What is Gaza’s lesson for activists in the West?

10 June 2024
Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, 8 June 2024 PHOTO: Eyad Baba / AFP

After eight months of horror in Gaza, Israel’s defenders are finally losing the argument about the Zionist state’s true nature.

The International Court of Justice is investigating a charge of genocide brought against the country by South Africa. The International Criminal Court prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for crimes against humanity. The United Nations reportedly will include Israel in its annual report listing “parties engaging in violations against children”.

In most Western countries, cracks in the edifice of liberal Zionism have appeared, and there is a greater awareness of the historical injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians. An emerging generational divide is evident: young progressive people are turning their backs on Israel in unprecedented numbers, recognising that it is not the Middle East’s plucky David, but the brutal Goliath of historic Palestine.

While welcome, these developments are Pyrrhic victories.

Gaza is in ruins. The largest Palestinian city in the world has been flattened. By any standard of human decency, it is now uninhabitable and will be prevented from meaningful reconstruction indefinitely. The displacement of people and loss of life dwarf the 1948 Nakba. And, according to satellite imagery analysed by Al Jazeera’s Sanad Verification Agency, Israel has taken over more than one-third of the entire Gaza Strip, creating an expanded buffer zone along the border and splitting the territory into two separate enclaves, north and south, separated by a 1.5 kilometre-wide clearing.

Across the world, the response has been huge outpourings of rage, renewed activism, direct actions, sit-ins, protests, a global student encampment movement demanding divestment from the Zionist state, among other things.

Yet Tel Aviv has ploughed on with the offensive regardless of global public opinion and the views of international prosecutors and legal experts. Very few Western institutions or universities have severed ties with the arms companies supplying Israel or moved to sanction the state in any way. Western governments remain united behind Zionism—as they did in the face of Western human rights groups finally concluding in recent years that the state practises apartheid.

Everyone in the global Palestine solidarity movement knows why this is the case. Almost every speech correctly links Israel with the Western imperialist project in the Middle East. Again and again, people point out that the United States provides Israel with almost all of its weaponry and defends it against every perceived threat. It is as clear as day that Israel is not some wholly independent entity—that, rather, it is part of a US-led imperialist world order.

It is also as clear as day that Israel will not likely be defeated without the defeat of Western imperialism. But how?

Hamas has proven that armed struggle is limited in what it can achieve. We are long past the 1950s and 1960s, when guerrilla insurgencies with popular support had half a chance of success against weak governments that lacked sophisticated weaponry and trained soldiers and which presided over underdeveloped state structures and largely pre-industrial economies.

The example of the Tamil Tigers fifteen years ago, like Gaza today, is a harrowing reminder that we are in a new area of military sophistication that overwhelmingly favours incumbent regimes. In this regard, Israel is a special case indeed—its Jewish population overwhelmingly supports the war.

Conventional war won’t cut it either. Gaza has been destroyed despite Hamas being no threat to the structural integrity of the Zionist state. The Iranian ruling class and Hezbollah in Lebanon seem to understand that their own countries would be flattened if they seriously moved against Israel, even if they might not be conquered. The more serious military challenge by either would result in infinitely more licence for Israel’s military, probably joined by the US, to unleash hell, destroying the lives of millions.

What about mass uprisings? Marxists have long argued that the road to Jerusalem runs through Cairo. The metaphor suggests that Palestine’s freedom is linked to Arab revolutions that topple the region’s dictatorships, which oppress their own working classes and, like Israel, are supported by the US empire.

But Arab revolutions in themselves might be insufficient if Western imperialism is not at least prevented from intervening to crush the resistance, as it has across the global south for more than a century. The Arab Spring was ultimately limited by vicious counter-revolutions backed by various imperial powers, not just Western ones. So another revolutionary wave limited to the Middle East would likely face serious challenges from Washington and elsewhere.

What, then, is possible?

In most of the talk about anti-imperialism, one thing has been missing. Imperialism, as Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin wrote more than a century ago, is not simply aggression by big states against oppressed people—it is “the highest stage of capitalism”. It is the era in which world markets are integrated yet economic rivalries have intensified to such a degree that they cannot be contained within those markets. It is an era of permanent war.

Yet imperialism has an obvious weakness. The very people it depends on to function—workers who produce the profits used to wage war—have the power to bring down the entire system. As Jasmine Duff notes of World War One (Issue 256, page 18), revolutionary workers paralysed capitalism to end that war and to liberate themselves from the shackles of exploitation. That remains the model towards which activists in the West should orient.

Everyone in the global solidarity movement of course wants to do something tangible for Gaza. In the West, a key contribution is the building of revolutionary political organisations to challenge the pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist parties and to fight for the overthrow of Australian, American and European capitalism.

The fight for Gaza, like the fight for everyone in the global south, is linked to the fight for workers’ power in global north—the fight to smash the capitalist ruling classes that lord it over the entire planet and wage war on its people.

That’s why socialists are so determined to build political organisations here and now. If our side is no stronger after all the carnage and suffering of the last eight months in Palestine, then we’ll be in no better position to prevent the next, inevitable, round of imperialist barbarism.

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