By Hannu Reime, Kansan Uutiset/Viikkolehti (Finnish)
January 4, 2013 (translation by Hannu Reime)
Hannu Reime reviews Moshé Machover’s Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution, Haymarket Books 2012.
Readers of Viikkolehti might remember the article-portrait of the Israeli-British mathematician and socialist dissident Moshé Machover when he visited Finland for a scientific conference more than three years ago (VL, Oct. 20, 2009). Last year, the Chicago-based progressive publisher Haymarket Books put out a collection of writings by Dr. Machover on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its various aspects. The book also presents an internationalist and socialist program that would lead to real and lasting reconciliation between Hebrew speaking Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.
Moshé Machover belonged to the small, but “notorious” Matzpen group whose founders – Dr. Machover among them – had been thrown out of the Israeli Communist Party fifty years ago. They were accused of fractional activity, which was a code-word that covered various sins, among them a radical critique of the Soviet Union from the left, which was regarded as the worst kind of blasphemy in the Stalinist CPs at the time. The group began to publish a Hebrew monthly Matzpen (compass), and a few months later established the Israeli Socialist Organization, which came to be known by the name of its paper. Matzpen was soon joined by other Israeli citizens, both Jews and Arabs, altogether less than a hundred.
As an organization and a monthly, Matzpen existed for twenty years. People who belonged to its non-Leninist mainstream are still trying to keep up the legacy of international socialism in surroundings ruled mainly by US imperialism and poisoned internally by chauvinism and other reactionary ideas. As a channel to make Matzpen’s views known, the group’s former activists use, for example, a website in Hebrew, Arabic, and English (http://www.matzpen.org/). Moshé Machover’s new book is part of the same efforts.
The book contains 35 essays/articles that were written between 1966 and 2010. They reflect thinking among Matzpen members that developed as a common effort. The articles have been written by Dr. Machover alone or together with other veterans of the group.
The first part of the book deals with the Palestinians’ struggle for their national rights, and the second part with the Israeli society. The third section contains reflections on racism and national question, and the fourth polemic against Zionism. The fifth part consists of book reviews, and the sixth presents a final analysis. The longest text in this section has given the name to the whole book: “Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution.” Originally it is a lecture that Dr. Machover gave in London in November 2006.
How and what?
The article begins with the question of how one should think about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The question how precedes the question what. Before taking a moral stand, it is necessary to answer the question of how this long but far from primeval conflict was born, what it is all about.
A continuous theme in all the articles of the book is the view that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a confrontation between the Zionist settler-colonialism and the Palestinian Arab people; it’s the last colonial war. Israel is a colonial-settler state, a result of settler colonialism and an instrument for its continuation. If one doesn’t understand this, one understands nothing about the conflict.
Settler activity and its necessary consequence, conquest of the land (kibush ha-qarqa), which became systematic during the British rule, didn’t end with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. In the independent Israel, its victims were those Palestinians who had managed to avoid ethnic cleansing before and during the first Israeli-Arab war. Of the cleansing, that is, deportation of close to 800,000 people, Palestinians use the term al-nakba, the Calamity.
The robbery and settlement of Palestinians’ land continued when Israel took over the whole former British Palestine in the war of 1967. During the so-called Oslo “peace process” from 1993 on, the number of settlers doubled in the West Bank. Today, one cannot speak of a peace process even in quotation marks.
Racism not a cause but a consequence
When Israel last November once again directed massive air and missile fire against the Palestinians of Gaza, the daily Haaretz published a poll according to which 90 percent of the Jewish citizens of Israel supported the bombings. One could see hysterical members of Knesset who together with as hysterical crowd shouted in a street demonstration: Wipe Gaza off the map! and Death to the Arabs! (Mavet la ‘aravim!).
These bloodthirsty slogans were yelled in a right-wing rally that was called to oppose an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv. There were, and have always been, Jewish-born Israelis who oppose bombings and the oppression of Palestinians. Some years ago, I saw an estimate which suggested that five percent of the Israeli Jewish population belong to those who demand the end of the occupation, a just peace, and co-existence with the Palestinian people, based on complete equality. Their slogan is Dai la-kibush! Down with the occupation!.
Moshé Machover stresses in his book that the anti-Arab racism is not due to the evil nature of Israelis or identity politics but to colonialism. It is difficult to accept the robbery of another people without de-humanizing them. The reason for the humiliation of Palestinians is not racism; on the contrary, racism is a consequence of settler-colonialism, ultimately of the view that Israel/Palestine belongs only to those who, one way or other, are defined as Jews.
Israel has occupied and illegally settled Palestinian territories for more that 45 years. The conflict itself is about hundred years old. How could it be solved with justice, and in such a way that today’s oppressors won’t become the oppressed of tomorrow, or without common destruction in a nuclear holocaust (“Samson’s option”)? In which way is it possible to make bigger the five percent proportion of Israeli Jewish dissidents? These were questions that Matzpen reflected upon, and to which it presented its own answer in the spirit of internationalism and socialism.
South Africa or North America?
Opponents of occupation often compare the situation in Israel/Palestine with South Africa during the apartheid. Moshé Machover remarks that if the term “apartheid” is used to refer to any discrimination of people according to birth, then the comparison is valid. But there is one decisive difference between South Africa during the apartheid and Israel/Palestine. In South Africa, the white-skinned minority was totally dependent on the labour of the Black majority. Apartheid could be ended in a fairly simple way by abolishing all the laws of racial discrimination, and by establishing political democracy in a common South Africa.
In Israel/Palestine, the situation is far more complex. According to the Zionist ideology, Israel should be a “pure” Jewish state where the natives, Palestinian Arabs, are superfluous, an obstacle to the colonization. An ideal situation, from the Zionist point of view, would be the disappearance of Palestinians, their merger into the other Arab peoples. In its absence, the Zionists’ immediate goal at the moment is to squeeze Palestinians into self-governing cantons that resemble North American Indian reservations. Moshé Machover thinks that the Indian wars and the conquest of Palestine have many features in common.
When Europeans conquered the West, the native peoples of America couldn’t resist effectively because they were divided into various, often rivaling tribes. The Arabs of Palestine, on he contrary, have during the colonization of their country been crystallized into a new nation, Palestinians, who at the same time belong to the greater Arab nation. Without the surrounding Arab world, Palestinians would probably already have been dispersed and destroyed like the natives of America or aborigines of Australia.
Due to the successful Zionist settler activity, two new nations have arisen in the Arab East: Hebrew speaking Israeli Jews and Palestinians Arabs. Hundred years ago, neither of them existed as a nation in the modem sense of the word.
Federation of the Arab East
The most original feature in Matzpen’s thinking was seeing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its regional context. This conflict is one of the unsolved problems that the European imperialist powers, Britain and France, created, when they Balkanized the Eastern Arab area of the disintegrated Ottoman Empire after the First World War.
The “historical Palestine” that was born in this way, is, according to Matzpen’s analysis, too small for a just solution of the Palestine problem. (The reason for the quotation marks above is the fact that Palestine, as a political-administrative entity, existed for only 25 years.) But a united socialist Arab East would form a framework within which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (together with other problems of the area) could be solved in a just way with reconciliation between the Hebrew people of a non-Zionist Israel and Palestinian Arabs. A sine qua non for such a socialist and internationalist solution would be a sincere recognition of the national rights of all the non-Arab nations of the Arab East: Hebrew speaking Israelis and the Kurds of Iraq and Syria.
The program sounds utopian. But what is unrealistic today is not necessarily utopian. The Arab awakening (Arab Spring), despite its horrible turns, has created a new situation in the whole Arab East. It also forces to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a new perspective. The idea of a socialist federation of the Arab East might after all be far more realistic than a one or two state solution inside the tiny Palestine-box, once cobbled up by the British imperialists.