Why the West backs Israel — and how to make it stop

Issue 

Israel is an apartheid state. This is the explanation for the appallingly assymetrical nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict, graphically demonstrated in the latest carnage in Gaza.

While Western politicians and media speak about the conflict (and the endless "peace processes") as if what was at issue was the relationship between two sovereign states, the whole of historic Palestine is under the control of one state: Israel.

Israel's supporters promote it as a "Jewish democracy". In 1948, when the state of Israel was established in 78% of historic Palestine, large-scale ethnic cleansing created a Jewish majority, allowing for the creation of this peculiar type of democracy — a "democracy" for one section of the population at the expense of the rest.

Whole towns and villages were razed and replaced by entirely new ones. Even the landscape was "Europeanised" through the planting of pine forests.

In a process modelled on the colonisation of North America and Australia, a new nation was to be created by settlers and their descendants, obliterating all traces of the pre-colonial society.

However, in 1967 Israel conquered the remaining 22% of Palestine (the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip), bringing millions more Palestinians under Israeli rule, including many of the 1948 refugees and their descendants.

Today, of the 10.8 million people living under Israeli rule, roughly half are Palestinian. The half-million Israeli Jewish settlers living in the West Bank have the same citizenship rights as if they lived within Israel's pre-1967 borders, but the Palestinians in the West Bank don't.

With Jewish-only roads linking the settlements with each other and pre-1967 Israel, and walls to keep the Palestinians out, the settlements function as dormitory suburbs of Israeli cities.

Apartheid

Apartheid was a term coined by the white supremicist regime that ruled South Africa until 1994.

Under South African apartheid, democracy existed for whites, while Blacks were denied citizenship. In an attempt legitmise this system, Blacks were made citizens of geographically unviable homelands, known as bantustans, where puppet administrations were given the formal trappings of statehood and the responsibility of policing the Black population to ensure the security of the white state.

This is the nature of the statehood that has been offered to the Palestinians through the various "peace processes".

While the West Bank has been increasingly annexed by settlements and carved up by checkpoints, walls and Jewish-only roads, leaving a dozen geographically separated ghettos, the much smaller Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million people (80% of whom are 1948 refugees and their descendants) are crammed into 365 square km, was turned into one large ghetto through Israel's 2005 "disengagement".

The term "disengagement", referring to Israel's withdrawal of troops and settlements from the territory, disguises the fact that Israel not only makes regular military incursions, but maintains control over airspace, territorial waters and the movement of people and goods into or out of the territory, which it has used to impose a starvation siege for the past two years.

This is why the latest assault had more in common with the Nazis' assault on the Warsaw Ghetto than a war between two nations.

Israel relies on promoting a racist empathy among the populations of Western nations, based on anti-Arab and Muslim sentiments and a sense that the Israeli-Jewish population is "the same" as the West.

While the ferocity of Israel's crimes has diminished this racist empathy, it illustrates a feature of apartheid states such as Israel and the old South Africa — they encapsulate the contradictions between the First and Third Worlds in microcosm within their borders.

For example, Israeli control of water in the West Bank means that Jewish settlements not only have running water in all homes, but water is used to fill backyard swimming pools.

In surrounding Palestinian communities, by contrast, whole villages dependent on a single, unreliable tap.

Understanding that the global economy is a system of global apartheid based on gross inequality is key to understanding why Western politicians and corporate media are so unstintingly loyal to Israel.

The plunder of the world's resources for the benefit of First World-based multinational corporations creates statistics such as 11 million preventable child deaths each year. Such extreme exploitation can only be maintained with extreme violence.

Colonialism

Like other colonial-settler societies, Israel's creation was one component of the West expanding its influence accross the world. After the British invaded Palestine in 1917, Jewish colonisation was encouraged with the specific aim of creating a European society that would be a bridgehead for Western imperialism in the Middle East.

This was made explicit by one of the founders of the Zionist movement, Theodor Hertz, who argued in 1896: "We would constitute a bulwark against Asia down there, we would be the advance post of civilisation against barbarism."

Since its establishment, Israel has used its military might to discipline its neighbours on behalf of Western interests. In 1956, when Egypt nationalised the Anglo-French-owned Suez canal, Israel invaded.

Israel again attacked Egypt in 1967 and 1973. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia, Iraq and Iran have all been victims of Israeli aggression — several times over in the case of Lebanon.

Furthermore, as a highly militarised frontline imperialist state, Israel has become both a centre of high technology weapons development and production, and a military sub-contractor for the US throughout the world, often giving military aid to regimes that the US wishes to support but not be seen supporting.

In its current genocidal war against the Tamil people, Sri Lanka is using Israeli-supplied Kfir jets and illegal cluster munitions, and its death squads are trained by Israeli intelligence.

Ultimately, it is these shared imperialist interests that explain the unstinting Western support for Israel.

For similar reasons, the West supported apartheid South Africa, openly at first, but increasing shamefacedly or covertly. The reason for this change was the worldwide anti-apartheid movement.

Initially, support for the South African liberation struggle came from other Third World countries, particularly those with governments willing to confront imperialism.

Cuba's support for democracy in South Africa involved sending internationalist volunteers in 1975 to newly independant Angola, successfully helping thwart a South African invasion.

While the township rebellions in the 1970s and '80s inside South Africa, and the military successes of Angolan, Cuban, Namibian and South African liberation forces in southern Angola, were key to ending "whites-only" democracy, an important factor was the emergence a large-scale anti-apartheid movement in the West.

A key part of this movement was to promote a boycott of South Africa in all areas. Tours by South African sporting teams became the occasion for pitched battles between anti-apartheid protesters and police.

While the West never entirely divested from South Africa, cultural, academic and sporting ties were cut and economic ties made difficult. Apartheid South Africa became a pariah state.

International solidarity campaign

A similar movement exists to isolate apartheid Israel. As with South Africa, anti-imperialist Third World governments have taken the lead.

Venezuela and Bolivia both cut ties with Israel in response to the latest assault on Gaza and are bringing war crimes proceedings through the International Criminal Court. Cuba did not cut ties because it has never recognised Israel.

It is not a coincidence that governments that have directly confronted imperialist economic interests in their own countries, nationalising First World multinationals (as Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia have all done), are the same governments willing to stand up against Israel.

It is part of the same system, and Third World governments that capitulate to economic domination from the West are likely to capitulate politically as well.

However, such governments, especially in the Middle East, are also susceptible to popular anger at Israel's crimes.

In the West, the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has begun to have an impact.

The sheer horror of the latest war against an impoverished and walled-in civillian population has diminished support and sympathy for Israel among ordinary people all over the world.

United Nations officials have spoken of war crimes and made comparisons between Israel's actions and those of Nazi Germany, something previously unthinkable.

In Britain, the campus BDS movement has resulted, in response to Israel's latest war crimes, in student occupations on 17 campuses throughout the country demanding the cutting of academic ties with Israel, and calling for assistance, including scholarships, to Gaza.

On some campuses, the occupations ended after partially winning their demands.

Complicit companies

Other BDS campaigns have targeted companies with unsavoury connections to Israel. One of these is Caterpillar, which manufactures the armoured bulldozers that Israel uses to demolish houses, often burying their inhabitants alive in the process.

Another is Veolia, which sometimes trades as Connex. Veolia/Connex has been targetted by the BDS movement because it is building a Jewish-only light rail system linking Jerusalem with the illegal West Bank settlements, which will, like the Jewish-only roads, carve up Palestinian communities.

Since the Gaza onslaught, the BDS campaign has won a victory with Veolia's contract to operate the metro system in Stockholm not being renewed.

Connex's contract to run the privatised Melbourne train system is also up for renewal this year. A campaign to replicate the Stockholm victory could be an opportunity for Palestine solidarity activists.

The most important ties to campaign to cut are military ties. It is difficult to imagine Israeli apartheid surviving without the US$4 billion military aid it receives from the US.

While worldwide outrage at the Gaza attrocities has damaged Israel's "democratic" image, Western politicians and media will be working hard to restore it. That is why the solidarity movement cannot afford to go quiet until the next large-scale massacre.

South Africa shows that such systems of apartheid can be defeated and the end of Israeli apartheid would not only benefit the long-suffering Palestinian people, but be a step towards defeating the global system of apartheid that exists between rich and poor nations.

[For more information on the global BDS movement visit http://www.pacbi.org and http://www.bdsmovement.net.]