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Global Palestine solidarity movement and deepening crisis of imperialism driven by Israel-Palestine War

An unprecedented war of genocide is raging in Palestine. Israel had attacked Gaza numerous times before since imposing the blockade of 2007, but those attacks tended to halt with ceasefire agreements or prisoner exchanges after inflicting heavy Palestinian casualties in a short amount of time.

The present war breaks from this pattern and continues for nearly half a year. The scale of deaths and destruction far surpasses previous levels. Well over 30 thousand Palestinians have died in Gaza since October 7, 2023, and nearly two million – most of the Gazan population – displaced. Now Israel is taking aim at Rafah, where the refugees are concentrated.

This shows Isreal’s far right government under Netanyahu is heading toward a ‘Second Nakba’. The government apparently wants to drive Palestinians from most (or at least some) parts of Gaza.

Western powers including the US and Germany are firmly backing this scheme. This fits a broader pattern of behavior of contemporary Western imperialism: faced with declining power, especially of their relative economic power and growing cracks in their ideological hegemony, Western powers are fighting all the more desperately to preserve their advantage.

However, the present war is only sharpening the crisis of imperialism from which it arose. Millions around the world are rallying in support of Palestinians; the imperialists are not winning one-sidedly.

The US and other Western powers are getting isolated internationally, and with increasing visibility. The isolation of the West was already revealed over the war in Ukraine; now it manifests itself through the International Court of Justice’s decision and the global reaction to it, or through Brazilian President Lula’s strong condemnation of Israel. Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro also continues to condemn Israel’s actions as genocide despite Washington’s disapproval.

The crisis of imperialism can be seen clearly if we compare the current situation to 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon. At the time Israel laid siege to the country in order to expunge Palestinian resistance forces active in Lebanon. Then-US president Reagan supported Israel. But when Israel carpet-bombed the Lebanese capital Beirut, Reagan called Israel’s then-prime minister Menachem Begin telling him to stop the bombing, which Begin promptly did. (Reagan was impressed, saying “I didn’t know I had that kind of power”.) Reagan subsequently sent US marines to Beirut to oversee the withdrawal of Palestinian resistance forces; but then a suicide bombing attack on the marines prompted Reagan to pull out US troops.

The US no longer exhibits such flexibility, because its weakened control of the Middle East has made Israel more important an ally. So although Washington knows that supporting Israel can make matters worse, it is failing to think of any other option.

The relative weakening of the US’ imperial sway is generating sharp tension between Biden and Netanyahu. Biden recently remarked that Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel”, language that is unusually strong. Moreover he warned that an assault on Rafah would cross a red line.

But in the same speech Biden also said he would never leave Israel, that Israel would continue to receive US weapons and funds.

Biden’s plan for a temporary port in Gaza comes from the same context. Biden says he will send thousands of US troops to build a temporary port 47km away from Gaza City, which would be used to receive aid. The port reportedly takes 60 days to build. But the only reason aid is not reaching Gaza is because Israel is blocking it. As a result we have the absurd spectacle of US planes airdropping morsels of food to starving Gazans while Israeli jets drop US-supplied bombs to those same Gazans.

A ceasefire is unlikely to be agreed. In the past Washington might have simply told Tel Aviv: “if no ceasefire, then no weapons or funds”. That is exactly what George Bush Senior did in the 1990s when Israel tried to derail the process leading up to Oslo Accords.

But the US of 2024 is unable to do so. Biden has refused to pressure Israel, and Israel will attack Rafah soon. Then we will have to step up the mobilization for the movement in solidarity with Palestinians.

The unprecedented growth of the Palestine solidarity movement is itself an aspect of the crisis of imperialism. It is also part of the global phenomenon of political polarization which is deepening the crisis of Western imperialism.

To millions throughout the world, the ordeal of Palestinians has come to symbolize the injustice of the whole system. Questions like the following capture the spirit of the times: “whose side are you on?” In other words, do you side with Israel and the powerful governments that back its genocide, or do you side with Palestinians in their resistance? Many feel they must side with Palestinians. And such a mood is creating political ripple effects everywhere.

In response, Western governments are doubling down on their Islamophobic language, racist policies, and restrictions on the right to protest. These have to do with the rise of the far rights as well. The far rights are doing well not just in the US, they also threaten to make sweeping gains in the European Elections. The far rights, however, did not emerge automatically: it is the racist policies of Western governments that offered the fertile ground for their growth. Revolutionaries in those countries have the task of connecting the movements against racism and the far right with the current massive movement in solidarity with Palestinians.

South Korea’s Yoon Suk Yeol government, too, will attack migrants and refugees and their right to protest after April’s general elections. Already in December 2023, the government revealed plans to amend the Refugee Law to that effect. Its target is the Korean Palestine solidarity movement, where migrants and refugees are playing an active role. Supporters of the Palestine solidarity movement must prepare for such an attack.

The Palestine solidarity movement is also having ripple effects in the left of the political spectrum. Mainstream reformist political parties in the West are failing miserably on this score. In Germany even parties to the left of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), including Die Linke, have capitulated to Zionism. However, in Britain, where the Palestine solidarity movement is the largest, the Labour Party leader and dogged Israel supporter Keir Starmer is facing serious opposition from rank-and-file party members. In Britain’s recent by-election George Galloway, who rose to fame in the 2000’s by opposing Labour’s ‘War on Terror’, won in a Labour-held district. (Although Galloway is a problematic figure in many ways, his win reflects anger against the Labour Party.)

The size and depth of the global movement in solidarity with Palestinians, now in its sixth month, vary across countries. Nonetheless they share some common features.

The movement is continuously drawing in new participants. Israel’s unrelenting barbarity is one factor. People in Gaza are facing death by famine; a full-blown attack on Rafah can stoke yet more public outrage.

But at the center of the solidarity movement are more radical and militant sorts of people who have propelled the movement (such as the ‘People in Solidarity with Palestinians’ in South Korea). In many cases they are Arab and/or Muslim.

In Britain where there is broad, mass mobilization, there are on the one hand large existing coalitions such as the Stop the War Coalition whose rallies draw in broad layers of people. But since these coalitions are relatively slow to mobilize and do not sufficiently live up to the urgency of the moment, younger, more radical and largely Muslim-led groups are actively trying to heighten the level of the struggle. Within this milieu, revolutionaries are attempting to relate to the more militant sections and to bring them together, while not missing opportunity in cooperating with the large existing coalitions.

In Korea there is no mass mobilization comparable to those of Britain due to the different objective circumstances. But some familiar patterns can still be seen. In Korea there are two parallel Palestine solidarity campaigns, one where all major reformist organizations are taking part, and the other involving more radical, energetic groups, revolutionaries, and a large number of expatriates (especially Arabs and Muslims).

Both campaigns are rather modest in size, but the more radical and militant side, the side that firmly supports Palestinians’ armed resistance, currently exhibits greater energy, liveliness of spirit and momentum, with its rallies enjoying higher and more consistent turnout. The greater radicalism and militancy of their message has been a key factor sustaining and growing the ranks of their participants.

Palestinians and Arabs living in Korea played an important part in producing such a difference in outcome and spirit. They had experienced revolution in their home country before coming to Korea, and are drawing new confidence from imperialism’s setbacks in the Middle East.

Workers’ Solidarity was able to quickly build the Palestine solidarity movement in cooperation with the Palestinian and Arab expatriate communities thanks to its history of working with them in the campaign for refugee rights.

The rich theoretical tradition of the International Socialist Tendency (to which Workers’ Solidarity belongs) on the Palestinian question has also been decisive. (Ygael Gluckstein, the founder of the IS Tendency, was himself a Palestinian.) Thanks to our theoretical tradition we were free from prejudice toward Islamism, for example, and were able to express unflinching support to Hamas’ resistance when October 7 happened and build action quickly.

The richness of our theoretical tradition can serve to attract a minority toward revolutionary politics.

The three pillars of Palestinian freedom – the resistance of Palestinians themselves (which we will support, whatever means they choose), revolutionary action by the workers and poor of the entire Middle East, and resistance against our own governments that offer sustenance to the Zionist state – can work.

These three pillars can also work as poles of attraction drawing a minority into revolutionary politics. Although the scale of this movement is uneven across countries, revolutionaries everywhere must know how to adapt to changes in the level of the global movement. Now is a very important period for revolutionaries all over the world.

In March 21, 2024, a factual correction was made regarding the George H.W. Bush administration's pressure to Israel in the 1990s.