Occupation in Permanent Crisis

Against the Current, No. 12-13, January-April 1988

The Editors

“IT IS SIMPLY FORBIDDEN to be afraid of anything ….Out of 650,000 residents of the [Gaza] Strip, the occupying authorities have (at one time or another) arrested 47,000. Every one of them is already his own leader where he lives. The arrest creates a leader ….Let no idiot think that external forces are directing what goes on inside. The people inside belong to all kinds of organizations, _which are like political parties of the nascent state. Even those who do not belong to any group identify with the overall struggle.”

An unnamed Palestinian militant in Gaza gave this account to an Arab reporter (News from Within [Jerusalem] 6 Jan. 1988, trans. from Ha’ir 18 Dec. 1987). The reporter, Makram Houri Mahoul, asked how the demonstrations were organized. The answer conveys the texture of the greatest Palestinian mass strike and popular uprising since 1936-an uprising organized from the inside, relying directly on the self mobilization of the masses in the Occupied Territories.

“[At first] in order to start a demonstration, we would send the children to organize a disturbance. Now,
everyone is out on the streets at three in the morning. Not ten or twenty people, but hundreds. We don’t have a timetable but we already have custom, waves of people going out at 3 a.m., in the morning, at midday, early evening. From the evening until 3 a.m., we sleep and organize. During the night the army doesn’t effectively control the streets and doesn’t know the local topography, so we are in control. For instance, yesterday in Jabalya camp there were demonstrations all night and there was not a single soldier, even though there was a curfew. The soldiers simply fled, because thousands of people formed a sort of moving wall, and nothing will work against something like that, neither an iron fist nor shooting.”

Close to seventy-five Palestinians have been shot dead. The Israeli response to the uprising has been reported with unusual candor in the normally self-censored American media. Even so, the officially reported numbers are too low for various reasons, including such examples as the following: “Multiple sources have confirmed the death by shooting of Najwa Masri (17 years old, resident of Beil Hanoun, Gaza) on 12/15. Her family reported that she died of a heart attack, probably to prevent the military from taking the body.” (Palestine Human Rights Information Center, Jerusalem; DateBase Project, Chicago)

When the shoot-to-kill policy failed to quell the uprising and, worse, created international political uproar, Israeli Defense Minister (Labor Party) Yitzhak Rabin imposed lengthy curfews on refugee camps and barred food shipments sent by West Bank Palestinians in solidarity with their Gaza brethren, hoping to starve the population into submission. Then Israeli soldiers were ordered not to shoot Palestinians but to arrest and beat them to a pulp. Marty Rosenbluth, an American living in Ramallah (West Bank) told National Public Radio reporter Debra Amos of four young Palestinians just released from the hospital, two with arms broken by the soldiers, who were returning home when they were picked up again, thrown in the back of an Israeli military jeep and taken away. (NPR broadcast, Jan. 25)

The mass uprising began Dec. 8 in Gaza, spread to the streets of East Jerusalem ten days later and reached a high point with a total strike of all Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories and inside Israel on Dec. 21. It has continued throughout January and, with the inevitable ebbs and flows of any mass struggle, shows every sign of continuing. What can be learned and what response is required from the U.S. left? What follows, we believe, are a few of the most crucial conclusions to be drawn so far.

• The Israeli occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights is now in a state of permanent crisis. That is to say, the occupation now maintains itself by brute force alone, in the face of the unambiguous rejection of the entire occupied population. This reality means that Israel, which is useful to the United States primarily as an outpost to police the reactionary “stability” of the U.S. empire, cannot preserve “stable” rule in its own mini­empire. This internal instability is severely demoralizing to the dreams of the international Zionist movement — will a million Soviet Jews want to emigrate to a Middle Eastern Belfast? — and to the U.S. establishment, which accounts for the media’s willingness to embarrass Israel at the moment.

• The Palestinian national struggle, so often written off since the 1982 Lebanon war, has achieved its greatest level of unity. Building solidarity between Gaza and West Bank Palestinians is in itself no small achievement. “Over the years a sort of quiet hatred has developed among the residents of the Strip for their compatriots in the West Bank They feel neglected, even forgotten,” writes Mahoul, the journalist. The uprising that began in Gaza has not only overcome those barriers, but cemented the participation of the Palestinian citizens of 1948 Israel in the national struggle. The sophistication of the Arab working class in Israel, and the clarity of the demands of Palestinian Israeli citizens for their own democratic rights while supporting the demand for an independent West Bank-Gaza Palestinian state, has shocked Israeli-Jewish public opinion which viewed them as “our Arabs,” quiescent and politically tame.

• The uprising has shown the utterly crucial role of mass mobilization in which the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories and Israel are the central actors,> not spectators. While the wars between the Arab states and Israel have gained the Palestinians little or nothing, their own struggle since December has achieved notable political results. The Amal (Lebanese Shi’ite militia) siege of Palestinian camps around Beirut, which threatened the refugees with starvation and mass killing, has been lifted. An Arab summit strongly reaffirmed its commitment to the Palestine Liberation Organization, while only a few months ago the PLO was virtually shunted aside by the Arab states.

• Similarly, mass struggle has superceded individual or small group acts of “terrorism.” “In no case,” writes Mahoul, “have shots been fired at the army from among the demonstrators, which would have been likely to lead to a bloodbath. The local leaders are responsible for this discipline.” In one case, when hundreds of demonstrators captured an Israeli soldier near Gaza hospital, “his jacket, his pack and all of his equipment were taken. Nobody touched his body, and he was released wearing only a pair of tom trousers. If they had wanted they could have killed him.”

• It is noteworthy that, at least at the height of the mass struggle, the uprising has produced a convergence between religious (Islamic) militants and nationalist (PLO) supporters. Given the post-revolutionary Iranian experience, it is to say the least premature to glibly characterize the religious dimension of the uprising as “objectively progressive.” For the moment, however, the dissolving of the hostility between Islamic and nationalist (and leftist) Palestinian activists deprives the Israeli authorities of an important divide­ and-conquer option.

• The uprising has also revived the Israeli peace movement, although in a contradictory fashion. An estimated 50,000 Israelis demonstrated against the government’s policies on Jan. 23, probably the largest such action since 1982. It is also noteworthy that the liberal Zionist Peace Now movement, which is closely tied to the Labor Party, called this demonstration at a time when the Labor Party is in the government, not out of power as in 1982.

However, one of the main themes of the protest seemed to be that the Defense Ministry’s policy of brutal beatings of Palestinians was causing severe emotional trauma-to the Israeli soldiers! This unique combination of peace sentiment with appalling racism seems to symbolize the long-standing contradictions of the Zionist peace camp. Perhaps of greater long-term significance is the resurgence of the Yesh G’vul (“There is a Limit”) movement whose members are refusing to perform their military service in the Occupied Territories. Another encouraging development was a speech by Shulamit Aloni, leader of the left-liberal Civil Rights Movement, explicitly endorsing the Palestinians’ struggle for their democratic rights and sharply differentiating this legitimate struggle from terrorism.

What, then, follows for socialists and other supporters of Palestinian rights here in the United States? First and foremost, we must ceaselessly reiterate that the occupation and all its brutalities are 100 percent subsidized by U.S. military and economic aid to Israel. This $3 billion-4 billion aid package is a central obstacle to a settlement of the conflict — not to mention the millions that the Israeli government siphons off to the Nicaraguan contras and other dirty wars on Washington’s behalf.

Second, we should take advantage of the opening created by the shock generated inside and outside the American Jewish community by the sight of shootings and beatings of Palestinians on the nightly news and daily papers. As suggested above, the fact that the Palestinians are receiving reasonably sympathetic coverage reflects the U.S. elite’s unhappiness with Israeli tactics-in particular, with the Israeli right wing’s refusal to negotiate a deal with Jordan’s King Hussein-and not any fundamental shift in U.S. policy. Nonetheless, there has been no better opportunity to raise the consciousness of the American people about the denial of Palestinian rights, their third-class citizenship status inside Israel and the twenty-year occupation inflicted on the West Bank and Gaza.

• Third, we should take a sympathetic attitude toward those sectors of the Jewish community who, in various ways, are publicly dissenting from the crimes com­ mitted by the government of the state of Israel. Many new voices from the Jewish community-even such ardent Zionist supporters as Woody Allen, for example, have protested the brutality with which Israeli military forces have tried to smash the Palestinians into submission. What is most important about such public protests is that they break the taboo against open criticism.

We should not, however, endorse the widely stated lament that brutal beatings, shootings, arrests and torture of children, collective punishment and confiscation of Palestinian lands “are a tragic deviation from Israeli democracy.” The hard fact is that Israel is, and always has been, at best a “Jews only” democracy — even then, darker-skinned (so-called “Oriental”) Jews from Middle Eastern countries and non­orthodox Jews suffer various forms of racist or religious discrimination-and it is becoming less democratic all the time. Moreover, its treatment of Palestinians as subhuman material for domination is at one with Israeli policies in southern Africa and Central America. Today’s practices are a linear extension of a political structure that establishes democracy for one population and military rule for another in the same land.

Fourth, we should forthrightly sup­ port what the Palestinians are fighting for: an end to the occupation, and an independent Palestinian state-in short, for self-determination. A Palestinian activist in Detroit sums it up: “We do not want to destroy a state; we want to build one.” It is an entirely just and legitimate struggle, and not by coincidence, it offers the only long-term hope for checking Israel’s head­ long rush to apartheid, or destruction, or most probably both.


The most comprehensive source of information on the Palestinian uprising and comprehensive information on Imman rights abuses is compiled by the Palestine Human Rights Information Center in Jerusalem and the DataBase Project, 220 S. State Street, #1308, Chicago, IL 60604. Write or call the DataBase Project (312-987-1985) for information on obtaining its reports.

The trial of Mordechai Vanunu, reported in Against the Current #11, will end in February. There is a strong possibility of a heavy prison term for this courageous worker who revealed the secret of Israel’s nuclear weapons production facility. According to our information, Vanunu’s address is: Mordechai Vanunu, Ashkelon Prison, Box 17, Ashkelon, Israel. We encourage our readers to send messages of solidarity to him. Send copies to: Committee to Defend Mordechai Vanunu, P.O. Box 45005, Somerville, MA 02145.

January-April 1988, ATC 12-13

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