Middle East: Spiral of nationalist hatred

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At the time of writing, the latest atrocity in Israel/Palestine is the suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco, which left at least 17 young people dead and scores more injured. By the time this paper comes back from the printer, it is more than likely that the Israeli state will have exacted its revenge � perhaps another air raid on a refugee camp charged with harbouring the terrorists of Islamic Jihad who have claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv bombing. Sharon will pretend that this is an attack on a military target, but as ever it will be defenceless civilians who will die or see their homes reduced to rubble. This in turn will provoke new acts of revenge by the Islamic groups or even by hapless, despairing individuals, like the Palestinian bus driver who drove his bus into a line of Israeli passengers.

Faced with this endless spiral of nationalist hatred, there will be lamentations and pious declarations by those who paint themselves as the apostles of peace, the representatives of the ‘international community’. The US will provide further proof that it is not retreating into isolationism by calling on both sides to carry out the recommendations of the Mitchell plan (ceasefire, freeze on new Jewish settlements, return to the framework of the Oslo accords). The European Union, for its part, has pledged 60 million euros to shore up the Palestinian Authority, which is being reduced to bankruptcy by the Israeli blockade and bombing. All will talk about the tragic nature of the events unfolding in the Middle East.

We communists, internationalists, who owe no allegiance to any state or nation, we also say that this situation is a real tragedy; but not for the same reasons as the official spokesmen of ‘peace’ and ‘reason’.

It is a tragedy because every act of indiscriminate violence, every lynching, every hate-filled demonstration behind Israeli or Palestinian flags, is a new blow against the only solution to this murderous conflict: the international unity of the workers against their exploiters. Every new suicide bombing makes it more likely that Israeli workers will turn to the Israeli state for protection; every Israeli air raid makes it more likely that the victims will see their only salvation in the Palestinian Authority or the armed Islamic gangs.

It is a tragedy because this conflict, like so many others ravaging the world today, is reinforcing nationalism precisely at a time when nationalist ideologies are historically redundant and should be more discredited than ever. Just look at Zionism, whose claim that it would create a safe haven for persecuted Jewry is more ridiculous now than it has ever been. Today there is no less safe place to be Jewish than Israel. And look at how the ‘humanitarian’, even ‘socialist’ claims of early Zionism have melted away, to be replaced more and more by religious obscurantism and open anti-Arab racism, backed up by planes, tanks and the bulldozers which routinely obliterate Palestinian farms and villages to make way for settlements of the Chosen People. And this evolution is in turn mirrored by Palestinian nationalism: 30 years ago its ideology was ‘democratic’, ‘secular’, even ‘marxist’; the enemy was not Jews but Zionism. Today that mask is off and the cult of the suicide bomber, fuelled by Muslim fanaticism and directed against all Jews, is the real face behind it. Workers in the Middle East should be rejecting these ideologies with contempt like the Iranian workers who, in the 1980s, had the strength and consciousness to drive the Islamic Guard cops out of the factories and oil fields. Instead, they are being drawn more and more into the nationalist trap, and not one internationalist, proletarian voice seems to be raising itself in opposition to the sirens of patriotism.

Of course the mouthpieces of the grand democracies, the UN and other august international bodies, also declare that the growth of these irrational dogmas is a bad thing all round. They claim to stand above these conflicts and indeed to offer the only realistic way out of them. We reject these claims as false and hypocritical. The great powers have always stoked up the conflicts in the Middle East and used them for their own ends. Zionism gained a foothold in the Middle East first because the British wanted to create a ‘little loyal Ulster’ in the region, then because the USA needed Israel as its local gendarme in this key strategic zone. Palestinian nationalism was in turn armed and supported by other powers keen to upset the status quo: first Hitler’s Germany, then the USSR, today America’s European rivals. All the ‘peace solutions’ put forward by these powers are not aimed at peace but at securing their own imperialist interests in the Middle East. Are we really to believe, for example, that the US and the British ruling class, who have subjected the Iraqi population to ten years of bombing and starvation in pursuit of these same imperialist interests in the same region, really have the welfare of the Israeli and Palestinian population in their hearts?

Does this mean that there is no hope at all? That is not our position: on the contrary, the impossibility of any solution in the Middle East within the framework of capitalism is a further argument for the necessity of revolution. But revolution is not pie in the sky: it must be prepared by a practical movement, by the class struggle of the exploited. Today there is no doubt that, in Israel/Palestine, this movement is being drowned out by the tidal wave of nationalism. But it exists nevertheless, and the material basis for it is being made stronger by the terrible economic cost of this war, not only for the impoverished Palestinians but for the Israeli workers as well. And here and there we see small signs that there is still the ability to see things from a different angle: in the growing number of young Israeli reservists who are refusing to serve in the occupied territories, in the statements by Palestinian mothers and fathers who understand that their sons are being sent to their deaths by those who prosper from their misery.

The fact remains that the workers and the oppressed of the Middle East cannot break the nationalist spiral on their own. The working class alternative will only seem real to them when the proletarians of the main industrial concentrations, who are not divided up so deeply along national or racial lines, return loudly and massively to the terrain of the class war. Amos 2.6.01


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