The ‘main threat’: Time to talk about the Palestinian class struggle


On Monday, October 31, Palestinians in the city of Al-Eizariya, east of occupied East Jerusalem, staged a general strike. The strike was declared as part of the community’s mourning for 49-year-old Barakat Moussa Odeh, who was killed by Israeli forces in Jericho the day before.

This is not an isolated case. General strikes have been observed in the occupied Palestinian territories in recent weeks as a form of civil disobedience and protest against Israeli attacks on the cities of Nablus, Jerusalem, Jenin and Hebron. They were also held to mourn Palestinian fighters killed after shooting operations at Israeli soldiers from illegal Jewish settlers.

Historically, general strikes have been announced and observed by working-class Palestinians. This form of protest often represents the backbone of grassroots resistance in Palestine, which began many years before the establishment of Israel on the ruins of the historic Palestinian homeland.

The return of general strike tactics suggests that the new insurgency in the West Bank is a direct result of working class resistance. Indeed, many of the young Palestinian fighters come from refugee camps or working-class population centers. Their revolt stems from a growing realization that the political tactics of the elites have led to nothing tangible, and that Palestinian freedom will certainly not be achieved through Mahmoud Abbas and his selfish policies.

The nascent uprising also seems to share many similarities with the Palestinian anti-colonial uprising of 1936-39, as well as with the First Intifada, the popular uprising of 1987. Both historic events were shaped and supported by working-class Palestinians. While the interests of wealthy classes often negotiated political spaces that allowed them to coexist with different ruling powers, working-class Palestinians, most dissatisfied with colonialism and military occupation, fought back as a collective.

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Palestinian writer and historian Ghassan Kanafani – assassinated by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in July 1972 – analyzed the events leading up to the Palestinian uprising in the 1930s in his essay “The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine”, which was published shortly before his untimely death. was published. Kanafani argued that three enemies pose a “prime threat” to the Palestinian national movement: “The local, reactionary leaders; the regimes in the Arab states surrounding Palestine and the imperialist-Zionist enemy.”

“The change from a semi-feudal society to a capitalist society was accompanied by an increasing concentration of economic power in the hands of the Zionist machine and, consequently, within Jewish society in Palestine. (By the end of the 1930s, Palestinian) Arabic proletariat had fallen victim to British colonialism and (Zionist) Jewish capital, the former bearing primary responsibility,” continued Kanafani.

Palestinian workers are expected to once again be on the front lines of the struggle for liberation. They seem perfectly aware of the fact that Israeli colonialism is not only a tool of oppression, but also a class enemy.

Settler colonialism is often defined as a form of colonialism that aims to settle the colonized land, exploit its resources while methodically eliminating the indigenous population. The work of historian Patrick Wolfe has been particularly illuminating in this regard. He argued in his seminal work, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” that: “Settler colonialism is inherently eliminative.” However, according to Wolfe, “The logic of elimination does not only refer to the summary liquidation of indigenous peoples, although it includes that as well.”

The longevity of settler-colonial societies is based on key factors that enable these societies to be sustainable over long periods of time. One of these factors is that settler projects maintain complete hegemony over natural resources, including the systematic exploitation of the indigenous population as a cheap labor force.

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Sai Englert argues in “Settlers, Workers, and the Logic of Accumulation by Dispossession” that: “In settler colonial societies, the internal class struggle of settlers is fought not only over the distribution of the wealth gained from the settlers’ labor, but also about the distribution of the spoils collected by the dispossession of the indigenous people.”

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Englert’s logic applies to the Zionist settler-colonial model in Palestine, which began long before the establishment of the State of Israel over the Palestinian homeland in 1948. Englert emphasizes the Zionist dichotomy by citing the work of Gershon Shafir, who defines early Zionism as: “A colonizing movement that was to simultaneously secure land for its settlers and settlers for its land.”

However, since the settlement of Jewish migrants—mostly from Europe—in Palestine was a long, drawn-out process, settler Zionism felt compelled to implement its colonial project in stages. In its early stage, beginning in the late 19th century through the 1930s, Zionist colonialism focused on the exploitation of indigenous Palestinian Arab workers and ultimately the exclusion of this workforce in preparation for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

Israeli historian Ilan Pappé explains the Zionist model in that historical phase, writing: “The early Zionists were fully aware of this process, that of the exploitation of Palestinian labor as only one phase – as in ‘temporary exploitation’ – in the development of what Zionist leaders, David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, described as “avoda ivrit,” or “Hebrew labor.” “My hope is that we (meaning ‘Hebrew labour’) will in due course take the decisive place in the Palestinian economy and in its collective and social life,” Ben-Zvi expresses.

“It is clear who would play the marginal role in the economy: the Palestinians who made up the vast majority of the population at the time,” explains Pappé.

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Yaakov Rabinowitz (one of the founders of the Agudat Israel Orthodox Party), saw no contradiction in leading an apparently socialist movement, such as Hapoel Hazair, and advocating a segregated, colonialist labor market: ‘The Zionist establishment should must defend against the Arab, since the French government protects the French colonialists in Algeria from the natives.”

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The legacy of those early Zionists continues to shape the relationship between Palestinian workers and Israel to this day – a relationship based on racial segregation and exploitation.

The nature of Israeli colonialism has not changed fundamentally since the early 20th century. It remains committed to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the appropriation of Palestinian resources, including Palestinian labour. All attempts to circumvent this ongoing exploitation have largely failed because Palestinian workers remain equally vulnerable in other workplaces, whether in the limited, semi-autonomous economy of the Palestinian Authority or equally exploitative Arab regimes.

Despite all this, Palestinian workers continue to resist their exploitation in many ways, including unions, strikes, protests and resistance to the Israeli occupation. It should come as no surprise that the various Palestinian uprisings over the years have been fueled by working-class Palestinians.

Such a reality forces us to rethink our understanding of the Palestinian struggle. It is not just a “conflict” of politics, geography or narrative, but one based on different layers of class struggle inside and outside Palestine. As experience has shown, those struggles were at the heart of the history of Palestinian resistance, clearly manifesting themselves in the Palestinian strike and rebellion of 1936-39, all the way to the present day.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect Middle East Monitor’s editorial policies.


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