Legacies: Nakba and Global Imperial Power
The enduring value of the 70-year-old Palestinian struggle against Zionist colonialism
May 15th 2018 marked the 70th year of Israel’s colonial occupation of Palestinian land, which the Indigenous people of Palestine refer to as “Nakba,” the catastrophe of dispossession and displacement that began with the formation of the state of Israel. The violence of Israel’s occupation and the perseverance and determination of Palestinian resistance were both forced into view on this tragic anniversary. Palestinians again marched – armed only with the dream of their national self-determination – and Israel tried to brutally strike them down, armed by US-supplied bombs, sniper guns, and the tear gas-dropping drones of imperial power. Israel’s colonial project is violent, but it is not complete – a fact that invests the Palestinian struggle with an enduring meaning for all people in struggle against imperial and colonial power.
“One of the most ferocious days our people have witnessed:” The May 14th massacre of Palestinian civilians at the Gaza border
On Sunday May 13th, senior members of the Donald Trump administration gathered in Jerusalem for the opening of the Israeli United States Embassy in a city claimed by stateless Palestinians as the rightful capital of Palestine. As Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared “you cannot base peace on lies” and that “the truth is that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for millennia,” the Israeli military descended on peaceful Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border, killing at least 62 and injuring over 2,700 civilians in one day.
It was only amongst fellow settler colonial countries that Israel found steadfast friends. Canada, the United States, and Australia responded in unison by supporting Israeli war crimes. Chrystia Freeland, the current Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted on May 14th that “all parties have a responsibility to ensure civilians are protected.” She intentionally leaves out that not a single Israeli military officer or civilian was harmed and that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the White House not only defend but support the Israeli military’s open fire on Palestinian citizens. Freeland’s “all parties” supports a talking point that originated in the Israel Defence Forces – that Israel killed civilians because Hamas used civilians as “human shields.”
Israel’s May 14th massacre in Gaza signifies an escalation in the Israeli state tactics of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians and also signifies that the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation remains a global struggle with imperial power on one side and colonized and working-class people on the other.
The colonial mythologies of Zionism
The state of Israel was legally founded in 1948 but its roots go back to Lord Balfour’s 1917 declaration that had British imperial power recognize Palestine as the Jewish homeland. The Balfour declaration boosted Zionism from a fringe movement to a mainstream Jewish ideology that claimed the state of Israel as “a land without a people for a people without a land.”
Prior to 1917, Israel had mostly been a religious ideal within Judaism that most interpreted as scripture related to divinity—not the workings of nation-states. The exception to this ecumenical Zionism was a fringe group that agitated to realize a version of Israel in the real world, as a modern Jewish state where persecuted Jews could find sanctuary from the often violent pressures of anti-Jewish hate. After the 1894 “Dreyfus affair” where a French soldier was convicted of being a spy for the German army for no reason other than widespread anti-Jewish hostility and suspicion in France, journalist Theodore Herzl propagated political Zionist ideas of Israel as the only possible way out of anti-Semitic hate for Jewish people in European countries.
Herzl’s Zionism was an innovation on pre-existing religious dreams of Israel, for which he has been heralded as the “spiritual father” of the state of Israel. His idea was to found a European state for Jewish people over the lands of the Palestinian people. Most Jewish socialists at the turn of the century rejected Herzl’s Zionism as a colonial vision that could not be just. Jewish socialists in Russia in particular denounced political Zionism as aligning with the interests of anti-Jewish bigots by abandoning the fight against anti-Semitism (which they saw as inseparable from a fight against capitalism and bourgeois nationalism) and conspiring to evacuate Jews from Europe.
The founding precept of political Zionism – that Palestine was “empty” and therefore awaiting the arrival of European-style civilization – was tried and tested in prior settler colonial national projects, including the founding of the French and British colonies on Turtle Island and the confederation of Canada. The Zionism of Canadian confederation was terra nullius – the legal fiction that the lands claimed by the European-style nation state were empty and waiting civilization. These colonial mythologies are the foundations that place settler colonial nation states beyond reform and make national dissolution and refoundation – with terms based on free and prior consent that do justice to centuries of colonial violence – the only possible just future for places that must be decolonized.
The politics of Nakba divides the world into oppressor and oppressed
The politics of the Palestinian Nakba – the mass displacement, land dispossession, and ethnic cleansing that began in 1948 – are not particular to the so-called “Israel-Palestine conflict,” they are the politics of struggle between colonized peoples and their occupiers the world over… and both sides know it.
In this 70th year of the Palestinian Nakba, Israel is still attacking Palestinian nationhood, and other settler colonial states are still lining up to support the destruction of Palestine because they see in Israel’s project the fragility of their own dominations. And on the other side of the fence, working class and colonized people see in Israel’s brutality evidence of the desperate vulnerability of every empire. The politics of Nakba divides the world into oppressor and oppressed, military might and collective power; Nakba makes the Palestinian national cause the cause of people the world over.