Decades of Zionist settler-colonialism, backed by the world’s largest imperialist power, have been shaken. The resistance to which it gave birth—for better and worse—is in motion. The relative stability of the drip-drip jailing, murder, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the concomitant rise of outright Israeli fascism, and the complicity of the U.S. (and broader Western) empire, have brought us to this moment. And while it is a moment of utter brutality, of televised mass murder in Palestine, and a stunning orgy of naked McCarthyite tactics and repression in the West, it is also an historic moment of mass challenge to the bloody status quo.
The ongoing genocide occurring in Gaza and the furious escalation of repression in the occupied West Bank by the Zionist entity is a logical political progression. The apartheid state’s origin and current operation as a settler colony is premised on the displacement of Palestinians and their replacement by settlers. That is the engine driving the ongoing Nakba, or catastrophe, that extends from the purging of villages like Deir Yassin in 1948 to the forcible evictions of today neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Naqb (Negev), and the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Gaza.
The attempt to normalize apartheid
The context for the current resistance can be rooted in the surrender of the 1993 Oslo Accords—which created the apartheid-based, temporary administrative authority over the bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza by the newly created Palestinian National Authority (PA). Oslo was, as described by Toufic Haddad, a “temporary managerialist solution” to the problem of the majoritarian existence of Palestinians and their resistance to the Zionist project of establishing of a stable Jewish-only ethno-state in all of Palestine described by Zionist supremacists as “Judea and Samaria.” But despite all the joint tinkering—primarily by the Zionist state and the U.S.—the integration of the PA and the largest Palestinian political faction (Fateh) into the infrastructures of occupation did not solve the Palestinian problem facing Zionism.
The siege of Gaza, which began in 2006, is a component of the attempt to isolate, divide, contain, and weaken Palestinian institutions and dismantle political structures. It facilitated a process of purposeful de-democratization in both Gaza and the West Bank and integrating both as dependencies reliant on aid—with the West backing the PA and with Turkey, Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), and more recently Iran, backing Hamas. Since 2006, both Fateh and Hamas have rejected elections. And the PA has become a collaborationist combination of an NGO and a police force, while Hamas—per Gaza-based writer Haider Eid—has acted as a “prison warden,” shifting from resistance to governance until the dramatic events of October 7, 2023.
As the corpse of Oslo has decayed we have seen the escalation of the practices of ethnic cleansing. Israel passed its 2018 Nation State law formally enshrining in law its Jewish-only, apartheid character. Forcible evictions and home demolitions dramatically began to increase along with the degradation of rights of Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem and areas stolen by Israel in 1948. Gaza has faced a regular bloody ritual of massive bombardment every few years in a practice grotesquely described as “mowing the grass.”
The recent wave of “normalization” driven by U.S. imperialism has helped drive this escalation. Oslo extended the process begun with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, inaugurating the second major wave of U.S. attempts to fully integrate the Arab countries and Israel into one pro-U.S. political and economic bloc. The U.S. failures in its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 2008 economic crisis, dimmed the malign glow of the United States’ time as the sole world power. What emerged is the current asymmetrical multipolar world order, where Russia and China have risen as imperial rivals, but the U.S. still maintains a lopsided advantage.
These dynamics increased the importance for U.S. capital of consolidating economic and political power in the Middle East. Normalization efforts were sped up under Trump, driven by the competition with China, Russia, and regional power Iran. This process further isolated Palestinians. Even the faded lip service of support that was given by the countries of the Arab League vanished under the wave of business deals, official recognition, and joint security operations between states like the UAE and Bahrain, all facilitated by Trump and later by Biden. A normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia—the golden goose for U.S. imperialism—is in the works, although notably paused after October 7.
More dispossession, new resistance
This normalization between regional actors, shepherded by the U.S., also normalized ever increasing forcible dispossession of Palestinians. But it also led to further resistance. For example, the incorporation of East Jerusalem sparked the mass uprising of the Unity Intifada of 2021. This was historic as a show of unity in struggle between Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and within territories taken in 1948, resulting in a general strike and combative protests across all of historic Palestine. The Unity Intifada was an expression driven from outside of the traditional political parties, as the “The Manifesto of Dignity and Hope” reflects.
Unfortunately, this Intifada could not be sustained and failed to cohere new organizational forms that could properly express this unity and alternatives to the established factions. The defeat of the 2021 Unity Intifada was due, in part, to the shift by Israel towards a massive bombardment on Gaza. Hamas’ firing of rockets provided the useful pretext for Israel to shift towards more militarized warfare, a response with which it is more comfortable than when it faces mass resistance such as Palestinians rising up in cities, like Lyd, inside the 1948 territories, or defying the PA in the West Bank.
Nonetheless, in response to a massive wave of arrests and assassination carried out by Israel and the PA, one thing that did emerge was the formation of self-defense militias—or brigades—in the various villages and refugee camps in the West Bank. These militias were nonsectarian and initiated by the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade—associated with but not controlled by Fateh and including armed groups of all factions. These militias have mass support, precisely because of their nonsectarian character, antagonism with the PA, and resistance. From the Lions Den in Nablus to the Jenin Brigade in Jenin, to al-Khalil (Hebron), Balata, and elsewhere similar formations have spread throughout the occupied West Bank.
On the Israeli side, in tandem with the normalization process, there has been the further rightward evolution of Zionist politics and the state. This direction is exemplified by, first, the one-year Naftali Bennet administration, and then the election last year of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. The current Netanyahu regime includes ultra-Zionists and admitted fascists like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. The explicit annexation of the West Bank is now on the agenda. Here we should clearly say this is not happening because the right-wing government is somehow an aberration, but rather because it is the logical progression of the project of constructing a Jewish-only ethno-state. This is important to note because liberals like Bernie Sanders place great onus on the idea that the problem is Netanyahu policies and the influence of the parties like Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) rather than the logic of settler-colonial Zionism itself.
October 7 and the backlash
This dire situation is the partial explanation around the desperate actions that Hamas led on October 7. The other component of this is a move by Hamas—similar to its firing of rockets during the Unity intifada—to attempt to reassert itself as the hegemonic leadership of the Palestinian resistance. Overall, it was an attempt by Hamas to upset a status quo in relation to both Israel and the internal political dynamics between the Palestinian political factions. As more information about the events has emerged, it also seems likely that the extent of the events was surprising even to Hamas, who most likely were aiming at an operation with smaller impact. Over the course of the last year, however, it is a common refrain within the Palestinian movement to talk about the brewing conflict and the possibility of a third Intifada—beyond any action that Hamas would take. And this possible “Third Intifada”—to quote an anonymous Palestinian comrade—would be the last, whether victory or defeat.
Regarding October 7, people cheered, correctly, when they saw the prison walls topple, temporarily overcoming the aura of Israeli invincibility. Historically, anti-colonial struggle has and will involve violent resistance. In 1857, and in the face of the genocidal chauvinism of the English government and press, Marx wrote of the first major anti-colonial uprising in India, which led to tens of thousands of deaths, including of civilians. “However infamous the conduct of the Sepoys [Indian soldiers who rebelled against British command- eds.], it is only the reflex, in a concentrated form, of England’s own conduct in India.”
The dynamic of Israeli noncombatant casualties has sparked much debate in the non-Palestinian Left. In war, the intentional and targeted killing of civilians is almost always counterproductive and regrettable. But we should heed the caution of what Gabriel Winant, in an excellent article in Dissent, called the weaponization of grief that he argues is central to Zionism’s ability to turn public mourning into power. Additionally, while acknowledging that any loss of civilian life is tragic there is also a morass of misinformation driven by Israel and its allies. While it does us no service to deny that regrettable actions were taken by Hamas, there is also a fog of disinformation about various events. Thus, some of the noncombatant deaths of Israelis were caused by the IDF. And many of the stories of mass rapes and beheaded babies have been disproven and/or blatantly retracted by the Israeli state itself, even as they continue to be spread. From Biden to the Zionist goons who testified in front of Chicago’s city council in favor of a pro-Israel resolution on October 13, not only do these lies and inflammatory rhetoric justify Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, they also incite Islamophobic violence here. The racist murder of six-year old Palestinian Wadea Al-Fayoume, and the Zionists’ pepper spraying and firing guns at a Chicago demonstration on October 22, are just two examples.
The clearest thing we need to note is that even in a hypothetical situation where Hamas took military action that did not willfully cause the death of civilians in excess of what sometimes happens in war, Israel and the U.S. would have responded in the exact same way that they have. The actions by Israel are not about any loss of civilian life but about a challenge to its control. It has proven willing to use any pretext to carry out its mission of complete erasure of Palestinians, which looks like the genocide being perpetrated in Gaza. Defense Minister Gallant needed no excuse to call for the finalization of the nakba against the Palestinian “human animals.”
So, criticisms of Hamas must be made but not out of any misplaced moralism. Rather—as many on the Palestinian Left have argued—because only a principled left-wing leadership and program can build the type of internationalist, mass resistance to Zionism and imperialism that can win Palestinian liberation. But any such criticism should not be the opening line, nor a repeated refrain, as at this moment it is not the main issue. Right now, In the face of the existential threat facing Palestinians, the “unity of all fronts” is the line expressed by all factions—a line we should respect, especially as at the time of writing the Israeli military is carrying out a ground assault in Gaza.
In fact, we should say very clearly that any and all resistance to Apartheid Israel has been denounced as terrorism by the Zionists, from the original PLO to every single form of nonviolent resistance from BDS and the march of return to the Unity Intifada. The demonization of Hamas today does not reflect a specific ideological hostility to the organization itself but a commitment to crush Palestinian resistance more generally. And on that basis we need to lead with the defense of the right of resistance as a basic democratic principle. It is also on that basis that the tired demand to “condemn Hamas” should be rejected. What is happening in Gaza is not an attack on Hamas but an attack on all Palestinians and against the Palestinian resistance in general.
Israel’s offensive and the imperative of resistance
At this moment, the humanitarian situation is catastrophic. Israel’s goal is just to flatten Gaza and drive out as many Palestinians as they can. Internal Ministry of Intelligence documents advocate moving all Palestinians into Egypt’s Sinai, a suggestion that thus far Egyptian despot al-Sisi has rejected. This comes after demonstrators in Egypt—as in capitals around the region—braved the regime’s police state to march back to Tahrir square for the first time in a decade. Sisi’s counterrevolution is reluctant to bring in Palestinians whose intifadas echo loudly in the region and expose the Arab regimes’ complicity with Zionism. As the ground invasion churns on, over a million people are trying to flee via routes that are bombed, and there is complete lack of power or water, complete decimation of entire neighborhoods, use of white phosphorus, and over eight thousand dead, including more than three thousand children. This past weekend the violence rained down in darkness and in silence to the outside world as Israel cut off Gaza’s internet and telephone. In the West Bank, there has been increased violence, resistance to the IDF, mass arrests, expansion of settlements under threat of intense violence by settler organizations, and repression nightly by the Zionist state. Our main focus should be to point out the extremity of Israel’s crimes and call attention to them as the logical extension of the Zionist project.
To end the violence we need the complete dismantling of the Zionist state. Calls to stop the bombing are necessary as the enormity of the nightmare of the situation almost defies description. But the untenable situation that led to this will be unchanged even if the popular demand for ceasefire is achieved.
As we fight to try to stop the now-occurring genocide of Palestinians, as hundreds of thousands have marched around the world, as people have raised their voices against the absolute hysterical cry of reaction and the frenzied retaliation that threaten people’s jobs and livelihoods, outlaw protests and threaten retaliation, we are—all of us—building a movement to end the siege, to free Palestine.
As U.S. imperialism lends its full political and military support to the genocide of Palestinians by camping two aircraft carrier strike groups to support Israel, as Joe Biden announces that the “time is not right” for ceasefire while 300 Palestinians a day are murdered, and as bipartisan support for rearming the Zionist criminals to the tune of 14.3 billion dollars prepares to enter Congress, what we do to build a mass movement, oppose U.S. imperialism, stop U.S. funding of Zionist war crimes and occupation is critical. And if we do this work, by building democratic organizing spaces—in our schools and universities, our workplaces and unions, and our communities—this will deepen our political strength going forward. A necessity given the enemy we confront.
Waffling around questions of Zionism, Palestinian resistance, or Democratic Party complicity is defeat. Victory comes through the combined struggles within Palestine, against U.S. imperialism, and by the regional Arab working class. As one section of the Palestinian Left argued in 1969: “To confine the Palestinian revolution within the limits of the Palestinian people would mean failure, if we remember the nature of the enemy alliance which we are facing.” The horizon from which the dawn of a free Palestine will emerge will undoubtedly include uprisings and revolutions within Palestine and importantly throughout the region, and at minimum, mass rebellions in the U.S. and the West. The enemy at home—U.S. imperialism— must be dealt a severe loss, and the Zionist state must have its apartheid structures dismantled, dare we say smashed. The stakes are high. Now is the time to act, to prepare, to build, to hope, and struggle for a free Palestine in our lifetime.
Featured image credit: openclipart; 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.