Albert Einstein wrote in 1939, “There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done us, we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people…. Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs.” Einstein was opposed from the start to the setting up of a Jewish state and to mass emigration into Palestine. He was also one of the signatories to an Open Letter to the New York Times in 1948 denouncing the terrorist activities of Menachem Begin and the massacre carried out in the Arab village of Deir Yassin.
Now that the “greater calamity” has occurred, Einstein’s prescience takes on a heartbreaking dimension, because it could have been avoided. A “just and lasting compromise” was possible, and it would have benefited both peoples. Jews and Arabs could be living in harmony, mutually benefiting from their different cultural gifts. But the imposition of a Jewish state, mass immigration, and ethnic cleansing destroyed that possibility, and now they are dying from nationalism and mutual atrocities.
Worldwide we are caught in the deadly fallout of the Holocaust. It traumatized the Zionists to the extent that they lost standards of justice and ethics that had been built up over centuries. Their efforts to turn Palestine into Israel have led to 60 years of fighting that is spreading to more and more countries. This battle is a major but unstated reason for US military aggression in the Muslim world from Libya to the Philippines, and that in turn is a major but unstated reason for the global economic crisis.
Germany was the site of the previous act of this tragedy. But what unfolded there had its roots in the trauma the Germans went through in the 1920s and ’30s. At the outbreak of the Second World War, W.H. Auden looked back on the suffering imposed on the Germans by the Versailles Treaty and wrote in his poem “September 1st, 1939”: “Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.”
The former victims become the perpetrators, now in the Mideast. We are trapped in an ongoing chain of linked cataclysms.
To understand this chain and break it, we need to view it historically. What each link has in common is powerful financial interests relentlessly fighting to expand. The First World War was primarily a struggle between the established imperial states of Britain and France and a newcomer in the game of empire, Germany. The fascism that arose in its aftermath was financed by German capitalists in order to destroy the rising socialist movement and to rearm for another war. The Second World War in Europe was a continuation of the imperialist struggle of the First, and in the Pacific it was an imperial battle between the USA and Japan for control of Asia. After the Holocaust the demands for a Jewish state were supported by the USA and Britain mainly to extend their power over the Mideast and its oil. All this aggression with its millions of shattered lives was disguised under banners of idealism, but its fundamental impulse was economic domination.
How to break the chain? War and many other forms of violence are generated by the underlying structural violence of capitalism, which is intrinsically unjust and inevitably produces conflict. This outmoded, destructive system chains us also into working to make its owners rich. To have peace and to have fulfilling lives, we need to replace it with a democratic socialist society that emphasizes the humane in humanity. As Einstein wrote, “I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy.”