The national conflict in Israel/Palestine has been one of the most consistently high-profile conflicts in world politics for many years. It inspires enormous passion and controversy on all sides; anyone who’s ever attended a meeting about the issue may have experienced some of that first hand. But not everyone — including some of the people who’re most passionate! — have a genuine understanding of the roots of the conflict.
While the issues are undoubtedly complex, one immediate dynamic is simple. One state, Israel, which has a first-world economy and one of the most powerful militaries on the planet, is occupying the land where the Palestinian Arab people live and has been doing so since 1967.
The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was a rather botched attempt to deal with the reality that a large number of Jews, most of whom were refugees from Nazi genocide, were now living in historic Palestine. Most of these Jews had nowhere else to go. The UN proposed a plan that created two states, one for the Jews and one for the Palestinian Arabs. But in the war that followed the creation of the Israeli-Jewish state (which also included the effective forced exile of nearly 800,000 Palestinians), the Palestinian state was snuffed out. Egypt and Jordan grabbed most of its territory.
In 1967, the Israeli state extended its borders by occupying the two territories in which most Palestinians now live, Gaza and the West Bank. That occupation includes a massive range of daily brutalisations and humiliations of Palestinians, from the checkpoint network that inhibits their movement right through to full-scale military incursions. Israel is a highly militarised society, with compulsory national service in the army. Its media helps maintain support for the occupation by promoting a siege mentality amongst Israeli people.
In terms of the basic power dynamic underlying the conflict, Israel is the oppressor state and the Palestinians are the oppressed people. There is a struggle for Palestinian national liberation.
But this does not mean that the situation is simply one of good vs bad. Politics is not a football match, and it’s not a case of “bad Israelis against good Palestinians”. Most socialists have historically fought for the right of national groups (people who share a language, culture and history and who inhabit a distinct geographical territory) to have “self-determination”, that is, the right to govern themselves within that territory including by setting up a separate nation-state (country) if they wish.
The Palestinians’ right to self-determination is clearly being stamped on and blocked by the Israeli occupation. But what about the Israeli-Jews (who also represent a national group by any reasonable definition of the term)? Shouldn’t they have the right to self-determination too?
Workers’ Liberty, the socialist organisation which sponsors barricade, believes they should, though their expression of that self-determination shouldn’t prevent the Palestinians from claiming their rights. We believe that a mutual recognition of national rights is possible within a two-state framework. That means an immediate end to the occupation, the unconditional withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza, the dismantlement of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, and the immediate establishment of a fully independent, secure Palestinian state whose economy should be helped toward levelling up with Israel’s through massive reparations.
The pre-1967 borders are a model for how that settlement might look geographically.
That’s not a perfect solution to the conflict. It does not in itself represent justice for the 800,000 Palestinians forced from their homes in 1948. But it is a framework that guarantees some basic rights for both peoples and ends the immediate dynamic of the national-military oppression of one over the other.
Ultimately, we believe that the working-class of both nations — Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab — have more in common with each other than they do with “their” bosses. To really change the world around them they need to unite across borders, and against borders, in a struggle for socialism. But that unity is impossible without a settlement that allows mutual national rights. That’s why ending the occupation and winning an independent Palestine alongside Israel is the first step to building a movement that can destroy national oppression forever.