From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives
December 2000

Historic Roots of Israel-Palestine conflict

by Raya Dunayevskaya

Editor's note: Israel's brutal attack against "the second Palestinian intifada," which started after Ariel Sharon made his provocative trip to Harim al-Sharif two months ago as part of claiming Israel's jurisdiction over Arab East Jerusalem "in perpetuity," makes this an important moment to revisit the historic roots of the conflict. We here reproduce two writings by Raya Dunayevskaya from the 1980s which speak to this. The first is excerpts of Part 3 of the Perspectives Thesis delivered to the 1980 convention of News and Letters Committees, entitled "Today and Tomorrow"; the second is excerpts from the Introduction and Part I of the Perspectives Thesis delivered to the 1982 convention of News and Letters Committees, entitled "What to Do: Facing the Depth of Recession and the Myriad Global Political Crisis as as the Philosophic Void." The latter was written after Sharon engineered Israel's invasion of Lebanon. The originals can be found in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 6245 and 7515.


(September 1980)

Israel has been moving so steadily to the Right that no reactionary action should surprise anyone. Nevertheless, the world-and this includes President Carter who is still pretending that the so-called Peace Treaty he engineered between Egypt and Israel will bring real peace to the whole of the Middle East-was shocked by the TIMING, if nothing else, of the "sudden" fiat from the Knesset that Jerusalem, East and West, that is, Arab as well as Jewish, was "one," was "indivisible," indeed, was the "eternal" capital of Israel, as if really its order extended into the eons of time.

If, however, we take a second, objective look at that phrase, "if nothing else," we will see that it is, precisely, the timing, the PROVOCATIVE timing, which is the logical conclusion to the extremist imperialist moves ever since Menachem Begin came to power, and that very week visited and approved a controversial new Jewish settlement in Arab land. It has gone on and expanded ever since. It is necessary, however, to limit ourselves to this year.

In March 1980 the government of Israel announced it would be taking 1,000 acres of mostly Arab-owned land. It was the first such major expropriation in a decade, and the second largest ever since the victorious 1967 war. Indeed, by the mid-1970s, Israel pried 30% of East Jerusalem from Arab ownership. Could anyone doubt when the biggest war hawk of them all, Geula Cohen, was chosen to bring in a draft for the new status of Jerusalem that it would be anything but what it was?....

What is new-and it is by no means limited to Zionism-is the new politicized form of religion. Nor is it a question of whether you listen to the money-wise electronic "evangelists," or you follow the Old or New Testament-or the Koran, and quote Mohammed, who is supposed to have said: "Whoever goes on a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem sanctuary shall be forgiven all his sins."

The point, rather, is why this RUSH TO POWER. One need not go abroad to see it is so. All one has to do is look right here at the New Right, the Christian Religious Right....

The real point is this: the totality of the crises, especially since 1973-74-and by no means only the Arab-Israeli war, but the economic crisis that resulted from the oil embargo-has shown that the undercurrent of revolt may-and in some cases, did-lead to revolution. It is this, especially as it is evolving in the last year, which has led the capitalist rulers to flirt with Nazism and occultism all over again.

Occultism has ever been the escape from reality, and since it doesn't have quite as obnoxious an odor as Nazism, non-taxable dollars are spent on that electronic miracle to bring the message to the public. In any case, the New Religious Right, as in Begin's Israel or in Khomeini's Iran, or the Christian Right here, even when they get masses to follow them, by no means signifies that what the masses want, and what the leaders are striving for-power-has the same motivation. Which is why Karl Marx made so sharp a distinction between the religion of the oppressed and that of the oppressor. The whole theory of alienation started there.....


(September 1982)

Nothing but horror and utter disgust characterizes the world's reaction to Israel's gruesome invasion of Lebanon. Each day of the endless string of Israel's lying excuses for the destruction of that land-from the claim of securing a "25-mile security zone" for Israel and empty talk of the PLO as "terrorists" at a moment when, not the PLO, but Begin-Sharon's Israel was the one committing the atrocities; to the claim of being for Lebanon's "integrity" as a nation, freed of Syria's and the PLO's invasions-only heightened and widened the world's opposition to Israel's ghoulish attack. History will not forget such barbarism. Opposition, and even putting an end to these uncivilized acts, cannot, however, be sufficient unto the day without, at one and the same time, showing how it had resulted from a transformation into opposite of what Israel was at birth in 1947-48, and what it is today, 1982-83....

How quickly forgotten (if, indeed, Begin or the Irgun ever knew them) are the true origins of the idea of an "Israeli nationality." The Nazi holocaust, which they invoke today for reactionary purposes, is the fact of history that changed the position of Marxists who had always been for cultural assimilation to the point where nothing deviated from straight socialist goals. (See Leon Trotsky's articles on why, though still fully opposed to Zionism, he now-1937-had to be for a "homeland for the Jews." That was the Marxist position on Israel, on the question of national self-determination.) The same was true for those who weren't Marxists. A good essay by a liberal, Alfred Friendly, describes the shock of today, even of those who still favored Israel in the war of 1967.

In "Israel: Paradise Lost" (MANCHESTER GUARDIAN, July 11, 1982), Alfred Friendly recalls the 1967 war, when he was for Israel and when the attitude was how temporary the occupation was: 1) As one Colonel put it, "There won't be any struggle getting Sinai back to Nasser quickly"; 2) A short while later, Israel enthusiastically accepted UN Resolution 242; 3) Israel categorically denied the Arab accusation that the Zionist objective was a so-called "Eretz Israel," as the Bible expressed it ("a realm extending from the Nile to the Euphrates"), insisting instead that only the "crazies" talked about "Eretz Israel" in that Biblical manner. But, in fact, says Friendly, we were soon to see the "Dayan Plan" which proposed "garrison settlements," which was followed by the "Allon Plan" which talked of Biblical Judea and Samaria, and now we have the "Likud-Sharon Plan" or "the triumph of the Eretz Israel boys." The result is the genocidal invasion of Lebanon.

This transformation of Israel into an imperialist state is a very different point of departure from what we have always used as proof of the transformation into opposite when we pointed to the first workers' state into a state-capitalist society. It is true that this, too, is a state-capitalist society. It is true, also, that at its birth it certainly wasn't anywhere as clear a social revolution as was 1917.

Methodologically as well as practically, the point here is that we could-AND DID-express the contradictions at its birth. We refused to be silent even when we most enthusiastically supported the establishment of "a homeland for the Jews," by pointing sharply to the fact that the land contained the presence-as a minority, it is true, but a presence nevertheless-of the reactionary Irgun, whose leader was the terrorist, Begin. What a transformation into opposite of the Israel of "Exodus," 1947-48, into the imperialistic state-capitalist Israel of 1982-83!....

It is good that a peace movement has arisen in Israel demanding an end to Israel's invasion of Lebanon at once. It is even better that some of that Left has raised the question of self-determination for Palestinians in Israel-or, rather, the part Israel occupies illegally. (Indeed, what Israel is now trying to annex is Palestine.) But that, too, will hardly solve much if, AT THE SAME TIME, a new banner of genuine liberation is not unfolded.

The immediate, urgent question now is: What kind of regime in Lebanon? Does anyone doubt that Begin-Sharon wanted that small-time neo-fascist Bashir Gemayel to become ITS President? What is needed is to see to it that genuine national liberation is the predominant demand and that none will stand for any colonization anywhere....

Here, too, philosophy is no abstraction. Its concretization, as politicization, warns the whole New Left not to stop at half-way houses, not even when that manifests deep sensitivity to Third World desires for freedom unless they are willing to transform that desire into an outright revolution.....


Because the economic and political crises wracking the capitalist-imperialist world are so horrendous...it is all too tempting to express oneself solely in opposition to what is, without ever specifying what one is for, so weighted down does one become by all these crises crying out for an end.

History, however, warns us of other critical periods which give us historic proof that mere opposition to such monstrous degeneration does not lead to new societies. On the contrary. It only assures the transformation of that type of bare opposition into one form or another of a half-way house. That is true both when we look at the failure of bourgeois democracy and when we look at fascism. Both brought on World War II. Such a victory over fascism only laid the ground for the restoration of state-capitalism-Gaullism as well as Stalinism. Indeed, state-capitalism became a universal.

As we know from World War I, even the magnificent opposition that was successful-the Russian Revolution-once it didn't spread beyond national borders, ended in the transformation of the first workers' state into its opposite, state-capitalism.

Today, we cannot evade asking: What Now? Is the PLO the absolute opposite of Israel or just one more narrow nationalism? In our age, when a nuclear war threatens civilization as we have known it, we cannot, must not, accept half-way houses as the answer....

Nor should our support of the Palestinians for self-determination and the PLO as a bargaining agent lead us away from reexamining what happens to aborted revolutions-in this case, specifically Lebanon and specifically as aided by the PLO in the 1975-76 Civil War there. Which is why we correctly entitled our Philosophic-Political Letter (August 6, 1976): 'The Test Not Only of the PLO but of the Whole Left.'"

Because the Left did not meet that challenge but followed the PLO is one substantial reason for the TOTALITY of the crisis today. Just at the point when there was a near-success by the indigenous Lebanese Left, and the outcome of the 1975-76 Civil War hung in the balance, the PLO insisted that the concentration must be, not on the native ruler-oppressors represented by the so-called Christian, i.e. neo-fascist, Phalangists, but on Israel alone, though at the moment Israel was nowhere present in Lebanon and Syria was all ready to invade. It is Syria the PLO had dubbed "liberators" instead of a new imperialistic force. The great tragedy was that the whole Left-indigenous Lebanese under Jumblatt, Stalinists, Trotskyists-followed the PLO lead. Here is what we wrote in that Political-Philosophic Letter:

"The New Left, born in the 1960s, so disdainful of theory (which it forever thinks it can pick up 'en route'), has a strange attitude toward imperialism. It is as if imperialism were not the natural outgrowth of monopoly capitalism, but was a conspiracy, organized by a single imaginary center, rather as the Nazis used to refer to the Judeo-Catholic-Masonic Alliance, or Communists under Stalin to the conspiracy of the Trotskyists and Rightists in league with the imperialist secret service...

"Evidently nationalism of the so-called Third World is of itself revolutionary even when it is under the banner of a king, a shah, or the emirates, or the Syrian Army. Thereby they canonize nationalism, even when it is void of working class character, as national liberation.

"It isn't that class is the sole characteristic of national liberation movements that revolution can support. It is that the working class nature is its essence and it is that the revolutionary and international impact emerges from masses in motion.

"This does not mean that we give up the struggle for self-determination, Palestinian especially. It is that we do not narrow our vision of the revolutionary struggle for a totally different world, on truly new Humanist foundations, the first necessity of which is the unity of philosophy and revolution."

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