Pioneering In The Nuclear Age:
An Essay on Israel and the Palestinians

Eqbal Ahmad (1984)

"Even before 1982, many in the PLO understood that the time had come to end the armed struggle. While still based in Lebanon, its leaders had tasked the distinguished Pakistani intellectual Eqbal Ahmad, a close friend of Edward Said and a friend of mine, with assessing their military strategy. Ahmad had worked with the Front de líberation nationale in Algeria in the early 1960s, had known Frantz Fanon, and was a renowned Third World anticolonial thinker. After visiting PLO bases in south Lebanon he returned with a critique that disconcerted those who had asked his advice. While in principle a committed supporter of armed struggle against colonial regimes such as that in Algeria, Ahmad had strong criticisms of the ineffective and often counterproductive way in which the PLO was carrying out this strategy.
   "More seriously, on political rather than moral or legal grounds, he questioned whether armed struggle was the right course of action against the PLO's particular adversary, Israel. He argued that given the course of Jewish history, especially in the twentieth century, the use of force only strengthened a preexisting and pervasive sense of victimhood among Israelis, while it unified Israeli society, reinforced the most militant tendencies in Zionism, and bolstered the support of external actors. This was in distinction to Algeria, where the FLN's use of violence (including women using "baskets to carry bombs, which have taken so many innocent lives" in the accusatory words of a French interrogator in the 1966 Gillo Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers) ultimately succeeded in dividing French society and eroding its support for the colonial project. Ahmad's critique was profound and devastating, and not welcomed by the PLO's leaders, who still publicly proclaimed a devotion to armed struggle even as they were moving away from it in practice. Beyond his acute understanding of the deep connection between Zionism and the long history of persecution of Jews in Europe, Ahmad's analysis shrewdly perceived the unique nature of the Israeli colonial project."
Rashid Khalidi writing in his book The Hundred Years' War on Palestine

Future historians are likely to view the rise of national liberation movements and the start of the strategic arms race as the most momentous developments of the twentieth century. Viewed together, the two represent contrasting real­ities. One is a weapon of the weak, the other an affliction of technologically advanced, globally ambitious powers. If the arms race betrays the contempo­rary nation-states' propensity to destruction, the movements for liberation re­veal the power of hope, of people's readiness to resist injustice and seek self­ determination against seemingly impossible odds, invariably at extraordinary cost. Underlying the unprecedented rise of liberation struggles following the Second World War and formal decolonization is the increasingly perceptible gap between the sorrows of the majority in Third World countries and the contentment of the few, between the coercive military apparatus of govern­ments and the determined resistance of the governed. It is this gap that some strategic thinkers and policy makers would fill, with the augmented interven­tionist capabilities–including the tactical use of nuclear weapons in situations of "limited wars"–of a superpower and its regional surrogates.

The arms race is conclusive evidence of the harm caused by the links be­tween power and technology, between militarism and profit making. Equally conclusive have been the demonstrations by national liberation movements of people's will and capacity to defeat the destructive presumptions of modern technology and the manipulative power of management techniques.Thus two small, underdeveloped nations–Algeria and Vietnam–engaged and defeated two of the most advanced war machines and most highly developed national security states of our time. And Fidel Castro made the first clear-cut revolution in Latin America just about ninety miles away from a hostile United States. Since the end of the Second World War, liberation struggles have been the primary force in defining conflict and change in the international system. The Chinese, Algerian, Cuban, and Vietnamese struggles each had an impact on the international balance of power, marking the end of one period in world politics, inaugurating another.

Rarely in recorded history has the status quo felt more threatened than in our time. Hence it is the status quo power's interventionist responses to this perceived threat, rather than mere superpower rivalry, that poses the ultimate risk of Armageddon. Of the fifteen documentable instances of active nuclear diplomacy, nine were occasioned by the United States' confrontation with either a national liberation movement or a regime issued from it. When one adds to this another reality, viz: that the centrality of the international struggle for power has shifted in the last quarter of the twentieth century to the Middle East and southern Africa, one can only agree with Noam Chomsky that the disarmament movement in the Western world "dooms itself to near irrelevance" if it continues to duck the question of Palestine and the issues arising out of Israel's transformation as a major military power allied to the United States.

Since the 1950s, the movements for liberation in the Third World have been proliferating. Twenty-two armed movements were reported by the United States Department of Defense in 1958, and forty-two in 1965. In 1969, some fifty were under way. A decade later, several of these, including the movements in Algeria, Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bassau, Zimbabwe, and Nicaragua, had won their protracted struggles, against heavy odds and contrary to expert predictions.

In this cauldron of armed struggles, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) stands out for its uncommon characteristics. It elicits the solidarity of and arouses deep emotions among perhaps the largest mass of people in the Third World. It has been the most successful in obtaining worldwide attention and formal recognition from governments and international organizations. It is the only political movement in recorded history that is formally recognized by more governments throughout the world than its governmental adversary. Financially, it is believed to have been at best strikingly unsuccessful not only in achieving its objectives but even in denying continued success to its adversary's expansionist and colonizing goals. It has, nevertheless, been one of the most enduring liberation struggles of our time. Its durability, despite continued losses, is a tribute to the persistence of the Palestinian people and a measure of the legitimacy the PLO commands among them.

No other liberation struggle in history presents so many paradoxes. For an explanation of its uniqueness, one must view the Palestinian movement in terms of:

  1. The historical significance of the struggle for Palestine not only for the Palestinian people but also in its international,Third World, and Arab contexts.
  2. The complexity and discipline of the Palestinians' primary adversary—the Zionist movement and its product, the Israeli state.
  3. The special relationship that Zionism and Israel developed with the para-mount world powers during the periods of its [Israel's] expansion and active confrontation with the Palestinian Arabs (1915-48; 1967 on).
  4. The crisis of Arab nationalist ideology that resulted from its antagonistic collaboration with the Arab state system (Nasserism, Baath) and the centrality of the Palestine question in maintaining an ideologically and structurally paralyzing relationship between Arabism and Arab governments.
  5. The failure of Palestinian leaders to grasp the significant details in 2, 3, and 4 above and to develop a winning strategy of struggle that would help evade the dangers and exploit the opportunities presented by friends no less than enemies.
  6. The failure of the PLO to offer a consistent, coherent, and functioning pro-gram based on a meaningful vision of the future but informed also by courageously and creatively drawn lessons of the past, especially the lessons of their own earlier encounter with Zionism and of the theory and practice of revolutionary warfare.
All these points are touched on in this essay; the primary focus, however, is on the last point.

The Question of Palestine in the Context of the Third World

Edward Said once talked of why the question of Palestine so stirs the emotions of people throughout the world. He spoke of the animating role of ideas and values of liberation, equality, and fraternity; of the power of the simplicity of a people's quest for a home, the right to live outside refugee camps free from the daily terror of settlers and soldiers; of the persistence of a people's inalienable claim to dignity, equality, and self-determination. One might add that the Palestinian experience, like the South African, affects a majority of mankind at a deeper, more primordial level. Our painful colonial past, neo-colonial present, and the dangerous perspective for our future converge on the question of Palestine.

August 1947 marked the beginning of decolonization, when British rule in India ended with a last spasmodic human carnage. In January 1948, Burma became independent; in February, Ceylon; October 1949 witnessed the exhilarating final liberation of China. It was in those days of hopes and fulfillments that the colonization of Palestine occurred. It was formalized in 1948 by the establishment of Israel cosponsored by the postwar superpowers, consecrated by the United Nations, and conceded by the abject failure of Arab governments. Thus, at the dawn of decolonization, we were returned to the earliest, most intense form of colonial menace–the exclusivist settler colonialism that had dealt genocidal blows to the great civilizations and peoples of the Americas. As if to compel our historical memory, Israel's sectarian, racialist character was ensured by the expulsion of the native Palestinians from their homeland. The tragedy occurred as a counterpoint to contemporary history, a reminder that all was not well with the era of decolonization.

There were in the Palestinian example some dire warnings, some terrible lessons for the Third World. The conduct of "independent" Arab governments in relation to the British role in the transformation of Palestine provided alarming insights into the culture and political mind of the postcolonial elites, the bureaucratic legalism, mindless formalism, and petty opportunism of their diplomacy of dependence. When the belated showdown finally came in 1948, the performance of the Arab armies was the first dramatic indication one had of the meaning of independence, the nature of the postcolonial state, the corruption of our ruling classes. Similarly, since 1967, Israel's expansionism, the United States' all-out support of it, and the Arab governments' responses toward both Israel and its sustainer have been daily reminders of the meaning of disorganic development in the Third World and the consequences of accommodating ourselves to dependent, undemocratic minority governments.

We have in the Middle East also a testing ground of imperial design, the centerpiece of Washington's post-Vietnam strategic architecture; of nuclearization; of addiction to unusable and dependence-inducing weapons; of regional surrogates armed to the teeth; and of plans and preparedness for intervention In short, we have here, organically linked to the state of Israel, the wherewithals of recolonization. To anyone who is willing to see, it should be clear that Israel and the United States are together engaged in shaping the future of the region from Pakistan to Morocco; unless they are stopped now, and isolated from each other, the sovereignty and integrity of the entire region will have been mortgaged for centuries to come. Thus the question of Palestine, to which has now been added the question of Lebanon, transcends the question of Palestinians' right to peace and self-determination, fundamentally important as it is.

In the absence of viable partners in the Arab world, the PLO has been saddled with a heavier burden than any other liberation movement in contemporary history except one: following the Korean war, US policy placed the Vietnamese in a similar predicament. Their response–historically rooted, tactically flexible, strategically consistent, and politically virtuous–changed the premises of world politics and sent Washington scurrying in several directions at once, including, as we shall later see, into the arms of Israel. A movement in exile, an integral part of the Arab nationalist environment but excluded from its system, itself dependent on the goodwill of others who lacked not merely vision and wisdom but also principles and commitments, confronting an expansionist, settler-colonial adversary, the PLO was not equipped structurally, ideologically, organizationally, or demographically to carry this burden. Only a few of its leaders thought that it was; most were wiser. Their modest lives and limited objectives testify to their understanding. Yet all have made the mistake of allowing accommodations, pretenses, ambiguities, and claims that prevented the evolution of a clear and consistent political program responding to Zionism's unusual, unorthodox challenge and the Palestinians' special realities. It should, nevertheless, be underlined that it is the unique fate of the Palestinian and Arab people that they have encountered a remarkable phenomenon: a settler-colonial movement in the twentieth century, an infinitely better organized, more desperate, more disciplined, more complex, if inherently weaker, movement than its predecessors.

II. Settler Colonization and Its Zionist Paradigm

Unless one counts the centuries-long, largely unrecorded, and dispersed resistance of the vanished native people against white settler colonialism in the Americas, no liberation movement in modern times has encountered an adversary like the one the Palestinians have faced. Israel obviously shares many similarities with South Africa and may in time come to resemble the apartheid state more than most liberal Zionists suspect. However, structurally and substantively the Zionist movement and state share significant similarities with the early form of colonial movements that transformed the Western Hemisphere into the "New World" of the West. They destroyed the Aztec, the Mayan, the Inca civilizations and the Indian cultures and peoples, including the five "civilized nations" of the United States and Canada. It is a pioneering colonialism, one that seeks to exclude and eliminate the native inhabitants rather than to occupy and exploit them. Although produced by the process and power of imperialism, it is a form of colonialism that offers refuge to the disinherited, to persecuted minorities and to the surpluses, marginals, and misfits created by industrialism and modernization in the metropolis. A colonialism committed to replacing the native people, it is racist and extremist by nature. Yet, a product of the Western metropolis, constituted mostly of the dispossessed, of dissidents and the persecuted, it is often liberal in ideology and humane in rhetoric. Hypocrisy, the compliment paid by vice to virtue, is the hallmark of the exclusionist settler style. It is invariably hardened both by appropriating the colonial ethos that assumes the inferiority of the natives and by producing a moral epistemology uniquely its own, involving the negation of native realities, the myths of an empty land, of swamps reclaimed and deserts blooming. Settler moralism is compounded with messianic complexes of manifest destinies and promised lands, and with an ethic of work without which the exclusion of the native is rendered difficult. It is a colonial form that produces a paranoid strain in the colonizing culture, an instrumental attitude toward violence and a tendency to expand. Naturally, the exclusionist settler society develops a dynamic of its own in the promised land, so to say, and occasionally comes to exercise a certain autonomy, sometimes even full independence from its metropolitan sponsors.

All settler societies share certain vulnerabilities. Basic weaknesses and insecurities tend to characterize them until three conditions have been fulfilled:

  1. until the "solution" of the native "problem" has been found and finalized;
  2. until the settler state has decisively established its hegemony over or at least achieved normal relations with its neighbors;
  3. Until is has obtained a measure of independence from its metropolian sponsors by acquiring the ability to sustain itself economically and militarily, because until it has fulfilled the first two conditions, the settler society must remain a garrison state, dependent on foreign military aid and logistical support.

The historic settler societies of the era following the industrial revolution, the United States, Canada, and other countries of the Western Hemisphere, easily crossed the danger point a long time ago, aided by an overwhelmingly imperialist environment; the absence of concerted resistance by the fragmented, unsuspecting, and unprepared native civilizations; their access to the vast resources of the New World; their distance from the metropolitan country; and a steady stream of immigrants from the Old World. The white settler societies in Africa (there was no significant settler community in Asia until the Zionist implantation of the European-Jewish community in Palestine) did not fare so well. They lacked each of the three attributes of permanence. The settler colonial states of Kenya, Algeria, Angola, and Zimbabwe experienced the more violent form of decolonization; liberation from white rule was achieved by the indigenous inhabitants who had remained a majority, if an extremely dispossessed one.

Of the two remaining settler societies outside the Western Hemisphere, South Africa, by and large, fulfills the third condition. It has control over enough financial and technological resources and raw materials to afford a certain independence from and bargaining power in relation to the metropolitan countries. But despite many attempts to discard and quarter the native people, the African majority has held; and although several of its neighbors remain economically dependent on it, South Africa has not been able to ensure their conformity and recognition. To the contrary, the future of South Africa is more uncertain today than ever before. The failure of apartheid has become increasingly apparent as resistance among the black people has spread and become bolder than most observers were able to imagine only a decade ago.The establishment in Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe of independent governments has heightened the white regime's sense of insecurity and extended the frontiers of its overt and covert aggression. There is no apparent pool of potential white immigrants on which the racist regime could draw in order to overcome its demographic and political predicament. And the alternative of expelling or liquidating the native population is not available to it because:

  1. Its economy has become structurally dependent on a sizable African labor force;
  2. the black population, now numbering some 16 million, is much too large to be disposed of;
  3. world opinion is far too mobilized against the regime to permit the exterminist solution, even if the white regime were willing to under take it.

Israel, still far from reaching these goals, is trying to fulfill all three conditions simultaneously. It does not have access to resources comparable to South Africa's or the advantages of being surrounded by weak, landlocked, and, until recently, colonized neighbors. Yet in each of the three areas it has made dramatic and unexpected gains, thanks to its own initiatives, careful planning, and resourcefulness; thanks largely to Washington's enormous economic, military, and diplomatic support; but thanks also to the inept conduct of Arab governments and to the distracted, piecemeal responses and badly chosen priorities of Palestinian leaders. It is noteworthy that in its dual quest for expansion and consolidation Zionist strategy and style have changed but little.A more striking fact is that although the international environment and the position of the Arabs in it has drastically changed, Arab responses to the Zionist challenge have not done so significantly.There is a qualitative and meaningful increment in the mobilization of Palestinian identity and resistance, yet there remains, in the conduct of the Palestinian struggle, a certain absence of learning from the past.

III. The Past Revisited

In order to comprehend how much of history is being repeated during Israel's attempt, since 1967, to complete the transformation of Palestine, it may be helpful briefly to recapitulate the past. Zionism's successes in the first struggle for Palestine may be summarized as being due to the following factors:

  1. It successfully linked itself to the paramount imperial power (Britain). While maintaining this link, it developed the institutions, alternatives, and leverage needed to exercise a certain autonomy from its British sponsor. The Zionist movement did not confine itself merely to lobbying or to currying Britain's favor. Rather, it attempted to link its interests organically with those of the imperialist power; yet, wherever the necessity arose, it confronted Britain by directly threatening its interests. In other words, the Zionist movement evinced then, as Israel does now in its relations with the United States, an operative understanding that relations with other states–be they allies or adversaries–must be based not on ingratiation and appeals but on an exercise of power and the principle of mutual exchange. The Arabs responded generally by trying to compete with Zionism for Britain's favors but never quite linking their favors–economic or political–to British policy. Without genuine evidence of British goodwill toward Arabs or the will to make good on stated policy, Arab governments conceded Britain the role of an arbiter.
  2. Zionist settlement and expansion policy was characterized, in Edward Said's apt phrase, by a remarkable "discipline of detail." The expansion crept slowly, inch by inch, step by step, "another acre, another goat"—as Chaim Weizman put it. And the final Judaization of the greater part of Palestine occurred "coterminously" with its de-Arabization. This was no happenstance. Early Zionist leaders' plans to "reconstitute" Palestine were marked by cold calculation, circumspection, and a salami-slicing approach. In 1895, Theodore Herzl saw the necessity of "spiriting the penniless population . . . across the border," noting that "both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly." Forty-five years later, in 1940, Joseph Weitz, then director of the Jewish National Fund, would note in his diaries that "there is no room for both people in this country . . . There is no room for compromise on this point. . . . We must not leave a single village, not a single tribe."
  3. Demographic expansion of Jews in Palestine was achieved by a highly organized campaign to obtain the exodus (aliyah) of European Jews to Palestine. This campaign included both a collaboration with the Nazis, especially in the early phase when the Germans were seeking a solution to the "Jewish problem" by the expulsion of Jews from Nazi-occupied territories, and a discouragement of the transfer and resettlement of the victims of European fascism in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. Both policies on the part of Zionist organizations caused undoubted augmentation in the number of Holocaust victims, but they provided the legitimacy and the manpower needed for the transformation of Palestine into a Zionist state.
  4. Emerging out of a nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European, especially Russian, milieu, the Zionist movement, though ideologically primitive and retrograde, organizationally had the characteristics of a revolutionary movement. It built institutions and propagated values, and it proceeded to administer the enemy (in this case, the Palestinian people) before it began to outfight them, Alienation of land, access to water, strangulation of the indigenous economy, and devaluation of Palestinian culture were the primary goals of Zionist strategy. The Palestinian peasants and workers responded as beleaguered, oppressed people always do: with protest and resistance involving sporadic, mostly uncoordinated violence. Their violence invariably served as an alibi for Zionist aggression and expansion.
        The Palestinian elite met Zionism's specific, organized challenge not only in the context of general Arab politics but, more importantly, also in the Arab governments' institutional frame of reference–with official representation and legal briefs, invoking general principles (right to self-determination, legal claims to Palestine, British promises) and moral appeals for justice. They had no parallel organizations capable of mobilizing and leading the Palestinians' collective resistance, no program of assisting the besieged Palestinian communities and of shoring up their defenses and morale. They had weak institutions for popular participation and leadership accountability and no strategy to hold the land. Hence the 1948 confrontation occurred in an environment permeated with a mood of failure, demoralization, and dependence; and the people–some 780,000 of them–were driven out of or fled from their homes, hoping to return after the Arab armies liberated their land.
  5. The Zionist movement grasped the crucial importance of keeping its Palestinian adversary morally and politically isolated, especially in the Western world, where lay the focus of world power. It did so by employing multiple techniques of propaganda and manipulation; of these, two are noteworthy. It successfully portrayed itself as an underdog, striving for Jewish survival, outgunned, outnumbered, and mortally menaced by a populous and powerful enemy intent on "throwing the Jews into the sea." It portrayed the Palestinians either as nonexistent or as a backward, undifferentiated part of a larger entity called the Arab world. The rhetorical flourishes and verbal violence of Arab and Palestinian leaders and various Arab gov- ernments' pretenses to represent the Palestinian people lent credence (and to a much smaller extent still do) to Zionist claims. It is in this latter aspect that, by in- controvertibly asserting Palestinian identity and its right to self-representation, the PLO made its most significant departure from the past and came closest to resembling the classicalmodel of national liberation movements.
        This gain was the primary target of Israel's war in Lebanon–an Israeli objective that the Reagan Plan attempted to consecrate by asking King Hussein to represent Palestine.
  6. International support, especially the support of Western public opinion and of the Jewish diaspora, played a crucial role in Zionist successes.The Zionists appreciated the crucial role of cultural institutions, religious organizations, and professional associations in linking civil society to political power and thus in creating the political climate and long-range trends in policy making. Arabs, on the other hand, did little to affect public attitudes in the West, neglected the centers of political pressure and institutions of civil society in favor of communicating only with political power.
  7. The Zionist movement was nonconformist, unorthodox, and audacious in narrowing the gaps between its objectives and the immediate opportunities. In doing this, it correctly evaluated and put its bets on Arabs' responses, counting heavily on the rejectionist strain in Arab politics; its tactical acceptance of the UN partition plan (to which the Zionist leaders were in fact opposed) is a case in point.
  8. The Zionists used diplomacy tactically, as a weapon to exploit opportunities, consolidate gains, and isolate the Palestinians. The Arab side viewed diplomacy strategically and lost opportunities and flexibility of posture as a result.

It was the combination of a complex and relentlessly pursued Zionist strategy and a disjointed, piecemeal Arab and Palestinian response to it that made possible the first victory of Zionism over the Palestinians and Arabs. But it was a victory made decisive by the many failures of Arab governments. (Be- tween 1947 and 1967, they had assumed entirely the responsibilities of repre- senting Palestinian interests and of defending the Arab "fatherland.") These governments' decisions and policies made possible both the creation and Ju- daization of Israel and later its consolidation as a state. Israel's unilateral decla- ration of independence might eventually have proved as illusory as the Rhodesian UDI of Ian Smith. And had the Arab governments made a viable effort to prevent another aliyah, this time of Arab Jews into Israel, the history and contemporary character of Palestinian/Israeli confrontation would be significantly different.

Exodus and Expulsion: A Dialectic

In 1948, Israel resolved its "native" problem in a single masterstroke by expelling the Palestinians from their homeland. It was a "miracle" rendered easy by the ill-timed and impulsive rejection of the United Nations partition plan, ill-prepared and corrupt conduct of the war by participating Arab governments, and the inverted priorities of both the Palestinian and Arab leaders, e.g., Hajj Amin,Al-Husseini, and King Abdullah. Having rid itself of the Palestinians, Israel needed to shore up its demographic strength; its predominantly European population and economy also needed a pool of cheap labor. From 1950 to 1965, the Israel aliyah program concentrated not on Russian, American, or European Jewry but on including the immigration of Arab Jews from their native lands to Israel. Again, no Arab government or Palestinian leader of the time–Ahmad Al-Shukury being the most prominent among them–grasped the significance of the Zionist campaign, and no effort was made to discourage the massive immigration of "Oriental Jews" to the sectarian settler state. After the conquests of 1967, Israel again faces the classic dilemma of the exclusionist settler society. It needs more Jews to settle the occupied lands and fewer Arabs under occupation in order to ensure the "Jewish character" of Eretz Israel. Thus a well-orchestrated campaign was launched, after the 1967 war, to induce immigration, especially of Russian Jews to Israel, and a systematic policy gradually escalated of alienating and expelling the Palestinians from their land. Again, there has been no organized and sustained Arab/Palestinian effort to stop Israel on these two crucial tracks.

Israel's problem is real; its preferred solutions involve obvious and serious dangers for the Palestinian/ Arab inhabitants of the Occupied Territories and a continuing denial of their fundamental rights to Palestinians in the diaspora. They also point at other contradictions and vulnerabilities of settler states. I had earlier mentioned the ethnocentric ethics of work, without which the exclusion of the natives becomes difficult. But all settler communities are by nature modern, industrializing, and capitalist. As such, when an alternative pool of racially "pure" labor is not available, then the ideologically claimed ethics of work (e.g.,Jewish labor–Jewish land; Jewish factory–Jewish hands) yield to the profit motive, and relations of production tend to determine policy toward the native inhabitants. Economic and political change gradually pushes the settler economy toward dependence on native labor; the exclusionist settler state becomes also an exploitative one. When a settler society is forced–by economic and political processes–to abandon its ethnocentric ethic of work, it must choose between genocide and slavery, apartheid and assimilation. In the United States, the Indians were virtually wiped out and, in order to replenish labor, the Southern states turned to slavery. Mexico became assimilated. South Africa chose apartheid.

Today, Israel is at a crossroads, relying more on Arab labor than before, yet far from depending on it. Sensitive to long-term trends, given to planning in detail, and fixed in its sectarian ideology, Israel appears to be simultanesouly pursuing four routes to escape the demographic and structural dangers to its exclusivist character:

  1. It seeks more Jewish immigrants, aiming its aliyah campaign especially at Russian Jewry.
  2. There is a concerted policy of dispossessing and driving out the Palestinian population, especially from Jerusalem and the West Bank.
  3. Israeli industry is expanding most rapidly in the armaments sector that is inclined to be the most capital intensive.
  4. There are discussions and plans to introduce foreign–including Lebanon (and Gaza Strip)–based workers into Israel.
The heart of the Israeli scheme is the first two–Jewish immigration and Arab dispossession.

In 1968, Israel launched an elaborate campaign to alienate the Soviet Jewry from its patrimony and to induce the immigration of Russian Jews to Israel. Another "exodus" aliyah is obviously deemed necessary to achieve the goal of colonizing "Judea and Samaria" without incurring the risk, as the term goes in Israel, of "levantinizing" Eretz Israel. Although Zionist leaders and Israeli officials understate their success, the campaign has, in fact, made impressive gains. Between October 1968 and October 1982, a total of 261,994 Jewish citizens left the Soviet Union with Israeli visas. Approximately 180,000 of them actually went to Israel; the 82,000 "dropouts" have been a cause of bitter controversy within the Zionist movement. There is much concern in the Israeli government also over the immigrants who eventually leave Israel, although only about 3 percent of the 180,000 have emigrated, and a total of 162,000 have stayed in Israel.

During the same period, 125,000 Jews settled in the Occupied Territories, and an estimated 650,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled or emigrated from the Israeli-occupied territories. Among the zealots who are settling the Occupied Territories, right-wing American Jews, not the Russian immigrants, figure most prominently. But the point is Israel's quest to dominate Eretz Israel demographically, not the exact location of its new immigrants. Furthermore, the pressures created by the influx of immigrants on Israel's have provided an impetus and justification for the construction of settlement housing, especially in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The subsidized good life being offered in the suburban Jewish settlements, especially on the West Bank, can only add incentives to future immigration.

The Soviet immigrants are also believed by some observers to have become a key factor in Israel's burgeoning, economically and strategically significant armaments industry.They are well educated, technically qualified new arrivals. By 1981, Soviet-trained engineers constituted an estimated 35-50 percent of all qualified Israeli engineers, and the new Russian arrivals constituted a fourth of Israel's medical staff. Their participation in the weapons industry is believed to be significant. According to an April 1981 report, in the Israeli aircraft industry alone, three thousand Jews from the USSR work as technicians and engineers. Their number in all the weapon-exporting industries must be much greater, and probably it is their help alone that allowed these industries to expand phenomenally in recent years. In only two years, 1979-1980, the Israeli export of weapons increased by 371 percent.

By 1982, Israel had become, thanks mainly to technology transfers from and coproduction deals with the United States, the sixth largest exporter of arms in the world.

The significance of this development cannot be overstated. It has created new and organic linkages between Israel and its metropolitan sponsor, and it has given Israel greater leverage in its relations with the United States. For Israel's expanding arms industry is being linked by multiple ties to the "military-industrial complex" in America. In addition, for the American policy makers, Israel's arms-supply capability has become a viable instrument of overcoming the "Vietnam Syndrome," i.e., the post-Vietnam popular opposition to interventionist US involvement against liberation movements abroad, and of evading congressional or diplomatic prohibitions against providing military aid to such countries as South Africa, Chile, Guatemala, Argentina, and the counterrevolutionary Nicaraguan saboteurs in Honduras.

More impressive than the numerical gains of its post-1967 aliyah campaign has been Israel's success in institutionalizing, legitimizing, and internationalizing its goals of obtaining the immigration of Jews from the USSR to Israel. A network of institutions and activities, both open and clandestine, inside the USSR has been created to encourage and support this aliyah.The legitimacy of this campaign has been quietly established. Under United States pressure, the USSR agreed to regard Israel as the sole legitimate destination for departing Russian Jews. Although its rationale is the unification of families, and it occurred in the absence of counterpressures or even mild open protests from Arab quarters, it remains, nevertheless, an ironic socialist concession to a sectarian, theocratic concept. Even more striking has been Israel's success in formally linking the question of Soviet-Jewish immigration with US-Soviet relations. Since the commitments given Israel by the Nixon administration, the passage of the Jackson Amendment (1969), and the signing of the Helsinki Accords (1975), the matter of Jewish immigration has become an integral part of superpower diplomacy. It is considered routine now for US officials and negotiators to bring up, with their Soviet counterparts, demands for more visas to Israel. Hence the rate of immigration fluctuates in accordance with the state of US-Soviet relations: in 1982, "detente" hit its worst year since 1968, and, at 2,700 persons, the figure of Soviet immigration to Israel was the lowest. The Israeli goal is to get the entire Russian-Jewish population of three million. If this goal is a quarter filled, the boundaries of Eretz Israel could easily expand beyond the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.

V. A Second Transformation of Palestine?

It was mentioned earlier that while in the fifteen years following the 1967 war the Israeli campaign produced the immigration of 180,000 Russians and an estimated 35,000 other Jews (American, Latin American, and European) into Israel, more than half a million Arabs were expelled from the Occupied Territories. A high death rate (15 per 1,000) and enormous infant mortality (at least 82 per 1,000) have been adding to the demographic depletion of the Arab people in occupied Palestine. Thus, in a 1982 report, Meron Benvenisti, a former Israeli deputy mayor of Jerusalem, concludes that: "A comparison of the annual growth rate indicates that the so-called demographic threat, i.e., the gradual increased proportion of West Bank and Gaza inhabitants versus Jews in Western Palestine, is not upheld by the data. While it is true that there are more Arab children (Israeli, West Bank and Gaza) in the 0-7 years age group, the aggregate Arab growth rate is almost half the Jewish rate."

Given what humanity has already suffered from another ethnocentric ideology, one had a right to hope that such ethnic body counts shall not concern the survival and freedom of a people. It is, nevertheless, a fact that, unlike classic colonialism, Israel has put into question not only one's sense of justice but the very commitment of a people to their soil. Por the Palestinians, then, it is a question literally of survival. Hence the numbers are important both to the victimizers and the victim. The extreme balance in Jewish/Arab demographic growth, which Mr. Benvenisti has noted in his fine study, is a product of Israel's policies, not of moral forces. Much on the subject has already been written, and the question of Israeli settlements has been a focus of international attention. Here we need only point out briefly that Israel's policy, complex in planning, cold-blooded and methodical in execution, once again aimed at dispossessing the Arabs of Palestine of the four fundamental elements–land, water, leaders, and culture–without which an indigenous community cannot survive. It is a policy of ethnocide, in the strict, legal sense of the word.

Israel has expropriated more than a third of the total land in the Occupied Territories–in the Jordan Valley the figure exceeds 60 percent. Stringent Israeli controls over water and electricity render the remaining land vulnerable to Israel's will, which is being consistently exercised to the detriment of the native population. Arab wells go dry when deep-bored wells are sunk in nearby Israeli settlements; permission to sink new wells is generally denied the Arabs. Meron Benvenisti reports that "the settlements today are 2-3% of the West Bank population and use 20% of the total water consumption of this area." It is thus that orange groves, tended for generations and vital to Palestinian livelihood, die as swimming pools are built in the Israeli settlements.

About 18 percent of the West Bank's total area has been incorporated in the annexed Jerusalem district. Its 120,000 Arab inhabitants have become disenfranchised nonpersons. These annexed areas are excluded from the "autonomy" envisaged in the Camp David Accords (and, by a sleight of words, from the Reagan Plan). So are the "settlement" lands, "absentee" properties, and properties in the "security" zones.

The Palestinians have been demographically "cut off" by 122 strategically situated settlements, says Matityahu Drobles, head of the Jewish Agency's Settlement Department and author of the Master Plan for the Development of Judea and Samaria (1978), to render it "difficult for the minority Israeli Arab population to unite and create territorial and political continuity."The Drobles Plan of October 1978, calling for 125 settlements, has nearly been completed. Enlargement of the settlements and large housing projects are in progress. Israeli planning now envisages, in thirty years, a population of one million Jews on the West Bank. Throughout the world, pioneers are being recruited for this purpose and are being trained and armed in Israel. These vigitlantes are a law unto themselves. The Arabs under occupationtoday live in the nightmarish world of a thousand and one Kristalinachts.

For a people to become demoralized and for its resista11ce to be weakened, it must lose its local leaders, its cultural institutions, and identity. An estimated 3,000 Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are political prisoners; another 1,500 have been expelled by the occupying power. Municipalities have been denuded of power. Elected mayors have been dismissed. Quislings have been imposed on Arab villages as Israeli-appointed "leaders" of the "Village League." Libraries are regularly shut down. Books, including translations of Western works and classics, are banned. Documents are destroyed. Schools and colleges, including the Bir Zeit University, the principal institution of higher education, are perennially closed by military order. Even the use of the word "Palestine" is proscribed, and the law is selectively enforced. Curiously, like the fascist government of Germany, the Israeli government has been extremely legal minded in going about its ugly mission. It has created an elaborate set of new laws and resuscitated or reinterpreted some old ones to use against the indigenous inhabitants.

For more than a decade now, we have been witness to the second transformation of Palestine. The process bears a certain similarity to Zionism's earlier enterprise. The colonization of the West Bank began slowly; at first, "security" was its only stated raison d'etre, then its pace accelerated and the justification became ideological. As before, the eventual solution of the demographic problem of finding a sizable number of non-Jews in the Jewish state is assumed. "We should not be afraid of Arab demography," says Mordecai Tzipori, the Israeli minister of commerce, "there are ways and means to counter this." The proposed solutions to Israel's expansionist dilemma range from allowing the "minority" autonomy instead of citizenship to the outright "expulsion of 700,000-800,000" persons. That this latter was contemplated at high official levels was disclosed by General Aharon Yariv, Israel's retired chief of military intelligence.

Similarities with the past are more striking on the Arab side. The possibilities of Israel obtaining another exodus of foreign Jews and expanding even farther into the fertile crescent seemed as remote in the 1960s and 1970s as had the prospects of the creation of a Zionist state in Palestine appeared to the Arabs in the early 1900s. There are other parallels: the complicity of the contemporary superpowers, then of Britain and now of the United States, in the transformation of Palestine (add Lebanon!); the ease with which the Arab rulers conferred on the British and then the American governments the role of just and evenhanded arbiters; the formalistic legalism, mindless rejectionism, the political opportunism, and the diplomacy by ingratiation that lost the Arabs the first struggle for Palestine are still there. Thus, so far, no Arab govermnent has seen the necessity of linking its economic relations with the United States to the latter's military and economic support for Israel's expansionist drive. None has taken one substantive step to oppose Israel's well-planned drive toward further expansion. As they did following the Balfour Declaration, Arab and Muslim governments confine themselves to issuing statements and making ineffectual representations against an aggressive and ambitious adversary.

There are, to be sure, differences with the past.This time, the World Zionist Organization has at its disposal the power of an occupation army and the protection and support of the United States. This time, the Zionist drive is not motivated by the search for a state; nor is it joined by a desperate, driven people. Its motor is a state; its motivation is power; its goal, domination of the region from "Morocco to Pakistan." Israel's avocation now is merely imperial, as John Chancellor, the NBC anchorman understood in a fleeting moment of anguish. "One of the strangest features of the conflict over Palestine," the great historian Arnold J.Toynbee wrote, "is that it should be necessary to demonstrate that the Arabs have a case." Zionism's greatest kudos had been its ability to convince the Western world and an overwhelming majority of Jews of its goodness as an ideology, its moral validity as a "liberation movement." It did so not merely by misrepresenting itself but also by representing the Palestinians first as nonexistent, then as nonhuman, "two-legged beasts" (in Prime Minister Menachem Begin's description). "There is a nemesis for committing wrongs as well as for condoning them," Toynbee had warned a decade ago in a statement that was controversial at the time.

Today, the goddess of retribution has begun to haunt Israel. No one except its die-hard right-wing supporters can defend its policies, from South Africa, Argentina, and El Salvador to the West Bank and Lebanon. Bereft of its moral egotism, Israeli society is more susceptible to self-doubt now than ever before, to divisions from within, and to substantive pressures from without. Since the relationship is defined ultimately in terms of metropolitan interests, distrust of the supporting metropolis is basic to settler mentality. Israel's power is still largely derivative: it depends heavily on the bounties of an uncertain, distrusted ally. What has aided it so far has been the Arab failure to open and widen this potential breach. Finally, like other settler states, Israel has evinced a tendency to keep its frontiers in a state of hostile flux. Israel suffers from an inexorable dialectic of anxiety, violence, and expansion. Hence it tends to reproduce its own risks. Thus Israel's demographic "problem," resolved after the 1948 Palestinian exile, has returned following the conquests of 1967. Thus it is in the process of denormalizing its relations with Egypt, its most important and populous neighbor. Thus it has invaded Lebanon, which, given a certain policy on Syria's part and some planning by the Lebanese, could nom into a quagmire for Israel.

There are differences with the past, too, on the Arab side. The Palestinians are led today by a national liberation movement that, even in its divided state, commands their support. The experience of dispossession, of exile and repression, above all, of suffering and resistance has endowed them with a lasting identity as Palestinians. As such, they are the most likely contributors to the development of a humane and universalist program for which the modern Middle East has yearned for so long. The PLO. like other successful liberation movements of our time, has built institutions, renders services, offers participation, produces culture, and is led by a trusted and popular leader. The Palestinian milieu today is qualitatively different from what it was in 1948. It is a lively, creative, combative milieu. In this post-Second World War world, the Palestinians are the only Third World people to learn two languages in a single generation, the language of the conquerors and the language of resistance. In the Occupied Territories, they have daily demonstrated their persistence and their will to stay on in their ancient homeland. And the unaided Palestinians, joined by the Lebanese patriots opposed to the ethnocentric vision of Phalangists and Israelis, have given Israel its longest war to date. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon ended certainly in major losses to the Palestinians and the Lebanese. Analogies are approximations of contemporary to historical experiences. In this sense, the PLO's losses in Lebanon may be compared to that of the FLN in the battle of Algiers. After the battle was "lost" (1957), the leaders of the movement dispersed; its headquarters moved out to Tunisia, from where they returned in July 1962 to an independent Algeria. Another comparison, and one that may have more valuable lessons to offer the PLO, is with the Chinese liberation movement, which thrice during its protracted struggle suffered crippling defeats, bringing it close to total annihilation. Each of these disasters led to radical innovations in the strategy and tactics of the Chinese struggle for liberation. The best known of these setbacks–the annihilation of the Kiangsi Soviet and other bases in 1934–led to the epic Long March. More important, the lessons of the encirclement, fighting, and retreat from the Kiangsi Soviet led Mao Tse Tung to abandon the strategy of "agrarian revolution and armed insurrection in favor of the formation of the anti-Japanese United Front of the reform program of the New Democracy."

Most liberation movements in contemporary history had their turning points after a major setback. Historically, crises and defeats have served creative functions in struggles for liberation. However, there are fundamental requirements for a turning around. They entail critical evaluation of errors and weaknesses in the preceding assumptions and conduct of the struggle, a dispassionate analysis of available options, willingness to innovate, and, above all, the creative adherence to the basic precepts of revolutionary struggle.

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