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Toward a free Palestine

A Tempest Collective editorial

On the four-month anniversary of October 7, the current struggle for Palestinian liberation marks a turning point in world politics, argues this Tempest Collective editorial. First and foremost as a fight to stop the genocide and ethnic cleansing being perpetrated against the people of Gaza. Second, because the struggle against the Zionist settler-colonial project necessarily implicates U.S. imperialism and the broader imperialist world system. Third, because the radicalization process for millions across the globe grows directly out of these fights. In this context, and within this radicalization, are the seeds of a broader movement necessary to find a way out of the crises of the late neoliberal world order.

“We’re not freeing Palestine, Palestine is freeing us.”

Fatima Said

The Palestinian resistance to Israel’s genocidal war has brought us to a turning point in world politics. Most critically, it is a heroic struggle of a people facing annihilation in a fight that will determine the future of Palestinians in the short, medium, and long term. Our first task is to provide unconditional solidarity and engaged activity to fight for an immediate end to the brutal violence of the Zionist state.

October 7 has radicalized and activated an entire generation globally to join Palestinians in resisting the apartheid state and U.S. imperialism’s support for it. As such, it is also a turning point for the revolutionary Left. It provides us an opportunity to put forth our ideas for how best to organize and win liberation for Palestine as we join in the collective effort to build and strengthen the movement.

And as the aftermath of October 7 threatens to isolate Washington and its key ally in the region and accelerate the relative decline of U.S. imperialism, it has become clear that the events of the last four months are intimately tied up with the crises of the late neoliberal world order and the imperialist state system. This raises the stakes for the Left.

The place of the Palestinian struggle

For decades, the struggle for Palestinian liberation has played a singular and critical role in efforts to build an anti-imperialist movement internationally. Arguably, for the Left in the U.S., the Palestinian struggle is analogous to the anti-racist movement and the fight for Black liberation insofar as both are key to understanding U.S. capitalism, its hegemony, and therefore its defeat. This grows out of Israel’s position as a unique linchpin in U.S. imperial strategy and ambitions beginning from at least 1967.

Particularly in the last two decades, because of the increasingly naked brutality and racism of the Zionist project—especially as the failures of the Oslo process have become undeniable—the Palestinian movement has had an outsized impact in radicalizing people and opening them to anti-imperialist politics. We see this unmistakably in the U.S. where polls show not only that there is overwhelming support for a ceasefire but also that half of Americans under 35 found the actions of Hamas on October 7 “justified by Palestinians grievances.” The response by the youth (not to mention the Arab community) to “Genocide Joe [Biden]” has shaken the Democratic Party and its 2024 electoral calculations.

Since the end of the Cold War, a new imperial order has been in formation. In this century, the end of the period of virtually unchallenged U.S. world dominance was highlighted by the serial, slow-motion defeats of the United States in southwest Asia. In this process, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the struggle with China over hegemony in the Asia-Pacific have thus far represented the clearest, albeit asymmetrical, challenges to U.S. imperial dominance.

President Donald J. Trump, joined by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, waving to the crowd from a balcony after the Abraham Accords signing Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House.
President Donald J. Trump, joined by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, waving to the crowd after the Abraham Accords signing Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House. Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks.

The strategy pursued by the U.S. state in the interests of its capitalist class has been to secure the “middle east” as the geopolitical key, an integrated economic zone under its hegemony. The treachery of Oslo was a crucial step in that process. The emergence of this new imperial order, and in particular the role of competition with China has underscored the region’s importance for U.S. capital. The escalation of the normalization process with the Arab states through the Abraham Accords in 2020 has been pursued consistently by the Trump/Biden administrations and is driven by this imperial competition.

But the completion of that process has been consistently stymied by Palestinian resistance. It is one of the last anti-colonial struggles in a post- (or neo-)colonial world, and the question of Palestine continues to pose a barrier to U.S. strategy. This is a core, material basis for the centrality of the Palestinian struggle in the fight against U.S. imperialism.

October 7 and the new imperial order

In this light, Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza represents an acute turning point. As the war has begun to explode regionally, the aftermath of October 7 has shaken the decades-long “normalization” efforts by the U.S. and Israel and eroded Western hegemony.

As the various regional powers maneuver for leverage, the military actions directly in support of Palestine—for example, the border skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah—have been modest and minimal. And a newly quiescent Saudi regime seems paralyzed by the contradictions between their allegiance to the U.S. order and the deep-seated support for the Palestinian struggle amongst its population. Even the attacks of Ansar Allah (commonly referred to as the “Houthis”) on Red Sea shipping have more complex roots in domestic Yemeni politics, the war with the Saudi regime(currently under a truce), and, to some extent—however it may be weaponized by the Pentagon—Iranian aspirations.

Viewed together, the rapid series of geo-political escalations represents a menacing cloud over the struggle for a new imperial order. These are fast-moving and every week brings more evidence. The U.S.-led response in Yemen, in the ghastly named “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” has been prominently in the news. But the assassinations and bombings in Beirut by Israel, the Daesh/ISIS bombings in Iran, the growing sectarian violence in Iraq, are other manifestations of this escalation. Relatedly, the Iranian missile strikes on Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria, Pakistani attacks on Iran, the escalating military attacks by Turkey on the Kurdish nation, the recent drone strikes in Jordan, allegedly originating in Syria and killing U.S. soldiers, and the subsequent wave of U.S. bombs on Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, represent examples across nation-states. We should not mince words, both the U.S. and Israel are at war.

The international institutions, supposedly designed to prevent or mitigate these dynamics, have proven themselves either impotent or complicit, or both. Most importantly has been the naked hypocrisy of U.S. and allied support for the genocide in Gaza that has exposed the lie of the rules-based international order—an “order” imposed back when Washington was able to secure its dominance by imposing the rules.

The spectacle of the U.S. veto of a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the isolation and exposure of losing the vote for the same in the body’s General Assembly—without the support of its typical allies in Europe—are but two examples. And whereas the lawsuit initiated by the South African government in the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”), charging Israel with genocide, has laid bare the decades-long genocidal policy of the Zionist state, it threatens to further display the selective impotence of those self-same international institutions. The ICJ found that at least some of the actions of the Zionist state “appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the [Genocide] Convention.” In response, the U.S. and allied countries have suspended funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, “the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over two million people depending on it for their sheer survival.” We should expect the same dynamic will be at play in the referral, by the Mexican and Chilean governments, to the International Criminal Court over possible war crimes in Gaza.

This turning point in the balance of imperial power is inextricably tied, in countless ways, to the manifold crises of the late neoliberal era and the choices made by the world’s ruling classes in responding to the acute economic crisis of 2007 and 2008. As these crises have evolved, the reformist Left internationally promised a path that both failed on its own terms and was actively defeated. The defeats of the international Left in the face of the growing crises of the early twenty-first century and the general failure to build lasting organizational vehicles to recuperate and sustain from our losses are directly related to the rise of the far right internationally. These far-right movements have undeniable echoes in the past. Whatever name is given to these far-right movements, they have responded to the crisis with the most base nationalist politics. They lay claim to the mantle of counter-power and pose as the political alternative. It is a project built on scapegoating and an irrational fury to avenge the loss, or to call back into existence, a mythic past—a racist, xenophobic, heteronormative fantasy.

Banner of NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid,  circa 2019, which reads, in black lettering at the top, “Zionism equals racism” and just below, also in the same black lettering, “Silence equals death.” Across the middle of the banner it reads: “Palestine is a queer issue.” The word “Palestine” is written in alternating  white, green, red,  and black of the Palestinian flag. The word “queer” is written in pink lettering. The bottom of the banner reads: “Boycott,” “Divest,” “Sanction” with each initial letter in white, with the rest of the first word in red, the rest of the second word in black, and the rest of the third word in green. Images of olive branches decorate the upper left and right corners of the banner.
Photo by, and banner of, NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid circa 2019.

Israel is no exception. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant declared, “We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly.” “We will eliminate everything.” After decades of denial and whitewashing of the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”)—Israel’s ethnic cleansing and war crimes in 1948—the Netanyahu government has embraced its completion. They proclaim: There is “one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of [19]48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join.” And while the Israeli Heritage Minister proposes dropping atomic bombs on Gaza, other ministers are clearing the way, preaching to the French far- right that there is “no such thing as Palestinians.” It is no coincidence that Marine Le Pen and her National Rally (the successor of the fascist National Front) march in Paris, “against anti-semitism.” And it is not hyperbole to recognize that Netanyahu and the current Israeli government embody the imminent logic of Zionism and the creep of authoritarianism internationally (Putin, Trump, Milei, Orbán, Modi, Bolsonaro, et al.).

The challenges facing the Left

By making clear  U.S. commitments to “stand forever” with the Zionist state the Biden administration has laid bare the core values of the imperium. And with these commitments, there is continuity, not a break, with the Trump years. This is the context in which the struggle for Palestine has provided the Left an opening that we must not miss but that is heavily contested.

Millions of people have been on the march in hundreds of countries in the face of the mass murder and the humanitarian crises in Palestine, with an implicit understanding that this turning point is an issue for all of humanity. And in this movement, the questions of the balance of imperial power, questions of national self-determination, questions of how to rebuild a truly internationalist Left are radicalizing an entire generation globally in ways that have not been witnessed since the anti-colonial revolutions and the Vietnam War of the last century.

In response to the solidarity movement, the Democratic Party leadership has given meaning to their promise of support for Netanyahu and Israel. This is a partnership for ethnic cleansing and mass murder. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congressperson and former head of the Democratic National Committee, has denounced opponents of Israel as “lacking a soul.”And a growing offensive driven by U.S. state institutions and media has emerged out of this bipartisan political consensus. It is the type of political repression that we have not seen since the height of the Cold War. Cynically equating opposition to Zionism to anti-semitism and support (critical or otherwise) for the Palestinians, and Hamas in particular, as support for “terrorism,” have been the tools used to materially threaten the movement. For the first time in decades, Congress is intervening to silence and repress local unions in their efforts to stand in solidarity with Palestine. The label of “McCarthyite” is well- earned.

For example, Congressperson Richie Torres targeted NYC-DSA ostensibly for “revealing itself for what it truly is — a deep rot of antisemitism that must be universally condemned for celebrating the deadly terrorist attacks against Israel.” Both Torres and Wasserman Schultz later voted to censure Congressperson Rashida Tlaib “for promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023… and for calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.” In reply, the calls for a “two-state solution” to “break the cycle of violence”—as Bernie Sanders and many of the soft-zionist liberals would have it—are grossly misplaced.

In fact, in the aftermath of the defeat  of their social democratic calls for “political revolution” Sanders and other politicians like him, have shifted into electioneering-for-Biden mode even as the President contributes to the genocide of Palestinians. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unlike Sanders has called for a ceasefire, has tempered any criticism of Biden at a moment when his popularity has plummeted. It is not an oppositional politics to prop up the political corpse of a bankrupt status quo.

Opportunities for the Left

At the same time, the attacks on activists and the socialist Left reflect the ideological weakness of any unconditional defense of Israel. Thus, the imperialist nature of the Democratic Party has met unexpected resistance from within. This includes a notable amount of internal tension with Congressional  and White House staff and the resignation of several Biden appointees. But most importantly, there is overwhelming support for a ceasefire among Democratic voters.

When those same voters ask the simple question of “Why this genocide?” and the many corollary questions that follow, they are faced with profound contradictions. Most obviously between the progressive veneer of the Biden Administration (or at least its lesser-evil status viz. Trump and his Republican Party ) and the full- fledged support for and perpetration of genocide. Those radicalizing through this process are also faced with the proliferation of the worst racist tropes used to justify the genocide. These contradictions and the enormity of the catastrophe all promise to make the radicalization that follows both deep and durable.

The actions of Hamas and allied forces on October 7 were products of desperation and the slow strangling reality of the decades-long status quo in Gaza, the West Bank, the state of Israel, and the region. However, a free Palestine cannot be won through armed struggle alone. Armed resistance is one component of the heroic struggle of Palestinians, and however much we might oppose certain tactics, this needs to be defended. Any limited military victory against the Israeli Occupation Force would be welcome.

However, alongside the Palestinian struggle, there are two other keys to unlocking liberation. The first is a revolutionary process in the region, the possibilities for which we have seen in the successive waves of the Arab Spring and in Sudan. This is essential to challenge the frequently ambivalent and oftentimes treacherous “support” for Palestine among the Arab regimes due to their own long-standing ties to imperialism. Second, is our active, consistent support for the anti-imperialist movements in the western metropoles. In the U.S. our biggest responsibility is in building that Left, that movement, in the heartless center of imperialism.

Given that responsibility, and on the four-month anniversary of October 7, key questions are coming to the fore: Are our current tactics sufficient? How long can the current level of mobilization be sustained? Given the responses, how do we prepare the ground for a united front beyond the demand for a ceasefire? Can the movement transcend its political and demographic divisions in a way that strengthens our capacities? Can we build long- term offensive campaigns, like targeted divestment, BDS, or broader anti-apartheid efforts? This infrastructure needs to be built. We need spaces that politically educate and train new activists and aim to integrate them into the movement. This is a challenge as there are (with some exceptions) not enough access points for individuals to take part in the building of organizational infrastructure with an eye toward the long-term strength of the movement. While the frenetic pace of demonstrations and all-encompassing flurry of signal chats carry out the day- to- day work, preparation for the long- term struggle cannot wait, whatever the challenges of working on two timelines.

As the broader political dynamics evolve so will the questions facing the movement. While not yet the most pressing of those questions, when leading forces in the movement in the U.S. uncritically hold up the examples of Iran, Syria, China, Russia, etc., the issue of who are the reliable allies in the region lurks in the background. This underscores, in a live way, the continual debates in the socialist movement around campism.

Whatever the ultimate limits of a military strategy, the Palestinians have a right to arms and military support where they can get them. This includes obtaining arms from the so-called “axis of resistance.” However, that cannot be the final word on the situation. In part, this is because of our principled solidarity with popular democratic struggles in all of those countries across the region. But equally, it is because this “axis” and the wider Arab ruling classes serve in the interests of their own ruling classes and too often value accommodations with imperialism over solidarity with Palestine.

The Iranian government—which violently repressed the mass uprising sparked by the police killing of Kurdish woman Jina Amini—seems to have played an important role in limiting the Hezbollah response from south Lebanon to tete-a-tete rocket fire with Israel. While those Iranian allied militia in the Iraqi Islamic Resistance— who themselves murdered and abducted revolutionaries during Iraq’s October Uprising in 2019—have now backed down from their military confrontations with the U.S. forces, under pressure from Iran. And Syria, under Bashar al Assad, is hailed by some on the Left as a supporter of the Palestinian cause. Yet the brutal butcher of the Syrian Revolution killed and tortured thousands of Palestinians in this process. Just as his father, Hafez al Assad, was complicit in the murder of Palestinian refugees and attacks on their political leadership—working to support right-wing Lebanese militias in the 1970s and 1980s, often aligned with Israeli policy.

None of this is to necessarily question discrete tactical choices made by these states over the last few months. Rather, it is necessary to recall both the historic unreliability of these regimes toward the Palestinian movement and their brutal repression of the types of democratic movements that will be necessary to take on imperialism. And while these strategic issues may not yet be ripe in the context of our movements in the U.S. they exist close to the surface and will inevitably emerge as live questions.

Principles, strategies, tactics, and tasks

As revolutionary socialists, as Marxists, our starting point is support for the democratic rights of the Palestinian people who have been subjected to the imperialist-backed project of settler colonialism. We start from a posture of solidarity with the Palestinian people as they struggle to assert their rights. In turn, this starting point is rooted in our opposition to capitalism and imperialism. We are driven by a fundamental understanding that the future of humanity is at stake if our collective future continues to be driven by the logic of imperialism. We want a world free from wanton violence, death, and destruction, free from exploitation and oppression. These are first principles.

Thus, we defend Palestinians’ right to fight in whatever way they choose—in full respect for their agency and the knowledge and wisdom that comes from a daily existential struggle with an enemy over decades. We recognize that the current moment is only possible due to the steadfast, unwavering Palestinian resistance from 1936 to the present. It is a spectrum of resistance that has taken many forms: in Palestine, in the refugee camps in the neighboring countries of the regions, and in the broader diaspora around the world. This has meant that not only have Palestinians not been defeated, but they have won solidarity from much of the world’s population. One of the clearest examples of internationalism, it is a testament to the stalwart struggle against one of the most racist, most militarized countries that in turn is backed by the most powerful state on earth.

The roots of the socialist perspective lie in the common concern over the future of humanity. Central to that solidarity is the ability to have a frank and attuned conversation organically arising from the live strategic and tactical questions facing the Left and our movements. The method of unconditional but not uncritical support for national liberation struggles is not just old leftist language to be lightly discarded but is foundational to a Marxist method.

Multiracial image of protesters at a November 2023 demonstration for Palestine, London, United Kingdom. Multiple protesters are carrying large, oversized Palestinian flags.
November 2023 demonstration for Palestine, London, United Kingdom. Photo by Monte Cruz.

For example, in the immediate aftermath of October 7, given the universal surprise at the breadth of the Hamas-led offensive and the immediate genocidal response by Israel, legitimate debates arose. These included debates around the strategic efficacy of the offensive, per se, and around the targeted killing of non-combatants, however we adjudge, through the fog of war, the extent to which this tactic was used. In any case, socialists do not need to endorse the resistance tactics chosen by the oppressed before determining which side we’re on—or before affirming that the choice is theirs. We also take into account the context: Palestinian forces made the desperate strategic gamble of October 7 only after decades of slow-motion ethnic cleansing and political strangulation.

In the U.S., these debates took place within an atmosphere best compared to the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Sharp political lines were drawn and litmus tests demanded to corral support for Zionism and colonial violence. In these circumstances, the questions of how we best speak to diverse audiences, in the U.S. and internationally, in the interest of withstanding the ideological assault and McCarthyite tactics, and in the interest of strengthening the movement were (and are) necessary to address. And our answers must be premised on our unconditional support for Palestinian liberation as a foundational principle.

Within that framework, the ability of our organizations and our movements to navigate these debates in a healthy manner is not just a necessary evil, but essential. With a clear principled understanding and a perspective around all three keys of the liberatory process—Palestinian resistance, regional democratic revolts, and revolutions against the unreliable allies of the Arab governments, ever stronger anti-imperialist movements in the imperial centers—we should welcome strategic and tactical debates.

The urgency of the moment, the crying need to stop a genocide, has propelled a movement. Right now we need democratic and coalitional spaces that can integrate the vast numbers of people pouring into the streets on a weekly and even daily basis. Through these spaces, we must collectively answer the questions of how to chart the path toward a ceasefire and through that to the question of U.S. imperialism and aid to Israel. And answering how we can take the opportunities of this moment to cohere organizations built for the long-term struggle is essential.

At its core, the movement for Palestine at this moment is at a turning point. Its challenge to U.S. imperialism is felt both in the radicalization it has sparked and in the extreme naked violence that the defenders of Zionism have unleashed. The political clarity and fervent activity of the socialist movement are absolutely necessary if we want to play any kind of role in this historic struggle.

May the Intifada be global! As our comrades in Egypt chant, “May all the presidents fall!” From the river to the sea, free Palestine!

Featured image credit: Never Before Campaign for Palestine; modified by Tempest.

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