Socialists of all stripes must stand unequivocally in solidarity with the people of Palestine in their struggle for liberation. Sadly, too many prominent “socialists” in the U.S. have, in recent days, been attempting to play “both sides,” or employ rhetorical “whataboutism” in this struggle. We must remember the words of Howard Zinn: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
A Captured Press
The capitalist news media report on the Israeli occupation of Gaza the same way they report on the Russian “invasion” of Ukraine: Entirely without historical context.
Watching cable news or reading the New York Times, one would assume Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel came out of nowhere. One would accept the media’s racist, one-dimensional portrayal of Hamas “terrorists” as pure evil and motivated by nothing more than rank antisemitism. This Western portrayal is reinforced by Israeli government officials’ routine descriptions of Palestinians as “human animals,” and “barbarians.”
The media rarely acknowledge Israel’s 75-year-long campaign of mass genocide against the Palestinians. They make no mention of the fact that Gaza is the world’s largest, most-densely populated open-air prison. Gazans are severely restricted in their movement around the 25-mile area. They cannot enter or leave Gaza without Israeli permission. And Israel has held Gaza under a brutal economic blockade since 2007. This blockade denies Gazans access to food, clean water, medicine, and other basic necessities. The Israeli government allows just enough food into Gaza to keep the Palestinians above starvation level. This is, in essence, a slow-motion ethnic cleansing.
The corporate press will also not tell you that, of the 2.2 million people living in Gaza, roughly half are children. Many of these Palestinian children have never known life outside of the Gaza strip. They have never seen anything beyond their prison walls. As such, Norman Finkelstein, the prominent blacklisted Jewish academic, has called Gaza the “world’s largest concentration camp.”
And outlets like CNN, MSNBC, and the Washington Post will not show audiences this map of the steady progression of Israeli domination of Palestinian land:
Thus, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is really not complicated at all. There is no “nuance” or “complexity” to the struggle.
It is, indeed, a grossly asymmetrical conflict. The people of Palestine have no state, no military, Navy or air-force. The only weapons they have are Hamas’s crude, cheap missiles which routinely miss their targets. Israel, meanwhile, commands the full might of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. And Israel is the beneficiary of continual U.S. military funding — totaling more than $260 billion to date. No other nation has received as much aid from the United States since the Second World War.
But the capitalist media — which are entirely beholden to Israel — has left the majority of working-class Americans deeply ignorant about Palestine’s decades-long struggle against Israeli and Western apartheid.
Hypocrisy of the “NATO-Left”
Oppressed people have every right to fight for their liberation — violently if need be. Those on the left who claim to support human rights and national sovereignty must support Palestine’s struggle for self-determination.
Indeed, the recent escalation of fighting in Gaza has thoroughly exposed the rank hypocrisy of the ruling class and its liberal apologists. For the last year, liberals (and more than a few “socialists”) have been rallying behind the Democrats’ proxy-war with Russia via Ukraine, claiming it is a “just war” for Ukraine’s “national liberation.” Anti-communist Trotskyists like Ashley Smith have been cheerleading this U.S.-backed war against “Russian imperialism.”
For “NATO-leftists” like Smith, the war in Ukraine is completely clear-cut. There is no semblance of “nuance,” or need to consider “both sides” in that conflict. The fact that Russia was entirely justified in its intervention on behalf of the ethnically-Russian citizens in the Donbass region, is anathema to these “socialists.” And Smith and the NATO-left routinely downplay (or deny, entirely) the neo-Nazi character of the Ukraine military and government.
This is the essence of Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Herman’s thesis on “worthy” vs. “unworthy” victims, in their 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent. The non-white Arabs of Palestine are “unworthy” victims who brought their suffering on to themselves by electing Hamas nearly 20 years ago. The white, “valiant” Ukrainians are “worthy” victims, fully deserving of our support. The ruling elites make no effort whatsoever to explain this double standard.
Nonetheless, many on the left will insist they “support the Palestinians,” but decry Hamas’s “violent tactics.”
Let’s put aside, for the moment, the fact that the Israeli government has deliberately funded Hamas for nearly two decades. This was a cynically calculated decision, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, to undermine and weaken the more “moderate” Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), in favor of the militant Hamas. Israel fully anticipated Hamas would employ overtly violent techniques against Israeli citizens — thus justifying Israel’s vicious counter-offensive. And this has largely been driving Israel’s colonial policy toward Gaza, since 2006.
(The PLO also contains many socialist and Marxist elements which Israel no doubt feared and wanted to sideline.)
It is the Israeli occupation, more broadly, that created Hamas in the first place. The Palestinians, deprived of a “legitimately recognized” government, and desperate to assert their basic humanity, elected Hamas in the last parliamentary elections held in Gaza, in 2006.
In an ideal world, Hamas would employ peaceful, non-violent means to achieve their freedom. But Israel’s blockade and decades of ethnic cleansing have robbed Palestinians of that luxury. The oppressed have no other option but to meet violence with violence. One is, furthermore, hard-pressed to identify an example throughout history of an oppressed people successfully achieving their freedom through exclusively “peaceful” means. The violence of the oppressor necessitates the violent response of the oppressed. The two are not equivalent.
“There is no denying that, particularly in the opening hours of the breakout from Gaza, there have been significant casualties among Israeli citizens,” writes Tom Carter in the World Socialist Website, “many of whom doubtless bore no individual responsibility for the oppression of Palestinians. There is an element of tragedy in the fates of such people, who simply found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fighters from Gaza, hardened by a lifetime of atrocities under Israeli occupation and accepting that they would not return to Gaza alive, exacted their revenge on the first Israelis they found, including those who had staged a dance party on the outskirts of what amounts to a concentration camp.”
In 1831, a slave uprising led by Nat Turner took place in Southampton County, Virginia. The escaped slaves used knives, hatchets and clubs to massacre dozens of white men, women and children. The rebellion was put down with even more extreme savagery, with roving militias and mobs murdering black people on sight regardless of whether they were involved in the rebellion. Turner’s body was flayed and his skin was turned into souvenir purses.
Any objective historian, with the benefit of hindsight, would place the blame for the terrific violence of such uprisings not on the slaves, but on the slave system itself, with all its colossal inhumanity. To denounce the Turner uprising on the grounds that it was “violent” would be hypocritical and ahistorical and would amount to an indirect apology for slavery.
Too many on the left succumb to what Carlos Garrido, of the Midwestern Marx Institute, calls the “purity fetish.” Leftists most often demonstrate the purity fetish in their complete dismissal of any and every example of actually existing socialism — from the Soviet Union to China and Cuba, among others.
Likewise, liberals apply the purity fetish to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. They urge “both sides” to “come together” to “end the violence.” But this is not possible when it is really one side that continues to foment, perpetuate, and justify the violence.
“When you try a defendant for robbery … do you ask him how long he has been unemployed?” Fidel Castro asked rhetorically in his “History Will Absolve Me” speech, delivered on Oct. 16, 1953. Castro delivered the two-hour speech in his own defense, as he faced criminal charges for his guerrilla attack against the Moncada Barracks in Cuba.
“Do you ask him how many children he has, which days of the week he ate and which he didn’t, do you investigate his social context at all?” Castro asked. “You just send him to jail without further thought.”
But those who burn warehouses and stores to collect insurance do not go to jail, even though a few human beings may have gone up in flames. The insured have money to hire lawyers and bribe judges. You imprison the poor wretch who steals because he is hungry; but none of the hundreds who steal millions from the Government has ever spent a night in jail.
Thus, we cannot condemn the powerless and oppressed for fighting back against their oppressors in whatever manner they have at their disposal. The people of Palestine are fighting for their very survival. They do not have the luxury of taking the “moral high road.” And, as Franz Fanon observed, decolonization is “always a violent event.”
As Fanon wrote in his 1961 book, The Wretched of the Earth:
… In its bare reality, decolonization reeks of red-hot cannonballs and bloody knives. For the last can be the first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists [the colonized and the colonizers]. This determination to have the last move up to the front, to have them clamber up … the famous echelons of an organized society, can only succeed by resorting to every means, including, of course, violence.
A Shifting Terrain…?
There is no doubt that the situation in Gaza is dire. Israel’s Zionist government likely views this latest surge in fighting as its last chance to finally invoke the “final solution” in Gaza. The timing, for Prime Minister Netanyahu, could not be more opportune. Netanyahu’s government is facing a severe crisis in legitimacy among Israeli voters. However, just as the Bush administration cynically exploited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to abruptly “change the narrative,” and manufacture consent for the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Netanyahu’s government has seized upon Hamas’s latest attack to rally the public back to its side.
(Recall that, in the months prior to 9/11, George W. Bush — who was already widely regarded as an illegitimate president, having lost the popular vote to Al Gore — was deeply unpopular among the American public. It was, perversely, the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks that, in the eyes of the media and the public, “made Bush president.” Now, in the post-Trump political landscape, the “#Resistance” left has all but rehabilitated Bush as an anti-Trump “moderate.”)
Fortunately, public opinion on Israel has shifted dramatically in recent years. This shift has been particularly pronounced among young working-class Americans (including many Jews) who no longer buy Israel’s perpetual victim-status propaganda. Campaigns like the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement have helped slowly chip away at Israel’s seemingly unassailable armor.
Again, one would never know it from consuming the capitalist news media, but massive protests against Israel’s apartheid state have broken out throughout the country in the last week. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which has co-sponsored a number of these rallies, has received fierce criticism for “siding with Hamas,” or “glorifying Hamas’s violence,” from such “socialist stalwarts” as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — herself a candidate with the DSA.
This is a pivotal moment in the history of the Palestinian liberation struggle. Things could unfold one of two ways: Israel’s Zionist government could — like the apartheid government in South Africa — finally fall for good. Or the people of Palestine could be completely wiped off the face of the Earth. That is why it is crucial socialists stand up for Palestine — now. Find an event, rally, protest or vigil in your town or city. Do not be cowed into fear by the belligerent, bellicose liberals who will undoubtedly scream, “Anti-Semite!”
As the popular Arab slogan goes, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”