Palestinian Liberation Struggle and the Importance of Anti-imperialism

In 1974, at the 29th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, made his "olive branch" speech, for which he received a standing ovation. "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." He was imploring for the recognition of Palestine’s right to self-determination and demanding that the world wake up from its moral coma. If this did not happen, Palestinians would be forced to wage an armed struggle for national liberation. Arafat’s words resonate deeply with the present-day situation, where the international community has again failed Palestinians.


On May 21, 2021, a ceasefire was brokered by Egypt which put a halt to an intensification of colonial aggressions in Gaza. In response to the attempted ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah and murderous assaults on Al-Aqsa Mosque, Hamas, which came to power in Gaza through the 2006 elections, responded with a warning to the Israeli government: either stop the attacks or face armed resistance. Israel’s attacks did not cease, so on May 10, a few days after issuing its warning on May 4, Hamas launched its crude unguided rockets into Israel. While its Iron Dome defense system repelled most of these rockets, Israel pounded Gaza with its advance weapons technology. By the time a ceasefire took hold on May 20, Israel had killed at least 243 Palestinians, including 66 children. Israeli violence injured approximately 1,900 Palestinians and displaced 90,000 residents of Gaza; Hamas rockets killed 12 Israelis, including 2 children.

Major powers played their traditional role. The US unequivocally lent support to Israel, first abetting the settler state in the destruction of Gaza, and then coming forward to announce its intention to rebuild the besieged enclave in an unsurprising expression of hypocrisy and hubris. The UN condemned the hapless situation and called for calm, but did not do anything substantial to ensure it won’t repeat in the future. The European Union (EU) expressed concerns, paying lip service to the Palestinians. It preserved the brutal rule of aiding Israel’s murderous settler-colonialism with the organization’s key players, such as Germany, funding military occupation, assisting colonialism, and naturalizing apartheid. All the important actors proved incapable of maintaining international law and holding Israel accountable for the continuous violation of foundational norms. The legitimacy of key global governance institutions, such as the UN Security Council, further eroded as inaction continued in the face of ever-increasing Israeli attacks on Gaza.


What explains the terrible passivity of the international community toward the plight of Palestinians? Imperialism is the main factor accounting for the sheer absence of meaningful advocacy for the Palestinian cause. The EU and USA don’t raise their eyebrows over the unquestionably brutal policies of Israeli apartheid because they benefit from the presence of a Middle Eastern state which remains incontestably committed to imperialist imperatives and narratives. In the words of Joseph Massad: "The Palestinian people’s democratic goals, and their commitment to end Israeli racism and settler-colonialism, are values that Western governments refuse to share. The values these governments share with Israel, contrary to their false claims, are not democracy and freedom for all – but rather the outright suppression of non-white and indigenous peoples."

The affinity between Israel and North American-Western imperialism has manifested itself in the various functions the former has performed since its violent inception in 1948. Israel served as a bulwark against Soviet influence, as an extremely effective counterweight to the rising anti-imperialist tide headed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, as a conduit for channeling arms to unpopular regimes, as a regional backer of oil-rich Gulf monarchies, as a house for US weaponry or as a major partner and market for the US military-industrial complex. These intimate links with imperialist architectures of the Global North are visible in the various ways through which the American empire and the EU have been sustaining Israel.

The US has provided $146 billion dollars and an additional $375 million worth of arms to Israel since 1948. It has used its veto power in the UN Security Council to repeatedly provide Israel with diplomatic immunity and freedom from sanctions for its horrendous war crimes. The EU has not only failed to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing occupation and human rights violations, it has subsidized Zionist settler-colonialism, as well. A quarter of Israel’s military export goes to European countries. Moreover, Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner, absorbing one-third of Israel’s total exports and shipping to Israel nearly 40% of its total import. According to Ramzy Baroud, these numbers include products made in illegal Jewish settlements.

Insofar that imperialism is interlaced with the Israeli occupation of Palestine, what we need is a firm struggle for decolonization. This means taking into account the reality of the colonial context formed by the close cooperation between the Zionist state and the powerful countries of the Global North. Such a historically informed view can prove to be more effective than the meekly reformist posture of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Former Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Abu Ali Mustafa, slain in 2001 by an Israeli-fired, US-made missile in the window of his office in Ramallah, declared: "Liberation, not Negotiations!" Today, the importance of the slogan can’t be emphasized enough as it slowly dawns upon major sections of the world that defeating Israeli apartheid also means tackling its imperialist benefactors.

Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.