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March 2002 • Vol 2, No. 3 •

Tyrants Tremble When Soldiers Say No!

Will the Crack in Israel’s Army Widen?

By Nat Weinstein

For Socialist Viewpoint

Though they also avowed their commitment to the armed defense of the Israeli state, their action has impelled them, and their supporters among Israeli Jews, in a direction exactly opposite from their stated commitment to Zionism.

The reason for this contradictory state of consciousness is no mystery. It’s what happens when people who strongly believe in certain propositions begin to see evidence in the world around them that refutes these beliefs.

But those, like these “refusenik” soldiers, who have begun to act on the basis of their “new mind,” have set in motion a process leading them much further than they had intended and toward a possible resolution of their contradictory beliefs based on new experiences.

That’s why Israeli generals and political leaders find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. If they repress the free expression of opinion by Israel’s citizen soldiers, they fear that it may provoke greater resistance by both soldiers and civilians to Israel’s ruthless policy of repression. But they also fear the consequences of allowing soldiers who refuse to carry out orders to go unpunished.

Thus, for the time being, Israeli rulers and their generals are exercising an extremely cautious policy of selective and relatively mild punishment.

One reason for their caution is because the original 53 reservists who signed the ad are not ordinary reservists; they are among those who had served their time in the army—as is required of most able-bodied Israeli citizens—but they are also among the minority of reservists who had volunteered to continue serving in active combat duty when called upon. Thus, though they knew that they would be accused of disloyalty and cowardice, they had reason to believe that their record offers them a measure of protection. Nevertheless, their action took exceptional courage and commitment.

The historic role of citizen soldiers during unjust wars

While many Israelis have previously refused to serve their terms in the military as individual conscientious objectors, this is the first time that soldiers in Israel have joined together to organize their comrades to refuse to carry out orders that violate the human rights of Palestinians. This is not something merely implicit in their organized action; on the contrary, they had explicitly set a goal of gathering at least 500 signatures on their petition from members of Israel’s armed forces. (As of this writing the total number of army reservists who have signed a statement refusing to serve has reportedly reached 250.)

Organized resistance to social, economic or political injustice by the armed forces of a state locked in battle with internal and external “enemies” has often played a decisive role in the revolutionary overthrow of reactionary governments and states. At the very least, such resistance can alter the outcome of wars and civil conflicts between oppressed and oppressors.

When ordinary workers and farmers are compelled to serve a period of time in the military “defense” of their country they remain more closely attuned to the state of mind of the civilian population. This organic link between the ranks of the military and the mass of workers and farmers counts heavily when the masses run out of patience and realize that they are the only force that can change the course of history to benefit the great majority.

History is replete with occasions when sections of a nation’s military forces refused to fight in a war they no longer believed in or, in fact, turned their guns against those they held responsible for an unjust war. Such cases in history include the classic instance of Russia in 1917 and in the United States during the Vietnam War.

The lessons of the Vietnam War

Closely paralleling today’s growing resistance by Israeli Jews to their government’s repressive war against the people of Palestine was the resistance of the American people to their government’s counter-revolutionary war against the people of Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s. Thus, a short sketch of how and what changed mass public opinion in American at that time, and the lessons it provides for today, is in order.

It’s important to understand that while those Americans who opposed the Vietnam War were appalled by the murder and mayhem inflicted on the long-suffering impoverished people of Vietnam, their opposition to the war was driven primarily by its impact on the American people themselves. It was the students who were the first to take to the streets to protest against the war. But not too long after, the parents, the siblings, lovers, and friends of the young men sent to kill and be killed in Vietnam also came out to protest in massive numbers, turning the antiwar movement into a truly mass movement. And that is similar to what is taking place today among the Israeli people.

As we saw during the Vietnam War, the mass protests had a profound effect upon the American people’s sons in the armed forces as well—as is happening among Israelis today.

To be sure, most American soldiers went to war believing that their country was in the right. But that belief tended to evaporate when they discovered that the “enemy” they were fighting was not a regular, heavily armed force but a poorly armed civilian population in a century-long rebellion; first against France, then Japan, then France again and finally against an imperialist army from the United States.

Moreover, the invading American army was further disillusioned and demoralized by the devotion, self-sacrifice and heroic resistance of Vietnam’s revolutionary fighters. They showed, thereby, their unalterable conviction that their cause was just and that their struggle would continue to the end—as we are seeing today in Palestine.

But what contributed most to the growing movement of opposition to the war among American soldiers at home and in Vietnam was the message sent them by the tens and hundreds of thousands of protesting Americans marching in the streets of America demanding that the United States government “Bring Our Boys Home Now!” At the same time, the message to American GIs at home and in Vietnam was loud and clear: “We are on your side; we want you back home alive! And you can count on our support if you also exercise your Constitutional right to speak out against the Vietnam War.”

Reports soon began coming in of American GIs in Vietnam giving unmistakable evidence that they no longer believed in the war and had even begun refusing to follow orders by gung ho officers which they considered to be suicidal and purposeless. Thus the development of potentially rebellious troops contributed decisively to the ending of the Vietnam War.

And although there are important differences between the American antiwar movement and the Israeli peace movement, a similar dynamic is unfolding in the war on Palestine.

The ‘two-state’ solution

An editorial in The New York Times appeared on February 21, the day that Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was scheduled to make a speech televised to an American audience. The editorial, entitled “A Peace Impulse Worth Pursuing,” expresses great concern at the effect on the Israeli people’s morale of “the increasing frequency and effectiveness” of the “assaults on Israeli soldiers” by Palestinian militants.

The editors then advance the latest version of a “two-state solution”—this time proffered by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The editors express great interest in the news appearing elsewhere in the Times suggesting that Abdullah “is finally ready to lead the Arab world to normal relations with Israel in the event of a fairly negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.” The editors then strongly urge the crown prince to “formally present this idea to next month’s Arab League summit meeting in Beirut.”

Later that day, Sharon’s speech was televised. Sharon tried hard to give no sign of relenting from his hard-line stance as the country’s super-hawk. However, his speech nevertheless reflected the Israeli ruling class’s great concern over the surprisingly sympathetic response generated among the Israeli population to the 53 Israeli Defense Force soldiers’ refusal to continue to participate in the repression of Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza.

Without giving any indication of having heard any such question, Sharon blurted out an answer: “The state of Israel is not collapsing. And it will not collapse.” And, then, as if to point to his reason for having answered the unspoken question, he sent an oblique warning to dissenting soldiers saying: “Expressions of disobedience naturally encourage terrorist organizations and motivate them to intensify their actions.”

In other words, the 53 dissidents may yet be charged with treason and appropriate punitive measures taken against them and others.

The Israeli prime minister went on to declare his intention to “disarm” all Palestinians in order to “quell the violence.” And he promised to create “separation zones” to further restrict Palestinian access to their jobs in Israel, or even to move from one place to another inside the West Bank and Gaza.

The two-state solution versus a democratic secular Palestine

The first thing that must be said about the so-called “two-state solution” is that it is certainly no solution to the suffering of the masses of Palestinians chased from their homes, schools, farms, orchards and country. And few among the refugees believe that it can even moderately alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian masses. If that is so, and the evidence so indicates, there’s no way that this “solution” will reconcile the Palestinian masses to the Israeli-imposed status quo. But many Palestinians, out of pure desperation, might support this dubious solution—at least initially.

In fact, the only real beneficiaries of such a solution would be Israel, the leaders of the Palestinian authority and the very uncomfortable Middle Eastern Arab ruling cliques that had long ago reconciled themselves to a junior partnership with imperialism and its Israeli Zionist agents.

But it’s one thing for imperialism’s pampered Zionist killers to sign a “peace” treaty with the Palestinian Authority—it would be a much bigger trick to make it stick.

Even if Israel and imperialism gave Arafat all of the West Bank and Gaza, and that is not at all likely, all of the choicest land will still be in the possession of those who stole it from its rightful owners. Not to mention the denial to Palestinians of the fruits of their labors. And it was their labor that made the imperialist-financed industrial economy within the so-called green line possible.

The plain fact is that the industrial development of Israel would have been impossible without the labor of Palestinians. Thus, they have not only been expelled from their homes, farms, orchards and land, they have been robbed of their considerable contribution to the economic development of Israeli-controlled Palestine.

Making bad matters worse, Palestinian labor was made artificially cheaper than the labor of the colonists from Europe and America. That’s because all capitalist nations need a permanent army of unemployed that become so desperate that they are compelled to work for less pay. And those branded by skin color, language and ethnicity or religion, are made to order for capitalists.

But that’s not easy when those chosen to play this role are the indigenous people of the nation. However, this little trick was accomplished simply by denying them citizenship in their own country. And while all workers in capitalist society are paid significantly less than the value they add to the products of their labor, the greening of the deserts and the industrialization of Israeli-controlled Palestine would have been impossible without Palestinian blood, sweat and tears that comes along with being branded a likely victim of capitalist greed.

Palestinian labor made Israel green

In other words, the land, along with the unpaid labor that made it green and bountiful, may be called Israel, but it’s still Palestine in the eyes of the indigenous peoples of Palestine and the Middle East—and probably in the eyes of the great majority of the world’s people.

Furthermore, the opportunities available for Palestine’s indigenous people for making a living on the smallest and least fertile portion of their land are worse than dismal. There is hardly enough land, water and jobs for those now living in the territory, much less for the million or more Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the nearby Arab nations.

Besides, a large number of Palestinians that would be citizens of a miniature Palestinian state if such a deal is signed and sealed, would still be compelled to make their living on jobs in the state of Israel.

Think of what that means. As “foreign” laborers they will still be denied, as before, the formal rights granted to immigrant labor in America and Europe. And they would still have to pass through borders controlled by Israeli army border guards as they move back and forth daily between their jobs in Israel and their families and homes in a Palestinian state. And though their new state will surely be provided the means for enforcing the imperialist-imposed peace inside Palestine, they will just as surely be denied the means for defending the rights of Palestine’s workers in Israel. Moreover, if the Zionists have their way, the little mini-state will remain as it is now, parceled into Palestinian Bantustans, and surrounded on all sides by hostile Israeli border guards.

A democratic secular Palestine?

What is a democratic secular Palestine, and can such a political arrangement serve to bring an end to the troubles now plaguing Israeli Jews, as well as the long-suffering indigenous peoples of Palestine?

Such a political set-up would be based on the elementary human right of every inhabitant within the pre-1948 borders of Palestine to speak their own language, freely govern their own affairs—including such things as practicing the religion of their choice, or none at all. And, of course, all democratic rights—free speech, assembly, and all the other liberties indispensable to the pursuit of happiness, would apply equally to all. And, to be sure, all matters affecting human social, economic and political relations would be decided democratically, based on the principle of one person-one vote, and majority rule based on 50 percent of the vote, plus one.

The ideological principle guiding the social relations between people would simply be to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. But would all that bring an end to the troubles? Unfortunately, that’s not very likely, although it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

The fact is that there are few naïve enough in today’s world to believe that that alone would accomplish the desired end of bringing peace with justice to all inhabitants of Palestine. The problem is made far more difficult by the terrible reality of a world—not just Palestine—divided between a tiny minority of the very rich and a majority of the world’s six billion souls without the barest necessities of life, and only a minority of them with little to spare for life’s little luxuries like adequate dental and health care. (Yes, those things are indeed among some of life’s little luxuries for the many without them.)

There is an old Chinese proverb that says that a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. And a democratic secular Palestine is also entirely in accord with the way the world works. As anyone who has tried to accomplish any objective, more often than not, you discover that it’s necessary to twist and turn around obstacles you had no idea were there when you began.

The fact is, strangely enough, that Yasser Arafat’s and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s original objective, adopted by the PLO shortly after the 1967 war, was to create a democratic secular Palestine for all its inhabitants—including Arabs and Jews. But the PLO leader lost his way; at least partly because of the extremely unfavorable and worsening objective conditions his movement faced, due primarily to the monstrous power wielded by an expanding and prosperous U.S.-led world imperialism.

And beyond

That unfavorable reality for the PLO, and for so many more of us committed to making the world a better place, is changing rapidly. That’s because the boom that drove the prolonged expansion of world capitalism is changing into its opposite. And with that, the objective conditions favorable to revolutionary change are maturing before our eyes.

Before we end this editorial statement, we are obliged to at least indicate the ultimate goal entirely consistent with a democratic secular Palestine. But this ultimate goal is beyond the first step in the “thousand-mile journey” of the old Chinese proverb.

In the final analysis, the only genuine and permanent solution to man’s inhumanity to man, is a world socialist society based on full social, economic and political justice for all; a world without the need for borders; without the need for chauvinism of any kind, a world where all human activity is no longer governed by the blind pursuit of profits for the world’s capitalist minority and its hangers-on, but for the benefit of the entire human race.

However, at this moment in history, even as we write, reports are coming in of Israeli killer raids on Palestinian refugee camps, with U.S. supplied Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter aircraft, tanks, rockets and machine guns.

It appears to us that the time is now ripe for our co-thinkers among the conscious revolutionary workers vanguard in both Arab and Jewish Palestine to lead the way forward to identify with the organized “Refuseniks” in the Israeli army of repression; to support their resistance to further injustice against their Palestinian cousins, and to work for a united struggle by all workers and farmers in Israel and Palestine, for a new social order based on class solidarity as the only road to genuine all-encompassing human solidarity—i.e., for a socialist world without borders, without capitalist social, economic and political injustice—and for peace with justice for all.





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