By Matthew Cookson
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Palestine’s enduring resistance

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The Palestinians have a long history of resisting imperialism and Zionism – the belief that Jewish people need a separate homeland in Palestine.
Issue 2134

The Palestinians have a long history of resisting imperialism and Zionism – the belief that Jewish people need a separate homeland in Palestine.

Their struggles have stopped Israel and its supporters being able to deny their history and existence.

Britain took control of Palestine after the First World War. Its policies lie at the root of Palestinian oppression. Britain offered its support for the creation of a national homeland for Jews in Palestine with the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

This led to increasing emigration of Zionists to Palestine. They aimed to remove Arabs from their land and create their own nation.

Palestinians responded to this by launching the Arab Revolt in 1936, which involved a general strike, mass demonstrations and guerrilla attacks against the British. But the British, ably supported by Zionist militias, brutally suppressed this insurgency. It ended in 1939.

Zionist militias forcibly expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-9. The Palestinians fled to refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza and to other countries. This act marked the creation of Israel and a new phase in Palestinians’ struggle – the fight for the liberation of Palestine.

Small guerrilla groups sprung up in the 1950s and launched raids into Israel. These slowly developed into organised units, at first supervised by Egypt, which controlled Gaza. A similar process occurred in the West Bank, which was run by Jordan.

Israel launched a war on Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967. With its crushing defeat of the Arab states in the Six Day War, and the seizure of the West Bank and Gaza, an independent Palestinian force came to the fore – the Fatah organisation led by Yasser Arafat.

In March 1968 Arafat and his forces, aided by the Jordanian army, defeated an estimated 15,000-strong Israel force at Karameh in Jordan.

This victory helped overcome Arab despair following the 1967 defeat and inspired tens of thousands of people to take up arms for the liberation of Palestine. Fatah took over the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1969.

The PLO’s rising militancy and strength posed a threat to Jordanian king Hussain’s control over his country where the guerrilla groups were based.

In September 1970 Hussain launched an attack on the Palestinian groups, killing thousands and driving the PLO into Lebanon. These events became known as “Black September”.

A weakened PLO became more reliant on the Arab regimes and began to look to negotiate a “mini-state” with Israel and its allies.


But its very existence was a threat to the Israeli state, which launched an all-out invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Israel slaughtered tens of thousands of people and the PLO was forced to leave Lebanon.

The Palestinian struggle seemed to be at its lowest ebb in years. But in 1987 the Palestinian uprising known as the Intifada broke out in the Occupied Territories. Women, children and men defied Israeli tanks and bullets to join a mass movement against their oppression.

The Intifada brought the Palestinians’ situation to the world’s attention and rocked the Israeli occupation. It led to the Oslo peace process between Israel and the PLO.

This allowed a “Palestinian Authority” in the West Bank and Gaza. But Arafat made massive concessions that allowed Israel to keep effective control over the Occupied Territories.

Life did not improve for the Palestinian people. Growing opposition to Arafat’s “rule” and continuing poverty and oppression led to the rise of the radical Islamist organisation Hamas, which continued to resist Israel.

A second Intifada broke out in September 2000, sparked by the provocative visit of Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon to the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

Israel’s response was brutal. It drove the mass movement off the streets and even Arafat was placed under siege in his compound in Ramallah.

Israel hoped to destroy all signs of Palestinian resistance, but the continuing popularity of Hamas shows that it has failed.

The Palestinians’ determination to resist, whatever brutality they face, means that Israel’s current offensive is unlikely to achieve its ultimate aim.


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