Israel-Palestine: break the wave of repression!

27 March 2023

By Alex Rutherford

AS PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu was being wined and dined by the British government, both the brutality of the apartheid state against the Palestinians and mass opposition on the streets by Israeli citizens to his attempt to seize control over the appointment of judges were reaching a crescendo.

Netanyahu’s sacking of his own defence minister for saying the ‘reforms’ should be dropped because they undermine the capacity of Israel to defend itself, citing threats of a refusal to serve by members of the IDF and security agencies. His dismissal produced massive demonstrations within an hour, including in Jerusalem where police assaulted them with water cannon.

The Histadrut, the country’s powerful Zionist ‘trade union’ called a general strike and Netanyahu has been forced to delay putting the “reform” to the Knesset, dramatically claiming this is to avoid civil war. Should Netanyahu cave in completely it could lead to the collapse of his coalition and his prosecution on corruption charges. The far right parties in his government want the reform to allow for legalisation of another huge push to ethnically cleanse Palestinians in the West Bank and replace them with heavily armed settlers.

The inequality of the Apartheid state is illustrated by the contrast of water cannon for Israelis but bullets and bulldozers for Palestinians. So far this year the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and armed settlers have killed at least 83 Palestinians. At the same time, the Israeli government is undermining the ostensibly democratic constitution of the country, including the independence of the judiciary. These interconnected factors have led to an upsurge of resistance to the Israeli state from both the Israeli and Palestinian populations.

Since the 26 January Jenin massacre, Israeli forces have perpetrated a series of raids and massacres against the Palestinians, killing and wounding indiscriminately. Five were killed in Jericho, followed by a child in a refugee camp near Tubas and 11 in a massacre in Nablus by the IDF, who then looked on as armed settlers burned houses, shops and cars, wounding 390 people, killing one.

The escalating raids and massacres were punctuated by retaliation from Palestinian citizens—one of whom drove his car into a bus stop, killing three Israelis and another who shot two settlers at a traffic junction. A general strike in Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah demonstrated the Palestinians’ growing outrage.
The argument that the settlers’ violence is in some way mitigated by justified anger at acts of Palestinian terrorism is completely false. The violence of the oppressed against its oppressors can in no way be equated to the barbarism of the occupying forces, both military and civilian.

Revolutionary communists must stand shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinian resistance movement and working masses in their struggle against the racist Israeli settler-colonial state, while at the same time ruthlessly criticising the ideology, strategy, and tactics of the movement’s leaders.

Constitutional crisis

Stuffed with right wing extremists Netanyahu’s government is turning Israel into a more nakedly authoritarian regime, not just for its Palestinian population but for its Jewish Israeli citizens too. Its recent moves to curtail the constitutional powers of the Supreme Court are aimed not only at saving Netanyahu and his ministers from criminal prosecution but also at paving the way for more violent land grabs. Some of them, like security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, openly call for another Nakba to drive the Palestinians completely out of the West Bank.

This exposes the falsehood that Israel is a ‘liberal democracy’. How can this be so when it systematically denies elementary rights to millions of Palestinians? The erosion of democratic rights for Jewish Israelis is an inevitable consequence of such a regime—as Lenin, following Marx, said, ‘no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations’.

The rise of extremist Jewish-Israeli nationalism within the Israeli state machinery is a reflection of the rise of virulent Zionism within the settler population itself. The Jewish supremacist ideology of government ministers such as Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich reflects the majority sentiments of the illegal Israeli West Bank settlers. This in turn has its material basis in the segregation and oppression of the Palestinians within the apartheid state and increasing Palestinian resistance to this oppression.

However, the obvious brutality and authoritarianism of the new regime creates a contradiction between rabid Zionist forces in Israel, who are growing more and more explicitly genocidal towards the Palestinians, and liberal Zionists both within Israel and in Britain, EU and US, its key imperialist backers. Such liberal Zionist forces try to justify their defence of Israel as a democratic state—propaganda that becomes increasingly discredited with each new atrocity committed by the regime.

This reflects a deeper contradiction between the supposedly liberatory ideology of providing a safe ‘homeland’ for the Jewish people and the brutal reality of driving a whole other people from their land and re-settling it. This contradiction creates enormous problems for Zionism’s western supporters.

Such people are able to lull large sections of these workers into tacit support for liberal Zionist ideology, so long as the brutality of the Israeli state is hidden from view by the media and politicians. In Britain in recent years liberal Zionism has been on the political offensive after the important role its claims of widespread antisemitism played in destroying the Corbyn movement and suppressing the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

The developing Jewish Israeli protest movement has so far been conducted on strictly constitutional lines and the movement excludes Palestinians from effective participation, banning their flags from demonstrations.

By narrowing their political horizons the left Zionist leaders rule out the perspective of unity with the millions of oppressed and dispossessed Palestinians. Although hundreds of thousands of protestors came out against the constitutional reform, only one thousand Jewish Israelis protested the pogrom of Palestinians.

While socialists should extend their solidarity to the Israeli protesters, it is only a start. Israeli and Palestinian socialists must urgently build solidarity between those workers and youth who recognise a common enemy in the Netanyahu government and the settler pogromists. As a new Intifada grows it needs support from within the Israeli population and widespread international backing, especially in Europe and the USA. Only thus can the foundations of the apartheid state be undermined and the goal of a bi-national, democratic, socialist Palestine become realisable.

Palestinian resistance

The rising repression by Israeli forces is part of a campaign officially called ‘Break the Wave’, which involves mass arrests and killings in West Bank cities known to be hotbeds of Palestinian resistance, particularly aimed at armed groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigades and Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

In fact the campaign is having the opposite effect, galvanising resistance to the occupation. At the funeral of Palestinian fighters killed in the Israeli raid on Jenin on 7 March, there was a notable increase in the number of armed fighters. Flags from the various factions of the resistance movement (Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad) mingled together.

These factions are organising armed resistance against both the Israeli state and the collaborationist Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which has not dared to call an election for 15 years. The presence of fighters nominally associated with Fatah, the dominant faction in the PNA, demonstrates that the split within its ranks is deepening.

As the death toll rises from atrocities committed both by Israeli military forces and civilian settlers, the complicity of the PNA in the oppression of the Palestinian people and its subservience to the Israeli state have become clear to many.

Although originally supposed to be only an interim government for a five year period prior to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, nearly three decades on from the Oslo Accords the PNA has done nothing to further the political and legal rights of Palestinians—in fact their living standards have declined.

Israel has deepened its apartheid policies to the point where it is now openly attempting to destroy any form of Palestinian self-rule, let alone a ‘two state solution’. This reduces the authority of the PNA to zero amongst its own people, hence the development of a resistance movement outside of its control which it then has to repress.

Rising tide

The rising tide of resistance has a notably different character to recent armed resistance movements. Rather than being based on a specific religious ideology, the brigades are rooted within local communities such as Jenin, Nablus and Tubas.

In Nablus one of the popular faces of the Palestinian armed resistance was 19 year old Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a fighter from the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades known as ‘the Lion of Nablus’. He was killed on 9 August, becoming a symbol for a new grassroots armed resistance group called the ‘Lion’s Den’, through which the deepening anger of the Palestinian people is finding political expression.

This group explicitly calls for an end to control by the traditional Palestinian factions. This is very dangerous for Israel too as it undermines the ability of the PNA to act as its gendarme in the West Bank.
Lion’s Den insignias are now appearing in every Palestinian neighbourhood throughout the occupied territories. A recent poll found that 72 percent of all Palestinians support the creation of more armed resistance groups in the West Bank; 79 percent oppose the surrender of fighters to the PNA; 87 percent reject the idea that the PNA have the right to arrest resistance fighters.

The Lion’s Den’s call for unity raises the possibility of mounting an effective common struggle against the Israeli onslaught. Current evidence points towards the emergence of a mass uprising in the West Bank on a scale not seen since the Second Intifada of 2000–05, one able to defend itself against the IDF.

However, what distinguishes the new wave of resistance from the Second Intifada (apart from the huge intensification of oppression and land theft in the intervening years) is the political position of the PNA. During the Second Intifada, its security forces supported the uprising and the PNA was still broadly supported throughout Palestinian society. As it is now roundly discredited, the success of a Third Intifada will depend on the grassroots organisations developing a new political leadership.

Unfortunately, the politics of Palestinian and Israeli working masses are dominated by ideologies which impede the development of a socialist movement capable of overthrowing the Zionist apartheid state and establishing a secular, socialist republic in Palestine.

On the Jewish side, the reactionary ideology of Zionism prevents even those Jewish workers who recognise the brutality of their own regime from putting forward a consistent liberatory politics.

On the Arab side, the seemingly radical ideology of Islamism causes the resistance movement to fall under the influence of religious obscurantists and be diverted into jihadist and individual terrorist tactics, which have the result of alienating broad swathes of the population and the ‘martyrdom’ of its most determined fighters.

While we must show our full support for and solidarity with the justified resistance of the Palestinians, the working class must establish political independence from those who would mislead their struggle. Unity in action alongside consistent critique of the leadership’s strategy can break the masses away from Islamist ideology and open the road toward the development of a genuinely socialist mass movement of the Palestinian and Israeli working classes.

We must put forward the perspective of a common revolutionary party for the whole of Palestine, uniting Palestinian workers with the most advanced section of Israeli workers behind a common programme for the overthrow of the Israeli state and its replacement with a common secular, democratic, socialist republic of Palestine in which all citizens have equal rights—as part of a United Socialist States of the Middle East.

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