State repression won’t succeed at intimidating the Palestine solidarity movement

The PSL condemns the heavy-handed wave of repression that U.S. authorities are using to try and intimidate and silence activists nationwide. Unable to control the narrative of Israel’s genocidal war, and unable to turn back to the tide of public opinion, especially among young people, the forces of state repression are opting instead for brute force, harassment and criminalization. 

While the state claims to care about hate crimes committed against Palestinian, Arab and Muslim people — such as the three young men shot for wearing keffiyehs in Vermont — in truth it is the rhetoric of the government itself that is directly responsible for these crimes. “Joe Biden shot my son” is what the father of one of the students recently told us. Those who portray every protest for Palestinian rights and freedom, even for ceasefires, as protests for “terrorism,” cannot wash their hands of what their rhetoric produces. 

In mid-October, the FBI alongside the right-wing media invented a scare campaign around a “Day of Jihad” threatening U.S. cities, which was based on nothing and resulted in nothing except the demonization of protesters as a broader mobilization within the Muslim community was beginning. FBI leadership also testified before Congress that it launched a round of new investigations of domestic “extremists” supposedly linked to Hamas. There are growing reports of FBI agents visiting people’s homes and workplaces. In the post-9/11 period, this produced indiscriminate roundups of immigrants, and a massive operation at the federal and local level to infiltrate mosques and Muslim organizations and set people up often in outlandish plots. In New York, these law enforcement activities were later found to be unconstitutional, but it would be absurd to think they are not attempting the same thing right now.

Any serious social movement has to contend with the reality of state violence. Those who follow the history of social movements know that the U.S. authorities have always used such tactics to try and halt their momentum, in addition to dirty forms of subterfuge like illegal surveillance, entrapment, infiltration, agents provocateurs, rumor-mongering and the pitting of organizations against each other. FBI repression does not just look like direct violence; more often it is to go after a movement’s leaders, finances and reputation. While this is typically thought of as a thing of the past, in the Red Scare or COINTELPRO period, in truth it never ended. The moment that the mass energy behind the Occupy Wall Street movement began to ebb, a coordinated assault from the FBI, DHS and local police was launched to destroy the movement in cities nationwide; the heroic Ferguson uprising of 2014 was met with tanks and tear gas night after night, combined with the targeting of its grassroots leadership; in 2020, hundreds of activists were arrested and large numbers received life-changing injuries at the hands of the police, while mayors and governors imposed curfews to try and criminalize everyone. Meanwhile, they attempted to divide these movements with a “good protester vs bad protester” narrative. We must learn the lessons of each of these moments.

In the mainstream media narrative, this history is always rewritten so those who rise up against injustice are portrayed as animals while the authorities that impose so much violence are presented as “keeping the peace.” But those who have first-hand experience in these movements know the truth. 

Since the beginning of the protests in defense of the Palestinian people last month, the police have arbitrarily arrested people in a number of cities, including in Atlanta, Ann Arbor and New York. A Florida university student from Jordan received a felony battery charge for defending herself from a mob of counter protesters. The school then disbanded the student group. Meanwhile, far-right pro-Israel groups organized harassment campaigns on college campuses to try and doxx pro-Palestinian students, even going to their homes.

Two weeks ago, police in riot gear pepper sprayed and assaulted protesters at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C. — only to turn around and cast themselves as the victims, and charged protesters with assault. One member of Congress ludicrously said she was more scared than on January 6th. 

New Hampshire authorities imposed extreme felony charges on three young people who, outraged by the ongoing Israeli genocide, allegedly committed vandalism against an Elbit Systems weapons factory. As the main supplier of drones to the murderous Israeli occupation forces, it is understandable why people of conscience would not accept such a company’s presence in their own backyard amid a genocide. The governor and senators of New Hampshire, who are themselves in the pockets of the weapons manufacturers, reacted with horror about mere spray paint, but not the murder of over 5,000 children by their weapons. 

Then on Friday, police shamefully brutalized demonstrators in a number of cities and made cowardly attempts to prevent the people from exercising their right to protest. In Atlanta, eight people who were engaging in a nonviolent Palestine solidarity action were violently arrested by police. In Philadelphia, police moved into the crowd, issued dispersal orders and seized two vehicles that were safely driving as part of the march. 

Meanwhile, a pro-Israel New York City councilwoman who showed up to a student rally openly carrying a handgun (in violation of New York City law) just had her charges dropped.

We can’t wish away the reality that the state will oppose, by whatever means it can, a people’s movement that challenges the rule of the Empire and the corporate elite. But the state is not invincible. Its main weakness is that it represents a tiny class of capitalists and imperialists, while the people’s movement represents the aspirations of tens of millions, and in fact the majority of the world’s people. They want us to cower and hide our faces, to be afraid and become small. If we do that, they win.  

Our answer is: 

  1. Keep mobilizing. While tactics always must shift according to the political moment and the mood of the people, our strength is in numbers, in our solidarity, and in our ability to continuously, proudly, hold public space. This mass visibility contributes significantly to the overall political mood and balance of forces, and gives people confidence to join the movement and to keep fighting. It is often when mobilizations ebb that a state counter-offensive ramps up. 
  2. Stand together against state repression. Regardless of organizational or tactical differences, this is elementary solidarity. Any act of repression or criminalization against one individual or group is an injury to all of us who are standing for Palestine. We must also be conscious that because today’s movements operate in an environment dominated by social media, this is now the preferred space for surveillance, infiltration and for fomenting division; activists must carry out their necessary debates with a high degree of maturity and sophistication, and not play into the hands of the enemy. 
  3. Build strong organizations. We live in a culture dominated by individualism, celebrities and influencers, which our movements must fight to overcome. When the movement is at a high point, and any social media post can serve as a call to action, this can feed the illusion that organizations are less necessary. But the state is highly organized and centralized, and can more easily manipulate, repress and isolate an atomized movement. The organizations that already exist must be strengthened and where none exist, it is time to form them. The last seven weeks have shown how the political tide can be turned when people stand up. Nothing can deter us if we continue to stand together.

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