As the world marks the International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People, we spoke to Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada), Prof. William Robinson, and BDS advocate Valerie Carmel about the past, present and future of colonialism and resistance in Palestine.
Following the devastating years of the Second World War, colonialism stood on the precipice of total collapse. Tattered and torn by years of dreadful conflict that shattered entire cities and claimed the lives of millions, the once-great powers of Europe were suffering a new form of humiliation. From the British Raj to Indochina, Madagascar to Indonesia, a terrifying trend had developed.
Colonial subjects across the world, sensing fracture and fatigue among their once-virile masters, finally acted to liberate themselves. Once seen as docile and compliant, the natives began to strike terror into those who arrogantly took up the "White Man's Burden" of colonial robbery and plunder. Colonized people across the globe relied on their resourcefulness, organizing prowess, guerilla strategies and mass heroism in a campaign against their foreign overseers, seizing back land across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Great Britain, although a member of the victorious Allies, was barely healing from its wartime defeats in Europe and Asia before it, too, realized that its empire was no longer viable. In 1947, it was forced to simply let go of land it had once ruled in India and Palestine.
Since the end of the First World War in 1917, Palestine had been under the British Empire's Mandate. Populated by Muslims, Christians and Jews, Palestine was seized from the Ottoman Empire by the British, whose army worked in tandem with local Muslim and Arab tribes to sweep the Levant clear of Ottoman Rule. After the Turks were driven out, the Arabs who were promised self-determination were instead stabbed in the back. Their land was divided, with little regard for religious or ethnic communities, by the British and French through the Sykes-Picot agreement.
The British transformed their wealthy Arab collaborators in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq into kings for the purpose of assisting their rule. Palestine, however, was subject to a different plan.
The Balfour Declaration: Britain's Colonial Pledge to Zionism
In November 1917, the British issued a 67-word public statement promising that Mandatory Palestine would eventually become the future "national home for the Jewish people" – in spite of the fact that Jews were then a small minority in the region.
The infamous colonial promise contained in the Balfour Declaration gave a massive boost to an ideological current among secular European Jews known as Zionism, an ideology that promoted the idea of mass Jewish migration to Palestine. Their goal was to build a new "homeland” where European Jews facing violence and discrimination in their respective countries could migrate and forge a new national identity. As Zionist leader and Israeli state founder David Ben Gurion said, the new homeland would be a "bastion of the West in the (Arab) Middle East," a colony for European settlement and control.
"There were always Jews in Palestine; this was never the issue, it was never an issue of religion," Ali Abunimah told teleSUR. Abunimah is a leading advocate of the Palestinian cause and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. His family was driven from Palestine during the violent 1948 events that led to the creation of Israel.
"The Zionist movement was a European-backed colonial movement whose goal was not to coexist with the Palestinian people, but to take their land and to expel them and replace them."
The Liquidation of Mandatory Palestine and the Israeli Colony's Violent Birth
Soon, thousands of settlers arrived in Palestine to build villages and farms, while organizing paramilitary groups for the purpose of protecting the newly founded communities. Before long, the armed brigades assumed a violently Anti-Arab racist character, as well as a zealous sense of discipline and highly militarized internal structures. The paramilitary Zionist groups began attacking neighboring Arab communities, as well as British authorities.
Following the genocidal anti-Jewish crimes of Hitler's Third Reich, the so-called "international community" – newly assembled as the United Nations and dominated by the imperialist powers on the Security Council – decided the time had come to make the British promise final, and grant the survivors of the Holocaust the right to officially create their Jewish nation within the land of Palestine. On November 29, 1947, the U.N. voted to create separate, independent Arab and Jewish states.
"That resolution marked an international blessing for the destruction of Palestine and the expulsion of the Palestinian people," Abunimah said. "These colonial powers didn't care at all about the rights of Indigenous people, including Palestinians, yet they used a right they didn't have to partition the country and give more than half of it away to a minority of newly arrived European settlers, which was the Zionist movement."
Following the Partition, paramilitary brigades such as Irgun, Haganah and Lehi immediately launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing across Palestine. An expansionist wave of violence known to Arabs as the Nakba ("Catastrophe") consumed as many as 600 Palestinian villages and drove more than 700,000 Palestinians from their ancestral lands. Seventy years after the plan, more than 6 million people from the Palestinian diaspora still cannot visit the ancestral homeland of their parents and grandparents.
After the Nakba and eventual founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the paramilitaries were reorganized into the "Israeli Defense Forces," which defines their mission as defending "the existence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of the state of Israel."
The Washington-Tel Aviv Marriage
The United States soon approached the Middle East, curious about the power vacuum being occupied by the Israeli state, as well as Arab nationalist governments actively being courted by the Soviet Union.
"The Truman and first Eisenhower governments had an ambiguous relationship with the early Zionist state as they groped around for a larger imperial strategy for a post-war Middle East order," author and professor William I. Robinson told teleSUR.
Indeed, while Zionism had its supporters among U.S. politicians and the Jewish-American community, official support for the occupation of Palestine had largely been lukewarm. However, the United States' competition with the Soviet Union for global hegemony, as well as the rise of secular nationalism in the Arab world, forced Washington to adjust its approach to the Israeli state.
The IDF's Blitzkrieg-like invasion of Egypt during the 1956 Suez Crisis convinced the United States that the Israelis would be ideal junior partners, quite capable of guarding Western interests in the region.
"The most salient goal of the greater U.S. strategy – a goal that could be achieved through the sponsorship of the Zionist state – was the defeat of Arab nationalism and control over oil resources in the context of the Cold War," Robinson said.
In exchange for enforcing its will, the United States granted the Israelis virtually unlimited backing and support as they not only suppressed and abused the indigenous Palestinian population, but also violated the borders of surrounding nations, tested U.S.-provided weaponry against Soviet arms provided to the Arabs, and eroded the sovereignty of countries such as Lebanon and Syria.
Throughout the 20th century, the Israeli-U.S. relationship proved to be of strategic importance not only to the hegemonic interests of U.S. imperialism but to the expansionist goals of the Zionist colonial project.
"A divided Arab world suited the interests of the imperialist powers: a divided nation is easier to dominate and exploit," argued Moshe Machover, a socialist and writer born in Tel Aviv during the Mandate period.
"A divided Arab nation is also a vital interest of the Zionist project, and it is this common interest that lies at the basis of the close alliance between Zionism (and the Zionist state) and its successive imperialist sponsors and senior partners."
Following the end of the Cold War, however, both the Israelis and the United States began to show signs of weakness and a diminished ability to rule the Middle East. Both allies began to rely on brute force, feeding a cycle of repression and resistance that drew increased attention to the Palestinian people's need for global solidarity.
The Never-Ending Nakba
Valerie Carmel, a member of Ecuador por Palestina, has held protests and actions across Quito advocating for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to pressure Tel Aviv into complying with international law. Earlier this year, Carmel spent several months in East Jerusalem where she witnessed, first-hand, methods used by the Israeli government to depopulate Palestinian territory and seize their land.
"Ethnic cleansing can seem abstract, but it functions on the ground through basic Israeli policies," Carmel said.
"In more than 60 percent of the West Bank area that lies under Israeli control, it's almost impossible for Palestinians to get building permits – according to the U.N., the approval rate in East Jerusalem is 2.3 percent.
"This directly translates into human suffering in the form of constant house demolitions, which can happen to a family even for expanding their kitchen. Those affected have to pay the fees for the demolition, which can easily reach US$20,000, leaving you homeless and in debt."
The Israeli government – which has been leaning farther and farther toward hard-right, racist positions considered extreme even by the Israeli population – then encourages Jewish settlement in depopulated regions, while displacing more and more Bedouin Arab communities.
"The Nakba is ongoing for these families; they simply lack legal recourse," Carmel said.
Palestinians also face denial of their participation in the Israeli economy. Increasingly, local Arabs are no longer sought out, even as a permanent source of cheap and highly exploitable labor. According to William Robinson, the problem poses an ominous dilemma for impoverished Palestinians.
"With the globalization of Israel and the Middle East, there has been a mass influx of transnational migrant labor into Israel and the surrounding countries. Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Africans and others work in Israeli agriculture, industry, and services. Palestinian labor is no longer needed, which makes them surplus humanity," Robinson said.
"The only thing Israel needs from them is their land. This subjects the Palestinians to the specter of genocide and constitutes a structural underpinning to the intensification of Israeli apartheid."
Palestinian Resistance, the Israelis' Constant Fear
Despite the ceaseless nature of dispossession, Palestinians continue to wage a steadfast fight for self-determination through prisoner hunger-strikes, armed struggle, street demonstrations, uprisings and intifadas.
The Palestinians' stubborn refusal to leave their land has placed a question mark over not only Israel's security, but over its legitimacy in the eyes of the world.
"Palestinian insistence on remaining on their land and demanding their full rights has not allowed Israel to really establish a secure hold on the country," argued Abunimah.
"Israel's response has been to use ever-greater levels of violence and repression, both internally and externally, to try to suppress the resistance. Its answer is to become more racist and more extreme."
Increasingly broad segments of the global population have answered Israeli violence with the demand that they be held accountable for the serial abuse of Palestinians' rights.
"In March, a landmark U.N. report that found that Israel operates a system of Apartheid against the whole Palestinian people, including the Palestinians inside Israel or so-called 'Israeli Arabs.' All of which is happening with the full support, of course, of the United States and Europe," Abunimah said.
"And now, after 70 years, Israel faces a global movement for Palestinian rights, including the BDS movement, which exposes Israeli illegitimacy; which is founded on the absolute denial of the rights of Palestinians."
As more public figures and youth join the BDS movement, supporters of Israel have grown increasingly shrill. Hardly a day goes by without articles and statements published that equate pro-Palestine advocacy with anti-Jewish propaganda, extremism and even terrorism.
Solutions, Nonsolutions and Saudi-Zionist Unity
Abunimah sees little hope in the so-called Two-State Solution promoted through the successive "peace processes" the United States has sought to reach between the Israelis and the far-outgunned Palestinian Authority, each of which failed to progress after being blocked by Israeli intransigence and an absence of good faith made clear by continued settlement activity.
The Israelis refused to agree to anything less than a total Palestinian abandonment of self-determination: any future state would have to abandon the expectation that it would have the freedom to officiate policies, independently pursue diplomatic relations with regional neighbors (especially Iran and Lebanon), and maintain armed forces capable of securing their borders.
Tel Aviv and Washington also demanded that their counterparts in Gaza and Ramallah pledge to recognize Palestinian ancestral lands as "the nation-state of the Jewish people," a recognition that would amount to the abandonment of the Palestinians' demand for the right to return, which would also ensure de facto "resident alien" status for Arabs holding Israeli citizenship.
However, even those two-state solutions seem distant with U.S. President Donald Trump making casual statements about how it would be "nice" if the Israelis held back from expanding illegal settlements. Trump has also backed Tel Aviv's exclusive claim to the contested city of Jerusalem, where he has said he would "love" to see a U.S. embassy built.
Trump is expected to announce a major "peace effort" in the coming weeks, spearheaded by the United States, the Israelis and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (with its junior partners in tow). Rumors about the substance of the plan are already raising ire among officials in the Palestinian Authority, as well as doubt among analysts.
"The so-called 'peace plan' will go nowhere: from what we know and what we can expect, it's simply a reheated version of the plan that will give the Palestinians a state in name only, while Israel maintains overall control and continues to colonize the land," Abunimah said, pointing to the shifting regional context.
"The key point here is that this very extreme, very reckless Saudi regime – which is being strangely marketed as reformist by its lobbyists and PR firms in Washington – is setting fires across the region in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has become careless, and now is getting closer and closer to Israel based on a common enmity to Iran: an irrational one that is nevertheless very real in their minds."
Robinson sees the increasingly open Saudi-Israeli alliance as a sign of growing contradictions in a Middle East once dominated by the United States.
"The Arab rulers are no longer small-scale, local elites: they have come of age as local contingents of the transnational capitalist class and the transnational elite and are players on the world stage," Robinson continued.
"Capitalist globalization in the region has involved an ongoing (integration) of the Arab states' economies with that of the Israeli economy and, through it, with the global economy.
"The threats to Israel and the Zionist project are now reduced to Iran and Hezbollah, and the reactionary Arab states led by the Saudis share the same Israeli-U.S. geopolitical interests in this regard. U.S. and global capitalist strategy in the region now rests as much on its alliance with Saudi Arabia as on its partnership with Israel,”
"The reactionary Arab regimes want an accommodation with Israel and have largely already established this de facto, if not de jure. They have left the Palestinians out in the cold."
Palestine: The Nation That Refuses to Die
Abunimah doesn't see any unfolding Arab-Israeli union meeting the goal of subduing the restive Palestinian masses.
Why Palestine Is Still the Issue
"What stands in the way of a public Saudi-Israeli embrace is the Palestinian issue, which still enjoys very deep support and legitimacy across the region and around the world," he said.
"The way the Saudis see it, in a very naive way, is that some type of peace deal that amounts to nothing can be forced on the Palestinians in order just to liquidate this issue and move it out of the way and open the path to Israel's full integration into the region."
The people of Palestine shouldn't be underestimated, Abunimah argues. Likewise, the ham-fisted attempts by U.S. imperialism to dominate the Middle East and its ability to dictate terms to the Arab people and rulers shouldn't be overestimated.
"(The United States) may have these intentions and these desires, an ability to create chaos and destruction in the region – from Iraq to Libya to Yemen and so many other places – but they're not able to create a constructive order of the kind they want. If they could, Iraq would look very different today.
"Remember what they wanted? They wanted Iraq to be a U.S. vassal and playground for American corporations, a laboratory for all of these crazy schemes like flat taxes and no regulations – none of that came to pass.
"Let's not overestimate their ability to impose their will on the region, even though they may try and sadly cause lots of chaos and destruction in the region through their efforts.
"The Palestinians are not sheep to be forced to accept whatever is dictated from Washington or Riyadh or Tel Aviv."
Abunimah, well aware of the dangers in the region and past "dead-ends and detours," emphasizes the most basic goal of the Palestinian people: "Liberation and return."
"What remains fundamental for Palestinians, no matter where they are, is the ability to be on the land – on their land – and return to their country.
"The whole experiment of statehood and the so-called two-state solution ended in total failure and now there needs to be a big reassessment as to what the goal is – whether it will be a single state or something else – but one constant demand will still remain: liberation and return."