Monday, August 6, 2018

Book review: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1929 by Hillel Cohen

Review by a comrade on Amazon:

August 6, 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
As the Ottoman Empire was crumbling during World War I, the imperialist United Kingdom was already making plans for its future, which included British rule and a "Jewish National Home." This was typical of British policy; divide and conquer. Sir Ronald Storrs, the first Governor of Jerusalem, explained what a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine meant for the British Empire: "It will form for England," he said, "a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism."

Jews at the time of the Balfour Declaration were 3–5% of the Palestinian population. While the Zionist movement was not to be content with British rule, Israel has continued to be a loyal backer of imperialist interests. But here one must be careful not to confuse the goals of the Zionist leaders with the Jewish immigrants, who largely were just looking for a place to be safe from pogroms. If everyone in a country was guilty of the crimes committed by its leaders, we in the US would be living in a nation of war criminals! Zionism was a bourgeois nationalist movement. Most of the leaders had never given much thought to the fact that there was an existing Arab society in Palestine. As a communist, while I support the rights of oppressed nationalities, my main interest is in seeing solidarity built between Arab and Jewish toilers. Zionism was against this idea, hiring Arab labor only when there were no Jews available. And yet many of these people claimed to be "socialist." The Arab nationalists were also following a bourgeois ideology.

While I fully agree with Maxime Rodinson's idea that Israel was formed as a colonial-settler state (See Israel: A Colonial-Settler State? (English and French Edition), I also agree with him that "Colonists and colonizers are not monsters with human faces whose behavior defies rational explanation, as one might think from reading left-wing intellectuals." And the colonial settler character of a state doesn't last forever, or else we would be viewing the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries in that way.

In the short chapter on Palestine in "Red Orchestra" leader Leopold Trepper's book The Great Game: Memoirs of the Spy Hitler Couldn't Silence, Trepper, then a militant in the Palestinian Communist Party, trying to organize unions of both Jewish and Arab workers and social groups along similar lines, wrote: "Then, also in 1928 [sic], anti-Jewish riots broke out, accompanied by lynchings. These riots were the occasion of a dramatic misunderstanding between the Palestinian Communist Party and the Comintern [Communist International]. In the eyes of the Comintern, pogroms of this sort signaled the beginning of the rise of the Arab proletariat, a movement it was necessary to encourage… This absurd policy undermined the influence of the party among Jewish workers." Trepper was deported from Palestine by the British. The nature of the Communist International was rapidly changing into simply an arm of Soviet foreign policy. Trepper learned about Stalinism the hard way.

But not much was known internationally about these events. In a 1934 interview with Leon Trotsky (see On the Jewish Question), he was asked the following:

"Question: The official Communist Party characterized, without question, the Jewish-Arab events in 1929 in Palestine as the revolutionary uprising of the oppressed Arabian masses. What is your opinion of this policy?"

"Answer: Unfortunately, I am not thoroughly familiar with the facts to venture a definite opinion. I am now studying the question. Then it will be easier to see in what proportion and in what degree there were present those elements such as national liberationists (anti-imperialists) and reactionary Mohammedans and anti-Semitic pogromists. On the surface, it seems to me that all these elements were there."

Today it is possible to do what Trotsky couldn't do: To put together a wealth of both primary source and later writings on these events, and that is what Hillel Cohen has been able to do. He examines all the evidence from all sources, both written at the time, and written years later. The background was that increasingly Arabs were seeing that land sold to Jews was not just about individual transactions, but about the whole character of the country being threatened when Arab national consciousness was just coming into being.

The Arabs were faced with Zionism, which viewed Jews as a nationality, and viewed that Palestine was their homeland (regardless of whether they believed that God had granted it to them). There were both Jewish and Arab victims, but the Jewish victims were frequently attacked in their homes (there were a few cases of Jews attacking Arabs in their homes, but they were relatively rare). Arab victims were more often killed by either Jews or the police when they were involved in attacking Jews. The Zionist movement had its own armed wing, the Haganah, and the Arabs were not as organized. Many of these massacres took place because of the spread of rumors, which as always were often not true.

There were both Jews and Arabs who refused to go along with this conflict--and risked their own lives to save their neighbors. For the most part the Jews killed were not recent immigrants who had come to build a homeland for the Jews, but Arabic-speaking Jews who had lived in Palestine for at least several generations, and who had been considered friends and neighbors of some of the Arabs who killed them or supported their murder. While the Arabic-speaking Jews were often treated with contempt by the European Jewish arrivals, this tended to create Zionists out of people who had not been. The Arab reaction in 1929 was largely vengeance; not a political response. On the Jewish side there was a growth of the Revisionists—the ultra-right wing of Zionism. But the "Labor Zionists" also had no interest in publicizing the story of Arabs who saved Jews, and most Jews and Arabs ended up making martyrs of people who had slaughtered the unarmed, and the lies got bigger and bigger on both sides!

Hillel Cohen finds it necessary to explain repeatedly that people who have their main identity as belonging to a nation or religion are frequently willing to dispense with the truth when it comes to attacks on those they view their "own." He is right to do so, but I have never been a patriot of US imperialism or a Jewish nationalist. For 50 years I have been a communist internationalist. While knowing the history is essential, even more essential is knowing what is to be done now.

"I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews," Fidel Castro told Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent (now editor) for the Atlantic magazine, in a September 2010 interview. "The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust."

In the interview, Goldberg wrote, Castro criticized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then-president of Iran, for denying the Holocaust and "explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the 'unique' history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence."

Cuba's revolutionary government has strongly opposed Tel Aviv's assaults and discrimination against Palestinians. But Castro responded, "Yes, without a doubt," when Goldberg asked if he thought Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state.

And Fidel Castro was correct! Anti-Semitism has always been considered "the socialism of fools" by the Marxist movement. It lets the major capitalists off the hook by claiming that attacking Jews is attacking capitalism. The best book to explain who the Jews are and why anti-Semitism exists from a Marxist viewpoint (and all other viewpoints sidestep the issue) is The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation. This book was written by a Belgian follower of Trotsky, who died shortly after in the Holocaust. He belonged to a movement that didn't treat all German soldiers as Nazis; they and their French comrades put out newspapers directed at the German soldiers (see also Swimming Against the Tide: Trotskyists in German Occupied France). For the view of their American comrades on World War II, see Teamster Bureaucracy (Teamster series) and Socialism on Trial: Testimony at Minneapolis Sedition Trial.

For how the National Socialists integrated the socialism of fools into their ideology, I recommend Fascism and Big Business.

Today the deep crisis of capitalism is boosting anti-Semitism as it always has. Also today during this crisis there is this Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel when there no longer is any revolutionary leadership of the Palestinians.

There was no such movement when the PLO was revolutionary! Revolutionary Marxists supported the PLO during those years (see Israel and the Arab revolution: Fundamental principles of revolutionary Marxism and Palestine and the Arabs' Fight for Liberation). But today Hamas is a reactionary group that hates Jews and wants Islamic rule, and the Palestine Authority is a bureaucratic organization, afraid to change anything that might threaten its leaders' privileges. And Palestine is not a rallying cry of the Arab revolution, which today is directed at their own corrupt leaders.

While supporting the fight of the Palestinians, revolutionary Marxists never took the position that Israeli Jews were all reactionary, or that Jewish immigration per se was the source of the problem. The fact that there were people on both sides who tired to stop the slaughter, and that there are people like Hillel Cohen who tell the truth, however unpopular it may be, should give us hope.

But more importantly, today, in Israel, Arabs and Jews often work side-by-side and are in the same unions. They have gone on strike together; they participated in the same protests around the housing crisis a few years ago. And now, as I write, they are participating in protests against Netanyahu's "Nation-state" law. This is what must be encouraged! The US Socialist Workers Party has put forward a peace proposal based on the following three points (see the 'Militant' for more information):

• For recognition of a Palestinian state and of Israel
• For repeal of U.S. Jerusalem Embassy Act [which calls for an undivided Jerusalem]
• For workers' solidarity in Israel, Palestine, the world over

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