Two-Tiered State of Israel Makes Cycle of Violence Inevitable—While Full-Press U.S. Pro-Israel Endorsement is Fracturing
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
The new conflict began as most of the earlier disputes between Israelis and Palestinians—with some further disenfranchisement of the Palestinians, in this case, a dispute over keeping their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. As usual, the Israeli government wants them to just go away, become invisible, stop making trouble for the State of Israel. While the police raid on Al-Aqsa mosque was the trigger, other factors were building towards the ensuing war, including the Israeli government’s struggle to survive, Hamas’ pursuit of an expanded role in the Palestinian movement, and younger Palestinians asserting themselves and their aspirations. Furthermore, U.S. foreign policy has aided and abetted the Netanyahu regime in furthering its aims of Judaizing occupied Palestine. Now, the U.S. Democratic party front of consistent support for Israel is fracturing.
State violence, Israel’s tool of dispossessing and controlling Palestinians
It’s those visible Palestinians again, like those who want to keep their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, who are making trouble for the State of Israel. If they would just go away quietly, that would solve the problem. But, no, Israel must cleanse the neighborhood of Arabs in East Jerusalem, so the City of Jerusalem that is holy for the three Abrahamic faiths can belong exclusively to the Jews. Israel defines the problem as “a real estate dispute between private properties.” So much for transparency in Israel’s policy of disappearing the Palestinians, pushing them off of valued land to fend for themselves.
The reality and unaccountability of official Israel policy is captured precisely in a Washington Post op ed. “Palestinian homes are demolished because they are built without permits – in a system designed to deny Palestinians the ability to get those. Or this one: Palestinians are killed with impunity by Israel security forces – in a system designed almost never to hold anyone accountable. Or the fact that settler organizations are moving into ‘mixed’ cities within Israel proper – the very cities from which most Palestinians were made refugees 73 years ago and not allowed to return to – in a system designed to further Judaize the land.” Strong words, these, but truthful words, indeed.
That same op ed becomes much harsher as it unfolds, stating that “Apartheid is the organizing principle that connects all these forms of colonization and transfer disenfranchisement and oppression domination and supremacy. Palestinians can be second-class citizens, permanent residents, occupied subjects, or refugees. The details vary, but the pattern is the same: All Palestinians living under Israel are treated as inferior in rights and status to Jews who live in the same area.” We see in these kinds of conditions the seeds of frustration that unfortunately lead to non-peaceful modes of conflict resolution, such as Hamas’ firing rockets at the occupier.
A period of perceived calm, including Trump’s enabling of Israel, followed by an explosion of yet another Israel-Palestinian conflict
It was almost predictable. The Israeli government was in the process of evicting Palestinian Arabs from their East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli police had entered Al-Aqsa mosque to hassle Palestinians protesting the evictions, and Prime Minister Netanyahu was displacing his political and legal troubles with a new level of violence against Israel’s second-class citizens and non-citizens. Complicating this picture was the timing of the police entry of Al-Aqsa during the holy month of Ramadan and Memorial Day in Israel honoring those defending the country in war. Just to make sure the protesters got the message, the police cut the loudspeaker cables that carry the prayers.
The police raid on Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site, was just a prelude to the disastrous civil unrest that broke loose. Following that, according to the New York Times, quoting Shaikh Ekrima Sabri, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, “This was the turning point. Their actions would cause the situation to deteriorate.” The devastation that has ensued has been rapid, highly destructive, and broad-based, including not only the war with Hamas in Gaza, but the civil conflict between Jews and Arabs in cities across Israel and the West Bank. Even conflict among Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews has been noted as far more serious than ever before.
While the raid on Al-Aqsa was the trigger, other factors were building towards the ensuing war, including the Netanyahu government’s struggle to survive, Hamas’ pursuit of an expanded role in the Palestinian movement, and, per the NYTimes, “as a new generation of Palestinians was asserting its own values and goals.” The war was further exacerbated by an almost complete blockade on Gaza by Israel, years of chewing up more and more land in the occupied West Bank for Jewish settlers, more of which occurred under the Trump regime than previously, and oppressive discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.
On the Israeli side of this new war, we cannot omit the motives and needs of a desperate leadership, which is experiencing a weakened base of the general electorate, while at the same time trying to appeal to the smaller but highly vocal far right. Those deficits did not offer an incentive for Netanyahu to lower the steam on the war. Simultaneously, Hamas saw this as an opening to create its own trouble.
One religious leader of Al-Aqsa, Sheikh Omar al-Kissawani, perhaps best captured the centrality of the issue from the Arab perspective. Quoted by the NYTimes, Kissawani noted hours after the raid, “This is about the Judaization of the city of Jerusalem. It’s about deterring people from going to Al-Aqsa.” It is also about the Israeli court final hearing on Sheikh Jarrah, which is also about Jews’ celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem through the Arab-Israel war of 1967.
Part of President Biden’s party adopts a harder line towards Israel in the face of renewed Arab-Israel Civil War
For years, U.S. foreign policy has aided and abetted the Netanyahu regime in furthering its aims of Judaizing occupied Palestine. It has done so through funding the government directly but also by vetoing almost every United Nations resolution that would return to Palestinians their human and civil rights. The U.S. has also attempted to play the honest broker role in mediating the peace process, but such attempts have resulted in failure. Such one-sided U.S. support of Israel may be changing this time around, however, as some key Democrats back a harsher stance toward Israel.
Even though Democrats have usually supported Israel as a foreign policy goal, according to Politico, they “are beginning to question the lockstep bipartisan support for Israel that existed across Washington. While not abandoning America’s historically strong ties to Israel, Democrats aren’t flinching this week in their calls for a tougher posture against aggression toward Palestinians.” Democrats are seeking a more balanced treatment of the Israel-Palestinian relationship, in which Israel’s security needs are met but in which Palestinians rights and liberties are observed.
One example of a key Democrat speaking out is Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. In the context of Israeli eviction of residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, Van Hollen stated, “If the Biden administration puts the rule of law and human rights at the heart of its foreign policy, this is not a moment for tepid statements.” Otherwise, he claimed, such evictions would be a violation of international law. Another Senator, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, stated, “We’re in this moment today because Hamas made a horrible mistake and fired rockets unprovoked into Israel. But we also got here because the Israeli government has effectively eliminated the prospect of a viable future Palestinian state.” Yet another Congressman, Representative from Michigan, Andy Levin said, “The administration must take this issue off the back burner and more urgently undo the harms done by the Trump administration that heightened tensions and pushed peace further out of reach.” Levin also advised that Israel stop its “occupation and creeping annexation.”
Other Democrats have also spoken out in favor of a more forceful approach with the Israel government. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, wrote in an op ed, “[I]f the United States is going to be a credible voice on human rights on the global stage, we must uphold international standards of human rights consistently, even when it’s politically difficult. We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter.” Sharing a similar point of view was Representative of New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said, “The fact that this administration is even hesitating to take such a basic humane stance is disappointing and unacceptable. We can’t advance this idea that we’re some neutral party in this situation if our actions are consistently targeting Palestinians.”
The cycle of violence that has characterized the Israel-Palestine relationship since the founding of Israel in 1948 has only worsened over the decades. Each time, a stop-gap solution has been applied, followed by a false sense of calm, then the nightmare recurs again and again. Structural issues involved in allowing Palestinians to live in a just world, versus Israel’s efforts to make the continuing injustice disappear after each conflict, are becoming harder to ignore. We do so at our own peril.
“Israel has chosen a two-tiered society—Violence is the inevitable result,” Hagal El-Ad (executive director B’Tselem, a Jerusalem-based human rights organization), Outlook, Washington Post, 5/16/2021
“Democrats embrace a tougher tack toward Israel as violence flares,” Politico, 5/15/2021
“After Years of Quiet, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Exploded. Why Now?” New York Times, 5/16/2021
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He did fieldwork in an east Libyan Saharan oasis and has taught at the University of Libya-Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo. John served with the United Nations as an advisor in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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