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From Ukraine to Palestine, occupation is a crime

On November 2, 2023, Haymarket Books and the Ukraine Solidarity Network hosted a forum on the connection between the occupations and wars in Ukraine and Palestine facilitated by Ashley Smith and featuring Dana El-Kurd, Daria Saburova, Ramah Kudaimi and Joseph Daher.

Ashley Smith: Hi, everyone, I just wanted to welcome you to this panel “From Ukraine to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime.” My name is Ashley Smith. I’m a member of the Ukraine Solidarity Network, which is the sponsor of this program.

Before we get into the panel, I just wanted to highlight the series that Haymarket Books is running on Palestine and read what they’ve described as the urgency of this educational process during the mobilization against the genocide that Israel is carrying out in Palestine.

Haymarket writes,

Today we are confronting a watershed moment in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. As an internationalist left around the world, we must take a decisive stance in support of Palestinian liberation. Haymarket Books and partners are organizing an urgent series of online events to provide education in the context of current events. At Haymarket, Palestine has always been at the core of our political and intellectual project, and we believe free and accessible political education is crucial to solidarity efforts.

The situation is dire. As media outlets spread lies and misinformation, politicians and journalists are paving the way for Israel to carry out mass genocide in Gaza. In the West Bank, settlers are armed and carrying out pogroms. The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom,, and across the global north are putting in place chilling measures to crack down on solidarity with Palestine. The Israeli state is killing thousands Palestinians with impunity, and Palestinians everywhere are being silenced. We are entering a new era of struggle for Palestine, and until Palestine is free, none of us is free. Join us for a series of urgent conversations about the history, politics, and stakes of Palestinian liberation.

In this context, the Ukraine Solidarity Network is proud to sponsor this panel. Israel has launched a genocidal war against Palestine at the very same time Russia continues its imperialist attempt to annex Ukraine. This panel will challenge the selective solidarity that haunts the Left and argue for solidarity between Palestine and Ukraine’s struggle for liberation and self-determination.

I’ll introduce our fantastic panelists in the order in which they’ll give their opening remarks. First, we have Dana El-Kurd, who is a non-resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington. Daria Saburova is a PhD candidate at Paris Nanterre University, and is a member of the European Network of Solidarity with Ukraine. Ramah Kudaimi is a Syrian American and has an MA in conflict resolution from Georgetown University. And Joseph Daher is a Swiss-Syrian left-wing activist and author of Hezbollah: The Political Economy of the Party of God. With that, Dana has introductory comments.

Dana El-Kurd:I’d like to begin first by laying out what the scope of this attack has been. As of a few hours ago when I checked these numbers, the assault on Gaza had killed over 9,000 people, over 3500 children. More than half of all homes in the entire Gaza strip have been destroyed or damaged. These numbers do not include the 1400 killed in the October 7th attack as well as the 200 or so taken hostage.

There’s plenty of evidence at this point that Israel has engaged in war crimes: the use of white phosphorus bombs, indiscriminate bombing, and the targeting of hospitals, schools, bakeries. What we’re seeing is an unprecedented level of destruction and death in the Gaza strip. But it’s not the first. This is the seventh major assault, I believe, since 2008. And, so, we have to consider what that means, that this has been a pattern of behavior that’s escalating.

I just want to make a few quick points. It’s important for people to recognize that what’s happening in Palestine has global ramifications, and I don’t mean it can cause regional war or conflict, even though that’s also the case. First, we’ve seen the war’s  impact on protests and immediate unrest across the region in particular, so there were protests in Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iman, Qatar, Iraq, Yemen, all over the region. We’re seeing unprecedented levels of mobilization. Some part of that is going to be directed at the authoritarian regimes, but some part of that is also going to be seized on by authoritarian actors, so this is a dangerous kind of situation that we’re facing. Another reason that it has global ramifications is because this kind of festering violence erodes essentially any safeguards, however imperfect, we have to constrain states and human security.

A student of mine made the joke that this is like a Geneva suggestion rather than a Geneva Convention. And I think it is a very valid point. I think it shows that international institutions that were created and intended for collective security have failed to accomplish such safeguards. The selective application of those safeguards is a serious problem. It has taught all the wrong lessons to authoritarian factions. We’ve seen Russia invade Ukraine and hold sham elections in certain parts. And I think this is the pattern that we’re facing as a result of this kind of behavior on the global stage.

I just want to end on one point. Palestinians and Syrians are the political proletariat of the world. Without sovereignty, even at this point without the right to subsistence, we are faced with authoritarian control and ability to take away basic human dignity and expel people. It’s spreading as a mode of behavior. So, I’m thankful to Haymarket for bringing us together, so we can continue to have these conversations about how to strategize our way out of this and exert pressure on decision-makers or articulate a different vision of world security.

Daria Saburova: I would like in this very short introduction that I have to talk about why actually we put forward these equivalents, these analogies between Ukraine and Palestine, which I also did in a recent article that I wrote, why Ukrainians should support Palestinians.

I just want to say to begin with that I don’t think there’s actually a requirement for my situation to be equivalent to yours for me to be in solidarity with you. We are seeing across the whole world demonstrations for Palestine. Precisely for the countries that are not experiencing occupation and war right now, where there are no restrictions on demonstrations, it is much easier to organize solidarity with Palestine than it is the case in Ukraine, obviously. So, I don’t think there’s a need for equivalence for solidarity.

Then the second point is that I do agree with some people who refuse to make those analogies, to make those equivalences, for scientific reasons. I do not think that from a scientific historical point of view there’s any sense in comparing Palestine and Ukraine. This is absolutely not what we’re talking about here. We are talking about a political and strategic analogy. So, what we are looking at is occupation, imperialist aggression, and settler colonialism. Of course, the scale is not the same, but in Ukraine also from 2014 there have been Russian citizens, hundreds of Russian citizens, moving to Crimea. And this tendency is going to continue in the occupied territories, and this demographic strategy is very conscious on the Russian side to prevent Ukraine from ever bringing those territories back to Ukraine. There’s also, as Dana said, in both cases, indiscriminate bombing and genocidal actions with absolutely no regard for humanitarian law. So, these things we find in both cases.

There’s also just the simple experience of people who experience occupation, people who experience displacement, people who experience bombings.

So why do we need to put forward these analogies politically and strategically? First of all, because the U.S. and even the Ukrainian government have been comparing Ukraine to Israel. Actually, the opposite analogy doesn’t come from our side. It comes from their side. So, we need to counter that analogy that they are making between an oppressed state, occupied state, and an occupier state.

The second reason is because this analogy can point out double standards on multiple sides. Obviously, there is a double standard among Western governments who help us to struggle against imperial aggression in Ukraine but who back Israeli colonial violence. This can also help us to address the Ukrainian government’s double standards, but it can also finally help to address the double standards among those on the pro-Palestinian Left, for example, who support the Palestinian resistance, but who are very anti-Ukrainian, and vice versa. Some people on the Left support Ukraine but do not support the Palestinian resistance. I think this is a very important point for us to make.

To finish this brief introduction, I would like to say that precisely today, there is a collective Ukrainian Palestinian solidarity collective that published a letter already signed by more than 120 Ukrainian researchers, artists, and activists in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, our website has been attacked because of publishing this letter; at the moment it is not available. But we will try to put it back online as soon as possible.

I’ll read some passages from it to finish.

We Ukrainian researchers, artists, political labor activists stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine who for 75 years have been subjected and resisted Israeli military occupation separation, settler colonial violence, and apartheid. We write this letter as people to people. Dominant discourse at governmental level and solidarity groups that support the struggles of Ukrainians and Palestinians often have solidarity with everyone who is opposed, oppressed, and struggling for freedom.

The letter also states that Palestinians have the right to self-determination and resistance against Israeli occupation, just like Ukrainians have the right to resist Russian invasion.

Ramah Kudaimi:My family is from Syria, so I spent a lot of time organizing for Palestine in the United States. It’s very important in this moment–with everything going on, the fissures we’re kind of seeing as different hypocrisies are becoming clear–to reflect both on how we as a movement have not been able to get where we want in terms of ending wars and occupation. We also need to reflect on what we need to do to end these terrible tragedies and move forward in terms of building the kind of world we want to see that is free of racism and where everyone is liberated.

We’re seeing these hypocrisies on the Left. We have the people who celebrated Assad for many years on the argument that Assad was leading a resistance, and that is why he needed to shut down and destroy the revolution in Syria in order to continue to be the one who is in charge of protecting the Palestinian cause. [Yet Assad’s] nowhere to be found; he’s currently found bombing Syrians. So that’s one hypocrisy, and the other is the Western liberal hypocrisy, which lets the leftist folks come into our movements and say, see, we were right about all this. Guess what, they have been right. They were right in terms of saying no one would ever show up for Palestine like they did in Ukraine, and we have to grapple with what that means in terms of being able to push back on these claims of these folks.

I want to focus on the specifics of the U.S. What we’re seeing, again, in terms of liberal democracy, the Democrats, Republicans, too, is the racism that’s been out front, the Islamophobia, and the really shameless way that the White House has been dealing with this. Last night they announced a national strategy to counter Islamophobia while they are actively stroking it every single day. When Biden puts out false claims and propaganda about what happened on October 7 and when he questions the death toll of Palestinians. This is not Trump in the White House, you know–this is Biden.

So, we need to be very clear that this is a moment of drawing lines. We need to  figure out our role in the U.S. I think we’re seeing a resurgence of the “war on terror” framework, which never went away, even though people declared the war on terror over many times in the last several years. The idea of well, Israel has a right to defend itself, Hamas is a terrorist group. We know what terrorism means; it only applies to Muslim people. No matter how they expand the definition, what they mean is Muslims, especially in the last two decades. It is so important to push back on that.

And then there’s the widespread repression we have seen. I feel that every Palestinian, Arab, Black, Brown, Muslim person thinks so much about everything they type and everything, every word we say while Zionists are openly making calls for genocide. They are not going to lose their jobs or tenure; they are not going to get doxxed. We have so-called civil rights organizations like the Anti Defamation League showcasing how what we have failed to get rid of is now coming back to haunt us once again.

People are being fired, hotels are canceling major conferences of organizations, the list goes on and on and on. It’s very hard to organize in this moment. This is why it’s very important that everyone who is able to speak up in solidarity with the Palestinian people. It doesn’t have to be that difficult. Think about the ways you already are plugged into progressive causes and how you can connect Palestine to those. Especially now, the sad fact is that we have to push so hard for a humanitarian demand for a cease-fire. Finally we have a senator this morning who said it, Dick Durbin. Shockingly it’s Dick Durbin and not Bernie Sanders. Again, there are questions of where we are in our left spaces, and how the cease-fire now demand needs to push us toward ending U.S. military funding, because we know Palestinian liberation cannot happen as long as the U.S. is pushing the funding and weapons to it. If Syrians under bombardment in Idlib are coming out in solidarity with Palestinians, if folks in Ukraine are able to do so while under occupation, no one in the U.S. has an excuse to not take action.

Joseph Daher:The need for international solidarity is proven day by day. It’s important to know while we’re all looking at the genocidal war of the Israeli occupation army on the Palestinians, authoritarian regimes are taking this opportunity to increase bombardments in the last month. For example, in the Syrian attack on Idlib, more than 60 people have been murdered by the Assad regime. The  Russian regime is bombing, as well as that of Turkey, which further bombed the northeast, benefiting from this opportunity. These forces are profiting from the immunity given to Israel to further their attacks on civilians whether in Idlib or in the northeast.

I think it is important to say that our destinies are linked wherever we are, from Ukraine, from Syria, to Lebanon, to Palestine. And it’s a crucial movement, I believe. More than ever, the right of oppressed people to resist has to be defended. This is especially the case when we look at the Palestinians, because since October 7, Western powers from the U.S. to  the EU have continuously condemned Palestinians and refused even a basic cease-fire after more than 9,000 people are dead, including more than 4,000 children. They are still saying Israel has the right to defend itself, as if history started on the 7th of October.

History started even prior to the first catastrophe and now we’re witnessing the second catastrophe for the Palestinians, even though it also always has been a continuous process since 1948 of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. This is not something new we’re witnessing, unfortunately. The scale of it is much deeper, the violence is much deeper, but it’s not new.

This comes as no surprise for people who always have stood among the oppressed. Colonialism has a long history, whether it is  U.S. history as an imperial state, the history of other imperialist states in the region, including Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. They always deny the right of resistance of the oppressed, defining those struggling against colonialism, occupation, and authoritarian structures, as terrorists who must absolutely be crushed. This has been the case in Nigeria as well.

We can remember the African National Congress, the Irish Republican Army, the PLO, prior to the agreement. Liberals love to talk about Mandela. They don’t look at the actual history of Mandela, the terrorist who was not only ignored, but also condemned by most of the Western states and liberals who condemned the use of violence. The point is, it’s not the oppressed that decides the way they resist, but it’s the occupier, the colonizers and their infrastructure that imposes the violence and creates the context of violence for the oppressed. In this light, we can also speak about the Kurds’ struggle and the PKK, the struggle of the Armenians, et cetera. The list is so long. We shouldn’t be surprised by the defense on the part of Western states of the Israeli apartheid, racist, and colonial state.

The Gaza Strip, historically has been a very important place for resistance. It has always been a really deep problem for the Israeli occupation.

From this perspective, it’s really important to refuse the mainstream West’s condemnation of the Palestinians. This is something I think we should really be clear about. Supporters of the Palestinian struggle for liberation, emancipation, we have to reiterate that despite the attacks, despite being accused of being terrorists, that the oppressed have the right to oppose an apartheid colonial regime and authoritarian structure.

This  obviously does not mean that–and I believe myself to be a revolutionary humanist–we cannot be critical of political parties such as Hamas or any kind of Palestinian political parties, or that we accept any action, military action, or attacks on civilians. Every death of a civilian, except maybe Netanyahu, is a tragedy.

But the scale of the violence must be understood in historical context. And the first to blame for every civilian that is dead today is the Israeli state. They created the current situation and the scale of violence. We have to be clear that the issue does not originate with Hamas.

After the 2001 attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was trying to characterize Hamas as Al Qaeda. Today there’s a similar attempt. But the problem is not the etiology [origins, development] of Hamas. Because the marchers have killed — these marchers have returned were pacifists. Come from all kinds of various etiologies.

At the same time, when there’s an attack on the Palestinian cause in the West, it’s an attack on the democratic rights of all progressive actors, of democratic parties and organizations. The attacks on the BDS have to be seen as an attack on any attempt to resist not only Israel but our own states. This is very important.

The way the Palestinian cause has been attacked in Britain has been a way to destroy what was the left wing of the labor party. Today you have at the head of the labor party someone who is justifying the genocidal war on the Palestinians.

More generally, the violence used by the oppressor to maintain the structures of domination and subjugation should never be compared or put on a similar level as the violence of the oppressed.

And this is something basic, I believe. The resistance of the Palestinians have resulted in new demonstrations in neighboring countries and in the region, not only condemning Israeli oppression of Palestinians, but also the authoritarianism of their own states and their ties with Israel, whether direct or indirect.

In this context, we must reiterate our support of the Palestinians to resist, to live, and to exist.

The most important task for the people outside of the region, like us today, is to win progressive unions, progressive rules, to support the campaign of BDS, and to demand a cease-fire straight now. No security in this region, and I mean security in a social justice way, not like in a geopolitical perspective, can be achieved without the realization of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian, which means the end of occupation, colonization, and the right to return.

We cannot have complete freedom without the freedom of the Palestinians and all the oppressed.

AS: Thank you so much, Joseph, and thanks to everybody for those opening comments. I think they set the scene and the issues very clearly and dramatically.

I want  to start with a question that delves a little bit deeper into what Daria was speaking about, which is the equivalences that have been played out in a geopolitical framework. The Biden administration and other governments, including that of Zelensky’s in Ukraine, have drawn an equivalence between Ukraine and Israel. What’s wrong with that, and what has been its impact geopolitically and domestically in each of the concerned states? Isn’t the parallel better between Ukraine and Palestine? (And that doesn’t mean equating the two countries, but suggesting that they are in a similar position of resisting occupation.)


Obviously, Israel is not Ukraine in this situation. Israel is the occupying force. So, if they want to make the parallels, it is with Russia that the parallel is appropriate. That comparison is difficult for the Biden administration, because of the demand for weapons. Biden  wants to send weapons to both Ukraine and Israel. I think the plan is to send $14 billion in weapons to Israel. And he knows that Republicans are not interested in more weapons to Ukraine, but they are fine with weapons to Israel. Tying weapons for Israel to weapons for Ukraine is a way of getting his agenda to pass in Congress.

The deal with Israel also includes more funding for building the wall, something Biden promised he would not do. There is a continuing failure of the Biden administration to abide by its promises. Most sickening is the abandonment of humanitarian aid to Gaza. At some point, there was language about helping to relocate people in Gaza to a neighboring country. But we know, it’s very open, that the plan here is to complete the genocide of Palestinians by pushing the remaining Palestinians off their land. An important reminder:  Seventy percent of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees who literally live miles away from their homes that they were kicked out of in 1948.

So that’s the practical level. The other is the ideological level. Again, they want us to just think October 7 was the start of this history. Oh, a state got attacked, just like Russia attacked Ukraine a year and a half ago, and obviously longer before that even. And also here, Hamas attacked Israel. So, just like Ukraine has a right to defend itself, Israel has a right to defend itself. They want to pretend that the rest of the history doesn’t matter; it’s not important.

They are looking for the sound bites. Sometimes, the sound bites are ridiculous, which is why they are losing a lot of the rhetorical war. This is why they are desperate. Every couple of hours someone in the [Biden] administration puts out a ridiculous tweet about how we care about Muslims, we care about Palestinians, we’re against antisemitism and Islamophobia. Like a fifth grade understanding of these things, whoever is tweeting them.

The claim, made by Putin and Biden, that Hamas is ISIS is absolutely ridiculous. It’s very important to push back on the analogy between Israel and Ukraine. It is ridiculous how Europe is reacting to Ukrainian refugees versus how they were acting to Syrian refugees. It is ridiculous that the U.S. is opening its arms to Ukrainian refugees, versus how it treats folks at its own border with Mexico.

Ukrainians deserve support. How do we advocate for that support while demanding that the West react with the same support to others? It is a hard case to make at this moment.

AS:Thanks, Ramah. I wanted to ask you, Dana, to come in on the same question about the Biden administration’s drawing this equivalence between Ukraine and Israel. What’s the problem with that equivalence, and isn’t the parallel better between Ukraine and Palestine?

DEK:It’s very clear: Ukraine isn’t occupying anyone else’s land. Palestinians aren’t some outside group, certainly not an invading imperialist power. They are a present national group in a place that has two national groups because of a historic injustice.

I think the crux of the conflict is different, as well. It’s framed this way to emphasize the supposed dichotomy of the West versus East, civilized versus not civilized. It’s not valid. The letter by the solidarity group points out clearly that Western support to Israel confirms, and I’m quoting here, an unjust order and demonstrates double standards in relation to international law. It’s absolutely a hypocrisy that erodes the natural solidarities that can emerge between people involved in both of these issues.

AS: Thanks, Dana. Daria, I’m sure you want to get in on this, because you touched on it in your opening remarks, but go ahead.

DS:I just want to add that there is this question of arms. And there’s a very good article that came out yesterday on Open Democracy. Ukraine is worried that Israel’s attack in Palestine will bump them down in the U.S. agenda. American diplomats are also kind of pointing out this analogy, because they want to get arms in the same package as Israel. They are very afraid of losing military support from the West and from the West turning completely its support to Israel’s colonial aggression on Palestine.

So there’s this pragmatic consideration behind the Ukrainian government’s actions. There’s also, as Dana said, this very obnoxious discourse pitting European white people versus some barbarian axis of evil. This is a discourse that also is being pushed forward in the media in Ukraine. But we also have to know that what we are reading in the media is not fully and actually representative–even the majority–of the Ukrainian population, the Ukrainian working classes. I have done research this year in Ukraine. I spent three months in Ukraine doing interviews with working-class people. And this is absolutely not the discourse that the working class people are defending.

There are much better parallels between Ukraine and Palestine. I even think that despite historical differences, we can still point out that the aggression against Palestine today actually has to be considered in the context of a 75-year history; similarly, the aggression against Ukraine has to be considered in the context of a very, very long history.

Although it would be absolutely incorrect to say that the Ukrainian Soviet Republic was a colony of Russia or Moscow,  there were elements of national oppression of Ukrainians, including during Soviet times. And there were episodes that can be characterized as having a genocidal character, as the great famine of the 1930s killed several millions of Ukrainians.

So we are talking about the histories of two oppressed peoples, very different histories, but histories of two oppressed peoples. I think this is where our analysis and our solidarity have to come from. We need to avoid a counterproductive and dangerous geopolitical discourse that considers struggles for emancipation as a football match where we support one team, but we don’t support another team. That’s not how it works. I think Joseph made a very good point about how all of these wars affect and diminish emancipation struggles all over the world. In spite of all these polemics going on, we have to try to unite these struggles.

AS:Thanks, Daria. Joseph, do you want to come in with any comments on this?

JD: To continue what Daria was saying, what is really important is to orient on struggles from below and solidarity from below. The main problem has been, for sections of the Left, especially talking about campism, to see the world through geopolitical rivalries. We should choose a side. We should choose the lesser evil, instead of the bigger evil. When you look at Russian bombs or U.S. bombs or Israeli bombs or Syrian bombs, I don’t think there’s any difference in the end. People suffer from it, they suffer from military tyrannism. This does not mean we do not take into consideration in our analysis that the U.S. is still the most important imperialist power in the world. Obviously not.

But we don’t distinguish between oppressed classes. And this is a political compass that needs to be brought back as the main principle for a Left that believed that change from below is possible, as we witnessed at the beginning of 2011 in the revolutionary processes of the Middle East and North Africa. Radical change from below is possible. It is obviously very difficult, as we’ve seen over the past decade, especially as authoritarian regimes learn methods of oppression from each other. They learn how to combat struggles from below. What we need is to learn from each other’s experience and struggles and to know that the defeat for our camp, the camp from below, is a defeat of all. The most important thing now is the demand for a cease-fire.

We cannot deny that one of the challenges for the Left, for example, in the Middle East and North Africa, is to build an independent, progressive camp. It must be independent from Western states, Israel, and authoritarian regimes on one side, allied with the West. It must also be independent on the other side, as well, of what, bluntly, is an axis that is not our ally. We must remain independent of states and movements that repress their populations, for example Hezbollah in Lebanon. Remember the role that it played during the Lebanese uprising in 2019. Even with regard to Hamas, we said we defend the right of resistance, but this does not mean we support the political parties today leading these kinds of forces.

This will be one of the main challenges for the Left. If we continue to have sections of the Left that only concentrate on choosing one culprit over the other, this is the road to defeat and suffering for the popular classes of the whole region. We have to be very careful.

AS:Thanks, Joseph. You just raised the question of cease-fire, which is, obviously, the main immediate demand that is being raised about stopping the genocidal war in Gaza. And it raises the question of cease-fire comparatively in the two cases.

In the midst of both these wars, one by Russia against Ukraine and, the other by Israel against the Palestine people, the question of cease-fire has come up. In the case of Gaza, almost everyone with any kind of principles supports the call for the immediate cease-fire of Israel’s war, along with other demands like ending the siege, ending the occupation, and ending apartheid.

In the case of Ukraine, though, those who support its struggle do not support the calls for the cease-fire that we’ve seen, especially in the western countries. What do you think of this contrast? How should we think about the cease-fire demand in concrete rather than abstract terms?

DEK:We’ve been talking about similarities and shared solidarities and the fact that these are national groups in both cases that are struggling to survive against the state actor that denies their right to exist. But there are also, obviously, differences not only in the crux and the nature of the conflict, but also in terms of the types of violence and capabilities and what kinds of conflicts emerge from those types of violence.

With Ukraine and Russia, these are two countries engaged essentially in conventional warfare. Ukraine has an army, whereas in Israel and Gaza, it is a matter of  one country pummeling a stateless population with some militant groups that engage in irregular warfare. And I’m grateful to Joseph for articulating the condition that leads to Palestinian resistance, which is the dynamic and unsustainable status quo while still not justifying any use of sadistic violence or anything like that.

This description that I’m offering here is using political science concepts to describe types of capabilities and types of conflict that emerge from that.

So, given that’s the case, the violence and the escalation of violence in Israel-Palestine cannot be resolved by repelling a foreign force; it can’t be repelled through a military option. A cease-fire means reducing the human cost and accepting that there is no military option to resolving the underlying drivers or crux of this conflict.

On the other hand, a cease-fire in the Ukrainian and Russian case means ceding ground to Russia and beginning negotiations at a point where they are creating new realities on the ground as starting points for negotiation. And that’s why I think it’s perfectly reasonable for someone who has principles around justice and the survival of these national groups that are under attack to say cease-fire in one case and not to support cease-fire in the other.

AS:Daria, do you want to come in on this?

DS:Dana explained it very well from let’s say the objective point of view in terms of differences in capabilities in conventional warfare. But another starting point is what people are asking for. Ukrainians clearly did not ask for a cease-fire when the war started. What they asked for was arms.

We also have to look at the slogans accompanying the slogan for cease-fire in both cases. In the case of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, the demand for a cease-fire is accompanied by a demand to end the of occupation. In the case of leftist demonstrations for a cease-fire in Ukraine, they were accompanied by demands of seizing military aid to Ukraine.

From this point of view, we also have to remember which side we are demonstrating from. For Palestine, we go out to demonstrations, because we demonstrate in the countries that support Israeli colonial genocidal war on Palestine. These are the countries that we can act upon. These are the countries that we address our demands to. When we go out in those same countries to ask for a cease-fire and to seize the military aid to Ukraine, we go out in the countries that support the oppressed side. If we were in Iran or Russia, we could have gone out on the streets to ask for a cease-fire,to ask for Russia to stop bombing Ukraine, but it is not for us to make those demands on the side that is resisting the occupation. This is where the difference also comes from.

AS:Thanks, Daria. Ramah, do you want to come in on this and then Joseph, and then I think Dana wanted a couple sentences. Go ahead, Ramah.

RK:I think just to reiterate Daria’s point about who’s making the call and whom we are saying we’re in solidarity with. I think in the context of the U.S. anti-war movement these last ten or fifteen years, the Left  saw its role as just to make sure the U.S. isn’t “doing harm.” There was an argument, “We don’t care what people on the ground are calling for.” That’s why the Left acted the way it did in Syria. That’s why it acted the way it did in Ukraine.

I think what’s powerful about Palestine,  due to there being many, many Palestinians in the U.S., in the diaspora, is that the Left has been able to shift very significantly in the last ten or fifteen years to being in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people have asked for BDS, you do BDS. The Palestinian people asked for an end to military funding, you do that. It’s not perfect. We still have to answer the argument that a cease-fire is not enough. Some people ask why we are even calling for a cease-fire at this moment. The question is, whose calls do you follow? Anti-war folks in the U.S. that think they know better than folks in Ukraine, or Ukrainians? We should take the example that has been set in terms of solidarity with Palestinian people and apply it to all of these other struggles, as well.

AS:Thanks, Ramah. Joseph, you want to come in?

JD:I would add that the calls for a cease-fire have also been associated with important calls by the Palestinian trade unions with regard to arms collaboration or arms trade with Israel. We saw a couple of trade unions successfully stopping arms production and protesters attacking arms manufacturers doing deals with Israel. These are important examples of international solidarity that I think have to be put forward. In these struggles from below, we have common interests. It does not mean that we are living in the same conditions, but we have to build struggles from below that can challenge the collaboration between western states and Israel.

Regarding Ukraine, it is problematic for the Left to call for a cease-fire as if both sides were equal in an inter-imperialist war. From that perspective, you would be calling on Ukrainians to ask their government–not only ask, but struggle against their own government–to lose the war. This is the problem with seeing the issue as one only of inter-imperialist war.

It is problematic to argue for a cease-fire as if both sides are equal, or as is these were only inter-imperialist wars. As leftists, we think that Ukrainians should struggle against their own government in order to lose the war. Inter-imperialist war is a key issue, but the point is to support people who are oppressed. Our analysis should not be based primarily and solely on what the U.S. interpretation of the cause.

This was a problem in the Syrian refugee process. People were attacking the process because of the actions of certain western states. No, our struggle goes to people who are oppressed, and tomorrow the ability for Ukrainians to win this war will allow for the working class to organize, raise their voice, in a Ukraine that is not occupied by Russia. This is basic. So, when taking into consideration the calls for cease-fire, we need to get past the geopolitical perspective that ignores the people fighting for their liberation and emancipation.

AS:Thanks, Joseph. Dana, you wanted to add something to this discussion, so you can go ahead.

DEK:I wanted to  mention the concept of peace and the term “peace.” When there are peace protests for a cease-fire in the German capital demanding the cease-fire in Russia or Ukraine, they hijack the term “peace.” What they mean by peace is not a liberal peace. What they mean is a peace through authoritarian force through the maintenance of violence, through creating and systematizing violence and not fighting against it. I just wanted to make that point, that when we see the “peace camp,” we call it out.

AS:Thanks, Dana. I wanted to turn to a question about the history of Ukraine’s relationship to Palestine, because in your article, Daria, you really made some important points about the history of actual solidarity between Ukraine and Palestine. I wanted to give you a chance to draw that out. What formal political position has Ukraine’s government taken in the past in U.N. votes or diplomacy, and how has that shifted in the recent case? Because it seems quite different from what Zelensky did in expressing solidarity with Israel. It seems upside down and backwards,  maybe for programmatic reasons on his part, but I think as you pointed out, not really in keeping with the history. What has  the relationship historically been in the U.N. and diplomacy towards Palestine, and what are the differences between the official leaderships of the two nations and the broader populations in terms of attitudes towards each national population struggle? So, Daria, why don’t you kick that off?

DS:To be clear, I don’t defend the Ukrainian government, the government that came to power in 2014. I just want to point out the history of its statements to show that, even for the Ukrainian government, the parallels between Ukraine and Palestine have not been completely ignored.

In order to be consistent with their own claims on occupied Crimea, they actually supported the Palestinian cause in the U.N. during these last ten years, and there has been a lot of tension around these questions precisely in the U.N. between Israel and Ukraine.

In 2014, Israel did not support a resolution that condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea. Two years later, Ukraine supported a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem. And even now during this last year, Ukraine voted on several resolutions that condemned the Israeli nuclear program and Israeli colonization. They voted 79 percent against Israel, and the rest abstained. So, they never voted for Israel. And this was also the case with the last U.N. resolution on cease-fire.

What we are saying in our letter is, if I may read,

We reject the Ukrainian government statements that express unconditional support for Israeli military actions and consider the calls to avoid civilian casualties by Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs belated and insufficient. This position is a retreat from the support of Palestinian rights and condemnation of the Israeli occupation, which Ukraine has followed for decades, including voting in the U.N. Aware of the pragmatic geopolitical reasoning behind Ukraine’s decisions to echo western allies on whom we depend for our survival, and we see the current support of Israel and dismissing Palestinian rights to subjugation as contradiction to the own commitment to human rights and fight for our land and freedom. We as Ukrainians should stand in solidarity not with the oppressors, but with those who experience and resist oppression.

I wanted to use my article as an instrument to push our own government to become consistent with its own positions, starting with 2014 at least. I think this is a good political strategy to push inside Ukraine for Palestinian solidarity.

AS:Excellent, thank you, Daria. Dana, would you like to add anything to that?


From the Palestinian side, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, there was polling from the Palestinian territories, where a slim majority, but a majority, blamed Russia for that invasion. But there is a sizable group that also has the opposite view. We can discuss why, but I think a lot of the narratives around NATO and some of the disinformation around the Ukrainian-Russian conflict definitely have permeated not only the Left, but the Palestinian left in particular.

AS:Excellent, thank you, Dana. I’ve got Ramah and then I see you, Daria, you can come in, in a second. Ramah, do you want to chime in on this? No, Joseph, got anything to add?

JD:I think there’s also an argument to be made much deeper that we don’t judge a liberation cause according only by its leadership. Otherwise, if you look at the Palestinian leadership, it’s not great, honestly, between the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, et cetera. Similarly, our judgment about the Ukrainian struggle should not be a referendum on Zelensky. My political compass is about supporting the people who are oppressed. Similarly in the case of the Syrian revolution. I think we had one of the worst political leaderships claiming to struggle for liberation against an authoritarian regime, but that allied itself, for example, with the Turkish state and supported the occupation and the ethnic cleansing of a region that is mostly inhabited by a Kurdish population.

The key argument is always to look to groups who share common interest with us on the Left, struggles from below, rather again to looking to repressive political leadership in a world where the Left is weaker. We can have all the criticism and need political criticism of the world liberation movement, but they were much better in many aspects. Today, it’s a different political period, but this should not change our basic principles to support the self-determination of oppressed people.

AS:Thanks, Joseph. Daria, I think you wanted to add some more comments.

DS:When we present the previous position of Ukraine on these questions, it is not to say, look, we were better before or Let’s support that Ukrainian government who voted in support before. It’s a strategic argument about winning public opinion and actually pushing our own government to be consistent with itself. It’s just part of the strategy.

One thing that we have to say is that if Ukraine has supported Palestinian rights and has condemned illegal occupation in Palestinian lands, it’s because Ukraine has consistently taken into account its own security problems with support for territorial integrity. In the case of Azerbaijan, Ukraine supported them in what happened because there was this question of territorial integrity. So, supporting territorial integrity is not always progressive. It is maybe a perspective on a certain level of international law. It’s not a perspective, as Joseph said, on fights from below.

This is just a strategic argument about the broader public opinion in Ukraine.  Unfortunately, there is a very vast pro-Israel consensus, but why? People don’t know the history of Palestine. I know that when I lived in Ukraine–I moved to France many years ago–I didn’t even know about the existence of Palestine. This is not a question that is actually often discussed, so I think, now with this new phase of the war going on, with this new aggression going on, the information that you can find in the Ukrainian-speaking public space is just not adequate.

You can’t blame people if they don’t have the right information. What we need to do right now is to inform people, which was the purpose of this letter that we published. First of all, we discovered that there wasn’t an absolute consensus. There are so many people that started sending us signatures, actually, Ukrainian Palestinian folks. We really hope that this letter will create at least some debate and be the beginning of an information campaign in order to build that solidarity from below, for the absence of which people shouldn’t be blamed because they don’t know.

AS:Thank you, Daria. I want to go to two last questions, what Joseph called geopolitical reductionism, where you choose between empires big and small instead of standing in solidarity with all peoples and their struggles for liberation without exception. So, I just wanted to pose a couple of questions around that topic, because I think it’s of decisive importance for forging an internationalist Left. Russia, with the tacit support of China, has carried out this imperialist invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, China and Russia have both called for a cease-fire and posture as friends of Palestine, despite having deep economic and diplomatic relations with Israel. For its part, the U.S. has supported Ukraine in its struggle for liberation, but backed Israel, its apartheid regime, occupation, and current genocidal war. What does this mean for the relationship of these two national liberation struggles with the various imperialist powers? You can kick it off, Ramah. What do you think this means?

RK:I think at times this obsession with geopolitics gets in the way of us being able to organize people to people. I think there’s space for us to discuss how sometimes folks have to depend on an imperial power to get arms, whether it’s various rebel groups in Syria who got arms from the U.S., or, Ukraine getting arms from the U.S. Who’s providing the kind of resistance in Palestine arms? Most obviously Iran, and that is a complicating factor in all this.

I know Syrian folks who wrong-headedly condemn Hamas as backed by Iran on the nonsense idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Within our own circles, too, we have to fight back against this idea. The biggest way that we can hold the line on these things is to be the most principled we can be in our solidarity. We are against all imperialism, all occupations, and we understand that sometimes folks depend on these imperial powers for arms and diplomacy, but that doesn’t take away agency from any of these people. Everything became, you’re all agents of the U.S., and that’s it. There is a refusal to recognize that there exist imperialist powers outside of the U.S. There is this idea that actually the multipolar world is a good thing because there is competition among imperial powers. But it’s fake competition.

Let’s be real. The powers have no problem working with each other. Syria is a very clear example how these imperial powers said a lot of things against each other and in reality are coordinating to make sure that while bombing Syria, they weren’t bombing each other. I think that’s a point to bring up again and again. Not the U.S. versus China and Russia; they are on the same side against the people across the globe. We need to push on that in the same way we’re pushing on Biden’s hypocrisy. Putin is up there, [speaking of the ] poor children [in Gaza]– okay, [yet he is] literally killing the children in Idlib right now. What’s important is the balance of how we talk about the geopolitics, recognize the geopolitics, while keeping our main focus on what’s happening to people on the ground and recognizing their agency.

One other thing about disinformation, propaganda, and social media. We knew that when Elon Musk took over Twitter, things were going to be bad. It didn’t start with Musk, of course. I sometimes think those early days of the revolutions against the Arab regimes, where people felt they were actually connecting across social media platforms, and then all the regimes decided, this is the way we’re going to use to push our propaganda. There need to be ways to do important political education like these types of talks to push back on this, because it really seeps into our communities. Again, it’s not only about these terrible tankies–our communities are being exposed to this propaganda and eating it up, because they are trying to figure out, if this person is a hypocrite, then I should listen to this other person. So what is our role then to push back on all that?

AS:Thanks, Ramah. Joseph, do you want to come in on this question?

JD:There is an additional element: Most of these imperial powers will instrumentalize these kinds of causes for tactical and strategic issues to increase their own political influence in their geopolitical and imperial rivalries.. As soon as they don’t need these particular causes–the men and women, and children–they will abandon them. We’ve seen this again, and again in the past and we’ll see it again in the future, maybe in Ukraine as soon as the powers believe that they reached a limit regarding how far the Ukrainians should push; they might attempt some form of cease-fire. But we’ve  seen also in the past, for example, regarding the Kurdish issue. The U.S. has, for example, in Syria, assisted the same democratic forces, which is led by the PYD, the assistant organization of the PKK, against the war that killed thousands of civilians.

But [with the issue of Syria] being invaded by the Turkish army, the U.S. did not intervene. Similarly, the U.S. might support the PYD in Syria but still consider the PKK in Turkey as a terrorist organization. Just as the Kurds were abandoned in northern Iraq in 2017, I believe, they were completely abandoned.

We have to be clear that even though they might instrumentalize a particular cause, it should not distract us from the agency of the people on the ground struggling for liberation and emancipation. I think this is where we should stand, because otherwise we cannot make links between our own struggle, which is the only way in a regional, international perspective to truly reach liberation.

AS:Thanks, Joseph. Dana, did you want to come in on this?

DEK:I think the problem is one of values. I think that’s been touched upon. Campist propaganda is influencing people who are absorbing that worldview. We need to articulate our values and clarify the issues. What is the difference for someone who lives under Israeli bombardment, versus Idlib, where they are also under rubble. You have to make it simple and easier to absorb.

In addition, we have to stop accepting this narrative that these international powers, be they the United States or anybody else, their hierarchical relationships have anything to do with oppressed values. Even if the U.S. is talking about democracy, they are supporting Ukraine because it’s strategic for global security vis-a-vis Russia.

Western leftists who are pro Ukraine but not pro Palestine haven’t come to the realization that standing against state aggression and war crimes and occupation everywhere is also strategic. So, it’s a problem of articulating strategy, I think, as well.

AS:So, a final question that I wanted to get you to address, which is more specifically about the Left. The problem over the last 15 years in response to the Arab Spring is one of selective solidarity on much of the international Left, of supporting revolutions and revolts in countries that are allied to the U.S., but not supporting them in countries that are not aligned with the U.S.

Much of the Left has fallen into this trap of selective solidarity, and many have, in this current situation in the last few years, not supported Ukraine in its struggle against Russia. Others, by contrast, have not supported Palestine and its struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation. What do you all think of this pattern, and what’s the alternative to this kind of selective solidarity that seems to be dominant on whole sections of the left? Maybe, Daria, you can start with that.

DS:For me, it’s heartbreaking, because I can be extremely angry when I see how the media coverage of the attack on Palestine has been completely Orwellian, especially in the first few days, but that perspective doesn’t come from my own camp. When the bad ideas come from your own camp, it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking when comrades stay in their dogmatic positions, despite the experience that comes from the ground, and it just doesn’t work.

But it is also heartbreaking to see those who support Ukraine on the Left who don’t support Palestine as much. And I think that in this case it’s more related to this opposition that’s been put forward these last few weeks between a noble Ukrainian resistance, which, you know, only uses the methods that are allowed by the international law. And then the Palestinian resistance, which is, you know, already completely characterized as terrorism and all of those sorts of labels.

For me the biggest problem in our emancipation movements is this division of struggles following the polarization of the world.

I think that for the Left, for the progressive forces, for feminists, ecologists, anticapitalists all over the world, it is a very important to continue defending the unity of popular struggles, anticolonial struggles, anticapitalist struggles, feminist struggles, all over the world, despite the geopolitical camp that people belongs to.

We also need to continue paying a lot of attention to experience, to what people say on the ground, rather than abstract geopolitical analysis.

AS:Okay, Ramah, I know this is in your wheelhouse, so why don’t you take it up?

RK:The slogan that always comes to my mind on this question is solidarity with people, not states. States are states. And the leaders of political factions are the leaders of political factions. We know what matters are the people.

Building this kind of activism can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Just think about how you relate to a progressive cause, and bring in these other causes with you. If you’re a teacher, there are so many books out there about Palestine you can bring your students. If you’re an artist, connect with artists in Ukraine.

There is so much space for that creativity for how you plug into movements, make connections. The connections are so important,whether it’s conversations like this, standing, being in solidarity. I’ve seen folks tweeting, we are seeing your marches. It’s wild to think that many people are understanding the violence and appreciating our actions. That they know the alternative, just being killed without anyone even bearing witness is worse.

I remember, I felt a lot of that when Aleppo was being bombed in 2016 feeling that very few people out here were bearing witness to that. I think these simple steps are very powerful to take. Take your cues from the communities impacted, from the people. The states are going to do what they do. We do what we can to change state behavior. For folks in the U.S., keep contacting your members of Congress for a cease-fire now at this moment in time. But we know at the end of the day, it’s going to be us as the people living under these various oppressive systems who are going to change the world. We’re going to push these political leaders aside and really envision the beauty of what we can build.

AS:Thank you, Ramah. I’ve got Joseph, and then I’ve got some concluding remarks.

JD:Selective solidarity is not only heartbreaking. It’s also  political suicide.  It’s political suicide for the projects of liberation and emancipation;  moreover, it’s leading to a situation where you cannot stand with oppressed people. You can claim to be in support rhetorically, for example, claiming to be in solidarity with the Palestinian people. But these same people claiming to be in solidarity with Palestine became silent when the Palestinian refugee camp was being destroyed. When the civil rights of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been constantly crushed and  attacked, those engaged in selective solidarity cannot be constant in their support for Palestinian liberation. And this is why it’s not only heartbreaking, it’s political suicide. It leads to nothing. It leads to superficial support. It leads to no real support for the liberation and emancipation in this case of the Palestinians, but also other oppressed people.

AS:Thank you so much. And thank you so much to everybody on this panel. I think it’s been very powerful and analytically really sharp and gives an orientation for the world’s Left and how to build international solidarity from below with all popular uprisings, class struggles, national liberation struggles, and struggles of the oppressed. In all cases, I think it’s an important part of the universalist values that used to be at the heart of the Left, which really need to be restored. The Ukraine Solidarity Network that I’m part of is proud to be putting on this panel that draws the connections between the common struggles of liberation in Palestine, in Ukraine, and in many other countries around the world.

I think it points to an alternative to the kind of selective solidarity that we’ve seen dominate and really corrupt much of the Left, so that instead of standing without exception for all oppressed struggles for liberation, people pick and choose. And that’s not a Left that can win the leadership of the masses of humanity. And that’s what we need to strive to build. I just want to end by underscoring the importance of not just talking and reading books, but getting out in the streets and protesting, doing occupations of the governmental offices that are backing this genocide in Palestine, and doing everything we can to get the cease-fire now of Israel’s genocidal war.

People are engaged in mass civil disobedience all around the world in solidarity with Palestine, from the occupations of the train stations in Britain, to Grand Central Station here in New York City, where it was shut down by thousands of Jewish people in solidarity with Palestine. That’s the kind of internationalism that we need to forge in the heart of the U.S. state. That also goes for all other peoples fighting for liberation, in particular the Ukrainian struggle for national liberation and self-determination. Thanks to all the panelists, Daria, Dana, Ramah, and Joseph, and also to Haymarket Books for putting on this entire educational series.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.

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