What Israel Fears Most
"When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”
These words, attributed to Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth prime minister, have been invoked many, many times to defend the country, juxtaposing rational Israeli self-defense with irrational Arab aggression.
This narrative has been used to explain everything from the so called 1948 Arab-Israeli War to the current repression of protests in Gaza. The claim is that Israel is tormented by a ceaseless fusillade of Hamas rockets, stones, molotov cocktails, and suicide attacks. The “terrorists” behind this barrage, the story goes, are unresponsive to reason or compromise.
May 14 was one of the bloodiest days in the recent history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the same day that the United States relocated its embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli military killed at least 59 Palestinian protesters, and injured thousands more according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. An Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson disputed the number.
On May 15, the seventieth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba—a day of mourning to mark the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948—it’s time to put to rest the tired canard that the greatest obstacle to peace is Palestinian violence.
Though you wouldn’t know it from mainstream reporting, Palestinians have been resisting nonviolently since they were under British colonial rule. Their nonviolent tactics to pressure Israel to offer genuine compromises have included mass protests, prisoner hunger strikes, and an international campaign calling for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.
Israel has rejected such efforts as illegitimate, often by claiming the movements are violent.
In 2005, members of Palestinian civil society issued a call to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel until the country complied with international law. Inspired by the work of activists struggling against apartheid in South Africa, they aimed to create a global movement that called for an end to the occupation, equal rights for all, and the right of return for all Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes after Israel’s founding. Since then, the BDS movement has won numerous impressive victories.
Israel and its supporters have responded in an apoplectic frenzy. The movement is routinely smeared as “anti-semitic” (and even charged with adopting Nazi tactics). Entire conferences have been dedicated to combating BDS as an “existential threat” to Israel. Such a characterization implies that Israel is justified in using virtually any means to counter the BDS movement.
Last March, the Israeli parliament passed a law that bars entry to the country to any non-Israeli individual who supports BDS—just one of the many steps Israel and its supporters have taken to fight the movement.
Israel has also sought to repress Palestinian prisoners protesting unjustimprisonment and intolerable living conditions. Despite temporarily“banning” the practice, Israel has force-fed prisoners since the hunger strikes began, leading to several deaths. One Israeli official, in 2015, asserted that Palestinians were trying to use hunger strikes as a “new sort of suicide bombing to threaten the state of Israel.”
The melodramatic notion that hunger-striking prisoners “threaten the state of Israel” implies that anything less than complete submission to Israeli rule is unacceptable and must be stopped by any means necessary.
“You have to understand, there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently. Lieberman insists the Hebrew word used for “innocent” in this context means “naive,” though it’s tough to see how that makes his comment much better. Such a perspective is necessary in order to defend the deliberate targeting of children by snipers.
Beginning March 30, 2018, thousands of overwhelmingly peaceful Palestinian protesters have amassed alongside the fence separating Gaza from Israel (in what has been termed the “Great March of Return”) to demand that their right of return, enshrined in international law, be enforced. They have been met with a barrage of bullets and tear gas, leaving over one hundred dead and thousands injured. Videos appear to show Palestinians shot in the back, fleeing. Others appear to have been picked off by snipers while praying. Journalists, women, children, the disabled, no one is off limits. Human rights organizations have been unequivocal in their condemnation of Israel.
While it’s true that some Palestinians have thrown stones, molotov cocktails, and burned tires, no Israelis have been reported killed or injured. And though Hamas has endorsed the protest, it began as a civil society initiative, organizedby independent activists, despite Israel’s claims to the contrary.
When asked about Israel’s deadly attacks on unarmedprotesters one colonel responded, “It doesn’t matter if someone is carrying flowers if he’s tearing down the fence. That’s a violent threat.” The Israeli government makes it clear that in its eyes there is little difference between nonviolent tactics and actual acts of violence.
Because what Israel fears more than suicide bombings, Hamas rockets, and stone throwers, is a genuinely nonviolent resistance movement that insists on self-determination, democracy, equality, peace, and justice for all. Indeed, in one wikileaks cable from 2011, an Israeli military official conceded as much, explaining, “We don’t do Gandhi very well” and went on to make clear their intention to ramp up violence against protesters “even [if the] demonstrations appear peaceful.”
In deliberately targeting children at the protests in Gaza, it seems that Israel may be attempting to provoke a violent response. For cynical politicians like current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian violence is a gift because it allows them to pretend to care about the peace process without sacrificing anything. They can insist that you can't negotiate with terrorists, all while continuing to gobble up Palestinian land.
Israel has for decades rejected a two-state solution based on a complete withdrawal from the territories occupied in the June 1967 War (Gaza and the West Bank), with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian’s capital. This compromise—grounded in international law and backed by international consensus and human rights organizations—also includes the “right of return” for refugees in exchange for total recognition of Israel within its borders from before the 1967 war. Since 1967, Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem such that, according to Amnesty International, “people’s entire lives are effectively held hostage by Israel.”
While occupied people are, under international law, allowed to violently resist, as a strategic matter, military defeat of Israel is unlikely. It possesses the strongest military in the region. Mass nonviolent civil disobedience, on the other hand, has and will continue to garner international sympathy and support. As the recent events in Gaza make clear, it is difficult to defend the massacre of unarmed protesters. This is why Israel regularly portrays nonviolent tactics as violent.
Israel has consistently failed to sincerely compromise, it has suppressed Palestinian nonviolent efforts to push for better offers, and then claimed that it is not possible to negotiate with violent Palestinians. Given these facts, one must conclude that chief responsibility for the deadlock in achieving peace lies with Israel.
[Eli Massey is a freelance journalist, editor, and researcher whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Jacobin, Current Affairs, the Chicago Reader, In These Times, Mondoweiss, and elsewhere. You may follow his work on Facebook, on Twitter, or his website.]
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