Moshé Machover review: The intersemitic crisis
Chris Gray reviews: Moshé Machover, 'Israelis and Palestinians: conflict and resolution', Haymarket Books, 2012, pp327, £17.99
bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man” - Zionist
observers’ cable to Vienna, 1897, on the suitability of Palestine
as the site for a revived Jewish state.
man has the right to set bounds to the march of a nation” - Charles
veteran Israeli socialist, Moshé Machover, has just brought out a
wonderful collection of writings, chiefly his own, on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is no exaggeration to say that this
book is the best possible introduction to the topic for
English-speaking readers. Its inestimable virtue is that it affords a
historical overview of the whole Zionist enterprise, without which it
is impossible to situate the struggle in any meaningful sense, much
less reach a conclusion as to how it might successfully be resolved.
Machover does both these things, and the result is a volume which
Anglophone socialists must read.
originated as a response to discrimination against Jews operative in
the declining phases of European feudalism and the rise of
imperialist nationalism in the final quarter of the 19th century.
Rejecting assimilation into non-Jewish societies, Zionists began to
agitate for the creation of a separate Jewish state. Benjamin Ze’ev
(Theodor) Herzl (1860-1904) is generally regarded as the principal
proponent of that idea. In June 1895 Herzl wrote in his diary
(reports Moshé Machover) as follows:
private lands in the territories granted us we must gradually take
out of the hands of the owners. The poorer among the population we
try to transfer quietly outside our borders by providing them with
work in the transit countries, but in our country we deny them all
work. Those with property will join us. The transfer of land and the
displacement of the poor must be done gently and carefully. Let the
landowners believe they are exploiting us by getting overvalued
prices. But no lands shall be sold back to their owners (p87).
goes on to quote from Herzl’s book The Jewish state (1896)
to the effect that “for Europe we shall serve there [in Palestine]
as part of the rampart against Asia, and function as the vanguard of
civilisation [sic] against the barbarians. As a neutral state we
shall keep our ties with all the European nations, who will guarantee
our existence there” (p184).
Rose has observed that, “while Herzl was not the first person …
to formulate the ‘Zionist solution’ to anti-Semitism, he was the
first to link it deliberately to European imperialism, of which he
was a great admirer, as the only means of withdrawing the Jews from
the Zionist project, whilst recognising that “another man” was
married to “Eretz Yisrael”, nonetheless determined to wrest the
same from that man - just because it was “Eretz Yisrael”:
ie, rightfully the possession of Jews, not Arabs.
Machover emphasises this point:
Zionist state was never meant to belong to its inhabitants, whoever
they may be. Zionism did not base its claim over Palestine on the
right of self-determination - and it could hardly do so, because
during most of the period when it was colonising the country the
Arabs were the majority. Its claim is based on the Divine Right of
the whole of the Jewish people over the Promised Land to which they
should eventually immigrate. This, from the Zionist standpoint, is
necessary to solve the Jewish problem …
for the Arabs, they may at best be tolerated, and even then only in
small numbers. Otherwise, Zionists are terrified by the Arabs’
relatively high rate of natural population growth …
justify the state of Israel in its present (Zionist) form in terms of
self-determination is a cynical mockery. The only context in which
self-determination for the Hebrew-speaking nation makes any sense is
that of a socialist revolutionary Mashreq [east] - which presupposes
the overthrow of Zionism, as well as that of Arab reaction (p183).
we look up the biblical passage on which all this is based we read:
“Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto
the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis xv, 20).
there you have it. A Palestinian activist, Ghada Karmi, has commented
“The history of mankind is littered with the movement
of peoples and tribes from place to place, with changing patterns of
habitation and repeated migrations. No-one, other than the Zionists
and their supporters, suggests that reversing this history would be
either workable or desirable.”2
criminal thieving classes represented by the governments of Great
Britain, France and Italy cast their greedy eyes on the Turkish
empire, which was allied with the Central European powers in World
War I. The initial expression of this was the so-called Sykes-Picot
agreement of 1915-16, negotiated by French diplomat François-Georges
Picot and his UK opposite number, Sir Mark Sykes.
Sykes-Picot agreement … arranged that the Fertile Crescent should
be divided into four areas - two to be directly administered by
France and Britain respectively, while the other two should be
administered by Arab governments under the guidance and protection of
France and Britain respectively. France’s direct share was to be
the Syrian coastlands and Cilicia, while her protectorate was to
consist of the hinterland of Syria, including the vilayet
[province] of Mosul.3
troops in fact occupied the Mosul vilayet
in 1919, and Lloyd George persuaded the French prime minister,
Georges Clemenceau, to give up the French claim to this oil-rich area
in exchange for acquiring the German 25% share in the Turkish
Petroleum Co, which became the Iraq Petroleum Co, with the promise of
a quarter share for France in the output.4
French occupied Syria, detaching the Lebanon from it and ruling that
as a separate country - which, basically, is the reason why it is
still independent. The British occupied Iraq and Palestine,
installing their protégés as rulers of Iraq. In 1922 the League of
Nations awarded the UK a mandate to govern Palestine and adjoining
territory: this latter area subsequently emerged as the separate
British-protected emirate of Transjordan (whence today’s Jordan).
Italy acquired only the Dodecanese islands off the coast of Anatolia,
which she ruled from 1912 to 1945.
not insignificant sub-plot in all this was the British plan to
facilitate Jewish colonisation in Palestine. Foreign secretary Arthur
Balfour famously declared that the British government was ready to
promote the creation of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine.
The thinking behind this move was disclosed by Sir Ronald Storrs, a
British diplomat who later became governor of Jerusalem, when he
welcomed the Zionist project as leading to the emergence of “a
little loyal Jewish Ulster” among the Arabs.5
Balfour added: “In Palestine we do not propose to even go through
the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants.”6
account of the Zionist colonisation of Palestine could ignore the
question of relations between Zionism and German fascism, and
Machover duly discusses this. His treatment of it is by no means
exhaustive, but nevertheless he states that all Zionist efforts gave
priority to strengthening the colony in Palestine. Hence in 1935 the
Jewish Agency set up a special commission to examine the plight of
German Jews, but “it was the main job of this commission to
organise the famous ‘transfer’ deal, the trade contract between
the Zionist movement and the Hitler government, according to which
the money and property of German Jews were transferred to Palestine
in the form of German goods, thus breaking an anti-Nazi economic
boycott organised by anti-fascist forces” (p194).
for emigration from Germany, the Zionists made it clear that their
sole interest was in Jewish emigration to Palestine, not
the end of World War II the British empire was in retreat globally,
and its hold on Palestine was coming under pressure. A UN plan was
therefore proposed, which awarded 55% of Palestine to a Jewish state,
despite the fact that Jews constituted only 30% of the population.
The great powers supported this initiative, but no Arab state voted
in favour. The upshot was a short war, which led to the creation of
the state of Israel and the expulsion from their homes of large
numbers of Palestinian Arabs.7
Palestinian exodus basically took place because the Zionist
leadership around David Ben-Gurion sensed that there was a good
chance of achieving an ethnically ‘pure’ Jewish state. Hence,
although no formal order was given, “Local military commanders …
were made aware of the general design, and were relied upon to do
their bit in implementing it. For the most part (with few exceptions)
they were willing to do what was expected of them. The majority of
Palestinians in areas under Israeli control were terrorised into
flight, and in many areas physically driven across the lines”
does not mention this in his book, but the Trotskyist Fourth
International opposed the establishment of the state of Israel on the
grounds that it undermined the joint struggle of Arab and Jewish
workers against capitalism and imperialism.8
Jewish Labour supporters emphasise the UN resolution, passed by the
UN general assembly in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967,
which called for peace between the combatants on the basis of a
withdrawal by Israel back to the territories it had occupied prior to
the war (the Israelis overran the West Bank and Gaza). But, as Moshé
Machover notes, the resolution misses the essential point: it is not
the borders of the state of Israel which are the fundamental problem,
but the integration of Jewish settlers into the Middle East on a
basis acceptable to majority Arab opinion (pp64-65).
chief obstacle to a solution of the conflict is precisely Zionism.
Hence our immediate demands must include an end to Israeli military
occupation and threats against the West Bank and Gaza, plus, as and
where appropriate, measures in support of an independent Palestinian
state: “World public opinion, civil society everywhere, must be
mobilised in defence of the Palestinian people, by subjecting Israel
to boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions. Socialists have a special
role in mobilising the workers’ movements to lead this campaign”
for the long-term solution, what is vitally necessary is to recognise
that the conflict is not resolvable within the confines of the
Palestinian “box” - that is to say, the borders of the 1923-48
mandated territory. Moshé describes the requisite approach
eloquently and succinctly as follows:
numerical, political and technical relations of forces are such that
the Palestinian people on its own, even if fully mobilised, are
highly unlikely to be able to achieve the total overthrow of Zionism.
Nor are the Arab states, under their present regimes, able to do so.
overthrow of Zionism will become possible only through a deep social
and political transformation of the Arab world, or at the very least
the Mashreq, which will not only unite it, but also infuse it with
new revolutionary social energies.
because of the partnership between Zionism and western, particularly
American, imperialism, and because of the political, financial and
military protection that the former receives from the latter, the
overthrow of Zionism is inseparable from the uprooting of imperialist
domination over the Arab world.
this points to the conclusion that an ultimate thorough solution of
the Palestinian problem can be achieved only as part of a socialist
revolution throughout the entire region, leading in particular to the
overthrow of Zionism. Socialists who fail to make this conclusion
clear, and who support various bourgeois nationalist formulas that
obscure it, are guilty of gross dereliction of duty and are indeed
acting in a self-defeating way.
socialist programme must therefore be along the following lines. A
united, socialist Arab world - or at least, in the first instance,
Arab east - with a federal structure, reflecting the two-tier
structure of the Arab nation. The Palestinian problem would be solved
within this union by incorporating in it a part of Palestine as one
or more autonomous Palestinian Arab cantons. The remaining part of
Palestine will also be incorporated in the union, as one or more
autonomous Hebrew national cantons. Thus the whole of Palestine’s
territory is to be included in the union, but as two or more cantons
rather than as one country. The boundaries between the Palestinian
Arab and Hebrew cantons are to be determined not on the basis of the
present or past borders of Israel, but according to economic,
geographical and demographic criteria, a principal criterion being
which national group - Palestinian Arab or Hebrew - is the majority
of the population in a given district.
the socialist union is to be formed in a democratic way, by voluntary
accession rather than by coercion (pp51-52).
of space prevents consideration here of the many further fascinating
and illuminating comments by Moshé Machover in the book on various
other aspects of the situation, historical and contemporary. Readers
are urged to examine his conclusions in detail. But the main message
is clear: socialism and Zionism are incompatible; nations must be
held within bounds, otherwise they harm other nations.
verdict on the Zionist project must be along the lines of the
prophet, Isaiah, in his parable of the vineyard, where he says: “The
vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of
Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgement, but, behold, a
scab; for righteousness, but, behold, a cry” (Isaiah v, 7).
Rose Israel: the hijack state London 1986, p29.
Karmi Married to another man London 2007, pp72-73.
Kirk A short history of the Middle East London 1964, p162.
Storrs Orientations London 1943, p345 (quoted by Machover on
FO 371/4183/2117/132187, quoted by J Rose Israel: the hijack state
London 1986, p32.
S Flapan The birth of Israel: myths and realities London 1987;
and I Pappe The ethnic cleansing of Palestine London 2006.
‘Against the stream’ Fourth International (organ of the US
Socialist Workers Party, May 1948); reprinted in Workers Action