaged by war today, there is no ‘lasting peace’ possible under capitalism. Even if the present crisis is not leading to an open war, even if the different protagonists arrive at some temporary truce, this region will remain a powderkeg ready to explode.
Peace can only be won when the working class overthrows capitalism on a world scale. And the working class can only move in that direction by developing its struggles on its own class terrain, against the increasingly brutal economic attacks demanded by the insurmountable crisis of the system.
Against nationalism, against the wars our exploiters want to drag us into:
WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!
World Revolution, November 2000
Communist Bulletin 45 - Internal Fraction of ICC