by Jeff Mackler, published on Socialist Action, May 19, 2021
In great detail the unfolding Palestinian freedom struggle against the racist, Zionist, colonial, apartheid settler capitalist state of Israel has captured headlines worldwide and won the solidarity of humanity’s finest democratic and human rights fighters. That apartheid Israel receives $3.8 billion annually in U.S. military aid – exceeding all other countries – has been roundly condemned as has Israel’s role as the U.S. gendarme/imperial enforcer in the Middle East. I use the five adjectives – racist, Zionist, colonial, apartheid and settler – capitalist state advisedly, that is, to accurately describe the reality of Israel, yesterday and today. The horror of that reality, coupled with the heroic resistance to it by the beleaguered Palestinian people, has inspired tens and hundreds of thousands to mobilize in solidarity demonstrations around the world today. Several major U.S. cities have witnessed mobilizations of 10,000 or more, including New York and Los Angeles, with similar numbers in the streets in San Francisco, Chicago and elsewhere. 10,000 mobilized in Toronto; 20,000 in Montreal and thousands more across Canada. The mass protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people are not too dissimilar from the last summer’s anti-racist, anti-police brutality Black Lives Matter mobilizations. They have been markedly multi-racial and youthful. 100,000 took to the streets in London.
Ferguson is Palestine! Palestinian Lives Matter!
The identification of Palestine with the U.S. anti-racist movement has been explicit for some time, with Palestinian activists proclaiming in 2014 following the police murder of Michael Brown, “Ferguson is Palestine!” Activists noted with rage that the same noxious gas bombs deployed against Blacks in Ferguson were hurled against Palestinians in Gaza. The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel, as with the historic boycott movement against South African apartheid, has frightened legislatures in some two dozen states, as well as nationally, so much so that they designated BDS advocacy as “anti-Semitic” on college campuses, subject to penalties, including the withdrawal of state and federal funds. Today, however, the spurious equation that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism, has been widely repudiated. Few in office dare today to charge the hundreds of thousands in the streets as anti-Semites. In the same vein the massive BLM protests last summer of 20 million in 2,000 cities reduced violence-baiting critics to a handful of rabid racist Trumpites.
Palestine: From the River to the Sea
Mass mobilizations are being undertaken on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Jordon. Small groups of Israeli youth have been reported in the streets in support of Palestinian rights. In New York City one broad organizing coalition carried banners and issued flyers on the basis of the now broadly accepted movement demand or slogan, “Palestine: From the River to the Sea.” This clear position, in its essence negating the legitimacy of the Zionist state, mocks the Zionist racist ethnic-cleansing credo, “Israel: From the River to the Sea.” The Palestinian fightback has inspired humanity’s best around the world and the Palestinians have reciprocated initiating on May 17, united strike mobilizations in both Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Palestinian Authority governed West Bank.
With this powerful worldwide movement against racism, ethnic cleansing, colonial repression and occupation in progress I hope to pose some assessments of the Palestinian freedom struggle, immediate and long range, to be sure, that many participants are beginning to grapple with for the first time.
No Legitimacy to Colonial Settler States
As with every other imperialist colonizing state the world over I lend no legitimacy to the Israeli settler state. In the same manner supporters of past national liberation struggles lent no legitimacy , for example, to “Portuguese” Mozambique and Angola, or to “French” Equatorial Africa, or “French” Algeria, or “French” Morocco, or “Spanish” Morocco, “French” West Africa, or to “Anglo”-Egyptian Sudan, or to “British” East Africa (Kenya/Uganda), or to “British” Guiana, or to “British” India, Malaya, to note a few of the hundreds of colonized nations. These European slave-trading empires of yesteryear conquered much of the planet, exploited and murdered its victims, plundered their resources and forcefully incorporated their nations into their domains.
Origins of the Zionist Settler State
Today, May 15, marks the 73 anniversary of the Zionist state’s 1948 foundation as the State of Israel, a date that Palestinians the world over mark as the Nakba (Catastrophe). With UN approval, but without Palestinian approval, historic Palestine was partitioned; 55 percent of its land, encompassing many of the main cities with Palestinian Arab majorities and the important coastline from Haifa to Jaffa was allotted to the Jewish population.
Prior to the partition Palestine was a British “Mandate,” a polite word for colony. The British had occupied and ruled Palestine via the 1916 secret Sykes-Picot treaty between Britain and France following WWI, when the colonial victors divided up the conquered 400-year-old Ottoman Empire, including much of the present Middle East.
At the time, 1948, Jews in Palestine constituted one-third of the population and owned less than six percent of the land.
Established in 1945, the United Nations was an expression of the post-WWII power of the U.S. and allied victory over Germany, Japan and its Axis allies. Its founding pretensions at championing “self-determination” of poor nations notwithstanding, the UN founders historic colonial conquests in Africa, Asia and the Middle East remained essentially intact, only to be challenged in the following decades by often armed national liberation movements that succeeded in winning formal independence, albeit of a neo-colonial or dependent form. Foreign capitalist ownership and control of much the liberated nations’ wealth and resources remained intact.
United Nations Anti-Colonial Pretensions
The UN’s anti-colonial pretension were further belied by the simple fact that a single member of its original five-nation Permanent Security Council could veto any contemplated action aimed at the liberation of their colonies. The same holds for the expanded UNSC today. The literal hundreds of UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Zionist Israel’s persecution and exclusion of Palestinians, as with the near unanimous annual General Assembly condemnations of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, are for the record only. A single vote of the U.S. is sufficient to “legally” maintain the imperialist status quo. I add here for emphasis that the near-unanimous General Assembly votes condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba most often finds but two votes opposed, the U.S. and Israel.
The Palestinians, as with all colonized people, had resisted British rule for decades. They rejected the 1948 UN partition and joined with the neighboring oppressed and European colonized nations, Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi – to challenge it. They were defeated by the full might of the well-organized Zionist armies, with whom the British had left their military arsenal. The 1948 Nakba had actually begun decades earlier with the 1917 Balfour Declaration, named after the British Foreign Minister Arthur James Balfour. The declaration was co-signed by Lord Walter Rothschild, a central leader of the British Zionist community and a leader of the UK’s Liberal Party. Rothschild pledged with Balfour to help “Establish in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people,” that is, to grant Jewish people, who at that time constituted three percent of the Palestinian population, a Jewish state. Leading Zionists at that time including Chaim Weismann, who decades later became Israel’s first president, in turn pledged to make Palestine “as Jewish as England is English.” Prior to the Balfour Declaration Zionist leaders attempted to persuade British imperialism to establish “Jewish homelands” in colonized Uganda and in Argentina, with the understanding that the Jewish settlers would defend Britain’s “civilized” interests.
From the 1917 Balfour Declaration to 1948 the Zionist movement, until the Nazi holocaust a minority current among Jews the world over, organized to purchase Palestinian land from British absentee landlords for Jewish settlements. That is, the planned process of removing Palestinians from their lands had begun three decades before formal partition. The Zionist justification, “Palestine: A land without people, for a people without land,” had zero resonance among the Palestinian masses.
Zionist Ethnic Cleansing
In 1936-39, Palestinians launched the large-scale uprising against the British and their support for Zionist settler-colonialism. The ensuing Arab Revolt was brutally crushed by British troops who destroyed some 2,000 Palestinian homes and jailed 9,000 Palestinians in concentration camps, subjecting them to violent interrogation and torture. Two hundred Palestinian nationalist leaders were deported.
With the Zionist brutally crushing the Palestinian resistance following the UN’s 1948 partition, the Zionist armies physically removed 750,000 Palestinians of a population of 1.7 million from their homes and lands, expelling them to bordering states where they were compelled to live, and still do, in some 50 squalid UN-administered camps, often bereft of minimum healthcare services, water, electricity and food. By 1949, 78 percent of historic Palestine had been ethnically cleansed of Palestinians. Some 530 Palestinian villages and cities had been obliterated and re-named; 15,000 Palestinians were murdered in a series of mass atrocities including 70 documented massacres.
Following the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War of renewed Palestinian liberation efforts, Israel occupied the remaining Palestinian “territories” of East Jerusalem (which it annexed in 1980), the West Bank (of the Jordon River) and the Gaza Strip. The Zionist ethnic cleansers continue to occupy and control these regions to this day. By 1967 Israel directly occupied 85 percent of historic Palestine.
Sheikh Jarrah Evictions: Origins of the Present Crisis
The ceaseless process of establishing new settlements, as with the recent violent dispossession of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, with the pending approval of Israeli courts, continues uninterrupted to this day and will undoubtedly accelerate as the remaining Palestinian enclaves are devastated. Today, 90-plus percent of historic Palestine is in Israeli hands while the ever-diminishing remainder is brutally policed and controlled by the Israeli military. The most recent Israeli-tolerated armed mob dispossession of six Palestinian families at Sheikh Jarrah was soon after accompanied by the murderous tear gas, concussion grenade and rubber-coated bullet police attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, among the most sacred in the Muslim world. Five hundred Muslims were beaten and wounded as they protested the Israeli profanation of the revered mosque.
Massive outpourings of Palestinian protesters ensued in 60 cities, the broadest in recent Palestinian history. Without exception they were brutally repressed, with hundreds beaten, wounded and murdered, and hundreds jailed as Israeli mobs chanting “Kill the Arabs” rampaged through Palestinian neighborhoods.
Earlier the Israeli police had muscled their way past Al-Aqsa Mosque officials and proceeded to cut the wires of the sound system that was preparing to broadcast prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan, among the Muslim world’s holiest of days, said to mark Allah, or God’s, giving the first chapters of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad in 610. The sound system was destroyed by the Zionist police to ensure that the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s nearby speech commemorating “Jerusalem Day,” the date of the city’s “legal” annexation, would not be disturbed by the broadcasting of traditional Muslim prayers.
Palestinians Fight Back
The Palestinian forces of Hamas in the Gaza Strip responded soon after April’s violent evictions, the Al-Aqsa Mosque attacks and the generalized police beatings and mass arrests. Hamas fired some 3,000 rockets into Israel over the course of five days. Some 90 percent of these, according to the Israeli’s military, were intercepted by Israel’s U.S.-provided Iron Dome high tech defense system. Israel has reported a total of 11 Israeli dead to date.
Israeli’s Missiles and Drones Unleashed
The Israeli Air Force and ground troops meanwhile embarked on yet another devastating missile and drone bombing of Gaza, reducing 13-story buildings to rubble and entire civilian neighborhoods to ruin. The often indiscriminate bombing leveled the headquarters of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera news agencies. The Israeli-controlled water supply was cut to a few hours weekly. Gaza’s main desalinization plant was bombed. Its electricity was similarly slashed; its food supplies reduced to near zero and 32,000 residents were forced to flee their homes. Hundreds were killed and thousands wounded. Gaza’s inadequate medical system was incapable of providing significant relief to its two million inhabitants.
Aptly described as “the world largest open air prison,” Gaza has been under siege for almost two decades. Its land and sea borders and air space are policed and controlled by Israel. Entrance and exit are strictly controlled. The 2014 Zionist attacks murdered 2,200 Gazans. With Israeli troops poised to enter Gaza once again as we go to print, that number may be tragically exceeded.
Today, historic Palestine has been reduced to a series of disconnected, walled-off, economically non-viable Bantustans – the term that accurately described South Africa’s pre-1994 apartheid system of militarized prison-like enclaves where conquered Africans were forced to reside. There are hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and flying checkpoints in the West Bank, and between Israel and the West Bank where Palestinians must show proof of identification to pass and be searched.
Every year on May 15, Palestinians around the world, numbering about 13 million, mark the 1948 Nakba, the ongoing catastrophic horror of the near-total dissolution of Palestinian society. Since the creation of Israel, no new Palestinian towns or cities have been built within its borders, in contrast to the 600 new Jewish municipalities.
Today, there are some eight million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced Palestinians who have been prohibited from returning to their original homes and villages. Some 6.5 million of these are refugees and their descendants live beyond the borders of their original state. The worldwide struggle for their freedom and liberation has been given new impetus by their courage in the face of overwhelming force. Once again they have declared that they will not be defeated.
Three Critical Points
- The Illegitimacy of the Zionist State
Israel, as a racist, colonial settler state has no greater legitimacy than the previous colonial conquests of the now nearly defunct British, French, Spanish and Portuguese empires. This was the original and formal position of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), previously headed by its founder, Yasser Arafat. The PLO fought for Palestinian’s liberation from Zionist occupation in the same manner and with the same justification as all other anti-colonial national liberation movements. No one doubted that the PLO represented the vast majority of the Palestinian people. The PLO properly rejected any “two-state” demands or formulas that legitimized the Zionist occupation, including and especially the 1948 Nakba imperialist-imposed partition.
- For a Democratic Secular Palestine with the Right of Return
In 1973, however, the PLO, faced with the reality of the U.S. imperialist-backed Zionist regime’s occupation of some 85 percent of historic Palestine, altered its position and instead pressed forward with the demand for a “Democratic and Secular Palestine” inclusive of all Palestinians, Jews, Christians and all others, with the right of the excluded Palestinians to return to their homes. Prior to 1973, the PLO, as with all national liberation movements, aimed to drive the colonial occupiers out of their country. As the main representative of the oppressed Palestinian people struggling for national liberation and freedom, that demand was widely and justly accepted among Palestinians. As with all colonial conquistadors of the past and present the Zionist occupiers and their U.S. imperialist backers always denied their victims the right to control their own lands. We note here that the PLO position for a “Democratic, Secular Palestine” left open the class nature of the future envisioned Palestine, that is, whether the PLO would champion a socialist Palestine or accede to its governance by a capitalist state power wherein racism and social inequality are built into the nature of the state itself. That question remains critical to this day.
- No to the “two state solution”
Despite the innumerable organized “negotiations” sessions over the ensuing years, including the 1993 Oslo Accords that created a PLO-approved Palestinian Authority tasked with limited self-governance of parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel’s inexorable drive to establish new “settlements” never ceased. Oslo established the PLO as “Israel’s partner” in permanent-status negotiations about “remaining questions,” none of which were ever resolved, other than by the force and violence of the Zionist state power. Today, the so-called two-state solution consists in nothing less than relegating the remaining Palestinians to tiny, separated, non-viable, Israeli police and army dominated, walled off, militarized/passport-required, poverty-enforced entities bereft of a shred of Palestinian dignity and freedom. Those who today advocate a “two-state” negotiated “solution,” the position of the Biden administration and all component fractions of the Democratic Party, have zero credibility among the Palestinian masses and among the growing majority of young people today who know a racist police state when they see it.
Where do We Go from Here?
Thus, the question is posed, “Where do we go from here?” How can anti-racist and social justice activists best support the Palestinian freedom struggle? All answers begin with the critical demand, “End All U.S. Aid to Apartheid Israel: Military, Economic and Diplomatic!” With the termination of U.S. imperialist backing, achieved by massive U.S. popular forces in the streets demanding it, the Zionist state’s repressive capacities will be inevitably and severely diminished along with its political credibility everywhere. This is the same demand that antiwar activists press forward with regard to all U.S. imperialist wars, interventions and occupations. Building a mass movement to make it a reality is a critical starting point. Such a mass movement in the heart of the imperialist beast is a pre-requisite to success in the same manner as the struggle to end systemic racism in the U.S. as well other evils that are inherent in the capitalist system.
For Working Class Unity! For a Revolutionary Socialist Party Deeply Imbedded in the Struggles of all Palestinian Workers and their Allies
Inside Palestine, the construction of a broadly-based independent mass movement for Palestinian unity and liberation is critical. Tragically, the liberation movement in Palestine today is deeply divided, dependent on financial and material support from reactionary Arab regimes and plagued with internal corruption, not to mention lacking clear programmatic positions aimed at uniting all Palestinians. The simultaneous constriction of a mass revolutionary socialist party deeply embedded in the daily lives and struggles of the Palestinian people with the objective of ending the heinous rule of the minority capitalist elite also stands central to the winning of Palestinian freedom.
For a Socialist Federation of the Middle East
Finally, the notion that tiny beleaguered Palestine, isolated and apart from the support and solidarity of working people across the Middle East and beyond, can successfully challenge and defeat the combined forces of the U.S.-backed and militarized Zionist state is utopian. The fight for a united socialist federation of the Middle East, a unity based on the revolutionary abolition of the present reactionary monarchies and dictatorship in the region, must be another critical element in the Palestinian freedom struggle. Utopian dreaming! cynics might respond. But what other way to human freedom and emancipation from capitalist-imperialist rule is there?
End all U.S. Aid to Israel! For a Democratic Secular Palestine with the Right of Return! Towards a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!
Jeff Mackler is the national secretary of Socialist Action. He is also Socialist Action’s candidate for U.S. President in the 2020 elections and he was the Socialist Action candidate for President in 2016. Mackler founded Northern California Climate Mobilization, is a longtime teacher and union activist with the American Federation of Teachers in Hayward, California and is director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.