The “Palestinian problem” Ruthless Criticism

Translation of Ch.1, Part 3 of Abweichende Meinungen zu Israel: Die politische Emanzipation der Juden durch eine Militärdemokratie mit imperialistischem Auftrag, H.L. Fertl, Resultate Verlag 1982


The “Palestinian problem”


The misfortune of living in a region of the world that was chosen by the Zionists as the future state for all the Jews reaped the Arabs living on both sides of the Jordan the fate of being Palestinians. The imposed common fate behind this name has nothing to do with centuries old lifestyle habits and cultural traditions, i.e. what the racist view of a citizen indoctrinated in nation and human nature discovers in every corner of the world as an endearing or despicable characteristic of a “national character.” Nor does it have anything to do with a particular political “fate” that a ruling power has in store for them and through which it would impose on them the honor of proving themselves as a collective subject, i.e. of becoming a people. Being “Palestinians” is a negative judgment passed on the peasants and merchants of Samaria and Galilee, one which the founders of the Jewish state felt justified in making as a result of their military success in occupying the British Mandate of Palestine. A political identity as a “people” was imposed on them by the Zionists and consisted in the destruction of their economic livelihoods through the establishment of a superior, exclusively Jewish “national economy” in the country, in the destruction of their traditional ways of life and, the logical end point of the Zionist state’s foundation, in the shared circumstance of refugee camps becoming permanent homes for the majority of them. Because the project of a “national home for the Jewish people” was from the outset never conceived with the modest aim of helping persecuted co-religionists all over the world to have a better life – the desert and rocky regions of the Old Testament would have been the most unfavorable conditions for that – possibly in peaceful coexistence with the Arab natives. The aim was to create a national state made up of Jews for Jews, i.e. a national state power of the same kind as the one under whose racism the Jews had so often had to suffer. Making oneself useful for this enterprise, as a worker, farmer and soldier, was considered the highest right which was granted only to the Jewish people as defined by the standards of the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem. Accordingly, the Arabs living there were treated with offensive disrespect. Not even the harsh fate of making themselves useful to the Jewish economy as helots was to be conceded to them; in this respect, the founders of the state of Israel were even more resolute in their ethnic fanaticism than the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the interests of an entirely Jewish unity of people and state, the Zionist fighters cleared the designated state territory of all non-Jewish elements using the weapons of money and terror. With the proclamation of the Jewish state of Israel, this founding story did not come to an end. Every territorial expansion of Israel, whose military might – sustained and financed by the states of the “free West” – no Arab state could withstand, gave the politicians in Jerusalem the task of turning the conquered territories into Jewish land. In doing so, they very confidently created the “ethnic characteristics” that are supposed to make up a people according to common judgment: Palestinians are all those who stand in the way of the resolute Judaization of the land; whether through resistance or through their mere presence on an unbefitting terrain. The authoritative Israeli finding on Palestinian ethnicity is not a theoretical judgment, but a very practical matter – as recently proven again in Lebanon: Anyone living in refugee camps declared to be “nests” of the PLO and anyone living in an area to be cleansed of “terrorists” has the verdict of being Palestinian dictated to them with Israeli bombs and grenades.

The Palestinian “people” whose right to life is invoked worldwide after every approved heroic deed of the Jewish state thus have one thing in common: the fate that Israel has executed on them as non-Jews.

During the decades of the Zionist “land grab” and until the campaigns of 1948 in which Israel staked out its territory, the lives of the Arab natives were mainly determined by the village community and their common dependence as miserable tenants of distant large landowners and as tax-paying subjects of an even more distant colonial power – no one even needed to know that Great Britain had since then taken the place of the Ottoman masters. An economic and political connection between them, such as belongs to a modern nation, existed at best in the imagination of a few intellectuals brought in by the new colonial power and as the wish of a handful of clan chiefs who would have loved to have been given the dignity of a semi-autonomous governorship by the British and now instead instigated a few rebellions against the Zionist-friendly colonial power. Thus, the leaders of the Jewish immigrant community or the Israeli state did not declare war on a Palestinian state and expel its people; they took action against the politically unorganized inhabitants of the country with the self-righteousness of a vested property protected by the colonial authorities, an internationally guaranteed right to a “national homeland” and, ultimately, a sovereign national power, because there was no place for them in a Jewish community. For the affected people, that amounts to pretty much the same thing – but with one difference: in disputes between states, the subjects of the enemy rule are fought and crushed in order to force them to surrender; once the new relationship between the states has been established in this way, peace usually returns. The Zionist claim, on the other hand, to establish an entirely Jewish “Eretz Yisrael” and to secure it through the violent elimination of every possible threat, does not know such “compromises” and never needed to know them, since its program was not opposed by a Palestinian nation and a state authority based on it.

The overthrow of the traditional living conditions of the Arab population and the practical redefinition of their political status as a result of Israeli reasons of state was correspondingly radical:

– A small minority, barely a fifth of the previously resident Arab population, remained in the territory of the new Jewish state. They were placed under military control, detained in their villages and residential areas as if in ghettos, and confined to the old patriarchal forms of circulation both in their mode of production and in their (pre-)political milieu; but of course these do not remain old if they continue to exist as native reservations in the midst of a national economy based on state credit, free wage labor, the compulsion to be profitable on the basis of subsidies, the revolutionization of production techniques, especially in agriculture, and a scientific education system. In order not to become complete exhibits in an – increasingly constricted – open-air museum of backwardness and misery, the Arabs had and still have to fight for consideration from the Jewish authorities and the concession of limited participation in the Israeli national economy. The vital support of Arab communities from the state budget and other public coffers has always been made the subject of an ongoing petty fight by the Israeli authorities. The customized exclusion of Arab subjects from free competition takes place without any racist apartheid laws, simply by means of the old security rule that only Jews – with the exception of the country’s Druze – are conscripted for military service: Without army discharge papers, a hopeful citizen finds himself excluded from any career and even from the housing and marriage markets. On the other hand, the Israeli state has gradually granted them all civil rights; they are allowed to vote and the necessary number of Arabs can always be found on the electoral lists of the Jewish parties. In this way, the remaining Arabs have not become Palestinians who turn all their subservient materialism to a future state with reversed ethnic signs; nor, however, have they become communists, even if in elections they vote predominantly for the communist “Rakah,” which can easily be found among this minority in the struggle for equal rights. The political identity that the Israeli state has successfully given them is that of opportunistic second-class citizens.

– A much larger proportion of Palestinian Arabs were allowed to count themselves as subjects of the Hashemite King of Jordan for two decades and have gotten to know the Jewish state as an occupying power since 1967. Over the years, the Jewish state has decided to settle the “Palestinian question” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip according to the “South African model”: the inhabitants of the occupied territories are not allowed to immigrate – they are certainly allowed to emigrate to Arab states! – but, with a limited residence and work permit, they are allowed to perforate the classic principle of “Jewish labor” a little and help reduce the production costs of Israeli companies as wage slaves without rights. However, Israel grants its two “Bantustans” even less political autonomy than the Republic of South Africa does to the “homelands” it has established. After all, its interest is not in the nominal carving out of fictitious state territories for indigenous peoples, but rather in securing the occupied territories for the ethnically Jewish state. Under occupation law or even without the law and merely under the protection of the occupying power, the old Zionist settlement policy therefore continues, in which the cultivation of the land is synonymous with clearing the land of its superfluous, because non-Jewish, inhabitants – not unlike the heroic struggle of the westward-moving American settlers against the indigenous Indian population. With its occupation law practiced in this way, Israel has done its part for a clear nationalist politicization of its conquered, unwanted subjects: treated as a people under foreign rule, they become their own people under foreign rule. Although the Israeli authorities do everything they can to sustain the old patriarchal forms of commerce and thus a pre-political condition in the occupied territories by involving the local authorities that are agreeable to them in every citizen’s concern, no matter how minor it may be, this can’t go together with the destruction of the old economic system by the offensive settlement policy and the superior Israeli competition that takes over the labor power and circulation of commodities in these lands. Thus the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are being educated by their Israeli masters in a civic opportunism that has no other perspective than a nation state for the Arab people.

– The overwhelming majority of the Arab population in the old Mandate area of Palestine were made refugees by Israel in 1948 and 1967. After all, the Zionist settlement policy differed from the Nazi’s acquisition of “Aryan living space” from the outset in that its purpose was not the extermination of alien elements, but their evacuation from the claimed land – which is why the Israeli Arab concentration camps are located outside Israel’s borders and are by no means planned as death camps. As camp inmates, the displaced Arabs very quickly gained worldwide sympathy for their “hard lot” – this is still the easiest and most elegant way of making people forget the deeds of the Jewish state, without which these fates would not have existed. However, this compassion, organized by the UN, is no basis for an existence; it is hardly enough to halfway feed people. Even more so, refugees cannot live from their dutifully invoked “right to a homeland” – unless a relevant imperialist power takes an interest in them as a useful means of exerting global political pressure and gives the misery a “chance” to prove itself as such. Displaced Afghans, for example, can always enter the service of the West as “freedom fighters” against the main red enemy; and German exiles do not even really need to decide to return to East Prussia or Silesia thanks to the global political significance of their new homeland in order to earn their refugee identity card as a living legal title to contest the western borders of the Soviet “bloc.” However, no such powerful imperialist interest has been taken in the Palestinian refugees collected in refugee camps outside the immediate range of Israeli artillery. The power and diplomatic skills of the Arab host states have never been sufficient to do more than keep the additional subjects that have been assigned to them in their camps and use them as a dull moral accusation against Israel. They are neither interested in nor capable of “integrating” the Palestinians, i.e. making them useful for the power and wealth of their nation – the kings, sheikhs and ruling “socialists” of Arabia are not even able to do this with their own people! – nor do they have the power to make a promising offensive out of the violated “homeland” and “right to self-determination” of these people whom they do not want to recognize as their own subjects. Thus the PLO’s accusation that the Arab brother states have betrayed the Palestinians because they have not used the wealth earned in the oil business for the livelihoods and the struggle of the Palestinians overlooks the fact that this wealth is not there for the Bedouins of Saudi Arabia or the fellahs of Iraq. Conversely, the Arab statesmen respond to every attempt to force them to support the “Palestinian cause” and to every attempt by the Palestinians’ political representatives to influence the policies of their brother countries with the decision to regard the refugee camps in their own country as a “state within a state” and to reduce them to rubble. With “Black September” in 1970, when Hussein had troops loyal to him carry out a massacre in the Palestinian camps, the Jordanian king showed himself to be just as much an apprentice of Israeli pacification methods as the Syrian president whose troops, together with Lebanese forces, razed the Zataari refugee camp to the ground. Treated so consistently as a foreign people by Israel and by their Arab countries of refuge, the displaced Arabs have indeed become a “people” over the decades: the maneuverable mass not of their own sovereign power, but of other states that have imposed on them the commonality of a perpetual camp life. Accustomed to obedience by force, but without the promise of an even halfway secure existence from any of the state powers to which they are subject, the conclusion to which the Zionists once committed their Jewish people makes even more sense to them: What they need above all is a state power that takes care of them completely.


The practical proponents of this conclusion, the Palestinian politicians operating in the PLO as a quasi-parliament, do not need to prove the hoped-for benefits of a separate Palestinian state for its subjects, nor do they need to imagine alternative state programs. For before this “promised land” stands the unbending will of the Jewish state to not tolerate a “national home for the Palestinian people.” For the Zionist raison d’état, even the desire for this is tantamount to a highly treacherous attack on the existence and security of the Jewish state – a judgment that is so firm that even the flowery militant rhetoric of Arab leaders is not regarded as what it is, namely a fictitious rebellion out of impotence, but as serious proof of an actual threat to Israel’s existence. So the desire for a “Palestine for the Palestinians” leads to nothing more than the need to take military action against the regional superpower Israel. And even this bloody endeavor, bloody above all for the Palestinian side, was imposed by Israel on its victims. Displacement, terror, expulsion, migration and camp life have turned the Arabs into anti-Zionist Palestinians. This, in turn, was and is reason enough for Israel to not stop the expulsions. Every – self-generated – anti-Zionist Palestinian is seen as a threat to the Jewish state which the Israeli military must effectively get rid of. The greater the misery in the camps, the more successful the Palestinian agitation against Israel, the less the refugees were and are safe from “preemptive” attacks by the Israelis. The Israeli army thus provides its hostile victims with the experience that they cannot expect to be left alone and makes the conclusion unavoidable that their very survival requires guerrilla warfare. In turn, the Palestinian fighters who are determined to achieve “national liberation” have always walked into the trap of Israeli “security policy” – which, on the other hand, drastically confirms the need for resistance time and time again. The most recent and harshest example of this is the massacre of Palestinians in Beirut: no sooner had the fighters of the various PLO factions allowed themselves to be transported to various Arab countries in return for the hope of a promised end to the devastation and murder in Beirut than the Jewish army deployed its Christian SS for a lavish bloodbath in the defenseless Palestinian camps – a course of action based on the radicalism of a fascist “final solution to the Palestinian question”!

For the Palestinians, condemned to an existence as a people without a state, there is hardly any alternative to armed struggle against Israel’s military machinery; especially not if they expect protection and security from the establishment of their own state authority. At the same time, however, it was clear from the outset that this struggle had practically no chance of victory because the opponent is an outpost established and equipped by the “free West,” one which has trained its subjects to be a nation of soldiers. So the defensive struggle had to become a proof of powerlessness and a rather hopeless will to fight and win. The Palestinian leaders understood this clearly enough – and made it the basis and content of their military policy. For them, the purpose of the struggle was no longer victory, but: “to fight, to fight and to fight” (Habash and others) “to the last man,” “to the last cartridge” (Arafat and all the others); not success, but the production of martyrs for their own cause; to such an extent that the most prominent leader of the struggle – and his fighters all imitated him! – reinterpreted the catastrophic defeat of his troops in Beirut as the prelude to the final victory with two fingers spread in a V for “victory.” The aim of this strategy is nothing more than the pure demonstration that the Palestinian people still exist, and exist more than ever, with an inalienable right to their own masters in their own country. The Palestinian leaders have learned this much from their Zionist opponents: the mere declamation of such a right is good for nothing in today’s well-ordered world of states; appealing to the prophets or the history books of an ancient pastoral people does not secure a right to a homeland in the “Promised Land” for those who profess to be their modern descendants, nor does 1000 years of local residence for those who have now been refugees for decades – this is decided not by scientific expertise, but solely by the successful use of violence. In contrast to the single-minded terrorism of the Zionist state founders, however, the violent actions of the Palestinians mobilized for battle suffer from the decisive disadvantage that they do not really make life difficult for their opponents, but use the terror which is supposed to validate their fictitious legal titles merely symbolically. Suicide missions by combatants who call themselves “Fedayeen,” “those willing to make sacrifices,” hijackings of planes with a few hundred hostages that try to impress states which habitually calculate with the use of their own and foreign soldiers as well as civilians, untargeted rockets shot across Israel’s borders: these are all attempts to feign a military conflict that one neither can nor wants to conduct in earnest – which, as seen in the Lebanon campaign, does not at all prevent the opponent from striking back with all its military might in all earnestness. This violent pretense of a “war of national liberation” is aimed at three different target groups. Firstly, the political leaders and organizations of the Palestinians are thereby competing for the rank of the most energetic advocates of the Palestinian state project – all other programmatic distinctions that they may come up with by analogy to political parties are, before the shared national concern, purely academic anyway, as long as the nation itself does not yet exist. Radicalism and demonstrated effectiveness in turn depend on the extent and conditions of their support from the established Arab states; it is their national ideologies that are reflected in the rival programs of struggle. The rival Arab governments, which maintain their respective Palestinian organizations and have also established the PLO as their common forum, are not only the patrons, but at the same time the number two adressees of the Palestinian combat actions. Their political founders want to initiate joint military actions against Israel with the Arab states and through their own casualties compel them to at least make declarations of intent. However, this attempt to win over the Arab rulers as Arabs in support of the Palestinian cause has always been undermined by the rivalry between these rulers. From the very beginning, the PLO and each of its individual groupings has had ample opportunity to deplore the indolence and “treachery” of the governments of the “brother nations”; at times, it went so far as to propose the idea of a “socialist revolution” in a number of its host countries as a precondition for a successful anti-Zionist campaign. In reality, however, “revolution” was no more on the agenda than resistance to the calculated diplomatic maneuvers with which the various Arab governments used the struggle and the complaints of the PLO and its factions for their efforts to gain influence over one another in the name of “pan-Arabism”: It is precisely and only for this that these organizations were and are politically tolerated – and controlled, militarily equipped and if necessary smashed, financed and blackmailed by their respective “protecting powers.” This is why all the Arab governments – and they have actually agreed on this since their fourth defeat in the 1973 “Yom Kippur War,” which was hailed as an Arab success – have been drawing increasingly narrow limits on Palestinian activism. For them, it was not really a question of forcing Israel to accept a Palestinian state, let alone tolerating the Palestinians; Israel’s army, with its raids on neighboring states that allowed Palestinian organizations any freedom of movement, did not need to do too much “persuading” to induce them to exercise strict, sometimes bloody “supervision” over the activities of “their” Palestinians.

The PLO also understood this Israeli “lesson” in its own way and took it to heart. In fact, from the very beginning, its actions did not really calculate on, and in any case did not encourage, the involvement of the Arab brother states in a promising war for their cause. Beyond the Arab audience, they were aimed elsewhere, at the powers that the Palestinian political elite knows are important for Israel’s undisputed successes and for their own chances of success: the USA and its NATO partners have always been the third and most important target of their exhibition battles. For several years, between 1967 and 1973, it was a matter of emphatically demonstrating to the world that Palestinian interests could not be ignored. However, the terrorism that was mustered to make this point never led the relevant world powers to do anything but join Israel in condemning the PLO as a gang of political criminals – although an outraged moral conscience might well have noticed that every Israeli pre-emptive or “retaliatory” strike cost more human lives than all the Palestinians’ “terrorism” put together. After Arab hopes of putting military pressure on Israel were finally buried after the October War of 1973, the PLO has only been able to emphasize the flip side of its previous “terrorism,” namely the promise that it would no longer cause problems for the relevant interests. It relied entirely on the illusion that through relentless good behavior it could buy the goodwill of World Power No. 1, which alone is capable of restraining Israel and on which all remaining Palestinian hopes for their own “national home” therefore increasingly rested. The greatest success that the PLO was able to achieve with this policy of demonstrative docility, however, also belongs entirely to the world of beautiful diplomatic appearances: Arafat’s glorious appearance before the UN General Assembly in 1974 was not the breakthrough for recognition of the Palestinian state project by the authoritative imperialist power, which remained steadfast in its rejection of the PLO leadership’s offer to otherwise submit to any fate for a modest place within the Middle Eastern “peace process.” However, Arafat’s diplomatic failure was reason enough for Israel to press ahead with its offensive against the organized Palestinians, and the intransigence of the USA provided the necessary carte blanche. By forcing the PLO – which had since moved its main forces to Lebanon – to engage in a constant small-scale war with its own Lebanese Christian militia, which it maintained, Israel not only provided all the desired “evidence” that it rightly treated the Palestinians as a mortal danger to the existence of the Jewish nation, but also practically prepared the military confrontation that was to bring about the final crushing of armed Palestinian resistance.

The Israeli attack, which the PLO leadership had wanted to avoid through its policy of good behavior, came all the more systematically and also embarrassed all the European “middle powers” which thought it might still be worthwhile to reckon with the PLO as a global political factor. So complete was the destruction of organized Palestinians as a power worth mentioning in any way that, after the work was done, even the US government – in the context of its diplomacy with the Arab states – finally began to see the possibility of a Palestinian vassal “state” under guaranteed Israeli sovereignty that would no longer be anti-Zionist at all. For the Israeli state leadership, however, this perspective is just one more reason to make sure that nothing much can come of such a polity for lack of assets. For a peaceful final solution to the Palestinian question that does not compromise Israeli security interests, some interim military “solution” would have to be found.