Between 22 November and 2 December, nine members, supporters and friends of the AWL took part in a solidarity delegation to Israel and Palestine, visiting Palestinian resistance organisations, Israelis supporting them and workers’, youth, women’s, anti-occupation and solidarity organisations in both countries. Sacha Ismail discusses some of the political impressions he had during their visit.
Firstly, I want to first discuss the ways in which Israel is undermining the emergence of a two-state settlement.
One thing leftists in Britain often argue is that a two-state solution could be no different from a series of Palestinian bantustans controlled by Israel. When you go to the West Bank you see all the ways in which it would be different.
The West Bank is currently divided into three zones; only 20 percent is under full Palestinian control. 60 percent is under the control of the Israel in terms of both “security” and administration. That amounts a constant regime of harassment and intimidation against Palestinians, for instance in terms of arbitrary house demolitions, one of which we witnessed.
There are checkpoints all over the place; tens of thousands of workers have to go through these to get to work, and tens of thousands who previously worked in Israel now cannot get there and have lost their jobs.
Israel controls Palestine’s borders — and in the case of Gaza this amounts to an ongoing siege.
There is the Wall, which is not simply a barrier preventing free movement of people, but a way of seizing resources in the West Bank — for instance land and artesian wells — and economically and socially strangling many Palestinian villages. This is vividly demonstrated by the fact that the course of the Wall is almost twice as long as the 1967 border.
Then there are the settlements — and this is one of the crucial points, perhaps one which we in the AWL have not emphasised enough.
There are now hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank; settlements are expanding and new ones being built all the time. In fact, building has continued even during supposed settlement freezes. And beyond the “official” settlement-building process is a process in which far-right Israeli youth set up new encampments, often in violent conflict with the IDF, which then become accepted after they have existed for a time.
The settlers do not just seize territory; they also monopolise resources, for instance water. They control the access of Palestinian towns and villages to these resources. As a result, more and more Palestinian centres are being depopulated.
All this is what prevents the emergence of a genuinely independent Palestinian state.
It’s worth thinking about the apartheid comparison. We have argued, rightly, that Israel is not an apartheid state but a mini-colonial power. The Israelis are not a narrow caste but a nation with the whole spectrum of social classes — working class, bourgeoisie, intermediate layers — and therefore the right to self-determination. But the society which is now developing inside the Occupied Territories, as opposed to Israel itself, is something like apartheid.
In the long term, such developments might make a two-state settlement unviable. I don’t think they do, now, because the distinction between “metropolitan” Israel and the territories it occupies — between the two nations, Israel and Palestine — still holds. But what follows from that is that one of our top priorities has to be oppose the settlements and highlight the damaging role they play.
In principle, there is no reason why Jewish people should not remain in an independent Palestinian state as equal citizens. And in fact, dismantling the settlements would not be easy — the largest, Ariel, has over 150,000 inhabitants. In practice, however, I think they will have to be dismantled for Palestinian self-determination to become a reality. Certainly that was the view of Israeli leftists we spoke to.
Israeli and Palestinian left
Both are operating in extremely difficult circumstances, and are on the defensive.
In Palestine, you have the growth of the religious right — Hamas, but also beyond that jihadist groups which Palestinian leftists compare to al Qaeda. The left parties, which in any case are more left-nationalist than socialist in the sense we would understand, are weak, disoriented, and discredited by the collapse of Stalinism.
At the same time there is a vibrant Palestinian “civil society” fighting against the odds — the trade unions, but also for instance women’s and now LGBT movements. They were thrown back by the chaos of the Second Intifada and Israel’s military repression, but they are using the relative calm and stability since 2006 to rebuild and renew their struggle. Solidarity with these forces is also a priority.
In some, although conditions within Israel are easier, the Israeli left is more marginalised.
The failure of the Oslo process, the increasing shamelessness with which Israel’s military power is exercised, the expansion of the settlements — all these things have poisoned Israeli politics, undermining the left and the peace movement and boosting the right. At present, anti-occupation demonstrations are small; even the movement against the Gaza war in 2009 mobilised only 10,000 or 20,000, rather than the hundreds of thousands seen in previous anti-war movements. And the settlers are at the core of a growing religious-nationalist bloc in Israeli politics. Former Knesset member Uri Avnery, who we interviewed, said that many of the forces on the right of the Knesset would be described as fascist if they were in Europe.
Of course, that is all the more reason why the Israeli left and peace movement, and particularly the radical wing of the peace movement, the anti-occupation wing, need solidarity.
There may also be long-term trends at work which may undermine the right in Israel. At the Workers’ Advice Centre, Roni Ben Efrat talked about the economic processes which are undermining the traditional bases of Zionism — since Israel’s turn to neoliberalism, the limited degree of social democratic security enjoyed by most Jewish workers has largely disappeared.
In this context, the idea that the Israeli workers enjoy some super-privilege distinct from that of any working class in an imperialist centre is nonsense. In fact, the mass of the Jewish working class is being more and more impoverished and proletarianised.
This has already resulted in the growth of small unions independent of the Histadrut and also some odd phenomena — for instance the support from traditional Likud supporters from the slums of south Tel Aviv for Hadash's mayoral campaign - Hadash is a broader group linked to the Israeli Communist Party - which won 34 percent of the vote. In the future these trends may split Israeli politics wide open.
Solidarity and boycotts
The British government is currently altering legislation which has allowed campaigners to bring war crimes prosecutions against Israeli politicians and generals. Adam Keller from Gush Shalom told us that he thought opposing and stopping this legislation could make a real difference in terms of saving Palestinian lives.
It is possible that the Palestinians will soon seek recognition for an independent state at the UN, regardless of negotiations with Israel. We should be putting pressure on our government to recognise Palestinian independence.
But solidarity with the Palestinian and Israeli labour movements and left is of course the top priority for us.
I think the AWL’s case against boycotts of Israel — particularly academic, cultural and labour movement boycotts, but boycotts of Israeli goods too — holds. These boycotts will undermine the Israeli left and peace movement, do little to help the Palestinians and shade into anti-semitic campaigns, even though many Palestinian activists emphatically do not intend them that way.
I think boycotting the settlements is a different issue. The settlements are radically illegitimate in a way that Israel itself is not. We should do everything we can to undermine them. And this is possible — lists of settlement goods are widely available, and there are some very high profile cases such as the Ahava “Dead Sea” beauty products range produced in the West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.
Of course we should be careful not to play into the hands of the “boycott everything Israeli” lobby, or to think boycotts, rather than positive solidarity, are the most important method of struggle. But that should not stop us having our own independent view of the settlements boycott issue.
• Watch this space (in the new year) for more published reports of the solidarity delegation and details of solidarity initiatives.