Israel’s ‘Saif Al-Quds’ defeat and Mass Politics

The recent retreat of Israel from 11 days of bombing Gaza, the unconditional ceasefire effectively imposed on it, is a major defeat whose implications are very damaging for the entire Zionist project. An article in the Middle East Monitor (24 May) by Dr Amira Abo el-Fetouh characterised the outcome very sharply:

“Nuclear-armed Israel, and its army equipped with the latest weaponry, has been defeated. It’s much-vaunted and hugely expensive “Iron Dome” missile defence system failed in the face of rockets fired by the Palestinian resistance groups in the besieged Gaza Strip. The result was that the rockets could reach all parts of 1948-occupied Palestine, as well as Israel’s gas platforms in the Mediterranean Sea, and the country was at times almost under curfew.

It was a strategic defeat, which saw the myth of the invincibility of the Israel Defence Forces destroyed, despite its strength, technology, resources and unrivalled foreign support. Tanks deployed to the nominal border with Gaza went no further, even though the politicians had claimed that they would get a swift victory. The ground invasion didn’t happen”

Furthermore, the same article captures the element of mass Palestinian politics that has emerged through this struggle:

“Moreover, probably for the first time since the 1936 “Arab uprising” during the British Mandate era, the people of occupied Palestine united across religious and political boundaries, and the imposed “borders” separating those in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip. This will go down in history as a key moment, and will not be forgotten by Israel. Cracks have appeared in its domestic front and it really does face an intifada from the river to the sea.

“It is clear that the Israeli plot to separate Gaza from the rest of occupied Palestine has failed, and it was all down to the resistance groups linking the coastal territory to Jerusalem in the rules of engagement. In doing so they placed the occupied city, and Al-Aqsa Mosque in particular, under Gaza’s protection. Indeed, I would go further and suggest that all of occupied Palestine is now under Gaza’s protection. Not for nothing were victory celebrations and the flag of Hamas seen on the streets of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Lod, Nablus and the other occupied Palestinian cities. This is an achievement that would not have been possible without the resistance victory in the Saif Al-Quds — “Sword of Jerusalem” — battle.

This is remarkable, and points the way to the possibility of Israel being cracked open by the Palestinian working class, organised across the various barriers that the Zionists have imposed on them in an attempt to slice them up like so many pieces of salami.  As we noted in our own LCFI statement on this recent explosion:

“But even more shocking from the point of view of the Israeli ruling class was the unified General Strike of Palestinian workers across the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel ‘proper’ within the ‘Green Line’ (the 1948 ceasefire borders). The Palestinian population within Israel, those who escaped the 1948 Nakba and were not expelled (but spent decades under military rule, and then as second-class non-Jewish citizens of a Jewish state), acted in solidarity with their Palestinian brethren right across occupied Palestine between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, underling that despite the Zionist fiction that designates this population as “Israeli Arabs”, they are Palestinians, part of the dispossessed Palestinian nation, and part of a integral Palestinian working class and oppressed population despite the division of this population by borders, checkpoints, separation walls and the Gaza fence. […] Palestine is one nation from the River to the Sea, and the Palestinian working class has considerable power, beyond its formal industrial muscle, which is limited as Israel limits its exposure to Arab labour with the long-term aim of dispensing with it. The political impact of such an act of the proletarian and oppressed masses is what frightened the Israeli ruling class into cutting their losses in this situation and accepting a ceasefire that only days earlier they had ridiculed”

The enforced nature of these concessions and Israeli bitterness at them is shown clearly by Israeli actions after the capitulation, with mass arrests and detentions of ‘Israeli Arabs’ who demonstrated and fought the Zionists during the upheaval, to ‘punish’ them from having defeated the Zionists. This requires continuing, ongoing solidarity from the left, the working class, and oppressed minorities in the West. It is also a sign of Zionist weakness. The mask whereby Israel pretended that it had an ‘Israeli Arab’ minority who were supposedly treated well, had democratic rights, is slipping, and its is becoming obvious to all that these are Palestinians, and are being treated as such by the Zionist usurpers. They are being victimised because they are feared.

This social power of the Palestinian working class needs to be linked to that of the working class in the (predominantly) Muslim Arab and other Middle Eastern states in the countries surrounding Israel, such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, whose struggle to win state power in the struggle against imperialist domination supplements the democratic struggle against Zionist racism and for the right to return of millions of Palestinian refugees.  This can drive forward the programme of permanent revolution in the Middle East, the only process that can resolve all the manifold democratic questions that plague the region, with the dispossession of the Palestinians in the first rank. Only under proletarian rule, though a multi-ethnic Palestine as part of a regional federation of workers states, can this question be resolved.

The mass upheaval nature of Israel’s defeat in the “Sword of Jerusalem” battle had its counterparts elsewhere, including in some Arab countries that have recently signed treacherous deals with Israel, such as the UAE, where the popular sympathy is overwhelmingly with the Palestinians no matter what the various dictatorial regimes may say.

And in the West, including in Britain. In fact, the two biggest solidarity demonstrations in the world took place in London. On 15 May 150,000 marched: on 22 May, after the Israelis had agreed to the ceasefire, 180,000 marched. That is somewhat at variance with the experience of previous wars in the Middle East, where the end of overt hostilities tended to result in a reduced attendance. Here it actually increased. The demonstrations were also remarkable because Britain is just in the process of slowly and hesitantly loosing restrictions on mass assemblies aimed at mitigating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mass movement in Britain and left weaknesses

Our comrades attended four major London demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians during that 11-day period. It is notable that on the first three of those, the British left was very much underrepresented compared to its attendance on events where other issues were the focus. The demonstrations were overwhelmingly of Muslim, South Asian and Arab, composition and our literature (in our first outing, as our distinct group was formed during the pandemic) sold well, as there were relatively few leftists selling their literature. But on the largest demonstration, on 22 May, there were many more leftists present, which while welcome, somewhat swamped those present with leftist literature and our material was much more difficult to sell among the other left publications on sale.

The reluctance of the bigger battalions of the British left to turn out on these demonstrations while the rocket-firing and mass actions were going on, reflects a certain dismissiveness towards a movement that was very much composed of Muslims, and a degree of latent Islamophobic backwardness on the British left, which needs to be overcome politically.

One other unfortunate by product of the Israeli setback is that there are signs of unease by some seemingly stalwart pro-Palestine leftists as to the sheer power of this mass movement, and its potential to undo Zionism. In one recent case – we will not name names here, as a personal polemic is not the point – a long time leftist, himself unjustly suspended from the Labour Party, removed a Facebook comment by one of our comrades containing references to remarks by some prominent Jewish survivors of the Nazi genocide, comparing Israeli behaviour to the Nazis. Such comparisons were deemed to be anti-Semitic. But this fits not the definition of anti-Semitism in the dictionary, but the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) pseudo-definition with its fraudulent ‘examples’ (which it turns out were never actually endorsed by the IHRA!) one of which deems such comparisons of Israeli behaviour with that of the Nazis as ‘anti-Semitic’.

There have been other incidents of a similar type, where dedicated Palestine campaigners have pulled up others for using ‘tropes’, like the idea that Jews are a ‘privileged’ group today. But whether Jews are a privileged group relative to other ethnic groups in today’s capitalist society, or whether Israel behaves in a genocidal manner comparable to the Nazis, are matters that can be empirically investigated, and the answers are matters of factual determination. Nothing to do with racism or anti-Semitism, and the facts speak in favour of both propositions.  

We hope that this weakness can be overcome. There is considerable rage among Arabs and Muslims about Zionist crimes, but nothing among them that is comparable to the anti-Semitism of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. There are good material reasons for this. Hitlerian and Tsarist anti-Semitism were imperialist ideologies, reflective of the bigotries of pre-revolutionary Russian imperialism and the reactionary attempt to preserve the Tsarist autocracy, or German imperialist hostility to Communism and the then-widespread belief, now dispelled (largely by Zionism, ironically) that Jews were in some way inherently revolutionary and hostile to capitalism and imperialism.

 Whereas there is no imperialist power in on Earth, in the modern, monopoly capitalist sense, that has an Islamic culture, and never has been. Even those elements of ideology among Muslims that in some ways conflate Zionism with being Jewish, are not ideological expressions of a predatory, imperialist project like Nazism, but simply one-sided expressions of experience of oppression at the hands of Zionist Jews, who claim (with the support of virtually the entire imperialist bourgeoisie) to represent Jews in general.

Our attitude to this movement, and in particular its large component with a Muslim culture, should be similar to that laid out by Trotsky in a small but very important letter from 1932, on the approach of the Fourth International to militants from nations oppressed by imperialism:

“When ten intellectuals, whether in Paris, Berlin, or New York, who have already been members of various organizations, address themselves to us with a request to be taken into our midst, I would offer the following advice: Put them through a series of tests on all the programmatic questions; wet them in the rain, dry them in the sun, and then after a new and careful examination accept maybe one or two.

“The case is radically altered when ten workers connected with the masses turn to us. The difference in our attitude to a petty-bourgeois group and to the proletarian group does not require any explanation. But if a proletarian group functions in an area where there are workers of different races, and in spite of this remains composed solely of workers of a privileged nationality, then I am inclined to view them with suspicion. Are we not dealing perhaps with the labour aristocracy? Isn’t the group infected with slave-holding prejudices, active or passive?

“It is an entirely different matter when we are approached by a group of Negro workers. Here I am prepared to take it for granted in advance that we shall achieve agreement with them, even if such an agreement is not actual as yet. Because the Negro workers, by virtue of their whole position, do not and cannot strive to degrade anybody, oppress anybody, or deprive anybody of his rights. They do not seek privileges and cannot rise to the top except on the road of the international revolution.

“We can and we must find a way to the consciousness of the Negro workers, the Chinese workers, the Indian workers, and all the oppressed in the human ocean of the coloured races to whom belongs the decisive word in the development of mankind.”

Leon Trotsky, Closer to the Proletarians of the Coloured Races, July 1932

Differences of time, location, situation, and even some archaic 20th Century language in the passage, do not obscure the point. This movement is not to be feared, but to be embraced, politicised, and revolutionised. The latent softness on Zionism and fear of masses of Muslims that is widespread on the British and Western left must not be allowed to get in the way of pushing this movement forward, a movement that has huge class potential for the struggle to defeat Zionism and imperialism and push forward the struggle for socialism and revolution.

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