Archive | November 6th, 2018

Zionist: psychological obstacles to peace

Israel’s “psychological obstacles to peace”
Boycott Apartheid Israel

By Lawrence Davidson

Understanding is not excusing

There is a difference between understanding and excusing. I might understand the arguments of Donald Trump and John Bolton, but by virtue of that very understanding I find their arguments inexcusable. The same goes for the arguments of the Israeli leadership and their diaspora allies. I hear their words and find that they can never excuse their actions.

Given this difference between understanding and excusing, it’s hard to know what to do with efforts to have us understand the “psychological obstacles” that supposedly prevent Israelis from making peace. A good example of this effort is found in a reprinted essay by Carlo Strenger, an Israeli psychologist and public intellectual who is a strong opponent of the occupation. It appears in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and is entitled “Psychological obstacles to peace in Israel”.

Though Strenger is an Israeli peace activist, his essay is really an effort to move the reader to take more seriously – to better understand – Israeli feelings of “existential” fear when it comes to prospects for peace with the Palestinians. Such understanding will, allegedly, bring us to “acknowledge that moving towards peace entails genuine security risks [for Israeli Jews], and to address these risks unflinchingly”. One suspects that this line has long been fed to the US Congress, among others governments. In any case, for Strenger, this is the sine qua non for peace.

Professor Strenger’s obstacles

Strenger describes three Israeli “psychological obstacles to peace” that can be overcome only by such an “unflinching” effort based on sympathetic understanding. I do not think he means to offer these obstacles as excuses for over 50 years of Israeli wars and occupation but, unfortunately, in the end it comes through that way. Perhaps that is an expression of the dilemma faced by most Israeli “moderates”. Here are Strenger’s obstacles:

(1) The concept of “loss-aversion” – the assertion that people “are far more guided by fear of loss than by the prospect of gain”. Strenger tells us that average Israelis are afraid to risk the loss of territorial “assets”, which they identify with both national security and religious tradition, for the gains that might come with peace. It is an alleged natural bias for the status quo. Strenger goes on to say that the Palestinians are responsible for this Israeli fear of peace due to their violence during the second Intifada and the rocket attacks from Gaza. That Israel itself created the historical conditions for these Palestinian acts of resistance is not considered by Strenger.

There are problems with the loss-aversion thesis. One is that individual assessments of the loss/gain risk are subjective. In other words, in the case of Israeli fears, there have been decades of government propaganda downplaying prospects for peace and Palestinian as well as Arab efforts at compromise – for instance, the outright lie that the Israelis have no one to negotiate with on the Palestinian side. This has been paralleled by a continuous playing up of the alleged security risks of withdrawal from occupied territories. The result is a psychological context that magnifies a national aversion to the loss of security that may come from peace. Put another way, Israeli leaders have produced an artificial political and psychological environment that identifies national security with the avoidance of peace. All Israeli governments have played this propaganda game because all of them have been and still are more interested in land than peace.

(2) Strenger’s second psychological obstacle is Israel’s “inability to let go of Zionism as a revolutionary movement”. The surprising point here is that he confines “the revolutionary movement” aspect of Zionism to the post-1967 war period. Thus, he tells us “the history of Israel’s occupation and gradual colonisation of the West Bank cannot be understood without the religious-Zionist movement that emerged from the 1967 war”. However, just like the notion of loss aversion, this assertion is misleading. Limiting Zionism’s aggressive expansion, and its accompanying notion of territorial destiny, only to fanatic settlers is just wrong. It was secular Labour Party leaders and military officers who started the occupation after the 1967 war, and they were (and many probably still are) as reluctant to let go of that territory as any wild-eyed Israeli religious fundamentalist.

(3) Finally, the third psychological obstacle put forth by Strenger is “a need to justify the occupation”. Didn’t we just go through this with loss aversion? Yes. But he wants us to understand that justifying the occupation also means justifying the guilt that he knows must go along with it. He explains: “Almost every Israeli in the last 47 years has done military service in the territories. Almost all of them have had to do things [italics added] that go against human decency and morality – often not for the sake of Israel’s security at large, but to protect some isolated outpost of settlers.” Giving up the territories for peace would be like an admission that it was all for naught, and according to Strenger, “this idea is too difficult to bear, and the regret would be unendurable”. This need for denial then underpins the need to see the occupation as “necessary for Israel’s survival”.

While phrases like “too difficult to bear” and “the regret would be unbearable” are exaggerations, I can understand this argument. It is the same as the argument that the Vietnam War was fought to keep the United States free. Many Americans still cling to this myth. As Strenger notes, it makes both sacrifices and sins appear justified. Yet, in the long run, not facing one’s guilt only poisons both individual and national lives. We can already see this happening within Israeli society.

There are other problems with Strenger’s understanding of Israeli psychological obstacles. He approaches them in a one-dimensional fashion, as if there is not another relevant party to these traumas.Yet Israeli fears about peace are indelibly tied to the Palestinian demand for justice. Indeed, the more we “understand” Israeli fears and accommodate them, the more we are forced to ignore the Palestinians’ psychological and material need for justice. And, justice for the Palestinians is yet another sine qua non for peace.

Finally, Strenger fails to realise that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just about the occupation. His own endgame is tied to the maintenance of Israel as a “Jewish democratic state” within the 1967 borders. Yet the concept of a Jewish democratic state is actually a contradiction in terms. You cannot have a democracy for just one select group put down amid a large population of “others”. That road leads to apartheid. Whether Strenger likes it or not we are now well past the time for a “two-state solution”.

The need for coercion

It is not just the prospect of two states that is gone. The “peace process” itself is also long dead. Thus, reason has been displaced and we are thrown back on the need for coercion – just as was the case when confronting apartheid South Africa.

At this stage the aim of coercion is not the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories. Rather, it is forcing Israeli adherence to international law through the abandonment of the racist ideology of Zionism and the corresponding restrictive notion of rights. If Professor Strenger is in any way typical, most Israeli peace activists will not be able to push the issue this far. However, those few who do have come to the conclusion, as have most Palestinians, that they will need a lot of outside help to accomplish this task.

This is made clear in a recent interview (22 September 2018) with the Israeli peace activist Miko Peled. Peled, the son of an Israeli general, argues that we are at a point in the conflict when “only a focused and well coordinated strategy to delegitimise and bring down the Zionist regime can bring justice to Palestine”. Peled’s aim is the creation of “a single democracy with equal rights on all of historic Palestine”. This is the same goal of most Palestinians. Currently, the best strategy to move in this direction entails an international effort to isolate Israel and stigmatise its racist ideology. Right now this is embodied in the BDS movement – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Peled believes that “BDS is the perfect form of resistance available”. He calls on its supporters to “embrace it fully, work hard, demand the expulsion of all Israeli diplomats and total isolation of Israel”. He also recognises that this will be a “slow process”.

There seems to be no other choice. And it really does not matter that part of the reason we are at this point are those “existentialist” fears of many Israelis. Those fears are certainly no excuse for the destruction of Palestine, its people and culture, and international law as well. However, if they are sufficient to preclude the use of reason to end to the conflict, then it will have to be coercion – administered worldwide for as long as it takes.

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Venezuela: Communist Party Central Committee member assassinated


Venezuelan Communist Party leader, Luís Fajardo, was killed on the evening of Wednesday 31 October, as he was returning home with his brother-in-law, Javier Aldana, who was also killed in the attack. Both men were riding a motorbike at 9pm when they were struck by a burst of gunfire from a moving vehicle. They were peasant activists and communist militants involved in the struggle for agrarian reform in the South of the Maracaibo Lake region and had already asked for protection as they had received death threats.

Read this article in Spanish on Lucha de Clases

Fajardo, 49, had been born in Portuguesa, but had lived in the Panamerican region across Mérida and Zulia, in the west of the country, for many years, where he had become one of the main peasant leaders. In 2001 he played a leading role in the struggle for the expropriation of Fundo Santa Ana estate, belonging to one of the main families of the oligarchy in Zulia.

Luís Fajardo had played a leading role in the recovery of the Caño Rico estate, spanning more than 500 hectares, from landowners who had left it fallow. Some 250 families of landless peasants had decided to occupy the estate and were fighting to get legal recognition from the Land Reform Institute (INTI).

The Communist Party had on several occasions denounced death threats against Fajardo, providing very specific information about those making the threats. In June this year, the party had denounced “intimidation and death threats” against its member “on the part of members of the National Guard (GNB) led by captain José Villasmil Toro, commander of the Border Post 32 in El Batey, in the Sucre municipality (Zulia) and adjunct sergeant Freddy Ojeda.”

In July, the PCV again denounced death threats and specifically named “the regional director of INTI, the PSUV [National Constituent Assembly] deputy Guly Bert Antúnez, GNB captain José Villasmil Toro and Agrarian Judge number 4” for their responsibility in “harassing the agrarian movement and threatening the life of Luis Fajardo, peasant leader and member of the PCV CC”.

Death threats and intimidation

The Communist Party (PCV) general secretary Oscar Figuera explained how “the national leadership of the party had denounced on countless instances death threats against our militant comrade Fajardo, but the authorities failed to take any adequate protection measures.” He added that the “South of the Lake landowners, members of the National Guard and corrupt politicians who publicly threatened him are responsible for the killing.”

Luis Farjardo


Fajardo was also a leading figure in the Admirable Peasant March (Marcha Campesina Admirable) in July and August this year. Hundreds of peasants marched 450km from Guanare (Portuguesa) to the capital Caracas, to highlight the problems facing peasant activists, among them death threats and killings. After initially ignoring the march and preventing any mention of it in the state media, President Maduro met with the marchers in a meeting, which was broadcast live on national TV. A number of commitments were made to the peasants at that meeting, but they were quickly forgotten. The marchers then started a hunger strike in September which forced new commitments on the part of the government to fulfil the peasants’

demands.Luís Farjardo (pictured) and his brother-in-law, Javier Aldana, were peasant activists and communist militants involved in the struggle for agrarian reform and had already asked for protection as they had received death threats

A few hours after the meeting between President Maduro and the peasant marchers on 2 August, three leading peasant activists were killed in Barinas. The three killed had participated in the first stretch of the campesino march. The peasants were kidnapped by armed men, taken to another estate and shot dead. Spokespersons for the March pointed the finger at Ricardo Mora, a regional landowner. Two weeks later three people were arrested in connection with the murder, including Ricardo Mora, who was detained in Bogotá.

The South of the Lake region, spanning along the Panamerican road across Merida and Zulia states, has seen some of the most violent conflicts over agrarian reform. This is also a route for Colombian paramilitary infiltration into Venezuela.

The leadership of the PCV has demanded from the authorities “an exhaustive investigation and exemplary punishment for the culprits”. However, the struggle for agrarian reform in Venezuela is littered with examples of peasant activists killed with impunity.

Earlier this month, another PCV activist faced an attempt on his life. On 9 October, Robinson García, a communist and peasant leader in Barinas, was driving towards the regional capital from the plot of land he tends to denounce threats against his life. He was set upon by a car and three motorbikes from which he was shot at. García is part of a group of families cultivating land in the Los Cerros estate, in Obispos, Barinas. This is a 400-hectare, state-owned landed estate that has been left idle. The peasants are demanding legal recognition of their right to cultivate the land. Days before the attack, Robinson Garcia had attempted to lodge a case with the Secretariat of Security of the regional Governor as he had identified several suspicious cars following him and feared for his life. The regional police refused to file his case. The car that led the attack against him was the same he had seen previously and wanted to report.

Situation deteriorating

For many months now, the situation in the countryside in Venezuela has worsened. As we explained in July, “in the countryside, there is a coordinated offensive to dismantle the gains of the agrarian reform that was carried out under Chavez with the expropriation of big landed estates, which were given to peasant communes. Private capitalist landowners buy off local judges, officials at the Land Reform Institute (INTI) and National Guard officers to violently dispossess peasant collectives from land they had been legally granted by the INTI itself. In some cases, peasants have been arrested by the National Guard, in others threatened or killed by the hired goons (sicarios) of the landowners, which in some cases are connected to the state bureaucracy and in others to the reactionary opposition.”

An unholy alliance of landowners, judges, regional INTI officials, army and National Guard officers is waging an assault against the measures of agrarian reform already taken and preventing any more estates from being expropriated, at a time when food scarcity is a major issue affecting Venezuelan workers and the poor.

The class struggle in Venezuela’s countryside is part of a more general struggle that confronts the Bolivarian revolution with the interests of capitalism, landlords and imperialism, and demonstrates the need to build a new revolutionary leadership that is firmly committed to the interests of the working class and the peasants.

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