Support Palestinians When They Fight, Not Just When They Die

In the midst of Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza, some on the left have shamefully joined with Zionists in condemning left-wing support for Palestinian resistance. For these critics, Palestinian victimhood is always an acceptable rallying point, while Palestinian violence never is. Socialists must reject these bad-faith arguments and resolve to support Palestinians unconditionally in all their struggles against the brutality and horror of occupation.

by | Dec 5, 2023

In October, inmates of the Zionist state’s de facto concentration camp in the Gaza Strip executed a desperate, yet powerfully courageous, escape.

The scene shocked the world. Just four years prior, Palestinian protesters had tried week after week for nearly a year to end their imprisonment in Gaza during the Great March of Return in 2018–2019. They paid a heavy price for their resistance as Israeli snipers killed more than 200 protesters, medics, and journalists, and wounded some 36,000 people in a centralized campaign to maim as many Palestinians as possible. Thousands of people were shot in their limbs, resulting in over 150 amputations due to Israeli bullets.

Then, on October 7, the border fence came down. Members of the Palestinian resistance streamed across the border, celebrated on captured Israeli tanks, and dealt the most serious blow to Israeli Occupation Forces in generations. In the weeks since, the Israeli regime has put an end to the celebrations in a brutal, genocidal bombing campaign spanning four countries and murdering more than 9,000 Palestinians and counting. But the spirit of resistance ignited by Al-Aqsa Flood has spread throughout the globe. Despite heavy repression of activism in solidarity with Palestine in the state of Israel’s many European and settler-colonial allies, the US included, millions have taken to the streets in cities and towns around the world to call for an end to the bombing of Gaza and in support of Palestinians’ ongoing struggle for freedom from the river to the sea.

This outpouring of international support for the Palestinian struggle has challenged the foundations of political hegemony throughout the globe. Governments everywhere see the radicalizing potential of the Palestinian freedom struggle and thus have criminalized protests in solidarity with Palestine, banned the keffiyeh, the Palestinian flag, and other Palestinian nationalist symbols, and encouraged workplace-based repression of pro-Palestine sentiment. And yet, millions of people have proven the inadequacy of such measures to stem the tide of solidarity, turning out in massive numbers to illegal demonstrations because, for the exploited and oppressed of every country, the significance of the battle for justice in Palestine is apparent. Not out of charity but because of a collective recognition that a Palestinian David’s blow against the Goliath of Israeli apartheid and US imperialism would reverberate through the struggles of working and oppressed people everywhere. In the images of fences toppling and resistance spreading — particularly throughout the Arab world — we saw a glimpse of new possibilities. And instinctively, in our millions, we made the Palestinian struggle our struggle — and so the scope of protest and resistance ballooned.

This moment is a crystal-clear demonstration of the importance and meaning of socialist internationalism. All our movements owe a tremendous debt to the Palestinian fighters and activists sacrificing everything in the struggle for freedom. We pay it back in small measure by staying loud, staying militant, and staying in the streets to demand an end to the genocide and a free Palestine.

The specter of solidarity

Even as millions of people around the world have come to see themselves in Palestinians’ struggle for self-determination — and indeed, their fight for their very survival — a devastating number of our comrades on the broad left here in the United States have missed the significance of October 7. In a minority of cases, but nevertheless too many, it was not the courageous act of resistance which drew activists’ solidarity, but the suffering of the Israeli settlers still dwelling in the racist, colonial communes that first enlisted Jewish workers from across Europe in the theft of Palestinian land and the eradication of Palestinian people.

This moment is a crystal-clear demonstration of the importance and meaning of socialist internationalism. All our movements owe a tremendous debt to the Palestinian fighters and activists sacrificing everything in the struggle for freedom. We pay it back in small measure by staying loud, staying militant, and staying in the streets to demand an end to the genocide and a free Palestine.

While coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post would have one believe that the left had responded to the violence of October 7 with a collective, crazed baying for the blood of Israeli children, the substance of this specter of a blood-lustful, anti-human left was seldom substantiated with more than statements of basic, principled, unconditional support for Palestinian resistance. In many cases, this unfounded specter was raised from among the left’s own ranks.

Naomi Klein, who wrote a piece condemning sections of the left for “celebrat[ing]” “Israeli Jews [being] killed in their homes,” failed to support this accusation with even a single example. Joshua Leifer, a member of the anti-occupation group IfNotNow and an editor at multiple left-wing publications, wrote a letter lamenting the “inhumanity” of Palestinian activists, citing as evidence a basic expression of pride in the courage of the Palestinian resistance. BLM Chicago was forced to remove a post that said only “I stand with Palestine,” because it was accompanied by a picture of a hang-gliding resistance fighter. And Governor Kathy Hochul condemned an “All Out for Palestine” rally in New York City before it had even taken place. She did so not out of any specific critique of orientation toward the events of October 7 or political positions held by the organizers. The condemnable position was the very notion of supporting the Palestinian struggle at a time when resistance from Palestinians meant that Israelis were experiencing a dose of the fear and uncertainty that characterizes life in Gaza on a daily basis.

In each case, the left was accused of adopting the callous anti-humanism of the far right. In each case, we were assured that it was not our solidarity with Palestine that was in question, but our alleged support for (often fabricated) acts of horrific violence removed from any sense of scale or context. And in each case, the examples provided to support such accusations were basic, unadorned statements of support for the actual Palestinians daring to resist. “Standing with Palestine” among these comrades is unobjectionable. Standing with real, living Palestinians, who ride on hang gliders and carry rifles and throw rocks and “glorify” their martyrs and “celebrate” their acts of resistance, according to Leifer, is “shockingly inhumane.”

Policing language, policing resistance

When I was in college, I was subject to a misconduct investigation because a student group of which I was a member posted the popular movement slogan “Long live the Intifada” on social media. The word intifada loosely translates to “uprising.” In English, the word is typically invoked to describe two periods of Palestinian resistance: the periods from 1987–1993 and 2001–2005. In Arabic, the word is used to describe any number of protest movements and revolutions, violent and nonviolent. The protest movement that toppled Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, for example, was an intifada. The protests against the imposition of new taxes in Lebanon in 2019 were an intifada. To discuss the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Arabic, one would use the word intifada.

This slogan has a long history of being particularly triggering to Zionists and even anti-Zionist proponents of respectability politics — a fact which I can only attribute to a racist, orientalist sheen surrounding an Arabic word denoting a “shaking off” of the yoke of power. Recently, Marjorie Taylor Greene has used an appearance of the word intifada on an activist’s phone screen to label the Jewish protesters who staged a sit-in at the US capitol “insurrectionists.” But why? Intifada clearly doesn’t designate an insurrection, nor even a particularly violent or inhumane orientation on the task of political change. The First Intifada consisted primarily of strikes, boycotts, and mass protests. So why does support for “the Intifada” prove so self-evidently objectionable to Zionists that anyone who utters the word finds themselves immediately attacked and discredited?

The tone-policing dimension of criticisms of the Intifada is in fact a red herring. There is no Palestinian resistance that falls outside the definition of the word intifada — no possibility for Palestinian freedom.

Liberal Zionists who police support for “the Intifada” assure us that it is not the fact of our support for Palestinian wellbeing and freedom that is in question, but support for violence. “Long live the Intifada,” posted by our majority-Jewish student group, was a call for mass violence against Jews — or so read the complaints against us by our Zionist detractors. But just as was the case in the examples cited above, the tone-policing dimension of criticisms of the Intifada is in fact a red herring. There is no Palestinian resistance that falls outside the definition of the word intifada — no possibility for Palestinian freedom. It is well and good to speak abstractly of freedom and justice for all people (though not all people “from the river to the sea”). But from the perspective of the settler — even of the settler left — any actual manifestation of Palestinians freeing themselves is a threat. If it is not an intifada, it is a hang glider. If not a hang glider, it is a rock. If not a rock, it is Arabic-language chants. If not Arabic-language chants, it is glory. If not glory, it is celebration of resistance.

It is fine to endorse Palestinian liberation in the abstract. I have no doubt that Klein, Leifer, and many more of the would-be comrades who spent the weeks following Al-Aqsa Flood punching left endorse Palestinian liberation in the abstract. But somehow, whenever that abstraction materializes in the form of concrete struggle by Palestinians, it becomes the subject of hand-wringing and self-righteous denunciations.

By any means necessary: Palestinians as agents of their own liberation

There is, of course, one notable exception to this rule: dying. The settler left never fails to find common cause with Palestinians engaged in the liberatory act of dying at the hands of their oppressors. On October 8, every left-wing Israeli politician, every anti-occupation NGO, and every ally of the settler left in the United States rushed to condemn those Palestinians who dared to cross the Gaza border while protecting their life, with a rifle if necessary, as they broke free from their open-air prison. One could not help but contrast those condemnations to the solidarity that emanated from the very same sources during the Great March of Return. OK, not totally — many on the Israeli and US Left quibbled with tactics used during the Great March of Return and condemned violence on both sides. Still, the simple marchers, journalists, and medics slaughtered by Israeli snipers became the darlings — dare I say, the martyrs — of the Israeli left.

In one of the responses to October 7 decried as inhumane by Joshua Leifer, an activist asks, “What did y’all think decolonization meant?” In the last several weeks, the settler left has shown us that they think decolonization looks like dying. After a few days of punching left, of condemning the resistance of Palestinians, and publicly grieving the deaths of Israeli civilians, settlers, and soldiers alike, Klein, Leifer, and the rest of the settler-aligned left of US politics rejoined Palestinians in the streets. What changed? Palestinians died. The images on social media (if not, still, on mainstream news) had rolled over from dead settlers to dead Palestinians, and the settler-aligned left regained their appetite for struggle. Palestinian resistance — at least, the tip of the spear — had been subdued. And a layer of progressives could go back to supporting the abstraction of Palestinian freedom, unencumbered by the threat of real, living Palestinian resistance.

We must of course fight tirelessly for an end to the bombing of Gaza; but we must also support Palestinians not just as victims, but as agents of their own liberation, fighting by any means necessary to entirely dismantle the Israeli settler regime.

But this wasn’t, and isn’t, and can’t be the only script for solidarity. Because even before the first retaliatory bombs were dropped on Gaza, the first round of solidarity actions had been called in cities around the world. Because for the oppressed and exploited of Amman, Cairo, Beirut, London, New York, Chicago, Sydney, and Paris, to name just a few, it was not Palestinian death that brought us into the streets, but a brief glimpse of Palestinian life outside of a cage. It is not Palestinian death which inspires us to struggle for a free Palestine and a freer world, but the courage and fortitude of Palestinian resistance in the face of it. For a disappointing number of leftists in the United States, who felt the settlers’ pain on October 7 (and, I can only imagine, saw a little of themselves in the good, liberal, anti-occupation settlers who nevertheless lost their lives to Al-Aqsa Flood), the knee-jerk reaction was to condemn Hamas, condemn the Palestinian resistance, and join Gaza’s prison guards in mourning. For hundreds of thousands of people in Amman, many no doubt Palestinian refugees themselves, the knee-jerk reaction was to chant “All of Jordan are Hamas” in a breathtaking testament to the inspiring character of struggle in the face of impossible odds.

In moments of great resistance, and in moments of great horror, Palestinians need comrades who will stand by them unconditionally. This has always been true — not just of Palestinians, but of all the world’s exploited and oppressed. And this year, after a consolidation of power by the Israeli fascist movement, a dramatic escalation of settler violence in the occupied West Bank, and a serious isolation of the Palestinian movement through the Abraham Accords, it is truer than ever. An outpouring of international support in moments of both heavy resistance and heavy repression is one of the most crucial ways in which allies of the Palestinian struggle around the world can tip the scales in favor of an end to Israeli apartheid, because a free Palestine is unthinkable outside a revolutionary challenge to the imperialist world structure and to many regimes, both regionally and globally, that aid and abet the continuation of the Zionist settler regime.

If we are to mount that challenge, then the left must learn to identify not with Palestinians’ allies in the NGOs, in government, and in the state of Israel, but with Palestinians themselves. We must of course fight tirelessly for an end to the bombing of Gaza; but we must also support Palestinians not just as victims, but as agents of their own liberation, fighting by any means necessary to entirely dismantle the Israeli settler regime. Palestinian resistance plays a key role in the international struggle against imperialism, against capitalism, and for a freer world. It can only succeed if it is joined in struggle by people around the world with a clear understanding of which side we are on.

This article was originally published at originally published at Tempest

Photo: Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel over destroyed buildings following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

Jonah ben Avraham
(he/him) is a Midwest-based socialist and anti-fascist activist. He is a member of the Tempest Collective.

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