Palestine: 75th anniversary of the Nakba


The 75th anniversary of the founding of the Israeli state on Palestinian soil is being marked by a brutal display of Israeli violence against the Palestinian people. In the last few days, Israel has launched a barrage of missiles against Gaza, killing at least 31 Palestinians, including six children. In the past year, Israeli snipers and missiles have killed almost 300 Palestinians.

Israel was established in 1948 as a settler-colonial outpost in the Middle East. In the process, some 780,000 people—half the Palestinian population—were forced into exile. The organized campaign by the Zionists in that period to kill, terrorize, and expel the Palestinians from their homeland is known to Palestinians worldwide as the Nakba (Catastrophe).

The Zionist project was supported by the major imperialist countries, which saw it as a way to help protect Western political and economic interests in the oil-rich Middle East. Israel has fulfilled the role of a pro-imperialist garrison ever since. Moreover, as a small country in perpetual conflict with its neighbors, it has been largely dependent on foreign aid (via the Jewish National Fund and directly from imperialist governments) in order to survive. Currently, the U.S. gives upwards of $3.8 billion a year to Israel, mainly for military supplies. That is more than to any other country.

The goals of the Zionist movement, from its founding, have generally coincided with those of the big European and American capitalist powers. That was acknowledged by the founder of the World Zionist Organization, Theodor Herzl, as long ago as 1897: “We should there [in Palestine] form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, and an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” Two decades later, Chaim Weizmann, a leader of the effort to colonize Palestine and the first president of Israel, similarly assured British officials that “there was a coincidence of interests between Great Britain and a Jewish Palestine.” He pointed out that “a Jewish Palestine would be a safeguard to England, in particular in respect to the Suez Canal.”

As Palestinian resistance to British colonial rule mounted in the 1920s and ’30s, culminating in a giant general strike in 1936 and a subsequent guerrilla war, the British made use of Zionist militias to help crush the rebellion.

Following World War II, the European imperialist powers were in a weakened condition, enabling the anti-colonial movement to gain steam in the Middle East. Whereas Britain had hoped to keep Palestine under its administration, the Zionists saw the opportunity to establish an independent Jewish state, which would be reinforced with immigration by European Jews who had survived the Nazi Holocaust. The United States, which was able to supplant Britain and France as the dominant imperialist power in the region, saw the Zionist goal of a Jewish state as useful in keeping the growing Arab anti-colonial rebellion in check.

Under pressure from the United States, a majority in the UN voted in 1947 to partition Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states. Although only one-third of the population was Jewish, the new Israeli state was awarded 54 percent of the territory. Subsequently, as Palestinians attempted to resist the partition, the Zionist militias enacted “reprisals” on Palestinian villages, destroying farms, orchards, and houses, murdering many thousands, and driving the survivors from their homes. After defeating the armies of neighboring Arab countries that had come to the aid of the Palestinians, Israel seized still more Palestinian land, eventually controlling nearly four-fifths of Palestine. The remaining territory, on the West Bank of the River Jordan, was swallowed up by the Jordanian monarchy.

In June 1967, confident of Washington’s support, Israel launched bombings and invasions of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. As a result of the “Six-Day War,” the Israelis seized the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and permanently occupied or annexed Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Although Egypt was able to reclaim the Sinai as a consequence of the U.S.-brokered Camp David process in the late 1970s, Israel has always refused to fulfill provisions of the accord that it withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories.

Today, 90 percent of historic Palestine is under the direct governance of Israel; this includes 230 Zionist settlements in the West Bank. The rest of the West Bank consists of fenced-off and disconnected Palestinian enclaves that, despite the façade of “self-rule,” are policed by Palestinian Authority forces who are ultimately subject to Israeli regulations. Travel between these areas requires Palestinians to negotiate a maze of roadblocks, detours, and checkpoints—whereas Jewish settlers have highways exclusively for their own use.

Amnesty International and other civil liberties organizations use the term “apartheid” to describe the process that Israel has put into place—that is, the systematic use of laws and state coercion to favor one ethnic group above another. And indeed, in many key respects, Israeli apartheid is eerily reminiscent of the South African model that was used to repress Black people until the end of the 20th century.

As with South Africa, Israel was able to use Palestinians, many of whom had been dispossessed of their small farms by the Occupation, as a source of cheap labor in Zionist settlements and in Israel itself. After the early 1990s, however, Israel placed limitations on the use of workers from the West Bank and Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians, if they are lucky enough to obtain transit papers, still line up each day at Israeli checkpoints in order to reach their farms or workplaces beyond Israel’s colonialist wall. More and more, however, Israel’s interest in the occupied areas has been one of outright territorial expansion rather than to gain a source of labor.

Israel’s current far-right coalition government has been accelerating the drive to increase and enlarge the Zionist settlements, and in the process to wipe out the Palestinians who are living in these areas. This has stirred a number of settlers—who are protected, if not aided, by the Israeli military—to ratchet up their terrorist attacks. One result was the rampage at Huwara, in late February 2023, when at least 400 settlers assaulted the Palestinian townspeople and torched more than 30 homes. That followed on the heels of Israeli military raids at Nablus, where 11 Palestinians were killed—including children and elderly people—and at the Jenin refugee camp, where 10 were killed. And a little more than a month after Huwara, in early April, Israeli forces attacked worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.

Just this month, the Palestinian struggle was carried into world headlines with the martyrdom of Khader Adnan, who died in an Israeli prison after an 86-day hunger strike. According to Amnesty International and other human rights groups, the death of this anti-Zionist fighter was the result of “deliberate negligence” by Israeli authorities, while the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club accused Israel of “executing” him.

The Islamic Jihad group, which has its base in Gaza, protested Adnan’s death by firing rockets into Israel. Israel then retaliated with a far more murderous series of missile strikes. Islamic Jihad has set conditions for a cease-fire, which include releasing Adnan’s body for burial, a halt to assassinations by the Israeli military, and the cancelation of the provocative parade scheduled for this month that marks Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

The people of Palestine have continually resisted Israeli settler-colonialism. At times, their resistance has flowered into a full-scale rebellion, as in 1987 with the first “Intifada,” when Palestinian society erupted in major demonstrations and strikes. Israeli troops were able to quell the rebellion only with extreme violence. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir boasted, “Our task is to … once again put the fear of death in the Arabs.”

But “the fear of death” is insufficient to permanently hold back the Palestinians’ struggle for their rights. A new generation of Palestinian youth has shown themselves to be undaunted by Zionist violence; the youth have redoubled their protests in the streets. More and more, they see the old reformist leaderships—the Palestinian Authority and Hamas—as ineffectual. A new leadership, and a new revolutionary program that can energize and organize the Palestinian masses, must still be constructed. And the courageous and determined youth in the streets are capable of taking on that essential task. Here in the United States, we need to continue to show our solidarity with the Palestinians and to spread their message of resistance.

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

Photo: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, 1948.

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