Palestine's struggle against 60 years of Israeli brutality

June 7, 2008

May marked 60 years since the formation of the state of Israel. Resistance, the socialist youth, organised a national tour of Israeli peace activist Isaac Suisha. Green Left Weekly's Ewan Saunders spoke to Suisha, who grew up in Israel.

The establishment media presents the 'Israel-Palestine conflict' as a neverending eye-for-an-eye struggle between 'terrorists' and a 'democratic state'. What's your view?

It's important to be aware of the history of the conflict: it didn't just start, and hasn't forever existed. The conflict is a direct result of Zionist ideology, which set out to establish a racist state in Palestine — a state designed only for Jews. To do that, Zionism had to get rid of the indigenous Palestinian population.

The bulk of the ethnic cleansing of major parts of Palestine happened in 1948, and this is referred to by Palestinians as "Al Nakba" or The Catastrophe. Some 800,000 people were displaced over 11 weeks. These people — along with their children and grandchildren — are still refugees, many living in camps in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. Most still have no rights.

You've referred to an apartheid system in Palestine. What do you mean by this?

Apartheid is defined as the separation of two groups of people who live on the same piece of land. There are two major systems of apartheid in Palestine: one in the area in which Israel has proclaimed sovereignty, which is the major part of Palestine; and one in the West Bank and, until recently, Gaza.

The West Bank and Gaza are two areas of Palestine that Israel didn't occupy in 1948, but in 1967. It is important to note that Israel never officially annexed these areas, but they remain under brutal military occupation.

In the West Bank, close to 500,000 Israeli citizens live in settlements among about 2.5 million Palestinians. The settlers have full rights as Israeli citizens: they have their own roads, their own legal system separate to the Palestinians and, of course, their economic conditions are far better.

The Palestinians have no basic rights: they are constantly repressed by the Israeli military. Every day, they go through countless checkpoints and roadblocks, where they are often abused.

In Gaza, until 2005 some 1.5 million Palestinian people faced similar apartheid-like conditions compared to the 9000 Israeli settlers. Today there are no settlers in Gaza, but Palestinians are abused by the Israeli military more than ever.

The second system of apartheid is within Israel itself where close to 20% of the population is Palestinian. Despite this, Israel declares itself a "Jewish state" and only Jewish citizens have certain rights. The most basic right is the right to citizenship, which the Palestinians do not have. If you can prove that one of your grandparents was Jewish — regardless of your personal belief system — you get full Israeli citizenship.

There are about 20 other discriminatory laws, and many unofficial or semi-official discriminations within the state bureaucracy. So, while the Palestinian minority has basic rights, such as voting in the general elections, within Israel it is by far the poorest sector, with the highest rates of unemployment among other social inequalities.

Zionists tend to argue a historical connection to the land on which Israel was situated. Jews were there before the Palestinians, they say, so isn't it only fair they return?

The Zionist justification is that Judaism is not just a religion but an ethnic group and a nationality. This argument, which lacks any historic backing, apparently justifies the "glorious return to the promised land" — Israel.

At first, the Zionist movement didn't want to colonise Palestine. It set out to claim autonomy in Eastern Europe for Jews who had been persecuted. After realising this would not work, the Zionists looked for an imperialist country to sponsor them settling elsewhere.

After weighing many different options, including Uganda and even certain territories in North America or Australia, the Zionists got the nod from the British empire to settle in Palestine. The British wanted a European nation, friendly to their imperialist interests, in the Middle East.

The Zionists' claim of "historical connection to the land" is pure myth. The truth is that for many hundreds of years individual Jews who wished to go to Palestine were free to do so, but only a few did. Before Zionist colonialism started, there were 25,000 orthodox Jews living in Palestine. These people always identified as Palestinians; the concept of Zionism was foreign to them.

Not all Israelis support their government's policy towards Palestine. What's the left's position?

There's a difference between the Zionist and the non-Zionist left. The "Zionist Left", an oxymoron, strives for a two-state solution to "solve" the Israel-Palestine conflict. It still believes a "Jewish state" is a must and uses much of the racist Zionist discourse.

Within the non-Zionist left, there is more room to talk about the need for one state in Palestine — a state in which everyone is equal and which ensures the full right of return to all Palestinian refugees.

We are a small minority in the Jewish community in Israel. We include socialists, communists, anarchists and those from other political backgrounds, but we agree that Zionism is a racist ideology.

How can we support the Palestinians' struggle against Israeli apartheid?

There are many organisations in Australia building solidarity with the people of Palestine. Some activists even go to Palestine to "bear witness" to the occupation and assist the Palestinian struggle.

The Palestinian struggle is a part of the global struggle of indigenous people against their colonialist oppressors. In this sense, the Palestinian struggle is connected to the Aboriginal struggle in Australia and the indigenous revolt in Latin America.

Understanding the connections of these struggles is crucial as it helps explain colonialism and imperialism — the projects of First World big business rulers to harness the rest of the globe for their narrow ends. Confronting colonialism anywhere around the world is a help to Palestinians.

This is why everyone should take part in solidarity activities with Palestine and educate themselves about the struggle. This is also why people should come to the Resistance conference where we'll be talking about the significance of the 60th anniversary of Al Nakba. It will also be an opportunity for people to talk with hundreds of activists from across Australia and some from overseas, and plan together how we can change the world.

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