Tariq Ali

As I write this, Gaza is still being bombed, its citizens massacred by a state that has dehumanised itself as well as its powerful supporters (Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among the more recent apologists, and New Delhi is the only significant global city where there has been no demonstration against Israeli war crimes) over the years, each decade worse than the one before. There is no moral, political, or military equivalence as far as the two sides are concerned.

Israel is a nuclear state, armed to the teeth by the US. Its existence is not under threat. It is the Palestinians, their lands, and their lives that are under permanent attack. This must be resisted by all means necessary. Or is it that Western civilisation is going to stand by while the indirect victims of the Judeocide are also gradually exterminated or expelled from their homes? A new nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) has been in motion for some years. That is what this dispute is now about.

The Far-Right regime in Israel with some serious fascists in key posts is using exterminist language and threats and carrying some of them out. They are, as usual, blaming the victims for the war crimes that are taking place. The New York Times, which once published pieces telling lies about Iraq (weapons of mass destruction, etc.), is carrying on in the same way by backing the absurd and discredited propaganda that accuses Palestinian groups of having bombed a hospital in Gaza. But very few are falling for the propaganda this time. Every untruth has been challenged and answered by the huge demonstrations taking place. The Israelis want as many Gazan Palestinians killed as possible, with northern Gaza occupied by Israeli troops and southern Gaza decimated by weekly targeting to drive people into Egypt. They will move on to the West Bank soon. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted at the UN, there will only be one Israel in the shape of an authoritarian apartheid state. That is, in fact, what most Israeli leaders have wanted and from the very beginning. Labour and Likud have adopted different styles, but the aim is the same. Eretz Israel.

In December 1987, after a traffic accident on the Gaza-Israeli border saw four Palestinians killed, a new intifada erupted in Palestine, shaking Israel as well as the Arab elites. It started spontaneously and spread rapidly. The Israeli historian Benny Morris, despite his own Zionist views, described it accurately: “It was not an armed rebellion, but a massive, persistent campaign of civil resistance, with strikes and commercial shut-downs, accompanied by violent (but unarmed) demonstrations against the occupying forces. The stone and, occasionally, the Molotov cocktail and knife were its symbols.” How did the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) respond? Back to Morris: “Almost everything was tried: shooting to kill, shooting to injure, beatings, mass arrests, torture, trials, administrative detention, and economic sanctions… a great many (of the Palestinian dead) were children.”

The Oslo conference

The uprising took both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership in Tunis and the Israeli regime by surprise. Yasser Arafat sent feelers to Yitzhak Rabin via Norwegian intermediaries, and after much secret negotiations the Oslo conference took place. It was a direct result of the intifada. The leadership of the actual intifada was sidelined. The Israelis preferred to deal with the PLO.

A few weeks later, the grand old Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani wrote a long poem, “The Trilogy of the Children of Stones”, in which he denounced the older generation of Palestinian leaders (today represented by the corrupt, collaborationist Palestinian Authority). It was sung and recited in many an Arab and Palestinian café:

The children of the stones

have scattered our papers

spilled ink on our clothes

mocked the banality of old texts…

O Children of Gaza

Don’t mind our broadcasts

Don’t listen to us

We are the people of cold calculation

Of addition, of subtraction

Wage your wars and leave us alone

We are dead and tombless

Orphans with no eyes.

Children of Gaza

Don’t refer to our writings

Don’t be like us.

We are your idols

Don’t worship us.

O mad people of Gaza,

A thousand greetings to the mad

The age of political reason has long


So teach us madness…

The Palestinian people and their organisations have tried every method to achieve some form of meaningful self-determination. Every Israeli political party has sabotaged this hope. “Renounce violence,” they were told. They did, despite the odd response to an Israeli atrocity. There was massive support among Palestinians at home and in the diaspora for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement to put pressure on Israel. Here was a peaceful movement par excellence and it has been partially successful. Precisely for this reason, the US and its NATO family have been trying to criminalise it in Europe and America. To support BDS and defend the Palestinians apparently encourages ‘anti-Semitism’, as defined by weightless organisations such as the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).

As I write, the newest version of the Labour Party in the UK has banned meetings during its conference that use the word “apartheid” in their advertising. The Labour Left is too scared of being expelled and has fallen silent on the issue. A sorry state of affairs in this country. South Africa, Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile, and Mexico support BDS and the Palestinian cause. Neither Türkiye nor Egypt nor most of the Arab states speak up for the Palestinians. And the keeper of the holiest of holy Muslim cities, Saudi Arabia, is currently negotiating recognising the Israel government with the White House. The latest events might delay the process. Not much more.

Backing the fascism of the settlers

For decades, the IDF has attacked and killed Palestinians at leisure. A handful of retired IDF Generals and their Mossad equivalents admit that what is being done to the Palestinians is shameful, but what is the point of saying this after they have retired? The IDF and Mossad have backed the fascism of the settlers in occupied territory and stood by as they burn houses, destroy olive plantations, pour cement in wells, drive Palestinians out, chant “Death to the Arabs”, target and kill young men, and all with hardly a murmur from Western leaders.

Then one day the elected Palestinian leadership in Gaza decides to fight back. The headlines on this event bring Palestinians back into the news. Shock, horror. They are resisting again! Why should they not? They know better than most that the Far-Right government in Israel will retaliate viciously, backed as usual by the US and the mealy-mouthed European Union. What did they think? That there would be no blowback at all? And that Netanyahu and some of the criminals in his Cabinet would slowly expel or kill most of the Palestinians? Let there be no doubt. Some of the fascist elements in the Israeli government have quite openly said they will initiate mass killings of Palestinians. One of them described them as “human animals”. The Nazis referred to Jews, Slavs, the Roma, the disabled as Untermensch, the subhuman.

Jewish liberals in Israel and the diaspora are upset that Bibi Netanyahu is trying to neuter the highest court in the land to protect himself against very serious charges of corruption. But the sustained and mammoth demonstrations in Tel Aviv by Israelis to defend their Supreme Court against the Far-Right government’s threats cut little ice as far as Palestinians are concerned. They know full well that most of the marchers who defend Jewish civil rights do not care a whit for the rights of Palestinians. They know that this same Supreme Court is part of the apartheid state’s systematic oppression of the occupied and besieged Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza.

Do the oppressed Palestinians have a right to resist the non-stop aggression to which they are subjected? There can be only one answer: Yes. Subjugated people have long asserted their right to resist. This is a right they give themselves, a right that goes far back to Spartacus and Toussaint L’Ouverture, leaders, respectively, of white slaves against the Roman Empire and black slaves against the French Empire. This is what anti-colonial resistance fighters did throughout the 20th century: China, Vietnam, Korea, Algeria, Angola, Mozambique, and so on.

To exclude Palestinians from this list because the forebears of those who occupy, torture, kill, destroy are the descendants of those who were burnt in the Judeocide no longer serves as a justification of the Second World War, an event that the Allies watched and did nothing to prevent. The Jewish Agency asked Churchill to bomb the Treblinka and Auschwitz concentration camps, to raze them to the ground. They were told that the RAF was busy. This guilt felt by Europe is a partial explanation of their refusal to understand that Palestinians, too, are indirect victims of the Judeocide. Many anti-Zionist Jewish friends of mine sometimes say that it would have been much better had the six million not been killed and we had been spared a Zionist entity in Palestine.

No longer on the back burner

The Israelis are waiting for a green light from the US to march into Gaza and destroy more buildings and kill more people. They have not yet obtained permission from the White House to take on Hezbollah in Lebanon. The US, worried by the closeness of Iran with China, is engaged in negotiations with Tehran and does not want a disruption at this moment. While the Israelis wait, they torture Gaza every day. They take hostages from both Gaza and the refugee settlements in the occupied lands. They froth and fume because they know that the Palestinian offensive masterminded by Hamas has ignited mass global support for Palestine. The fact that the King of Jordan, a country that is little more than an American-Israeli protectorate, refused to meet with US President Joe Biden and made a sharp speech at the recent regional summit in which he defended self-determination and support for Palestine is a clear sign that the question of Palestine is no longer on the back burner.

Those who had imagined that the Palestinians were in the grip of an unshakeable apathy and despair have suffered a rude shock. This is the real triumph of the Hamas initiative, but nobody in the US or EU world is demanding elections in Palestine. They are scared by democracy. They fear that Mahmoud Abbas and his minions will be swept aside and replaced by Hamas and possibly others. The Palestinian Authority has largely been discredited, just like Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt and the King in Morocco.

The size of the demonstrations in the Arab world has created an impressive unity from below. Half a million people on the streets of Morocco (which recognises Israel); two huge street assemblies numbered at over a quarter of a million each on successive days in Amman. Tahrir Square occupied in Cairo once again and flanked by hundreds of thousands on the streets in other parts of the city. The Algerian government is offering full support to the cause, and on many levels.

The Arab nation was divided into different states after the Ottoman Empire fell and these states were, for the most part, created by Britain and France as new acquisitions after the First World War. But Arab nationalism grew stronger and Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, inspired the region. There were attempts to unite that world. Israel, Britain, and France (without a US green light) invaded Egypt in 1956 but failed to topple Nasser. The Indian Prime Minister at the time, Jawaharlal Nehru, backed Egypt strongly while Pakistan backed Britain. The most popular name for young children in Egypt that year was Jawahar. During that 1956 war, Israel attacked and occupied Gaza for four months. What happened afterwards offers a possible model for today. In March 1957, the US ordered Israel to withdraw from Gaza. President Dwight Eisenhower used maximum verbal and diplomatic pressure and threatened sanctions. The Israelis withdrew.

It is reported that during a recent meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the Saudi Crown Prince, the latter was sharp-tongued and asked the American to order a ceasefire and end the siege of Gaza. This, of course, would be the simplest and most effective method to bring this phase to an end and free Gaza. Create a space and discuss a possible end to the crisis.

From their own experience in Afghanistan, the Americans know that bombings and occupations rarely work, as Biden admitted when he cautioned Israel this time. They should explain this to their client state in Jerusalem.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine, like other variants elsewhere, as the Israeli historian Benny Morris tells us, was “founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation… and was always a brutal and mortifying experience for the occupied”.

Neither Ariel Sharon nor Benjamin Netanyahu and his fascist sidekicks have succeeded in crushing Gaza yet. Now, the world is watching again. This is the triumph that ordinary Palestinians of every hue are celebrating despite the persistent pain and atrocities.

Tariq Ali is a writer and an editor at New Left Review.
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