The socialist path forward

PALESTINE
A Socialist Introduction
Edited by Sumaya Awad and brian bean
250 pp Haymarket Books $18.95 

The Socialist left in the United States has historically offered a dissenting voice to the drumbeat of U.S. state-sanctioned support for Israel, to the apartheid Israeli state, and to liberal Zionism.  Sumaya Awad and brian bean’s Palestine: A Socialist Introduction is a strong reminder of that tradition, and an urgent bulletin to socialists everywhere seeking to analyze, understand and organize for Palestinian liberation.  The book rejuvenates awareness of how solidarity with Palestinian self-determination and the end of Israeli occupation remain crucial building blocks for slowing U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, reviving traditions of Arab nationalism and Socialism globally, and building a stronger revolutionary Left within the U.S.  Significantly, too, the book dares to chart a semi-optimistic path forward in what appear to be dark times.

Awad and bean assert in their Introduction that the world capitalist crisis since 2007-2008 has helped shift public sympathy simultaneously towards both Socialism as a political system, and for Palestinian freedom struggle.  It is an important argument buttressed in the collection by essays like Khury Peterson-Smith’s “Cops Here, Bombs There: Black-Palestinian Solidarity,” an account of how both the Ferguson protests of 2014 and the Movement for Black Lives came to include critiques of capitalism and support for Palestine in their protests.

Their argument is also supported by recent events in Palestine.  The Great March of Return of 2019, they noted, was a conscious attempt to disrupt both the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian Authority’s complicity in Israel’s neoliberal control and pacification of the Palestinian population.   Austerity in Palestine under PA rule should remind Socialists, they argue, of wider patterns of capitalist discipline and control by both ruling Arab states in the Middle East and within the U.S.    Here Daphna Thier’s essay “Not An Ally: The Israeli Working-Class,” makes the important historical argument that labor Zionism, Israeli exploitation of Palestinian labor, and the new neoliberal occupation of Palestine have eliminated the potentiality for Israeli working-class forming solidarity with Palestinians.

Another strength of Palestine: A Socialist Introduction is fine-grained attention to the geopolitics of the Middle East from a Socialist perspective. Examples would include Sumaya Awad and Annie Levin’s superb essay “Roots of the Nakba: Zionist Settler Colonialism,” a sharp review of both Zionism and anti-Zionism; and a strong companion piece, Shireen Akram-Boshar’s “How Israel Became the Watchdog State: US Imperialism and the Middle East,” which traces U.S. control of the region up to the current moment of “normalization.”  Nada Elia’s “Multiple Jeopardy: Gender and Liberation in Palestine” takes up the relationship between occupation and gender violence while exploring the role of Palestinian women in historical (and current) fights for women’s freedom.

Palestine: A Socialist Introduction is dedicated to “the martyrs,” readable as both those who have given their lives for the cause of Palestinian liberation over time, and the more recent victims of counterrevolutionary repression in the Middle East in countries like Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt.  Jehad Abusalim’s essay “Palestine in Tahrir” is an homage to Egyptian revolutionaries in 2011 who made solidarity with Palestinian liberation struggle a building block of the Arab Spring. Egypt’s state-sanctioned “normalization” with Israel since, Abusalim reminds us, then is a critical challenge for Socialists now.  As scholar Adam Hanieh has noted, neoliberalism, foreign investment and U.S. support for both has largely replaced Arab nationalism as a driving force on Palestine’s neighboring states.  Capital accumulation has become even more central to U.S. “peace plan” efforts to effectively monetize the occupation, thus pricing downward Palestinian demands for freedom.  

Awad and bean also do an admirable job of proving a Socialist framing of the current Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel.  In their interview with BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, they press him to reckon with the failures of South Africa to achieve anything like economic equality years after the end of racial apartheid.  Barghouti notes that support for the U.N.-backed right of return for Palestinian refugees—one of three planks of the BDS movement—can also be a lever against “economic apartheid” now and in the future.  “Winning that right” he argues, “would ensure a basic level of economic justice that would undermine Israel’s economic, not just political-ethnic, apartheid.”

Indeed, in an inspired final section of the book, titled “Revolution Until Victory,” Awad and bean point out that the end of South African apartheid depended in part on massive economic pressure against the South African government, including labor boycott and blockades, to put teeth and muscle into the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement.  This working-class internationalism, they argue, will be critical to the defeat of Israeli apartheid.  “Both the Palestinian popular movement, from the First Intifada to the Great Return March, and the Arab revolutions of the last decade have shown us that working-class people are willing to put their lives on the line to fight for real democracy, for the rule of the people  over the rule of elites.” 

The unresolved challenge of this important book is how and whether a revived Socialist movement, including a revitalized Democratic Socialists of America, now at 85,000 members, can continue to grow and win debates in the public sphere around U.S. support for Israel, and the Israeli settler-colonial state.  The recent elections of Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandaria Ocasio-Cortez, and Cori Bush—Palestine advocates all—to public office suggests one path forward.  Another, made more compelling by this book, is for continued grassroots agitation and organizing in workplaces, schoolrooms, and political and Social associations for Palestinian human rights.  In recent years, we have seen groups as far-flung as the Irish Teachers Union, the Presbyterian Church of the U.S, and LGBTQ filmmakers from around the world stand up to resist the state of Israel. This book provides hope, and a Socialist blueprint, for how to build from that momentum towards a free Palestine.

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