Israel is in a state of deep division and as always holds much controversy in regards to its history, its politics and its brutal conduct in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The 2013-2014 peace-talks presided over by the United States of America once again stalled and finally collapsed on April 29, 2014 whilst violence has flared between Israelis and Palestinians after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found in a field near Hebron in the West Bank. The broad opinion is that Israel (led by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu) facilitated the disintegration of prospects for a peace between the warring factions. The question is what Israel’s next move is regarding the Palestinians, Gaza, and the firestorm of post-Arab Spring Middle Eastern politics?
The focus is once again on the Israeli occupation over the Palestinians. Eye for eye bloodshed has come to epitomize the Arab-Israeli conflict that has now been ongoing since 1948 and the instability in the Middle East look set to increase the stakes in the war. Recent events, a few good books on the real history of Israel and Palestine and re-watching the critically acclaimed District 9 has heightened my intrigue and horror at both the past and present crises involving Israel and the Middle East.
The real threat to Israel comes not from tiny, impoverished Gaza, but from the policies of Israel’s increasingly right-wing politicians. The Palestinian people are not welcome, they are not accepted, and they are dehumanized in Israeli media and propaganda where the #IsraelDemandsRevenge plagues Twitter and users on Instagram (most notably two very normal looking girls) post plaque cards stating that “To hate Arabs isn’t racism, it’s having values.”
Football hooligans (most notoriously Beitar Jerusalem’s supporters group ‘La Famila’ known for its anti-Arabism and racism), zealous Zionists and right-wing ultranationalists chant ‘Death to Arabs!‘, threaten and attack activists (with aid by the police in some cases), isolate the ‘traitors’ who criticize the state, and vandalize the property of Israeli dissenters, fellow Jews and Israeli Arabs.
In regards to Beitar Jerusalem, football so often reflects society. At its very worst it can represent hatred, class division, discrimination and disregard for diversity and there is no doubt that football hooligans and fanatics are deeply rooted in Israeli society and politics. Israeli football, like its politics possesses ultra-nationalist and fascist/racist elements much like some sectors of Ukrainian and Russian football.
Alongside violent attacks, racial abuse and vandalism against Arabs and activists, settlers recently kidnapped a Palestinian boy and forced him to drink petrol setting him alight and burning him to death. Doesn’t this make them hypocritical if the Palestinians are to be regarded in equal barbarity?
It is exceedingly dangerous to dehumanize religious and ethnic groups. Dehumanizing and rendering other humans ‘alien’ has led to some of the world’s greatest atrocities and the treatment of the Palestinians is no exception to this. On average for one Israeli, dozens of Palestinians die and though the murder of those three Israeli was an unwelcome and horrific tragedy the Israeli Defence Forces have wounded and killed hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian children and teens since 2000 and imprisoned thousands more yet the mainstream media has normalized it. The imbalance in casualties in death, injuries and infrastructural damage is staggering. Invariably any death in war on both sides is a crime.
The gradual rise since the late 2000s and early 2010s of more radical Israeli groups are playing a disturbing rhyme to the annals of violent history. The sensationalistic methods by which the Israeli teens’ deaths were reported has produced vicious public displays of racism. Hate crime against Arabs are rampant and largely ignored by the Israeli police whilst perhaps hundreds, maybe thousands of Palestinians are expected to die as supposed to a handful of Israeli citizens in the developing Gaza conflict.
Chris Hedges highlighted a interesting point via Isaiah Berlin known as “the conscience of Israel,” ‘warned that if Israel did not separate church and state it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult. He quotes:
“Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” said Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous and would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and any hope of democracy. He warned that the rise of a virulent racism would consume Israeli society.
When I saw the remnants of the Berlin Wall for the first time and then for the first time saw images of the West Bank wall under construction I was horrified by its bone-chilling resemblance to the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War, epitomized the war between the ideals of communism and western democracy/capitalism. Yet it was not a racial divide such as the one that exists between Israel and Palestine.
Walls, barbed wire, whitewashed racism, an increasing resemblance to apartheid South Africa, ethnic cleansing, extremism, religious/political manipulation, and permanent militarization. It was unsurprising that the far right-wing Israeli government’s massive land theft and push to settle squatters on Palestinian land, and its sabotage of John Kerry’s peace initiative, would produce another round of violence. While Palestinian militants also bear some responsibility, the majority of the blame rests with the Likud Party and its rapacious coalition partners. The Likud-Beiteinu coalition held 31 seats in the Israeli Knesset but the split now leaves Likud with 20 seats, one more than the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Lieberman’s Beiteinu party with 11.
What do the majority of Palestinians want? The majority just want to go home, they want justice, they want to live with the Israelis with compromise as shown by the peace-talks that recently failed. This hope has almost completely dissipated in the face of Israeli aggression and brutal policies which has only served to radicalize, enrage and inflame the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people.
However the Palestinian radicals are predominantly Israel’s creation, a product of decades of occupation without a willingness in most cases to compromise at this given moment.
Israel at the end of the day is in part responsible for this escalation. This will shift attitudes across the world as international opinion turns against the Israeli government.
In the violent military campaign ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 Twitter, Tweetdeck and Facebook were being nurtured and were yet to become wholly politicized by events across the world. The Arab Spring, the Ukraine crisis, Snowden and the new Iraqi civil war have changed this. Amazingly #Israel and #Gaza managed to remain aside worldwide trends such as the historic dismantlement of the Brazilian football team by Germany at the 2014 World Cup (this was the most tweeted sporting event ever thus far).
Social media, the explosion of blogs and alternative news sites has aided the unshackling of the realities of the Israeli occupation that are sensitized or whitewashed by mainstream media and news outlets. Twitter can in many ways be regarded as the new public opinion outlook on current and trending world affairs. From various opinions both mainstream, groups, and individuals you can glean a more realistic interpretation of facts and realities on the ground, what is the truth, what isn’t being covered by mainstream media and what is manipulation and propaganda.
Social media can useful tools for peaceful condemnation and peaceful use to start a coherent international movement to boycott Israeli goods which though started along time ago can gain significant traction. This is not dissimilar to those wishing to promote extremist causes as seen by ISIS for example.
The military wing of Hamas, though undoubtedly doing little to ease the violence, pales in comparison to the Israeli occupation forces who have committed atrocities to safeguard Israeli citizens.
The most recent crimes include Operation Cast Lead (2000 civilians killed, thousands wounded + wide infrastructural destruction), the 2006 Lebanon War (1300 Lebanese civilians dead), Operation Pillar of Defence, and Operation Protective Edge. These crimes are deemed a necessity and acceptable for a ‘survivalist state’.
The Israeli’s have left little if any room for compromise. Criticism which is dished out on them is turned on its head by the Israeli state as summarized perfectly by Gideon Levy
“Anyone who dares criticize the occupation policy is branded an anti-Semite or a traitor, every act of resistance is perceived as an existential threat. All international opposition to the occupation is read as the “delegitimizing” of Israel and as a provocation to the country’s very existence. The world’s seven billion people – most of whom are against the occupation – are wrong, and six million Israeli Jews – most of whom support the occupation – are right. That’s the reality in the eyes of the average Israeli.”
Peace activists within Israel are being muzzled. In some cases they receive death threats and are killed as seen in the pre-dawn hours of May 31, 2010 when Israeli military forces stormed the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships carrying humanitarian relief to Gaza. The Israelis killed (some by point blank range execution) at least nine activists and injured dozens of others. Film footage and pictures were destroyed to conceal the brutality of the Israeli forces.
The ship was searched before it left Turkey and was clear of weapons yet the Israeli media firestorm convinced its people otherwise that humanitarianism and peace activists were a looming ‘terrorist’ threat. Terrorism is the new dirty word, a pretext under which many government’s believe the can act with dictatorial impunity and Israel is one of many government’s which have acted under the cloak of ‘terror’ to gain political advantage and/or achieve local or international objectives.
Where do the keys lie to this crisis, one which has existed for so long and seems to be steadily worsening predominantly under the orchestration of Israel?
The key lies with Israel yet it is suffering an identity crisis. Does it continue down the path of alienating the international community or does it try to establish much needed peace and reaffirm itself with more democratic values alongside the Palestinians? The pervading boorish attitudes coupled with a rejectionist, uncompromising agenda, which has effectively replaced democracy with the leadership of the ‘strong’ (i.e. war-mongers) will only hasten the Middle East’s instability and lure jihadists and insurgencies more radical than Hamas to Israel’s (quite literal) doorstep. Unless an unlikely ceasefire is organised between the two conflicting factions, a new war on the Gaza strip is inevitable and the death toll is already steadily rising.
What is the difference we may ask? Surely Israel and Palestine have always been a problem? I answer to that with a resounding yes. However the geo-political earthquake since the Arab Spring has changed the situation that has existed since the Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead.
The Arab Spring, the Islamic winter (as many would call it) or the Middle Eastern conflict has become an all-consuming blood-bath most notably seen in Syria. Yet the crisis is affecting Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a violent domino effect on the region and Israel will invariably have a role to play in safeguarding Middle Eastern security. Israel naturally has to be on a state of high alert lest it be sucked into a whirlwind of sectarian violence and insurgency.
What role it chooses to play in the wider context is subject to debate. The peace-talks that failed recently are an indication that Israeli government rather than choosing peace and compromise with Palestine has chosen the more destructive option; drones, fighter jets, bulldozers and bombs.
This will solve neither the short-term and long-terms between the two countries, nor will it solve the Middle Eastern crisis (now long-term) which Israel invariable has the power to influence. It cannot do so amidst rightful worldwide condemnation of orchestrating a more radical form of apartheid against the Palestinians than we witnessed in South Africa, coherent and growing calls for boycotting Israeli goods and dependence on the U.S tax dollar for military and economic support.
The United States and the Western world must take a firm stand on Israel and Palestine lest the situation become a serious headache rather than a potential invaluable asset to a peaceful future in the Middle East. Eventually the peace activists, the human rights movements, the non-governmental organisations, and boycotters will be heard. A reactionary Israel is the last thing the West or Middle East needs right now yet alone dealing with the escalation of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and the emergence of ISIS.
Turning a blind eye to atrocities on both sides will not just condemn us to history as inactive onlookers, it will also add to collective and unnerving problem that is the Middle Eastern conflict.
War is built on deception and deceit. A state in permanent war with others and its ideals and built on fantasies and to some extent historical manipulation is a potent cocktail.
Israel needs to save itself from itself as much as the Palestinians need to be a state free from Israeli occupation. These are critical times for both countries and both are vitally important to the future of the Middle East. Israel needs to be saved from the likes of Avigdor Liebermann, the Likud party and the young extremists that have been indoctrinated into a dangerous system. Israel needs peace and Palestine needs peace, it could be a symbol of hope for the future of the Middle East rather than a symbol of vituperative hate. Uncertainty must be replaced with hope. Cultural impunity must be replaced by co-existence.
This is the only sane way for this to end and invariably history tells us that something has eventually got to give. How the war will be decided, whether by extensive bloodshed or peace, is up to how the international community, Israel and Palestine choose for it to end.
Gaza Facts courtesy of Juan Cole:
This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.
- Population of Palestinians of Gaza: 1.7 million
- Number of Palestinians in Gaza whose families were expelled as refugees from their homes in what is now southern Israel: 1.2 million
- Number of Palestinians in Gaza still living in the 8 recognized refugee camps, “which have one of the highest population densities in the world”: over 500,00
- Compensation Palestinians of Gaza have received for the billions of dollars of property taken from them by Israelis in Beersheva, Sderot, etc.: $0
- Years since Israel allowed Palestinians of Gaza to export what they produce: 7
- Unemployment in Gaza as a result of Israeli blockade on civilians: 38.5%
- Estimated unemployment rate in US during the Great Depression: 25%
- Percentage of children in Gaza suffering from acute malnutrition: 13.2%
- Rate of anemia in Palestinian Children in Gaza: 18.9%
- Percentage of water in Gaza that is potable: 10%
- Years, according the the UN, before Gaza becomes “uninhabitable”: 6
- Number of airports in Gaza rendered inoperable by Israeli airstrikes: 1
- Number of airports working in Gaza: 0
- Number of ports allowed by Israelis to operate on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast: 0