We are here today to commemorate Nakba Day in memory of the violent expulsion of 900,000 Palestinian women, children and men by the Zionist gangs who established the state of Israel. This brutal attack was the culmination of decades of oppression and expropriation of the Palestinians by the Zionist settlers, who from day one had the agenda of removing Palestinians from the labor market and, eventually, from their land.
But just like the Nakba did not begin in 1947-8, it did not end then. In fact, the Nakba continues to this very day. It continues in the Zionists’ theft of land, their denial of building permits, and discrimination in funds to Palestinian local councils, all of which force the Palestinians in Israel into a life of ever-worsening poverty and living standards; it continues in further attacks on Palestinian democratic rights, in the form of ever more vicious reactionary laws; it continues in the Galilee, Negev, and East Jerusalem, where the racist colonialist campaign of Judaization is conducted by Zionist security forces and settlers in full force; it continues in the West Bank, where the Zionist military continues to rule with the collaboration of the Palestinian Authority, and which looks the other way as settlers continue to commit pogroms against Palestinians; and it continues in Gaza, against which Israel uses a blockade to starve the population and unspeakable massacres to break its spirit. Everywhere one looks, the Nakba is alive as ever.
This trend is not merely an expression of religious extremism: the sponsors of some of the most vicious racist laws in the Knesset were secular Zionists from the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. Nor is it due to Israel having a particularly racist government at this time: the Nakba was undertaken by Zionists of all political parties in tandem, and the government contains both left- as well as right-wing Zionist parties. There may be left Zionists, but there are no Zionist leftists. The fact is that racist oppression is inseparable from Zionism.
Zionism, from the very beginning, was meant as a bulwark against any sort of popular uprising against the imperialists and the Arab ruling classes, including the Palestinian one. In every situation in which Palestinians were revolting against colonialism, all Zionists, both left and right, could be found in the camp of British imperialism. It was not until after WWII that British imperialism turned against the Zionists.
For decades, the Palestinian people have been struggling against the inhuman oppression which the Zionists have wrought upon them. Time and time again, they have created organizations and orchestrated tactics – some commendable, some highly flawed, some unsupportable – to overcome Zionist power. For decades, Palestinians have relied on the PLO to carry out the struggle against Zionism. When that organization sold out, some switched their support to Hamas, while others have relied on more grassroots and loose organizations to carry out their struggles. But while some gains have been won – such as the recognition, in words at least, of the Palestinian right to self-determination, and various prisoner release deals – the struggle has, on the whole, failed to significantly advance the Palestinian struggle against oppression.
The reasons for this are numerous. The military might of the Zionist state is a significant factor; at present, no other force in the region, armed or not, can match it. But this is far from being the sole factor. The other significant factor has been the failures and betrayals of the Palestinian masses by their leaders. Especially since the PLO’s sellout of the struggle in the early 1990s, when it accepted the Oslo Agreement – and thus, its role as enforcer of Zionist oppression in Gaza and the West Bank – and to this day, when both PA and Hamas leaders are making overtures to Western imperialism and to the Zionists, the Palestinian struggle has constantly faced an enemy within.
The history of the replacement of the PLO with Hamas teaches us that this betrayal is not the result of the particular weaknesses of the existing leaders, although of these there are plenty. The politics of these organizations, and the class character which dictates them, is the main cause. As Trotskyists, we in the ISL espouse the theory of permanent revolution, which holds that in the era of imperialism, the capitalist class of any oppressed nation is too connected to different imperialist forces and too afraid of the masses to lead any sort of democratic revolution.
The Palestinian struggle, and, more generally, the regional struggles against imperialist oppression, have fully confirmed this theory’s validity. When the first Intifadah broke out in the late 1980’s, it used mass action to fight against Zionist oppression. When the PLO leaders were allowed back into Palestine by the Zionists, their first step was to monopolize arms and to limit the struggle to guerilla attacks by its own militias. In this, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and all other major Palestinian groups have been the same: fearful of the masses, they have sought to confine them to actions which suit them and their interests. No wonder that corruption is now rampant in the PA, and that both Hamas and PA security forces are anxious to suppress and control any major protest in their respective domains, whether in support of the regional uprisings or on Nakba and Naksa days.
This is also true for the leaders of the uprisings that have taken place in our region over the past year. In Tunisia and Egypt, the Islamic leaderships hold back the mass struggles and allow elements of the old regimes to stay in power. In Libya, the uprising was hijacked by ex-regime and Islamic forces which have subordinated the struggle to NATO. In Syria, mass peaceful protests against Assad’s dictatorship and the exploitation and poverty it enforces have been subjected to murderous repression by the state. Meanwhile, Assad’s regime still tries to claim to be standing up to imperialism – this despite its responsibility for various atrocities against Palestinians, as well as its appeals to peace with Israel and its torture services rendered to the U.S. government (e.g., the case of Maher Arar). The imperialists and their allies in the Gulf Monarchies and Turkey are certainly trying to gain control of the struggle, especially by sponsoring its further militarization and encouraging the rise to prominence of conservative Islamists. At the same time, the genuine popular struggle of mass protests and defense against repression continues. That struggle desperately needs a strong socialist leadership that will stand up to any collaboration with imperialism and advance a program of democratic demands that can guarantee the freedoms of all Syria’s people and economic demands that can unite the workers, poor people and peasants against the dictatorship.
But the theory of permanent revolution also suggests a solution to the crisis of leadership: having no interest in the existing class society, and being exploited and oppressed by both our own rulers and imperialism, the workers of the oppressed nations are capable of struggling against both forces. The working class has a role in capitalist society which allows us not only to struggle against the capitalists, but also to offer an alternative: a socialist revolution which will sweep away both imperialism and its collaborators in the ruling class. At the head of the masses, and with a revolutionary party led by the vanguard of the workers, we have both the interest and the ability to conduct a mass struggle, which is the only way out of the impasse of guerilla warfare on the one hand, and sellout and betrayals on the other.
As Marxist revolutionaries, we in the ISL seek to build such workers’ parties as part of our effort to rebuild the Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution which was created by the Trotskyists in the 1930’s and which disintegrated as a revolutionary organization in the 1950’s. These parties, upon coming to power, will take care of the democratic questions, including the enactment of a land reform, equal democratic rights to all, and securing the right of self-determination. But they will not stop there. They will get rid of the old capitalist state apparatus and build new states, ruled by the workers and poor to serve the interests of the masses. The ultimate goal of these parties will be the complete overthrow of class society and the establishment of a communist society – a society without class or states, without oppression or exploitation.
In Palestine, such a revolution can only mean giving all refugees the right to return to their land, which means the creation of a Palestinian workers’ state from the River to the Sea, as part of a regional socialist federation. But the number one obstacle to such a revolution is the fact that while suffering from exploitation in the hands of the Zionist capitalists, and while also sometimes the victims of attacks on their democratic rights, the Israelis, and especially the Jewish workers, continue to enjoy privileges accorded to them by the Zionist state at the expense of the Palestinians. This means that many Jewish workers will refuse to join the Palestinian socialist revolution, and some will actively oppose it.
This is regrettable, but not completely inevitable. An internationalist policy on the part of Palestinian revolutionaries, which demands that Israeli Jews give up on their privileges but in return guarantees them equal rights, safety, and peace under a Palestinian state, will be able to win at least a significant minority of Israeli workers to their side. This is not only desirable from an internationalist point of view, but also from the perspective of weakening the Zionist state’s ability to violently suppress the Palestinian struggle. Given these considerations, all pro-Palestinian forces must do their best to win over as many Israeli workers as possible, without in any way equivocating on Palestinian rights.
For the Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees!
All Israel is Occupied Territory!
Down with ethnic cleansing in all of Palestine!
For a mass struggle against Zionist oppression!
For a Palestinian workers’ state from the river to the sea
For a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!
Rebuild the Fourth International!