Yin Zhiguang
Original publication: guancha.cn
Translation: Roderic Day

For Israel, the Palestinians are tools that can be disposed of at will and abandoned (2023)

22 minutes | English 中文 | China

Yin Zhiguang is Professor at the Department of International Politics of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University. Originally published in Guancha.

No one can remain calm in the face of imperialist bombs and lies.

Tuesday evening, October 17. After nine days of fierce air strikes by the militaristic Israeli government dominated by the Likud Party, the blockaded city of Gaza has almost been razed to the ground. Palestinians, trapped in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government, cut off from water and electricity, take refuge in the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in northern Gaza. The injured, the sick, their family members, the medical staff, and a large number of displaced people are doing their best to try to stay alive, supported by the hospital’s only power generator. A missile strikes.

Many of them die that night.

Many of them had only just been born.

Shortly afterward, desperate people try to dig their bodies out of the rubble. They’re hit by another precision missile strike, and die there as well.

Al-Ahli Arab Hospital after the bombing. (Source: Visual China)

Four days earlier, on October 13, the Israeli military had ordered all 1.1 million Palestinians north of Wadi Gaza, [1] including Gaza City, to evacuate south within 24 hours. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven away from their homes, driven into the desert, driven into further confinement. They were hated, abandoned, and abused by the imperialist colonizers — like despised artifacts, like used-up tools, like drained livestock.

Israeli military air-dropped leaflets on the streets of Gaza. (Source: Visual China)

Meanwhile, imperialist elites, “humanitarians” in imperialism’s payroll, obedient imperial citizens, and imperial troops all set out to spread lies. They rule in the style of colonizers: on the one hand they magnanimously announce “We don’t target civilians” while on the other they genocide Palestinians in the name of protecting Israelis. These are no longer the surviving descendants of Nazi concentration camps, they are the armed guards of the open-air concentration camp in Gaza. They are ruthless — they do not hesitate to cut off water and electricity, or to open fire against the Palestinians, whom they describe as “human animals.” [2] They are systematically turning Gaza into a terra nullius, attempting to build a pure “Jewish State” on “barren” land. [3]

They are, rather, the spiritual descendants of the colonizers who attempted to establish a pure “White Man’s Country” in the Americas, Australia, and Africa. These Zionists condemn those Jews who oppose them for being unfaithful to the ideal of a pure ethnostate. They label antisemitic all of those who dare speak on behalf of the suffering Palestinians, and try to expel them from society — just as they try to expel the Palestinians from their land. For them, this is a great feat of “humanitarianism.” In reality, they condemn us all to racism.

From the perspective of the colonizer, their imperialist violence is always measured, rational, and humane, whereas the violence of the colonized always irrational. [4] “Do you condemn the atrocities of the Hamas terrorists?” is asked as if casting a curse, screening and disciplining anyone who tries to speak out. In the world woven by imperialists there is always only one answer to that question.

Colonizers always try to make their victims submissive, and so frame any resistance as madness. The vociferousness of the Non-Violence movement as well as the glorification of formal political independence cast an illusion on many people. They made it seem as if slavery and colonization miraculously disappeared alongside the wave of national independence movements that swept throughout the world in the 20th century. This makes it all the more difficult for us to accept that today, in the 21st century, there are still people in the world — perhaps the majority of its people — who, although they have been granted full formal independence, still live under the yoke of imperialism and imperialist colonial aggression. For nearly half a century imperialists have disguised this unemancipated “freedom” and real inequality as matters of governance and development.

Changes in Israeli-Palestinian occupied land. (Source: Al Jazeera)

The Israeli economy is enjoying its 13th consecutive year of growth, demonstrating remarkable resilience. Increases in output […] exceeded those of most other OECD countries […]. [T]he employment rate has continued to rise steadily, the unemployment rate has fallen to around 5.25% […]. The fiscal strategy adopted in 2003 has kept public debt on a downward trend and brought the tax burden well below the OECD average. […] The banking system is profitable and well capitalised […]. Israel also has a vibrant high-tech sector […]. [5]

The above passage is from a 2016 report on the Israeli economy, annually published by the International Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Here we find many familiar talking points about Israel: high growth, dynamism, high-tech… Who indeed wouldn’t cherish this wonderful sight? However, the report also mentions that one of the weaknesses in Israel’s economic development is that its economic and financial policies are not friendly to “inclusive growth.” Behind this euphemistic statement lies a brutal reality: the opportunities for economic growth are not equal for everyone; the macro benefits of economic growth are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very small number of people.

The myth of the “economic miracle” of Israel began in 1985. In 1984, Shimon Peres was elected Prime Minister of Israel. A member of the Haganah (the predecessor to the IDF — Israel Defense Forces), he had worked in the defense sector since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. By 1974, Peres had become Secretary of Defense in Yitzak Rabin’s administration. This was shortly after the ceasefire of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. At the end of this war, Arab countries began to act jointly in order to impose an oil embargo on Israel and the pro-Israel American West. This led directly to a surge in energy prices in Western markets. In the decade that followed, inflation in Israel soared, and economic growth slowed dramatically.

In 1983, Israel experienced another severe economic crisis, with stock prices plummeting. In order to save the banking sector, Israel had to resort to a program of nationalization, spending a total of $6.9 billion on bank stock purchases to help them weather the storm for the time being. At that time, Israel’s annual gross domestic product was a paltry $27 billion.

It was also during this decade that the Likud Party, a right-wing political movement, was formed. It quickly became a major force in Israeli politics. In the 1977 elections, the Likud Party, which had only been in existence for four years, won a resounding victory, becoming the largest party in the Knesset, ousting the Labour Party — the ruling party since the founding of the State — and replacing it with a coalition government.

In truth, though, right-wing forces had been ascendant in Israeli politics ever since the 1967 Six-Day War. In the 1969 general election, the right-wing National Religious Party (NRP) gained 12 seats in the Knesset, which was then dominated by left-leaning Zionist parties. And by the time of the 1977 election, the NRP had joined forces with the Likud, essentially defining the right-wing political structure of today’s religious-nationalist Israel. This political force represents the middle class of Israeli society. Their constituents hail from the IDF, academia, and the business community.

When Peres was elected, Israel’s economy was in jeopardy. In the first half of 1984, Israel’s annualized inflation rate was already 400%. By the second half of that year that number had climbed to a staggering 1000%. Massive capital outflows were also rapidly depleting Israel’s foreign exchange reserves. After forming a coalition government with Likud, Peres quickly began to work on economic reforms.

This program, known as the “Economic Stabilization Plan,” had three main features. Firstly, the fiscal budget deficit was reduced significantly. This was accomplished mainly through cuts in government food subsidies. Secondly, the Israeli currency was devalued by 20%. Finally, all local currency-driven operations — including wages, price-changes, and foreign exchanges — were frozen. At the same time, the Peres Government, with the assistance of the United States Council of Economic Advisers, secured from the United States government an agreement for emergency assistance — $750 million per year for two consecutive years.

After this, Israel’s economy began to grow rapidly. This sudden growth through privatization led to the rise in prominence of several very wealthy families. In addition to the monopolization of finance, manufacturing, and high-end services, Israel’s food industry was rapidly monopolized by a handful of giants after the 1985 reforms. In one study, this monopoly was referred to as “a monopoly of the whole industrial chain, from agricultural production to supermarkets.” The decline of low-end domestic industries went hand-in-hand with the rapid growth of high-tech and financial services industries, driven by international capital. The risk is, however, that such businesses can easily relocate.

The situation in the labour market is not encouraging either. As Israel’s economy grows, the labour force’s share of national income is declining. Inequality among workers has also widened dramatically. At the beginning of 1980s reforms, 80% of Israel’s industrial workers were affiliated with Israel’s Federation of Trade Unions (Histadrut). This figure rapidly declined to less than 20% by the 2010s, under the combined pressure of the government’s administrative and economic policies.

Today’s researchers attribute this inequality to an economic ideology called “neoliberalism.” This ideology is characterized by policies based on the reduction of public sector fiscal spending, privatization of public services, monetary liberalization, tax cuts, and other such policies. These stimulate the growth of private capital by facilitating the global mobility of capital, supposedly increasing employment, social wealth, and income. The prefix “neo-” here subconsciously suggests that this is something that has never existed in past human history, that these problems are a unique feature of the experience of our times. This is yet another historical illusion created by imperialists.

Indeed, the rise of the right wing in Israel in the 1960s played out like a miniature replica of the historical development of classic capitalist-colonial societies. Colonizers, as if falling from the sky, appeared in various forms in the lands of indigenous “coloured” people, and, either through forced purchase or through violent dispossession established their own settlements in these lands.

Initially these colonists began their lives in an unfamiliar land with an almost socialist style of cooperative production. [6] As the colonies expanded in size and population, social stratifications began to emerge. The colonists naturally began to replicate the capitalist way of organizing their society and economy. Utopian ideals rapidly gave way to an efficient capitalist hierarchy.

In such structures, the economic growth of one part of the population depends on the impoverishment of another part. This process of accumulation, which inevitably leads to poverty, is more inwardly exploitative in the early stages of capitalist development. As internal impoverishment brings with it gross social inequalities, expansion becomes not just a matter of finding markets outside the country, but also — and perhaps more importantly — a matter of finding an outlet for local demographic and economic pressures through the appropriation of more land and resources, using the profits from expansion to temporarily alleviate the great discontent of local labourers.

Just as Lenin described in his theory of imperialism, the internal justifications of imperialist States are always inseparable from their justifications for imperial expansion. Allowing colonies formal independence and “emancipation” was merely an opportunistic way for bourgeois politicians of a different era to manage to keep their colonies firmly subjugated. Lenin related arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes’s observation about workers’ quarters in 1895 London as follows:

“I was in the East End of London (a working-class quarter) yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘Bread! Bread!’, and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism. […] My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.” [7]

Netanyahu’s right-wing Israel today is not fundamentally different from Cecil Rhodes’s 19th century Britain, practicing imperialist policies with impunity. They stake the survival of their country — or, rather, their clique — on the total oppression of another group of people. Following Israel’s neoliberal reforms in 1985, in the 1990s, the Israeli government resumed the peace process with the Palestinians. One of the key outcomes of this “peace” was the full opening of the Palestinian market to Israeli firms, and the complete absorption of the Palestinian economy into Israel as an appendage.

September 13, 1993: Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement signed (Source: Visual China)

In Israel-occupied Palestine there is a high degree of economic “integration” between Arabs and Israelis. Many Palestinians earn their living in Israel, and most of them are engaged in low-end labor. As with all imperialist global economic relations, Palestine is also highly economically dependent on Israel. Around 40% of the Palestinian labour force earns its living in Israel, and this constitutes the main backbone of the Palestinian economy. However, Palestinian labourers account for only about 6.5% of Israel’s total employment.

Israel’s neoliberal economic reforms led to a demand for labour — especially non-unionized, cheap labor — and this was supplied by the population of Occupied Palestine. In 1968, Palestine’s per-capita income was only 10.2% of Israel’s per-capita income. By 1986, the figure had increased to 22.8%. During the period of relative détente in Palestinian-Israeli relations, and relying on this relationship, the Palestinian economy grew by about 5% annually. This is glorified in neoliberal economics as a “trickle-down” effect of development. Whenever the Palestinian-Israeli conflict intensifies, however, this model of economic growth, which relies on submission to Israel, immediately stalls.

The short-term horizon and hegemonic nature of this system of global rule are never addressed in the neoliberal economic narrative. “Development” becomes a one-size-fits-all story without social costs or trade-offs, eliding questions of power and hierarchy. In reality, however, underlying this so-called “development” is an economic model where hierarchical rule persists indefinitely, alongside exploitation and dependency. The political expressions of this model are imperialism and colonization.

Things, however, never unfold according to the designs of imperialists. Beginning in the 1980s, imperialist regulation of governance was accompanied by waves of Palestinian armed resistance (the Intifada). Those at the bottom of the hegemonic pyramid experience this structural dependence as oppression, they’re treated as tools to be disposed of at will, used and then discarded. This is how displays of violence or insubordination come to be seen as hostile to development, with the hegemonic forces which benefit from this imperial arrangement praising the “Good Palestinians.” At the same time, we must not forget that imperial discipline never applies exclusively to the indigenous “outsiders.” Workers under Israel’s imperialist government are also oppressed by this hegemonic structure. [8]

Just this past January, the Histadrut began a nationwide general strike aimed directly against the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial reforms. During the wave of protests, the Netanyahu government labeled the workers “anarchists.” The protest also brought out the contradictions within Israel’s militaristic government. On March 25, following a rally of 630,000 people, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant publicly expressed his hope that Netanyahu would suspend judicial reform. “The growing social rift has permeated the military and security institutions,” he claimed. In response, Netanyahu fired Gallant.

More than 630,000 people participated in a rally on March 25 (Source: The Guardian UK)

The Hamas attack of October 7 temporarily patched the internal rift in Israel’s imperialist government, and the transformation of Israeli imperialism into full-fledged militarism was quickly accomplished under the auspice of a unifying goal. On October 8, Israel formed a wartime cabinet, and Gallant returned. This is the same man who described the Palestinians as “human animals,” and who ordered a total blockade of the Gaza Strip, cutting off their water and electricity.

The Israeli regime today is both an outpost of today’s capitalist world empire and a time capsule of the capitalist-colonial empires of the 19th century. It oscillates between free trade and militarism. Like the hegemons of all capitalist world empires, it governs imperiously, fueling delusions and violence to repress liberation and sustain its own mythology. However, as Sartre wrote in the preface to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, “These means may sometimes delay liberation, but they cannot prevent it.”

In December 1987, in the aftermath of yet another Palestinian uprising, the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani wrote:

The age of political reason has long departed
So teach us madness… [9]

This sense of hopelessness in resistance is a product of the era of neoliberal globalization. For the oppressed peoples of the world, the neoliberal declaration that “There is no alternative” [10] weighs on them like damnation, blocking from view viable paths towards liberation and development. Shortly before this era, upon seeing the newborn People’s Republic of China, Abu Salma, a Palestinian poet forced into exile, wrote these hopeful lines:

We have fought the same fight.
We have endured the same suffering.

Now we’re in Beijing.
We can spread our wings and fly.
The strong people here,
all have sprouted wings.

We are united in our struggle,
The glory will be ours!
We shall wear laurels on our heads,
And smiles on our faces.

When dark clouds cover the firmament,
A wild wind sweeps through the universe.
When Mao’s smile appears on the horizon,
Earth’s skies become clear for miles and miles!

When this possibility reappears in history, resistance to hegemony is sure to be renewed with hope.

[1] A stream dividing North and South Gaza. — R. D. 

[2] Sanjana Karanth, “Israeli Defense Minister [Yoav Gallant] Announces Siege On Gaza To Fight ‘Human Animals’” (9 October 2023), Huffington Post. [web] — R. D. 

[3] For a brief discussion of terra nullius, see also “Really Existing Fascism” (2021). [web] — R. D. 

[4] See, also, Domenico Losurdo’s 2004 discussion of “drapetomania.” [web] — R. D. 

[5] “OECD Economic Surveys: Israel” (January 2016). [web] 

[6] The reference is to kibbutzes, which had an egalitarian element, but also a sinister aim in preventing racial intermingling. — R. D. 

[7] V. I. Lenin, Imperialism (1916), Ch. 6. [web] — R. D. 

[8] For a brief discussion of how American white supremacy also restricted the freedom of whites, see Losurdo’s “Liberalism.” [web] — R. D. 

[9] Nizar Qabbani, “The Trilogy of the Children of Stones” (1987). [web] 

[10] “There is no alternative” are the infamous lapidary words with which British PM Margaret Thatcher repeatedly declared the capitalist world’s victory over the Soviet Union throughout the 1980s, as justification for privatization and severe austerity measures. — R. D.