By John Spritzler
(December 28, 2001)


On August 30, 2001 in the West Bank Palestinian village of Ni'elin, Amos Tagouri, a 60-year-old Israeli Jewish cab driver, was having breakfast in a little restaurant just opened by his Palestinian friend, Mursi Amira, when a masked gunman walked up to his table and fatally shot him. Tagouri was an Israeli Jew in a village of Palestinians who were largely unemployed because Israel wouldn't let them travel to their former jobs in Israel. But he was highly regarded by the people of Ni'elin.

According to the Boston Globe report of the incident (September 1, 2001), Amira said, "Amos was one of us. He knew our culture. If he prayed with us he would have been one of us completely. . . . This is a bigger loss for us than for the Jews...he helped people here a lot. He was not rich, but he drove the farmers to sell their cactus fruit and figs in Israel, and if they didn't have enough money to pay until after the market, he accepted that...The whole village is angry. The people of this village spit on this. It is an act of cowardice." Mustafa Amira, a vegetable stand owner, said, "He helped us. He respected us, we respected him. Hamas, Fatah - I don't know" who killed him. "I know they are a gang." Amira's mother condemned the killers. "They think if they kill him, the Israelis crack down, and the village will be radicalized. I hope it will not happen." "The extremists do not want peace," said Sakhi Hayun, 34, owner of the Sandwich Bar in Modi'in and former employer of Amira and his brother. "That's why they kill Arab and Israeli civilians in the road. Ninety percent of the people, both Israelis and Arabs, do not support this."

The Boston Globe reported this as a freak event, calling the village the "rarest of places in the bitter struggle that has convulsed Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories for 11 months—a place where one side cried over a death on the other." But what happened in Ni'elin is what Arab and Jewish elites are afraid will happen everywhere unless they can prevent it by spreading fear and mistrust with terrorism and government-sponsored discrimination.

This is why, for example, the Israeli government is afraid of the solidarity between Jews and Arabs that is developing in the struggle against the construction of a super highway. On October 15, 2001, Arab residents of Baka al Gharabiya and Jatt demonstrated against the Israeli government's plan to confiscate 2,800 dunams of their land for the Trans-Israel Highway. While Arabs in Israel own only 3% of the privately held land, 85% of the land confiscated for the highway (travel on which is restricted for non-Jews) has been taken from Palestinian Israelis, destroying agricultural land they need to survive. Jews in Israel have rallied to support the Arab protest, arguing that "The highway will effectively deepen cleavages between Jews and Arabs, rich and poor, taking jobs from poor peasants and farmers, to make transportation more convenient for the rich." Jewish residents of nearby Kibbutz Magal and Ma'anit have told the Israeli government that, if the road must be built, the land confiscation should not discriminate against non-Jews, and for that reason they are proposing an alternative plan that entails giving over some of their land to their Palestinian neighbors in a logical compromise. But the Israel Lands Authority and Ariel Sharon's government insist that the plans move forward without changes. The incident is but one example of why Palestinians are fighting the Israeli government.


Ordinary Palestinians are fighting the Israeli government for the same reason that black people in the U.S. fought Jim Crow laws and that Jews rose up in the Warsaw rebellion against the Nazis: the Israeli government blatantly discriminates against Palestinians and oppresses them. Over 80 percent of the land within Israel that was once owned by Palestinians has been confiscated by Zionist (Jewish nationalist) organizations. All told, 93 percent of Israel's land can legally only be leased or owned by Jews or Jewish agencies. Palestinians are forbidden by Israeli law from owning it.

The Law of Return and The Nationality Law grants every Jew the right to immigrate to Israel with automatic citizenship, but Palestinian Arabs can only get citizenship by birth, residence (after meeting a cumulative list of conditions) or naturalization.

As a result of the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Law, certain Jewish organizations are quasi-governmental bodies with authority for governmental functions such as land development, housing projects and settlements, but they explicitly aim to benefit Jews only. Arab needs are systematically disregarded and suppressed.

Education in Israel not only discriminates against Arabs, but attacks them. Major scholarships are not awarded to Arabs; there are no college-related jobs or financial aid programs for them. Israeli schools teach a racist stereotype of Arabs. Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University studied 124 elementary, middle and high school textbooks on grammar and Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship. He wrote "The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were delegitimized by the use of such labels as 'robbers,' 'bloodthirsty,' and 'killers.'" Bar-Tal told Washington Report September 1999 that "there has been little positive revision in the curriculum over the years and that negative stereotyping of Palestinians and Arabs are the rule rather than the exception in Israeli schoolbooks."

Dehumanizing Palestinians is not just a matter of textbooks. It finds its way into pronouncements by Jewish officials. On April 10, 2001 The Times of London reported that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel's Sephardi Jews, described Arabs as "snakes" and in a subsequent Passover sermon said of Arabs: "It is forbidden to be merciful to them, you must give them missiles, with relish—annihilate them. Evil ones, damnable ones."


Israel has illegally constructed 170 Jewish settlements for 200,000 "settlers" (78% of them from the U.S.) in the West Bank and Gaza, lands conquered by Israel in the 1967 war and held illegally by Israel since then in defiance of UN sanctions and international law. The settlements are militarized centers designed to maintain perpetual Israeli governmental control of the West Bank and Gaza, where Palestinians are heavily concentrated. Palestinian villages are enclosed by barbed wire and surrounded by Israeli settlements (declared to be "a war crime" by Rene Kosirnik, head of the Red Cross delegation to Israel and the Palestinian areas [Boston Globe 5/18/01]) connected by roads open only to Jews which by-pass Palestinian towns and villages, cutting them off from each other and turning them into isolated "Bantustans" modeled after the South African apartheid system.

In the year following the signing of the "Peace" agreement in Oslo (1993), Israel's control of West Bank land rose from 65 to about 75 per cent. For every gallon of water available to one Palestinian, one Israeli settler consumed 876 gallons. Israel also cut water supplies to Gaza in half.

The Israeli government imposes routine "closures" on Palestinian areas, sealing them off from each other, and preventing 125,000 Palestinian workers who earn their living by working in Israel from working. During these "closures," electricity, water and other services are terminated and the entire Palestinian population finds itself in conditions of a virtual state of siege. Since Oslo, Israeli "closures" have driven the Palestinian standard of living down by nearly 40 percent, with 40 per cent of the population now living at or below the poverty line.

Chris Hedges, the Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times from 1991-1995, reporting on conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza strip for Harpers magazine October 2001, wrote: "The Palestinians in Gaza, 1.1 million of them, most of whom lack the means to leave, live in a 147-square-mile area. Twenty percent of that territory belongs to the sixteen Jewish settlements, home to about 6,000 Jewish settlers. In other words, one fifth of Gaza is in the hands of 0.5 percent of the people who live there." Hedges describes Israeli soldiers shooting Palestinian children: "I have seen children shot in El Salvador, Algeria, Guatemala, Sarajevo, but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport."

The current discrimination against Palestinians is a continuation of what began with the founding of the state of Israel. At that time, in May 1948, about 800,000 Arabs were expelled from Palestine at gunpoint and forced to flee their homes. Populations of entire villages were exterminated to terrorize the others into leaving their homes. The most infamous example was that of Deir Yassin. On April 9, 1948, the 254 inhabitants of this village (men, women, children, old men) were massacred by "Irgun" troops, whose leader was the future Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin. In his book The Revolt: The History of Irgun, Begin wrote that there would not have been a State of Israel without the "victory" of Deir Yassin. He added: "The Haganah carried out victorious attacks on other fronts... In a state of terror, the Arabs fled, crying, 'Deir Yassin'."

Menachem Begin's ethnic cleansing of Arabs and his "Freedom Party" were condemned at the time as Fascism not only by Arabs, but by leading Jewish intellectuals. On December 4, 1948 Albert Einstein and other prominent Jews co-signed a letter to The New York Times which said:

"Begin and his party, and their record of past performance in Palestine, bear the imprint of no ordinary political party. This is the unmistakable stamp of a Fascist party for whom terrorism (against Jews, Arabs, and British alike) and misrepresentation are means, and a 'Leader State' [i.e. 'Fuehrerstaat,' as in Nazi Germany] is the goal."

By 1962 the Israeli government and Zionist organizations had expropriated an estimated 948,000 hectares (nearly a quarter million acres) of agricultural land belonging to Palestinian towns and villages throughout Israel. The number of Palestinian refugees has increased from 800,000 to at least 3.5 million (some estimate 5 million). They are scattered throughout squalid camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the neighboring countries—Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The injustices committed against Palestinians by the Israeli state are monumental. Palestinian anger at the Israeli government and their fight against its oppression are entirely justified.


In the Oslo agreement Israel allowed the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) to administer the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through the Palestine Authority (PA), which is controlled by Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO. The change has not improved the lives of most Palestinians because the PLO leaders have the same relationship to ordinary Palestinians as Zionist leaders have to ordinary Jews. The PLO leadership seeks to control the Palestinian working class by claiming to be fighting for the liberation of the "Palestinian nation." In reality they set themselves up as an elite who profit from the exploitation of Palestinian workers.

PLO leaders rule undemocratically. A Legislative Council, the nominally democratic part of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Authority, has no direct control. As one Gaza lawyer described it, "all the habits of the Arab regimes are being repeated and concentrated here." To enforce their power, the Palestine Authority employs more than 40,000 people in the "security services" which control rather than protect ordinary Palestinians. In October 1998 Palestine Authority police killed a Palestinian teenager and the next day hundreds of youth marched through Ramallah in protest, denouncing Palestinian security chiefs as agents of the CIA.


Just as the Zionists vilify Arabs to control the Jewish working class, the PLO leaders vilify Jews to control the Palestinian working class. An example of this racist propaganda is a column that appeared May 9 2001 in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. (Although the newspaper is not an official organ of the PLO, its racist views are approved by the PLO, which arrests journalists for printing opinions that it does not approve.) The Al-Hayat Al-Jadida column said, "The day of judgment will not come until the Muslims will fight against Jews and kill them, until the Jews will hide behind stones and trees and the stone and tree will say, 'O' Muslim, O' servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"

But this racist propaganda is meant only for the masses. PLO leaders follow a very different agenda.


While posing as leaders of the fight against "The Jews" and Zionism, behind the scenes PLO leaders make deals with Israeli and other foreign capitalists to exploit cheap Palestinian labor. The Israeli government helps PLO leaders in this regard by expelling Palestinians from their jobs in Israel, making Palestinians desperate for the jobs that await them in the new large "industrial zones" in the territories that Palestinian, Israeli, American, and other foreign capitalists are setting up to exploit this cheap labor. (Unemployment stands at around 70 percent in Gaza and 50 percent in the West Bank.)

Industrial zones in the West Bank and Gaza were initiated by joint efforts of the Palestine Authority and the Israeli government. In April 1995 at a U.S. Department of Commerce briefing, Samir Huleileh, Deputy Director of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), announced, "The recent closure in the West Bank has left thousands of skilled workers without jobs. Industrial zones need to be matched with this skilled labor and the available infrastructure." Uri Savir, the Director for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Israel, agreed that the success of the industrial zones is extremely important to both sides. [Tradeline, April 4, 1995] PLO leaders granted a license to a private company, PADICO, to develop and market the Gaza industrial estate, the first of nine planned industrial zones for Gaza and the West Bank. PADICO then announced that:

"We, in the Palestinian Authority and in Palestine, are willing to provide Israeli investors with all the guarantees they would like in order to do business in the Palestinian industrial states...We know our image is bad. We know that when you speak of Gaza and the West Bank you speak of Intifada, of shooting, of bombs, of fighting Israelis and Israeli soldiers. We want to change this image." (Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, ipcri.org/ind.htm)

As of 1998 the Erez Industrial Zone (between the Gaza Strip and Israel) employed some 3,500 workers in 115 industrial plants, of which about one-third were Palestinian-owned, and the Gaza industrial estate had operating agreements with 12 companies, 2 of which were Israeli. The Israeli government describes its own role in the industrial zones as "the linking up of infrastructures and the installation of a new, state-of-the-art cargo terminal to be operated by the Israel Ports Authority" and it predicts the zones will eventually employ 50,000 workers.

If the PLO and Israeli elites took their own nationalistic rhetoric at all seriously, then their relationship to each other would be too hostile, especially during a raging intifada, to permit operating joint business ventures. But revealingly, PLO and Israeli business leaders are committed to their alliance regardless of the intifada. On October 22, 2000 at the peak of the Palestinians' uprising, the Jerusalem Post interviewed Dr. Abdel Malik Jaber, managing director of the Palestine Industrial Estate Development and Management Co. (PIEDCO) PIEDCO operates industrial parks such as Karni, which was established with Israeli cooperation and employs some 1,200 Palestinians. Jaber told the Post, "I know that it is a difficult time now, that there are serious problems, but I am confident that they can be overcome and that business will go back to normal...Through the discussions and contacts that I have had with my Israeli partners, those who have discussed possible joint ventures or joining the industrial zones, I was very relieved, relaxed, and happy to hear that they are committed to staying on the same track. They have not changed their minds vis-a-vis the importance of these projects."

The enormous size and ostentatious style of houses being constructed by some Palestine Authority figures returning from exile on land provided by the Authority inspire anger from people living 10 to a room in squalid refugee camps. In Gaza City an enormous building boom created a 15-story office tower, several 10-story apartment buildings, six new luxury hotels, and numerous new beachfront cafes. Cheek by jowl with that new Gaza City skyline, Jabaliya Camp has hardly changed at all in the last four years. The famous sewage "lake" in the middle of the camp remains. The children still play alongside it. The Palestine Authority's sole project, paving the dirt roads of the camp, led to the bulldozing of a 250-meter strip, but the project was abandoned before any paving was carried out. Before the recent outbreak of violence, top Palestinian Authority negotiator Sa'eb Erekat commented that "our people haven't seen the benefits of peace."

Personal income for most Palestinian families is collapsing, and Palestinian workers face deteriorating working conditions even in factories owned by other Palestinians. Workers' basic rights are seriously threatened by the Palestinian Authority. The 1996 draft labor law was worse than the existing Jordanian labor law from before 1967, which had been in force in the West Bank during the Israeli occupation. Employees within the public agricultural sectors are not covered by this law; civil servants are explicitly denied the right to form unions (article 3, chapter 2). Employees who are family members (including distant relatives) working for a family business are not protected by the law. Several of the articles are remnants from the beginning of the century—for example, the right of employers to pay their workers in goods instead of money. In addition, nothing is mentioned about environment or safety. Far from being concerned about these problems faced by Palestinians, the PLO views them as a selling point to investors looking for cheap labor in the industrial zones.


The real conflict in the Middle East as elsewhere is between ordinary working people, regardless of their ethnicity, and elite rulers. The conflict is not only, or even primarily, about material interests. The fundamental conflict is over what values should shape society—the working class values of equality and democracy and commitment to each other shared by millions of ordinary Jews and Arabs like the Jewish cab driver Amos Tagouri and his Palestinian friend, Mursi Amira, or the capitalist values of self-interest, inequality and top-down control embraced by a tiny elite.

Both Zionist and PLO leaders tell "their people" that the solution is a "nation of your own." But as we have seen, the real power in a "Jewish" nation or a "Palestinian" nation is a Jewish elite or a Palestinian elite, not ordinary working people. The very concept of a Jewish or Palestinian state is an ideological trap which elites use to command loyalty to themselves and to turn working people against each other.

The solution to what seems like perpetual discord in the Middle East is for the great majority of people there to unite around the values they share in a democratic revolution against all the elites. A democratic revolution would abolish all forms of racial or ethnic discrimination and create a society where working people, democratically and as equals, controlled everything, including economic production, and no privileged class of "employers" would exist. In such a society the government would have no reason or desire to claim it was "Jewish" or "Palestinian" or "Arab."

(Published first on the Web by newdemocracyworld.org.)


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