The brutal assault on the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank by the Zionist state’s coercive apparatus elicited mass protests by peoples across the world, alongside increasingly organised forms of resistance within Palestine — some even suggesting the making of a Third Intifada. On the other hand, western imperialist powers and Muslim states, including Pakistan, did little more than issue vague statements demanding an end to violence, confirming that those who rule us stand complicit with Israel.
The announcement of a tenuous ‘ceasefire’ represents a small victory for popular forces all over the world. Yet it should not be forgotten that let up in the pounding of Gaza by Israeli jets does not mean an end to the daily indignity of occupation. The process of settlement-building in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of the West Bank continues unabated.
The Palestinian people have suffered since at least the 1880s, through the Balfour declaration of 1916, and then the annexation of historic Palestine by the nexus of European powers and the Zionist movement in 1948. After the humiliating defeat of Arab states in 1967, Israel has subjected the people of both the West Bank and Gaza to systematic apartheid.
When the Palestinian people have dared resist (as during the two Intifadas in 1987-1993 & 2000-2005), genocidal violence has been their fate.
As on this occasion, for most of the past 73 years, western imperialism and puppet Muslim rulers (including Pakistan) have collaborated to consolidate Zionist tyranny and thwart the Palestinian national liberation struggle. The only exception was between the 1950s and 1970s, when revolutionary internationalism was at its peak, and colonized peoples all over the world sought freedom from imperialism, capitalist exploitation and all forms of oppression.
Crucially, in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, the Palestinian cause was supported in much the same way as other anti-imperialist causes, like the Vietnamese war of national liberation led by Ho Che Minh, the Algerian freedom struggle led by Ahmed Ben Bella, the liberation of Congo led by Patrice Lumumba, and the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro & Che Guevara.
All anti-imperialist causes were worthy of support. There was no such thing as an exclusively ‘Muslim cause’
In contrast, most young Pakistanis today have been brought up believing that all political causes must be seen through a ‘Muslim’ lens. The truth is that the Pakistani establishment was complicit with western imperialism through much of the Cold War era. Indeed, the militant right-wing was patronised in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine and many other Muslim-majority countries so as to undermine secular, left-wing progressive movements that enjoyed mass support.
The left was systematically destroyed and what can be called ‘Zia’s generation’ imbibed a worldview that mirrored what the ideologue of US imperialism Samuel Huntington called a ‘clash of civilisations’. Accordingly, many young Pakistanis today are able only to explain what is happening in global flashpoints like Palestine and in our own imperialist-ravaged country as a conspiracy of ‘infidels’ against a uniform ‘Islamic ummah’.
In fact, Pakistan’s establishment, its mainstream parties and its conservative intelligentsia are committed to a political-economy project of exploitation and humiliation within this country that can certainly be considered a form of settler colonialism. Think about war-torn ethnic peripheries like ex FATA, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan as well as urban zones where agents of dispossession like Malik Riaz run riot.
These linkages between global and local manifestations of capitalist-imperialism defy simplistic notions of the Palestinian national struggle as led by ‘Muslims vs Jews’. In any case, almost a quarter of the population of historic Palestine was Christian.
Meanwhile, today’s most symbolic resistance to Israeli terror is that which is expressed by Jews in Israel and beyond. Recall that the American Empire’s war machine was forced to withdraw from Vietnam due to the unceasing popular revolt against the war within the United States itself. In turn, Vietnamese liberation was a truly international cause; one of the rallying cries of Pakistan’s popular classes, themselves involved in a historic struggle against the Ayub dictatorship, was ‘Mera naam, tera naam, Vietnam Vietnam!’
Even after the end of the Cold War and its attendant ideological battles, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa captured the sentiment of progressives everywhere. In 1994, after a global struggle that forced the white minority Afrikaaner regime to its knees, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) took governmental power, thus bringing down the curtain on one of the 20th century’s last remaining settler colonial projects.
Into the third decade of the 21st century, Palestine is arguably the single biggest blot on the conscience of humanity. To stand for the Palestinian struggle today is to stand for all causes, for freedom from all forms of class, ethnic-national and patriarchal oppression. It is also to be conscious that the vestiges of colonialism remain intact even after formal independence is achieved.
Today’s South Africa remains one of the most unequal and unjust societies in the world. Pakistan is by any account one of the world’s most militarised, neo-colonial states. Meanwhile, capitalist imperialism blights our entire world with its relentless exploitation of working people and nature alike. To struggle against any localised manifestation of what is a global system can and must inform a revolutionary humanism that unites across borders, caste and creed.
None of us are free until all of us are free.