Many questions, few answers, as conflict deepens between Israelis and Palestinians

Editor’s note: Politicians in the US and Europe, like German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas, keep repeating that “Israel has the right of self-defense”. Indeed we see that the horrible violence currently happening in Israel and Gaza tend to be framed by western mainstream as “Israel defending itself from terrorism” at worst, or “clashes between two sides” at best. Hardly do we see stories showing just how combative Israeli actions have been, how painful and traumatic these experiences are for Palestinians, and the historical and root causes of the current violence. We believe that the right of self-defense doesn’t include the right to brutally suppress a group of people for decades, to occupy and steal their land and to dispel and humiliate them. As Noam Chomsky wrote: An old man in Gaza held a placard that read: “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”
We stand in strong solidarity with oppressed peoples worldwide and condemn the violence of settler-colonialism. 

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

What’s next in the latest Middle East convulsion? Will a ceasefire between the Hamas militant group in Gaza and Israel be brokered by Arab mediators in coordination with western powers, or will the situation continue to deteriorate?

Are we witnessing the beginning of an intensifying conflict in which Israelis find themselves enveloped in a bloody confrontation with Palestinians across the occupied territories and, more threateningly, inside Israel itself?

Will Israel become enmeshed in widespread communal unrest on its own territory in Arab towns and villages?

In short, are we witnessing the early stages of a third intifada, in which casualties mount on both sides until the participants exhaust themselves?

We’ve seen all this before – in 1987 and 2000. Then, as now, violence spread from territories occupied in the 1967 war into Israel itself.

There are no simple answers to these questions as the crisis enters its second week, with casualties mounting.

In part, the next stage depends on the level of violence Israel is prepared to inflict on Hamas. It is also conditional on Hamas’s tolerance of Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire.

It will also rely on the extent to which Israel feels its interests continue to be served by courting widespread international opprobrium for its offensive against Hamas, as the militant group’s leadership is embedded in a densely packed civilian population in Gaza.

This is far from a cost-free exercise for Israel, despite the bravado from its leadership, embroiled in a lingering internal crisis over the country’s inability to elect majority government.

Political paralysis is not the least of Israel’s problems.

As always, the issue is not whether Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks on its own territory. The question is whether its response is disproportionate, and whether its chronic failure to propagate a genuine peace process is fuelling Palestinian resentment.

Palestinians inspect the remains of their houses in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip. AAP/AP/Khalil Hamra

The short answer is “yes”, whatever legitimate criticisms might be made of a feckless Palestinian leadership divided between its two wings: the Fatah mainstream in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza.

Israel’s continued provocative construction of settlements in the West Bank, and the daily humiliations it inflicts on a disenfranchised Palestinian population in Arab East Jerusalem, contribute to enormous frustration and anger among people living under occupation.

If nothing else, the latest upsurge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians should persuade the international community that occupation and subjugation of one population by another is a dead-end street.

Further complicating things for the Israeli leadership are the circumstances that led to the latest conflagration. This has lessened international sympathy for the extreme measures Israel is using, aiming to bomb the Hamas leadership into submission.

Israeli authorities’ attempts to evict Palestinian families in East Jerusalem from homes they had occupied for 70 years, accompanied by highly provocative demonstrations by extremist Jewish settlers chanting “death to Arabs”, has contributed to a sharp deterioration in relations.

This was followed by a heavy-handed Israeli police response to Palestinian demonstrations in and around Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine. In turn, this prompted Hamas rocket strikes into Israel itself from Gaza.

A protest against Israeli airstrikes outside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. AAP/AP/Mahmoud Illean

The International Crisis Group has identified the issue that should be most concerning to Israel and its supporters:

This occasion is the first since the September 2000 intifada where Palestinians have responded simultaneously and on such a massive scale throughout much of the combined territory of Israel-Palestine to the cumulative impact of military occupation, repression, dispossession and systemic discrimination.

In a global propaganda war over Israel’s continued occupation of five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the issue of who started this latest convulsion is relevant.

So, too, are questions surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to cling to power as a corruption trial wends its way through the Israeli court system.

Collateral damage to Israel’s reputation is an unavoidable consequence of the use of a heavy bombardment against Hamas targets in one of the world’s most densely populated areas.

There are two million Palestinians in Gaza, a narrow strip of land between Israeli territory and the Mediterranean Sea. Many are living in refugee camps their families have occupied since they fled Israel in 1948, in what Palestinians refer to as the nakba, or catastrophe.

The deaths of an extended Palestinian family at the weekend whose three-storey home was demolished by an Israeli airstrike is a grating reminder of fallout from the use of weapons of war in civilian areas.

This is the reality of a population held hostage to an unresolved – and possibly unresolvable – conflict involving Palestinians living under occupation.

So far, international reaction has been muted. The United States and its allies have gone through the motions in condemning the violence.

US President Joe Biden, in a phone call with Netanyahu, seemed to endorse Israel’s heavy hand. Biden’s conciliatory tone has drawn widespread criticism in view of the shocking images emanating from Gaza. These include live footage of a building housing foreign media being destroyed by an Israeli airstrike.

US President Joe Biden has so far appeared to endorse Israel’s heavy hand. AAP/EPA/Tasos Katopodis

Belatedy, the US has sent an envoy to the region.

In Australia, politicians from both sides have called for a de-escalation.

Regionally, Arab states have expressed their support for the Palestinian cause, but remarks by their leaders have been restrained.

However, circumstances leading to the outbreak of violence, notably Israeli policing of demonstrations in places sacred to Muslims, have left Arab leaderships no choice but to condemn Israel’s actions.

A hitherto limp US response reflects the Biden administration’s hope that the Israel-Palestine issue would not be allowed to intrude on Washington’s wider Middle East foreign policy efforts. Biden is trying to entice Iran back to the negotiating table to re-energise the nuclear peace deal ripped up by former President Donald Trump.

Part of this strategy has been to calm Israel’s concerns about renewed US efforts to re-engage Iran. Those efforts have been complicated by the violence of recent days.

Washington has been reminded, if that was necessary, that the toxic Palestinian issue could not simply be shoved aside, however much the US and its moderate Arab allies would like it to go away. This was always an unrealistic expectation.

Israeli violence against Palestinians in retaliation for rocket attacks on its territory is an embarrassment for Arab states that had established diplomatic relations with Israel under pressure from the Trump administration.

The so-called Abraham Accords, involving an exchange of ambassadors between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, is at risk of being discredited in the eyes of the Arab world by the latest conflagration.

Other Arab states that established diplomatic relations with Israel, brokered by Trump officials, include Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Sporadic demonstrations in support of the Palestinians have occurred in the latter two countries.

Finally, this latest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians exposes the failure of various parties to advance a peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

That prospect appears further away than ever, and may even be dead given Israel’s declared intention to annex territory in the West Bank. Such action would end any possibility of compromise based on land swaps to accommodate Israeli settlements in areas contiguous with Israel itself.

These are bleak moments for those who might have believed at the time of the Oslo Declaration in 1993, and subsequent establishment of relations between Israel and the leadership of the Palestinian national movement, that peace might be possible at last.

We are now a very long way indeed from Oslo.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

10 thoughts on “Many questions, few answers, as conflict deepens between Israelis and Palestinians”

  1. I am loathe to discuss this issue here, as I don’t feel it’s an appropriate one for DGR. But that said, I have to say the following regarding this:

    The Hebrew and Arabic tribes have been fighting for thousands of years, basically starting as a fight between two brothers if you believe that the story is literal, or between the two groups if you believe that it’s figurative. There is no inherently right or inherently wrong side here, it’s just stupid fighting just to fight.

    However, beginning in 1948 when western Europe and the U.S. established the state of Israel on the pretext of giving Holocaust victims a homeland — this was utter BS: 1) it was done in an attempt to control the oil in the Middle East by having Israel as a client state there; and 2) if they really wanted to give European Jews a homeland because of the Holocaust, they would have given them a portion of Germany, the country that caused the problem, not Palestine, which had nothing to do with it — Israel has been armed by countries with military might that far exceeds anything else in the region. So innocent Palestinians lost their homes, and the result of the creation of Israel is that Israel became a bully apartheid state, killing, harassing, and generally abusing Palestinians. Just like people who were bullied as kids become bullies as adults, Israel now kills & abuses the Palestinians because the Jews there were abused by the Nazis. Israel doesn’t have death camps like the Nazis did and it doesn’t aspire to conquer the world as far as I know, but other than that I see no substantial difference between the way Israel treats Palestinians and the way the Nazis treated the Jews.

    The only workable solution now would be to go back to the pre-1967 borders, to stop arming & supporting Israel, and to make Gaza and the West Bank autonomous Palestinian land. Of course the U.S. and Israel would have to go along with this, but except for a possible change in U.S. attitudes on this issue coming from younger people, this seems very unlikely. As usual, the U.S. is the big problem here, and as long as it continues to arm Israel and allow it to act with impunity, Israel will continue to do as it pleases, much if not all of which is in violation of international law.

    As to the statement in this column that, “[s]o far, international reaction has been muted,” that’s simply not true. The U.S. alone vetoed multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding an immediate cease fire. While international reaction was not what it should have been — it never is unless the U.S. and secondarily western Europe decide that their interests are at risk — the U.S. as usual is the big problem here. People in the U.S. don’t realize this because all they get is propaganda, just like all other issues, but the vast majority of the world opposes what Israel does to the Palestinians. There are even U.N. resolutions confirming that Israel is in violation of international law. (The problem is the tyrannical Security Council, which is completely illegitimate and should be abolished; all U.N. voting should be done in the General Assembly.)

    Before anyone calls me anti-Semitic, I’m 100% Jewish. But I have Jordanian/Palestinian friends, one of whom is a close friend, and I’m outraged at what Israel has done and is still doing to Palestinians. Chomsky’s quote is perfect in describing not only my position on this issue, but in fact the objective reality of it. While we all dream of peace in the Middle East, the only way that these two sides will stop fighting is if the Palestinians get a fair shake for a change. If that doesn’t happen, it will continue to be more of the same, unfortunately.

  2. The only Holocaust survivor I ever met was Leslie Goldenberger. He was also, in my opinion, one of the true heroes of World War Two. Leslie and 2 other inmates escaped Auschwitz, by overcoming 3 SS officers at the camp’s motor pool, donning their uniforms, and driving to freedom in a German staff car.

    Leslie spent the rest of the war fighting alongside a Polish resistance group — only to be imprisoned by the Soviets, because the partisans were anti-communist. Finally released to a resettlement camp in Austria, the Zionist organization that ran the camp gave him no choice but emigration to Palestine.

    A year after Palestine was transformed into Israel, Leslie emigrated again, this time to Argentina. The reason? The Israelis reminded him too much of the early Nazis. Five years later, he emigrated to Canada, because Juan Peron reminded him too much of Stalin.

    Partly because of my friendship with Leslie, I became a supporter of Palestinian rights. In 1986, I was elected to the board of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) in San Francisco, along with 3 Arabs and 2 Jews.

    One of the reasons for my interest was America’s blatant bias toward Israel, and Israel’s systematic brutality toward Palestinians — seizing and colonizing their land, while proudly claiming to be the Middle East’s only “democracy.” Though Arabs constitute 20% of the population, they have only 5% of the seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Arabs also are not allowed to serve in the military, which is a virtual free ticket to college in Israel, and virtually the only way to get a mortgage. It is also a “democracy” where the government finds infinite ways to steal Arab land, though it is impossible for an Arab to buy land from a Jew.

    Israel is also by far the largest recipient of U.S. aid ($3.8 billion a year), and has been sheltered from world condemnation by something like 200 U.S. vetoes in the U.N. Security Council. Palestinians, by contrast, were denied any American assistance by Trump, though Biden recently agreed to reinstate about $200 million — roughly 1/20 of what we give Israel, which is among the world’s 35 wealthiest nations.

    I recently posted a comment to an online Jewish magazine in New York, responding to a college student’s article. She had accused a fellow student of “anti-Semitism,” for writing that it is impossible to be a human rights supporter and a defender of Israel.

    I responded by noting that at least 11 Israeli prime ministers have openly proclaimed that Israel can only exist in perpetual violation of the international law ensuring the right of return of refugees. In doing so, I wrote, Israel admits to being an outlaw state. And illegal entities, by definition, have no right to exist. I added that it is curious that while Israel denies Palestinians the right of return to their own homes, it offers Jews from anywhere Israeli citizenship, under a “Law of Return” to a place most of them have never been. In an unprecedented move, both the article and my commentary were taken down within 3 hours.

    It is often said that the U.S. bias toward Israeli colonialism and racism is due to Jewish influence in Congress and the media. The main reason, however, is what we and Israel have in common: two stolen countries, rationalized by claims that the people we stole them from either weren’t a people, or didn’t exist at all.

    Trivia: In an unpublished sequel to “Mein Kampf,” Hitler said his inspiration for the expulsion of Jews (before he realized that killing them was much easier) was Andrew Jackson’s expulsion of Indians from the “civilized,” Eastern states.

    1. I don’t believe that. Fatah would be the controlled opposition, Hamas is radical in comparison.

      1. It’s not uncommon for the US and US proxies to support Islamic radicals with this specific intent. They did it in Afghanistan with the mujahideens. One has to ask how Hamas gets those rockets despite being in an open air prison.

        1. Those rockets are such old technology that they don’t even have guidance systems. They’re practically nothing but glorified fireworks.

  3. I. is correct on this. Israel didn’t directly “create” Hamas, but pulled all the strings it could to pave the way — the thought being that American support for Israel would always be rock solid, if the leading Palestinian organization was even more extreme than Israel.

    But they miscalculated. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to be worse than Israel. Take the last week, for instance. Hamas fires 4000 rockets into Israel, occasionally hitting something. So Israel hits Gaza with 4000 targeted bombs, bringing down at least 2 highrise apartment complexes, wiping out entire families, leaving 60,000 homeless, and causing $300 million damage that probably can’t be repaired, because the Israeli blockade won’t allow construction materials into Gaza.

    I heard almost the same story yesterday from an Al Jazeera reporter in Gaza on TV. He said Netanyahu has always stirred up conflicts between Hamas and the PA, trying to make sure Hamas comes out on top. Then he can say, “See? I can’t negotiate with the Palestinians, because the only coherent force there is a terrorist organization.”

    1. My quibble was I.’s comment that Hamas is controlled opposition. I don’t see Israel controlling them at all.

      This is really a nonissue. The problem is that Israel is exponentially superior militarily and has no morals.

      BTW, a friend who visited the West Bank and Gaza many years ago told me that the worst of the settlers were Americans. Totally figures!

  4. Thank you all for this nuanced and balanced discussion. Your educated comments gave me more insights into this conflict. Maybe as a German I’ve been more brainwashed on that topic than you in the US.

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