For a truly free Palestine

The following article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 12, No 6.

As this issue of The Anvil is being prepared, the people of Gaza are being mercilessly bombed as part of a genocidal assault. The Israeli military is preparing for a ground invasion and threatening to expel its remaining inhabitants into Egypt – a second Nakba, larger than the first in 1948. Meanwhile, armed far-right settlers in the West Bank are taking the opportunity to take even more land, and kill Palestinians in the process.

The immediate task is obviously to prevent the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Gaza, but that would still leave the apartheid regime in place. Where, as anarchists, do we stand on the solution to this underlying problem?

Resist Genocide

Faced with mass protests, sit-ins, and other obstructive tactics by those demanding a total ceasefire, some of Israel’s Western allies have called for a “humanitarian pause”. They back Israel in its campaign, but are squeamish about the optics of two million people dying of starvation and disease in such a short time. The Biden administration has responded by twisting the arm of the Egyptian dictator, Sisi, hoping that he will accept the population of Gaza as refugees – the liberal response to the crisis is to push for ethnic cleansing as the alternative to genocide.

We can’t rely on international bodies like the UN or look to politicians. The only way to halt the invasion and stop Israel’s murderous bombing of Gaza is for the working class to act. At the moment, the bulk of the Israeli working class is united behind their military, seeking revenge for the murder and kidnapping of Israeli civilians during the attack on the 7th of October.

Israel, however, imports the majority of its armaments. This means that the international working class can act to cripple its military.

Workers in a position to stop guns, bombs, rockets, military vehicles and all other supplies going to the IDF must do so. A coalition of Palestinian unions has called for unions in all relevant industries around the world to refuse to build or transport weapons destined for Israel. This applies to other supplies necessary for this massacre to continue, like oil and other fuels. Australia exports military equipment to Israel – the workers responsible for those weapons getting in the hands of Israeli soldiers also have the power to prevent their use in genocide.

These actions would run into opposition from the entire capitalist class. In Australia, there would be massive hostility from the media and from the Labor Government. In all probability, the trade union officials would also be unwilling to translate their tepid support for Palestinian rights into industrial action on the ground, particularly where it is illegal. Wherever union officials take this position they should be opposed and their demands that we be complicit in this massacre ignored. A union is only worth the name if it is controlled by its members, and stands against injustice everywhere.

Anarchists Against Apartheid

Stopping genocide and ethnic cleansing still leaves the underlying issue of the Palestinans oppression unresolved. Israel imposes a regime of racial domination in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. How do anarchists understand the nature of this regime, and how can it be overthrown?

First, it is necessary to understand the problem. Zionism (i.e. Jewish nationalism) became an organised movement in the late 19th Century, but it didn’t gain majority support from Jews for many years. The failure of the labour movement to prevent the Nazi Holocaust, however, led to millions of Jews resorting to Zionism. Jewish immigration to Palestine surged and Zionist organisations decided for a Jewish State. What followed was a civil war in 1947-48, the declaration of Israeli independence, and the Nakba: the violent ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. Support for the foundation of Israel was an understandable reaction by traumatised people, but that didn’t change the predictable – and intended – results. As the Israeli historian Benny Morris has noted, the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine was “inevitable and inbuilt in Zionism”.

Though it is typical to hear talk of Israel’s ‘right’ to exist as ‘a Jewish State’, a Jewish State is the moral and political equivalent of a White Australia or an Islamic Republic. It establishes one group of people as superior to the others and compels the group in power to rule over them by force – if they cannot be eliminated entirely. In the case of Israel, this has been aggravated by the continuing impulse of the Zionist movement to expand, to acquire more land, and to take the territory it could not conquer in 1948. Maintaining a Jewish State in a territory where the majority of the population is not Jewish requires an apartheid regime, and so this is what has been established. Palestinians within Israel’s internationally recognised borders have some rights, but are second class citizens, and can never be allowed to become the majority population (thus refusing refugees the right to return home). In the West Bank, Palestinians have no rights, face ongoing dispossession, and are routinely terrorised by murderous far-right settlers, backed by the Israeli army. Gaza is simply a concentration camp.

Two States or One?

Ever since the 1970s, most states in the world have professed commitment to a “Two State Solution”, where an independent Palestine would sit alongside an independent Israel. The basic formula, as required by international law, has been that Israel must retreat to its pre-1967 borders, relinquish control over the West Bank and Gaza (which would constitute the Palestinian state), and allow for a ‘just settlement’ for the refugee population.

A series of peace-talks have been held to resolve the conflict, with Palestinans conceding to a state based on the 1967-lines. Israel (backed by the US) has rejected this every time. Their counter-offers have been appalling for the Palestinians, as they insist on the annexation of key land and water resources for Israeli settlers. The maps recall the obscene ‘bantustan’ system of South African apartheid.

Israel also rejects the right of refugees to return home on ethno-nationalist grounds. Having drifted to the far-right, even token refugee resettlement (another concession considered by Palestinian negotiators) has been taken off the table. By this point, the concept of a Two State Solution has been rendered farcical by the continued building of Israeli settlements, which have split the remaining territory into disconnected, segregated areas. Today, it is typically advanced only as a cynical substitute for addressing the reality on the ground.

Meanwhile, the long-held goal of the Palestinian national movement is a single democratic State in all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The comparative improvements on a Two State Solution are obvious: it would allow for free movement, legal equality, and the return of the refugees. A single democratic state would represent the end of apartheid, and anarchists are in favour of ending all such regimes.

But the One State Solution has its own obstacles. Unlike the Black workers of apartheid South Africa, Palestinian workers do not massively outnumber Israeli Jews, and Israeli capitalists do not rely entirely on their labour. Palestinians are certainly hyper-exploited by Israeli bosses, but this is not fundamental to the Zionist project, which retains the options of expulsion and genocide. Nevertheless, assuming a One State Solution were realised, there remains a fatal weakness – and in this case it is the same one which now confronts the workers of South Africa. The single, democratic state being advocated is a capitalist state. This capitalist state would have a ruling class of both Jews and Palestinians. These two capitalist classes (the Israeli being vastly more powerful than the Palestinian) hate and fear each other. They would struggle relentlessly for control of the state apparatus and would no doubt mobilise support on the basis of nationalism. Palestinian workers, free from a political regime of racial domination, would have to continue their struggle against both Jewish and Palestinian bosses, against racial disparities in the economy, and for binational working class cooperation. If we are serious about anarchism and communism, we must recognise that this would be a struggle against the very state claiming to represent the fulfilment of Palestinian liberation.

The No State Solution

Ultimately, just as the end of apartheid did not free the workers of South Africa from exploitation, there can be no true liberation of Palestine within the confines of capitalism. What is needed there, and in every other country, is a revolution that abolishes capitalism. This, of course, would mean the Palestinians ditching both the reactionary zealots of Hamas and the collaborators in Fatah. It is only a working class movement that can issue a call that reaches across the border and splits Israel along class lines.

This is not a call for pacifism. The resistance needs to be armed in self defence, but it must still act ethically. Immoral and politically reactionary actions like killing civilians and sending rockets into civilian areas drive Israeli workers more deeply into the arms of their own capitalist oppressors. Every action needs to be in harmony with building the iron solidarity that a working class revolution requires.

Only by overthrowing capitalism in the area between the river and the sea can workers create a truly free Palestine – a society of liberty, equality and solidarity, where there is no State apparatus to oppress anyone, and maintain the rule of bosses. Only through a social revolution can the hatreds of today be consigned to the history books, along with the capitalist system which generated them.


Workers with flags and banner, banner reads 'workers for a free Palestine'

British trade unionists picket Instro Precision (a subsidiary of the Israeli weapons manufacturer, Elbit), which produces military equipment used by the IDF