Israel-Palestine is Just the Tip
A lot of leftists and anarchists have accepted a narrative about Israel-Palestine that is pretty warped. The basic problem isn’t limited to anglophone ignorance about Jews and/or Palestinians; it’s a problem that leftists and anarchists seem to have in comprehending multinational conflicts in general. The comfortable lense through which leftists/anarchists see the world don’t help them see the power dynamics of these sorts of situations clearly. That lense sees the world as divided between oppressors and oppressed, rulers and ruled, indigenous and settler, and other dichotomies that provide a sharp picture of the most intense regions of conflict at the expense of blurring the larger and more significant forces that make those conflicts possible.
The result of this worldview is a psychogeography composed almost entirely of conflict regions and a historical knowledge limited to a knowledge of the most belligerent parties to the conflicts. This is a model of the world and the relations of power in that world which is very different from models one constructs through a more formal study of international relations, geopolitics, and political geography. While those mentioned academic disciplines are often turned towards constructing models that are useful to specific powers, usually governments and transnational corporations, those models are at least constructed from a greater wealth of facts.
All of what I have said so far has been said as if I am not one of these leftists or anarchists. However, the opposite is true. I’m speaking mostly of the worldview that I have constructed throughout my time as an anarchist and only secondarily speaking about what I see on social media platforms from familiar names. Indigenous struggles have been a personally important issue for me going back to my childhood. I was raised with the notion that as a Jew, I am living in diaspora and living under the rule of a nation-state that has oppressed local indigenous populations in different, but terrible ways comparable to what my own ancestors had been through. My parents both worked with indigenous communities in different capacities and exposed me to some tribal leaders and rituals, but nothing too substantial. But it didn’t take much because as a result, my anarchism had always been thought about with regard for indigenous issues.
Unfortunately, none of that had led to me becoming especially knowledgable about even the local tribes and the details of the many fronts they fight on, against the situation that colonization has put them in. I developed a superficial understanding of the basic moral problems and a very rough knowledge of the histories. The same can be said when it came to decolonization struggles around the world. Whether it was Algeria, South Africa, Palestine, or where ever else, my focus on the major battles plotted the supposedly important points of geographical and cultural interest. Those points became my focus to try and self-educate. But over and over again, that self-education would come up against the same sort of problem I began this piece by describing.
What I eventually realized – and only over the past few years – is that indigenous peoples often become useful for greater powers. Meaning that indigenous struggles are seen by powerful states as opportunities to advance their own agendas and at the expense of those indigenous people. That situation is all over the history of indigenous resistance in the Americas, in Africa, in the Middle-East, and yes it is also Israel and Palestine’s history too. Colonization in its classic form and settler-colonialism in its contemporary form seem to almost always be a collaborative effort to colonize by imperialist powers. While this does generate resistance to colonization by the original inhabitants, that resistance also becomes a collaborative effort with assistance from other powers that oppose the colonial ones for their own political reasons. This is usually obvious in wars, but the dynamic seems to get obscured in decolonization narratives.
After realizing this, I decided that I needed to learn more about Israel and Palestine than just the history of Israelis and Palestinians. I needed to learn about the other forces involved just as much and sometimes even more than those most visible forces engaged in battle. Sometimes leftists and anarchists will do this when it comes to the support that Zionists were provided by the British, the UN, and the United States (among others), but I almost never see any analysis of the support that Hamas, Fatah, the PLO, and others have been given by Middle-Eastern states and non-state actors. The problem of course is that just as British support for the Zionists led to subjugation of the Zionists to British priorities, that lesson applies to the Palestinians and the organizations that support their fight against Israel.
The picture that comes out of extending this focus changes the way that the events of October 7th, 2023 deserve to be analysed. Israel isn’t just Israel and Hamas isn’t just the elected leadership of Palestinians in Gaza. Both Israel and Hamas are front-line forces in a much larger conflict between Western powers and different powers in the Middle-East, Syria and Iran specifically. So instead of seeing only the back-and-forth between the IDF and Hamas, other things deserve our attention too. The recent efforts by President Biden to buttress Israeli-Saudi Arabian Normalization is something that I thought about before I even saw the video of the music festival near the Gaza border that Hamas attacked. My mind turned to thoughts about Iran before it turned to thoughts of naked Israeli corpses paraded in the streets of Gaza.
In other words, the Israel-Palestine conflict looks more like an instance of a larger conflict to me than a liberation movement carrying out armed struggle to win its autonomy from the State of Israel. This multinational conflict is one that generates Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism, and antisemitic sentiment organically, but those things are also fueled by state actors for propagandistic purposes. This multinational conflict has produced narratives about Jewish indigeneity to Israel along with myths about Ashkenazi ancestry emanating from Khazar, but those stories come from institutions and not from generational knowledge. Powerful institutions push narratives that erase Palestinian indigeneity and suggest that Palestinians are foreign because of Arab ancestry and religious beliefs. They also build grand narratives about Israel as a stronghold of Western democracy in the Middle-East or Palestinians as freedom fighters for an authentic and justified Arab and Islamic state in Palestine. I think it is up to us as anarchists, socialists, or otherwise radical thinkers to challenge all of this.
Ultimately, I think that this is a tragic situation. I do not see liberation for Palestinian people coming from this conflict. For Hamas to attack Israel at the height of its racist, authoritarian, and openly genocidal political composition is like kicking the worst hornets nest that could be kicked. Intuitively, it feels more like the sort of attack one would launch to provoke a war on a much grander scale. It brings back memories of 9/11 and the blind rage that filled Americans, leading to over a decade of murder in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is sad to see Israeli civilians murdered by Hamas, but I can’t hold that thought in my mind for long before it is overtaken by worry for Palestinians who will pay the greater price in blood.
Due to the larger forces involved in the conflict, I’m also worried about a war that involves the currently involved parties but then extends even beyond them as each appeals to potential allies to support them. And at the same time, and for the same reasons, what I worry about is how lost actual Palestinian liberation will get in the mess of all of this.
Anyway, the leftist and anarchist cheerleading for Hamas’ attacks is quite embarrassing. And as an anti-Zionist and anarchist Jew, of course I feel a bit distraught. Irrational concerns for my own safety come and go. Less irrational but still irrational concerns for my family – who are practicing Jews – also come and go. It infuriates me to see leftists and anarchists rationalize attacks that by the same logic would make me and my family targets for Islamist terror should it come to the United States. To be fair, it would also make most of these leftists and anarchists targets as well. Even more, by this logic they wouldn’t be targets of only Islamist terror. Should indigenous tribes here ever embrace such ideologies and tactics it would clearly put these leftists and anarchists in the category of colonizers with colonial beliefs originating in colonial countries.
As a final thought, I hope that this won’t escalate much further in the direction it is going. But we really never know for sure and I certainly don’t have the information or understanding to know what I imagine is even a little.