THIS is not the first time the people in Gaza have suffered Israeli brutality that has caused death and devastation. Yet the kind of ferocious and incessant bombardment carried out by the Zionist administration this time has not been seen for a long while. Children and women are among the main casualties of Israel’s latest military action that has entered its second week.
Harrowing scenes of the bodies of young children being dug out of the rubble give a glimpse into Israel’s savagery. The death toll in Israeli air raids over the past week is over 200. Israeli jets have struck homes, refugee camps, medical facilities and even school buildings, besides razing to the ground a high-rise building housing international media offices in an apparent attempt to stop coverage of its atrocities. According to some observers, this level of destruction was not seen even in the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza. There is no question that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, that has mostly targeted the civilian population, amounts to war crimes.
Thousands of Palestinians have been displaced. Many residents belong to families forced to flee Palestinian villages in 1948 by the Israeli forces. The recent atrocities have coincided with the anniversary of the Nakba, or the catastrophe, that marked their original dispossession more than seven decades ago.
Israel’s latest action is a continuation of a long war on the Palestinians.
Gaza may have borne the brunt of the latest wave of Israeli hostilities but the violence has spread to other areas of the occupied territories too. The Israeli government has tried to justify its military action in Gaza as retaliation to Hamas rocket-fire targeting its territory. But this is far from the truth. The latest round of violence was triggered by Israel’s move to forcibly evict Palestinian families from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem.
Palestinian families have been living under constant threat of eviction for many years but over the past weeks, extremist Jewish groups have intensified their attacks on them and led provocative marches in order to force them out, all with the tacit approval of the right-wing Israeli government. They are using a questionable law to forcibly occupy Palestinian properties. The forced evictions are just one part of a broader Israeli policy of colonisation and usurpation of the basic human rights of the Palestinian population.
Over the years there has been a rapid expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a bid to change the demography of the occupied lands. Meanwhile, the continuing blockade of Gaza has made the life of over two million Palestinians living in cramped localities increasingly intolerable.
There has also been simmering tension over the Israeli policy of apartheid and racism against the Palestinian population in Israel that has now exploded. It may be the beginning of a new intifada. Israel has a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing, one that aims to force the Arab population to leave.
Israel’s latest action must not be seen in isolation. In fact, it is a continuation of what Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian scholar and professor at Columbia University, has described as The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. Tracing the roots of the Palestinian tragedy, Khalidi in his seminal book points out that this war possesses characteristics specific to a colonial campaign. “For over a century, the Palestinians have been depicted in precisely the same language by their colonisers as have been other indigenous peoples,” he wrote.
Israel’s main objective is to force out the entire Palestinian population from their homeland. It’s a new Nakba in operation, perhaps more ruthless than the previous one. Unconditional external support from its Western allies, particularly from the United States, has given the Israeli state greater impetus to complete its colonisation of the entire occupied territory.
Although successive American administrations have fully backed Israel’s bellicosity, the Trump administration gave Tel Aviv carte blanche for Israeli expansionism. It ordered the shifting of its embassy to Jerusalem and approved Israel’s move to establish new settlements in the occupied territories. Trump virtually buried the two-state plan that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state. That also saw a marked increase in Israeli bellicosity.
Trump also persuaded some Muslim countries to recognise Israel, further encouraging the latter to tighten its colonial control. Over the past few years, we have seen a marked increase in the political and economic suppression of the Palestinian population. Ironically, the latest devastation of Gaza and the genocide of the Palestinian population have come after some Gulf countries decided to recognise Israel last year.
As expected, the change of administration has not altered America’s unconditional support for Israel. While the Biden administration may have a more nuanced approach than its predecessor, it remains unapologetic about the latest Israeli aggression and the killing of innocent women and children in Gaza. As Israeli jets pounded the civilian population in Gaza, Washington didn’t even condemn the barbarism, let alone call for a ceasefire (it was only later that President Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire”). It stymied the UN Security Council meeting for several days allowing Israel to continue with its aggression. The Biden administration also blocked UN Security Council statements demanding a ceasefire.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicated that it was up to the parties to decide whether they wanted to pursue a ceasefire. The statement meant that Israel has no incentive to end the military action and find a solution to the conflict.
But the silver lining is that public support in the US and other Western countries for Palestinian rights is getting louder. #PalestinianLivesMatter has become a major slogan. Can that stop Israel bellicosity and its attempt to further colonise Palestinian lands though? The Palestinian people have stood defiant in the face of Israeli barbarism. But they need the support of the international community to continue fighting for their rights. There cannot be peace in the region if Israeli colonisation is not stopped and the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own is not recognised.
The writer is the author of No-Win War — The Paradox of US-Pakistan Relations in Afghanistan’s Shadow.
Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2021