For 11 days in May, Israel massacred Palestinians in Gaza who it has been subjecting to a merciless blockade for 15 years, bombing and shelling civilian population centers and residential buildings, destroying infrastructure on a massive scale, and committing multiple war crimes. Israeli forces killed 247 people, 66 of them children.
Most Palestinians in Gaza are refugees—and they’re refugees because Israel drove them from their homes and isn’t letting them return despite the Palestinians’ right to return being enshrined in UN Resolution 194. This latest aggression damaged schools and medical facilities, left 400,000 Gaza residents without access to safe, piped water, and destroyed an agricultural supplies warehouse “and with it likely at least one season of crops, threatening food security.”
Despite this terror campaign, Israel has not successfully smothered Palestinian national aspirations. The Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza demonstrated that Israel cannot go on carrying out apartheid and ethnic cleansing ad infinitum without paying a price. Apart from inflicting mass death and injuries on the civilian population in Gaza, Israel’s military achievements were, as Mouin Rabbani points out, effectively non-existent:
For eleven days and nights the combined might of Israel’s military and intelligence services failed to eliminate either the political or military leadership of even one of the Palestinian organizations, and apparently failed to assassinate a single senior leader of any of them. Israel additionally failed to significantly degrade the Palestinian ability to continuously launch coordinated rocket and mortar salvos at Israel, which have continued undiminished. The comprehensive cessation of Palestinian fire emanating from the Gaza Strip on the night of 19/20 May, and its coordinated resumption on the morning of 20 May also demonstrates that Israel failed to disrupt these organisation’s [sic] command, control and communications. Israel furthermore refrained from using its overwhelming military advantage to launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip out of a fear of significant military losses…
The civilian toll in lives and infrastructure has been horrific, but militarily insignificant. If the purpose was to generate popular pressure on the Palestinian organizations to accommodate Israeli terms, it indisputably failed.
Attempting to fragment Palestinians has also long been part of Israel’s colonial strategy, an effort that involves trying to make Gaza and the West Bank distinct entities, cutting off both from Jerusalem and from the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and pretending that the Palestinian refugees are totally irrelevant to the future of the land. Palestinians, however, demonstrated an extraordinary degree of national unity amid the recent escalation: the first rocket fire from Gaza during the flareup was a response to Israeli actions in Jerusalem, namely attacking worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and ratcheting up its racist dispossession in the city, this time in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood.
Israel’s murderous bombing of Gaza occurred in tandem with not only Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip and popular protests in Jerusalem but also demonstrations in the West Bank and a Palestinian uprising inside what is presently called Israel. In the latter case, the backdrop is Palestinians being evicted to enable tourism in Acre and Jaffa, enduring poverty in Lod, being subject to attempted cultural erasure, and having settlers taking over their homes and lands inside the Green Line. Throughout Israel, Palestinians also face strict residential segregation in often overcrowded areas, deprived of land, planning permits, industrial zones, and classrooms.
Signs of Palestinian solidarity across colonially manufactured boundaries abound. Palestinians throughout historic Palestine, including those who live in Israel, went on a coordinated general strike. A document called “The Dignity and Hope Manifesto,” which circulated across Palestine, declared that Palestinians are writing “a new chapter, a chapter of a united Intifada that seeks our one and only goal: reuniting Palestinian society in all of its different parts; reuniting our political will, and our means of struggle to confront Zionism throughout Palestine.”
As Ramzy Baroud observes:
We can no longer discuss popular resistance and armed resistance as if they are two separate notions or strategies. It would have been impossible for the armed resistance to be sustained, especially under the shocking amount of Israeli firepower, without the support of Palestinians at every level of society and regardless of their political and ideological differences.
Facing a single enemy that did not differentiate between civilians and fighters, between a Hamas or a Fatah supporter, the Palestinian people throughout Palestine moved past all of their political divisions and factional squabbles. Palestinian youth coined new terminologies, ones that were centered around resistance, liberation, solidarity and so on. This shift in the popular discourse will have important consequences that have the potential of cementing Palestinian unity for many years to come.
It will be very difficult for Zionism to put a lid on the burgeoning intifada, grounded as it is in a renewed sense of Palestinian national cohesion. Yet Israel has sought to root out Palestinian resistance everywhere it blooms through unyielding violence. In Gaza, most of those Israel snuffed out were civilians. Between May 14 and 29, occupation forces killed 14 Palestinians during protests on the West Bank. Inside Israel, Palestinians have been subject to the worst of the violence as they are targeted by both Israeli police and right wing gangs, sometimes in coordination. In a campaign of mass arrests, Israeli police have rounded up hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel to, as Israel’s police put it, “settle scores.”
Israel has fortified its regional alliances in recent years, inking normalization deals with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan, alongside an increasingly open Saudi-Israeli friendship. These developments are about capitalist integration, building an aggressive military axis against Iran and its partners, and attempting to permanently remove the Palestinian question from the agenda.
Even as mainstream media continues to circulate pro-Israel narratives, popular opinion in the United States is tilting away from Israel and toward the Palestinians, particularly among young people. Yet this shift has not cracked the pro-Israel consensus among the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans or the deep relationship between American and Israeli capital. Some Democrats in Congress criticized Israel during the May offensive but, amid its gruesome aftermath, the Biden administration said that the 11-day assault on Gaza would not stop US arms transfers to Israel. Thus, all indications are that the US ruling class continues to regard Israel as an important proxy and that it will continue providing Israel with the political, economic, and military support that it needs to continue its settler colonial enterprise.
Similarly, the Canadian ruling class provides Israel with death machines that it can use against Palestinians. Between 2010-2014, the Canadian government approved the shipping of millions of dollars worth of military gear from Canadian contractors to Israel, including products classified as, “Bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, other explosive devices and charges, and related equipment and accessories specially designed for military use” as well as grenades, mines, and technology for aircraft and naval vessels. Canada exported nearly $8 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2015. In 2016, it was just under $10 million while in 2017 it was just over that amount, and then it was approximately $16 million in 2018. $13.7 million was the figure for 2019.
Canada’s support for Israel’s slaughters should be understood in the context of the close ties between Canadian and Israeli capital. The two states have had a free trade agreement since 1997 and, in 2020, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Israel was valued at over $1.6 billion while the two-way services trade was $634 million. Canada and Israel do hundreds of millions of dollars of business in sectors like nuclear energy and pharmaceuticals, Canadian companies have research and development centres in Israel, and approximately 60 Canadian and Israeli universities have institution-to-institution agreements that support joint research and faculty or student exchange.
The present moment, therefore, should be read dialectically: on the one hand, imperialist states like the US, Canada, and the European Union, as well as their proxies in West Asia and North Africa, regard Israel as a valuable asset and will continue providing it with decisive support; on the other hand, popular and anti-imperialist forces are ratcheting up the struggle for Palestinian liberation, first and foremost in Palestine and across the region but also inside the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe as massive crowds turned out for Palestine across much of the Western world last month. Furthermore, dockworkers in Italy refused to load weapons bound for Israel while activists and dockworkers prevented an Israel-owned ship from unloading its cargo in Oakland. In the last month, innumerable scholars, academic departments, and students, have signed statements advocating the BDS campaign. Labour Against the Arms Trade is pushing to stop the flow of weapons to Israel. How the balance of forces will play out in the medium-long term cannot be predicted but one certainty is that Palestinian resistance will continue.
Greg Shupak writes fiction and political analysis and teaches Media Studies and English at the University of Guelph-Humber. He’s the author of The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel and the Media. He writes a monthly column with Canadian Dimension and his work frequently appears in outlets like Electronic Intifada, F.A.I.R, The Guardian, In These Times, Jacobin, and The Nation.