Making Levensraum in the Middle East


If one examines the history of Israel, especially under Sharon, it is safe to state that their policy regarding the Palestinians is one where Israel draws so-called provisional security lines and the IDF is then deployed along them. These new lines always include land where Palestinians currently live and also lands occupied by settlers who took their property from Palestinians. Of course, the Israeli government always confirms its support for whatever US-sponsored peace plan is out there-plans that actually support the land theft that Tel Aviv desires.

[W]ithout consideration of “traditions” and prejudices, (our country) must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation.-Mein Kampf

I use the word lebensraum with purpose. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is a German word that literally translates to “living space” or “room to live,” and was part of the program of Nazi Germany. Indeed, it was one Hitler’s reasons for his war on much of the territory to Germany’s east. However, its origins go deeper than Hitler’s program for a thousand year reich. In fact, the desire for more lebensraum for the Germanic people was part of the reasoning behind the drive for the unification of the German provinces in the late 1800s. As the idea progressed, it became a codeword for German colonialism-an area where Germany lagged behind its European competitors-France, England, Spain. After the German defeat in World War I, the Nazi movement and Hitler o not only shifted the meaning of the word away from the colonization of non-European lands; he also added an element of racism (beyond that implicit in the idea of a German nation) to its definition. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler argued that Russia and the eastern lands were subservient to the Jewish people and should therefore be conquered by the German nation to create a unity between the German people and land that he believed should be German. After all, went his argument, just as it was “Impossible for the Russian by himself to shake off the yoke of the Jew by his own resources, it is equally impossible for the Jew to maintain the mighty empire forever.”(Mein Kampf) So, to save Russia and the world from the Jews and make room for the German nation as he and many Germans saw it, Hitler began his war on Europe.

Ironically, Israel’s actions and words are eerie echoes of Hitler’s words regarding the Jews of Europe. In its pursuit of living space for the Jewish people, the Israeli project has always insisted that the Palestinians were incapable of ruling themselves and that the land where they lived was not really theirs. After all, goes the argument, Palestinians have no culture and they had no centralized government. Indeed, some of the more racist of Israel’s supporters argue that the Palestinians are not even a people, just another bunch of “dirty Arabs.” This logic provides Sharon and his supporters to conclude that it is their right to take Palestinian land, which they have done and will continue to do. History has taught the Sharons of the Jewish people a lesson, albeit the wrong one.

In addition, if one reads the above quote from Mein Kampf without locating it specifically to the Nazi project, they will hear the words of Ariel Sharon as he calls on Israelis and their supporters to support his expansionist drive and thereby prevent their country from “vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation.” This fear is, in a nutshell, the reason most often given by rabid supporters of Israeli expansionism. Indeed, it may be the ultimate reason for their country’s fall, as well. Unless, of course, they decide to drop their goal of a Greater Israel and begin to deal honestly with those whose lands they have taken and lives they have diminished. From the sound of Tel Aviv’s most recent pronouncements demanding that Syria remove itself completely from Lebanon (a move that would benefit Israel more than any other country), it certainly doesn’t seem like Sharon and company are considering any such move.

To expand on this theme of lebensraum, I borrow a thought from Neil Smith’s latest book, The Endgame of Globalization (2005); wherein he explains the US drive for global domination in the past 60-odd years is nothing more than the economic version of this idea. If one understands capitalism and its need to continually expand, this explanation makes complete sense. After all, isn’t that what imperialism (now globalization) truly is-the drive to continually increase the size of a nation’s markets? Smith isn’t the first to say this, of course, it’s just that his book places this dynamic on top of the current situation. By doing so, he reduces the significance of the 9-11 attacks in terms of their world-changing character and places them in a more realistic role-an excuse for the corporate overseers to make endless war. The current wars are not just Bush’s wars, insists Smith. They are a logical culmination of the neoliberal project of the past thirty years. Furthermore, this project is just the latest chapter in Washington’s (and, in a lesser manner, London’s) twentieth-century (now twenty-first) drive for complete domination of the world. It is a drive that is informed by John Locke’s liberalism even more than by Hobbes conservatism-a liberalism that places the rights of property holders above the rights of all others. This is why Bill Clinton and George Bush both believe in the righteous power of the market-because it is the market that defines their worldview, not humanity. Neo-conservatism is just a more bullying form of neoliberalism. The rich get richer and the poor get more numerous under either regime.

It’s not that the market is intentionally immoral. In fact, it is neither immoral nor moral-it is amoral. After all, it is a non-human entity and, despite US court decisions to the contrary, it is not a person and therefore does not have the same motivations as the humans who manipulate it for their own ends. This isn’t to say that unfettered capitalism is a good thing, because its very nature insures inequality and injustice-monopolies tend to set up these types of realities. It is the humans who use the market that can either create a just dynamic or allow the inequalities inherent in monopoly capitalism to run their course and create a world like the one we live in today. It is the rest of humanity that can demand that the market operate according to our needs and not the needs of the market or the greed of those who profit from it.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: