How can Palestine be free?

31 May 2021
Omar Hassan

The Palestinians deserve nothing less than liberation. It’s easy to forget that in the daily discussions of bombings and sieges and settlements and so-called negotiations. While it’s fine to raise slogans around immediate issues, we need to keep sight of the long-term vision of liberation for Palestine.

What does that mean? It means demanding the right of return for all refugees, whether internally displaced or spread throughout the world. It means compensation for those who have lost their homes, either by providing an equivalent home in a place of their choosing or substantial financial reparations. And it means the creation of a single state—for people of all religions or none—across all of historic Palestine.

As soon as you think of the struggle in those terms, it becomes clear that it’s not an easy one. As with all struggles for justice, it’s ultimately a battle of power. And Israel has a lot of power. It is a nuclear-armed state with one of the world’s more powerful and battle-hardened military and intelligence apparatuses.

Beyond that, Israel has always benefited from incredible amounts of support from the main imperial powers. Its very existence is a product of a cynical alliance between Zionist ideologues and British imperialism after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. After Israel declared itself a state in 1948, the new entity was immediately recognised by the USSR and the Americans, both of whom were keen to win the allegiance of what they rightly predicted would be a powerful military outpost of European settlers.

But Israel’s backing runs deeper than the major world powers. It collaborates in various ways with basically every player in the Middle East. Egypt is partly responsible for maintaining the siege on Gaza. Turkey has been trading with Israel for decades, despite its rhetorical opposition at the UN. Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood pretends to be a supporter of the Palestinians—but when they took power in Egypt, they maintained the status quo in their relations with Israel and Gaza. It’s not worth even mentioning the despicable regimes in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Even governments that pose as anti-imperialist, such as Syria and Iran, have long shown they are prepared to cut deals with Israel when it suits them.

The reason for this disgraceful situation is that those who seek to govern over a capitalist society have to accommodate to the existing networks of power and influence. And in the Middle East, Israel is a key player.

That can be a depressing thought. But our side has power too.

The Palestinian cause has always been the beating heart of the Arab and Muslim world, as well as a central issue for the international left. This is not an inevitable feature of national oppression—there are many righteous causes globally that do not receive the same attention, despite being equally as deserving.

The reason the Palestinians are capable of mobilising thousands of people in cities across the world, including an incredible 180,000 people in London, is because they continue to bravely resist the Israeli occupation. Across generations, Palestinians have generated and regenerated traditions of struggle and defiance—from the 1936 general strikes, through multiple intifadas and the inspirational rising today. Through these actions they have demanded, and won, solidarity from others across the globe.

The difficulty facing the Palestinian people is that they’re overwhelmingly a refugee population. Comparisons are often made with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, which on one level is fair enough. But despite the self-serving narrative promoted by liberal internationalists, the defeat of apartheid in South Africa was possible only because of a series of insurrectionary mass strikes that shook the country throughout the 1980s. The disruption brought an otherwise profitable economy to its knees.

The combination of the defeat of apartheid and the explosion of the first intifada encouraged Israel to take decisive steps to ensure that the Palestinians would not be in a position to paralyse the Zionist economy. The entire premise of the Israeli state rested on the promise of Jewish land, Jewish labour and Jewish statehood, which relied on the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the original inhabitants. But Palestinians were further excluded from Israeli society after these rebellions, replaced by Jewish and immigrant labour.

So unlike the Black population of South Africa, Palestinians have always needed support in order to win. While international solidarity is wonderful, it is in the Middle East where this issue will ultimately be resolved. As a region of immense geopolitical significance, there’s plenty of power waiting to be leveraged.

When the Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal earlier this year, it stopped billions of dollars’ worth of global trade and caused enormous ructions in the world economy. Imagine if Egypt blocked all use of the canal until Palestinians won their rights. Or imagine the global crisis if Arab regimes refused to allow their oil to be shipped.

The issue is, of course, that Arab and Muslim governments have on many occasions demonstrated that they have no interest in confronting and destroying the Israeli occupation. More interested in profits, they will never take such action.

Which is why socialists have always argued that freedom in Palestine can happen only when workers and peasants across the Middle East overthrow their capitalist governments, liberating themselves before collectively liberating Palestine.

To get to that point, we will need a revolutionary socialist movement in Palestine, in Egypt, in Syria, in Lebanon and in every other country in the region. We’ve seen that the spontaneous thrust of revolutionary energy is not enough to overthrow these regimes that are so complicit in the violence and injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians.

Here in Australia, we can’t directly contribute to that. But we can assist such a movement in two important ways. First, we can and must build a mass movement that can challenge Australian support for Israeli apartheid and show workers in the Middle East that they have allies across the world. Second, we have to build the socialist movement in this country. The stronger we are here in Australia, the more support—logistical and political—we can give to our comrades fighting for justice and liberation in Palestine and across the Arab world.

Together, we have a world to win.

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