Palestine: A new Intifada?


Zionism has always dehumanized the Palestinian people in service to its settler colonial project. Nevertheless, the recent IDF raid on Jenin, and specifically, local residents’ resistance to it, marks a new phase in the struggle against Zionist colonialism and for Palestinian liberation. During this raid, justified by the Zionist state in typical empty rhetoric as a search for “Islamic Jihad militants,” Israeli soldiers killed 10 Palestinians, including an elderly woman, and wounded 20. The Israelis, according to Palestinian sources, did not allow ambulances into the camp, provoking even usually staid liberal journalists to call the operation a “massacre.”

The fightback this time—and for the past few months—has been armed, led by the younger generation. They’re more disabused about the illusory “two-state solution,” about the catastrophic unemployment levels, the lack of control over resources, the daily humiliations of Israeli colonialism and apartheid. Consequently, they’ve become more militant than their elders and increasingly open to armed struggle, prompting major news outlets to speculate that we’re on the cusp of a new Intifada.

Violence and racism out in the open: Settler colonialism’s logical end

Since the beginning of the new year, under a new far-right government, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 35 Palestinians, a large number of them children and elders (indeed, the Israeli military has killed over 200 Palestinians in raids over the past year, a 15-year high). The Western press in general has ignored this while highlighting the killing of seven Israelis by the Palestinian Khairi Alkam. The context for Alkam’s action is that his victims were colonial squatters on internationally recognized Palestinian land. It is also, as University of Michigan historian Juan Cole points out, where an Israeli settler murdered Alkam’s grandfather in 1998: “The grandfather, also named Khairi Alkam, was returning home from his construction job. The elder Khairi Alkam had been the breadwinner for a family of 9 children.” The murderer of the elder Alkam was never brought to justice. More recently, an Israeli cop  murdered Alkam’s 17-year-old cousin. The far-right minister of national security Itamar Ben Gvir subsequently awarded the cop a “certificate of excellence.”

Netanyahu is the longest serving Israeli PM, in office on and off since 1996. Observers often note that his “right-wing” policy takes a harder line on Palestinian rights, let alone liberation, deploying more readily the state’s security apparatus. And it is true that the new government’s domination by far-right figures such as the finance minister Smotrich, who has openly called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on both sides of the 1967 line, crosses a frightening line for Palestinians. Similarly the proposal by Ben Gvir to allow for easier access—only to Israelis of course—to firearms. Palestinian observers have noted that even now, they have never seen this many openly armed Israelis going about their daily routines.

We have to remember, however, that most of the Israeli political spectrum, “left” or “right,” agrees on the fundamentals of Zionism. Therefore, the current raids, and the more open apartheid policies of Israeli governments over the past 20 years, are a logical consequence of Zionist settler colonialism. Zionist militias expelled three-quarters of a million Palestinians from their homes during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, called the Nakba (or “catastrophe”)by Palestinians. This event also produced the first two governing generations of Israel, dominated by the Labor “left.” David Ben Gurion, the Israeli founding father, was both the commander of “Plan Dalet,” the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages and cities during the Nakba, and the talismanic figure of Labor Zionism.

The colonial-apartheid logic has been so internalized across Israeli society that the recent protests against Netanyahu’s “attacks on democracy” featured IDF officers who gave speeches about the importance of the autonomy of the Israeli Supreme Court. The reason they gave? These are their last line of defense should the International Criminal Court, for example, bring charges of war crimes against them.

Re-emergence of armed struggle

Jenin and Nablus in the Occupied Territories have been the focus of the so-called Operation Breakwater, which the IDF launched in spring 2022 against a rise in armed attacks by Palestinians (as Marxists and anti-colonialists, we point this out while acknowledging the right of occupied peoples to fight against their oppressor, including with arms).

An older Palestinian generation, relatively more conciliatory, is passing the baton to a younger one, angrier and more frustrated with the deterioration of material conditions and the entrenchment of occupation and apartheid. The rise in armed attacks over the past year appears to be connected to a new armed group by the name of “Lions Den.” As a recent report in Aljazeera observes, “For the new armed groups, the objective is not to calm things, but to end the occupation.”

Last fall, The Guardian reportedthat another two groups, the Nablus Brigade and Tubas Brigade, were organizing armed resistance since the May 2022 violent clashes in Jerusalem initiated by Israeli racist marchers. The clashes culminated in the attack on Gaza later that summer, in which IDF forces killed 49 Palestinians, 17 of them children, and wounded 350. Reporters interviewed two young men, who said that the time for throwing stones is over. “We need guns too to protect ourselves,” said one, while the other added that unlike their parents, this younger generation is not afraid and they have zero illusions in the so-called peace process. “For us,” he said, “we don’t think peace is going to happen. The only solution is to fight.”

Meanwhile, the old guard—the Palestinian Authority and Hamas—are widely perceived as ineffectual, and in the case of the former, rightly, as colluding in the occupation. They don’t appeal to young people, it is often said; the defense of Palestinians is increasingly seen as falling on the shoulders of the youth, many of whom are unaffiliated to any political party. Even some prominent older heads are noting the shift. For example, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, former member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, recently said that when the PA canceled elections last year (they would have been the first in 16 years), this  made clear to the youth that the political regime is controlled by an ossified old guard, that “the political system is not fit for purpose.”

Which way forward?

Netanyahu’s proclamation in December that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel,” along with the re-emergence of a more powerful resistance movement among Palestinians, as we explained in another article last month, both herald the end of the old Oslo system of the “peace process” and the “two-state solution.”

As our comrade James Markin discussed in that Workers’ Voice article, the rise of the new youth militancy is a contradictory phenomenon. It indicates a justified rejection of the old collaborationist guard and of the colonizer. Armed resistance against colonial occupation is righteous and should be supported by socialists. The new armed struggle, moreover, is an inevitable outcome of the death, perhaps even the stillbirth, of the Oslo process. However, the tactic of armed attacks by individuals and small armed cells is, on the face of it, no match for the IDF, let alone for the military and economic might of the United States, which fully supports Israeli colonialism. In reality, these tactics seem to reflect an increasingly popular feeling among Palestinians that the old conciliatory order has been an utter failure.

Because of this power imbalance, these attacks risk becoming quixotic. The first Intifada of 1987 is a model for navigating the conundrums posed by the acuteness of the current conjuncture. That uprising, which produced the conditions for more recent victories by the Palestinian movement, as exemplified by the BDS campaign, was initiated through mass demonstrations, labor strikes, and a boycott of Israeli goods. Many of these actions were led by women, and were the first expression of real economic and international pressure on the Israeli state. It was only because of this incredibly courageous and creative mass movement that the Zionist state came to the negotiating table.

As a powerful recent film, Naila and the Uprising, shows, women were initiators and leaders of powerful working-class and anticolonial services for their people: They “organized economic cooperatives, mobile health clinics, underground schools, and more, sustaining and strengthening the insurrection.” The 1987 Intifada itself was only possible because women organized student unions, collectives, and other “serve the people” initiatives that not only met working-class peoples’ needs but also politically educated them, laying the groundwork for the unified mass struggle of 1987. The mass nature of the struggle explains both how quickly the struggle spread and how it sustained itself over the course of the late 1980s and early 1990s. As the film’s director, Julia Bacha, noted, “There was such a powerful sense of unity and purpose among Palestinians during that time.”

Like the shining example provided by the 1987 Intifada, the new Intifada can only carry out a victorious campaign against Zionism and for the liberation of Palestine if it organizes a mass movement of youth, women, workers, and all those dispossessed by colonialism.

Solidarity with Palestine! For a free, democratic, and secular Palestine! Toward the future socialist federation of the Middle East!

Photo: Youth in Nablus threw stones at a Palestinian Authority police van last September after the PA arrested two militant Palestinians wanted by Israel. (Reuters)


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