Palestinian youth open new front in Arab Spring

July 19, 2011

From the new July-August 2011 issue of News & Letters:


Palestinian youth open new front in Arab Spring

by Gerry Emmett

When thousands of unarmed Palestinians marched upon the Occupied Territories on May 15, they were met by gunfire from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). A dozen were killed and many more wounded. But the Arab Spring’s arrival has marked a new stage in the Palestinian struggle.

Indeed, one deep root of the Arab Spring can be seen in last year’s “Manifesto of Gaza Youth.” In rejecting the oppression of Israel, Hamas, Fatah, the U.S. and all other powers, the Gaza youth expressed the spirit that has since sparked revolution from Tunisia to Syria when they said, “There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into challenging the status quo and give us some kind of hope.”

This spirit has pressured ruling Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, neither of which want to be left behind by the masses’ own movement, into holding unity talks.

Further, the vision of massive, non-violent protests by Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and beyond fills Israel’s right-wing rulers with horror. It recalls the first Intifada of 1987, the most powerful challenge to Israel’s unjust rule so far. It also brings to their doorstep a tremendous human power that has shaken the world. The echo of this upsurge was heard in Tel Aviv on June 4 when tens of thousands of Israelis marched in support of a Palestinian state.

Marking the start of 1967’s Six Day War in which the Occupation began, that demonstration was organized by people representing “the Other Israel,” in organizations such as Peace Now, Meretz, and Hadash.

That the Israeli Defense Forces killed 24 Palestinian demonstrators June 4, 2011, showed the true face of Israel’s current government and its supporters.


Another challenge to Netanyahu’s regime is the expected September UN vote to establish a Palestinian state. Although, in practice, complicated by the rivalry of Fatah and Hamas, a UN vote in favor of Palestinian statehood would simply restate the original UN resolution that also created Israel. It should be very difficult for Israeli or U.S. arguments against this to gain traction.

A Palestinian state could represent a real step forward. It would recognize in practice, at last, the Palestinian right to national self-determination. This right has never been respected by Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan or Egypt. All have blood on their hands, and no right to decide the Palestinians’ future.

Without the constant pressure of occupation, the Palestinians could be free to come to grips with their own rulers—a chance to force accountability for the corruption, elitism, and religious fanaticism that is rejected by the vast majority. That it is President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah proposing to present such a resolution shows, again, the pressure he feels from the masses.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Netanyahu has done all in his power to assure that the U.S. would exercise its veto power over such a resolution. In doing so, he cemented the Israeli Right’s alliances with the most reactionary forces in U.S. politics, the racist, misogynist, anti-working-class Tea Party-type elements that now have a place in the U.S. Congress. (Just as he has recently courted Italy’s discredited Prime Minister Berlusconi.)

Such a UN veto, following the U.S.’s veto of the resolution demanding an end to Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements, would disgrace the U.S., and would be a victory for the ultra-reactionary forces in both countries. But it will be difficult for the U.S., which is trying to walk a thin line with regard to the Arab Spring. U.S. imperialism doesn’t want to openly announce that its greatest interest is, as always, in counter-revolution, at a moment when revolution is in the air. This is one more example of the way the Arab Spring has created consternation among the world’s rulers.


The alliance with the Tea Party is no accident or marriage of convenience. The racist, reactionary Tea Party has a deep affinity to the increasingly powerful Israeli Right. The Tea Party’s bigotry toward Muslims is akin to the attitude of some Israelis like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has rightly been compared to European neo-fascists like Le Pen and Haider. Certainly those neo-fascists have been welcomed to Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements during Lieberman’s ascension.

The Israeli Right has also been fighting its own “culture war.” Netanyahu’s government has been quick to make McCarthy-type charges against the Left and peace camps. There has been increasing effort to implement religious laws, to give preference to Orthodox over secular Jews in civil life. The illegal settlements have been a well-funded priority.

Netanyahu must balance his feelings of profound uneasiness with the Arab Spring against his relative success in the old, reactionary aims of Rightists like Begin, who from the 1940s worked “against the Jewish masses, whether they were fighting for a socialist republic of Arabs and Jews, or Zionists, who were anxious to establish a homeland for the Jews in a part of Palestine. Begin’s reactionary, fanatic ideology for ‘Eretz Israel’ (Land of Israel), as biblically interpreted by him, continued to terrorize those Jews.”[1]

In anticipation of future wars and expulsions, Israeli settlers have marched through Arab areas like Sheikh Jarrah chanting “Muhammad is dead!” “May your village burn!” “Death to Leftists!” and “Slaughter the Arabs!” This differs in no respect from a Ku Klux Klan demonstration, if not a Kristallnacht.

In the U.S., playwright David Mamet embodies the Israeli/Tea Party connection perfectly. In his new book explaining his move to the Right, he gives thanks to Glenn Beck for his political conversion; the same Glenn Beck who has done more than anyone in decades to inject the themes of classic anti-Semitism into U.S. political life; who declares the “worst people in history” to have been mostly Jews. Beck’s conspiracy ranting has inspired death threats against Jews. Apparently, virulent anti-Semitism that wears white skin and “supports Israel” is not a problem for Mamet.

This kind of hypocrisy (or stupidity) obviously does nothing to oppose the real anti-Semitism that remains widespread and deadly. It only enables a newly virulent hatred and demonization of Muslims to take a place beside anti-Semitism and racism in the annals of human bigotry.


It is no accident that June 6, the day after Israeli forces shot down Palestinians marching on the Golan Heights, there was another shooting incident in the Palestinian refugee Yarmouk Camp, near Damascus, Syria. A dozen Palestinians were killed protesting against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The PFLP-GC is a heavily militarized splinter group that supports and depends upon the Assad regime to the point of being an arm of it.

Protesters attacked and burned the PFLP-GC headquarters and chanted “The people want the overthrow of the factions!”

The tremendous courage shown by the Syrian people who have continued to demonstrate, week after week, in the face of Bashar al-Assad’s thugs and bullets is inspirational. So far an estimated 1,100 have been killed and over 10,000 arrested. These demonstrations began when a group of youths in Dara’a were arrested for writing graffiti on a wall. They were tortured in custody, and their families insulted by officials.

Now almost every city has seen protests. The movement is the greatest challenge to the Baathist regime in the 40 years of Assad family rule, a rule from the narrow base of the Alawite minority (10% of the population) and the family’s crony capitalists. Assad’s cousin, billionaire Rami Makhlouf, has been forced to announce his retirement, but Assad shows no sign of compromise. Rather, he has tried to play the various religions (Sunni, Christian, Druze, Alawite) against each other—to the point of having the same secret police teams attack Sunni villages posing as Alawites, and Alawite villages posing as Sunnis.

In 1982, Assad’s father crushed an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama by killing 10,000-30,000 people. As one Hama resident says today, “To overcome that fear, I marched along with them every day even after I was injured 10 days ago and saw others dying in front of me. I want my daughter to grow up in freedom.”

When conflict and refugees have spilled over into Turkey and Lebanon there has been attention paid to these events. But it seems clear that the world’s rulers would be happy to see the demonstrations burn themselves out. It was Tony Blair, former friend of Qaddafi, and creator of much chaos in Iraq, who recently declared that “chaos” might follow the fall of Assad.


One thing must be said about the Arab Spring: the masses of women, men, workers, and students, who have participated in the freedom struggles in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen and so on have shown matchless courage, determination, and heroism.[2] That will never be forgotten by all who care about humanity’s life and future.

The masses are doing their part with courage and creativity. The questions they have raised about women’s rights, about workers’ rights, about what kind of life should be lived, speak to the heart of the modern age.

Since its beginnings, Zionism too has had an appointment with this social revolution, and with revolutionary philosophy—as do all “alternatives” to the latter, finally. Nothing could make the need for revolutionary philosophy more concrete than the struggle of Palestinians for self-determination—and nothing could release greater revolutionary energies than concretizing that philosophy for the struggle.

In fact, it was specifically in relation to the “Jewish Question” in Europe that Karl Marx first formulated the concept of “permanent revolution.” This was the point at which his philosophic critique of bourgeois society came together with his recognition of the unfinished character of the bourgeois revolution:

“At times of special self-confidence, political life seeks to suppress its prerequisite, civil society and the elements composing this society, and to constitute itself as the real species-life of man devoid of contradictions. But it can achieve this only by coming into violent contradiction with its own conditions of life, only by declaring the revolution to be permanent, and therefore the political drama necessarily ends with the re-establishment of religion, private property, and all elements of civil society, just as war ends with peace.”[3]

It isn’t moral lecturing or state-capitalist politics that has made the return to revolutionary philosophy necessary. It is the reality of millions in the streets, fighting to create new relations between people—freedom for women, for youth, for religious and ethnic minorities; and freedom from capital’s ever-greater domination over living workers. Revolutionaries must rise to the time.

Revolution isn’t a bus that comes along at fixed intervals, where if one is missed there will be another along soon. This is the moment of revolution. If not now, when?



1. Also: “When the UN was debating the right for the establishment of Israel, all the Jews in Palestine were for the accepting of the territory designated for the State of Israel. Whereupon that reactionary underground terrorist, Menachem Begin, as head of the Irgun, together with the Stern Gang, bombed the King David Hotel without any regard as to which Jews would be killed, and with but one aim, and that was to undermine this move.” (Raya Dunayevskaya, Political-Philosophic Letter of Jan. 5, 1982, The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection #7392-7401.)

2. “…the restlessness of the Iraq masses and the demand of the Kurds for autonomy there is directed, not at Israel, but Iraq. The opponents in the jails in Syria oppose Baath rule; the very narrow mass base speaks loudly enough of the Baathist leaders’ total isolation from the masses. And the student demonstrations in Egypt, as all over the world, are directed, not against a ‘foreign’ enemy, but against the native rulers.” (Raya Dunayevskaya, “Anti-Semitism, Anti-Revolution, Anti-Philosophy: U.S. and Russia Enter Middle East Cockpit,” Feb. 1969.)

3. Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *