June/July 2005


Palestine and the U.S. : A Call for Solidarity

The history of the United States and Palestine is one of settler-colonial relationships governed by imperialist interests, manifest inequality in power and wealth, and the continuing commitment of a people to their freedom and their national rights against the greatest obstacles.

The United States government shares a great deal with the Zionist occupation of Palestine - both, after all, have their genesis in settler colonialism, and both are governed by a system of imperialism that leads them both to colonize and to exploit the people and resources under either direct control and occupation or proxy control and domination. The Zionist state in Palestine is a European settler colony, created through the "ethnic cleansing," expulsion, dispossession and oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people, guided by economic interests and by an ideology of divine right to Palestinian land; the United States shares that heritage, created as another European settler colony centuries before, built upon the genocide of the indigenous Native peoples of the land - prompted by economic interests and justified by the racism of "manifest destiny."

Young Palestinian women demonstrate in New York City. Photo: Fred Askew
From their shared fundamental nature as settler-colonial states, the interests of the United States government and the Zionist occupation coincide again and again - both committed to stemming independent Arab development, both committed to the maintenance of colonial control over Arab land, both committed to the exploitation of Arab people and resources, and both committed to the continuing dominance of the United States as an imperial power. Throughout the history of modern imperialism, Palestine and the Arab countries have been central to imperialist designs, and the emergence of the Zionist settler-colonial state in Palestine derives from those interests. The United States is an imperialist power, an advanced capitalist country committed to exporting the inequalities and crises of capitalism on a global basis, creating global conflict as imperialist nations struggle among themselves for control of the land, resources and people of oppressed nations - and as oppressed nations struggle for their liberation from colonial and imperialist control. Imperialism does not always mean direct colonization, and most frequently, in fact, does not; it can mean proxy settler colonialism (as in today's Palestine and previously in South Africa), or what is often called neo-colonialism or globalization, relationships that are marked by immense political control and nearly complete economic control. While today in Iraq, we see the United States engaging in direct colonial occupation, the attempts to install dubious national authorities and a puppet government, complete with elections under occupation, indicate the goal in Iraq - economic control without the difficulties and expenses of direct colonialism.

The situation in Iraq today indicates that the Iraqi people - like those of oppressed nations around the world - are dedicated to real independence, self-determination and sovereign control over their resources, land and nation - a commitment and a resistance that makes visions of a simple rule through the hand of a puppet such as Allawi untenable and impossible, while simultaneously ensuring that the costs of direct occupation are severe.

The people of Iraq, of course, are not alone on the front lines of revolution against colonialism. The Palestinian national liberation movement is absolutely central and critical to the global conflict between imperialism and oppressed peoples; it is a liberation movement in existential contradiction with both the settler colonial state occupying Palestinian land, Israel, and with U.S. imperialism on a global level. The U.S. government recognizes this - it is not accidental that in a world where U.S. corporate and economic interests stretch around the globe, one-third of the U.S. foreign aid budget is directed to funding the Zionist state, and not accidental that the Palestinian national movement is brutally attacked and criminalized everywhere around the world. The U.S. government recognizes the Palestinian struggle for national rights and justice for what it is - a liberation struggle, that, in its quest to free Arab land from colonial domination, establish Palestinian sovereignty and self-determination throughout Palestine, and ensure a future for Palestine determined by the people of Palestine themselves, including the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands, is a negation of imperialism, and both a symbol and a practical example to the world that liberation remains possible and achievable.

The attack upon Palestine today is not unrelated to the ongoing attacks against Cuba. The Cuban revolution of 1959 was not initially defined as a socialist revolution; it was an anti-colonial revolution and a liberation movement that rid Cuba of its Batista puppet dictatorship sponsored by the United States. The Cuban revolution was, even before nationalization, a direct challenge to the maintenance of US economic interests through control and exploitation of the Cuban people and their resources and both a threat to US imperialism on an international and pan-Latin American level and also a continuing and inspirational example to the world that revolution was possible, as was a truly independent and self-determined path of development. It is for this reason that the United States has committed itself since that time to the attempted destruction of the Cuban revolution - and why the ongoing commitment of the people of Cuba, like those of Palestine, to self-determination, has remained a fundamental challenge to imperialism.

There are many apologists for occupation who attempt to legitimize the creation of a Zionist settler colonial entity in Palestine by referring to the United Nations-recognized "Partition Plan" of United Nations Resolution 181, creating a "Jewish state" and an "Arab state" in the land of Palestine. Asked what right the United Nations - at the time, 1947, still lacking representation from many nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America then engaged in their own struggles for national liberation - had to determine the future of the land of the Palestinian people, those apologists answer that the British had passed their "mandate for Palestine" on to the United Nations, which is both a true statement and a revelation of the nature of the partition plan; that is, as a mechanism for the transfer of colonial control and authority over the land of the Palestinian people in which the people directly affected had no voice, and a mechanism that must know no legitimacy or validity among anyone who accepts the principles of self-determination.

The British "mandate for Palestine" came about as a result of World War I, an imperialist war among rising and declining imperial powers of Europe. In their plans for victory over the Ottoman Empire that then controlled Palestine, the British and the French, in their secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, divided the Arab lands controlled by the Ottoman empire among themselves, carving national borders and spheres of influence deemed most important to their economic and political interests. The "mandate system" approved by the League of Nations after the conclusion of the war was designed to legitimize colonialism under a pretext of preparation for self-determination, granting both an authority for direct colonial control and the ability to create mechanisms for indirect economic and political control. During the war, British forces promised an independent Arab Palestine in order to win Palestinian Arabs to join their fight against the Ottoman Empire - while at the same time, Lord Balfour, a British Lord, promised a "Jewish national home" in Palestine to Lord Rothschild, a Zionist leader, creating promises at direct odds with one another. The British government would attempt to curry favor with various parties in the years to come, but reserved its strongest support for the Zionist movement, as it was far more willing to use whatever means were required in order to defend Western imperialist interests in Palestine than Arab elites sought out for the same purpose by the British.

The Zionist movement was a secular, colonial movement that sought to build a European, Western outpost in Palestine for Jews only - and specifically European Jews, seen as bringing civilization to a land that had once been the seat of religious Judaism. The thousands of years of indigenous Palestinian culture and history of all religions was systematically denied, ignored and suppressed, the Palestinian people declared nonexistent. The Zionist movement presented itself to various powers as a useful colonial proxy, willing to serve greater imperial interests in exchange for arms and backing. It was a deal the British would take up, to be followed later by the United States. For all of their denial of the existence of the Palestinian people, the Zionist movement built up militias and machinery dedicated to the eradication of that undeniable existence and culture, and the Palestinian people recognized the Zionist project and the British mandate as one and the same colonial enemy, joining their protests against both repeatedly throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The Palestinian revolution of 1936-1939 saw British and Zionist troops joining forces to suppress the ongoing popular revolt, their interests, their funding and their armaments identical in manufacture and in intention.

World War II saw the beginning of the close of the era of Britain as the leading imperialist power and the dramatic rise of the United States. Both Britain and the United States blocked the immigration of Jews fleeing Nazism, while encouraging European Jewish immigration to Palestine - not so much as a place of refuge, but as a future army for colonial interests. Following the war, the British attempted briefly to hold their mandatory control while the Zionists demanded immediate power, eventually leading to Britain "turning over" its mandate to the United Nations. Considering the new balance of power after World War II, and despite the existence of the Soviet Union and other new socialist countries, all badly harmed by the horrors of the war, the effect was to transfer the future of Palestine into the hands of the United States government. Countries recalcitrant about supporting the partition of Palestine without the approval or consent of the Palestinian people themselves, such as the Philippines, were "persuaded" by U.S. pressure to alter their positions and support the partition. On May 15, 1948, when the Zionist state in Palestine was declared, United States President Truman was first to officially recognize the new "State of Israel" and fully supported its war upon the Palestinian people that led to the expulsion and dispossession of 800,000 Palestinians. Indeed, United Nations resolution 194, recognizing the right of return of Palestinian refugees, has never passed the Security Council because of the continual threat of U.S. veto since 1948.

The United States recognized early the potential of Zionism, in its settler colonial occupation of Palestine, to serve as an imperial outpost in Arab land and its policy towards the Zionist state was based upon that recognition. The relationships of the United States, at the time, however, were also governed by a desire to win the allegiance of Arab regimes away from the Soviet Union and the socialist countries, and away from firmly anti-imperialist paths of development, and the U.S. policy at the time was designed to both support Zionist colonialism while pursuing neo-colonial relationships with Arab regimes. However, the burgeoning rise of independent Arab nationalism that allied itself with anti-colonial movements around the world, as well as the increasing possibility of the maintenance of subservient regimes in Arab countries while simultaneously focusing on the maintenance of a colonial base in Israel solidified U.S. support for the Zionist state ever more decisively. The rise of independent Arab nationalism meant a very real threat - control over the resources, products and markets of the Arab lands by Arab people rather than the United States and its proxies - and the military power of the Zionist regime soon became the U.S. government's preferred threat against that independence and self-determination.

Following the 1967 war that saw the extension of the conquest of Palestine to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - as well as the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai - United States aid to Israel went up sharply, forging a lasting and strong colonial alliance. The United States has armed and funded the Zionist state and its military adventures, encouraging the direct military threat of the Israeli state against Palestinians and other Arab countries.

Also following the 1967 war, however, was the rise of the Palestinian national movement. Beginning with the seeds of anti-colonial revolt against the British, the national movement in exile gathered strength continually throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The modern Palestinian national movement was part of the rise of national liberation movements around the world, committed to self-determination and the defeat of colonial control. The Palestinian population in exile lived in refugee camps - in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and around the world. The Palestinian movement provided a vision for liberation, drawing together the component parts of the nation - those Palestinians living in the areas occupied in 1948, the Israeli state; those Palestinians living in the newly occupied territories of 1967; and the Palestinian refugees in the diaspora struggling for their return home. The Palestinian movement arose as part of the greater Arab movement for national liberation and also as part of the greater international movement for liberation from imperialism and was always consciously anti-imperialist and aware of its central place of conflict with Zionism and imperialism.

This centrality was only reinforced by the actions of the United States. As aid and weapons poured in to sustain the Zionist state, the U.S. ensured the veto of United Nations resolutions condemning its actions and calling for the self-determination of the Palestinian people. As the U.S. engaged in its colonial war in Vietnam against a Vietnamese people determined to achieve liberation, the ranks of liberated nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America swelled - nations who saw their interests in supporting their brothers and sisters in Palestine fighting their common enemy. The United Nations, however, while repeatedly affirming the Palestinian right to self-determination and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, consistently refused to act in the interests of the Palestinian people under the sharpest of attacks, at the behest of the United States and its power.

The Zionist war on Palestine was a fundamental part of the imperial campaign of the United States, and the vast amounts of military aid poured into the regime went to fight that battle on behalf of the U.S. From "Black September," when thousands of Palestinians in Jordan were murdered by the Jordanian regime - supported and subsidized by the United States - for their attempts to free their homeland, to Lebanon, where U.S.-made cluster bombs wrought havoc upon thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese and where massacres like that of Sabra and Shatila were approved of not only by the Zionist army but also by the U.S., to today's assassinations and assaults carried out using Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, M-16 rifles and Caterpillar bulldozers, the war upon the Palestinian people is, while often fought by proxy, a U.S. war. In the first Intifada, when a "bones-breaking" policy was applied in Palestine, it was U.S. weapons that broke Palestinian bones; in this Intifada, it has been U.S. bulldozers destroying homes, U.S. helicopters and missiles assassinating Palestinian political and resistance leaders, and U.S. bullets being shot at Palestinian children.

Indeed, the U.S. has also come to rely upon its settler-colonial ally as a firm friend of other proxy regimes around the world. In the 1980s, when the solidarity movement with the African people's struggle for national liberation in then-apartheid South Africa had won a ban on arms sales to the apartheid regime, the U.S. government knowingly evaded the regulations by selling guns to Israel - which would then turn around and sell its own rifles to the South African regime. From apartheid South Africa, to El Salvador, the Zionist regime has continually been a base of support and assistance to the most brutal of right-wing regimes backed by the United States, while the U.S. government goes on to claim clean hands.

The assault upon the Palestinian people and the Palestinian national movement has been continuous, and not related to the administration in power, Democrat or Republican. From Truman and Eisenhower, to Kennedy and Johnson to Nixon and Ford, to Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II, the relation of the U.S. to Palestine has been determined by imperial interests and corporate control, not a shifting policy. The mechanisms used have been varied - from outright military assault to a faux "peace process" aimed at securing the submission of the Palestinian people and the subjugation of their resistance while enthroning Zionist power - but the intent and the result have been consistent- U.S.-supported murder, oppression, and occupation of the people of Palestine.

The United States has continued to put forward false "peace initiatives" that do nothing to resolve the fundamental contradictions in Palestine nor recognize the fundamental national rights of the Palestinian people, and, in fact, do everything possible to suppress those rights. From seeking separate arrangements with various Arab regimes to force them from direct confrontation with Zionism, to repeatedly seeking dubious "representatives" of the Palestinian people, including the Jordanian royal family, to counter Palestinian self-representation through the PLO, to the attempts to create a subservient Palestinian authority without authority, the United States, a direct participant in the war against the Palestinian people, has attempted to portray itself as an "honest broker" and an appropriate mediator. Despite its power and authority within the United Nations, the U.S. - especially in the past decade, as the fall of the Soviet Union so substantially shifted the balance of world power as to give the U.S. far greater ability to act with little counterweight - has declared itself, as a colonial ruler might be expected to do, the authority over the future of Palestine. The Oslo Accord of 1993, brokered by the U.S. and excluding the U.N, and its offspring that live on today in the "roadmap", are primary examples of such U.S. efforts - dedicated to the creation of a subservient Palestinian entity, the destruction of the Palestinian national liberation movement, the dispersal of Palestinian resistance into isolated and defeated cantons, and the overwhelming political, military and economic power of the United States and its Zionist partner.

All of these mechanisms in place to attempt to co-opt and otherwise destroy the national liberation movement by altering its objectives to becoming a junior partner to imperialism indicate a fundamental reality continually confronted by Zionism and imperialism - the steadfast refusal of the Palestinian national movement and the Palestinian people to leave, die or concede. The reason for this strategy on the part of the U.S. is in fact a recognition that the Palestinian national movement had ensured it could not be ignored or its existence denied, and that the Palestinian people's existence could no longer be denied. These drives toward pacification have failed, because the material conditions of oppression continue, and because the Palestinian people and their national movement are engaging in a struggle for national liberation that can be neither defeated nor destroyed by the creation of new forms of occupation and oppression.

Indeed, the Palestinian national movement is a liberation movement and a revolutionary movement that is, even now, in dark days of siege, brutal oppression and direct colonization, a fundamental challenge to U.S. imperialism, a rebuke to the "globalization" of corporate capitalism and an existential challenge to the Zionist colonial-settler state. The Palestinian national movement is based upon the undoing of the Zionist project - the return of all Palestinian refugees, with full sovereignty and self-determination over their own land, and freedom and equality for all Palestinians in all of Palestine. It is not a call for reform or mere change; it fundamentally demands the rejection of U.S. imperialism and its Zionist colonial settler proxy. It is a challenge so fundamental that the U.S. government spends $15 million daily to aid and arm the Zionist state and still more to protect Arab regimes willing to do the bidding of the United States against the interests of their own people.

The rejection of the Oslo project, its negation, is the rejection of economic globalization, of the ongoing project of consigning nations to perennial economic servitude; this is recognized in the slogan heard around the world in support of the Palestinian people, the call to "globalize the Intifada!" This intifada emerged precisely because of the material conditions that existed in spite of and because of the Oslo project - as it ensured the continued domination of Palestine, it also ensured the continued determination of the Palestinian people to resist such domination, in Palestine and throughout the diaspora.

Today we see this expressed in the broad return to the fundamentals of the Palestinian national movement as a liberation movement, perhaps most closely captured in the right of return movement that spreads from Palestine to the refugee camps, to Palestinians in the diaspora around the world. The right of return is the negation of the crimes of 1948, the fundamental core of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. The right of return is a liberation not only for the Palestinian nation in exile, but for the Palestinian nation in all of historic Palestine; it is the accomplishment of full sovereignty and self-determination and is the key to the undoing of Zionist colonialism and imperialist control over Palestine. It is a human right, a right in international law, an individual right, a collective right and a national right that belongs to every Palestinian and signifies the practical reality of the achievement of the liberation of Palestine.

Just as, therefore, every such U.S. initiative has focused on the destruction or delay of the right of return, the ongoing Palestinian national movement finds its central narrative of liberation where it has always been, in the inextricable accomplishment of liberation and return.

It is imperative upon every individual, organization and movement that cares for social justice in the United States and elsewhere to stand side by side with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. In today's era of imperialism - the post-September 11 era of vicious assaults on Palestine directly paid for by the US, enabling and being enabled by occupation of Iraq. Palestine is the flashpoint for the world, facing extermination and fighting back. It is not in the interest of the people of the United States to pay for bulldozers to destroy a Palestinian home or a fighter plane to bomb a Palestinian refugee camp. It is not in the interests of the workers, students, people of color, and oppressed communities of this country to deny Palestinian refugees their liberation. In fact, it is in our interests to demand the opposite. Every dollar being spent on suppressing Palestine should be spent on health care, education and housing - and it can be. The corporations that benefit from the oppression of the Palestinian people are the same corporations that pay us minimum wages, attempt to break our attempts to organize, destroy our cities in the process of "redevelopment" and take away our jobs in search of cheap labor. They are not us, and do not speak for us - and if we are determined to make that clear, and determined that the same forces who wage war on us here at home shall not be allowed to wage that war abroad, and if we want to ensure that we can challenge the power of those who seem unchallengeable, we must stand in solidarity with Palestine. The Palestinian people have provided a challenge and an example to the world, both a symbol and a practical achievement of steadfastness and determination, to exist against a war of eradication and to achieve victory and liberation against these forces. It is our turn to answer that challenge with voices of solidarity and support.

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