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‘Palestinians are winning’

By Sally Bland - May 10,2015 - Last updated at May 10,2015

The Battle for Justice in Palestine

Ali Abunimah

Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014

Pp. 292


Palestinian researcher, media expert and activist Ali Abunimah opens his new book with a bold assertion: “The Palestinians are winning”. (p. xi)

What he means is that they are winning the battle of ideas with Zionism. More and more people are recognising the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ quest for their rights, even as Israel’s ongoing occupation, racism, human rights violations and war crimes chip away at its legitimacy. The terms of the debate have changed in a way conducive to Palestinians advancing their right to self-determination.  

This is not wishful thinking. Abunimah documents his assertion with an analysis of the growing momentum of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and Israel’s response to it. While justice for the Palestinians obviously entails righting historical wrongs, he does not dwell on the past more than is needed to bolster his arguments, but posits the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its current global context, suggesting future-oriented strategies and alliances. 

Abunimah’s first book, “One Country”, advocated shelving the defunct two-state solution in favour of working for a single democratic state for Palestinians and Israelis. “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” goes a step farther to assess the viability of this project. Due to the strategic US-Israeli alliance, a main focus of the battle for legitimacy — and thus for justice in Palestine — is the United States. In addressing the US scene, Abunimah’s analysis is not limited to the typical machinations of the Zionist lobby, though these are covered, but goes much deeper to analyse the two states’ common colonial past, state violence and history of racism. Connecting the US domestic scene with its foreign policy points to the Palestinians’ actual and potential allies — people of colour as well as others who struggle for social justice, against mass incarceration, war and racism. 

And for those who didn’t get it yet, the book includes a chapter on why Israel’s existence as a Jewish state is in no way compatible with fulfilling Palestinian rights. It also addresses the most persistent objection to the one-state solution, namely, that Israeli Jews will never accept what they view as tantamount to the destruction of Israel, by referring to transitions to peace and democracy in other countries. 

Many have noted that the Palestinians can draw lessons from the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, but Abunimah’s point in this regard is very specific: the apartheid regime was not defeated physically. “What did change… was the complete loss of the legitimacy of the apartheid regime and its practices. Once this legitimacy was gone, whites lost the will to maintain a system that relied on repression and violence and rendered them international pariahs.” (p. 53-4)

Such understanding opens the way to examining how Israeli Jews might react if Israel continues to shed its legitimacy. 

Abunimah doesn’t just pick and choose his facts to fit desired conclusions, but comprehensively covers the issues at hand. Using South Africa as a model political transition raises the uncomfortable fact that there was little redress of the vast socioeconomic inequality between blacks and whites created by years of apartheid.

Abunimah attributes this problem to the economic agreements the ANC government entered into which stipulated neoliberal policies now known to have increased poverty and inequality across the globe. 

This recognition prefaces the most interesting, yet disturbing chapter in the book, “Neoliberal Palestine”, which outlines the convergence of US, Israeli and the Palestinian elite’s interests in promoting an aid-dependent, consumerist lifestyle, privatisation and luxury projects. 

One example is Rawabi, a new “model” city near Ramallah, built on confiscated Palestinian land, which can be bought into only via high-interest, American-style mortgages previously unknown in Palestine, but which have caused considerable damage to many Americans. Fighting neoliberalism is thus suggested as another basis for Palestinian alliances, one that has considerable international resonance. 

At a time when the Palestinians seem to be losing on all fronts, it is refreshing that Abunimah points beyond the miserable status quo to highlight signs of potential victory.

The chapter on Israel’s panic at the BDS campaign, which has caused Zionist organisations abroad to adopt new tactics, though with little success, and the chapter on the battle for legitimacy that is unfolding daily on US campuses, are inspirational and instructive as to how one can work so that the Palestinians will win in the end.

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