RESISTANCE to the latest bout of attempted ethnic cleansing in the Old City has fed into spiralling violence in Jerusalem in the days leading up to Eid. Sheikh Jarrah — the Old City neighbourhood where the legally sanctioned evictions of long-standing Palestinian residents at the behest of Jewish settler organisations predictably sparked a response — serves as a reminder that the Nakba is much more than a historical event.
It is an ongoing catastrophe, perhaps best exemplified by the creeping annexation of the West Bank.
Amid the confrontation centred around Al Aqsa mosque — with stones and fireworks on one side, and stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets on the other, causing hundreds of injuries — Hamas opted for its usual tactic of lobbing a bunch of missiles towards Jerusalem. They caused little damage and no casualties, whereas the Israeli response claimed the lives of at least 24 people, many of them children, in the Gaza Strip, according to reports.
That’s par for the course in that part of the world. Likewise the swift Western condemnation of Hamas’s futile attacks. More broadly there have been the usual calls for a “de-escalation on both sides” from the US and EU. Moral equivalence between the brutality of the oppressor and the resistance of the oppressed remains a problematic hurdle for Western ‘diplomacy’.
Alternatives to violence remain elusive.
This is reflected in efforts across Europe and the US, legally or legislatively sanctioned in some cases, to effectively outlaw most criticism of Israel, and specifically the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. It’s worth recalling that there was also opposition to pressure for sanctions against the South African apartheid state. It took a few decades for sufficient momentum to build up to make a difference.
It may take even longer in the case of Israel. After all, the Afrikaners who dominated South Africa lacked the leverage of a historical holocaust. Mind you, this is not to suggest that Europeans, or anyone else, ought to overlook one of the 20th century’s most atrocious crimes against humanity. On the contrary, the horrific Nazi extermination campaign against European Jews should forever serve as a particularly sordid reminder of the depths of hatred to which human beings can descend.
One can only wonder whether historical memories play any role when, for instance, German legislators effectively criminalise solidarity with Palestine amid a rising tide of neo-Nazism in their nation, when French politicians and retired generals promote Islamophobia, or when Israeli fascists mobilise to chant “death to Arabs” in Palestinian neighbourhoods.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding bipartisan opposition to a congressional effort to legislate some leverage over how generous US subsidies to Israel, mostly in the form of military aid, are used, there are persistent reports from the US suggesting that the mood over unquestioning backing for Israel is shifting, not least among younger American Jews.
It may be so, although there’s scope for scepticism. It was nonetheless intriguing to encounter an opinion column in The New York Times recently in which former CIA chief John Brennan advised Joe Biden to watch Palestinian film-maker Farah Nabulsi’s Academy Award-nominated short film The Present, which depicts the ordeals Palestinians routinely face in crossing checkpoints not between the occupied territories and Israel, but within the West Bank.
Who knows whether Biden will bother, but either way chances of a substantial policy shift in the US — perhaps the only country capable of single-handedly compelling Israel to reconsider the status quo — remain infinitesimal. It won’t matter that Human Rights Watch has at last acknowledged that Israel is guilty of the crimes of apartheid and persecution.
It will matter even less that Israel remains in a political mess, with its fourth election in two years predictably yielding no clear mandate, and its caretaker prime minister facing corruption charges and the prospect of imprisonment.
Benjamin Netanyahu was once more afforded the opportunity of forming a government after his Likud party won 30 Knesset seats in March, falling short of a majority by 31 seats. He failed, and last week Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, which won 17 seats, was invited to have a go. That effectively means either a (probably temporary) government led by Naftali Bennett (who is even nastier than Netanyahu in some respects), or a fifth election.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, has lamely put off indefinitely elections scheduled for this month. One could argue that under the circumstances, Palestinian elections, like the aspirations of young Palestinians who have never had a chance to vote, hardly matter. But how exactly do young Israelis see their future? Are they comfortable with the idea of living in, and fighting for, a proto-fascist state? Would they be willing to confide as much the next time they commune with their grandparents?
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2021