Recent Palestinian attacks culminated last week in a shooting and stabbing spree by two cousins at a synagogue in Jerusalem that killed four Jews and an Israeli policeman. In this atmosphere, both sides have warned that the political conflict is mutating into a religious one. It should be no surprise that Jerusalem is the eye of the storm. For more than a decade it has served as a laboratory for the Israeli right to experiment with a model of political despair designed to make Palestianians either submit or leave.
It is astonishing that the reconstruction of Gaza, bombed into the Stone Age according to the explicit goals of Israeli military doctrine, has tentatively only just begun. Where else apart from the Palestinian territories would the international community stand by idly as so many people suffer? The reason for the hold-up is, as ever, Israel’s “security needs”. Gaza can be rebuilt but only to the specifications laid down by Israel.
With East Jerusalem already smouldering, it emerged this week that the Israeli parliament is to consider a bill that could set the region ablaze. The measure would lift limitations on Jews visiting the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If passed, the legislation would likely trigger a much-anticipated third Palestinian intifada, and set off protests across the Muslim world.
Staff at Bir Zeit, the most prestigious of the Palestinian universities, ordered Amira Hass, a reporter for the Israeli Haaretz daily, to leave a public meeting. She was told it was for her own “safety” in case students protested against her presence. The decision has provoked a heated debate among Palestinian intellectuals, students and activists about how far refusal to cooperate with Israelis should extend.
Mahmoud Abbas’s use of the term “genocide” to describe Israel’s attack on Gaza made him an easy target for critics. But not only do international law experts like Richard Falk and John Dugard view Israel’s actions in genocide-like terms, notable Israeli scholars have done so too. Despite that, Israel has successfully ring-fenced itself from the critical lexicon applied to comparable situations around the globe.
This month Israeli media reported claims that Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had offered the Palestinian leadership the chance to annex to Gaza an area of 1,600 sq km in Sinai. The donated territory would expand Gaza fivefold, and provide the basis for a Palestinian state outside historic Palestine. What should we make of such reports?
A letter signed by 43 veterans of an elite Israeli military intelligence unit declaring their refusal to continue serving the occupation has sent shockwaves through Israeli society. The implication of their revelations is that the success of Israel’s near half-century of occupation depends on a vast machinery of surveillance and intimidation, while large numbers of Israelis benefit directly or indirectly from industrial-scale oppression.
Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups are agreed that the Israeli army is incapable of investigating itself fairly, and that, based on past form, it will at best convict a few individuals for relatively minor offences. They accuse Israel of “going through the motions” to fend off efforts by outside bodies, especially the International Criminal Court in the Hague, to probe events in Gaza.
In casting a popular resistance movement like Hamas as ISIS, Netanyahu has tarred all Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists. Israeli fear-mongering is designed both to further undermine the Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and to sanction Israel’s behaviour by painting a picture, as after 9/11, of an Israel on the front line of a war against global terror.
With Israel and Hamas locked in military stalemate after their 50-day confrontation in Gaza, attention had returned to reviving a peace process between Israel and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. That is the context for assessing Israel’s decision to antagonise all its main partners against Hamas by announcing plans this week for the biggest land grab in the West Bank in three decades.
Despite hailing as a victory the seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and destroyed large swathes of Gaza’s infrastructure, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appears to have emerged as the main political casualty of Operation Protective Edge. In late July, Netanyahu’s approval ratings stood at 82 per cent. Last week, as the ceasefire began, his popularity had plummeted to 32 per cent.
In Gaza, human rights organisations proved once again that they did not lead the opposition to Israel’s war crimes, as they should. They merely provided the excuse to seek a way out, but only after nearly everyone was agreed that it was time to bring things to an end. In short, human rights groups are not the voice of a global moral conscience; like the media, they are organisations keen to keep their access to, and credibility with, policy elites.
Sakher Daragmeh was killed as he tended goats close to the remote village of al-Aqaba in the northern Jordan Valley. For decades shepherds and farmers have been paying the price in the West Bank of an aggressive Israeli policy to create military firing zones on their land, said Dror Etkes, an expert on settlements. He has accused Israel of using the firing zones as a way to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from large areas of the West Bank.
A single incident at the weekend – the reported capture by Hamas of an Israeli soldier through a tunnel – illustrated in stark fashion the layers of deception Israel has successfully cast over its attack on Gaza. Israeli officials and media did not view the Hamas operation dispassionately. Hadar Goldin was not “captured” but “kidnapped” – as though he was an innocent seized by opportunistic criminals.
Israel’s effective loss of its only international airport for a couple of days last week—and the cloud of uncertainty that continues to hang over its operation in the future—has deeply unsettled Israelis. It was a warning to Israelis that, now Palestinian factions in Gaza have longer-range rockets, there is a potentially more serious, collective price to be paid for Israel’s repeated military assaults on the tiny enclave.
There are no wrecked houses, no crushed or blasted bodies in Umm al-Fahm. But Israel is waging a campaign against this town of 45,000 inhabitants and its leading son, Sheikh Raed Salah, closely related to its current assault on Gaza. Salah, leader of the northern Islamic Movement, expects Israel’s war on Hamas to come knocking at his door next.
Two investigations by the Israeli media illustrate the profoundly unhelpful role played by the US. They suggest that, whatever its public statements, the US is assisting Israel not only in what Barack Obama called its right to “self-defence” but in actively damaging Palestinian interests. And it seems not to matter whether the Palestinians in question are Hamas or the preferred negotiating partner, Mahmoud Abbas.
In a sign of how unpopular the PA’s security cooperation has become, crowds of Palestinian youths attacked a police station in Ramallah last month, during an incursion by the Israeli army. In unprecedented scenes, the youths shouted “Collaborators!” at the Palestinian police, attacked three police vehicles, and threw stones at the station as officers cowered inside.
As recent events show, neither Israelis nor Palestinians are above a culture of hate. As long as Israel’s belligerent occupation continues, their lives together will be predicated on bouts of violent confrontation. But that does not mean Israeli and Palestinian culpability is equal. The reality is that Israelis do not need to seek revenge on their own account. The Israeli state, military and courts do it for them.
Israelis have been lulled into a false sense of security by the promise of endless and simple technical solutions. Palestinians are confined to ever smaller spaces: the prison of Gaza, the city under lockdown, the torture cell, or the doctor’s surgery where a feeding tube can be inserted. But the craving for self-determination and dignity are more than technical problems. You cannot force-feed a people to still their hunger for freedom.