By Geoff Mirelowitz and Argiris Malapanis
May 21, 2021—For the first time in 16 years, the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and for an end to Israeli occupation and oppression has exploded again into the center of world politics.
On May 18, Palestinians staged a massive general strike across Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Millions participated in this unprecedented action. Reporting on the strike, the New York Times felt compelled to acknowledge at least part of the true history that has led to this new stage in the Palestinian national liberation struggle.
Following the 1948 expulsion by Zionists of hundreds of thousands from their homes, Palestinians “have been divided not only by geography, but also by lived experience,” the Times noted.
“They were scattered across Gaza, the West Bank, and the wider Middle East, as well as the state of Israel itself. Some struggled under differing forms of military occupation, while others were given Israeli citizenship—diluting their common identity,” the Times said.
“But on Tuesday, millions of them came together in a general strike to protest their shared treatment by Israel, in what many Palestinians described as a rare show of political unity.”
The strike was in response to what Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel characterized as, “The Zionist barbarism and the cloak of impunity that the United States has spread over these crimes with its support for the Israeli regime,” which “insults the world.”
Israel’s barbarism continued, with its air force and ground artillery raining death and destruction on Gaza, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and unmitigated suffering by the entire population. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says it has verified that 219 Palestinians, including 63 children, have been killed in Gaza since the start of the Israeli bombing on May 10. At the same time, 12 Israelis, including two children, have been killed in Israel from the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza, most of which were intercepted by the Israeli anti-missile system “Iron Dome.”
“The directive is to continue striking at the terrorist targets,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced May 17, “to restore quiet and security.”
Three days later, under pressure from world-wide condemnation of its onslaught, Tel Aviv announced a cease-fire. Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip, reportedly agreed to an Egyptian government proposal to pause the fighting across the Gaza border as of the morning of May 21. At the same time, Netanyahu’s government warned that “that the reality on the ground will determine the continuation of the campaign.”
The Palestinian general strike pointed to Tel Aviv as the true source of terror. The walkout made it clear that “quiet” cannot be restored in any long-term sense until the oppression of Palestinians ends.
The war Israel is waging today did not begin with rockets fired by Hamas. Its origins lie in the dispossession of Palestinians from their land decades ago. That dispossession and denial of national rights continues today. It has created the conditions for a new stage of Palestinian resistance that has now burst into the open.
Sheikh Jarrah eviction attempt, Al Aqsa raids set off conflict
The spark that set off the resistance was the attempt to evict six Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, in favor of Jewish settlers. Israeli authorities claimed the issue is nothing more than a “real estate dispute.” The truth is very different.
The fight came to symbolize the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, in particular from East Jerusalem. Thousands of Palestinians continue to live in that part of the historic city, which Israel occupied in the 1967 “Six-Day War” and later annexed.
“It made it feel as though they were trying to eliminate our presence from the city,” Majed al-Qeimari, a 27-year-old butcher from East Jerusalem told the Times. “We felt the need to stand up in their faces and make a point that we are here.”
Palestinians are being pushed out of Jerusalem. Restrictions on building permits force them to either leave the city or build illegal housing, which is often demolished by Israeli authorities.
Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim land in East Jerusalem that was owned by Jews before 1948. But the descendants of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled their homes that year have no legal means to reclaim their families’ land.
The Israeli Supreme Court was scheduled to rule on the evictions in early May. In mid-April, however, Israeli authorities began a series of provocations that stoked Palestinian rage. The court decision has been postponed.
On the night of April 13—27 days before the first rocket was fired from Gaza—Israeli cops incited Palestinian resistance by marching into the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. They raided the mosque on the first night of Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims. They cut the cables to loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to worshippers.
“This was the turning point,” said Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. “Their actions would cause the situation to deteriorate.”
Confirmation of that view came from a distinctly different source. It was the outgrowth of years of blockades and restrictions in Gaza, decades of occupation in the West Bank, and decades more of discrimination against Arabs within the state of Israel, said Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Parliament and former chairman of the World Zionist Organization.
“All the enriched uranium was already in place,” said Burg. “But you needed a trigger. And the trigger was the Aqsa Mosque.”
New Israeli police provocations followed. A plaza outside the Damascus Gate, a popular gathering spot for Palestinians on evenings during Ramadan, was shut down, leading to more resistance.
Ultrarightist Jewish groups add fuel to fire
The extreme rightist Jewish group Lehava then added fuel to the fire. On April 21 a few hundred people marched through Jerusalem chanting, “Death to Arabs!” They attacked Palestinian passers-by. The rightists brutally assaulted Palestinian homes and drivers perceived as Palestinian.
At the same time, Netanyahu was trying again to cobble together a coalition government to keep himself in power. One extreme right-wing figure Netanyahu was courting was Itamar Ben Gvir, a former lawyer for Lehava.
On April 25 the Israeli government reversed the Damascus Gate restrictions. However, the drive to evict the six families from Sheikh Jarrah continued. “What you see now at Sheikh Jarrah or at Al Aqsa or at Damascus Gate is about pushing us out of Jerusalem,” said Salah Diab, a community leader in Sheikh Jarrah, whose leg was broken during a recent police raid on his house. “My neighborhood is just the beginning.”
Cop violence against Palestinians mounted. Video of that brutality began to spread. On May 7 Israeli cops raided Al Aqsa again, armed with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-tipped bullets, setting off fierce fighting, including inside the prayer hall itself. This further disrespect to a Muslim holy site was itself an escalation. The cops repeated the invasion on May 10.
On the heels of the eviction efforts, the police raids were something “every single Palestinian in the diaspora can relate to,” said Jehan Bseiso, a Palestinian poet living in Lebanon. “There’s something really triggering and cyclical about seeing people being removed from their homes all over again,” Ms. Bseiso said. “It’s very triggering and very, very relatable, even if you’re a million miles away.”
Palestinians inside Israel respond to Zionist attacks
The Israeli anti-Arab attacks in East Jerusalem prompted a response much closer to home, among Palestinians living in Israel itself. Such protest and rage have not been seen inside Israel for 16 years, since the end of the five-year-long Palestinian uprising known as the second Intifada in 2005. (A similar rebellion, the first intifada, took place in the 1980s.)
A prime example was in the city of Lod, one of the Israeli cities where Jews and Palestinians live most closely together. Still known to Palestinians as Lydd, it is a city with a brutal history.
It was the site of the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians and the dispossession of thousands more during the 1948 war. The Israeli commander who conducted the purge later told Israeli writer Ari Shavit he believed that Israel would not survive “if it did not first rid itself of the Palestinian population that endangered it from within.”
Seventy-three years later, “We ran out of the house without clothes on. It was burning,” said Shirin al-Hinawi, a 33-year-old worker for an Israeli food company and an Arab resident of Lod whose house was charred by a Molotov cocktail. Her family called for police help, but no one came, she said. “We are not living in Gaza,” she said. “I’m an Israeli citizen, and we didn’t do anything.”
Arabs in Israel make up about 20% of Israel’s population and are the descendants of Palestinians who stayed in the country after the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Most have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face widespread discrimination.
Most Palestinian citizens of Israel speak Hebrew and are well-represented in Israel’s medical profession and universities. At the same time, they largely identify with the Palestinian cause. Lod’s Arabs, who make up about a third of the city’s population, are among the poorest communities in Israel.
“We’re talking about young people who have no horizon, no dreams, who are unemployed and live in a very difficult reality,” said Dr. Nasreen Haddad Haj-Yahya, the director of the Arab-Jewish relations program at the Israel Democracy Institute, according to a May 12 Associated Press article.
She said Palestinian anger was not directed at Lod’s longtime Jewish community but at more ideological recent arrivals.
“It’s not because of who they are. It’s because they are trying to Judaize Lod. They are trying to drive out the indigenous Arab residents,” she said. “The young people see it as a threat to their presence in the land, to their existence.”
The Palestinian resistance spread to Acre and Haifa where Israeli Jews and Palestinians have also lived together in relative peace.
“Many Palestinians on either side of the boundary between Israel and the occupied territories say that they are the victims of the same system of oppression,” the Times reported, “one that operates with varying degrees of intensity, and offers Arabs varying degrees of freedom, but ultimately seeks to assert Jewish supremacy wherever that system is in force.”
In a May 14 televised interview with the U.S.-based news service Democracy Now, Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi shed light on the meaning of these events. Ashrawi, formerly an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, is the first woman to hold a seat on the highest executive committee in Palestine.
“In historic Palestine, what we call 1948 Palestine, which became Israel, the indigenous Palestinians are again being targeted,” Ashrawi said, speaking from Ramallah, West Bank. “The irony is they are being beaten up by Jewish Israelis because they happen not to be Jewish, because Israel legislated a basic law, the nation-state law, which says that only Jews have the right to self-determination, which means that even Palestinians who were in Palestine before Israel was created, although they are Israeli citizens, they have no rights whatsoever. This is legalized discrimination and apartheid very clearly.
“So, as a result of decades of discrimination, and oppression,” she continued, “the Palestinians in all major areas, cities, and towns in ‘48 Palestine are now protesting, because they are facing the violence of the Israelis, ironically of the Israeli settlers who came from the West Bank.
“It’s not enough that they are stealing our land, that they are illegally building colonies and settlements in the West Bank. They are fully armed, they are never held to account, and they are always protected by the Israeli army in the West Bank. Now they have been imported, particularly the most extreme, racist wing, the Lahava group that has been emboldened and adopted, actually, by Netanyahu. They are wreaking havoc within Israel, within what they call the mixed towns and cities, wherever they can find Palestinians, even though they are supposed to have the same passports or nationality as Israelis. They are totally vulnerable.
“And the Israeli security, Netanyahu, actually imported not just the settlers into Israel but the border guards, which means he is treating all of historic Palestine as an occupied territory. He is treating Lydd, Ramle, Acre, Haifa, all these towns and villages as though they are part of an occupied territory, which means Israel is re-occupying Palestine.”
In doing so the Israeli government and its ultra-rightist allies over-reached and provoked an unexpected response.
“This is a pattern,” Ashrawi explained, referring to Israeli repression. “But it has now come to a head because now Palestinians everywhere are united in their opposition to oppression, to injustice, to violence, to cruelty and brutality. You have them as I said in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, in the Gaza Strip, within Israel or ‘48 Palestine, and all over the world. Now Palestinians in the [United] States and in Washington, and Manhattan, New York, and Chicago and different places are also protesting along with their allies, along with this amazing solidarity network that is emerging in the U.S., as well as in Europe and in the Arab world.
“So there is this unity of identity, unity of struggle, despite the difference of injustice,” Ashrawi noted. “It’s not only that you can be under occupation. You can also be suffering from discrimination and apartheid, you can be facing an army, you can be suffering exile, dispossession, and refugee status. But you all know that the source of your oppression is the same.”
Israeli political miscalculations
Israeli rulers were unprepared for the consequences of their political miscalculations. Israel’s bourgeois politics has been in crisis for years, as four successive elections have failed to establish a stable government. Through it all, however, Netanyahu has clung to power and has enjoyed unbridled U.S. government support.
That backing was deepened during the four years of the Donald Trump administration. Emblematic was Washington’s diplomatic recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017, followed by the move of the U.S. embassy to that city in 2018. The Trump administration also brokered diplomatic deals between Israel and a number of Arab governments. Known as the “Abraham Accords,” these deals, boasted Trump advisor Jared Kushner, “exposed the conflict as nothing more than a real estate dispute between Israelis and Palestinians that need not hold up Israel’s relations with the broader Arab world.”
This has proved to be hubris. A consequence of this arrogance was the recent Israeli actions described above. Israel went too far.
The Palestinian people, everywhere they have been driven since the 1948 dispossession, have reminded the Israeli rulers that their national rights can never be reduced to a “real estate dispute.” In standing up for those rights again, more powerfully than in many years, they have won support and solidarity around the world.
That support has begun to include Jews both inside and outside Israel. On May 19, more than a dozen grassroots groups—including Rabbis for Human Rights, Women Wage Peace, Tag Meir and many others—planned to join hands to create the longest possible human “peace chain” in Jerusalem.
A statement by the U.S. Jewish Voice for Peace declared, “There is no sideline: In solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom.”
“Simone Zimmerman, who helped create the left-wing Jewish group IfNotNow during the 2014 Gaza War, attributed the shift in the discourse among many younger American Jews to the fact that their political consciousness has been shaped during Israel’s repeated military engagements in Gaza and its government’s shift to the right,” reported the Jewish publication Forward.
“‘Living through these operations in Gaza—where the death toll and destruction on the Palestinian side is just so disproportionate—and everything that happens in between those, the hasbara talking points just don’t hold water anymore,’ Zimmerman said, using the Hebrew word for Israel’s public-relations campaign.”
Washington provides diplomatic cover
The death and destruction as well as the outpouring of opposition to Israel’s barbaric assault on Gaza began to put pressure on Tel Aviv’s primary supporter today, the Joe Biden administration.
“Gaza Reels From Strikes That Underscore Scope of Deep-Rooted Misery,” read a front-page headline in the May 19 New York Times. It reported on “increasing international demands for a cease-fire.” It noted that Biden has publicly supported “Israel’s right to defend itself,” but that he had privately warned Netanyahu that, “he could not deter growing pressure from the international community and American politicians for much longer.”
The Times’s sources also suggested the main point: “The private message hinted at a time limit on Biden’s ability to provide diplomatic cover for Israel’s actions.”
The White House blocked at least four attempts by the U.N. Security Council to issue statements or pass resolutions calling for a cease-fire, and continued the flow of military aid to Tel Aviv, allowing the Israeli regime to wreak havoc on the Palestinian people for more than 10 days. It was not until May 19, that Biden called for cessation of hostilities, giving time to Netanyahu to destroy much of Gaza.
Every hour that went by allowed Tel Aviv to rain more bombs to deepen Palestinian misery before the Israeli government agreed to a cease-fire. As of May 19, 17 hospitals and clinics in Gaza had been severely damaged, including the only Covid-19 test lab. Sewage systems had been destroyed and a desalination plant disabled. Some 600,000 students are now unable to attend school due to Israeli bombs. About 72,000 Gazans have been forced out of their homes. This is on top of the human toll of hundreds killed and thousands wounded.
As horrific as this is, recent events have proven again that Palestinian resistance cannot be crushed militarily. Israel’s recent actions indicate the Zionists thought they had done so. They were wrong.
Prussians of the Middle East
More than 50 years ago the Marxist scholars George Novack and Isaac Deutscher issued warnings that still ring out sharply today.
“Paradoxically and grotesquely, the Israelis appear now in the role of the Prussians of the Middle East,” Deutscher explained in an interview following Israel’s victory in the 1967 war.
“They have now won three wars against their Arab neighbors. Just so did the Prussians a century ago defeat all their neighbors,” Deutcher said. “The succession of victories bred in them an absolute confidence in their own efficiency, a blind reliance on the force of their arms, chauvinistic arrogance, and contempt for other peoples.”
“I fear,” Deutscher concluded, “that a similar degeneration—for degeneration it is—may be taking place in the character of Israel.”
Deutscher saw the 1967 “lightning victory,” as “worse than a defeat,” Novack added, “because it paves the way for an eventual disastrous confrontation with the Arab states and the Arab masses.” Deutscher and Novack may not have fully anticipated the further degeneration of those bourgeois Arab regimes themselves, nor their willingness to reach accommodations with imperialism, such as the recent deals codified in the “Abraham Accords.” But such deals cannot eliminate the resilient struggle for Palestinian freedom.
“Zionist chauvinism has had a deadly logic,” Novack declared. “By expelling the Arabs from their own land and conducting warfare against them for 20 years, the Zionist Jews have transformed themselves from a persecuted minority in other lands into an oppressor nation in their current habitat.”
A democratic, secular country: ‘The new path’
Twenty years of warfare have now stretched to nearly three quarters of a century.
The only way out—for Israeli Jews as well as Palestinians—is a democratic, secular country where Arabs, Jews, and people of other nationalities and creeds can live and work side-by-side with equal rights.
Enass Tinah, a 46-year-old Palestinian researcher who joined recent protests in Ramallah, expressed such sentiment in recent comments she made to the New York Times.
“For Ms. Tinah, the old hope of an independent Palestine now seemed unlikely,” the Times reported May 18.
“A single state for Palestinians and Jews, with equal rights for both, now felt a better goal to Ms. Tinah. ‘That’s where we’re moving,’ she said. ‘One state with equal rights for all citizens.’
“’I don’t know what that looks like,’ she said. But, she added, ‘I think this is the new path.’”
 For a transcript of Hanan Ashrawi’s May 14 interview see: https://world-outlook.com/2021/05/19/palestinians-everywhere-united-against-israeli-brutality/
 For the entire statement by Jewish Voice for Peace see: https://world-outlook.com/2021/05/19/there-is-no-sideline-in-solidarity-with-the-palestinian-freedom-struggle-2/
 The statements by Isaac Deutscher and George Novack can be found in the pamphlet How Can the Jews Survive? A Socialist Answer to Zionism by George Novack. Originally published by Pathfinder Press, it is regrettably no longer in print.
An excellent analysis and political perspective as to be expected now.
The barbarity of the Prussians of the Middle East and the dispossession of the Palestinians is indeed the injustice that is the source of violence.
While the Israelis are solely responsible for their crimes against humanity, the reactionary politics and thuggery especially of Hamas, serve as the perfect foil for Netanyahu, seeking to push the Palestinian masses off of center stage of the national liberation struggle, and providing a fig leaf for the barbarous destruction rained down on Gaza.
The Palestinian people, increasingly within Israel itself, remain the center of gravity. A Democratic and Secular nation will not be conquered by rockets, or military means but by political struggle, just as apartheid was brought down by the mass struggle.
The Abraham accords are meant to buttress U.S. imperialist interests even as it effectuates a strategic withdrawal as hegemon from the Middle East. But make no mistake, they are a sign of weakness and decline of the U.S. dominated order in the Middle East, including Israel.
Aaron, thank you very much for your comments, and, especially, your feedback.
You are absolutely correct about Hamas and its reactionary program and course of action. It is indeed a big obstacle the Palestinian national liberation struggle has to deal with.
We plan to return to this, as well as other related points, in an upcoming background article on the formation of Israel as a colonial settler state, the character of which remains unchanged after nearly three quarters of a century since its founding, and on the history of Palestinian resistance, including the evolution of the leadership of the struggle for Palestinian self-determination.
Argiris, for the editors of World-Outlook.com