The Jewish Question and the Struggle for a Palestinian Homeland
October 19 — In World-Outlook’s October 11 editorial we warned that the relentless Israeli siege and assault on the population of Gaza “threatens Palestinians there with death and destruction that can become genocidal.”
On October 13 we published an appeal by Fadi Abu Shammalah, the executive director of the General Union of Cultural Centers in the Gaza Strip, who offered an eyewitness account of the dire situation facing Palestinians there. Each day the situation grows worse as food, water, and fuel run out while the Israeli air war continues unabated.
Horrific fresh evidence arrived on October 17 when an explosion rocked a hospital in Gaza City, killing hundreds, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The toll is expected to rise. Many civilians were sheltering at Al Ahli Arab Hospital, which is run by the Anglican Church. “There are still lots of bodies they haven’t yet collected,” a paramedic told the New York Times. “There are too many bodies.”
Initial reports, naturally, in light of the Israeli air war, assumed the cause was an Israeli air strike. Israel subsequently blamed the explosion on “a rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group that malfunctioned.”
The hospital had been previously hit by Israeli bombing on October 14. Archbishop Hosam Naoum said that the Israeli military had called and texted the hospital managers at least three times in recent days, asking its patients and staff to leave the hospital compound. “There were specific warnings to get out of the building,” the archbishop said. Whatever facts are finally confirmed, the Israeli air war is continuing to devastate Gaza and its civilian population.
On October 7, Hamas carried out despicable attacks, which largely targeted civilians and killed over 1,400 people. In response, the Israeli military is now imposing a collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza — a violation of international law — in the name of destroying Hamas. This must be stopped.
DISCUSSION WITH OUR READERS
Several readers replied to the October 11 editorial and the post How Can the Jews Survive? A Socialist Answer to Zionism – A Review. (All comments can be read by scrolling to the bottom of an article, where replies appear.)
Syd Stapleton wrote: “I read the latest article, and I think it is a great portrayal of the basic issues, as seen so well by George Novack (and the SWP, years ago). I have a small quibble with the quote from Fidel — ‘There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.’ I think it has been made very clear that the extermination of a very large part of the (roughly) 200 million natives in North and South American (as of 1500) was in fact the greatest genocide in human history. A quibble, but important not to overlook.”
We agree the Holocaust was not the largest genocide in human history. (We note that efforts to try to estimate the size of the native population of the Americas do not all agree with Stapleton’s figure of 200 million. But whatever that exact figure, it is generally agreed that over 50 million indigenous people perished.)
The Jewish Question
George Novack addressed Stapleton’s concern in the essay we reviewed. He wrote that Isaac Deutscher “had been shaken to the marrow by the holocaust which he considered a unique historical tragedy almost defying explanation. (Here his feelings got the better of his reason, since Marxism cannot place the tragedy of the Jews in a category different from the long list of other genocidal acts committed under capitalist barbarism.)”
However, we do not read Fidel Castro’s comment the same way Stapleton does. Our reason for citing Fidel is because it is a recent example of how Marxists have always taken a deep interest in and have campaigned against Jew hatred.
In The Atlantic interview we cited, Fidel also said, “I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” Other Marxists have offered a different explanation, pointing to a specific economic role the Jews were forced to play in pre-capitalist societies. A powerful exposition of this view can be found in Abram Leon’s The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation. A Belgian revolutionist who was Jewish, Leon resisted the Nazis and died at Auschwitz. The book was published after his death.
Fidel made his views about antisemitism crystal clear.
“Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not… abstract,” said The Atlantic article reporting on the Fidel interview, which the magazine conducted in 2010. “Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the ‘unique’ history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.
“He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. ‘This went on for maybe two thousand years,’ he said. ‘I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims…because they are blamed and slandered for everything…’ The Iranian government should understand that the Jews ‘were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God.’”
Fidel’s comment that “nothing compares to the Holocaust” is not inaccurate in the sense that the Nazis introduced horrific new methods of genocide. These included industrialized, fully intentional mass murder on an enormous scale in the space of half a decade, from the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Poland until the end of WWII.
Gary Boyers also expressed appreciation for the review of the Novack pamphlet.
Boyers added, however: “Implicit in Novack’s article, in my opinion, is the decades-long viewpoint of communists that calls for a democratic, secular state in the historic Palestinian region. This is in contrast to the quote by Fidel Castro (printed without comment) calling for a two-state solution. Those who argue that the Israeli state is a fait accompli, that ‘acts on the ground’ can’t be ignored or written off. The same argument could be made to reject calls for repudiation moves toward national reunification of other imperialist-divided nations such as Ireland and Korea.”
‘For a democratic secular Palestine’: The history
We don’t believe the situation of Ireland or Korea (which are themselves not analogous) is a useful reference point here. It is a distraction from the main issue Boyers raises.
There is a very specific history to the demand that many Palestinians and their supporters campaigned for in the past, “For a democratic, secular Palestine.”
It is outlined in the pamphlet Palestine and the Arabs’ Fight for Liberation by Fred Feldman and Georges Sayad, published by Pathfinder Press in 1989. The publisher promoted it for many years. Unfortunately, Pathfinder has taken it out of print, as it has also removed the Novack pamphlet. Copies — new and used — can occasionally be found online. We encourage readers to search them out.
Feldman and Sayad explain that an upsurge of the Palestinian struggle in the 1960s spurred an effort to transform the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Ahmed Shukairy, who had strong ties to the Egyptian government, had previously headed the PLO. “Under Shukairy,” they wrote, “the PLO had been characterized by bluster and little action. Palestinians were angered by demagogic statements such as the call, attributed to Shukairy, to ‘drive the Jews into the sea.’”
Shukairy resigned in 1967. In February 1969, Yassir Arafat, a leader of Fatah, was elected chairman of the Palestine National Council (PNC), which acted as the parliament of the PLO. (Fatah is the acronym in Arabic for the “Palestine Liberation Movement,” founded in 1962.)
“Fatah,” the authors continued, “put forward the perspective of replacing Israel with a democratic secular Palestine in Towards a Democratic State in Palestine.” This document was submitted to a 1970 international gathering in Amman, Jordan, sponsored by the General Union of Palestine Students. It outlined a course completely counterposed to that of Hamas and some other Palestinian organizations today.
“The very existence of the racist oppressor state of Israel… is unacceptable to the revolution,” Fatah declared. “Any arrangement accommodating the aggressor settler-state is unacceptable and temporary.” But then it continued: “Only the people of Palestine — its Jews, Christians and Muslims — in a country that combines them all is permanent” (emphasis added).
In such a democratic state, the document explained, “All the Jews, Muslims and Christians living in Palestine or forcibly exiled from it will have the right to Palestinian citizenship…. It is the belief of the revolution that the majority of the present Israeli Jews will change their attitudes and will subscribe to the new Palestine, especially after the oligarchic state machinery, economy and military establishment are destroyed.”
This perspective won wide support among Palestinians, the Arab masses, and around the world after Novack wrote his essay in 1969. It was not implicit in Novack’s writing, nor could it have been. But neither was the perspective in Novack’s essay opposed in any way to the demand for a democratic secular state. Novack and the Socialist Workers Party, of which he was a leader, embraced the demand as it became the primary expression of the goal of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation and self-determination.
Subsequent events dealt setbacks to the Palestinian struggle for a homeland, leading to the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 between the PLO and Israel. The accords themselves and ensuing events in the quest for Palestinian statehood registered further blows.
To the best of our knowledge, no major Palestinian organization has advanced the demand for a democratic secular Palestine in the last three decades.
The two-state solution
Boyers mistakenly said that we “printed without comment” a quote by Fidel Castro calling for a two-state solution, that is, the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. Fidel said nothing about that in The Atlantic interview we cited.
In our recent editorial, however, World-Outlook did comment on that proposal:
“We share Cuba’s position that today ‘A comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [must be] based on the creation of two states, which would allow the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination and to have an independent and sovereign State within the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.’”
This is the position the PLO adopted in 1988 and most leaders of the Palestinian national liberation struggle have been advocating since then.
Hanan Ashrawi explained this shift in a 1991 interview, ‘So Long As There Is A Single Palestinian Alive, We Will Claim Our Right to Palestine’.
Ashrawi was an English literature professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, West Bank. She was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996 and re-elected in 2006. She was the first woman to hold a seat on the highest executive body in Palestine, with her election to the PLO Executive Committee in 2009 and 2018. She resigned that position in December 2020.
In the 1991 interview, Ashrawi was asked about the change in the PLO’s stance. Was the new call for a separate, independent state in the occupied territories the only realistic way forward?
“It is not what we call absolute justice,” the Palestinian leader replied. “It is relative justice, in view of the geopolitical conditions that were created in the region. It is not historic justice; it is not national justice. But we have come to grips with the fact that it is the only realistic approach. In proposing the secular, nonsectarian, democratic state, we felt that this would be a much better solution to the region. But unfortunately, Israel rejected it. They insist on having an exclusively Jewish state.”
In Palestine the majority of the land was Palestinian, Ashrawi explained. But faced with Israeli intransigence, she added, “the PNC position of November 1988 was to accept the principle of the partition of the land.
“Because, while people sit back and talk and discuss and while resolutions are made and filed and are gathering dust in the archives of the UN, Palestinians are dying every day. The land is being stolen from us. Our resources are being stolen from us.”
Ashrawi elaborated further. “l think Israel should be stopped before it manages to eradicate the Palestinian reality altogether here and before it creates irreversible facts,” she said.
“We don’t want to wait. We don’t think that we will appreciate a sense of guilt from the world after the fact when it is too late. We want things to be remedied now so that we can maintain what is left of Palestinian land, of Palestinian lives, on Palestinian soil.”
Future events and changes in the class struggle may lead to new demands but that is how the situation stands today.
Manuel Barrera’s extended criticisms can be found beneath World-Outlook’s October 11 editorial. His claim that his reply “doesn’t even get a hearing” is false on its face. We also disagree with the rest of his arguments.
The gist of his position is: “Revolutionaries have absolutely no business telling Palestinians, including those in and influenced by Hamas in Occupied Palestine. And, we certainly have no business telling them what kind of world, society, or polity they should have, especially from purported revolutionaries in Cuba and the United States.”
Barrera’s overwrought language is a sign of how deeply mistaken his entire approach is. One can of course disagree with the Cuban leadership, but questioning its revolutionary character flies in the face of the 60+ years of Cuba’s example.
For decades, revolutionaries in Cuba have consistently defended the Palestinian struggle for national liberation and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. World-Outlook shares this view.
We reject the idea that revolutionaries in the United States or elsewhere should not condemn the targeting of Israeli civilians, including children, and their cold-blooded murder — a method of the oppressors.
In the past, revolutionaries unequivocally condemned the methods of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, who fought imperialist forces in Cambodia for years, but committed mass murder of Cambodians. That was standing up for revolutionary principles, not “telling oppressed people what to do.”
Forty years ago, purported revolutionaries — in this case deserving the label — murdered Maurice Bishop and other leaders of the New Jewel Movement in Grenada. In a statement responding to that atrocity, the Cuban Communist Party declared, “No crime must be committed in the name of the revolution and freedom.”
The context then was very different. We draw no direct analogy between those events and the murders by Hamas of over 1,400 Israelis and others, overwhelmingly civilians. But we stand by the principle the Cuban leadership invoked.
We believe that view was shared by South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela when he led the African National Congress (ANC) to initiate Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) to lead armed actions against the racist apartheid regime. Mandela never targeted civilians. Nor did he believe that such armed actions could substitute for the organization and mass mobilization of all those fighting for liberation.
Speaking to a conference of Umkhonto We Sizwe on August 9, 1991, Mandela declared, “Victory in the national liberation struggle is dependent upon the active and conscious participation of the masses of the oppressed people, determining their own destiny through struggle… It was always our view… that the armed liberation struggle was based on and grew out of the mass political struggles waged by the oppressed.”
We reject Barrera’s identification of the struggle for Palestinian liberation with Hamas and its reactionary leadership. Barrera has apparently forgotten that Hamas used these contemptible methods against Palestinians years before the recent massacre of Israeli civilians.
After winning an election in Gaza in 2006, Hamas took control of the territory by force and violence. In 2007 it launched a war against Fatah and other Palestinians, taking some prisoner, expelling others, and executing some.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PHCR) issued a report titled “Black Days in the Absence of Justice: Report on Bloody Fighting in the Gaza Strip from 7 to 14 June 2007.” The PHCR report said, “This latest round of fighting took the lives of 161 Palestinians, including 41 civilians. This figure includes 7 children and 11 women. Additionally, at least 700 Palestinians were wounded.”
Hamas has ruled Gaza ever since with such an iron grip.
World-Outlook has repeatedly explained our unconditional support for the Palestinian national liberation struggle. Such support does not mean accepting the antisemitism and thuggery of Hamas — a major obstacle in the struggle for a Palestinian homeland.
— World-Outlook editors