[News] A Century-Old War: Palestine’s Class Struggle and the ‘Three Separate Enemies’

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 30 16:45:50 EDT 2019


  A Century-Old War: Palestine’s Class Struggle and the ‘Three Separate

Ramzy Baroud - August 29, 2019

At the heart of the Palestinian struggle for basic human rights is the 
enduring fight of Palestinian workers. While they currently find 
themselves at the forefront of several battles, extending from Israel to 
the Occupied Territories and Lebanon, the roots of this war, one that 
aims at breaking the very will of the Palestinian people, go back decades.

Renowned Palestinian novelist and intellectual, Ghassan Kanafani, was 
assassinated by the Israeli Mossad in Beirut, Lebanon in July 1972, but 
only after he left behind a wealth of literature and unparalleled 
historical analyses. In his essay, “The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine”, 
Kanafani believed 
<https://www.marxists.org/archive/kanafani/1972/revolt.htm> that the 
“principal threat” to the Palestinian national movement comprises three 
enemies, “the local, reactionary leadership; the regimes in the Arab 
states surrounding Palestine; and the imperialist-Zionist enemy”.

However, little focus is often placed on Palestinian working classes, 
whether in Palestine or in the Middle East, which is required to develop 
a coherent analysis, one that is able to link the historical roots of 
the Palestinian struggle to its present manifestations. Kanafani, 
however, was aware of these dynamics, which remain in place until this day.

“The change from a semi-feudal society to a capitalist society was 
accompanied by an increased concentration of economic power in the hands 
of the Zionist machine and, consequently, within the Jewish society in 
Palestine,” Kanafani wrote shortly before he was assassinated. In his 
essay <https://www.marxists.org/archive/kanafani/1972/revolt.htm>, he 
linked the collective interests of Palestinian “urban upper bourgeoisie” 
to the Zionist settlers, due to shared economic objectives. 
Subsequently, this meant the marginalisation and targeting of 
Palestinian workers and peasants, who found themselves excluded from the 
new economic patterns, thus left abandoned and penniless.

The general strike and rebellion 
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00263207508700292> of 
1936-39 is very much an outcome of that reality. Eventually, 
“[Palestinian] Arab proletariat had fallen”, according to Kanafani, 
“victim to British colonialism and [Zionist] Jewish capital, the former 
bearing the primary responsibility”.

The Nakba – the “Catastrophe” and destruction of the Palestinian 
homeland in 1947-48 – has done more than forcefully separate most 
Palestinians and their ancestral homeland. It has also ushered in a new, 
even more tragic chapter in the war on Palestinian workers, who became 
wholly reliant on international handouts. The loss of Palestinian land 
was accompanied by the loss of Palestinian dignity, as exemplified in 
the plight of refugees 
<https://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/2010011791015.pdf>, standing in long 
lines to receive a small ration of food and other negligible supplies so 
that they could merely survive.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were also forced to seek safety 
outside Palestine. While each refugee population found itself subject to 
the unique social, economic and political circumstances of its 
respective, host Arab country, they all carried the same, common 
denominators: a deep sense of vulnerability, disempowerment and loss.

To further diminish Palestinians politically, the “three separate 
enemies” of the Palestinian national movement, as described by Kanafani, 
conspired to make the issue of refugees a mere humanitarian matter, 
delinked from any meaningful political strategies. To sustain this 
dismaying state of affairs, Palestinian workers had to remain 
economically dependent and politically isolated.

In Lebanon, for example, Palestinians are denied 
<http://www.arabnews.com/node/1526591/middle-east> the right to work in 
72 professions. Over the years, this has left Palestinian refugee 
workers vulnerable to exploitation, as they were forced to seek 
employment in construction and other, less financially-rewarding fields. 
Lacking opportunities and job security, a majority of Palestinian 
refugees in Lebanon simply left the country. According to a 2017 census 
conducted by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, the 
number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has significantly dwindled 
from nearly 500,000 to 175,000.

The war in Syria has worsened conditions in the Lebanon camps due to the 
massive influx 
of a working-class population, whether Palestinians or Syrians that fled 
the horrific war. With more skilled and unskilled workers, the Lebanon 
market was saturated, leaving the already struggling Palestinian working 
class at a greater disadvantage.

The breaking point came in June when Lebanese Minister of Labor Kamil 
Abu Sleiman decreed that Palestinians in Lebanon must obtain work 
permits like other foreign workers. While Palestinian refugees protested 
en mass in Beirut and throughout the refugee camps, they were not only 
demonstrating against what they rightly saw as an unfair decision, but 
they were also decrying long, protracted official policies that have 
created an atmosphere of economic and political alienation.

However, none of this should be analysed separately from the larger 
struggle facing Palestinian workers elsewhere. The Lebanon story is part 
and parcel of regional political dynamics, instigated by a shared 
US-Israeli view 
that sees the very existence of Palestinian refugees as a problem that 
must be countered one way or another. While the right of return for 
Palestinian refugees is a moral imperative and an “inalienable” right 
that is guaranteed 
by international law, Washington, Tel Aviv and now even some Arab 
governments are plotting 
ways to dismiss that right altogether.

Indeed, many measures have already been taken on that front, such as the 
US decision to defund 
the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees 
(UNRWA). While all Palestinian refugees who rely on UNRWA for various 
health, educational and job services are suffering the consequences of 
this financial crisis, Lebanon refugees are feeling the brunt the most. 
In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees feel “harassed 
and targeted for merely living in the country where sectarian 
plays a major role in politics.

Similarly, demographic politics have in fact served as the raison d’être 
for Israel’s policies towards Palestinians for generations. The ethnic 
cleansing of historic Palestine in 1947-48, which persists 
in different forms till today, has been carried out for the purpose of 
ensuring a Jewish majority in Palestine. Not a single political strategy 
concerning Palestinians that Israel undertakes fails to keep the subject 
of the Palestinian “demographic threat 
in mind. The construction of illegal Jewish settlements, Jewish-only 
bypass roads, the Judaization 
of Jerusalem, the siege on Gaza, the bantustanization 
of the West Bank and even the “citizenship law 
are all designed to repel that imagined Palestinian threat.

Israel, as is often the case, is not the only culprit. The Palestinian 
Authority (PA)’s manipulation of jobs and salaries as a way to ensure 
political allegiance or to punish dissidents is a strategy most 
pronounced in the besieged Gaza Strip. As the PA’s main faction, Fatah, 
continues its clash with its Hamas rivals in Gaza, Palestinian leader 
Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly slashed salaries 
and altogether denied employment to thousands of struggling Gazans, 
prompting mass protests 
similar to the ones underway in Lebanon.

In fact, Gaza is the perfect illustration of Kanafani’s three enemies of 
Palestine argument, as the hardship in the Strip has been engineered 
through three, major players: “the local reactionary leadership (the 
PA); the regimes in the Arab states surrounding Palestine (Egypt) and 
the imperialist-Zionist enemy (Israel)”.

It is as if history continues to repeat itself in all of its sordid 
details. Colonizing Israel, conspiring Arabs and self-serving 
Palestinian leaders are still playing the same old game, while 
Palestinian workers, the overriding class within Palestinian refugee 
communities, remain the primary target.

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