These anniversaries remind us of the long entanglement of Palestine in global imperial networks. They highlight the extended, and seemingly endless and bottomless, suffering that Palestinians experience both inside and outside of historic Palestine. They also confirm that despite the forces arrayed against them, Palestinians have struggled, collectively and individually, for a liberated future.
Even as we mark these anniversaries, it is vital to recognize that we do not mark them simply as events, but as processes that continue. The idea of the ongoing nakba (al-nakba al-mustamirrah) has increasingly been a way for Palestinians to describe the continuing nature of their dispossession and displacement. It also offers an analytic and political framework that connects the experiences of Palestinians across borders and boundaries. Palestinians share a common experience not only of suffering, but also of resistance. Given the political experiences of the past few decades, it may be difficult to speak of a continuous intifada. But the culture of sumoud (steadfastness) and the grassroots, popular and innovative forms of resistance that characterized the first intifada do continue to destabilize the Zionist project while reinforcing the place of Palestine within global circuits of resistance.
Palestinians have not been alone in their struggles. For decades, social and political movements challenging colonialism, apartheid, racism and imperialism have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and built relationships of mutual support with Palestinian communities in struggle. In the 1960s and 1970s, socialist, communist and national liberation movements built ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization. During the first intifada, popular movements around the world organized support for grassroots organizations in the Occupied Territories while challenging the pro-Israel bias of Western governments and mainstream media outlets. During the second intifada, thousands of social justice activists travelled to Palestine to participate in direct action campaigns against the occupation. And, since 2005, the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) has built on this history by providing an effective framework for solidarity in which local organizers mobilize campaigns based on a set of core principals established by Palestinian civil society organizations. BDS has proven effective as campaigns proliferate among trade unions, student groups, co-ops, academic associations and religious organizations. Indeed, support for the Palestinian struggle in the West is more widespread and more powerful than ever before.
On the ground in Palestine, however, conditions continue to deteriorate. Colonization and displacement continue unabated—with Jerusalem, Hebron and the villages of the West Bank as sites of the most aggressive settler colonial expansion. As Jewish Israeli society continues its sharp turn to the right, pervasive anti-Arab racism is manifest in demands for accelerated settlement construction, the expansion of Jewish access to sites of Muslim worship in Jerusalem and the expulsion (“transfer”) of Palestinian citizens of Israel and residents of Jerusalem. As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu panders to the far right and US President Trump provides unconditional support, Palestinian life becomes increasingly precarious and conditions ripen for another major military assault. Young Jerusalemites nonetheless took to the streets in a show of defiance at Israeli attempts to further sequester their access to holy sites. Nothing surpasses the indescribable suffering of the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians deemed disposable are enclosed, besieged and repeatedly subjected to the full force of Israeli military invasion. In the West Bank, the military and bureaucratic violence of the Israeli occupational authorities is supplemented by the complicity of the Palestinian Authority—whose security forces work closely with the Israeli military to suppress resistance within the scattered Palestinian enclaves. Recent strikes by low wage Palestinian teachers and other public employees have called attention to the neoliberal austerity policies of the PA, the corruption of Fatah and the consumption of the new Palestinian elite.
The recent reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas was made possible by the brutal siege on Gaza, the counter-revolutionary repression of the Arab uprisings and the isolation of Hamas’s financial supporters, especially Qatar. Israel’s ten year siege on Gaza, punctuated by repeated military bombardments, culminated in 2017 with a summer of misery imposed by Israeli and PA restrictions on access to electricity and clean water during the most intense heat wave in years. With Palestinians desperate for any deal that will ease the pressure, Hamas capitulated to demands by Israel and the US to re-establish Fatah rule in Gaza. This agreement will reincorporate Gaza into the structure of neoliberal colonial rule through which Israel governs the West Bank and the US manages the Middle East.
Further afield, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria continue to suffer the consequences of the Oslo process, begun in 1993 between Israel and the PLO. The Oslo Accords had the effect of narrowing the Palestine problem to a question of governance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Even before Oslo the PLO lacked the capacity to provide support and protection for these populations. Increasingly moribund, it also seems to lack the will. Refugees remain vulnerable to bureaucratic exclusion, political marginalization and violent assault. With many forces arrayed against them, Palestinian refugees have continued to insist that a resolution to the question of Palestine requires addressing their rights and claims.
Israel remains fully integrated within the US empire and global networks of counterinsurgency, repression and securitization. Israeli companies have emerged at the forefront of the multi-billion dollar global market for high-tech surveillance equipment and other advanced military and security technology. Israeli consultants provide training and advice to police departments and military forces around the world. And programs such as Prevent in the UK and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in the US are modeled on Israeli counterinsurgency practices. Faced with resistance and anger from their own marginalized populations, governments from Morocco to Brazil seek to learn from and build connections with the Israeli war machine.
In the United States, the politics of the Trump-era have supported a rhetorical alliance between racist, anti-Semitic and Nazi politics and support for Israel. Not only are white supremacists such as Richard Spencer explicit in their support for the Zionist “ethno-state” of Israel—Spencer describes Israel as a model for the white nationalist state he would like to see in the US—the Israeli government and many of its supporters in the US have been relatively quiet about the actual displays of anti-Semitism that have been part of Trump times. This quiet stands in marked contrast to the targeting of supporters of Palestinian rights by these same parties.
Simultaneously, Palestine remains an inspiration for resistance movements around the world. People confronting racist violence and colonial domination find hope in the expansive humanity and determination of the Palestinian people whose everyday existence—in Palestine and in the diaspora—is resistance to settler colonial elimination. From Morocco and South Africa to the US and Brazil, Palestine is not only a symbol of resistance but also a core component of freedom dreams and visions of liberation.