On September 23, the Palestinian Authority will ask the United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state.
The UN resolution poses critical questions of the nature and role of the state of Israel, the root causes behind the oppression of the Palestinian people, and what it will take to achieve justice and liberation for a people who have suffered generations of subjugation and brutal occupation.
The State of Israel and the Palestinian People…
To understand the backdrop for this UN resolution, it is necessary to start from three basic truths:
The first is the origin of the state of Israel in 1948 on the land of the Palestinian people, whose roots in the land go back hundreds of years and whose existence as a nation in what today is Israel go back to the emergence of nation states in the region. At the end of the 17th century, there were 230,000 Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) and 2,000 Jewish people in what today is Israel. Two hundred years later, in 1800, the picture was similar—268,000 Palestinians and 7,000 Jews. Even after waves of Jewish emigration from Europe to Palestine, on the eve of the establishment of Israel, Palestine was home to about 1.3 million Palestinians and 630,000 Jewish settlers.
The state of Israel as a Zionist entity was born through the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. This was concentrated in the wave of terror known as the Nakba (Arabic for "catastrophe") in and following 1948, through massacres and terror such as occurred in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin. On April 9, 1948, Jewish soldiers burst into the village and sprayed the houses with machine-gun fire, killing many. As one historian wrote, "The remaining villagers were then gathered in one place and murdered in cold blood, their bodies abused while a number of women were raped and then killed. Fahim Zaydan, who was twelve years old at the time, recalled how he saw his family murdered in front of his eyes: 'They took us out one after the other; shot an old man and when one of his daughters cried, she was shot too. Then they called my brother Muhammad, and shot him in front of us, and when my mother yelled, bending over him—carrying my little sister Hudra in her hands, still breast-feeding her—they shot her too.'" (see The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappé)
Massacres like this drove almost a million Palestinians from their land, villages and homes. To ensure that there would be nothing for the Palestinians to return to, their villages and even many olive and orange trees were thoroughly destroyed. Former Arabic village and road names were given Hebrew names. Ancient mosques and Christian churches were destroyed.
Theme parks, pine forests (trees not native to the region), and Israeli settlements were built atop many of the old Palestinian villages. All to wipe out any physical evidence that the land belonged to Palestinians and give finality to the Nakba. The Zionists and their backers claimed that there never was a Palestinian people! And that Israel was "a land without a people for a people without a land."
On the blood and bones of such massacres, and justified with such lies, the state of Israel was born and built. And all this is not "ancient" or even just "modern history." It frames the daily life of every Palestinian, today. (see "Bastion of Enlightenment… or Enforcer for Imperialism: The Case of ISRAEL" Revolution, October 10, 2010—available at revcom.us, and/or test these assertions by doing your own research and investigating many sources.)
Second, Israel was sponsored by imperial powers, and today by the United States, to serve as a global enforcer for a world of sweatshops, environmental devastation, exploitation and oppression. Whether that has meant an alliance with the apartheid regime in South Africa, playing a key role in the slaughter of 200,000 indigenous people in Guatemala, or constant wars against other countries in the Middle East, Israel has operated as an attack dog for U.S. imperialism. And this forms the heart of the "special relationship" between Israel and the U.S. (see "The U.S. ... Israel ... and Crimes Around the World.")
And third, there is no moral justification for these ongoing crimes based on the Holocaust, which was a horrific crime of this same system of imperialism. The real lesson of the Holocaust is that nobody can be excused for standing aside in silence when terrible crimes are being carried out—like those being carried out today against the Palestinians by Israel. (For an in-depth exploration of the factors behind, and lessons of the Holocaust, see "Revolution Responds to Question on Nature of Holocaust," Revolution, October 31, 2010—available at revcom.us)
In a world of great injustices and horrors, the establishment of the state of Israel, and its unending brutal oppression of the Palestinian people stands as a towering crime.
Israel and the Palestinians Today
Since being driven from their homeland, the Palestinian people have been penned in and confined in refugee camps, living under military occupation in the few territories that they managed at first to hold onto.
In the West Bank region of Palestine, Israel's Apartheid Wall slices and zigzags for 400 miles, rising as much as 25 feet into the air, topped with prison-style watchtowers. It carves up an area home to 2.5 million Palestinians, cutting off neighbors from neighbors, farmers from their plots, people from schools, hospitals and jobs. It is patrolled by occupying soldiers and monitored by unmanned aerial drones which enforce a 75-foot "no go" zone against the civilian population. It protects hundreds of thousands of highly armed religious fanatic illegal settlers.
In Gaza, 1.5 million Palestinians live amidst schools and hospitals destroyed during Israel's massacre in 2008 that killed some 1,400 people—overwhelmingly civilians. The buildings cannot be repaired because Israel's blockade keeps out building materials. Last year, Israeli commandos attacked the Turkish boat, the Mavi Marmara in international waters to prevent it from breaking the blockade—murdering nine unarmed activists on board.
Millions more Palestinians in diaspora—forcibly exiled—live in refugee camps including many in squalid conditions, without legal residency, ability to travel, work or visit family members. In 1982, Israeli troops oversaw and orchestrated the massacre of as many as 3,500 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refuge camps in Lebanon.
From the inception of the Zionist project, there has been courageous Palestinian resistance. In the 1960s, Palestinian guerrilla organizations launched armed struggle against Israel with the aim of creating a democratic, secular (non-religious) state throughout Palestine. After this high tide of mass resistance ran into obstacles it was unable to surmount, the Palestinian people continued to find ways to protest and rebel, including two Intifadas (an Arabic word meaning "to shake off") that pitted stone-throwing youth, with wide support throughout Palestine and around the world, against occupying Israeli soldiers.
The UN Resolution
The UN resolution proposed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entity that administers a small section of Palestine, calls for recognition of a Palestinian state consisting of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. That is, a relatively tiny, discontiguous Palestinian state, surrounded, chopped up, choked, and controlled by Israel in a form reminiscent of the nominally "independent" Bantustans sponsored and controlled by the apartheid regime in South Africa.
And inherent in, and explicitly, the resolution accepts and actually would work to legitimize the state of Israel.
As such, the UN resolution is not a step towards liberation for the Palestinian people, practically, symbolically, or morally. Instead, it represents and reflects the long-time position of the PA of accepting and legitimizing the theft of the Palestinian people's land while bargaining, in exchange, for recognition as client-administrators of an Israeli-dominated mini-state.
Even though the UN resolution actually represents accommodation with Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people, the U.S. response has been positively thuggish. First, the U.S. and Israel have thrown themselves into trying to prevent the resolution on Palestinian statehood from even coming up for a vote on the Security Council. And the U.S. has announced it will veto the resolution if it passes.1
But there is more: Deputy UN Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo declared, "Let there be no doubt: symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September will not create an independent Palestinian state." In other words, it doesn't matter how many countries in the UN vote to recognize a Palestinian state; if the world's sole superpower doesn't approve, it's not gonna happen.
And this logic and tone has been directed against any country that defies U.S. wishes in the UN. U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice warned that countries that would vote for Palestinian statehood would "have a responsibility to own the consequences of their vote." And these threats have been accompanied by talk of cutting off the meager U.S. aid to the PA that allows it to function, even defunding the UN itself, along with other forms of retaliation.
One factor behind this opposition is that UN recognition would open legal venues for Palestinians to challenge Israel's illegal actions in international criminal courts—including illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank or the blockade of Gaza.
But on a more basic level, this resolution is unacceptable to the U.S. and Israel because they insist on the "right" to impose ever-changing "conditions" on the Palestinians through what they cynically call "the peace process." This "peace process" has been a long history of forcing the PA to accept Israeli demands for land and other concessions, only to have Israel come back with more, and more egregious demands. Most recently Israel demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish state"—that is, an overtly Jewish theocracy that would enshrine the institutionalized subjugation of the Palestinians within Israel, and further legitimize a Zionist state. And, as we see time and time again, fervently and strongly supporting Israel—whatever it does and whatever it demands—is a basic litmus test for all politicians and elected officials in the U.S.
And most fundamentally, this resolution is intolerable to the rulers of the U.S. because their unilateral domination of the Middle East, in large part through Israel, is a crucial pillar of the U.S.'s role as the world's sole superpower. Any perception that the U.S. is not the only shot-caller in the region could serve to undermine that in the midst of all kinds of other challenges to U.S. domination, ranging from Islamic fundamentalist forces to people rising up demanding freedom.
And, any perception that the U.S. and Israel cannot simply impose their will on the peoples of the region could trigger more protest and rebellion among the people of the region, including the Palestinian people.
None of that is acceptable to the rulers of the U.S.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
While the U.S. imperialists, from their logic, have compelling reasons to pull out all the stops to block the UN resolution, opposing the UN resolution presents real problems for them.
Coming from the perspective of the interests of the U.S. empire in the Middle East, the NY Times wrote: "A veto of the Palestinian bid for full membership would serve as another blow to American credibility in the Arab world, as the Obama administration tries to place itself on the side of protesters in Arab autocracies seeking freedom, justice and a notion of dignity. For many in the region, the plight of Palestinians, under more than four decades of occupation, encapsulates those ideals." ("Abbas Says He Will Seek Palestinian State at the Security Council," 9/16/2011).
The shameful complicity of these regimes with Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people has long been a source of seething outrage throughout the region. An inspiring and important dimension of the uprisings throughout the Arab world has been opposition to the complicity of pro-U.S. regimes in Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. This was manifested powerfully on May 15, in commemoration of the Nakba (the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine), when tens of thousands of protesters converged on, and in some cases heroically crossed the borders of Israel from Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
And on September 9, thousands of youth stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, battering a hole in the wall, entering the compound, tearing down the Israeli flag and replacing it with the Egyptian and Palestinian banners. (see "Cairo: Battering down another brick in the wall," 9/12/2011, reprinted at revcom.us)
But even as upheaval in the region makes the U.S. unequivocal support for Israel more problematic, it also makes it more necessary. With its nuclear arsenal, high technology, and with a substantial section of its European-based Jewish population currently identifying and aligned—in many cases quite rabidly—with the Zionist project, the state of Israel is a critical bedrock of U.S. imperialist domination over a strategic region of the world.
As we wrote in the special issue of Revolution on Israel: "It has not proven easy for the U.S. to broker a settlement that would integrate the Palestinians into some semblance of a stable situation, and, at the same time, satisfy what the Israelis see as their need for unchallenged domination and a thoroughly Zionist state. This has remained a sore point in the region and around the world, and as Israel resorts to more and more extreme measures to lock down the Palestinians, this contradiction becomes sharper.
"And yet, in profound ways, the U.S has not only stuck by Israel—it is stuck with Israel. Despite real problems and even significant differences at times, the unique 'strategic relationship' between the U.S. and Israel continues because, from the perspective of U.S. imperialism, there is no real alternative on the chessboard in terms of the role Israel plays in the Middle East and throughout the world."
A Time for Struggle
While the UN resolution is not going to lead to anything close to liberation for the Palestinian people, it comes at a time when there is much instability in the Middle East and North Africa, at a time when the legitimacy of regime after regime has become the burning question for millions. In the face of threats by Israel and the U.S. to retaliate against the Palestinians, and in the likelihood of new outbreaks of mass upsurge in Palestine and beyond, there is a critical responsibility for political resistance—particularly by people in this country—to oppose any moves by the U.S. and Israel to further ratchet up the oppression of the Palestinian people and to support their just struggle. Such resistance is a moral imperative.
The coming showdown at the UN is bound, in one form or another, to draw many people into struggle and debate—in Palestine, in the Middle East, and around the world.
Through all this, millions will be pulled into the swirl of political engagement and struggle, from many directions and raising different demands. Revolutionaries need to jump into the fray, uniting with those who are raising these demands to oppose the U.S. actions and demanding justice for the Palestinians. And in that mix, debating and struggling over the critical questions of the nature and role of the state of Israel, the root causes of the oppression of the Palestinian people, and what it will take to achieve justice and liberation for a people who have suffered generations of subjugation and brutal occupation. With the active participation and struggle of revolutionary communists, the whole dynamic can potentially be a powerful element in bringing forward a global movement to wrench a world free of all oppression out of the horrors of the current world order.
*Volunteers around the country assisted with research for this article. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to RCP Publications, PO Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654 if you would like to help with research, photography or other aspects of work on Revolution newspaper.
1. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council—the U.S., the UK, France, Russia, and China—have veto power over all substantial decisions of the UN. Since 1972 the U.S. has been, by far the most frequent user of the veto, mainly on resolutions criticizing Israel. Most recently, the Obama administration vetoed resolutions condemning illegal Israeli settlements that are a particularly egregious form of extending Israel's ongoing violent ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their homeland. There has been speculation that if—as is almost certain—the U.S. vetoes the resolution in the Security Council, the PA may seek a lower level of recognition from the UN that is not subject to U.S. veto. [back]