Palestine Can’t Breathe

Another cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians has been announced ending another round of violent assault on the latter. The settler-colonial Jewish government in Israel killed 275 Palestinians, 248 of them in the Gaza Strip, 26 in the West Bank and Jerusalem, 1 inside Israel, including 66 children in Gaza, and at least 6,200 others injured. Israel reported 13 deaths from the more than 4000 homemade and unguided rockets launched by Hamas, the Islamic Movement governing the Gaza Strip since it won elections in 2006. Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza destroyed more than 1,000 homes, 5 residential towers, 3 mosques, media office buildings, unknown number of businesses, damaged 17 hospitals and clinics and dozens of schools, wrecked Gaza’s only critical COVID-19 health infrastructure, and cut off its sewer, electricity, and water services.

It’s important to realize that this latest round of deadly Israeli onslaught on Palestinians is merely an instance of a 73 years long project of settler colonialism carried out systematically by the Jewish supremacist state of Israel with full backing of the imperial US state. The US and Israeli official narratives aim to obscure this essential fact. They use propaganda to shift the US public’s perception away from focusing on Israel’s illegal occupation and its ongoing slow ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to instead a focus on Palestinian resistance deliberately mischaracterized by them as terrorism and anti-Semitism. They have succeeded in persuading most people in the US that Israel’s quarrel with the Palestinians is not about territory, but terror.

However, several historical factors are at work that may help undermine the US-Israeli official narrative and open up a rare possibility for US activists for Palestinian justice and self-determination to exert greater pressure from below on Washington to adopt a more evenhanded approach to Israel/Palestine.

First, the various geographically separated and colonized Palestinian communities acted together in resisting the latest round of vicious Jewish supremacist Israeli settler colonial assault on Palestinians. Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem, inside Israel, and in diaspora joined the call in the month of May to “save Shaikh Jarrah” in Jerusalem from further forced ethnic displacements of Palestinian families and to respond to Israeli violations of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest place, during the last 10 days of the month of Ramadhan, observed by Muslims worldwide as a time of fasting, prayers, reflection, and community.

This synchronistic unity of Palestinian resistance makes the US and Israeli planners nervous as it threatens to undermine their long-lasting, and hitherto successful, attempts to divide, control and colonize the Palestinians. If sustained, it also presents a new deterrence on the side of the Palestinian resistance insofar as it compels Israel to think twice about the cost of launching another deadly air campaign on Gaza, what it calls “mowing the lawn.” This development bodes ill as well for the Israeli arms industry. So much of the marketing of Israel’s armaments abroad hinges on their effectiveness in crushing Palestinian resistance, especially in the Gaza Strip, used by Israel as a testing laboratory for its high-tech weaponry. Already the fact that the last deadly assault on Gaza in 2014 was unable to crush Palestinian resistance has led to questioning the effectiveness of Israel’s armaments. And reportedly, the stocks of Israeli arms industry have shown no rebound in the aftermath of the latest 11-day Israeli onslaught and the Palestinian resistance it evoked in May 2021.

Second, we have witnessed the historic rise of anti-racial supremacism in the US. Millions in the US have developed a sensibility and a deeper awareness of racial supremacism thanks to the massive Black Lives Matter protests, especially in the aftermath of the lynching of George Floyd by racist policing. It isn’t surprising to see Black liberation activists in the US opposing Jewish supremacism in historical Palestine as they have white supremacism here at home. This cannot but raise the rare possibility of greater solidarity for the Palestinian struggle for justice among larger segments of the US public hitherto inactive or indifferent to the Palestinian suffering. This development too makes the US and Israeli planners nervous as the only public they care about is the US one, since the latter’s awareness and activism only can lead to a shift in Washington policy away from its blind support for Israeli Jewish supremacism and settler colonialism.

Third, we are witnessing the mainstreaming of terms like ‘apartheid’ and ‘Jewish supremacy.’ Two reputable and mainstream human rights organizations, one in Israel and the other in the US, published damning reports calling Israel an apartheid state and accusing it of seeking Jewish supremacy over the entire area of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

On 12 January 2021, B’Tselem in Israel issued its report titled “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.” It argued that the “entire area” alluded to in its title “is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.”

On 27 April 2021, Human Rights Watch in the US issued its comprehensive report titled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” It too asserted that across Israel and the occupied territories

…in most aspects of life, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. (Italics added)

Of course, Palestinians and their allies have for long argued that Israel is an apartheid settler colonial state, but to no avail. Evidently, it takes mainstream western organizations accusing Israel of Jewish supremacy and crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution for anyone that matters here to take notice. Regardless, the mainstreaming of these terms is welcome news as it would raise badly needed awareness in the US about the structural nature of the violence Palestinians face on a daily basis. That Palestinian voices did not (and still do not) matter is surely unsurprising. Silencing the voices of those subjected to imperial violence is a routine matter. The challenge now is to not fall back on seeing Palestinians once again as objects of sympathy and as victims, but as a people endowed with agency and steadfast in seeking justice and self-determination.

Fourth, Israel is losing the battle of images again. In the western world and especially in the US, Palestinians were viewed as refugees until the 1960s when they organized an armed resistance to Israeli expansionism and settler colonialism, after which they were looked upon as violent terrorists driven by anti-Semitism and hatred of the Jews. But the gruesome images of the massacre of some 2,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the 1982 war in Lebanon created sympathy for Palestinians, even in the US media. Israel responded by pushing the narrative that the struggle was over terrorism, not territory. 9/11 helped Israel to win the battle of narratives and impose its “war on terror” discourse.

However, since the cruel siege of Gaza in 2006, Israel has launched several brutal assaults on the captured Gazans. The images from these deadly assaults have reached millions and made it increasingly difficult for the US and Israeli narrative managers to maintain the fiction that Israel only reacts to Palestinian terrorism – the core of Israeli propaganda and one repeated ad nauseum in the phrase “Israel has the right to defend itself.”


It is crucial that activists for Palestinian justice and self-determination expose with greater urgency apologetics for Israel’s colonization of Palestine and point out several elementary observations about the Palestinian struggle.

Let’s point out that Israel’s own “war on terror” lens willfully distorts reality just as the US version has since 9/11. Like the US, Israel is not motivated foremost by security concerns for its population. In fact, ever since the early 1970s, Israel has pursued expansionism at the expense of security and has done so fully aware of the deleterious consequences of such an orientation for the Palestinians it rules over as well as for the Israeli politics and society that has moved steadily rightward in its politics and cultural sensibilities. For example, 72% of Israelis opposed the recent cease-fire.

Let’s remember that Israeli expansionism violates international laws and makes impossible even the creation of a non-contiguous Palestinian state in a fragment of historical Palestine for a fragment of the Palestinian people. How else are we to interpret the continued building of illegal “settlements” on Palestinian lands for Israeli Jews only and the ongoing Judaization of Arab East Jerusalem? By now Israel has transferred some 700,000 Jewish settler colonists into the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Depopulating historical Palestine of Palestinians and repopulating it with Jewish settler colonists has been going on for 73 years and is the core of the Zionist project of establishing an exclusive Jewish state in Palestine and of engineering a Jewish demographic majority ever since. This necessarily involves the use of force and of ethnic cleansing of the native population. The elimination of the indigenous population is the very logic or the DNA of Zionism. Contrary to the early Zionist claim, Palestine was not “a land without a people for a people without a land.” It was in fact the most densely populated region of the Eastern Mediterranean with an Arab population that had lived there for centuries in villages and towns and had developed agriculture and an economy. It would have developed in similar ways as had other Arab communities elsewhere had it not been for the rise of Zionism and the backing of British and later the US imperial states for the dispossession and forced expulsion of the inhabitants of historical Palestine.

Let’s not forget what is Gaza. Gaza is where 2 million Gazans live in a tiny land area, with perhaps the highest population density anywhere in the world. It is the world’s largest open-air prison, a laboratory for testing high-tech Israeli weaponry, facing a cruel blockade Israel has imposed since 2006 with Egyptian complicity and backing from the US. Israel regularly bombs Gaza in operations its officials refer to as “mowing the lawn.” The Gazans are a people without any rights, political or civil, and are subject to frequent drone attacks, assassinations, and even restrictions on their caloric intake by sadistic Israeli officials in charge of the siege of the enclave, and who refer to it as “putting Gaza on a diet.” When they protest peacefully as they did most recently during the massive “Great March of Return” protests in 2018-2019, they were viciously assaulted by Israeli IDF snipers who killed 214 unarmed Palestinians, including 46 children, journalists and medical staff, and injured over 36,100 others, including nearly 8,800 children, over 8,000 of whom were hit by live ammunition, while only one Israeli soldier was killed and seven others injured.

How long will “liberal” opinion in the US tolerate a Sparta Israel shamelessly oppressing and murdering the Palestinians? The Biden administration approved $735 million in arms funding for Israel as it was killing Palestinians during its latest attacks on Gaza and East Jerusalem. How much longer will Washington be able to replenish the deadly arsenal of Israel’s military as it assaults Palestinians to crush their resistance?

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s mainly the ruling elites of settler-colonial states of North America, Europe, Canada and Australia who are the most ardent backers of Israeli state terrorism. Here is a clue: the real “shared values” among them, are not the professed ones of democracy, freedom, pluralism, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.

Let’s also debunk the myth of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East. A Jewish supremacist, settler-colonial state can aspire at best for a closed utopia, a “democracy” for the privileged based solely on their Jewishness, an ethno-religious characteristic. In 2018, Israel passed the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People. Among its “Basic Principles” we find the following: “Exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It also asserts that “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and will act to encourage it and to promote and to consolidate its establishment.” You can’t have a democracy when nearly one half of the inhabitants of the land – the Palestinians – from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea are subjected to crimes of apartheid and persecution. Israel is an ethnocracy, not a democracy.

Let’s point out that though some Palestinians react violently, most do so peacefully. Think BDS movement, the call of Palestinian civil society since 2005 to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, demanding an end to the occupation, equal rights for Palestinians, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes or compensation for their loss. Or, take the Great March of Return during 2018-2019 that was met with brutal, criminal and deadly response from Israel with total silence in the US.

Let’s remind everyone that the violence of Palestinian resistance is that of the oppressed and the occupied and as such will cease when the violence of the oppressor and the occupier ceases. Equating the two is a false equivalency.

Let’s not forget that the violence of the occupier is the violence of apartheid and settler colonialism as well as the spectacular violence of Israeli state terrorism, like the frequent deadly bombings of the Gazans.

Let’s point out the utter hypocrisy of Israel’s claim of self-defense when it violently tries to crush those who resist its terrorism and colonization. Such a claim amounts to a right to occupy and oppress, an absurdity. Indeed, it’s the Palestinians who have the right to resist by all means Israel’s violent and systematic dispossession of their land, homes, and rights as well as the erasure of their history and presence in historical Palestine.

An occupying power has only one crucial obligation: to leave.

Faramarz Farbod, a native of Iran, teaches politics at Moravian College. He is the founder of Beyond Capitalism a working group of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities-Lehigh Valley PA and the editor of its publication Left Turn. He can be reached at Read other articles by Faramarz.