Racism is among the strongest of potential false pretenses. If a government is trying to fight, let alone exterminate, an entire people, racism is the most powerful weapon—more powerful than even bullets themselves. It is not a coincidence that US media and popular culture go to great lengths to depict “enemies” of the US government with grotesque, racist, orientalist stereotypes and caricatures.
To perpetuate the violence upon which it thrives, a state ultimately must convince its soldiers to pull the trigger. If it humanizes those whom it wants dead, it becomes hard for soldiers to blindly follow orders and kill—the soldiers see how much they have in common with their supposed “enemy.” But if it dehumanizes those whom it wants dead, those same soldiers will not think twice. Racism is the most effective means of practicing dehumanization, and Israel is the master of both.
Q: How do you think Israel has contributed to the growth of Islamophobia and discrimination against the Muslims by spreading a fear of them, as represented by the Arab Palestinians, who are denied their most basic religious rights in the Occupied Territories, including the right to worship and say prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque? Why has Israel embarked on a project of systematic abusing, torturing and persecuting the Muslim people of Palestine? Is it part of a larger project spearheaded by the US government?
A: It should be established, firstly, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a religious conflict. As with many conflicts, it may appear to be religious, at surface level, but the conflict is fundamentally a political one. There is a religious element, because most of the people on the two sides of this political conflict are of different religions, yet the Palestinians are ultimately fighting for freedom, human rights, and control over their own lives and land.
Religious nationalists, including religious Jewish Zionists, and especially Christian Zionists in the US, often like to speak of the conflict as if it were religious, because then they can use extremist interpretations of Christianity and Judaism to justify the crimes against humanity Israel has committed against the indigenous Palestinians. But this still does not make it religious at its core.
Israel also sometimes employs this strategy, exploiting Islamophobia as a tool to increase support for its project of settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing. It is, frankly, in Israel’s interest to spread anti-Muslim bigotry. The majority of Palestinians are Muslim. By playing off of religious prejudices, Israel can further dehumanize the population it ultimately wishes to see ethnically cleansed from what it claims is “its” rightful land.
Israel is indeed engaging in a “project of systematic abusing, torturing and persecuting the Muslim people of Palestine,” but this is not because they are Muslim; it is because they are Palestinian. Israel engages in the same campaign against Christian Palestinian – in fact, Israel often goes out of its way to target Christian Palestinians, as a way of fomenting division.
There is no “larger project spearheaded by the US.” Israel’s oppression of Muslims existed long before the US stepped in. Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine began in 1947 and, unofficially, before. Although the US supported Israel at this time – according to a popular historical anecdote, immediately after Israel announced its founding, White House staff woke up President Truman, in the middle of the night, so that he could recognize it – the US did not become Israel’s closest ally, and did not begin pumping US tax dollars into Israeli state coffers, until Israel demonstrated its military might and annexed the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, and West Bank in the 1967 war. Israel is not the US’s “puppet” in a “crusade” against Islam, contrary to the conspiracy theories some propose. Some extremist Christians in the US sometimes speak of the conflict in this way, but this view of US foreign policy is naïve, and frankly incorrect.
The role of the Christian Zionist movement is important, but I feel it is often overstated, to be honest. Yes, the Republican Party in the US is filled with Christian fundamentalists, but, at the end of the day, in spite of the religious inclinations of its bureaucrats, the US is a capitalist state, not a theocratic one. Religion plays a minor role in decision making; real decisions are made in regards to the interests of the propertied class. Corporate power trumps political power. This is how capitalism works. The US supports Israel not because it is waging a war on Islam; the US supports Israel because the ethnocracy supports its imperial interests in the region.
Saudi Arabia has the second-largest oil reserves in the world –18 percent of the entire planet’s reserves. Iraq has the fifth-largest. The tiny countries of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have the sixth- and seventh-largest, respectively. The Middle East is a treasure trove of oil, and the US needs oil. It really, really needs oil.
The US economy would come to a screeching halt, in mere moments, in a blink of an eye, were it to run out of oil. In the contemporary global economy, in contemporary global industrial society itself, it is absolutely impossible to function without oil. It would be very hard to overstate the importance of oil.
Those who find it far-fetched that a country would go to war over oil simply do not understand the role oil plays in the contemporary world. Since its illegal 2003 invasion, the US has essentially turned Iraq into an oil colony. By supporting Israel, no matter what it does, no matter how heinous its crimes, the US is simply befriending the most powerful country in the region with the largest oil reserves in the world. Steadfast US support for Israel is part of a larger imperialist strategy in the Middle East.
Because the interests of the bourgeoisie and Christian Zionists happen to coincide on the issue of Israel-Palestine, at the surface, it may appear as though it is a religious conflict. It is not, however. As with most conflicts in human history—even apparently religious ones, such as the Crusades—it is fundamentally materialist at its core. It is about economics, power, and control over capital.
Q: How is the reaction of the hardline white supremacist Israelis to the emergence and empowerment of the progressive, leftist movements in the Occupied Territories and the fact that a growing number of Israeli citizens are waking up to the atrocities committed by the Tel Aviv leaders in defiance of the international law, Security Council resolutions and calls by the community of nations that demand Israel to live up to its commitments as an occupying power?
A: The reaction of Israel to any form of resistance in Palestine is always the same: violent repression.
I would not say that leftist movements in the Occupied Territories are growing. On the contrary, support for Islamist resistance forces, namely Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is growing. Israel is exploiting this fact and relying on ignorant anti-Muslim bigotry to further demonize Palestinian resistance, claiming Hamas is the “same” as ISIS, Boko Haram, and other violent, reactionary groups. It matters not to Israel that Hamas – and Hezbollah, as it often adds to its Naughty List – is an unambiguous enemy of ISIS, nor that ISIS has publicly vowed to destroy Hamas because Hamas, in its words, “defends democracy.”
The question of Hamas is complex. Hamas is a large and diverse organization. For starters, it was democratically elected, and two thirds of its branches are devoted to providing social services for Gazans. The other third is a resistance force that acts in self-defense against a country that bombs its children, hospitals, schools, and places of worship including not just mosques but also Christian churches. Hamas is Islamist, but Islamism is an exceedingly heterogonous political ideology. ISIS, on the other hand, is a fascist movement that contradicts the most basic tenets of Islam. There is no comparison whatsoever. Israel tries to lump all Islamist forces together, in order to demonize resistance.
This has not always been the case, however. Just a few decades ago, Israel was supporting the very same Islamist resistance organizations that is seeks to crush today.