Today marks the 73rd ‘Nakba Day’. However, rather than being a historical event which we commemorate, we must understand the Nakba as an ongoing catastrophe fuelled by Western imperialism, which Palestinians continue to resist. In the context of the incredible struggles against ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah and mass protests across Palestine Charlie Jarsve considers the international dimensions of Palestine solidarity.
‘Every school child knows that there is no such thing in history as a final arrangement — not with regard to the regime, not with regard to borders, and not with regard to international agreements.’
– David Ben Gurion, diary entry 3rd December 1947, following the ‘acceptance’ of the UN partition of Palestine on 29th November 1947
‘The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong.’
– Benjamin Netanyahu, 29th August 2018
On 14 May 1948, the state of Israel was officially founded. By this time 800,000 Palestinians had already been ethnically cleansed from historic Palestine; 541 villages destroyed and 11 urban neighbourhoods emptied. It is not for nothing that these events are described by Palestinians as al-Nakba: ‘the catastrophe’.
The sites of the massacres carried out between 1947 and 1949 are too numerous to list; from Khisas and Balad al-Shaykh to Tantura, from Lydd to Safsaf, each place name standing for the unspeakable horrors which paved the road to the foundation of the state of Israel. On 9 April 1948 the Irgun and Stern Gang massacred over 100 Palestinian villagers in Deir Yassin, near West Jerusalem. Many of the refugees from massacres and ethnic cleansing around West Jerusalem fled Palestine altogether, but many of those who were able to remain in historic Palestine settled around Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.
Sheikh Jarrah is just one among thousands of areas that continue to be the focus of ethnic cleansing by the Israeli state. In the last few days the Israeli Defence Forces have reduced even more of Gaza to rubble, killing over 120 people including 27 children. The ferocity of the Israeli assault on Gaza, a besieged open-air prison with the most dense civilian population on earth, is unprecedented in recent history. At the same time, Zionist mobs have set fire to mosques, attacked Palestinian homes and businesses, and beaten and brutalised Palestinians in the streets – all with the tacit support of the Israeli police. The fact that the violence of Zionist vigilantes and the Israeli state today so closely mirrors that carried out in the late 1940s demonstrates that the Nakba did not end in 1949. As Joseph Massad has observed, we see today ‘the ongoing Nakba that continues to destroy Palestine and the Palestinians’. The horrific violence of the first years of the foundation of the state of Israel was only the beginning of a still unfolding catastrophe; the establishment of a settler colonial state which could only mean the continued subjugation and brutalisation of Palestinians.
For 73 years, Palestinians have mourned the Nakba. They have done so amidst the continual encroachment of the Israeli occupation over more and more of Palestine; amidst the deeper and deeper entrenchment of a system of apartheid; and amidst the routine violence of colonialism. The majority of Palestinians have mourned the Nakba in exile, as part of the largest refugee population in the world. Whilst we see Palestine on television screens in the West during Israel’s periodic massacres of Palestinians in Gaza, the majority of the daily indignities of occupation, of check-points and military courts and routine settler violence, go on unreported.
When we do see Palestine in the news we are told again and again that ‘Palestinian violence’ is the problem, that the self-defence of Palestinians packed into the most densely-populated place in the world, under constant siege, or subject to military occupation by a nuclear power, is an existential threat from which Israel has a ‘right’ to defend itself. This is despite the fact that militant resistance to military occupation is recognised as a fundamental right under international law. The constant repetition of this story is not simply due to the bias of news outlets or the success of a right-wing narrative, but reflects the way the violence of the Israeli state is the violence of Western imperialism.
Even in its earliest manifestations Zionism was a political movement directly inspired by the European nation-building projects of the nineteenth century, and Israel has since become central to the interests of Western imperialism in the Middle East and Africa. In 1956 Israel was central to asserting British interests in the region, when Israel invaded Egypt in an ultimately failed attempt to help Britain regain control of the Suez Canal. British and American support for Israel is not only motivated by the self-interest of Britain and the United States, but is the entire basis of Israeli settler-colonialism. Zionism is Western imperialism, and Palestine is one of the places where Western imperialism most consistently makes its graves. In recent history, Israel has been Britain and America’s indispensable representative in the region throughout the ‘War on Terror’. Whilst Israel possesses, like all states across the world, the capacity to lobby for its own interests, this is not the key factor in ensuring that it has access to the most advanced weapons in the world, to British Raytheon missiles and eye-watering American defence spending and security cooperation.
The struggle for Palestinian liberation, whilst it might appear distant for those of us in Britain, cannot be separated from our struggles against the racism of the British state at home. The rampant islamophobia that informs British state violence is a direct product of the brutalisation enacted by Western imperialism.
For 73 years Palestinians have not only mourned the Nakba but refused to accept its continuation. With unbreakable resolve this resistance has made itself felt across the world. The strength of Palestine solidarity on the British left and in the labour movement did not occur by chance, but through the tireless solidarity efforts of Palestinian activists who have always known that their liberation is bound up with an international struggle against oppression. As Israeli settlers have sought to illegally expand the occupied territories they have always been met with resistance, both from Palestinians, but also in many cases from international delegations from trade unions and solidarity groups. Yesterday, dockworkers in Livorno refused to load ships with weapons bound for Israel. Across the world the campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel stands as a testament to the internationalism of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Israel’s project of progressively seizing more and more Palestinian land has drastically shrunk the territories even nominally owned by Palestinians. At the same time, however, it has had the result of dramatically increasing the relative population of Palestinians in territory under direct Israeli control, inadvertently creating the conditions for stronger bonds of solidarity between Palestinians within the 1948 borders of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, and the opportunity for the stronger organisation of the Palestinian masses.
Over the last few days we have seen incredible and unprecedented chapters in Palestinian resistance, with protests in every major city in Israel and protesters from Lebanon and Jordan breaching the border fences to enter the historic Palestine. We have a duty to nurture this resistance with our solidarity. Against 73 years of brutalisation, dispossession, and imperialist aggression, there is light in the darkness.
Victory to the intifada.
To mark Nakba day and to stand in solidarity with the incredible resistance of the Palestinian people there are protests happening all over the country this weekend. In London today there will be a protest assembling at the Colombian Embassy at noon to march to join the Palestine Solidarity demonstration. You can also see a full list of demonstrations organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign here.