Palestine, Israel and the U.S. empire (study guide)

May 23, 2024

Introduction

Welcome to the study and discussion guide for 2nd edition of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. empirethat accompanies the latest edition of the book. Published in early 2024 by 1804 Books, the new edition includes a sharp analysis of the historical context of and contemporary possibilities for the the October 7, 2023, intifada or uprising, when “the Palestinian people broke out of the concentration camps and bulldozed through the apartheid wall surrounding Gaza.” [1]

The Palestinian resistance, steadfast in the face of the most barbaric U.S.-funded, Israeli genocide, has inspired a worldwide, anti-imperialist solidarity movement. The first-ever live-streamed genocide showed the world that the U.S. political establishment has no limits in terms of the level of barbarity and viciousness they will support and fund. This has included every imaginable war crime from forced starvation, the killing of tens of thousands of people, to the carpet bombing of nearly the entirety of Gaza, destroying all vital infrastructure, even occupied hospitals. Layer upon layer of the most horrific mass graves have been discovered at these medical facilities.

Despite how bad this situation is and the fact that it is on public display, the U.S. capitalist class, through Israel, cannot afford to lose Palestine. It is hard to imagine a U.S. presence in the Middle East without Israel as a proxy state.

Biden’s unflinching material support for Israel and the lies aimed at disparaging the Palestinian resistance forces, has only made the anti-imperialist solidarity movement more widespread becoming a material factor in global politics, and therefore, the global balance of forces. In the U.S. the movement has produced the two largest pro-Palestinian demonstrations in U.S. history. Both actions were held in Washington DC with nearly a half million participants at each event.

Particularly alarming to the ruling class has been the college students on over 150 campuses across the U.S. setting up encampment occupations demanding their schools disclose and divest from Israeli firms. The particularly brutal repression of these encampments has resulted in tens of thousands of University of California workers authorizing their union to go on strike over their right to protest and demonstrate for Palestine. On Monday May 20th 2024 graduate workers went on strike at UC Santa Cruz, the first of the 10 school UC system to walk.

The role of Israel as a U.S. military base used to secure its imperialist interests in the region, is on naked display like never before. The second edition of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire has come at a potentially decisive time. As the Palestinian-led movement intensifies, the need to study history and learn from the lessons it offers also becomes more important. Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire is filled with such lessons offering an invaluable resource to organizers and activists in the anti-imperialist movement for a liberated Palestine, and a liberated Middle-East more generally.

Because the fight for Palestinian liberation is intertwined with the larger push for self-determination and independence from U.S. interference with throughout the Middle East, the movement is not just anti-colonial, it is anti-imperialist. Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire helps us make these connections and truly grasp the larger context.

Below you will find a list of questions for consideration and dialogue as you read through this new edition (which can be purchased here).

These questions are meant to help guide you as you study the book individually or, hopefully, collectively. If you are interested in joining or forming a study group, the editors at Liberation School would be happy to help! Let us know!

Preface to Second Edition

  1. What might we learn from the fact that almost immediately following the October 7th Al-Aqsa Flood the U.S./Israeli propaganda campaign’s effort to paint the Palestinian resistance as terrorist failed to stop the emergence of the biggest pro-Palestinian movement in U.S. history and around the world?
  2. Why is it so crucial to understand that “the Israeli regime exists as a proxy regime” [2] of the U.S.? How does this inform the movement in support of the national liberation of Palestine?

Introduction to Second Edition

  1. Discuss the historical significance of the publication of this new volume of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire.
  2. How does Becker conceptualize the relationship between Israel and the U.S.?
  3. Why does Becker argue that the Palestinian struggle is a struggle for national liberation?
  4. Discuss the significance of the discourse wars used to confuse people, especially in the U.S., regarding the true nature of Israel and Palestinian resistance.
  5. What does the Basic Law, ratified in 2018 by the Israeli parliament, tell us about the true nature of the Israeli state and its perception of the balance of forces at the time of its ratification?

Section I: Framing the Struggle

Overview

  1. What propaganda role does the myth that the so-called conflict in the Middle East is thousands of years old serve, and how can we combat it?
  2. What is the significance of WWI and then WWII in understanding the larger context of the struggle for a  free Palestine?
  3. Why is it so important to understand that Israel is not controlling the U.S.?

Does the Israel lobby control U.S. policy?

  1.  What is the claim made by Mearsheimer and Walt in The Israel Lobby, and why did they know their book would be accused of antisemitism?
  2. What does Becker think is correct and incorrect about their analysis? Put another way, how does Becker deploy the tail wagging the dog metaphor?
  3. An important theme throughout the text is the role of Israel as “an instrument against the liberation movements of the Arab and other peoples of the Middle East” [3], how does this insight help us understand the relationship of Israel to the U.S.?
  4. Becker counters Mearsheimer and Walt’s “bizarre” conclusion that aid to Israel would be justified if Israel acted on behalf of U.S. interests (in other words, the interests of the U.S. capitalist class) with a list of the ways Israel has done just that, acted on behalf of the interests of U.S. imperialism. Discuss this list and the ways we might mobilize the list for agitational purposes.

Section II: Recolonizing Palestine

Dividing the Middle East

  1. Discuss what the Arab masses viewed as Britain’s double betrayal and the role of the Soviet Union in exposing it.
  2. How did the Arab nationalist movement prepare for independence after WWI?
  3. In what ways did the imperialist forces respond to these developments thereby following through with their double betrayal?
  4. Why is it important that we highlight the connection between the 1920 Arab revolt that was a response to this colonialist move and the struggle in Palestine today?

Zionism: A colonial project

  1. Discuss the emergence of Zionism as a response to the antisemitism in Europe that prevailed in so much of the racist colonialism of Europe’s ruling classes.
  2. What was the class character of Zionism from its inception? How did Jewish and non-Jewish people in progressive circles relate to it?
  3. Why is it important to understand why Herzl used the word “home” rather than “state” in reference to the Zionist project in Palestine?
  4. What role did purchasing land from absentee landowners play in early Zionist settlements in the late nineteenth century?
  5. Why did the Zionist project require imperialist backing? How was it achieved?

Building a settler state American-style

  1. After WWI Palestine was a British colony. Zionist settlements within Palestine were under the governance of the Jewish Agency which operated as the de facto government. Discuss the post-WWII context compelling the Zionists to portray their project as anti-colonial.
  2. What was the connection between Zionism and the role Britain was playing as the imperialist power taking the lead in overthrowing the Russian revolution?
  3. Discuss the context around 1919 (pg. 32-33) leading the Zionists to understand with crystal clarity that so-called “transfer” would only be possible through violence.
  4. What was the core debate among Zionist leaders?
  5. How should we understand the “socialism” of Ben-Gurion?

The revolution of 1936-1939 in Palestine

  1. What led to the 1936-1939 Intifada/uprising in Palestine?
  2. How did the Palestinian defeat impact the future of the Zionist project?

World War II: Antisemitism and genocide

  1. Why did Ben-Gurion argue that WWII would lead to the creation of a Zionist state?
  2. What is the contemporary significance of the “cold pragmatism” of Zionism discussed on page 44.
  3. Why was the U.S. opposed to mass Jewish immigration after WWII?
  4. How were the horrors of WWII opportunistically mobilized to justify the creation of a Zionist state?

Illegal partition

  1. Why was the partition of Palestine an illegal act?
  2. How should we understand why the Soviet Union supported the vote to partition Palestine?
  3. Discuss the 1948 ethnic cleansing that followed the UN vote to partition Palestine.
  4. What was the response to the partitioning of Palestine in the region?

Born of massacres and ethnic cleaning

  1. What does the reputation of the town of Deir Yassin, contrasted with the way in which Israeli forces engaged it, tell us about the nature of how Israel was established?
  2. Why does the relevance and urgency of UN Resolution 194 of 1948 continue to increase?
  3. Discuss Al-Nakba and its ongoing relevance in the national liberation struggle of Palestinians.
  4. What is the “retaliation” doctrine and what are the similarities with the ways it has been used in relation to Palestinian resistance and slave revolts in the U.S.?

Section III: Israeli expansion, Palestinian Resistance

Watch dog for the West

  1. What is the significance of the fact that Israel, from its inception in 1948, has relied on vast sums of external aid?
  2. In 1956 Egypt — under the decolonizing leadership of Nasser — nationalized the Suez Canal prompting Israel, Britain and France to launch a successful regime-changing invasion. However, the U.S. and the Soviet Union opposed it. Discuss their differing reasons and the result of U.S. efforts.
  3. How did the U.S. response to the 1956 Suez War inadvertently propel the pan-Arab movement forward?

Fortifying the U.S.-Israeli alliance

  1. What was the significance of the Six-Day War of 1967 in regard to the larger Arab liberation struggle?
  2. Discuss Israel’s justifications for attacking Egypt and Syria in 1967. How does the U.S. and Israel use this justification today?
  3. The process of colonial expansion has exacted a heavy toll in terms of Arab deaths and displacements. What crimes were committed by the expansionists during the Six-Day war?
  4. How did the U.S. benefit from the Six-Day War?
  5. What was the U.S. worried about in the Middle East and how is the Nixon Doctrine a reflection of this?

The Palestinian struggle takes center stage

  1. Discuss how the impact of the Six-Day War propelled the Palestinian struggle to the forefront of the pan-Arab anti-colonial/anti-imperialist struggle.
  2. Why is it still so important to understand the vision of the Palestinian resistance movement for a “democratic, secular, and socialist state”? [4]
  3. What was the effect of the battle of Karameh on the Palestinian resistance?
  4. Why did the center of Palestinian resistance shift to Lebanon in the 1970s?
  5. How did the 1973 War, the counter-offensive of Syria and Egypt, expose the weakness of Israel and, again, advance the Palestinian cause on the global stage?

Lebanon: Civil war and occupation

  1. What were the balance of forces inside Lebanon and what role did that context play in the Lebanese Civil War and the interventions and influences of Syria and the U.S.?
  2. Why were the Camp David Accords, that brought U.S. President Carter the Nobel Peace Prize, viewed as a betrayal to Palestinians and the Arab cause?
  3. Discuss the rise of the Lebanese resistance that developed after the 1982 massacre.

Intifada, ‘peace process,’ intifada

  1. What were the circumstances that led to “the situation of dual power” that lasted “for nearly four years” during the First Intifada? [5]
  2. Discuss the scale and scope of the Intifada that began in December of 1987.
  3. What was the context from which the Oslo Accords were established? Why did the Palestinian resistance movement oppose them?
  4. Becker provides some context to the origins and development of Hamas between pages 89 and 90. Why is this discussion important for understanding current developments?
  5. Discuss the Al-Aqsa Intifada of 2000 and its aftermath.

Imperialist failure: The ‘new Middle East’

  1. Why did the U.S. attack Iraq in 2003?
  2. What came of this attack in terms of U.S. imperialist ambitions?
  3. How did the U.S. and Israeli attack on Lebanon, despite inflicting massive damage and casualties, further expose imperialist weaknesses?
  4. What is “collective punishment” [6] and how was the Israeli-U.S. attack on Gaza in 2008 an example?

U.S.-Israeli relations after Bush

  1. Discuss the “key differences between U.S. and Israeli leaders” in regard to the creation of a Palestinian “state” [7].
  2. Obama, Trump, and Biden are often depicted as presidents with diametrically opposed political positions. What do their records regarding Israel and the Middle East suggest?
  3. Discuss the Great March of Return and what it suggests about how Israel views peaceful protest.

Section IV: No justice, no peace

Is Israel an apartheid state?

  1. Why is it important to understand that the Israeli-imposed system of apartheid began in 1948?
  2. Similarly, what does it say that many who experienced apartheid in South Africa note that the Israeli version is significantly worse?
  3. In describing the Israeli system of apartheid on pages 118 and 119, Becker mentions education for the first time in the book. Why is it significant that the Ministry of Education only allocates 3.1 percent of its budget to Arab schools? How is this a reflection of Israel’s Basic Law passed in 2018?
  4. Why does Becker note that it is grotesquely unscientific when the U.S. left calls for Palestinian and Israeli workers to unite to overthrow the Israeli state?
  5. Since it is a struggle against colonialism and for national liberation, what needs to happen for Palestinian liberation to be realized?

The Palestinian right of return

  1. Discuss UN General Assembly Resolution 194. What is it and why is it so important?
  2. Six decades after Al-Nakba the right to return remains a central demand of Palestinians. Why?

Subsidizing occupation: U.S. aid to Israel

  1. Discuss the extent and effects of U.S. aid to Israel.

Palestine and the U.S. anti-war movement

  1. Discuss the history of the anti-war movement in the U.S. Why wasn’t the Palestinian cause embraced by the more liberal elements of the anti-war movement from the 1960s through the 1980s?
  2. What happened in 2002 that eventually broke this disgraceful trend among anti-war activists in the U.S.?
  3. How did social media and the internet contribute to the largest pro-Palestine demonstrations in U.S. history in Washington DC on November 4th 2023 and January 13th 2024?
  4. What connections does the anti-war movement make between U.S. funding to Israel and working-class conditions in the U.S.?

The ‘irreconcilable conflict’ and the future

  1. Why does Becker describe the contradiction in the Middle East as “irreconcilable” but not “unsolvable”? [8]
  2. Why is the continuing existence of Palestinians the greatest threat to the Israeli apartheid regime?
  3. What significance does Becker attribute to the anti-war movement in the U.S.? What are the practical implications of this assessment?

References

[1] Richard Becker, Palestine, Israel and the U.S. empire, 2nd ed. (New York: 1804 Books), i
[2] Ibid., vii.
[3] Ibid., 7.
[4] Ibid., 76.
[5] Ibid., 88. For clarification dual power, see Walter Smolarek, “Dual power, base building, and serving the people in the U.S. revolutionary movement,” Liberation School, 04 February 2020. Available here.
[6] Becker, Palestine, Israel and the U.S. empire, 98.
[7] Ibid., 101.
[8] Ibid., 143.

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