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Israelis and the Israeli War on Gaza

Wednesday 14 January 2009, by Sergio Yahni

We could explain this position as an expression of the colonial ideology that feeds Zionism. However, this explanation represents Israeli society as being homogenous and devoid of contradictions, and would thus misrepresent reality. Israeli society is highly unstable and trapped within its own contradictions. It is precisely here that we should seek the reasons underlying militarism in Israel.

Mass immigration following the creation of Israel in 1948, not the successive wars with neighboring Arab states, was the greatest challenge facing the Zionist project and its class structure.

In its early years, Israel was forced to absorb a population twice as big as the number of people of European origin who founded the state. The primary intention for absorbing the immigrants was to supplant the Palestinian cheap labor force which had been deported just after WWII. Yet the immigrants, who in the majority came from the urban or rural middle-classes, resisted this process of impoverishment and proletarianization.

A series of popular uprisings in 1955 led the establishment to perceive the social ferment in the immigration camps as a threat to the Zionist project. Several Zionist leaders of the time wrote in their memoirs that they feared the Israeli Communist Party was planning a revolution.

The war of 1956, and the nationalist wave it aroused in Israel, created a space in which to ideologically include the immigrants. All Israelis, immigrants or not, shared the hardship of war and social discontent was relegated. Similarly, eleven years later, the 1967 war and the nationalist wave it unleashed following Israel’s victory served as a tool to discipline the independent trade union movement that had begun to develop.

Wars did not unify the diverse communities in Israel, but served to establish discipline within a fractured society. The wars, and particularly the military victory of 1967, served to establish the ethnic fundamentalism that characterizes the hegemonic discourse in Israel. This allowed the ruling classes to overcome the social rifts and thus suggest a Jewish national identity.

For this reason, the discourse of peace, which does not propose solutions to the social upheavals of Israeli society, subverts the promises of ethnic fundamentalism. With peace disappears the common danger that holds together the unemployed in Sderot and the systems engineer in Tel Aviv. At the same time, peace makes evident the social and ethnic rifts of Israel breaking its current façade of social stability.

For that reason, the most volatile period in Israel’s history were the years of the Oslo process. During this period Israel faced previously unknown and startling political violence, and no government managed to complete its full term. In this period, Israel had major general strikes and witnessed the renaissance of ethnic identities and growing criticism of Zionist history.

The reemergence of neoconservative thinking, which reached its peak during the two terms of George W. Bush, enabled the Israeli bourgeoisie to regenerate, becoming the department of research and development of the global arms industry.

The neoconservative politics in Israel were put in place by Ehud Barak. Their first appearance in the Israeli political scene was through a new offensive against the Palestinian people, both in the territories Israel occupied in 1967 and inside the green line, which ended the peace process in all practical terms. Only later, during the government of Ariel Sharon, were neoliberal economic and social policies implemented. As the combined consequence of the Israeli offensive and the neoliberal policies, impoverished Israelis can access the system through the military or private security agents. For those who cannot access the system, there is always nationalist radicalization.

According to this logic, the suicide attacks at the beginning of the decade and later Hamas’ homemade rockets allowed Israel to rebuild a Jewish identity based on common security interests. With these rockets, an impoverished and marginalized population, such as the population of Sderot, returned to the center of the national consensus. Under a rain of rockets, Sderot was transformed from a marginal town, where third-generation immigrants struggle to survive, into a symbol of the fate of the Jewish nation.

Obviously, this process also requires the exclusion of the non-Jewish population in Israel and the marginalization of its Palestinian citizens in public life. Otherwise, there would be a return to the harsh social relations that began to be realized during the peace process. Cleansed of ethnic privileges, an unemployed person in Sderot is a victim of the system.

The real Israeli is therefore built on an exclusive ethno-nationalism and the desire for peace must lose it actual meaning and become a meaningless rhetoric ritual. Obviously this also requires the exclusion of political forces that translate the desire for peace into a plan of action.

Therefore, it is not surprising that organizations and intellectuals well recognized abroad for their pacifist rhetoric, supported the offensive against the Palestinian people at the end of September 2000, the offensive against Lebanon in 2006 and the current offensive against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

But while the Zionist RIght justifies the war in terms of national security, the Zionist Left and its intellectuals joined the consensus on the theme of national sovereignty.

For intellectuals like Amos Oz and Ari Shavit, and politicians like Haim Oron of Meretz, all of whom recognize the ineffectiveness of the Palestinian rockets, the military offensive against Gaza is justified because those missiles violated national sovereignty.

For these spokesmen of the Zionist Left, the massive bombing of the early days of the offensive would be sufficient to restore Israel’s sovereignty. But the Zionist Right demands a final and notable victory, such as the one in 1967.

Obviously, when the Jewish population has to choose between a symbolic victory as proposed by the Zionist Left and a final one as the proposed by the Right, most would choose the final victory.

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