All Of It
X. THIS CANNOT LAST . . . .
In June 2021, one month after the end of an 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza and violence verging on civil war inside Israel itself, Naftali Bennett promised to “shrink the conflict,” to “reduce tensions and improve life.”
In 2021, Israel demolished 907 Palestinian homes, the second-highest annual total on record, but it razed 145 in just the first two months of 2022, putting more than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them them children, out in the street, and is now on track to set yet a new record high.
In the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabir in East Jerusalem, Israel is proceding with an “urban renewal” project that will widen the so-called American Road to illegal settlements on the West Bank, demolish 800 Palestinian homes, and replace them with a shopping mall and 500 new homes for Jewish settlers.
On May 5, 2022, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled, its opinion written by Justice David Mintz, a former rabbinical student who lives in an illegal West Bank settlement, that more than 1,000 Palestinians can be evicted from 3,000 hectares of Masafer Yatta, a rural community in the South Hebron hills, for use as IDF firing zone 918, first proposed by Ariel Sharon in 1981 as a way of forcing Palestinians out to make way for Jewish settlements.
Relentless dispossession. It never, ever, stops.
On December 20, 2021, the IDF changed its shooting policy to green light live fire on Palestinian youths throwing stones, and in just the first three months of 2022, Israeli army and police killed 47 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, five times the number during the same period in 2021.
Among the 47, Sanad Abu Atiyeh, a 17-year old Ramadan drummer, shot while throwing stones at an armored car during a March 30 IDF raid on the Jenin refugee camp. At an armored car.
Also Mohammed Assaf, a 34-year old Wall and Settlements Resistance Commission lawyer, killed while driving his two children to school, along with eight children and two women.
Violence in one form or another. Day in, day out. And violence begets violence, in the words of the young female soldier taking part in an IDF home invasion, “the terror that comes back to us.”
Between March 22 and April 9, 2022, five Arab assailants, two from the West Bank and three from Israel, one of them Bedouin, killed 14 people, including ten Jewish Israelis, two Arab police officers and two Ukrainians, in four separate, unrelated, attacks.
Naftali Bennett called them “terrorists,” but most Israelis admit they would do the same if they were in Palestinian shoes. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
Ehud Barak, former IDF Chief of Staff and 10th Prime Minister of Israel, once said in a moment of candor, “If I was [a Palestinian] at the right age, at some stage I would have joined one of the terror organizations and fight from there.” Moshe Dayan too admitted as much.
Because terror is precisely what Israelis inflict on Palestinians day in and day out, year after year, decade after decade, assaulting farmers, burning their olive trees and stealing their land, invading their homes at night and demolishing them during the day, assailing children on their way to school and shooting them for throwing stones at tanks, cordoning them into tiny ghettos, humiliating them, squeezing the life out of them.
In the words of Avrum Burg, “Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. . . . We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing would be solved because the leaders come up from below, from the wells of hatred and anger, from the ‘infrastructures’ of injustice and moral corruption.”
In a joint NPR interview with Burg in 2008, Israeli-born Omer Bartov, professor of European history at Brown University, told the story of a group of Arab-Israeli students who were visiting a Holocaust museum in Israel and were shown a model of the Treblinka death camp. One of them said, “Well, this is not as bad as what the Israelis are doing to us now because at least in Treblinka, the Jews were killed right away, they are killing us everyday.”
In short, the common thread between Palestinians who kill Israelis is the soul-scaring despair of those who have decided, “If you are taking my life from me, then I will take some of you with me.“
Israel responded as it always does, with more violence, not an eye for an eye, more like five or six or seven.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared, “There are not and will be no limits to this war. We are granting full freedom of action to the army, the Shin Bet and all security forces,” who quickly, in less than a month, killed 19 Arab Israelis and 30 Palestinians on the West Bank.
One of them was Shireen Abu Aqleh, a highly respected 51-year old, 25-year veteran correspondent for Al Jezeera, shot in the face on May 11, 2022, while covering an IDF raid on a house in Jenin.
Born in Jerusalem to a Catholic family, Shireen lived as a girl with her mother in New Jersey and was an American citizen. Early in her career, Al Jezeera sent her back to the U.S. on assignment, but she returned after only three months because, she said, “‘Here life is simple. I love Palestine. I want to work here, live here,” and split her time between Ramallah and her brother’s home in East Jerusalem.
She soon became a household name among Palestinians and Arabs across the Middle East. Dalia Hatuqa, a Palestinian American journalist, said of her, “I know of a lot of girls who grew up standing in front of a mirror, holding their hair brushes as microphones and pretending to be Shireen, that’s how lasting and important her presence was.”
Who killed her? “Indiscriminate and uncontrolled fire from armed Palestinians,“ as Naftali Bennett quickly claimed, or IDF sharpshooters?
Abu Akleh was one of four journalists wearing body armor marked “PRESS” in blue on white bold caps, several hundred feet from the home targeted in the IDF raid.
Ali al-Samoudi, her producer, was also shot, and said later from his hospital bed, “All of a sudden [the Israelis] opened fire at us, they didn’t ask us to leave or stop. The first bullet hit me, the second one hit Shireen. . . . There were no resistance fighters around us. If there had been, we wouldn’t have been in that area.”
To back up Bennett’s assertion that it “appears likely she was killed by Palestinian gunmen,” his foreign ministry relased a 15-second video clip showing a masked man shooting down an alley, but nothing to indicate when and where it was filmed or what he was aiming at.
But B’Tselem, the Israeli NGO, soon identified the area where the clip was recorded, 300 metres away and out of sight of the spot where Abu Aqleh was gunned down. Just more Bennett hasbara, muddying the waters.
Shatha Hanaysha, a journalist for Quds News, “We were a group wearing press gear, and Shireen was wearing a helmet. So it is obvious that the one who shot her meant to hit the only exposed part of her body, her head. This is an assassination.” By an IDF sniper.
And not a one-off, not an anomaly. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Israeli forces have killed 19 Palestinian journalists since 2001, and Reporters Without Borders has cataloged 144 other incidents in which Israeli army or police injured journalists, some very seriously, e.g., losing an eye, limb amputations, etc., after being on the receiving end of Israeli live rounds, rubber bullets, stun grenades and police batons.
Saleh Hijazi, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East program, says, “Abu Aqleh’s death fits a pattern of unlawful killing, targeting journalists and human rights defenders.” In April 2022, the IFJ filed a formal complaint with the International Criminal Court alleging “systematic targeting of journalists” by Israeli security forces.
As if to make this very point, IDF Brigadier General Ran Kochav said, “They’re armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so,” a not very subtle insinuation that Palestinian journalists are terrorists too, and so fair game.
And if that was not enough . . . .
Two days later, May 13, thousands of Palestinians filled the streets of East Jerusalem to honor Shireen as she was to be taken from St. Joseph Hospital to Mount Zion cemetery to be interred with her parents.
Instead of putting her casket in the hearse, mourners hoisted it onto their shoulders, followed by a stretcher carrying her blue bullet-resistant press vest. But as the casket moved slowly toward the hospital gate, Israeli riot police charged into the compound, firing stun grenades, kicking the pallbearers and beating them with truncheons. The casket nearly fell to the ground.
The police also beat mourners in the crowd and tore Palestinian flags from their hands and the top of the casket. Lina Abu Akleh, Shireen’s niece, said, “They just stormed in, beating up everyone, it was very frightening.”
The pallbearers retreated back into the hospital and eventually put her casket into a hearse, followed by crowds lining the narrow streets leading to the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin near Jaffa Gate in the Old City, where her funeral service took place, and then all along the route to the cemetery as she was again carried on the shoulders of pallbearers.
Fadi Mtour, one of the pallbearers, is still traumatized, “They kicked us, hit us with wooden batons and rubber bullets at close range, there was so much hatred . . . like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
Mtour believes that this police assault was triggered by the Palestinian flag. “They are afraid of the flag because it represents our identity, the same way that Shireen, her funeral and life did.”
Although the Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled in 2021 that flying the Palestinian flag is not a criminal offence – why ever should it be? – Israeli security forces have their own agenda.
Diana Buttu, now an analyst at the Institute for Middle East Understanding, says the crackdown started two decades ago, after the May 30, 2001 funeral in Jerusalem of prominent PLO politician, Faisal Al-Husseini, when “hundreds of thousands of people gathered carrying the Palestinian flag.” Ten weeks later, Israeli authorities cordoned off and shut down his East Jerusalem headquarters, Orient House, which had become the embodiment of Palestinian aspirations for their own state.
Then in 2017 Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in 2018 moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Buttu says, “This emboldened Israel, we saw the big clampdown on Palestinian identity, flags, and colours, . . . And Shireen was very much a symbol of Palestinian identity. . . . This shows how afraid they are of our flag and what it represents.”
Even more than the Palestinian flag, Al-Aqsa is the most powerful symbol of opposition to the Occupation and Jewish hegemony over all of Palestine.
So on April 14, 2022, the day before the start of Passover, the racist Kach party announced their intent to conduct a ritual sacrifice on the Haram, and Bentzi Gopstein, leader of Lehava, posted a call for all Israeli settlers to gather on Jerusalem Day, May 29, break into Al-Aqsa and begin demolishing it to pave the way for building a new Jewish temple on the Mount. Inflammatory in the extreme.
Rabbi Yehuda Levi, an ultra-Orthodox from New Jersey and member of The Temple Mount Yeshiva, told Ha’aretz, “We’re not stupid. We realize that it might take many years to build a yeshiva, . . . a Temple [on the Mount], . . . so we start with what we’re able to do now, . . . but it’s just a question of time.”
This, observed Yair Wallach, head of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of London, “signals the emergence of a version of Judaism that fetishises rock and soil and pursues a fantasy of redemption in the physical takeover of the Temple’s site.”
Just a handful of extremists? Not any more. In a new poll by the Viterbi Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research of the Israel Democracy Institute, published May 3, 2022, 50% of Israelis now support Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, the main reason given “to demonstrate Jewish sovereignty over the site,” in short, the driver is much more political than religious, about power and control, not prayer.
The very next morrning, Friday, April 15, the coincidence of the start of Passover and Friday prayers for Muslims, and midway through the month of Ramadan, Israeli police set up checkpoints at the gates to Al-Aqsa, turning away all men under age 50 and taking ID cards from from everyone else, keeping tabs on who’s in and who’s not.
Then, as hundreds of right wing Jews – the first of more than 4,600 in the coming week – walked up onto the Temple Mount, Israeli police closed all 12 gates and herded Muslim worshippers into the prayer hall, keeping them in for the next five hours while Jews strolled freely outside on the Haram.
When Palestinian youths began throwing firecrackers and stones at one of the police checkpoints, hundreds of police in full riot gear stormed up onto the Haram, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades, even inside the prayer hall, wounding 143 – one lost an eye – including three reporters, and arrested almost 600.
Ali Awar, a Hebrew University researcher, has his finger on the Palestinian pulse: “People will never accept a foreign presence on Al-Aqsa, it is not just a religious site, it is the sum of all of our national and religious aspirations.”
Indeed, many Palestinians believe at some level that Al-Aqsa is all they have left, it is their red line. Sensing that it, like their land, is being taken from them bit by bit, by prayer, ritual sacrifices and police assaults, they will come by the tens of thousands – 150,000 attended Friday prayers – to defend it “in spirit and in blood.”
Palestinians have no tanks, no warplanes, but they have numbers with many more to come – a third of the Palestinian population is under 14 – and staying power, through seven decades of Israeli military rule – less than 5% remember a time without Israeli occupation – they have endured, like Blacks in America during slavery and since, with all of the strength and moral authority that imbues.
And Israel’s once successful divide and conquer strategy ended in the 2021 violence. Golda Meir maintained that “there is no such thing the Palestinian people,” but if that was ever true, it is no longer, like Ukrainians after the Russian invasion, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are united as never before.
On Jerusalem Day, May 28, 2022, tens of thousands of right wing fanatics, many from yeshiva religious schools, reprised their annual march through the Damascus Gate and Muslim Quarter, singing “Death to Arabs” and “May Your Village Burn,” cursing and accosting Arabs, pepper spraying them, while Israeli police watched and did nothing.
Orly Noy, a Persian Jew who migrated to Israel with her family in 1979, says, “The youth are not just being taught deep racial ideologies, not just Jewish supremacy, but Jewish tyranny as well.”
She added, “If soft fascism – as represented by Bennett – is the mainstream, then it gives room for legitimacy for a more hardcore, blunt fascism, . . . We are getting to the point where Israelis don’t even mind being called apartheid.”
Inevitably, seething resentment about yet more assaults, house demolitions, evictions, night raids, check points, arrests, killings, on and on, will explode into repeated cycles of violence ignited at Al-Aqsa. Sirens will wail, Hamas will unleash its rockets, suicide bombers with nothing to lose will come out of the shadows, and once again there will be civil war in the streets of Israel.
Peter Beinart is very worried. “We may be entering an era where eventually the cost for Israel of controlling millions of people who lack basic rights goes up, and that fills me with dread. . . . The last thing I want to see is for Israelis, Jews to be killed. But I think it is unrealistic to think that you can maintain control over millions of people who lack basic rights at a low cost forever. The cost has gone up. And I think one scenario is that it never goes back down to where it was before. . . . There was basically a kind of intifada in South Africa, but it never ended. What happens if this never ends?“
Do Israelis really want to live this way? Is this the price they are willing to pay to maintain absolute Jewish dominance over a land in which they are barely half the population? To take over the Haram and rebuild Solomon’s temple? For all of it?
Do they really believe that if they continue making life miserable for Palestinians they will pack up and leave? Move to Jordan?
Wishful thinking, delusional. Naftali Bennett got this much right, “They’re not going anywhere.”
“Just look at the Jewish people,” says Gershon Baskon, Director of the Holy Land Bond, an investment fund for integrated Jewish – Arab housing projects, “who continue to tell their story of exile from thousands of years ago. One population group here cannot replace another – not in Silwan, no where.”
“We are here in equal numbers on this land and neither side is going to surrender, raise a white flag, compromise their identity or refuse their claim for legitimacy and justice. The argument of who was here first, who’s connection to the land is deeper, who has God’s promise, who did what to who – all of this is futile.”
Haggai Matar, Executive Director of the 972 project for the Advancement of Citizen Journalism, says, “[Yet] the Israeli Right continues to make the argument that the occupation is something we can live with. A situation in which two peoples share this land but one of them is superior and enjoys sovereignty and full civil and human rights, and the other is eternally subjugated and without full rights. But that is impossible.“
“We cannot keep nearly two million people in Gaza under siege . . . . more than two million people in the West Bank locked behind concrete walls, . . . controlling every aspect of their daily lives . . . deciding who can leave the country, which goods can be imported and exported, who can travel to work or hospital within the West Bank, which plots of land can be seized for settlement construction. . . .“
“We cannot continue to insist on a united Jerusalem, which is actually divided between Jewish “citizens” and Palestinian “residents” . . . between those for whom authorities build homes and invest in education and infrastructure and social services, and those sentenced to poverty. We cannot allow a future in which discrimination between Jews and Arabs is an unquestioned characteristic of our country.“
“None of that is sustainable. . . . We can’t expect a pastoral, quiet and peaceful future while those oppressive and discriminatory systems remain in place. We learn that painful lesson again and again, and yet – we refuse to learn it at all.”
Daniel Seidemann warns, “We’re in a bubble and bubbles burst. That is the unpleasant truth and it will be the death of us.”
Hirsch Goodman, the Israeli journalist who once argued that Israel was not an apartheid state, told Politico magazine in a March 29, 2020 interview, “There is no such thing as protracted occupation over another people without a moral or democratic price to be paid. . . . I wonder what kind of a future our children and grandchildren will have here. Israel has achieved much over the years, but the occupation has to stop before it conquers us all.”
It comes down to this, says Mikhael Manekin, Executive Director of the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy: “Our freedom is bound up with the subjugation of others. How can freedom be a positive concept if our state exists only by dint of the prevention of freedom? If we understood the price that is being paid, that must be paid, by millions of people for our freedom, if we understood the meaning of subjugation, we would not be able to live our regular lives.““
If we were to internalize our responsibility for the hunger in the Gaza Strip, for the shortage of water in the South Hebron Hills, the condition of the workers in the date groves of the Jordan Valley, for the fact that Arab mothers and fathers do not feel safe in their homes in Hebron, if we understood the pain of the tens of thousands of families split apart because their parents and their children spend years in administrative detention, if we understood the familial meaning of breaking into a home in the middle of the night because of a patrol, an arrest, a Shin Bet mapping of the site or just a plain exercise, the lack of basic security – if we were to see and internalize that all this is happening because of us in a direct way, not as a necessity but as a result of our power – we would not be able to function. . . . [But] if we aspire to be good Jews, we cannot ground our lives in blindness and brute force.”
A few years before he died in 2014, Avraham Shalom, a career Shin Bet hard man and its head from 1980 to 1986, said in the documentary The Gatekeepers that Israel had become “a brutal occupation force,” treating the Palestinians the same way the Nazis dealt with Dutch, Poles, French and others they occupied in World War II. “We have become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of the war on terror.”
Israelis have perversely transferred their hatred of the Nazis to the Palestinians, making them, ironically, the last victims of the Holocaust.
“Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.”
Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006)
Avi Schlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (2001)
Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, Blaming the Victims (1988)
Avraham Burg, The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From its Ashes (2008)
B’Tselem, “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid” [January 1, 2021]
Human Rights Watch, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution” [April 27, 2021]
Masha Gessen, “Why an Israeli Human Rights Organization Decided to Call Israel an Apartheid Regime” [The New Yorker, January 27, 2021]
Andy Trimlett and Ahlam Muhtaseb, “A History of Expulsion in 1948 is Key to Understanding the Palestinian Struggle” [San Diego Tribune, May 21, 2021]
Hagar Shezaf, “Burying the Nakba: How Israel Systematically Hides Evidence of 1948 Expulsion of Arabs” [Ha’aretz, July 5, 2019]
Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, Lords of the Land, the War for Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories (2007)
Gideon Levy, “Israeli Troops and Settlers Zero in on a New Target for Attacks: Palestinian Schools” [Ha’aretz, December 16, 2021]
Maya Asheri and Nir Hasson, “The Jerusalem House That Waited for Its Arab Neighbors to Return” [Ha’aretz, October 29, 2018]
Joe Sacco, Palestine (2009 graphic novel)
“The Gatekeepers,” documentary based on interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, Dror Moreh, director (2012)
Featured Image: Dome of the Rock – Jerusalem [Oded Balilty / AP] ________________________________________________________