Over this past weekend, in an impressively orchestrated action, Palestinian resistance fighters broke through the fence enclosing Gaza. In a series of attacks within territory illegally occupied by Israel, they held some ground, captured Israeli weaponry and instituted a sharp turn in the political situation. Retaliatory attacks by Israel have begun and the death toll on both sides is rising. What is called Operation Al-Aqsa Flood is an attempt by Hamas and other political factions to change the balance of power in a status quo that is becoming more completely untenable to Palestinian existence. This Palestinian resistance is legitimate and justified.
The past two years have seen a dramatic escalation of violence against Palestinians, especially in the West Bank. Raids and assassinations under the auspices of what the Zionist entity calls Operation Break the Wave occur nearly daily. More Palestinians have been killed this year so far in the West Bank than in any year since the Second Intifada (2000–2005). Refugee camps in Jenin, Nablus, and Balata have faced multiple invasions in some of the largest military operations by the Israel Occupation Forces (IOF) in many years. These have left dozens murdered. All while the ongoing ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem churns on.
Violence by Zionist settlers has also dramatically increased, emboldened by far-right elements and figures like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich’s prominence in the Netanyahu government. Settler organizations—with support for the Israeli military and police—have carried out attacks on Palestinian towns at a rate of three per day in 2023, according to the UN. Within the last few days settlers invaded the town of Huwara with a campaign of violence and intimidation. Huwara was the scene in March of this year of a pogrom conducted by settlers who attacked with iron poles and guns, burning cars and houses. Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, publicly stated that “I think the village of Huwara should be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it.”
Itamar Ben-Gvir—national security minister and leader of the far-right Jewish Power party—was essentially given his own private militia by Netanyahu in the form of a national guard that reports directly to him. In July he led a far-right storming of the Al-Aqsa mosque complex in a clear provocation amid Zionist calling for its takeover. The context of this is the campaign for the full annexation of the West Bank, which would mean the completion of the violent erasure of Palestinians by the settler-colonial project.
Many around the world were amazed by the images emerging of the Palestinian resistance capturing Israeli tanks, tearing down the apartheid wall around Gaza, and reentering the land that is theirs. Details are still coming to light and it is still a fluid, unfolding situation. Yet it is the responsibility for anyone who considers themself on the side of democratic rights, including the right of national self-determination, first to stake out a position of solidarity with Palestine. This means rejecting the narratives of terrorism that will animate and justify support for what will surely be bloody, murderous reprisals carried out by the Zionist entity.
Netanyahu, in a video address, declared that “we are at war and we will win it, the enemy will pay a price like they have never known.” Now dubbed “Operation Iron Sword” the planes and artillery of the IOF have already begun bombing civilian areas of Gaza. And all should know well that this is in keeping with the historic conduct of Israel—including its recent 2021 bombardment of Gaza where over 260 people, 60 of them children, were killed, and scores of hospitals and schools were decimated as one of the world’s most advanced militaries, with the full backing of the United States, rained death on the open-air prison of Gaza. And Netanyhu—now at the head of an even more right-wing government—promises more. This should outrage anyone who has shuddered at any of Israel’s war crimes and devastation over the years.
In the context of the total control and surveillance that Israel has on Palestinians, especially in Gaza, the events unfolding are truly remarkable. Resistance fighters from a number of political factions were able to get through the apartheid fence surrounding Gaza—smashing it down, plowing it over with bulldozers, tunneling beneath, and it seems even paragliding over. Images are circulating of Palestinans on motorbikes spreading through holes in the fence as the prison walls were valiantly breached. Fighters entered settlements up to 15 miles from Gaza. Depots of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles were taken, some back to Gaza. Some IOF soldiers have been taken hostage, unconfirmed reports being that an Israeli general is one. The Goliath of the Zionist entity received an embarrassing blow that punctured an apparatus of occupation and surveillance that many thought impenetrable. There is no “border” of Gaza that was crossed. There was a fence, a cage confining a people who have been trapped there. And now the Zionist entity threatens to rain death on a community they are holding captive.
Netanyhu promises total war. But total war, of a kind, is already what Palestinians face. This is why Netanyahu’s threat of escalation—some of which is already occurring—needs the most forceful condemnation. People around the world should come out and protest in force as they did during the Zionist entity’s bloody barrage on Gaza in 2021. This is especially the case in places like the United States, where despite some soft criticism at the most extreme far-right elements of the current government, the U.S. continues to fully back Israel’s criminal project of settler colonialism.
Biden’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has already released a statement declaring the United States government’s commitment to Israel’s aggression “unwavering” and promised to “work to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself” from what it calls “indiscriminate violence and terrorism.” Netanyahu received a call from Biden that promised “unreserved support for a forceful, prolonged campaign,” according to a tweet from Netanyahu. This is certainly only the beginning of efforts to equate Palestinian resistance with terrorism, which are parroted by the Biden regime and others. While this is not new support from the U.S.—Israel’s most solid backer—It serves as a defense for what is certain to be the wanton and retaliatory destruction of Gaza by Israel. Unqualified solidarity with Palestinians against the Israel aggression is needed.
Relatedly, we need to reject anything that approaches the mealy-mouthed pacifism that claims to want a stop to the violence “on both sides” or associates Palestinian resistance with terrorism. That is the terrain of the defenders of Zionism and a justification for its violence. Bernie Sanders exemplifies this as he has come out on cue leading with condemning the resistance. “I absolutely condemn the horrifying attack on Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” He writes on Twitter, “There is no justification for this violence, and innocent people on both sides will suffer hugely because of it. It must end now.” Congressperson and Democratic Socialist of America member Jamaal Bowman—who voted multiple times to send Israel the weapons it is using—issued a similar statement. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez followed suit.
It is rank hypocrisy and racism that liberals like these have voiced support for Ukrainian’s legitimate right to armed defense of their self-determination while Palestinians are dubbed as terrorists for exerting that same right. The fact that the same democratic principle is at issue in both struggles has not escaped the Ukrainian Left or the sections of the broader European Left that support these struggles. Yet we should not expect to see Al-Qassam Brigades commander Mohammed Deif invited to the floor of Congress with the adoration that Zelensky received, but such is Yankee imperialism and the liberals and so-called socialists who support it.
Rather we should fervently defend Palestinian’s right to resistance. The right to resist, by armed means if necessary, is considered legal by multiple UN resolutions and by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The continual occupation, construction of settlements, apartheid laws, the confinement of Gaza, and use of collective punishment—all the daily operating procedures of settler-colonial Israel—are, on the other hand, widely considered illegal by international law.
But legal definitions aside, we should ask those who may hesitate to defend Palestinians right to armed resistance: What would you have them do?
There are legitimate strategic criticisms of the emphasis on armed struggle, concerns about the relegation of the kind of mass resistance of the First Intifada, Great March of Return and 2021’s Unity Intifada, and concerns about Hamas’ sectarianism and increasingly authoritarian internal regime—a function, in part, of its isolation in Gaza. In the deadlock of Palestinian politics and with general mass dissatisfaction with the traditional Palestinian political groups, Hamas is seeking to assert itself as the leader of the resistance. Even with that, the events of Al-Aqsa Flood, are a reasonable response—with shades of heroic desperation—to the dire straits of the political context.
The context is one of the ongoing isolation of Gaza, with no end in sight to the catastrophic humanitarian conditions, the far-right turn of the Israeli government, the looming threat of annexation, the slow-motion war of occupation being conducted in the occupied West Bank, the increased international isolation due to the U.S.-driven normalization process with the Arab countries that historically have given lip-service to the Palestinian cause, and the complete bankruptcy of the collaborationist Palestinian Authority as a vehicle for any sort of resistance—which all creates a situation of a people pushed past their endurance. What else would you have them do?
Things are dire, they have been dire, they look more dire down the road. With few avenues obviously available, the attempt to take action to do something to change the balance of forces is audacious and should be defended. As Malcolm X once said “You don’t get freedom peacefully … Anyone who is depriving you of freedom isn’t deserving of a peaceful approach by the ones who are deserving of freedom.” However critical of specifics, solid defense of the right of resistance needs to cut through the fog of liberal pacifism that seeks to obscure the reality of the daily horror of the Zionist project of the complete erasure of Palestinians. But this does not mean political support for Hamas.
It is too early to tell what will happen. Certainly the U.S. will back Israel to the hilt. Certain Arab regimes and Turkey may work to try to broker another ceasefire and return to the untenable status quo. What will it mean for the Saudi-Israel normalization deal, which is the crown jewel of U.S. imperial strategy to fully integrate the Middle East into a single economic zone of its control in competition with China? Israel will move to crush the resistance and punish all Palestinians. That will need to be resisted. Defense of the camps in the occupied West Bank that have been targets will be essential. What role will the nonsectarian militias that organized as self-defense of the camps like the Jenin Brigade and the Lions Den play? Will confrontations develop along the various checkpoints and fences that divide up the bantustans of the West Bank? Will this provoke any activity by Palestinian citizens of Israel as occurred during the 2021 Unity Intifada?
What will happen is massive violence by the Zionist entity—aerial bombardment, a potential ground war and the further starving the over 2 million Gazans of the resources they need for survival, including electricity.
It seems tragically unlikely that the armed resistance in its current state will be able to militarily defeat the enormous Zionist military apparatus. Despite this, the attempt to make a crack in the edifice deserves a cheer as a blow against the oppressor and a gambit to alter the conditions. With tumultuous, dangerous days ahead it is imperative that we stand in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel’s coming onslaught and defend their right to armed resistance. We should expose the orchestration of normalization by the U.S., China, and Russia, the complicity of the Arab regimes. And we must work to dismantle the Zionist entity to free Palestine from the river to the sea.
Long live the intifada
Glory to the martyrs
Featured image credit: pxhere; modified by Tempest.
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brian bean is a socialist organizer and writer based in Chicago, a member of the Tempest Collective, a part of the Rampant Magazine editorial collective, and an editor and contributor to the book Palestine: A Socialist Introduction from Haymarket Books.