At the end of November, the world will observe an international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people to reflect on the progress – or lack thereof – since the United Nations passed Resolution 181 in 1947.
This resolution committed to the partition of historic Palestine into two independent states. On 29 November 2019, we will observe this day in the wake of 34 dead Palestinians, who were killed in the most recent Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.
These systematic acts of aggression have, routinely, subverted the Palestinian struggle for freedom from Israeli colonialism.
Zionist ideology developed in the late 19th century and, in conjunction with British imperialism, proceeded to establish an Israeli settler state in historic Palestine in 1948. The Zionist logic that underpins the Israeli state has defined Israel and Palestine as mutually exclusive ideas. Seventy-one years ago, in May 1948, more than 700 000 Palestinians were forcefully expelled from their villages in what is remembered today as al-Nakbah – or “the catastrophe”.
It is with this erasure of Palestinians from their land that Israel, a state that continues to buttress its existence by occupying and expelling the Palestinian people, was born.
As South Africans, who have only recently emerged from a settler-colonial project also formalised in 1948, the indignation of continued apartheid, expulsion and occupation in historic Palestine must naturally call us into action.
This action is often prompted by the similarities between our recent history and the continuing dehumanisation of Palestinians. While the comparison between apartheid South Africa and colonial Israel is a valuable start, our understanding must transcend this analogy.
From exploitation to expulsion
Apartheid in South Africa was a mechanism through which the settler state subjugated blacks – black Africans, people of Indian descent and people classified under apartheid as coloured – to the status of cheap workers. While considered politically inferior, they remained economically necessary.
The settler state of Israel, by contrast, reserves neither a political nor an economic role for the Palestinians. The colonial Israeli state has deemed the Palestinians politically and economically redundant. Whereas apartheid South Africa was a project of violent subjugation and repression aimed at exploitation, colonial Israel is a project of expulsion.
Israel’s very existence, as a form of contemporary settler colonialism, is an embarrassment to all of humanity. The fact that a discredited mode of rule like settler colonialism – with the unconditional blessing of US imperialism – continues to murder Palestinians with impunity undoubtedly constitutes an open wound on our collective conscience.
We have every reason to join the Palestinian struggle against the advanced modes of colonial rule championed by Israel and its allies. The international solidarity South Africa enjoyed in its struggle against a fundamentally unjust political system should certainly be reciprocated. This should be in meaningful solidarity with the Palestinian children, women and men who remain at the receiving end of the Israeli expulsion machine.
We must understand Israel both as the last outpost of settler colonialism and as the pioneer of things to come.
Across the world we are witnessing how more and more people on the economic peripheries are becoming redundant. Across the globe from poor, black people in the US and landless workers in Brazil to shack dwellers in South Africa and peasants in India, the millions of human beings on the peripheries are acquiring a new status in the eyes of the wealthy, exploitative oligarchies of the world. Billions of people are, in short, becoming disposable.
The weapons used to repress working-class African-American demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 were the same weapons used to repress and murder Palestinians. The armed forces of Zionist expansion – who are developing the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison – moonlight as expert advisers on incarceration and policing for the champions of capitalist accumulation.
Similarly, and as evidenced by the increased presence of Mossad in many African countries, including Nigeria, Liberia and Ivory Coast, the colonial state of Israel is providing leadership to governments and corporations on policing inequalities, segregating societies and repressing the most vulnerable people on this planet.
We must understand Israel as both an embarrassing relic of our past and as a prelude to a potentially horrific future, like something out of a dystopian science fiction film. The logic that drives the expulsion of the Palestinian people is intertwined with the logic in South Africa that has standardised poverty wages, limited the right to strike, contained impoverished black people on the urban periphery and unapologetically murdered activists who dare to struggle for a dignified human existence for all. Whereas the justification for Israel’s colonial project is archaic, the methods invoked foreshadow the fate of those who are superfluous to the accumulation of capital.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian people are bravely fighting against Israeli colonialism in the face of extreme and often murderous violence. They are refusing to allow the forces of imperialism across the world to render them disposable. We must reject what the Zionist state of Israel has stood for historically and what it aims to usher into our collective future. We must side with the resilient children, women and men of Palestine. We must join hands with them in their struggle to turn over a new leaf: for them but also for us – and for all of humanity.