Hal Draper on Israel, 1948: War of independence or expansion?

Submitted by cathy n on 24 July, 2007 - 4:34 Author: Hal Draper

Editorial from the US Marxist newspaper Labor Action. "War of Independence or Expansion? appeared on 24 and 31 May 1948, soon after Israel’s declaration of independence.


All UN roads lead to war. This is again being demonstrated in Palestine. The UN, set up with fanfare to bring peace to the world, is again showing that it cannot prevent or halt war even by fifth-rate powers, such as the states of the Middle East - let alone by the major warmakers who control its deliberations.

Cannot? The Anglo-American leadership of the UN has proved that it has no wish to do so. If the US and Britain had deliberately set out to fan the flames of Jewish-Arab hostility, they need not have acted differently.

Compelled by the falling apart of the British empire to recognise the independence of Palestine on paper, the UN drew a braided line through that tortured country of mingled nationality, erecting a state-boundary wall between already suspicious and jealous peoples. The Jews were assured of a state of their own - a state completely outfitted with salients, corridors, enclaves and angles sticking into the sides of the surrounding Arab world, with military lines athwart each other and commercial routes interpenetrating. The Jews cheered.

Then Washington ran out its own partition plan, and the Arab leaders in turn were encouraged to proceed with their plan to enforce a pan-Arab Palestine by force of arms in the interests of reactionary Arab landlordism. When this had already gone virtually to the point of invasion, the White House flip-flopped, backtracked, and reversed gear again in a precipitous recognition of the new Jewish state of Israel, again encouraging the Jews.

If meanwhile the British line was more consistent, it was more consistently directed toward fomenting the Pan-Arab reaction against the partition.

As long as the two people can thus be “sicced” against each other, the shadow of imperialist domination does not leave the scene. This is the end of UN policy.

If there is to be peace at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, and if the Jews and Arabs are to live in fraternal unity, no one can look toward the United Nations or to American and British imperialism to bring this about. If there is to be peace, it has to be made by the peoples.

Labor Action has made clear its belief that the partition of Palestine into two non-viable states was not calculated to achieve any real solution of the Palestine question, and cannot. We have reiterated that, before partition, the road to a basic solution lay only in the joint struggle by the socialist workers of the Jewish community together with the oppressed peasant masses of the Arabs to throw off the yoke of their common oppressor — British imperialism based on the two ruling classes, Arab landlords and Zionist capitalists; and such Arab-Jewish cooperation from below could have forged a united Palestine in the fire of anti-imperialist struggle. Now that partition is virtually an accomplished fact, this basic road only takes a different form.

There is a war on—not yet full-scale war as this is written, but not far from it. The socialist working class of the Jewish territory has chosen to follow its Zionist leadership in achieving a separate state. As Marxist socialists — that is, as the only consistent democrats — we believe in and accept the democratic right of all peoples (including the Palestinian Jews) to self-determination, to work out their own destiny as they see fit. We said this even while advising against the exercise of this right to the point of separation.

The politics from which the Pan-Arab war and threats of invasion flow is perfectly clear — the aim of depriving the Jews precisely of this right to self determination. There is therefore not the slightest iota of common ground between the Arab landlords’ opposition to partition and our own. While we are more firmly than ever of the opinion that the Jews’ choice of separatism was a mistake and a setback for the only long-range solution, we believe that the imposition of “unity” upon Palestine by Abdullah [King of Transjordan, now Jordan] the Mufti [of Jerusalem] or the Arab League would be a reactionary solution even more disastrous in its consequences and a violation of the democratic rights of peoples.

To recognise the right of the Jews to self-determination, if it is not merely to be a pious obeisance to a formula, requires socialists also to recognise the right of the Jews to defend their choice of separate national existence against any and all reactionary attempts to deprive them of that right, whether by Arab feudal lords or UN imperialism. That is why we demanded recognition of Israel by the government, and why our British comrades particularly must demand similar action by the Labour government — as the concretisation of the demand that the imperialists keep out. That is why we demand the lifting of the imperialist embargo on arms to the new Jewish state.

But the defence of Israel’s right of self-determination against a reactionary war of invasion is only one side of the picture. Surely even the Zionist leaders do not believe that the “Palestine question” will be over if only Abdullah stops short of Israel’s borders! On the contrary, it only enters a new stage. On the one hand, the Jews face the possibility of permanent guerrilla warfare, unending “border incidents”, and above all, such permanent national hostility with the Arab world as would make national existence a nightmare of the Jewish splinter state. On the other hand, the unreproved demands by the Irgun and Stern gang for the conquest of all of Palestine raises the same question of future relations. For the socialist working class of Palestine that question is posed in terms of the present struggle as follows:

Are the Jews — socialist workers in their majority — to wage a war of nationalist expansionism, or a revolutionary war for the reunification of Palestine from below against both the Jewish and Arab ruling classes?

Today their struggle is a war of defence in the immediate circumstance. But tomorrow their struggle will inescapably be transformed into one or the other!

Before this question can be answered, the first illusion that needs destroying is the illusion that the splinter state of Israel can “go it alone”. To be sure, given Haganah military victories, Israel can succeed in maintaining its formal independence. But world imperialism — British, American and Russian — will remain on the scene with their fingers in the pie as long as the Balkanisation of the Middle East continues.

The present situation in Palestine, the fruit of partition and the end product of Zionist policy in the country, can only continue to inflame nationalist hostility on both sides.

Even if the Arab legions’ invasion is beaten back, the new state of Israel exists in an impossible economic and political situation. lts leaders will be forced to seek to fortify the stability of the new state in face of an encirclement of hatred and they will look for aid and comfort only towards the imperialists Such will be the inevitable drift of these “practical politicians whose conception of statesmanship will consist of attempts to manoeuvre with the imperialist interests which hold Palestine in a net. And the price of such statesmanship can onLy be their willingness to act as an imperialist outpost in the Middle East for one or the other of the contending forces, hoping for protection and support in exchange.

Behind all this is the sorry fact that Israel cannot exist as a splinter state quivering in the flesh of the Middle East without constant war-skirmishing or imperialist entanglements or both. This is guaranteed both for economic and political reasons.

This is why the only road that can save the Jews from subservience to imperialism or destruction by the Arabs is a course directed toward the reunification of Palestine on a basis which will permit the two peoples to live together in fraternal harmony. Such an outcome is simply impossible on the basis of the present policy of the Israeli leadership. And it is equally impossible as long as the Arab masses are under the unchallenged domination of their semi-feudal dynasties, landlords, effendis and militarists.

The reunification of Palestine and of the two peoples in it can take place only through a struggle from below. The conditions for such a struggle are present as they were before partition — the class struggle within Jewish society, and the grinding exploitation of the Arab peasants by their lords and masters.

We believe that the main (not exclusive, but the main) responsibility for taking the initiative in this direction lies with Jewish workers — precisely because, as the Zionist leaders boast on any occasion, it is the Jews who are the most advanced socially and culturally, because it is they who claim to be socialists, etc.

While opposing any attempt by the Arab landlord regimes to overthrow the Jewish state and impose their reactionary sway on the whole land, it is the duty of real socialists in Israel to fight for a policy, programme and a government of the working people which can bring about such reunification instead of deepening the nationalist gulf.

The key to such a programme is in the first place the policy of the people of Israel toward the Arabs now within their own borders. Israel must demonstrate that they are fighting not against the Arab people but against the Arab dynasts and landlords who are also the oppressors of the Arab people themselves. It must demonstrate that it seeks the alliance of the Arab masses against their own exploiters — an alliance of classes.

It can demonstrate this only by sharply reversing the whole Zionist policy toward the Arab people — accepting them as equals and collaborators in the building up, not of a Jewish state but of a bi-national state. We use the term ‘bi-national’ (which has been used with various senses) to designate merely the aim of a state which is the home of two peoples and comports itself as such, the forms to be worked out in common agreement.

Complete equal rights to the Arabs within the state of Israel: equality, not Jim Crow, in the Jewish-controlled trade unions, the abandonment of the economic nationalism which has reigned in the Jewish community hitherto, the constitutional and de facto guarantee of the Arabs’ fully recognised status as a national people — here are the elementary beginnings of such a programme in Israel which can demonstrate in action the basis for a reunited Palestine.

Only such a government in Israel could seek to stir up the Arab masses of the invading nations against their own oppressors, raising in the first place its sympathy with the demand for land to the Arab fellaheen and the other social interests of the submerged masses of the Arab semi-feudal world.
Such a state, which appears in the Middle East not as the representative of Jewish nationalist chauvinism but of the social aspirations of all the people, Jewish and Arab, could fight for a reunified Palestine — and live.

Such a programme for a revolutionary war against the Arab feudal lords, not a war of nationalist expansion against the Arab people, cannot be expected from the present rightist government of Israel, dominated by the Jewish capitalist class and tail-ended by the bourgeois labour leaders of the Histadrut, which in the longer run can only stumble from disaster to stalemate to subservience under outside imperialism.

Such a programme demands the fight for a workers’ government in Israel as the vanguard of the future United Socialist States of the Middle East.

Without such a programme all the heroic sacrifices of the Jewish people and all the military victories of the Haganah will not be able to make of Palestine anything but a death trap for the peoples and a happy hunting ground of revived imperialist influence.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.