Kansan Uutiset/Viikkolehti, 30.10.2009
By Hannu Reime
The Middle East problem cannot be solved before Palestinians and Israelis are treated as equals. This necessary condition has never been fulfilled, because Israel is strong and Palestinians are weak, says Moshé Machover, an Israeli dissident.
At the beginning of September, an elderly couple was wandering about the streets of Helsinki, Tallinn and Turku, sight-seeing places during their first visit to these Northern latitudes. Moshé and Ilana Machover are Israelis; or more exactly Israeli-British, for they have been residing in London for more than 40 years. Moshé is a mathematician, who came to Finland for a scientific congress in Turku. Ilana is a teacher of Alexander technique in London.
In addition to being a scientist, Dr Moshé Machover is a life-long socialist and political dissident, an anti-Zionist Israeli. As a young man, he belonged to the Israeli Communist Party, from where he was expelled in 1962 for reasons of “fractional activity”. Machover and three of his comrades had established a discussion circle and, among themselves, begun to ask vexing questions about the politics and history of the Moscow-led Communist “church”.
After being thrown out of the Party, the circle started to publish a monthly paper Matzpen (“Compass”), and soon organized as a group under the name Israeli Socialist Organization. The Matzpen group was always very small, less than a hundred people, Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Besides former CP members, Matzpen was joined by some young radicals who had started to doubt this or that “truth” of the official Israel, a group of Arab communists from Haifa, and some older Jewish workers who had managed to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine.
Matzpen became “notorious” after the war of 1967, when the Israeli army defeated the armed forces of surrounding Arab states. Matzpen was the first political group in Israel that demanded withdrawal from all the occupied territories. At a time when the prime minister of Israel could state that there are no Palestinians, Matzpen members pointed out that the suppression of Palestinians’ rights is at the core of the Middle East conflict. The group tried to bring to the consciousness of Israelis the catastrophe, al-Nakba, whose victims the Palestinians had been in 1948: three quarters of Palestine’s Arabs had been made refugees, when the State of Israel was established.
After the Six Day War, the word “matzpenik” was widely used as an invective in Israel. The reason that such a small group got so much publicity might have had something to do with the youthful leftist radicalism in Europe and North America at the same time, that is, during the 1960s and early 1970s. Matzpen was appealing to many young radicals in the West, some of whom had previously, perhaps, tended to admire Israel’s “socialism” with its famous kibbutzim, etc. Matzpen members, for their part, closely followed movements against the Vietnam War as well as anti-capitalist activity all over the world.
Matzpen was also interested in the Soviet and East European opposition movements and protested strongly against the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Moshé Machover translated into Hebrew the famous “Open letter” by two Polish socialists, Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski. The whole text was published in successive issues of Matzpen. Machover had been studying in Poland when preparing his Ph.D. dissertation. In an interview from the 1970s, he says that “what he observed there convinced… [him] …that that was no socialism at all”.
In the early 1970s, Matzpen split due to political differences. The monthly continued to appear until 1983. Moshé Machover moved to London in 1968. The current of Matzpen, which can be called its mainstream, and which ideologically developed towards non-Leninist views, still exists as a discussion group, keeping up Matzpen’s legacy. Dr Machover belongs to this current.
How and what?
Matzpen’s analysis of the Middle East conflict and the programmatic outlines of a just solution are mainly due to the collaboration of Moshé Machover and the Palestinian-Israeli Marxist Jabra Nicola (1912-1974). Three years ago Dr Machover presented these ideas in a lecture in London.
The lecture started with the question of how one should think about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Dr Machover reminded his audience that before it is possible to take a moral stand, before answering the question what, it is necessary to give an answer to the question how: how should one think of the conflict?
-The conflict has caused enormous suffering, first of all to the Palestinians, but also to the Israelis. As in all violent conflicts, both sides have committed hideous atrocities.
-A moral stand in a violent conflict cannot, however, be taken only on the basis of which side has used more violence. It is easy to show that the violence used by Israel is greater by several orders of magnitude compared to the violence used by Palestinians and other Arabs. Israel does much more harm because it is so much stronger than the Palestinians.
Israel: a colonial-settler state
-The general reason for the Middle East conflict is the way the imperialist powers of the day, Britain and France, broke up and carved up the Arab East after the First World War. Current crises in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine/Israel are consequences of decisions made close to 90 years ago. Palestine itself, as an administrative-political entity, was created when the Ottoman areas of the Arab East were Balkanized.
-The special reason for the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the colonial-settler activity of the Zionist movement and the confrontation it caused with the local Arab population. The settlement started before the British Mandate, but it accelerated after the Balfour Declaration under the protection of the Mandate. The State of Israel is the product of the Zionist colonization but also the instrument for its continuation. The confiscation of Palestinians’ land and resources has not ended. The settlement population in the West Bank doubled during the Oslo “peace process”.
Moshé Machover stresses that the word “colonization” is not a term of abuse but a word which factually describes Zionism and Israel’s policy based on it. Zionists themselves characterized their settlement activity by the term “colonization”. The resistance of the Palestinian Arabs is not due to anti-Jewish racism. The founding father and main ideological figure of the revisionist right-wing current of Zionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), wrote that by resisting the colonizers, Palestinians behave like any other people would behave in a similar situation.
Apartheid or not?
Many people who sympathize with the Palestinians have borrowed the term “apartheid” from South Africa when describing Israel’s policy. Moshé Machover says that emotionally this is understandable, but factually it gives a wrong picture of the Palestine conflict, and indirectly makes it more difficult to find an equitable solution.
- Israel and South Africa are both colonial-settler states. They represent the same genus but they belong to different species. In the South Africa of the apartheid period, a white-skinned minority exploited the black majority. The conflict had the form of quasi class-struggle. In Palestine, on the other hand, the Zionist movement, and later Israel, excluded the native Arabs and replaced them by “Jewish labor”. Internally, Israel developed into an almost “normal” capitalist society with its class structure from workers to the owners of capital. A new Israeli Jewish nation was born in the country.
Moshé Machover prefers the term “Hebrew” as a denomination for this new nation, for one of its outwardly most striking characteristics is the Hebrew language, which sets it apart from the surrounding Arabic speaking population as well as from other nations of the world. It is interesting that Zionism denies the existence of a separate Hebrew nation, because it keeps to the ideology, and the practice based on it, according to which Israel is not a state of its citizens but belongs to all the Jews of the world.
A just solution
-Due to the special nature of Zionist colonization, the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians appears as a national conflict, in which two nations dispute for possession of the same territory. The conflict resembles the Indian wars in the United States, where natives were pushed step-by-step into reservations.
-The Indian wars ended with the almost complete destruction of the old cultures of the native peoples of North America. The conflicts were “solved”, in a way. In the Middle East, the Palestinians are an integral component of the great Arab nation whose existence and culture cannot be destroyed the way the natives of America were destroyed. Israelis will always be a minority in the area. Relations of power are not eternal. For the sake of the Israelis’ own future, the conflict should be solved equitably.
-A necessary condition for a just solution is that Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews (Hebrews) are treated as equals. The reason why such has not been the case, is due to the relations of power, the strength of Israel, supported by the United States, and the weakness of Palestinians and all the other Arabs. In these circumstances, a two-state solution is mere abstract talk, an illusion.
Decades ago, Matzpen presented an internationalist and democratic solution: a united socialist Arab East, where the national rights of all non-Arab peoples (Israeli Jews, Iraqi Kurds, South Sudanese) are guaranteed in theory as well as in practice. Palestine is too small a box to solve the Palestine problem. As a socialist of the old, internationalist school, Moshé Machover still supports this program. For the same reason, by the way, he thinks that opposition to the EU and European integration is regressive nationalism that unfortunately has taken hold of significant segments of the left.
-Even though an equitable and just solution in the Middle East seems to be far away, progressive people must not remain passive. Israel must be pressured to end the siege of Gaza and the occupation and settlement in the West Bank. The pressure can be made more effective through boycotts of Israeli products and leisure tourism, measures that helped end the apartheid system in South Africa.
-The matter is exceptionally urgent in Palestine. Who knows when an “opportune moment” arises in the violent Middle East for Israel to complete the ethnic cleansing of 1948?
-It is our duty to make sure that an “opportune moment” will never come, says Dr Moshé Machover.
Moshé Machover, a Hebrew socialist in London
-born 1936 in Tel Aviv
-studied mathematics, physics, and statistics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and mathematical logic at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw; got a Ph.D. in Jerusalem in 1962
-emeritus professor of philosophy from King’s College, London
-presently does research on collective decision-making and voting power
-in youth belonged to the Zionist-socialist youth movement Hashomer Hatza’ir (“The Young Guardian”); turned critical towards Zionism and joined the Israeli Young Communists
-was thrown out of the Communist Party in 1962; one of the founding members of the Israeli Socialist Organization Matzpen
Dr Machover’s article ”Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution” can be read and downloaded at
Texts, statements etc. by Matzpen in English, Hebrew and Arabic are available at
Visit the archive: Moshé Machover, Middle East, Hannu Reime
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