From the Six-Day War to the 100-day bombardment

Israel: The Making of a Racist State is an rs21 pamphlet written by Neil Rogall and originally published in 2017. We have now published a second edition, with new chapters by Neil, and an afterword by Anindya Bhattacharyya about the international Palestine solidarity movement of 2023. Below, we reproduce part of the pamphlet’s new content.

New cover art by Arjun Mahadevan.

The 1967 war and its consequences

The 1967 war, ‘the 6-day war,’ was the most successful war in Israel’s history. Firstly, the 1967 war transformed Israel from an ethnic Jewish state in control of a small amount of territory into a ‘mini-empire’ in control of 90,000 sq. kilometres instead of 20,000. There was an expansion of Israeli controlled territory – the West Bank, Gaza, Syria’s Golan Heights and for a time Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Second, the US now recognised Israel as a major ally, able to defeat the threat of Arab nationalism. It is from this point that Israel becomes the USA’s watch dog in the region – the most important recipient of US armaments and aid in the world.

Triumphalism ruled the day inside Israel. General Ariel Sharon wrote that they  ‘could impose law and order from Morocco to Turkey.’ A messianic religious Zionism grew, aiming to build a Jewish Empire that would be ruled by Halacha (Jewish religious law) and governed by religious figures. Key to this was the newly conquered West Bank. Israel in its pre-1967 boundaries was not the Old Testament home of the Biblical Jews. It was in fact the West Bank that was the site of Old Testament narratives and the Jewish kingdoms of Judea and Samaria, which in reality were at best city-states. Now Israel had control of these.

The inheritor of Jabotinsky’s revisionist Zionism was Menachem Begin, leader of the far-right Likud party. He expressed this expansionist dream in 1977: ‘Both banks of the Jordan: this one is ours and that one is also. You annex foreign land, not your own country.’ In fact, Israel has never defined its borders, for a key tenet of the Zionist project has always been expand, expand, expand.

Now a far greater number of Palestinians were under Israeli rule. Disillusionment with the defeated Arab states was widespread and there was a growing belief among Palestinians that they had to liberate themselves. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was founded in 1964 but it was only after 1967 that it developed as a popular guerrilla organisation led by Yasser Arafat’s secular Fatah. The refugee camps in both the West Bank and Jordan saw the dramatic growth of Palestinian guerrilla organisations. Fatah was the largest but to its left was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DPFLP).

All the groups were inspired by the success of the FLN (National Liberation Front) in Algeria and the Vietnamese resistance to the US war. There was a visible renaissance in Palestinian life, which at the time was termed ‘the Palestinian revolution’ and included growing women’s participation in the movement. However the Palestinian guerrillas had a serious problem which made guerrilla warfare a dead end. The FLN and the NLF in Vietnam had been able to operate from bases in Algeria and South Vietnam. But the Palestinian fedayeen were unable to operate from within Israel. Their bases were in countries bordering Israel, Jordan and later Lebanon. Although Fatah had a policy of ‘non-interference’ in the internal affairs of the Arab States, in reality the presence of armed guerrillas outside the control of the Arab states was deeply threatening to the ruling classes and made these states a target for Israeli attacks. 

In Jordan, where the majority of the population was of Palestinian origin, the Hashemite monarchy felt deeply threatened by the armed power of the refugees. In 1970-71 the Jordanian army attacked the refugee camps in what became known as ‘Black September.’ They killed thousands of Palestinians and defeated the fedayeen, the Palestinian guerrillas who fled to Lebanon. In 1982, Israel invaded civil war-torn Lebanon. This was in alliance with the fascist Christian militias who, under Israeli army protection, perpetrated the massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The PLO then fled to Tunisia which has no land border with Israel, ending the hope of armed struggle liberating Palestine. 

Following military victory in 1967, the Israeli state now had to deal with ruling over a much larger Palestinian population. What eventually emerged was a two-pronged strategy. First, the Zionist entity pursued a long-term strategy of fragmenting the Palestinian population. We see the consequences of this today with different laws and legal codes not just for Israeli Jews and Palestinians but for different groups of Palestinians, be they in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem or Palestine ’48. Secondly, there was the ongoing seizure of Palestinian land in the West Bank (and for a time in Gaza) to build settlements, essentially Israeli cities with their own roads and services, fragmenting Palestinian territory. Today there are some 700,000 Israeli settlers in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Oslo, the first Intifada and the birth of Hamas

After the defeat of its guerrilla strategy, the PLO leadership was isolated in Tunisia. They abandoned their goal of liberating the whole of Palestine and in 1988 effectively recognised Israel. This took place just as growing discontent in the West Bank and Gaza in 1987 led to the first popular uprising since 1936. 

The first Intifada had deep popular roots and mobilised the majority of the population in local committees and protests. The Intifada also drew on the growing importance of Palestinian workers in the Israeli economy who commuted daily from the occupied territories to work in the settler economy.  40% of the Palestinian population now worked inside Israel, dominating agriculture and construction. Gaza was completely dependent on Israeli employment, and the Israeli economy depended on exploiting Palestinian labour.

When Israel was put on the defensive by the 1987 protests, the USA came to its rescue by sponsoring peace negotiations in 1990 which completely sidelined the popular movement. The exiled PLO, which had played almost no role in the Intifada, now regained their position as the official leadership of the Palestinian movement in these negotiations. The so-called Oslo Peace Agreement consolidated their newfound importance. However, as Edward Said pointed out at the time, the ‘peace process’ was a disaster for Palestinians.

The PLO basically accepted in advance all the Israeli demands – the right of the Israeli state to exist in peace and security, the end to armed struggle and other acts of violence. They also abandoned the right to return of the 4 million Palestinian refugees to their homes in Israel. The PLO leadership now took on the job of policing the Palestinian people to make sure they complied with the agreement. In exchange, the new Palestinian Authority (PA) got to rule parts of a fragmented West Bank along with Gaza, which was at most some 22% of historic Palestine, divided into 227 separate enclaves, soon to be enclosed by the Israeli wall. Today Israel governs 60% of the West Bank. It controls the whole water supply of the occupied territories and assigned 80% of it for use by Jewish citizens. There was no agreement about the status of the illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories nor any commitment by Israel to stop expanding them.

It now became impossible for Palestinians to drive more than a few kilometres without entering Israeli-controlled territory or meeting one of the 600 Israeli military checkpoints. Bethlehem for example has sixteen Israeli checkpoints surrounding the town, not to mention the wall which separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Villages and towns were now isolated from each other. The Palestinian economy became reduced to highly localised economic units unable to pursue independent trade relations with third countries, as Israel controlled all its trading policies. And Israel now had total control of internal and external borders, allowing it to enforce closure of any parts of the occupied territories as it so chooses. The new Palestinian Authority became Israel’s police in the West Bank. They stopped protests, jailed and killed dissident Palestinians, and run prisons for Israel. This didn’t stop the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) invading the West Bank whenever they desired.

It is in this context that we see the rise of Hamas, who emerged from the Palestinian section of the Muslim Brotherhood, during the first Intifada. They had refused to take part in the charade of the Oslo and subsequent peace negotiations. They were now able to claim the mantle of Palestinian resistance given the PLO’s surrender. They built their base by running welfare services and emphasised nationalist goals rather than religious ones. Their goal was the same as that of the PLO in the late sixties, the liberation of all Palestinian territory. In 2006 they won the first Palestinian Authority elections, not just in Gaza but across the West Bank. The Israelis, along with the US and the EU, were horrified at the election result. The Zionist state successfully sought to portray Hamas as the equivalent of Al Qaeda and later Islamic State. In reality Al Qaeda and ISIS detest Hamas because Hamas’s goals are political not religious; Palestinian self-determination. Hamas have in fact prevented the Salafist groups operating within Gaza.

All foreign aid to Palestine was terminated. Israel withheld the tax and custom receipts it collected for the Palestine Authority. The Palestinian economy collapsed leading to much suffering. Additionally, Israel arrested a quarter of the members of the new parliament effectively showing the fraud that the ‘Peace Agreement’ was. Israel and Egypt later in the year closed their borders, and Israel began its maritime blockade of Gaza. Eventually a unity government was formed by Fatah and Hamas but the western powers and the UN would only talk to the Fatah members, undermining the new administration. The new government couldn’t function. Fatah then seized power in the West Bank and Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007. The blockade of Gaza has now continued for 16 years with Israel periodically bombing this most densely populated territory on our planet, causing immense suffering, a practice that it terms ‘mowing the lawn.’ Israel restricts the amount of food entering Gaza, just allowing the minimum of calories to keep the population alive (with terrifying echoes of the Warsaw Ghetto). Now of course with the 2023 Israeli genocide the situation is much worse. There have been no elections since 2006 as Israel has actively sabotaged all attempts to hold them.

An equally important consequence of the Oslo Agreement was that the Israeli state drastically reduced its dependence on Palestinian workers. It encouraged Jews from the ex-Soviet Union to migrate to Israel, and brought in workers from Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere on temporary contracts to fill the gaps. This was a lesson that Israel drew from the collapse of apartheid South Africa, where the black working class provided the decisive blow to the racist regime. Israel was not going to allow the growth of a strong confident Palestinian working class inside the Zionist state.  There are of course still some Palestinian workers from ’48 Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, employed mainly in construction, but nothing like the numbers there were. 

Situation now: where is resistance?

Despite Western leaders who continue to shield Israel from criticism and endlessly repeat the nonsensical ‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,’ Israel has moved further and further to the right in the last decades. The 2018 Nation State law declared there was self-determination only for Jews inside Israel, that all resources belong to Jews, and that non-Jews (i.e. Palestinian citizens of Israel, some 20%) can leave if they object. These state policies are reflected in popular opinion – 96% of Israeli Jews think it is acceptable to kill Palestinians. 

Where can we look for hope and resistance?

The enormous and growing mass movement across the world in solidarity with the Palestinians, is revealing a massive gap between the ordinary people of our planet and its rulers. A whole new generation of young people has been moved to action as Israel backed by western imperialism commits mass murder. And the Zionists know it and are worried. Their strategy to fragment and divide the Palestinians has not achieved its aim. This was clear in 2021, when a mass movement and the unity general strike took place across every part of Palestine, including ’48 Palestine (Israel). The current nightmare is likely only to strengthen unity across Palestine.

A decade ago, the defeat of the Arab Spring by the ruling classes of the Middle East was a major setback for both the working class in the region and the Palestinians. However, Israel’s genocidal 2023 attack on Gaza has sparked renewed unrest in North Africa, the Middle East, and everywhere. It lays the ground for a new period of struggle. A huge amount of popular support for Palestinians has arisen in Egypt, alongside a growing hatred of the al-Sisi dictatorship. The old slogan, ‘the road to Jerusalem lies through Cairo’, acknowledges that any serious solution to the oppression of the Palestinians would involve redrawing the entire imperial map in the whole Middle East.

As the climate emergency deepens across the planet, and as more and more regions particularly in the Global South become uninhabitable, the refugee crisis will accelerate. What Israel is doing to Palestinians today is likely to be repeated across the planet as the world’s rulers respond to the climate disaster in the only way they know how: through repression and murder. However, the global mass movement that has been born out of Israeli genocide suggests that all is not lost, that we can still win: that is why we have to repeat again and again ‘the liberation of Palestine is the precondition for the liberation of the world’. When we chant ‘we are all Palestinians’, this is not sentimental sloganeering, this will be all our futures if we don’t stop the war criminals burning our planet.

  • rs21 is running a Day School on Palestine this Sunday 21 January. Event details here.
  • You can order copies of the new edition of the pamphlet here.


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