by Ronald Bleier (rbleier@igc.org)

NOTE: The following remarks were delivered as an introduction to the panel discussion on Israeli-Palestinian issues, at the April 1996 Socialist Scholars Conference, held at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (April 12-14). The panel was chaired by Ronald Bleier and speaking were: Stanley Heller, editor of the Struggle, Gamal Abouali, diaspora Palestinian, and Lenni Brenner, author of The Iron Wall, Jews in America and other books. [Note: The Israeli attack on Lebanon went on for 16 days, from April 11-26.]

Introductory remarks by Ronald Bleier

First, in connection with the latest events in Lebanon, it was reported on NPR, that the Israeli Government sent warnings to the inhabitants of 49 south Lebanese villages to leave the area by Friday April 12, or face Israeli bombing attacks. The present attack is reminiscent of the tremendous barrage the area suffered in July 93 when the Rabin government, in the course of a week's air, naval and artillery bombardment killed over 140 Arabs, and forced perhaps a half-million or more to safety in the north. At that time, the late Prime Minister Rabin announced that the purpose of the attacks was to remove the population of South Lebanon.

Historically, the Zionists have always coveted South Lebanon including the area they now control as their self-proclaimed security zone which includes the southern portion of the Litani River which runs west to the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly, according to a 1993 UN report, strenuously denied by the Israelis, the Israeli government has been withdrawing considerable amounts of water from the Litani River since at least 1982. The present resumption of massive bombardment puts into question the future prospects for the land and people of southern Lebanon.

According to the latest reports, Israel is attacking Beirut at will, most recently hitting the power station there. It seems that we may be heading for a situation similar to 1982 when President Reagan had to intervene to stop the bombardment of Beirut because there was no other force in the world able to stop the Israelis. If it came to it, it's not clear whether Bill Clinton -- known as the most pro-Israeli president ever, would be willing to stop the Israelis.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, even the NYT had to acknowledge that the horrific spate of bus bombings over the course of 10 days in February and March was precipitated by the assassination of Hamas bombing expert, Yahya Ayyash, after Hamas had pledged not to embarrass the Palestine National Authority in connection with the February elections.

One effect of the bombings, as has been widely noted, is to diminish the chances of Shimon Peres in the upcoming May elections. While Peres and the Israeli people were prepared for a Hamas retaliation, no one could have predicted the number and the severity of the Hamas attacks. But the Peres government had to be prepared for them and the fact that Peres has lost his lead over his Likud rival, s hows that once again, like his predecessor, the important thing for Peres and the Labor party is not peace with the Palestinians, but rather, the policy of maintaining maximum pressure on the Palestinian community.

Following the bombings, the territories were sealed -- costing the Palestinian community millions of dollars a day; once again the policy of sealing and dynamiting Palestinians homes was resumed; and perhaps most importantly, the land confiscation and the building of by-pass roads continues relentlessly in an atmosphere where protest becomes more and more difficult if not impossible.

Which brings us to the question: what is to be the future of the Palestinian people in Palestine? Before the Lebanese front opened up again, we heard talk of deporting Palestinians -- a policy which was halted after the disastrous public relations defeat Israel suffered when the Rabin government deported more than 400 activists in December 1992.

The overriding question always was and continues to be a struggle over the land of the former Palestine. In these struggles, the stronger side by definition always wins. In 1948 and in 1967 under cover of war, the Israelis expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and more than 100,000 Arabs from the Golan. If the past can predict the future, then it is only a matter of time and the correct concatenation of circumstances: that is to say: war, before many hundreds of thousands more Palestinians may once again be forced into exile; and once again, the Jewish state, in accordance with its previous practice of ethnic cleansing, will have rid itself of its Arab peoples.