Newsletter #85: Palestine is Everywhere

By Ben Mabie

In recent weeks, The Dig has produced four episodes on Israel and Palestine, with more on the way. We made sense of the siege on Gaza and the emerging Palestine solidarity movement with Noura Erakat and Arielle Angel. We produced a digital anthology of recent interviews on the politics of the occupation in “Palestine Teach-In,” bringing informative clips from earlier episodes on the crisis of 2021, the recomposition of Palestinian leadership, the ascendance of the far right in Israel’s Knesset, and testimonies from those living in Gaza under fire just a few years ago. For two hours with Tareq Baconi, we discussed the long history of Hamas, a group whose politics is typically traded for a description of abject, nihilistic evil in coverage of Western media. And most recently, we released part one of an ongoing conversation with Richard Seymour on the international politics of Zionism and anti-Zionism, in the Levant, the North Atlantic, and around the world.

The volume of coverage can raise a question cynically posed to solidarity movements for Palestine: why, when there is so much suffering and struggle around the world, does a seventeen-square-mile strip of land command so much attention? The staggering scale of Israel’s war crimes is one answer, but the convergence of global attention, mobilization, and activity also indicate that the fight for Palestinian liberation is a rendezvous point for emancipatory political forces the world over. That so many fascists rally around the Israeli flag suggests that the Right understands this moment’s importance, too.

Near the start of Shimon Dotan’s documentary Settlers, a terrifying profile of the Israeli ultranationalist Gush Emunim movement (the “Bloc of the Faithful”), Yehuda Etzion, the co-founder of the illegal outpost settlement of Ofra, is pressed to justify the violent displacement of Palestinians in the occupied territories. That his argument takes on biblical idiom isn’t surprising. But its purported universalism is.

The ideal of the Israeli people is to live a life so meaningful and wonderful that the Gentiles come to us. We are their beacon of light. “I will set thee for a light unto the nations.” We are their lighthouse. A lighthouse doesn’t shine for this boat or that boat, it shines because it shines. The boats see it from afar and sail towards it.

If David Ben-Gurion and other leading lights of Zionism looked to the American colonial project or European romantic nationalisms as a direct inspiration for their nation-building adventures, Israel now — rather self-consciously, if Etzion’s words are any indication — serves as a beacon for twenty-first-century conservative ethnonationalism from Austria to India.

The global stakes do not flow in one direction. In his last interview, Palestinian author and militant Ghassan Kanafani said that it was precisely the universal dimensions of the Palestinian struggle he sought to communicate: “There isn’t an event in the world that is not represented in the Palestinian tragedy. And when I depict the suffering of the Palestinians, I am in fact exploring the Palestinian as a symbol of misery in the entire world.”

Its universal character, however, is not just a matter of symbolism. Israel’s role in organizing imperialism in the region and shoring up revanchism globally is well-documented; so too is its role in promoting new military, police, border and surveillance technologies; and for its regressive, conservatizing impact on US politics. But the global, universal consequences of the Palestinian liberation struggle are broader than that too, for they may signal a new pattern for the class struggles of this century, and a new ethical posture to match it.

Colombian president Gustavo Petro has said, “What we see in Palestine will also be the suffering in the world of all the peoples of the south.” The world of violent borders, of apartheid and forced exile, of racialized exclusion, of desperate struggles in the face of absolutely asymmetrical media and military powers: it’s already here, and Palestine is just the most exemplary case of what it may look like and mean around the world. Global poverty is increasingly urbanized — or “warehoused,” as Mike Davis put it in Planet of Slums — and is concentrated in refugee camps and peripheral slums where people barely eke out subsistence.

These struggles will unfold without a promise of victory, final or otherwise. Many activated through the decade of mass protest movements, of Bernie Sanders and the explosive growth of socialist organization, felt a natural crescendo in our own political activity for a time. In the face of recent setbacks, however, despair seems always at hand. Ever-graver tragedies and defeats will undoubtedly make up many of the waystations of our political lives — alongside, we hope, some victories. Such a posture should not evacuate questions of strategy, nor dissolve us of our responsibilities to win. But it does suggest something about the stakes of politics, beyond the dialectic of victory and defeat, about the meaning of emancipation itself.

“How do you keep fighting after everything is lost?” Ask a Palestinian,” said Andreas Malm in 2017. “Palestinian politics is always already post-apocalyptic: it is about surviving after the end of the world and, in the best case, salvaging something out of all that has been lost.” Among the many lessons Palestine might teach us, this may be its most essential insight: steadfastness in the dignity of struggle.