Palestine in the World: “Palestine: A Socialist Introduction”

6 June, 2021
From Ramallah we see Jaffa, we see the sea (Photo: Jack Rabah © 2021).

From Ramal­lah we see Jaf­fa, we see the sea (Pho­to: Jack Rabah © 2021).

Pales­tine: A Social­ist Intro­duc­tion
Edit­ed by Sumaya Awad and bri­an bean
Hay­mar­ket Books (Dec. 2020)
ISBN 9781642592764

Jenine Abboushi


Palestine: A Socialist Introduction  is available from  Haymarket Books .

Pales­tine: A Social­ist Intro­duc­tion is avail­able from Hay­mar­ket Books.

As stu­dents in high school in Ramal­lah and lat­er at Birzeit Uni­ver­si­ty in the ear­ly 1980s, our lives includ­ed anti-occu­pa­tion demon­stra­tions, strikes, recur­rent inter­rup­tions of class­es and cam­pus clo­sures, rock-throw­ing, bar­ri­cade con­struc­tion, tire-burn­ing, and army attacks in which stu­dents were shot, beat­en, arrest­ed from the street or at home in the mid­dle of the night, impris­oned, and tor­tured. We also engaged in col­lec­tive chant­i­ng and singing, vol­un­tary work, and smoke-filled hours of polit­i­cal debate. Even stu­dents who were not polit­i­cal­ly engaged expe­ri­enced most of this direct­ly, because “the Israeli occu­pa­tion knocks on (or down) every door,” as we would say. 

Before the First Intifa­da in 1987, there were many intifadas that last­ed for weeks and months, and the Israelis had yet to bomb us from the sky. Polit­i­cal debates and vol­un­tary, com­mu­ni­ty work (to help till fields at risk of Israeli con­fis­ca­tion, for exam­ple) seemed like oppos­ing activ­i­ties, I fig­ured at the time, and I chose to work in groups main­ly engaged in the lat­ter. Yet I came to under­stand that all these activ­i­ties, from the pre­sum­ably sta­t­ic to the hands-on, con­sti­tut­ed vital oper­a­tional modes in the face of a ruth­less occupation. 

Read­ing this col­lec­tion of essays brings new life to a sim­ple truth: the most indomitable forms of resis­tance, and there­fore Pales­tin­ian resis­tance, are sym­bol­ic. Rais­ing the Pales­tin­ian flag, inhab­it­ing diverse pub­lic spaces to claim them, insist­ing that we are Pales­tin­ian, one peo­ple — whether in exile, liv­ing under mil­i­tary occu­pa­tion (the West Bank), on impris­oned land (Gaza), or with­in the state of Israel — and bond­ing our­selves to lib­er­a­tion and social jus­tice move­ments around the world are all fate­ful acts. Pales­tin­ian poet Rachid Hus­sein (1936–1977), as Edward Said wrote in won­der and admi­ra­tion, lived by the cer­tain­ty that sim­ply being Pales­tin­ian, claim­ing one’s iden­ti­ty, is resis­tance to Zionism. 

The essays in Pales­tine: A Social­ist Intro­duc­tion tell the sto­ry of Pales­tin­ian nation­al tenac­i­ty through the rifts of his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence, geog­ra­phy, and gen­er­a­tions, despite Israeli pol­i­tics of seg­re­ga­tion and re-nam­ing. Israel’s plan has always been to divide and reduce Pales­tin­ian pres­ence in Pales­tine, and to block Pales­tini­ans in exile from return­ing to, and often from even vis­it­ing, their land and homes. Pales­tin­ian cit­i­zens of Israel are called “Arabs” or even “Mus­lims” (mean­ing they could just as well go live in Jor­dan or any Arab coun­try), instead of being called Pales­tini­ans. After the 1993 Oslo accords, Pales­tini­ans exiled in Jor­dan were encour­aged to refer to them­selves as Jor­da­ni­ans as opposed to Pales­tini­ans or Pales­tin­ian Jor­da­ni­ans — dis­pos­sessed by name and expe­ri­ence, even once forcibly dis­placed by Israel. And Pales­tini­ans in the West Bank are crowd­ed into parched reser­va­tions on their his­toric land, policed by a Pales­tin­ian Author­i­ty that ful­ly col­lab­o­rates in uphold­ing the Israeli occu­pa­tion, and choked by expan­sion­ist set­tle­ments with swim­ming pools and sleek roads for exclu­sive use by Jew­ish Israelis. Pales­tin­ian fam­i­lies, friends, and his­to­ries from Gaza to the West Bank and through­out all of Pales­tine are frag­ment­ed and cor­ralled into ever small­er, arid scraps of land, and of course Gaza is quite lit­er­al­ly an Israeli prison of main­ly under­aged inmates.

In the face of this grim real­i­ty, the essays in Pales­tine: A Social­ist Intro­duc­tion, writ­ten by informed activists, nar­rate Pales­tin­ian his­to­ry and con­tem­po­rary strug­gles from the van­tage point of resis­tance. The writ­ers sup­port mass pop­u­lar upris­ings, grass­roots orga­niz­ing, and sol­i­dar­i­ty with lib­er­a­tion move­ments the world over. The edi­tors aim to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly estab­lish social­ist soci­eties in Pales­tine, the region, and the world, build­ing bridges to free­dom and social jus­tice strug­gles inter­na­tion­al­ly. This project, in con­cept and rhetoric as described in the intro­duc­tion, seems almost unchanged from the 1970s. An impor­tant dif­fer­ence is that the edi­tors reject the clas­sic “stages” of social­ist lib­er­a­tion, start­ing with the nation-state, and instead insist on the simul­tane­ity of lib­er­a­tion and social jus­tice strug­gles region­al­ly and glob­al­ly. Vast program.

And yet in our pan­dem­ic world, the idea that to free Pales­tine, inter­na­tion­al lib­er­a­tion move­ments col­lab­o­rate seems not out­dat­ed but cur­rent. We return over and again to the under­ly­ing need for grass­roots, inte­gral demo­c­ra­t­ic and social change. Few would argue with ABC pro­duc­er Nass­er Atta’s obser­va­tion: in his 35 years of cov­er­ing the region, astound­ing mass upris­ings in Pales­tine and through­out the Mid­dle East and Maghreb, lack­ing struc­ture and lead­er­ship, are repressed every time. In a recent TMR essay, “Rev­o­lu­tion Viewed From the Crow’s Nest of His­to­ry,” Melis­sa Chemam reminds us that rev­o­lu­tion, with its many set­backs, nor­mal­ly takes up a long stretch of his­to­ry. We accept this his­tor­i­cal real­i­ty, she right­ly points out, in the case of the French Rev­o­lu­tion, say, but over­look it when con­sid­er­ing the Mid­dle East and Maghreb. 

It’s like the peo­ple of Israel and Pales­tine are stuck in a time trav­el booth always lead­ing to the same place, fooled by the idea that they are mov­ing and this time they might actu­al­ly get some­where else.
— Ivana Perić

In the case of the Mid­dle East and the Maghreb, the stakes are so high that the sys­tem­at­ic, mul­ti­lat­er­al repres­sion of any and all move­ments for region­al demo­c­ra­t­ic change is arguably unprece­dent­ed in mod­ern world his­to­ry. For decades now, the USA, Israel, and region­al repres­sive regimes move in tan­dem to repress all upris­ings. To ensure the multi­na­tion­al exploita­tion of nat­ur­al resources and mar­kets, pop­u­la­tions are robbed, held in pover­ty, with access (if at all!) to most­ly poor edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems. And Israel is the region­al pow­er that helps keep pop­u­la­tions sub­ju­gat­ed. In the chap­ter “How Israel Became a Watch­dog State,” Shireen Akram-Boshar relates the his­to­ry of how it is in fact Amer­i­can inter­ests (and not pri­mar­i­ly the “Zion­ist Lob­by”) that neces­si­tates the sup­port of the Israeli mil­i­tary with bil­lions of US dol­lars year­ly. She describes how Israel has now devel­oped its own inde­pen­dent mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy, exper­tise, and police-state train­ing that it suc­cess­ful­ly hawks the world over. 

In the cur­rent upris­ing in all of his­toric Pales­tine, from Jaf­fa and Umm al-Fahm to Nablus and Gaza, there still is no uni­fy­ing lead­er­ship. Right­ful lead­ers with com­pe­tence, learn­ing, and integri­ty have been assas­si­nat­ed by the Israelis or impris­oned. Giv­en the remain­ing choic­es, hav­ing no lead­er­ship seems to be an advan­tage. Yet the argu­ment of the book holds that lead­er­ship is not the prob­lem so much as the need to build grass­roots, glob­al alliances, to fight against neo-colo­nial dom­i­na­tion in the region, and bring forth egal­i­tar­i­an soci­eties. And since the pan­dem­ic, there is a new urgency to under­stand the inter­de­pen­dence of eco­nom­ic prac­tice and social jus­tice. Grow­ing num­bers of peo­ple and experts in every domain are con­nect­ing rapa­cious con­sumerism, ter­ri­to­r­i­al dom­i­na­tion and ran­sack­ing, and dam­age to nature and com­mu­ni­ties (human, ani­mal, and plant) to not only failed eco­nom­ic sys­tems but the repres­sion of social jus­tice. This cri­tique is becom­ing main­stream. And this shift­ing of the tide (at least part­ly) explains the cur­rent, unprece­dent­ed sup­port (and media cov­er­age) of Pales­tin­ian aspi­ra­tion to freedom. 

Pales­tine: A Social­ist Intro­duc­tion has clear advan­tages over aca­d­e­m­ic and his­tor­i­cal stud­ies. Read­ing this acces­si­ble and live­ly 200 pages gives the read­er a thor­ough idea of the his­to­ry and cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of the Pales­tini­ans. So much of the evi­dence, embed­ded in libraries of source mate­r­i­al and schol­ar­ship, is here select­ed and brought togeth­er to make for a coher­ent read. Sumaya Awad and Annie Lev­in’s chap­ter “Roots of the Nak­ba” mar­shals for­got­ten pub­lic dec­la­ra­tions, includ­ing cita­tions from the pri­vate let­ters of Israel’s found­ing fathers and mili­ti­a­men, drawn from Israeli and British archives. The chap­ters “How Israel Became a Watch­dog State,” “The Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Strug­gle,” “The Israeli Work­ing Class,” and “The Price of Peace on Their Terms,” offer point­ed analy­ses and good insights. The idea that peace was nev­er an Israeli project, and that the Pales­tin­ian had “zero lever­age” at Oslo, for exam­ple, is sup­port­ed by tying togeth­er, in a sin­gle essay, the maneu­vers and real­i­ties in the region, Israel/Palestine, the USA and Europe. 

Some of the essays need­ed fur­ther edit­ing or revi­sion before pub­li­ca­tion. The evi­dence put forth in the intro­duc­tion, for exam­ple, is quite com­pelling with­out the fero­cious adjec­tives (cap­i­tal­is­m’s “vam­pir­ic sys­tem,” the “ten­ta­cles of neolib­er­al­ism”) or the recur­ring “bloom­ing” and “flow­er­ing” metaphors. This lan­guage can be con­cep­tu­al­ly reduc­tive. Social­ism in most chap­ters is defined broad­ly, in terms of soci­eties and economies based on social jus­tice. This is a good thing, in my view, as fus­ing the Pales­tin­ian cause to a wider region­al and social­ist pro­gram, nar­row­ly defined, would iron­i­cal­ly be com­pa­ra­ble to what the Islamist move­ments offer, where Pales­tin­ian aspi­ra­tions are a mere part of region­al Islamist projects. The PLO’s one unde­ni­able vic­to­ry was to inscribe Pales­tin­ian iden­ti­ty and soci­ety onto the map of the world. Insist­ing on Pales­tine and Pales­tin­ian iden­ti­ty is vital to sur­vival and resis­tance in the con­text of ongo­ing Israeli occu­pa­tion and expan­sion­ism. Any move­ment or ide­ol­o­gy that (per­haps inad­ver­tent­ly) merges — and risks to sub­merge — the Pales­tini­ans into larg­er enti­ties would, if suc­cess­ful, be a dis­as­trous set-back. 

The chap­ter “The Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Strug­gle” by Mustafa Omar should have been more thor­ough­ly updat­ed, and the dis­claimer intro­duc­to­ry pas­sage stat­ing that it was writ­ten in 2002 before PLO leader Yass­er Arafat was assas­si­nat­ed is not enough. It is a valu­able and inter­est­ing chap­ter, but at times not in sync with the time­frame of the rest of the book. Chap­ters that take alter­na­tive forms, like the infor­ma­tive (and exhil­a­rat­ing) inter­view with Omar Bargh­outi, founder of Boy­cott, Divest­ment, and Sanc­tions (BDS) fit very well. Oth­er penul­ti­mate chap­ters “Pales­tine in Tahrir” by Touf­ic Had­dad, “Nada Eli­a’s “Gen­der and Lib­er­a­tion in Pales­tine,” and “Black-Pales­tin­ian Sol­i­dar­i­ty” by Khury Petersen-Smith, read as essen­tial to the main sto­ry, but­tress­ing the book’s insis­tence on the uni­ty of struggles. 

Jericho, Palestine (photo by Chirag Dhara).

Jeri­cho, Pales­tine (pho­to by Chi­rag Dhara).

The most sur­pris­ing chap­ter in the vol­ume is Khury Petersen-Smith’s. Full of star­tling, often enter­tain­ing, quotes from lead­ers and thinkers as well as his own wry insights, Petersen-Smith traces Black-Pales­tin­ian rev­o­lu­tion­ary encoun­ters and col­lab­o­ra­tions from the 1970s to the present day. It all seems incred­i­ble, the details fas­ci­nat­ing, and yet this his­to­ry is real. It shows how such inter­na­tion­al­ist action and alliances are not only remark­able and pow­er­ful but feasible. 

What under­lies all the chap­ters of this book is the idea that our fates are inter­twined, our lib­er­a­tion move­ments and dreams, eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and social at once, are inter­con­nect­ed. The pan­dem­ic has demon­strat­ed with­out any doubt how our soci­eties and nature are inter­de­pen­dent, how priv­i­lege is volatile and in unex­pect­ed con­di­tions even illu­so­ry. The book pro­pos­es work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly for a social­ist future. In all cas­es, increas­ing num­bers of peo­ple real­ize that we must work out sound forms of egal­i­tar­i­an and sus­tain­able socio-eco­nom­ic systems. 

Pales­tine: A Social­ist intro­duc­tion guides us in mak­ing crit­i­cal sense of the Pales­tin­ian sto­ry — dis­mis­sive­ly labeled in media as a “con­flict” that is “too com­pli­cat­ed.” The essays are well-argued and sub­stan­ti­at­ed, and dis­cuss inter­est­ing mate­r­i­al and events. The con­clu­sion offers hard-hit­ting num­bers and par­al­lels. In fact, all the chap­ters are full of use­ful texts, facts, sta­tis­tics, com­par­isons and argu­ments — hot off the press ­— for activists. 

Read­ers who have lived through much of the Pales­tin­ian expe­ri­ence and read a lot about it will find the col­lec­tion of great inter­est. For new read­ers learn­ing about Pales­tine, this vol­ume offers the basic sto­ry, key sources, and a crit­i­cal guide with which to start out on the journey.

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