Interview with Mohammed Nafa'h, secretary general of the Communist Party of Israel

(Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Mundo Obrero, a publication of the Communist Party of Spain.)

'Supporting the Palestinian people's struggle for self-determination is a duty of Israeli communists.'

The Communist Party of Israel (CPI) and its electoral front Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) were the only political forces in Israel that confronted the massacre perpetrated by the Tzahal (IDF), the Israeli armed forces, in Gaza in January. Regrettably, the 'major media' have not accurately represented the magnitude of the protest within the State of Israel against the war. The massive scale of the non-stop mobilization all over that Middle-Eastern country during those three weeks is shown by the huge demonstration of 130,000 in the city of Sakhnin, held at the initiative of the High Representative Committee of the Arab-Palestinian population in Israel, a week after the criminal offensive began; and the demonstration held in the city of Tel Aviv on another day, which drew 20,000 demonstrators, many of them carrying red flags.

Mundo Obrero interviewed CPI Secretary General Mohammed Nafa'h, a writer from the Druze village of Beit Jann, in order to acquaint the public with the positions of the Israeli communists. The interview was conducted in the party strongholds in the city of Haifa on the last day of January, thanks to the collaboration of Efraim Davidi.

The Communist Party of Israel celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. The party is one of the three organizations that trace their lineage to the Palestine Communist Party since the late 1940s, the other two being the Palestinian People's Party and the Jordanian Communist Party.

The CPI has a three-deputy parliamentary fraction in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) and several mayors, including the mayor of the 'Arab capital' of Israel, the city of Nazareth, where the CPI has governed for the last 32 years. It also has a significant presence among students and trade unionists.

In the last municipal elections in November, Communist MK Dov Khenin obtained 36% of the votes in the city of Tel Aviv, against the Labor mayor who received 51%. The CPI, Marxist-Leninist, is the only party in Israel in which Jews and Arabs are equally important members, and the party publishes the only daily Arabic-language communist newspaper in the Middle East, Al Ittihad (Unity), and a Hebrew weekly newspaper Zo Haderekh (The Path).

Mundo Obrero: Since the 28th of December, the Communist Party has called demonstrations around the country against the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip. What is the position of the Communist Party of Israel on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Mohammed Nafa'h: Since 1947, our party has advocated the position of 'two states for two peoples' and supports the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, i.e., the Palestinians' right to a free and sovereign state in the territories occupied by Israel in June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. We also demand the dismantlement of the Jewish settlements in the territories and the solution to the question of the Palestinian refugees in accordance with the UN resolutions.

MO: And on the situation in the West Bank and the 'wall of shame'?

MN: Israel must withdraw to the ceasefire lines prior to the war of June 1967 and dismantle the wall, which we call in Hebrew and Arabic: the apartheid wall.

MO: How do you coordinate your activism against the assault on the Palestinian people, in this case in Gaza, with social, anti-war, and campus-based movements?

MN: First, we try to establish the broadest possible alliances, as it is clear that the Communists aren't the only ones opposed to the Israeli occupation. Second, we try to coordinate street protests with political consciousness raising and 'practical' solidarity: sending clothes, food, and other humanitarian aids. The fact that more than 700 have been arrested in the demonstrations, from Nazareth and Haifa in the north to Be'er Sheva in the Negev desert, shows that many people have been moved to action by so much death and disaster. Finally, it means that we act in coordination with forces of the Palestinian Left. Traditionally, with the Palestinian Communists, but the day before the attack, knowing that its commencement was imminent, we got together in the city of Ramallah with the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the (Communist) People's Party in order to join forces. We held discussions with them again the day after the Israeli withdrawal.

MO: How would you explain, to foreigners, the fact that over 70% of the Israeli population support or justify the Israeli military attacks on Gaza that have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, 90% of whom were civilians according to some humanitarian organizations?

MN: Regrettably, a large part of the Israeli population has been deceived by the fallacious official propaganda that defined the colonial war in Gaza as an 'act of self-defense.' Censorship and self-censorship of the local media contributed to this. TV viewers in Israel did not see the dreadful scenes on their screens that people in Madrid or Barcelona saw night after night. Furthermore, Hamas's adventurist policy and its repeated provocations also contributed to turning the mostly poor civilian population of southern Israel into victims of missiles launched from Gaza. Many times, we have said that we support the struggle against the occupation, the political, mass struggle of the Palestinians, but we condemn attacks on the civilian population on either side of the border. Time and again, we have reiterated that there is no military solution to the Palestinian problem, the only solution is the end of the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. We have expressed this position before, during, and after the criminal attack perpetrated in January.

MO: In 2003, there was an attempt to assassinate the former secretary general, Issam Makhoul, by placing a bomb under his car, though miraculously his life was saved. Why did the perpetrators want to kill him? What is it like to live as the 'enemies' of Zionist politics in the State of Israel?

MN: It is no secret that the democratic spaces in Israel are threatened by the government as well as extremist right-wing groups, officially 'out of control,' but everybody knows who is in charge of them. During the protests in recent weeks over 700 demonstrators were arrested, and some are still under detention until their trials. Right-wing groups attacked our events, causing injuries, while the police were 'looking the other way.' The war has unleashed a truly racist campaign against the Arab population under the leadership of the chauvinist party 'Yisrael Beiteinu' (Israel Is Our Home) of the racist Avigdor 'Yvette' Lieberman. In other words, there is a real danger that the Israeli society is advancing into the fascist direction, whose first victims will be the Arab-Palestinian national minority and the consistent left-wing sectors.

MO: Do you have contacts with Jewish communists living outside Israel and do they share your rejection of the Israeli policy of war against the Palestinian people?

MN: Our party does not claim to be 'Jewish' or 'Arab.' Ours is a class-based party that makes no ethnic or religious distinctions. We have close ties with all pro-peace and progressive Jewish activists and organizations in Europe, Latin America, North America, and Australia. The Israeli leadership seek to galvanize the Jewish communities around the world into adopting their colonialist positions, but there are large Jewish sectors, organizations as well as individuals, that disagree with them and are even fighting against this colonialist policy. Not every Jew is a Zionist, neither in the rest of the world nor even in Israel.

MO: What relations do you have with the Communist Parties in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan?

MN: Our party has close relations and frequent contacts with Communist Parties and workers in the Middle East. Primarily with the Palestinian Communists, with whom we have closely collaborated since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, bringing all kinds of material and political support. Do not forget that supporting the Palestinian people's struggle for self-determination is an international duty of Israeli communists. We also maintain ties with the Tudeh Party of Iran, and last year we published a joint declaration of the Communists of the United States, Iran, and Israel warning that an attack on Iran would bring the region a tragedy of major consequences. The Communists of the Middle East get together at least once a year.

MO: What are the hidden objectives of the government behind the attack on Gaza and what relation does this show of force have with the next Israeli general elections in February?

MN: The Israeli government tried to deal a blow to Hamas, but what it did was to victimize all Palestinians in Gaza, particularly civilians. The objective is clear: to try to deepen the existing division — which is unfortunate — among the major Palestinian factions to postpone the creation of an independent state. In the ruling Kadima and Labor parties there are those who believed that the colonial war would bring some political gains in the upcoming elections. But the only beneficiaries have been the racist, far-rightist parties.

MO: What are the main points of your program for the elections?

MN: When we began the parliamentary election campaign, once the municipal elections were finalized in November 2008, we thought that we could present a program that we would characterize as 'against the current': against capitalism, against the occupation, against privatization, against globalization, and against racism, and for the rights of working men and women, for equality of the Arab population of Israel, for a healthy environment, for the rights of gays and lesbians. We called this program 'a new socialist agenda for Israel.' But with the criminal war and its terrible consequences in January, we had to abandon the plan and invest all our human resources, which are considerable, and all our material resources, which are meager, in the struggle against the war and its domestic consequences: particularly racism and fascism. Anyway, we make clear that capitalism engenders the occupation, oppression, and racism. Faced with the international capitalist crisis, which is hitting Israeli workers hard, the next government that gets elected won't last in power for long. Its fall will be due to the multiple crises that beset Israel: the crisis of the occupation, the capitalist crisis, the crisis of political leadership thanks to their bribes and kickbacks, and the ideological crisis of Zionism. All these situations will open up a new period of social and class struggles and new resistances to the occupation. Many young people look to the Communist Party and understand that we are marking a new path and presenting a real choice facing the crisis, the multiple crises. We are very much concerned about the present, but our commitment to the future is firm. This will be a future of peace and social justice.

----- English translation reposted from mrzine.monthlyreview.org.