May 20, 2024

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Reflections from the Present on the Future of Political Action for Palestine

10 min read
Reflections from the Present on the Future of Political Action for Palestine

Following October 7, 2023, the world has witnessed an unprecedented assault on Gaza and across historic Palestine. At the same time, these months have given rise to an unprecedented surge of global solidarity. New meanings and modes of struggle are animating public protest and political action, from Kuala Lumpur to Grand Central Terminal. In an effort to grasp what can be learned from this moment, we asked four scholars and activists to reflect, in brief, on these unfolding events and dynamics. All responses were drafted independently in December 2023 and January 2024 and brought together by the editors.

 

Reflections from the Present on the Future of Political Action for Palestine

Activists protesting against the bombing of Gaza blockade the entrance to the Instro Precision factory, a subsidiary of the Israeli military contractor Elbit systems, on October 26, 2023, in Sandwich, England. Guy Smallman/Getty Images

Noura Erakat

By 2021, progressive organizations, individuals and human rights groups increasingly viewed Israel as a settler colonial apartheid state in which a matrix of civil, administrative and military law worked to dispossess, remove and concentrate Palestinians for the sake of maintaining Jewish supremacy. Alliances were growing between Palestinian, anti-racist and indigenous movements in the United States, as was a shared conviction that any progressive agenda must include Palestine. The events of October 7 and their immediate aftermath threatened to unravel this foundation. Politicians in the United States and across western governments, framed Israel as a victim of fanatical Muslim terrorism. Media amplified the call for revenge against Hamas and the Palestinians in the name of self-defense, repeating Israeli talking points that likened Hamas to ISIS and October 7 to “Israel’s 9/11.”[1] It seemed as if the Palestinian liberation struggle was going to be wholly and irreversibly subsumed into a renewed Global War on Terror.

The ferocity of Israel’s military response against 2.3 million besieged Palestinians in Gaza, however, almost immediately began to change public opinion. More than three months into Israel’s campaign, as the Palestinian death toll has passed 26,000, that change in opinion has only consolidated. Survivors are being denied safe haven, food, adequate shelter, water, electricity and medical care. Israel faces charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and in the eyes of millions marching in the streets of Tokyo, Seoul, London, Dublin, Cairo, Amman, Sydney, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Toronto and other cities around the world. It is an unprecedented demonstration of robust solidarity with Palestinian liberation and pointed critiques of Israel that far exceed what existed before October 7.

Youth and racialized minorities who, for the past 20 years, have led movements for racial justice, gun reform and climate action are at the forefront of these tectonic shifts. They have been primed to distrust government and the adults who have failed them. They see Israel together with white supremacy and capitalism as a threat to their future. In recent polling, 67 percent of respondents under 35 and 64 percent of respondents of color opposed Israel’s actions in Gaza.[2] High school students around the United States have organized walkouts demanding a ceasefire in Gaza. Politicians now want to ban TikTok, a popular platform used by youth in the United States to share information and to express their political opinions about Palestine.

Hundreds of teach-ins, Instagram slide decks, X threads, podcasts, organizing meetings, articles and disruptive actions build on decades of Palestinian intellectual and political traditions to make three related points. First, colonialism is an enduring system of global governance. Zionist settler sovereignty in Palestine is part of that colonial order and, as such, is bereft of moral authority. Second, Zionism relies on coercive force in and outside of Palestine, as has been laid bare in the unprecedented repression across universities, online forums as well as in public streets and chambers of law. Third, the livestreamed genocide of Palestinians in Gaza is an extreme example of the world order made by European supremacist civilization and the violent repression on which it depends. Rising calls around the world for a “Free Palestine” voice more than commitment to ethical solidarity with Palestinians. “Free Palestine” has become a rallying call for collective liberation around the world.

This dramatic shift marks a generational change.  It may not bring immediate improvement to the material conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, but it signals a commitment to the future of humanity. The question of Palestine will likely be at the center of that commitment as it is being reshaped forever by this rebellious, new generation. And that is a very good thing.

 

Rafeef Ziadeh

In the face of Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza, Palestinians are tirelessly working to raise awareness, garner support and advocate for concrete actions. As part of a strategic approach, there is a concerted effort to transition worker and trade union solidarity from symbolic gestures into tangible actions that can potentially halt Israel’s war machine.

In an urgent appeal on October 16, 2023, Palestinian trade unions and professional associations called on international unions to “Stop Arming Israel,” citing the immense military and diplomatic support extended to Israel by the United States and the European Union. The plea urged workers and trade unions worldwide to refrain from engaging in the manufacturing, transportation and handling of weapons and surveillance technology destined for Israel. The group Workers in Palestine brings together Palestinian trade unionists with international allies to build support and organize around this call—one that is especially crucial now, as the voices of Palestinian workers, who have courageously been on the front lines in Gaza, saving lives and rescuing communities amid relentless bombardment, are frequently marginalized on the international stage.

Despite the formidable challenges, many rank-and-file organizers have heeded the call and pockets of inspiration continue to emerge within the trade union movement. In November of 2023, Port of Barcelona workers refused to transport weapons to Israel, demanding an immediate ceasefire. 14 Spanish unions and 200 civil society organizations launched a campaign urging the government to cease arms trade with Israel. In Belgium, transportation unions called on their members to refuse transporting weapons by air after reports of shipments being sent to Israel. On November 10, dockworkers in Italy at the Port of Genoa, led by the Colletivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali union, blocked cargo movement onto an Israeli-operated ship. In a coordinated action across nine ports, the European Dockworkers Council called for protests and work stoppages. In Britain, the group Workers for a Free Palestine has blockaded arms factories with impressive pickets, working to halt F-35 fighter jet component production. In the US context, the United Auto Workers (UAW), one of North America’s largest unions, has called for a ceasefire, and a rank-and-file working group within the union is actively mobilizing support for the Palestinian Trade Union’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). These actions demonstrate a powerful act of solidarity and underscore the potential impact that collective labor actions can have on arms supplies to and from Israel.

In their call for solidarity, Palestinian unions have drawn inspiration from historical moments in the global trade union movement against apartheid in South Africa and injustice in Ethiopia and Chile. While the initial focus of the call was on the arms trade, the ultimate objective is to build lasting and strong support for Palestinian workers. These grassroots initiatives help recover a tradition of labor internationalism that is not reliant on governments, trade union bureaucracies or the corridors of power. As such, solidarity with Palestine has the potential to rebuild a trade union movement based on worker actions from below. The difficulty, however, lies in the urgency of building for the long term while simultaneously pushing for an immediate ceasefire. This challenge did not arrive with October 7. It mirrors the Palestinian experience of seventy-five years: consistent resistance against an ongoing Nakba, contemplating the long term amid a continuous onslaught and envisioning a better world with others.

 

Ilan Pappé

When the current Israeli assault on Gaza ends, the devastation currently being unleashed on Palestinians will ensure that their condition is worse than it was under the 17 years of siege that came before. The fundamental realities in historic Palestine are likely to remain intact: Israel will still occupy the West Bank, using the systems of collaboration and repression that have served it since the second Intifada, Palestinian refugees will be prevented from returning to their homes and lands and Palestinian citizens of Israel will continue to live under quasi-apartheid conditions. More than 100 days of brutal siege will deepen injustice and expand control.

At the same time, the internal divides that threatened to tear Jewish Israeli society apart before October 7 linger. On one side of the spectrum are liberal Jews, primarily Ashkenazi, who largely represent the state’s financial and technological elites. While not opposing the oppression of Palestinians, they are willing to concede a portion of the occupied territories. On the other side are the settlers who envisage a theocratic and racist Israel, seeking to reduce the number of Palestinians living in historic Palestine by any means possible. The struggle between these two camps, which can be framed, respectively,  as “the state of Israel” and “the state of Judea,” became visible when they clashed during the November 2022 elections, which catalyzed a judicial revolution and widespread protests.

While “the state of Judea” won that election, it is difficult to know who would triumph today. But perhaps that is not an important question. That both adhere to an apartheid model—either liberal or theocratic—indicates little hope for change from within Jewish Israeli society. In the decades to come, the same processes rifting Israeli society are likely to continue with even greater intensity. The lack of cohesion and disintegration will accelerate the demise of the Zionist settler colonial project.

Meanwhile, the political elites of the global north and some governments of the global south continue to provide Israel with exceptional immunity for its policies on the ground even as civil societies across the globe increasingly support the Palestinian cause with various degrees of activism and commitment. This support—as we have seen in the past months—will continue to grow hand-in-hand with Israel’s extreme violence, especially among younger generations.

The potential twin catalytic developments—one pushing foreign governments to impose sanctions on Israel, the other being the disintegration of Israeli Jewish society from within—will provide the Palestinian national liberation movement with an opening. Looking forward, then, what is needed and what in many ways has already begun is a re-organization and re-orientation of the Palestinian liberation movement: an attempt to replace existing national institutions with more democratic ones and to find a way to overcome Israel’s colonial fragmentation of the Palestinian people and their political movements. The indicators for the end of the Zionist project, of which the global solidarity movement is one, will create a vacuum that a newly reorganized Palestinian liberation movement can fill with a vision of the future that benefits Palestinians and Jews who are willing to share a state based on equality and democracy.

 

Amahl Bishara

In this vicious chapter of Palestinians’ ongoing Nakba, the structure of settler colonialism and the event of military assault fuel each other. During Israel’s genocidal bombardment of Gaza—carried out with US bombs and US vetoes—Palestinians have lost not only entire families crushed in their homes but also hospitals, schools and universities. The biggest Palestinian city, Gaza City, has been reduced to rubble, as has one of the largest refugee camps, Jabalia. Some of the smallest Palestinian places—rural and Bedouin communities in the West Bank—have also been destroyed and depopulated by Israeli settlers and the military under the “cover of Gaza fighting.”[3]

Unlike previous Israeli wars on Gaza, Palestinian protest in the West Bank and Israel’s 1948 territories has been attenuated due to atmospheres of intense threat. When Israel’s military campaign stops, Palestinians in Gaza will still have to contend with ongoing disease and famine as well as environmental and infrastructural destruction. The devastation, the entrenchment of the Israeli far right and the longstanding failures of Palestinian leadership present a catastrophe for Palestinians that demands revitalized collective political envisioning of liberation.

There is much to learn from the present, however. Today, brave Palestinian journalists—professional and amateur—are doing vital work in Gaza amid the constant threat of death. A renewed circulation of Palestinian poetry on social media has tapped into the gravity of grief and outrage but also the persistence of Palestinian lifeways and hopes. Worldwide protest, including in the United States led by Palestinian diasporic and Jewish organizations for justice, and mass mobilizations on college campuses, have transformed discourse. Solidarity work with Black and Indigenous movements against racist state violence and dispossession are building new modes of political pressure for Palestinian rights. The global tools of international law have placed the Palestinian case on new stages in recent years and especially over the last few weeks: South Africa’s historic charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice and the court’s decision to pursue the case and announce provisional measures against Israel’s violence represent a crack in Israel’s longstanding impunity in the international legal arena.

One pernicious instrument of the ongoing Nakba is geopolitical fragmentation, including through the blockade of Gaza. Having different political statuses and manifold restrictions on movement and expression renders political deliberation and cultural interchange extremely difficult. But this fragmentation does not excuse corrupt, collaborationist or destructive politics. After this war ends, Palestinians must continue attending to each other in ways that challenge settler colonial fragmentation. The principles of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement offer an important starting point of demanding the right to return, the end of military occupation and equality.  Our strategies must be grounded in Palestinian traditions of resistance and dignity, including Palestinian feminist mobilization. We must respect the voices of those who are most marginalized by Palestinian and world politics, in particular refugees and prisoners—especially since the last months have seen the displacement of the vast majority of people in Gaza, most of whom are refugees, and a staggering rise in the numbers of and torture of Palestinian prisoners and captives. But most urgently, we must work to save Gaza as a Palestinian place and to support the survival of the Palestinians of Gaza, including by mobilizing for ceasefire, for adequate aid and against attacks on vital humanitarian work.

 

This article appears in MER issue 309 “Palestine—Before and After October 7.”

 


 

Endnotes

 

[1]Israel Faces Its 9/11,” The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2023.

[2] Lydia Saad, “Americans Back Israel’s Military Action in Gaza by 50% to 45%,” Gallup, November 30, 2023.

[3]Forcible transfer of isolated Palestinian communities and families in Area C under cover of Gaza fighting,” B’Tselem, October 19, 2023.

How to cite this article:

“Reflections from the Present on the Future of Political Action for Palestine,”
Middle East Report 309 (Winter 2023).

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