I feel like I’ve hardly had time to breathe this week. I don’t even get out of bed sometimes: upon waking, I open my laptop and start responding to emails, DMs, slack channels, facebook messenger. The sun goes up and then down again as I sit, hunched, glued to the screen.
Just in my tiny slice of the world, Trump’s impact is already being felt. Unions are pulling out of organizing campaigns. Colleagues who have been helping organize our union may be stuck in Iran. Friends are losing their jobs, their research funding, their confidence that any of our work matters.
And they’re right to be afraid! It’s scary to imagine the damage this administration will inflict in lives lost, progress undone, bonds of solidarity disentangled. Yet if we give up, the disasters will only multiply.
As for how Trump is impacting our movements, I can only speak about labor. In the face of will be a multi-pronged attack – mass privatizations, federal right-to-work laws, and the loss of the NLRB – what’s becoming clear is how little leadership union “leaders” offer us. In the face of attacks the likes of which we haven’t seen in nearly a century, leaders are huddling together, turning inward when we need precisely the opposite.
So, what does that mean for the grassroots? It means that at the end of the day, we only have each other and the camaraderie and strength we’ve built as workers to think on our feet even as institutions and laws dissolve around us. If unions care about the labor movement, they’ll transfer organizing skills as quickly as possible to workers, they’ll admit new ways of thinking into their ranks. And if not? Well, we’ve been here before, before we built unions and pushed for legal protections and all the rest; we can do it again.
I’m confident the same can be said for the feminist movement, the anti-police brutality movement, the environmental movement, and every other social movement that’s been under siege this week. Established institutions, be they the Democratic Party, unions, or non-profits, will try to accommodate the new administration as best they can, throwing those of us who can’t fit into the administration’s deeply limited bounds of acceptability under the bus. And we’ll have to be distinct from these backroom deals: more mobilized than ever, more democratic than ever, if we actually want to build a resistance that can force concessions and reversals from this administration. We’ll have to welcome in the flood of people who want to fight the agenda on offer because after all, the only way any of us learned anything was through struggle, so we can’t expect the thousands flooding into our movements to be any different.
No matter what those at the top do – and all indications that the Democrats are the worst of the worst when it comes to spineless collaboration with the right – we can’t forget that we, the people on the ground and in the street and the workplace and the clinic, are the ones who built each and every worthwhile institution in this country. We forced labor protections into law. We created underground abortion networks until we freed up enough room for above ground clinics to operate. We welcomed refugees with open arms.
It’s scary to consider how much today feels like what I hoped was a long-gone era of reaction. But now more than ever, we need to remember our history. When it comes to everything Trump and his ghastly bands of ghouls are hellbent on destroying, we built it all in the first place. If need be, we can build it back up again. That may not be the sexiest message on offer, but it’s the truth.
In these aspects, it is the same as every other incursion Israel has ever made into Palestine.
The people suffer here until death, and that’s because the Palestinian people don’t matter.
I don’t say this as a rhetorical device, meant to push for action in solidarity with the Palestinian people (though you should take part in such actions, as many of you already have). I say it because from the point of view of the Israeli state, and the political ideology of Zionism, it is true.
This is the key difference between apartheid in Israel/Palestine and apartheid in South Africa. Whereas oppression of the majority and the maintenance of this majority as a beaten-down labor force was the means by which the white minority maintained its privileges in South Africa, in Israel/Palestine, the Palestinian people are incidental. Comparisons between these two situations are apt, and powerful, but we must emphasize the different economic positions occupied by the respective oppressed populations in order to understand the differences in the strategies taken by the state in each case. The black majority in South Africa was critical to the functioning of the economy. For Palestinians in Israel/Palestine, this is not the case.
Earlier in Israel’s history, Palestinians were discouraged from working for Jewish businesses. Labor Zionism imagined a socialist utopia for Jews only. To achieve those aims, the Palestinians needed to be physically separated from the functioning of the Israeli economy and society, ideally by leaving the land entirely. While the Bantustans in apartheid South Africa remained relatively near to centers of industry, as the exploited majority was needed as a labor force to produce value for the white owners of capital, Palestinians are needed for nothing. A 2010 UNRWA study estimates the unemployment rate of Gazans hovers around 45%. Many Gazans once worked in the Israeli economy, and now subsist within the proscribed boundaries of Gaza, reinforcing the functioning of Gaza as little more than a massive open-air prison.
To take a step closer toward truth, we must recognize that rather than no value, Palestinian lives actually have negative value to the Israeli state. Widely viewed as a demographic threat to the state’s desired Jewish majority, Israel’s aim has long been to drive Palestinians into neighboring states. Failing that, Israel bombs and immiserates the Palestinian people in the hopes of destroying their resistance and political leadership.
This is the answer to the cries around the world asking how Israel can bomb so many civilians, as it is doing now, or starve so many thousands, as it has been doing for years as an occupying force. In South Africa, the oppressed black population had to be ill-treated, to maintain white supremacy, but they also had to live and produce economic value. In Israel/Palestine, Palestinians are at best a nuisance to the Israeli state, and at worst, a parasite.
With this in mind, the answer to the how behind Israel’s genocidal policies, we can return to the why.
These questions taken together paint a picture that turns upon one glaring fact: Israel’s Operation Defensive Edge is not about wiping out militants, as in the age of the “war on terror,” it is common knowledge that indiscriminate violence breeds militancy and terrorism. Instead, it is about wiping out the Palestinian people, erasing evidence of their existence. Israel has done this with hundreds of villages in the West Bank, and it is now doing the same in the Gaza Strip. This is the reason for forbidding residents of the buffer zone from returning to their homes.
As morally reprehensible as it may be, this is why Israel engaged in Operation Protective Edge. When the missile strikes finally subside, many publications will speak of how Israel lost the war. Popular support for Hamas will not have diminished; a peace process will not have begun; and hundreds of children will be dead. But these lamentations will miss the point. This is not a war; there is only one military involved. This decimation of the Palestinian people and their infrastructure is the purpose, and in this aim, Israel has already won.