Palestine and the Anti-War Movement

Should the antiwar movement take up the question of Palestine? Or, to put the question another way, can the movement oppose one element of U.S. domination of the Middle East, the occupation of Iraq, while ignoring the other–the increasingly savage Israeli occupation of Palestine that’s funded, armed and politically supported by Washington?

Founded by mainly European Jewish settlers, known as Zionists, in British-controlled Palestine in 1948, Israel was based on the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians through killing and terror, including massacres of entire villages. Jews, who owned 6 percent of the land in 1947, established their state on land that was 94 percent owned, farmed and used by Palestinians.

Israeli historian Benny Morris, whose research has uncovered a series of Israeli massacres in 1948, recently declared that “from my point of view, the need to establish this state in this place overcame the injustice that was done to the Palestinians by uprooting them…Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians.”

The Zionists, who justified their demand for a Jewish state by pointing to the horrors of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, created Israel through the oppression of another people. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel seized more territory, and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have lived under Israeli military occupation ever since. Some 2,200 settlers gained control of 40 percent of the land in Gaza; in the West Bank, 55 percent of the land and 70 percent of the water was seized for Jewish settlers.

* * *

ISRAEL COULD never have come into existence without the backing of imperialist powers. The Israeli newspaper Ha1aretz made this point in 1951: “Israel is to become the watchdog… if for any reasons the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.”

We saw this dynamic in October, when Syria–already under pressure from Washington in its so-called “war on terrorism”–was hit with Israeli bombs and missiles just 10 miles from the capital city of Damascus. George W. Bush’s response: “Israel’s got a right to defend herself.”

This was only the latest example of a double standard whereby the U.S. bombs Iraq supposedly for violating United Nations (UN) resolutions, but supports Israel’s continued violation of them. Israel is also exempt from Bush’s drive to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons.

There have been frictions in the <U.S.-Israeli> relationship stemming from Washington’s need for Arab allies–but never a serious conflict that threatened Washington’s most important alliance in the Middle East.

Once Israel finally began negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s, the U.S. claimed the role of “honest broker” in the 1993 Oslo Accords that were supposed to create a separate Palestinian state. This “peace process” was really aimed at easing Israel’s isolation in much of the world, while corralling Palestinians into separate and powerless enclaves like the fake Black “homelands,” or bantustans, created in South Africa.

Since Oslo, Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories have expanded by 200 percent. Moreover, Oslo would give Palestinians just 22 percent of historic Palestine. Such plans deny the right of return to more than 4.9 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants displaced by Israel’s conquests.

To consolidate Israel’s grip, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is building a “security fence”–a 100-mile concrete wall–aimed at ghettoizing 4.6 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Even Avraham Burg, a leading Israeli Labor Party politician, wrote recently, “After 2,000 years of struggle for survival, the reality of Israel is a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique which scorns and mocks law and civic morality.”

* * *

LONGSTANDING U.S. economic and strategic support for Israel has given rise to military-tactical collaboration; the Israeli military assists U.S. armed forces in Iraq. Thus the similarity of tactics used in occupations in Iraq and Palestine: mass detention of suspects, midnight raids, demolition of houses of suspected resisters, the use of air power and tanks in residential areas, torturing prisoners and more.

This collaboration is the result of a common strategic aim of dominating the Middle East–in which Israel openly acts as deputy to the U.S. sheriff. This relationship is well understood by the antiwar movement around the world, which puts support for the Palestinian struggle at the heart of their demands.

In the U.S., unfortunately, Zionists and their supporters have long succeeded in sidetracking the issue of Palestine in the peace and antiwar movement. So during the 1 million-strong 1982 demonstration against the arms race in New York, protest organizers kept silent about the barbaric Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin called the “final solution” to the “Palestinian problem.”

The radical left, by contrast, has built solidarity with the Palestinians even when it was highly unpopular to do so. Socialist Worker has always supported Palestinian national liberation and self-determination–and argued for a democratic and secular Palestinian state with equal rights for Jews and Arabs.

If liberals prefer that U.S. antiwar and peace groups don’t address Palestine, it’s because many have close ties to the Israeli state and its allies. For example, most U.S. unions that support antiwar efforts oppose taking up the Palestine issue–not because their members aren’t “ready” for the issue, but because many unions invest in Israeli government bonds.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney spoke at the openly racist “Israel Solidarity Rally” in April 2002. And both Republican and Democratic party officials are closely tied to Israel–not because of the so-called “Israel lobby,” but because of the convergence of strategic, economic and political interests between the U.S. and Israel. It’s this relationship–more exposed today than ever–that compels the antiwar movement to address the question of Palestine.

* * *

WASHINGTON’s PLANS to “remake” the Middle East are based not only on the occupation of Iraq, but Israel’s escalating attempts to crush all Palestinian resistance. A recent statement to the antiwar movement signed by more than 40 Palestinian and Muslim groups focused on this point.

During the U.S. drive towards the invasion of Iraq, it was important to focus on the key issue–trying to stop the invasion–to mobilize a broad opposition to the war. Today, opposing the occupation of Iraq will require the movement to challenge the entire U.S. imperialist drive in the Middle East–including Israel’s central role.

The international antiwar movement will look to the U.S. for allies–and we would be judged harshly if we were to ignore the Palestinian struggle. Years went by before the Vietnam War was taken up in the civil rights and labor movements–a mistake that we can’t repeat.

Certainly, the Palestinians’ legitimate demands can’t be ignored by a movement that claims to stand for peace and justice. Putting forward Palestinian issues can’t be accomplished by an ultimatum–demanding full support for the Palestinian struggle before people are “allowed” to participate in the antiwar movement.

Taking up the question of Palestine is not about limiting or restricting those involved, but broadening the movement’s political understanding. The lies and distortions of the U.S. media about Palestinians will require antiwar activists to carry out systematic education and organization on the issue in the months and years ahead.

For example, military families and soldiers in the U.S., horrified by the U.S. occupation of Iraq, will find that they have much in common with Israeli military resisters. Our challenge is to develop from a movement against the invasion of Iraq into one that can oppose the entire U.S. imperialist agenda. Making an end to the occupation of Palestine a demand of our movement is a key step in that process.

LEE SUSTAR writes for the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at:


LEE SUSTAR is the labor editor of Socialist Worker