As always, the punitive methods Israel’s armed forces deployed against Palestinian civilians serve only to create the conditions they pretend to address. This is how you create new generations of angry young men with nothing to lose, drive armed groups into the arms of Iran, and cultivate children whose overriding desire is to avenge mothers, uncles or sisters.
Sadeel Naghniyeh, 15, was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in Jenin last month. Her father said: “My son is 9 years old and he sees his sister killed. He sees death and destruction around him. What will that teach him? To resist.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his generals know this. But how else do you appease your extreme-right base, or take the wind out of the sails of Israel’s massive anti-Netanyahu protest movement? Netanyahu is Israel’s arsonist-in-chief – deliberately igniting inferno after inferno in the exalted cause of his personal political survival.
Western politicians also know this, but lamely issue anger-inducing statements about supporting “Israel’s security and right to defend its people,” aware that Israel is shooting itself in the foot by fueling out-of-control vicious circles of reciprocal provocation. Britain’s Foreign Office feebly muttered that Israel’s invasion of Jenin “must respect the principle of proportionality.” Would such a ludicrously out-of-touch statement have seemed appropriate as Putin obliterated Bakhmut? And what is Britain planning to do after Israel so spectacularly failed to observe any such “proportionality?”
Palestinians are scarcely accorded the right to exist, let alone defend themselves. Life was already nearly impossible in Palestinian cities where expanding populations live on top of each other, as Israel inexorably gobbles up new swaths of land. In Jenin’s densely populated refugee camp, 15,000 people are crammed into a square half-kilometer. Outsiders fail to recognize how apocalyptically destructive Israel’s incursions are. The Jenin attack was the largest Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank since September 2000, during the Second Intifada. They deployed a heavily armed brigade-sized force of up to 2,000 troops, with armed drones, tanks and armored bulldozers. Tarmac roads were ripped to shreds by those bulldozers in the search for roadside bombs, streets were strewn with burnt-out family cars, multistory buildings were smoking wrecks, thousands of people were displaced, hundreds injured, and 12 dead. Nablus suffered a comparable fate. This is collective punishment in its purest form. In a vicious practice which has become horrifically normalized, hundreds of armed vigilante settlers – the radicalized, illegal occupiers of Arab land – went on the rampage through Palestinian towns, terrorizing families and attacking citizens. Burnt and destroyed buildings included a school and mosque, and 310 settler attacks on Palestinians were monitored in just 24 hours. At least 155 Palestinians have been killed so far in 2023. There has also been a spike in Israeli deaths – giving the lie to Netanyahu’s assertions that Israelis can enjoy a calm and secure environment when all efforts toward peace have been thwarted. Is it any surprise that many Israeli dual nationals are already departing?
Even Netanyahu acknowledged that this was just “the beginning of regular incursions.” The epidemic of violence is again spreading to Gaza, where there was a tit-for-tat exchange of fire, including Israel hitting a weapons manufacturing facility. Hostilities across the Israel-Lebanon border in recent days are a further wake-up call that the region is unraveling into anarchy. These territories that Netanyahu attacks with impunity are not his to pacify. Palestinians have repeatedly demonstrated willingness to share their historic homeland, but Netanyahu’s farthest-of-far-right fascist allies are hellbent on stealing it all: expediting construction of thousands of additional illegal West Bank homes, annexing huge chunks of territory, and seeking to entrench fully fledged apartheid as an irreversible reality.
After a recent fact-finding mission, representatives of the Elders, an international NGO of senior statesmen and peace advocates formed by Nelson Mandela in 2007, bluntly stated that Netanyahu’s government had demonstrated “an intent to pursue permanent annexation rather than temporary occupation, based on Jewish supremacy,” damningly adding that they had heard “no detailed rebuttal of the evidence of apartheid.” On how many occasions during 1990s and 2000s peace processes have Western leaders complacently lectured audiences that regional peace was impossible until the Palestinian issue was resolved? But under Donald Trump and now Biden, the attitude prevailed that Israel could be allowed to throttle Palestinians out of existence – as long as they did it quietly.
The war crimes of Jenin demonstrate how wrong-headed this was, even though we are only witnessing the tip of the iceberg of the forthcoming cycle of violence, which will suck in all those nations which that are affected by Middle East security whether they like it or not. We can celebrate the vigorous manner in which the Western world has mobilized support for Ukraine, while also asking: why only Ukraine? Are Ukrainians the only nation who deserve support in resisting brutal occupation, relentless bombing of their cities, and imperialist oppression? Why are Ukrainian soldiers daily championed in the Western media as heroic freedom fighters, while any Palestinian youth who picks up a rock is a “terrorist” who deserves to die? Are human rights, self-determination, and democratic freedoms not supposedly universal values? Palestine is not an “Arab” or “Muslim” issue, but a global cause that strikes at the core of our humanity. If we desire a world in which wars of aggression against the people of Ukraine and Taiwan are unthinkable, we must start by unambiguously regarding the occupation of any nation’s land as illegal, carrying an obligation of action to redress these historic crimes.
But all those global governments who genuinely don’t give two hoots for justice are once again going to be compelled to grasp the Palestinian conundrum with both hands, if they have any desire at all to stem the oncoming tsunami of violence. Hopes and expectations for our futures – to be doctors, lawyers, artists or musicians – are what provide our lives with purpose and structure. After being brutalized from birth, enduring a thousand humiliations, indignations and tragedies, is it any shock that Palestine’s younger generation, having had all other possibilities closed to them, seek out the single avenue that Netanyahu has left open – as freedom fighters and liberators of their lands?