The Gaza March of Return and the Contradictions of Israeli Capitalism

By Workers Voice, 
June 20,  2018
The Palestinian Great March of Return is an ongoing grass-roots mass demonstration in support of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and for the dismantling of the blockade of Gaza. A focal point of the protest was Nakba Day, May 15, commemorating the expulsion and dispossession in 1948 of three-quarters of a million Palestinians by the Zionist colonial movement. In an act of contempt both for colonized Palestinians and for the views of the vast majority of the world that is typical of them, Trump and Netanyahu timed the move of the United States Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for the day before Nakba Day. Images of the Trump and Netanyahu retinues luxuriating in the fine food and pomp of the embassy party juxtaposed to those of everyday Palestinians – children, the disabled, and the elderly among them – being massacred and gassed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have rightfully outraged the world and make even more urgent the campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, #BDS. Trump merely continues, in most ways, previous US administrations’ blind support of Israeli colonialism, though the embassy move is in line with his main “contribution” to geopolitics: revealing more openly the real nature of US imperialism, its until now better-concealed fist. With Trump, Netanyahu, and the far right across the world currently running rampant, and with the two-state solution an ever more remote possibility, our call for one state in Israel and Palestine, secular, multiethnic, and socialist, becomes more critical now than ever.

Hasbara versus Reality

The Israeli response to the Palestinian protest has been typically murderous. Its army snipers and drones had, by June 5th, killed 123 Palestinians and wounded 14,000. To justify its actions, the Israeli state presented an increasingly fraying Hasbara, “explanation,” i.e., propaganda. Netanyahu’s mouthpieces – whether in the guise of official spokespersons, US diplomats, or New York Times columnists, dutifully parrot slogans such as:

  • Israel has “the right to defend itself”
  • “No country would tolerate a hostile force at its borders”
  • “The Palestinians are puppets of Hamas”
  • “Hamas is violent”

Such a discourse fabricates an image of Israel and the Palestinian territories as two states sharing a border, with the latter possessing military parity, indeed advantage, over the former. In the real world, however, there are facts. Here are a few: 51 percent of the population of Gaza are children, in other words, over a million children reside in Gaza; 97 percent of Gaza’s water is contaminated, it is poisoned water, not unlike in Flint, Michigan. Therefore, we can say that in blockading Gaza, Israel, Egypt (a collaborator in the Gaza blockade), and the United States are poisoning one million children. Unemployment in Gaza stands at 45 percent, 60 percent among youth. According to United Nations, by 2020 Gaza will be “uninhabitable.” It is, as the former British Prime Minister David Cameron – a Tory and hardly a champion of Palestinian liberation – has said, “an open air prison.” Israel, in other words, has turned Gaza into a concentration camp, the “biggest ever to exist,” as the late Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has characterized it. Consider also the number of Palestinian casualties in relation to those sustained by Israel, only since 2014 (a complete list of the Israeli attacks on Gaza since 2007, when Israel in collaboration with Egypt began the Gaza blockade, would be too long for the limited space of this article). During the so-called Protective Edge campaign in the summer of 2014, over 2300 Palestinians were killed, of which 550 were children. By comparison, 73 Israelis died. Sixty-seven of them were soldiers. One Israeli child died during Protective Edge. During the same campaign, the Israeli military demolished 18,000 Palestinian homes. By contrast, one Israeli home was demolished. During the March of Return, as mentioned, Israel has so far killed 123 Palestinians and wounded about 14,000. Israel has only suffered a single casualty, “slightly wounded.” At the time that this article is being written, Palestinians are still dying from wounds sustained during the March of Return.
What about the Hasbara talking point on Hamas? Again, a fabrication. Hamas has in fact been marginal in the March of Return, which has given the stage to a much larger movement of everyday Palestinians mobilizing into a non-violent confrontation with Israeli colonialism.
The arena of international law, of which the assiduous purveyors of Hasbara are equally contemptuous, is also clear. With the Gaza blockade and the apparatus of colonization in the  West Bank, it is Israel not the Palestinians who is the aggressor. Israel therefore does not in fact have “the right to defend itself,” for that is a right forfeited by any state occupying or conducting aggressive war on another people. However, by contrast, the Palestinians do have the right to defend themselves, even using violence if necessary, for the rights of peoples under occupation to do so are enshrined in international law. Given this, it is remarkable how restrained and peaceful the Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonialism has been, in spite of slanderous Hasbara campaigns to paint it as violent.
Palestinian civil society makes three basic demands: 1. ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and dismantling the separation wall; 2. recognizing the right of Arab citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. recognizing the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948. Agitating and organizing in support of the demands of Palestinian rights is not, however, only an ethical choice (though it is). It is in the interest of the international working class movement.

Israeli Militarism: Research Lab for Accumulation by Dispossession

While international law is clear on the right of Palestinians to defend themselves and on the illegality of Israeli colonialism, as Marxists we take a critical position toward, and try to go beyond, the international law and human rights frameworks. For we know that under capitalism, any legal system will inevitably reflect the interests of the ruling capitalist class, even sectors of that class that may coincidentally align with our politics. Rather than appeal to international law’s abstract values of human rights and supposedly “blind” justice adjudicated by a class – or value-neutral authority – we seek to advance a class-conscious politics of material intervention in the structures of colonialism. We are in solidarity with #BDS and we believe that it is worth supporting because it is one of the most effective campaigns in the current period against Israeli colonialism, and because it is firmly rooted in the movement from below of everyday Palestinians resisting Israeli apartheid. Further, because of Israel’s central role as the most important client state of the United States, the leading imperial rialist power, #BDS represents an essential building block for any anti-imperialist political project that cares seriously about expanding the power of oppressed peoples. As Marxists, however, we also go further, working to generalize the critical power of #BDS into an attack on capitalism as a system, which out of necessity produces conditions of Palestinian oppression, as it does for the oppression of all working class people and in particular working class people of color.
Israeli colonialism reproduces capitalist relations in two basic ways. First, as discussed in this section, by playing the role of “research and development laboratory” for accumulation by dispossession, in particular the dispossession of colonized Palestinians and, in turn, other oppressed peoples under capitalism. And second, as discussed in the next section, by managing the social contradictions of Israeli capitalism through interventions in Israeli society, diverting potentially revolutionary impulses among Jewish Israelis, in particular into an affiliation with the Israeli state and capitalist class.
In the current period, with the global capitalist system in a so-called secular stagnation of low growth, jobless “recoveries,” a decades-long downturn, and a systemic overcapacity crisis, neoliberal strategies of accumulation by dispossession take an increasingly central place in capitalist accumulation projects. Rather than investments in social reproduction and in productive sectors of the economy, conditions for capital accumulation are secured through theft, violence, and rounds of new enclosures, i.e., privatization of previously public arenas of social life. Capitalist theft of the commons – rights to land and water, or rights to control one’s own body for example – is necessarily a violent process, and this violence in turn offers new opportunities for accumulation. This is why the global arms trade accounts for almost $1.8 trillion per annum (2013 figure). The fastest growing sector of the arms trade is that related to “homeland security”,  technologies for surveillance and repression of working class, pro-democracy, feminist, and other progressive forces. “Research and development” of new technologies to surveil and repress the working class represent new circuits for capital to realize and reproduce itself under neoliberal regimes. These technologies in turn are deployed primarily against the working class, both in the imperialist countries and in the subaltern ones. The profiling of individuals and groups that the capitalist state or corporations label “dangerous” actors gives “competitive advantage” over peaceful protests before they even happen.
In Israel in particular, the state experiments with internationally banned weapons, for example cluster bombs and chemical weapons, which then can be sold on the global arms market. This takes place in the context of a symbiotic relationship between Israeli and US arms capitalist sectors: both sectors have a large state component, with US arms marketed in Israel while Israeli “research and development” plays the role of a “lab” for experimentation in dispossession and repression. The symbiosis is not limited to the the arena of international politics, but impacts everyday working class communities, primarily people of color and immigrants, in the US itself because US police forces – “thousands of American law enforcement officers” – travel and train yearly in Israel. They train in border policing, military policing, and the policing of poor people and people of color as if they are under colonial occupation. In Oakland, where the author of this article lives, as in cities all over the United States, working class communities refer to the police as an “army of occupation.” This is not a metaphor.

Racism and Class in Israel

Israeli capitalism is riven by contradictions. This was clear during the years between 2000 and 2011, known as the “lost decade.” For Israeli workers, these are years that the locusts ate, in which the promise of a welfare state based on colonial expropriation fell apart, in which incomes barely increased while racialized inequality exploded.
Along with the US, Israel has the highest income and wealth inequality among OECD countries, the club of three dozen or so high-income capitalist democracies. In part this is a result, in both countries, of lower spending on social programs and other “benefits” and low tax regimes compared to other OECD states. Looked at more closely, almost six in ten of Israel’s poor are Arabs or haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews), up from 44 percent in 2002, while Israeli Arabs and haredim continue to experience significantly higher rates of unemployment than non-haredi Jewish Israelis, due in part to a significant lack of vocational training and formal education. To cite one example, a study published by the Israeli Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in 2017 found that Jewish Israeli women had the second highest employment rate among women in the OECD, while Arab Israeli women had the lowest rate. While by 2016, wages and employment began increasing for Israeli workers, a report in the leading Israeli liberal daily Haaretz notes that despite these gains:
growing employment did little to alleviate income inequality because the Israelis entering the workforce were taking low-skill and part-time jobs with poor pay and few opportunities for advancement. The percentage of Israelis living under the poverty line was higher in 2016 (18.6%) than in 2000 (17%).
A typical employment and “growth” regime driven by the previously mentioned process, accumulation by dispossession. In this particular case, the Israeli capitalist class appropriates and hoards gains made by the working class instead of redistributing them according to social needs.
Along with wage theft and upward redistribution of wealth, another “solution” that the Israeli state has developed to manage this situation is colonialism. In this, Israeli state policy reveals a basic contradiction of Israeli colonialism: further entrenchment of the colonial project by subsidizing it while empowering the most racist versions of Jewish messianic claims to the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. As the economist Shir Hever has argued, by 2011 the occupation was consuming approximately $9 billion, nine percent of the total budget of the Israeli state. If such spending continues unaltered, by 2038 the occupation will consume half the Israeli state’s budget, a totally unrealistic scenario. The only reasons such a project is remotely “sustainable” at present is because of European “humanitarian” and especially US military aid, and because subsidized housing on Palestinian land is popular among the Israeli working and middle classes, providing in turn a settler colonial incentive to Israeli electoral politics. As was noted by the author in another recent article: “this obscures the economic irrationality of the settler project while infusing the occupation within broader Israeli society: it is the rare Israeli who is unconnected to the occupation, whether personally as a settler, through family relations, or by profiting off it.”

Toward One State, Secular and Socialist

Working in solidarity with #BDS and providing it with a class struggle perspective is a central task for Marxists currently. Such politics must begin by acknowledging that Palestinians, especially workers and the unemployed, suffer deeply under settler colonialism. The aspirations of colonized Palestinians in the Territories, and Palestinians in Israel experiencing the violence and indignity of apartheid, already go beyond the purely economic aspirations imagined by social democratic reformism, the idea that the only political interventions that Marxists or socialists must make is to appeal to the shared economic interests of workers without recognizing other forms of power or social inequality, such as oppression based on identity. Such a perspective is blind to the fact that the closest analogue to the Palestinian struggle in the imperialist countries are the struggles of Black and Brown workers and the unemployed against racist policing, for decent housing and equal access to the commons (water, education, food, etc.), and for deeper and broader democracy. The Palestinian territories endure almost 30 percent unemployment; in Gaza the unemployment rate stands at 45 percent, and higher than 60 percent among Gazans aged 15 to 29. As previously mentioned, even when they find work – and given that Israelis themselves now struggle to find low-wage, hyper-exploitative work, what kinds of jobs can any Palestinian hope to get in a generalized context of jobless growth, austerity, etc? – Palestinians both within and outside the 1967 borders must deal with the systemic racism built by decades of settler colonialism. So a combat party must unite all of the working classes and the oppressed in Palestine/Israel, but not on the basis of whitewashing the settler colonial project that has produced the racist structures benefitting Israeli workers in relation to their Palestinian counterparts. Israeli workers must be appealed to clearly: it is not Palestinians but Israeli capitalists and capitalists more generally who are their enemy, and for a secular, free and socialist Palestine to exist, the actual colonial state of Israel needs to be dismantled, it cannot be reformed. Marxists must also clearly acknowledge and work to undo the legacy of settler colonialism and racism that the Israeli state and capitalist class have worked so diligently to inculcate into Israeli society over the past seven decades, naturalizing a form of systematic oppression and segregation. This legacy runs deep and operates both at the social and psychological levels.
Working in solidarity with #BDS, currently the most promising material attack on Israeli colonialism, is a beginning to the process of undoing the settler colonial structures of Israeli society. But moving beyond this requires generalizing the critique that #BDS makes into a broader attack on the capitalist system, for which all the world’s vulnerable peoples, spaces, and species are simply opportunities for capital accumulation. Finally, and relatedly, some in the #BDS Movement argue for a secular, multi-ethnic, one-state alternative to the two-state solution. We endorse this call and argue for a deepening and broadening of the vision underpinning it: a socialist, multi-ethnic, secular state which makes no arbitrary distinctions based on an individual’s faith, ethnic background, or gender, and which is democratically led by the proletarian and oppressed strata of Palestinian and Israeli society. We reject both the Israeli apartheid – bourgeoisie and the collaborator Palestinian bourgeoisie. Both are enemies of all workers between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
Even before the Trump embassy fiasco, the Israeli far-right had been in the ascendant, trying to outflank Netanyahu from his right. In January, Likud Party hard-liners moved to formalize annexations in the West Bank and to require a two-thirds majority in the Knesset before any concessions could be made to Palestinians on Jerusalem (a “problem” seemingly “solved” by Trump, for now). Such incidents only further reveal the fantastical unreality of the two-state solution, as even Israel’s most passionate supporters in the liberal press admit. The two-state idea is being eclipsed by some form of one state. To be more accurate, the two-state idea has been eclipsed for a long time in practice. The question is, what kind of one-state solution will be realized? With the apartheid right in Israel, and the far right more generally, now running roughshod, an internationalist, multi-ethnic, secular, and socialist future in Palestine, Israel, and beyond becomes not only the preferable option, but the only option.

Annex 1: United States Support for Israel

Israel is by far the top recipient of US military aid in the world today, as well as over the past seven decades. Since 1946, the US has given Israel nearly $134.8 bn in combined military, economic, and missile defense aid, $3.775 bn in 2017 alone. The total amount of US military aid pledged in memoranda of understanding (MOU), which do not require Senate approval and do not include missile defense funding increased steadily from the Clinton to Bush to Obama administrations, from just over $20 bn for 1999 – 2008 (signed by Clinton) to over $35 bn for 2019 – 2028 (signed by Obama). In international forums such as the UN, the United States stands unique in its unwavering support of Israel, routinely shielding it from attempts to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations. Often the US casts the only vote in favor of Israel or vetoing motions to hold it accountable.
More detailed figures can be found at Al Jazeera’s page, “Understanding US military aid to Israel”:

Annex 2: What is #BDS?

The BDS movement began as a call by Palestinian civil society organizations to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) Israel as well as Israeli and international companies who participate in the Israel occupation and the violation of Palestinian human rights. As described by the BDS Movement website, BDS “is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity […] Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.” BDS involves:

  • Boycotts of Israeli and international companies involved in the violation of Palestinian human rights, or which participate in Israeli cultural, sporting, and academic events and institutions
  • Divestment: urging banks, local councils, pension funds, academic institutions, and other institutions to withdraw investments from Israeli companies and international companies involved in violations of Palestinian human rights
  • Sanctions campaigns pressuring governments to hold Israel accountable, including by ending military trade, free-trade agreements and expelling Israel from international forums such as the UN and FIFA


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