PROTESTS BY Palestinians against Israeli restrictions on access to the Haram-al Sharif (Temple Mount), have been reignited after police imposed a ban on entry for worshippers under 50. The latest provocation is a concession to far-right Zionists who denounced the previous climbdown as a humiliation.
If there is a conclusion to be drawn from the events of the last two weeks it is that there will be no peace for Israeli citizens as long as the Israeli state continues to oppress the Palestinian people. No degree of oppression, no intensification of its apartheid character, no expansion of settlements or ethnic cleansing of its indigenous inhabitants, will achieve the reactionary utopia of a secure Zionist state occupying historic Palestine.
The reality of daily harassment and oppression involved in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and its ongoing siege of Gaza, will constantly spur acts of resistance. These sporadic acts of individual “terrorism” are a response to the Zionist state’s regime of terror. The asymmetry of this struggle holds out the possibility and necessity of a new, mass, uprising or intifada.
Israeli violence provokes and incites not only the besieged and occupied populations of the 1967 territories, but also the one-fifth of Israel’s own citizens who themselves are Arab Palestinians, relegated to the status of second-class citizens in a self-designated “Jewish state”.
It appears, after all, that the fatal shooting of two Israeli Border Police guards near the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on 14 July, which Israel immediately seized on to justify changes to the status quo in East Jerusalem, was conducted by three men who were Israeli citizens from the Arab-majority town of Umm al-Fahm.
As of 25 July, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported that 1,090 Palestinians had been injured in the ten days since protests erupted at Israeli “security measures” in the Old City, the majority as a result of tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. Seven Palestinians and three Israelis were killed during that same period, while Amnesty International reports that Israeli security forces twice stormed the al-Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem, in pursuit of “suspects” who had been critically injured.
The decision to impose “security measures” was in violation of longstanding arrangements for the al-Aqsa compound, the initial cause of the protests, a decision it seems was taken by the government against the advice of the Israeli army and secret police. Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Tzai Hanegbi added an even greater provocation by warning that “this is how a Nakba begins”; a reference to forced displacement of the majority of the Palestinian people in 1948.
Crisis and opportunity
It is possible that Israel has through its characteristic arrogance and heavy-handedness merely blundered into this latest round of provocations and clashes without a plan, and without any concrete political objectives. However, these clashes come at a dangerous time, in which an unstable convergence of forces internationally might encourage Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu towards more reckless acts, to test the boundaries of the possible.
In a context in which both US President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin are seeking Israel’s favours in return for their declarations of support for its “security” and for its struggle against “terrorism”, it is entirely possible that Netanyahu could resort to unprecedented acts of violence in order to make a fait accompli of his longstanding aim of putting an end to the decades-long charade of a “peace process” gradually working towards a “two-state solution”.
Netanyahu’s recent speech in Budapest, alongside Hungary’s pro-Zionist and antisemitic leader Viktor Orban, was effectively an appeal to the European powers and to US imperialism to recognise openly and explicitly what they have all long recognised quietly and implicitly: the permanence of the 1967 occupation.
However it also demonstrated a real fear on Netanyahu’s part that Trump is in fact disengaging from the Middle East and may not be able or willing to act as Israel’s military, political and diplomatic guarantor in perpetuity. Netanyahu could calculate that there is only a narrow window of opportunity for Israel to exploit the current international convergence in its favour.
Like Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, Netanhayu is preparing for a world in which he can play off the USA, Russia and China against one another, and win cover for his state’s crimes from one of them if others are reticent to do so.
And in the context of Trump’s provocative rhetoric against Iran, which has given a green light to Saudi, Egyptian and the Emirates’ aggressions against Qatar, there is a real danger that Israel could seek to pursue its regional vendetta with the Iranian theocracy through a new assault on Lebanon.
After all, Israel’s de facto defeat in Lebanon at the hands of the armed Shi’ite movement Hizbollah in the summer of 2006 was a blow to its regional prestige, which demonstrated the objective limits of its military’s deterrent power. With Hizbollah (and its Iranian sponsors) overstretched in a war to preserve Syria’s Assad dictatorship, Israel could seek to avenge its defeat in 2006 with a new massacre, to demonstrate that it is still the region’s most powerful state militarily. Israeli military spokespersons have even talked about driving out the population of the border regions of southern Lebanon, “in order to avoid civilian casualties”, of course.
But even without a war in Lebanon, new massacres in Gaza and the West Bank remain a real possibility.
In the long term, however, Israel’s fundamental contradiction is that it remains a settler colony – for Jews from across the world – that has not yet resolved its “demographic problem”. In this it is unlike its big brothers in North America, Argentina or Australia, which more than a century ago were able to reduce their indigenous peoples to a small fraction of their countries’ populations, and thus unable to pose any threat to the ethnic and national character of the states built upon their lands by their colonisers. Israel by contrast is surrounded by a huge Arab and Muslim world, whose population sympathises with the Palestinians. Moreover, in the 21st century, when it commits its genocidal crimes “the whole world is watching” quite literally.
Within its pre-1967 boundaries, Israel enjoys a comfortable Jewish majority, comprising around four-fifth of it formal citizens. But this majority is a legal fiction. As a social, political and military formation, “Israel” has long outgrown these boundaries. The idea that Israel could be persuaded, peacefully and through diplomacy, to step back into them in return for guarantees of its “security” is a cruel deception promoted by the global powers – and by the Arab regimes – whose purpose is to demobilise and to delegitimise Palestinian resistance to Israel’s theft of their ever-shrinking lands.
It is also an outrageous demand that the occupied, colonised and dispersed Palestinian people should bear responsibility for the safety and security of the state that is the primary culprit in their oppression and attempting their destruction as a nation.
But this comes at a price. That Israel has not yet been able to formally annex all of the territories that it has settled at the Palestinians’ expense is not through military weakness; there are today no serious material obstacles to Israel’s territorial expansion, or to its military domination over the Palestinians. Nor is it a consequence of the meaningless and hypocritical “disapproval” of the “international community”, but rather because formal annexation without extensive ethnic cleansing would mean that Israel would no longer be a Jewish-majority state.
Moreover, the last decade and a half have seen massive forced movements of populations in the region, brought about first by the chaos of the US occupation of Iraq, and then by the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s war against the majority of his own people. These refugee displacements are likely to become as semi-permanent as the 1948 Nakba; and they have taken place on a much greater scale than this initial act of forced population transfer that allowed Israel to come into existence in its current form as an ethnic exclusivist settler state.
The long-term danger is that Israel could use the chaos of a future generalised regional war as cover for completing this grim task, by expelling what is left of the Arab Palestinian population, both in the 1967 territories and even within its pre-1967 boundaries. And each aggressive act in the short to medium term that fails to meet with resistance that sets limits on Israel’s freedom of action encourages far more apocalyptic adventures in the long term.
It is for this reason that we urgently need the renewal of a powerful global movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people. It will need to expose the complicity of the rulers of the European Union and the USA in Israel’s long war of colonisation, and to demand that they cease their moral and material support for it.
To succeed, this movement will have to show not only solidarity with the social, democratic and national struggles of all of the oppressed peoples of the region, but at the same time assert its independence from the dictatorial regimes whose use “support” for the Palestinian people as a cynical cover for their own crimes and aggressions.