Marxists and the Call for Intifada: What It Really Means

Protests and demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who are being butchered by the Israeli military, have been dubbed an antisemitic incitement to violence against Jews. This is part of a conscious campaign to criminalize and silence the legitimate democratic right to express support for an oppressed people. In particular, the use of the term “Intifada,” including by communists of the IMT, has been condemned by the western establishment. But what is the attitude of communists towards antisemitism, and what was the real nature of the First Intifada?

To support the right of the Palestinian people to rise up in defense of their right to a homeland, where they can live in peace; while also opposing the Zionist ruling class of Israel, cannot be construed as anti-Jewish. For a start, many Jews are anti-Zionist. Revolutionary communists are opposed to antisemitism as we are opposed to all forms of racism and discrimination. What do we mean by antisemitism? It is a hatred of all Jews, simply because they are Jews, just as Islamophobia is hatred of all Muslims, simply because they are Muslims.

Antisemitism, along with all forms of bigotry, is propagated by the ruling classes as a means of dividing working-class people, preventing unified class struggle. Such prejudices are also used to whip up support from the most backward layers of society, and divert people’s attention away from the real source of their problems (poverty and inequality resulting from capitalism) towards scapegoats.

At times of extremely acute crisis, these ideas can be used as a focal point to organize the forces of reaction, with the aim of physically destroying the rights and organizations working people have won over many generations of class struggle. The Nazis placed all the blame for the economic crisis that severely hit Germany in the 1920s and 30s on the Jews. The German ruling class backed this policy—with terrible consequences for the Jews in Germany, and all Nazi-occupied territories in Europe—as it was a convenient way of distracting attention away from those who were really to blame for the crisis: the capitalist class.

Communists are against antisemitism

The Communist International and the German Communists opposed antisemitism at the time. This is what Lenin had to say on this question in 1919:

It is not the Jews who are the enemies of the toilers. The enemies of the workers are the capitalists of all lands. Among the Jews there are workers, toilers, they are in the majority. They are our brothers, comrades in the struggle for Socialism, because they are oppressed by capitalism. Among the Jews there are Kulaks, exploiters, capitalists, just like amongst us all. [My emphasis]

The capitalists are tireless in their endeavors to stir up enmity between the workers of different faiths, different nations and different races. The rich Jews, just like the rich Russians and the rich of all countries, are united in trampling upon, oppressing and dividing the workers.

Disgrace and infamy to the damnable Tsarism which tortured and persecuted the Jews! Disgrace and infamy to whoever sows enmity against Jews and hatred against other nations! Long live brotherly faith and unity in struggle of all nations, for the overthrow of capitalism! (From a gramophone record made during the Civil War, in 1919. Available with English subtitles here).

In the tradition of Lenin in 1919, communists today are firmly opposed to antisemitism. We are also opposed to our own imperialist ruling classes in the advanced capitalist countries, who today stand firmly behind the state of Israel as a reliable proxy for western imperialism in the Middle East.

It is for this reason, and not any solidarity with Jews, that the imperialists and their mouthpieces in the media wage a systematic campaign to present any criticism of the state of Israel today as antisemitic. That is like stating that to be opposed to the British political establishment, British imperialism, the Tories and all the reactionary trappings of the British state is the same as discrimination against British people in general.

The right-wing reformist leaders, such as Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, have become some of the staunchest advocates of this smear campaign. On the one hand, they are eager to show the ruling class they can be trusted to defend capitalist interests at home and abroad, and stick up for western “allies.” On the other hand, false claims of antisemitism were an important weapon in the Blairites’ war against the Labour left under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, himself a long standing supporter of Palestinian rights. In the hands of the social chauvinists, claims of antisemitism remain a valuable stick to beat the left with.

It is an unfortunate fact that many so-called leaders of the left have succumbed to pressure from the establishment, and refuse to combat this campaign of lies and slander. By contrast, communists firmly reject this blatant attempt to silence legitimate solidarity with the Palestinian people. And we do not limit ourselves to a superficial analysis of the present situation, but aim to place it in its historical context.

intifada bw Image Efi Sharir Wikimedia Commons
The First Intifada came after a decade of systematic colonization of the Palestinian Territories by Israeli settlers. / Image: Efi Sharir, Wikimedia Commons

We do not need to repeat what we have amply explained in other articles. Suffice it to say  that the state of Israel was created by displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland in 1947–48. Terrorist attacks on Palestinian villages, and the killing of hundreds, was the method used to achieve ethnic cleansing on a massive scale.

Since then, the situation for the Palestinian people has continued to worsen, especially after the 1967 war, which saw Israel permanently occupy Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Since the latter part of the 1970s, the West Bank has been systematically colonized and thousands of Palestinians have been killed, many more being arrested, and further displacements have taken place.

This is the context in which we need to view the First Intifada, which erupted at the end of 1987. Only by approaching the question in this manner can we achieve any real understanding of what the call for Intifada actually means.

The First Intifada came after a decade of systematic colonization of the Palestinian Territories by Israeli settlers, which began with the coming to power of Menachem Begin’s Likud Party. The economy in the Occupied Territories was also rendered totally dependent on Israel. This process was at a very advanced stage by the time the First Intifada erupted.

On top of the historic catastrophe for the Palestinian people, the 1948 Nakba, there was a number of successive setbacks for the Palestinians; from the 1967 occupation, which saw more refugees fleeing the territory; to military defeat at the hands of the Jordanian Army in 1970; to the massacres suffered in South Lebanon in the early 1980s.

Before the outbreak of the Intifada, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, the main political organization of the occupied Palestinians) had been forced into exile in Tunisia, and were completely out of touch with the mood of frustration and anger that was developing among the Palestinian masses. That explains their astonishment when the Intifada finally broke out.

An explosion waiting to happen

For anyone who was aware of the conditions on the ground, it was not too difficult to see what provoked such a mass movement. Between 1982 and 1986, the settler population had tripled in the West Bank, with 50% of the land coming under direct Israeli control, and with over 80% of the water supply being diverted to Israel and the settlements.

This was all combined with growing, armed, Jewish vigilante-settler groups, backed by the support of the IDF, terrorizing the Palestinian population. Gaza in particular was described as a “pressure cooker ready to explode.” (Emile Nakleh, “The West Bank and Gaza,” in the Middle East Journal, Spring 1988).

In the same period, from 1985 up to the eruption of the First Intifada in December 1987, there had been a growing protest movement in the Occupied Territories, which led to the increasing arrest and detention of young Palestinians.

What finally triggered the explosion was the famous incident in Gaza on December 7, 1987, in which an IDF truck hit a car, killing four Palestinian workers. It was the spark that set alight the Palestinian Territories, with the conflagration spreading from Gaza to the whole of the West Bank.

The most significant feature of the First Intifada was the mass nature of the movement, and the fact that it was initially led by the Palestinian workers and youth in the neighborhoods. Ever since then, attempts have been made to bury the true nature of that movement, all the better to present it as simply a violent outburst that sought to destroy Israel and the Jews living there. But this is completely false.

The methods used were not at all those of guerrilla warfare or terrorism, but included general strikes, and civil disobedience, such as tax strikes and shop closures. Popular Committees had been elected in all the neighborhoods which, apart from organizing a general strike, also managed the distribution of basic supplies. By the middle of the following year (1988) it was estimated that over 40,000 such committees had been set up. For a more detailed account of the functions of these bodies, read “The history of Israel-Palestine to 1993.”

When revolutionary communists raise the slogan of Intifada, it is a direct reference to the 1987–88 mass movement of the Palestinian people, using the methods of class struggle. It was precisely the mass nature of the Intifada that revealed to the Palestinian masses their own power and raised their class consciousness. It also had an impact inside Israel itself, as we shall explain later.

Some may respond by saying that this is a prejudiced, communist interpretation of those events. The problem is that the truth is concrete and it has the tendency to eventually emerge, despite all attempts to falsify it.

Consider an interesting article, recently published in Foreign Policy magazine (December 14, 2023), titled “Defining Away Palestinians’ Right to Resist,” with the subheading:What does it mean to say that rising up against injustice is impermissible?” The author is Howard W. French, presently a columnist at Foreign Policy, and a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Previously he had been foreign correspondent and senior writer at The New York Times, and a writer for the International Herald Tribune. 

Foreign Policy, The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune can in no way be considered anti-Israel or pro-Hamas, nor having sympathies for communist ideas. They are all bourgeois journals, we could say of the liberal type, which means they are mouthpieces of the capitalist class, and of the political establishment in the United States.

Intifada soldiers Image Efi Sharir Wikimedia Commons
When revolutionary communists raise the slogan of Intifada, it is a direct reference to the 1987–88 mass movement of the Palestinian people. / Image: Efi Sharir, Wikimedia Commons

Howard French in fact starts by making it clear where he stands: “Hamas fully deserves whatever wrath comes its way.” Having established his credentials, he then adds that “the Palestinian people do not deserve this wrath …” He goes on to develop the idea that the Palestinians do have a right to struggle for a homeland of some kind.

This does not fundamentally contradict the latest position of US imperialism, which is now calling on Israel to be more careful in its attacks on Gaza. How an army that is out to destroy Hamas bases and fighters, which are embedded throughout Gaza, without massive civilian casualties, is not explained by these gentlemen, of course.

In reality, the imperialists are carrying out a PR operation whereby they continue to support Israel, providing it with the arms and funding it requires to continue with its butchery, while at the same time putting up a pretense that they are concerned for the civilian population of Gaza. This is a crude ploy to appease public opinion at home; an attempt to portray themselves as having humanitarian concerns, while in reality they back the carnage.

What really concerns them is not the plight of the Palestinian people, but the destabilizing effect the present situation is having across the whole of the Middle East, with the risk of a widening of the conflict. This could have a major impact on oil and gas supplies, and on the important trade route that goes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, which is already being choked by Houthi militants from the West of Yemen.

The First Intifada was a grassroots mass movement

Howard French’s explanation of what the First Intifada really was is extremely interesting, particularly as it is published in a journal that defends the interests of US imperialism:

There has been too little clarity about the meaning and implications of the word intifada … It derives from the Arabic verb nafada, which means “to shake off,” in the sense of shaking dust off one’s clothes, say, or shaking off lethargy. The word intifada, then, literally translates as a “shudder” or “shiver,” or when used in a political context, a “popular uprising.” It does not mean genocide. [My emphasis]

He continues:

The word intifada became familiar to newsreaders worldwide in 1987, when the term was used to describe a popular uprising mounted by Palestinians that year against Israel. That uprising, which lasted until the early 1990s and came to be known as the First Intifada, began as a largely peaceful protest movement involving acts of civil disobedience, such as strikes and boycotts, but it became more violent later on, partly in reaction to the harsh Israeli security response. [My emphasis]

Bayliss Thomas in his book, How Israel was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, published in 1999, states the following:

The intifada was unquestionably a grassroots movement that surprised the Israeli government and PLO alike—the PLO having neither encouraged nor financed it. [then-Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir and [later Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon seemed to believe, given a weakened PLO, that Palestinian docility under occupation would continue indefinitely. In fact, PLO weakness only added to popular desperation, fostering a new activism and self-reliance at the local level. [My emphasis]

He then goes on to outline how the local committees came together as an organized body:

At first, local communities acted separately. Later, a broad leadership comprising many factions emerged, called the United National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU). The traditional elite of Palestinian nationalism (professionals, journalists and academics) were not involved initially. Operating underground, the UNLU [Unified National Leadership of the Uprising] communicated through leaflets secretly printed and distributed at night. A spontaneous, fragmented resistance to occupation began to acquire a unified voice through UNLU announcements of commercial and transportation strikes, mass demonstrations, protests and solidarity drives such as flag raisings, prayer, fasting, work projects, marches and donation activities. Israel and the United States were roundly condemned, though without focus on Jewish people. The UNLU did not encourage violence, yet stone throwing and petrol bombing were inevitable. [My emphasis]

The intifada centered primarily on protest about the conditions of occupation. Gradually the UNLU consulted the PLO about how to remedy local Israeli occupation abuses—how to gain release of political prisoners, stop settlement activity and land confiscation, avoid various Israeli taxes and remove restrictions on industrial and agricultural products exported from the territories.

What is interesting to note is the fact that, initially, the Intifada was not controlled by the PLO, and there was actually a disconnect between the activists leading the movement in the neighborhoods, and the PLO in exile. A revealing account is provided by Charles D. Smith in his 2004 text, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict—a History with Documents:

A spontaneous uprising undirected by any higher committee or organization, the intifada spread rapidly from Gaza to the West Bank. It sustained itself through an extensive network of local committees formed over the previous decade and of neighborhoods that organized for mutual assistance. At its heart, the intifada was a rebellion of the poor and the young, the less-advantaged sectors of the population, who organized popular committees that PLO representatives then sought to co-opt under their own direction. [My emphasis]

Smith points out that: “Various decisions were made on the spot. One restricted the protests to demonstrations and stone throwing; knives and guns were banned.” [My emphasis]

First Intifada crowd with soldiers Image Wiki4All Wikimedia Commons
The Intifada, which had been led by activists on the ground in the Occupied Territories, was eventually taken over by the PLO. / Image: Wiki4All, Wikimedia Commons

However, because the PLO had always been seen as the traditional political expression of the Palestinian people, eventually the exiled leaders managed to gain a position at the head of the Intifada, even though they had played no role in promoting it. Nevertheless, in the absence of any alternative, the UNLU looked to the PLO as its only point of political reference.

Smith highlights the fact that: “The PLO had always tried to repress local leadership independent of its control, even if such individuals identified themselves with PLO goals. Now, necessity demanded not only cooperation but reliance on information and advice from the territories … a political agenda quickly appeared. In January 1988, the leadership in the territories called for an independent Palestinian state, governed by the PLO, that would coexist with Israel.” [My emphasis]

This was the beginning of a move by the PLO leaders towards a two-state solution, abandoning their previously held position of a single, unified state across the whole of historical Palestine.

As Smith explains, these ideas: “… were initially announced by individuals not connected to the intifada, men more widely known to the outside world as “moderates,” such as Sari Nuseibeh and Faysal al-Husayni, who had their own ties to the PLO in Tunis. As members of a social elite, they were viewed with suspicion by both the popular leadership and PLO committee heads when these points were first declared.” [My emphasis]

Subsequently, the PLO’s plan for a deal with Israel based on a two-state solution “became the official agenda of the intifada.”

This is how the Intifada, which had been led by activists on the ground in the Occupied Territories, was eventually taken over by the PLO leadership and guided towards what was to become a dead end.

The call for a general strike in January 1988

But let us go back to the Intifada’s initial inception by those leading it on the ground. It was a movement based on class struggle methods, the general strike being a powerful element. Here we reproduce in full “Communiqué No. 1 of the Intifada,” issued as a leaflet on January 8, 1988 by the UNLU, calling for a general strike and business closures:

In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate. Our people’s glorious uprising continues. We affirm the need to express solidarity with our people wherever they are. We continue to be loyal to the pure blood of our martyrs and to our detained brothers. We also reiterate our rejection of the occupation and its policy of repression, represented in the policy of deportation, mass arrests, curfews, and the demolition of houses. We reaffirm the need to achieve further cohesion with our revolution and our heroic masses. We also stress our abidance by the call of the PLO, the Palestinian people’s legitimate and sole representative, and the need to pursue the bountiful offerings and the heroic uprising. For all these reasons, we address the following call:

All sectors of our heroic people in every location should abide by the call for a general and comprehensive strike until Wednesday evening, January 13, 1988. The strike covers all public and private trade utilities, the Palestinian workers and public transportation. Abidance by the comprehensive strike must be complete. The slogan of the strike will be: Down with occupation; long live Palestine as a free and Arab country.

Brother workers, your abidance by the strike by not going to work and to [the] plants is real support for the glorious uprising, a sanctioning of the pure blood of our martyrs, a support for the call to liberate our prisoners, and an act that will help keep our brother deportees in their homeland. Brother businessmen and grocers, you must fully abide by the call for a comprehensive strike during the period of the strike. Your abidance by previous strikes is one of the most splendid images of solidarity and sacrifice for the sake of rendering our heroic people’s stand a success.

We will do our best to protect the interests of our honest businessmen against measures the Zionist occupation force may resort to against you. We warn against the consequences of becoming involved with some of the occupation authorities’ henchmen who will seek to make you open your businesses. We promise you that we will punish such traitor businessmen in the not too distant future. Let us proceed united to forge victory.

Brother owners of taxi companies, we will not forget your honorable and splendid stand of supporting and implementing the comprehensive strike on the day of Palestinian steadfastness. We pin our hopes on you to support and make the comprehensive strike a success. We warn some bus companies against the consequences of not abiding by the call for the strike, as this will make them liable to revolutionary punishment.

Brother doctors and pharmacists, you must be on emergency status to offer assistance to those of our kinfolk who are ill. The brother pharmacists must carry out their duties normally. The brother doctors must place the doctor badge in a way that can be clearly identified. General warning: We would like to warn people that walking in the streets will not be safe in view of the measures that will be taken to make the comprehensive strike a success. We warn that viscous material will be poured on main and secondary streets and everywhere, in addition to the roadblocks and the strike groups that will be deployed throughout the occupied homeland. Circular: The struggler and brother members of the popular committees and the men of the uprising who are deployed in all the working locations should work to support and assist our people within the available means, particularly the needy families of our people. The strike groups and the popular uprising groups must completely abide by the working program, which is in their possession. Let us proceed united and loudly chant: Down with occupation; long live Palestine as a free and Arab country. [Source: Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict—a History with Documents, Charles D. Smith, 2004, page 430)

No one can doubt what was being called for here: a mass general strike with the aim of ending the occupation and winning a Palestinian homeland, alongside Israel. This call had massive support among the Palestinian youth, the workers and the small shopkeepers. It was truly a movement that had the backing and participation of the whole people. It was so powerful that it even had an impact within Israeli society. It sent a clear message that a whole people was opposed to the Israeli occupation, even affecting some of the soldiers.

The scale of the Intifada and the determination of the Palestinian masses impressed upon some Israeli troops the fact that they were unwanted occupiers. That explains why some—albeit a small minority—adhered to the famous Refusenik phenomenon, whereby a section of young soldiers refused to serve outside the borders of Israel. Had the Intifada not been betrayed, who knows how far this process might have gone? That also explains why the Zionist ruling class was determined to crush the Intifada.

The emergence of Hamas as a factor

Note that the UNLU leaflet states clearly that they recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Hamas played no significant role in the early stages of the First Intifada. It was only set up as a separate organization in February 1988, once the Intifada had begun, and it was not yet the force it was later to become in Gaza. Although it was present as an important minority opposition grouping, and was seeking to expand its influence at the expense of the PLO. In fact, as Bayliss explains:

Islamic groups such as the social-service Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad were also consulted. A breakaway group from within the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, took an early, militant interest in the intifada.

We need to remember that at that time the Israeli ruling class considered the PLO as the main threat to their interests. When Hamas emerged, it was seen by the Zionist elite as a useful counterweight to the PLO. Charles D. Smith in his 2004 text, quoted above, explains well the thinking behind this:

Israeli occupation and intelligence officials had encouraged the growth of the Muslim Brothers in Gaza from the later 1970s, through funding and by imposing fewer restrictions on their movements than they did on known PLO sympathizers. They assumed that increased adherence to Islam would undercut loyalty to the PLO and its secular political goals. These officials permitted militant students to travel from Gaza to Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, outside Jerusalem, to rough up PLO supporters, and the Israeli governor of Gaza told a journalist that “the Israeli Government gave me a budget and the military government gives to the mosques.”

Thus we see how the organization behind the October 7, 2023 attack on Southern Israel was originally backed and sponsored by the Israeli authorities themselves. In one form or another, the thinking behind this policy continued until very recently.

A New York Times article, “‘Buying Quiet’: Inside the Israeli Plan That Propped Up Hamas,” published on December 12, states that:

For years, the Qatari government had been sending millions of dollars a month into the Gaza Strip—money that helped prop up the Hamas government there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel not only tolerated those payments, he had encouraged them.

The same article points out that Netanyahu saw Hamas as “a political asset.” And it explains:

As far back as December 2012, Mr. Netanyahu told the prominent Israeli journalist Dan Margalit that it was important to keep Hamas strong, as a counterweight to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Mr. Margalit, in an interview, said that Mr. Netanyahu told him that having two strong rivals, including Hamas, would lessen pressure on him to negotiate toward a Palestinian state.

All this exposes the sheer hypocrisy of Netanyahu and his far-right friends in the Israeli government today, who have collaborated over many years in allowing funding to reach the Hamas administration in Gaza. In Netanyahu’s thinking, this was a good policy because it kept Gaza, run by Hamas, divided from the West Bank, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority, controlled by Fatah (the dominant political force within the PLO). This division is considered as a way of weakening the Palestinian people and pushing back on any kind of independent Palestinian state ever emerging. Also, the violent methods espoused by Hamas were actually seen as useful to the Zionist propaganda in Israel, as they helped draw the Israeli population behind them, and gave a convenient excuse for their brutal military excursions into Gaza.

Netanyahu Image Кабінет Міністрів України Wikimedia Commons
All this exposes the sheer hypocrisy of Netanyahu and his far-right friends in the Israeli government today. / Image: Кабінет Міністрів України, Wikimedia Commons

An interesting event took place back in the spring of 1988, at the peak of the First Intifada. Charles D. Smith explains what happened:

From the Palestinian perspective, the intifada had two sides: a popular resistance to Israeli oppression and an offer of coexistence once a Palestinian state was created. Both tracks had the same goal, getting rid of Israeli domination, but the second was just as threatening to most Israeli politicians as the first. For Israeli leaders, the Israeli-Arab relationship could not be one of equality. Arabs who espoused compromise were often incarcerated. For example, two Arab lawyers from Gaza were invited to speak on the goals of the intifada at a gathering at Tel Aviv University in the spring of 1988. They did so, advocating peaceful coexistence in separate states. Within two weeks each had been arrested and sentenced to six months’ detention without legal recourse in Ansar 3, a new prison built in the Negev to house such individuals. The Israeli organizers of the conference had no doubt about the reasons for such detention: advocacy of peace was again more threatening than pursuit of violence. [My emphasis]

Here we see how the state of Israel had absolutely no interest in peaceful relations with the Palestinians. Indeed, those who advocated peaceful methods were seen as a threat. Anything that could in any way impact on the consciousness of ordinary Israelis—and the First Intifada had begun to have this effect—was seen as more dangerous than all the individual terror attacks that led to the killing of ordinary Israeli Jews. The cynicism of the Zionists here is laid bare for all to see.

Where did the violence come from?

But let us return to the nature of the First Intifada. The point made by Howard French about the Intifada becoming violent in the face of Israeli repression is an important one. In a 1998 six-part BBC series titled The Fifty Years War: Israel and the Arabs (see this article), it is revealed that a section of the Israeli cabinet suggested a quick, sharp method of shooting on crowds to kill a thousand Palestinians in order to “crush the Intifada.” The rest of the cabinet rejected this method, as they understood it would have the opposite effect. But that does not mean that they adopted a soft approach. On the contrary!

In the first few months 160 protestors were killed, mostly teenagers. An order was also issued to “break bones,” leading to IDF forces heavily beating young Palestinian protestors, aiming to break their hands and legs. This was accompanied with the blowing up of hundreds of homes, as well as strict curfew conditions. In 1988–89, 1,600 curfew orders were issued, and those who broke curfew conditions for any reason were shot dead on the spot.

Within the first 18 months, 574 Palestinians had been killed, either shot or literally beaten to death. By the end of the second year, around 700 Palestinians had been killed, with a further 15–20,000 injured. The number arrested or imprisoned rose to 50,000, with many suffering torture at the hands of their captors, according to Amnesty International.

By 1991, the number of Palestinians killed during the Intifada had risen to 1,135, according to Peace Watch. By June 1993, 400,000 Palestinians had either been detained or imprisoned, and by 1994, the number killed had risen further to 2,000.

And yet the UNLU committees had taken the conscious decision not to take up arms. So today, when the media, western governments, together with the Zionist government of Israel, point the accusing finger at anyone who raises the slogan of Intifada, they are consciously obfuscating the truth. The violence did not come from the organizers of the Intifada, but from the Israeli security forces, as the figures provided above graphically illustrate.

Faced with brutal repression, the oppressed Palestinians started fighting back with whatever they had. That explains why there were a number of violent—but unarmed—protests against the Israeli occupation. But this violence was mainly limited to stone throwing, the use of Molotov cocktails, the burning of tires in the streets and the building of barricades to hold back the advancing Israeli military. It was a very uneven fight, with unarmed, oppressed people facing vastly superior military forces.

Eventually, as we have seen, the PLO established its leadership over the Intifada and used it to guide the whole process towards the Oslo Accords of 1993. We have explained elsewhere how those Accords were a complete betrayal of the real aspirations of the Palestinian people. This, combined with years of the Palestinian Authority administration of a part of the Occupied Territories, which saw corrupt officials policing the Palestinians in cooperation with Israeli security, is what produced a power vacuum that Hamas was able to fill. The organization was able to present itself as the only significant Palestinian force opposing the Accords.

This was a tragic turn in events, for Hamas leadership is bourgeois and reactionary in its outlook, and has a negative view towards mass protests of the Palestinian people. In fact, during their period of administration of Gaza, they have repeatedly repressed youth protests, for instance.

It was in the Second Intifada, which was much more influenced by Hamas and other Islamic fundamentalist groups, that saw a heavy use of suicide bombings and other methods of individual terrorism. It started as a popular uprising after Ariel Sharon—guarded by hundreds of Israeli riot police—made a provocative visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000. The Israeli security forces responded immediately with the shooting of protestors. This had the effect of further escalating an already very tense situation. This also explains why the Second Intifada very quickly became an armed conflict on both sides. The overall number of deaths this time was much greater, with over 4,300 killed, the bulk being Palestinians, but also with a significant number of Israeli dead, both soldiers and civilians.

first intifada barricades Image Abarrategi Wikimedia Commons
“Intifada until victory,” in the view of genuine communists, is a call for social revolution. / Image: Abarrategi, Wikimedia Commons

When today the media conflates the Intifada with the call for violent attacks on Jews in Israel, it is the Second Intifada that they are emphasizing—while always ignoring what actually provoked its violent character. Namely, the lack of revolutionary leadership during the First Intifada, which was driven down a blind alley and disappointed the aspirations of the masses. This was coupled with years of violent clampdowns on the part of the Israeli security forces.

Let us not forget that, throughout the two Intifadas, the ratio of Palestinians killed compared to Israelis was three to one. This gives an idea of where most of the violence came from. And here we need to return to Howard French’s article, where he states:

Neither of these uprisings came anywhere close to being genocides. With the conflation of intifada with genocide seemingly now well underway, though, the world must ask itself: What does it mean to say that the act of rising up, or civil uprising, by Palestinians is impermissible? Do we really mean to say that they should not be able to resist against a miserable, constricting fate that has locked large numbers of their people into hopeless lives in Gaza, or that they should resolve themselves to seeing lands in the West Bank that they once controlled and lived on steadily annexed by Israel while they increasingly come under violent attack? Does it mean that the Palestinians of Gaza must resign themselves to being bombed and starved out of their territory? 

Most importantly of all, does it mean that Palestinians must be silent, abandon demands for a state of their own, and merely accept whatever Israel deems is sufficient for them? Have people who hold this view paused to think what avenues are open to Palestinians to object to such things? Can they imagine themselves, for an instant, accepting this? [My emphasis]

This is a good note on which to conclude! Our call for “Intifada till victory,” does not at all imply a threat to the ordinary Jewish people presently living in Israel. It is a call for mass action by the Palestinian workers and youth, as we saw back in 1987–88. It is a call for the use of class struggle methods to achieve a homeland for the Palestinians. Following 30 years in which the so-called two-state solution has been revealed to be a sham, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians today have abandoned that perspective.

“Intifada until victory,” in the view of genuine communists, is a call for social revolution. It can only mean a struggle for a single socialist state of two peoples, where no Zionist bourgeois elite holds the reins of power, and where no bourgeois Arab elites decide the fate of the Palestinian masses. This alone can realize the aspiration for freedom and a dignified existence expressed through the First Intifada.


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