Major sectors of Israeli society have been in upheaval since July 14 due to mass protests and boycotts on economic issues, most prominently opposing the astronomic rents that often take 50 percent of people’s income. A movement that started with half a dozen tents pitched in Tel Aviv on Rothschild Boulevard, named after an incredibly wealthy family who helped bankroll the Zionist movement, has grown to include over 40 other tent cities in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa and elsewhere.
The latest protest included heavy participation from more rural areas as well. Weekly Saturday protests are bringing out an ever-increasing number of protesters. Aug. 13 saw over 300,000 protesters take to the streets, and organizers are calling for a 1 million person march on Sept. 3. More recently, protest demands have expanded to include lowering the cost of other commodities like food and gas, as well as calling for free, quality education and health care.
In some ways, the protests in Israel seem similar to those that have recently rocked many European cities. As in Europe, working-class people in Israel have been driven to struggle by the crisis of capitalism.
However, there is also a key difference between Israel and the European countries experiencing civil upheaval. This is also the fundamental issue underlying the protests. Israel is not only capitalist but a highly militarized, colonial-style settler state. In addition to more than $3 billion in U.S. military aid, billions more are spent annually to maintain and upgrade the nuclear-armed Israeli military, one of the world’s most powerful.
The protest leaders have said little thus far about the plight of the Palestinian people. Yet, the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and freedom is the central social issue facing the region today.
Social injustice for Palestinians
Recently, 42 of the 120 Knesset (parliament) members sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to respond to the grievances of the Israeli protesters with a massive build-up of subsidized housing by expanding illegal West Bank settlements. This is a blatant attempt to derail just demands for affordable housing with racism, by responding with affordable housing, but for Jews only.
But it also exposes the Achilles heel of the protest movement. The movement has been unable and unwilling to expose such racist “solutions,” instead mainly worrying about rights for Jewish people.
This is a dead end for any true movement of workers. Until Israeli workers can break free of Zionism, until they demand justice and freedom for the Palestinian people, their movement will represent the interests of Jewish workers exclusively. Such a narrow focus is not enough. No Israeli movement will ever defeat the exploitation inherent in capitalism without first recognizing and overcoming the colonial nature of the Israeli state, which is rooted in the oppression of Palestinians. This means standing in complete solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
No matter how bad it is economically for Jews in Israel, the level of oppression is many times worse for Palestinians. Israel’s policy in the West Bank of demolishing Palestinian homes that do not have permission to be built (permits are hardly ever granted), has artificially driven up rents for Palestinians.
Palestinians living inside the 1948 borders (the Green Line), which excludes Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, make up over 20 percent of Israel’s population. While the imperialist world touts Israel as a democracy, Palestinians living within the Green Line face blatant discrimination. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were wiped out upon Israel’s founding. And there have been zero Palestinian municipalities built in the 63 years that Israel has been recognized as a state by Western governments. In that same time, over 600 Jewish municipalities have been constructed inside the Green Line.
Over 700 Israeli municipalities have “admission committees” that have the legal right to refuse housing to Arabs. Israel uses the designation of “National Priority Areas” to designate funding and allocate resources in these communities. Right now 553 Jewish-Israeli areas are on the priority list as opposed to only four Palestinian communities.
In order to maintain a system that uses the Jewish working class as the trigger-pullers for a colonialist settler state, the occupied people must be seen as inferior by the occupier. This strategy has been incredibly effective at engendering widespread racism against the Palestinian population. Because of this fundamental truth, anti-Arab racism and national chauvinism remain the biggest break on any true working-class movement.
The scheduled protests on Saturday, Aug. 20, were called off by the protest organizers, Israel’s student union, in response to an attack near Eilat by gunmen who entered Israel from Egypt. Israel used the attack to justify vicious airstrikes on Gaza that killed several Palestinian leaders of the Popular Resistance Committees and two children. The PRC denied responsibility for the attack.
The Israeli protest leaders released a statement that included an expression of support “for the government and for the security forces in the fight against the terror that endangers the lives of us all.” Itzhak Shmueli, head of the student union, also stated that while this coming weekend’s protests were cancelled, the protest movement would continue.
Like the protest leaders, mainstream media outlets have focused on the purely economic aspect of the protests, and not the root causes of the crisis: colonialism, militarism, settlements, rampant racism and the capitalist system itself. To do this would be unthinkable to many because it would mean challenging the very core of the Zionist project. But challenging Zionism is exactly what is necessary to achieve any lasting, progressive movement inside the 1948 borders.
Media outlets have paid little attention, for example, to the sentiments on the sign on the edge of the Jaffa tent city: “Jaffa says no to gentrification,” or the Aug. 4 “Letter from Tel Aviv” written by the occupants of “Tent No. 1948” (a reference to the year of the Nakba, or Catastrophe, in which the Zionists drove over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land). Tent No. 1948 is a joint Palestinian/Jewish protest tent. The content of the Aug. 4 letter by Tent No. 1948 is a sign that anti-Zionist protesters are part of this movement.
Aug. 4 ‘Letter from Tel Aviv’
“We are a group of Palestinian Arab and Jew citizens that believe in shared sovereignty in the state of all its citizens. Instead of thinking about separation and constrains [sic], we think of the possibility of joint existence.
“Since foundation of the state-Israeli policy of divide and rule, prevents real change and produces boundaries for deep social demands. If we work together we can only benefit.
“What do we want?
“We want this struggle to deal with housing shortage among Arabs and Mizrachi Jews in Israel, both in large cities and in the villages.
“We want to end Judaization of Arab neighbourhoods and stop the “development” of neighbourhoods by building luxury complexes.
“We want to stop the eviction of Palestinian families as it happens almost every day in Jaffa, Lod, Ramla and elsewhere in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
“We want to end the discrimination of the Palestinian Arabs in the rental and purchase of real estate, which became “legitimate” in the Israeli- Jewish society, as the “Letter of Rabbis” showed us.
“We want to change the land policy in Israel, so it will address the historical justice to Palestinian population. No more land confiscation, no more house demolitions. We live here together, it’s time we start to internalize it.
“We want to talk about discrimination in state institutions, education, health, culture.
“We require recognizing the basic right of the Palestinians in Israel and in the Occupied Territories to set their own lifestyles.
“We want to emphasize, there can be no social justice while this state occupies and oppresses Palestinians, and justice should be to all. In addition, many of the state resources are allocated to the occupation: by establishing walls and barriers, that embitter the life of the Palestinian people, or by securing and supporting settlements. Occupation takes a lot of money, which can be used to improve the life of the Jewish and Arab population in Israel and the Occupied Territories.”
In this sentiment lies a grave threat to the Zionist, capitalist entity oppressing the Palestinian people and holding back Jewish Israelis from being part of a just society. A mass struggle, like the protest movement gripping portions of Israel now, could help shift the dialogue and bring forth ideas that challenge the status quo of Zionism. But for this to happen, the class-conscious elements of Israeli society who despise colonialism and racism, and who want to see these ills defeated once and for all, will need to raise their voices even louder in solidarity with the heroic Palestinian struggle.
This article first appeared in Liberation, the newspaper of the US based Party for Socialism and Liberation
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by Sarah Carlson