Common Dreams / July 8, 2023
The moment and the history require more than just wringing our hands in despair at every next episode of violence and the backlash it engenders.
In the wake of the largest Israeli military assault in the occupied West Bank in nearly 20 years, escalating a horrific year of violence against Palestinians, it’s time to ask what is the end game for Israel’s most extremist far right government, and its most important patron, the United States.
The U.S. has an obligation to promote real change in the deteriorating “facts on the ground,” a phrase dating as far back as the 1970s to dismiss those objecting to the rapid pace of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Continuing its long practice under multiple administrations, the U.S. in last December’s debt ceiling bill included nearly $4 billion as the latest annual U.S. military aid to Israel, though it did restore $300 million for Palestinian humanitarian programs cut off by former President Trump.
Voices calling for a change have grown. But largely uncritical support of Israel remains the overwhelming majority in both major parties, the U.S. foreign policy establishment and the editorial policy of the corporate U.S. media. It is enforced by repudiation and ostracizing of politicians who criticize Israeli policies and human rights abuses, and the hammer of an aggressive Israeli lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which has sharply escalated campaigns to defeat Democrats who fail to toe the line.
To recap, on July 3, Israel mounted a major aerial and ground offensive with 1,000 troops in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. It left at least 12 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier dead, more than 100 Palestinians wounded, and massive destruction in a refugee camp and surrounding neighborhoods.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, reported Jon Queally of Common Dreams, said bombings and other military activity “caused a complete power outage across the camp’s neighborhoods as well as cutting off water supplies and internet services, exacerbating the humanitarian situation and isolating the camp from the outside world.”
Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) said that destruction of multiple roads by military bulldozers blocked ambulances from reaching the wounded. “Palestinian paramedics (were) forced to proceed on foot to reach people in need of desperate medical treatment in an area with active gunfire and drone strikes.”
Jovana Arsenijevic, MSF’s operations coordinator in Jenin, said that “Israeli forces fired tear gas several times inside the Khalil Suleiman hospital. The emergency room is not usable right now — it’s completely filled with smoke, as is the rest of the hospital. People who need treatment can’t be treated in the ER, and we have to treat the wounded in the main hall on the floor.”
Israel’s explanation for the Jenin raid was the presence of armed militants in the camp who have launched their own violent attacks on Israelis. How did Israel’s primary supporter respond? With a predictable statement from the White House that “We support Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups.”
And a State Department addendum that probably moved few in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, that “it is imperative to take all possible precautions to prevent the loss of civilian lives.” To which Mairav Zonszein of the International Crisis Group commented, “Because an operation like Jenin doesn’t get any condemnation, it basically gives a passive green light to the government to continue with such operations.”
Any killings of civilians demand condemnation. Yet, after a half century the occupation has grown more repressive, with the most racist, anti-Palestinian government ever in Israel systemically accelerating military actions and policing, political and legal restrictions. At some point armed resistance should not surprise anyone, any more than did armed struggle against apartheid South Africa.
“Once-fringe Jewish supremacists and settler activists now have key roles in Netanyahu’s government overseeing policing and policies concerning Palestinians and the West Bank,” wrote Niha Masih and Miriam Berger in The Washington Post this week.
Recent raids, tweeted Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian politician, have “generated field unity among Palestinian resistance fighters” and “compounded the anger, resentment, & drive for revenge among different generations of Palestinians.” Escalating Israeli tactics, she added, “have furthered Palestinian fears about Netanyahu’s ultimate aims: “publicly & totally revealed his real intentions of preventing any Palestinian form of self-determination or sovereignty.”
“While support for a two-state solution remains Washington’s official policy,” the Post writers noted, “negotiations between the two sides have been dormant for years. The expansion of Israeli settlements and the emboldening of Israeli settlers has also made any separation practically impossible.”
That’s the reality, no matter how many U.S. politicians bury their heads deep in the sand. No matter how many dissenting voices the Israeli lobby in Washington and its groups like AIPAC seek to politically destroy.
It is the inconvenient reality for all of us who would like to see a social justice settlement to a seemingly intractable decades-long war. The moment and the history require more than just wringing our hands in despair at every next episode of violence and the backlash it engenders. The hour has arrived to address an existential crisis for Palestinians and Israelis, that affects Americans as well, by asking some fundamental questions.
- Since the modest U.S. critiques have proven ineffective, how do we justify unquestioned financial and political support for a government that continues to expand apartheid policies?
- What does the Biden administration and U.S. foreign policy establishment believe should be an effective, humane, U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine? How do they intend to get there?
- Rather than mostly ignoring Israel’s violations of human rights and routine use of collective punishment, which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, should the U.S. stop vetoing UN resolutions that criticize those actions?
- What, as Hanan Ashrawi asks, is the “ultimate aim” of the Netanyahu government? Annexation of the West Bank with full citizenship only for Jews?
- What rights, if any, does the Israeli governing coalition envision for the roughly 3 million Palestinians in the virtual prison of the West Bank and East Jerusalem? The right to vote in Israeli elections; to run without interference their own educational, health care and other institutions; to own land free from expropriation by the state and live in homes free from the military bulldozers; to be treated fairly in the Israeli legal system?
- Do the Israeli establishment and larger Israeli public believe continued repression and killing of protesters and bystanders will silence violent resistance to an intensively repressive occupation?
- What message does the current path send to the Arab/Muslim residents of the pre-1967 borders of Israel about their rights and future in an increasingly militarized, religious, repressive state?
- Do Israel, and its U.S. backers, expect that agreements with the Saudis and other autocratic Arab regimes will end Palestinian resistance?
- Has the day finally come for the U.S. to end the wink and a nod for worsening Israeli policies by cutting military aid, and stop censuring grassroots activism for proposing boycott and divestment, tactics that contributed to ending apartheid in South Africa?
- Must we give up the dream of a just, peaceful solution to this long war that respects the rights, the sovereignty, self-determination and security for all people in Israel and Palestine. If not, what is the inevitable and terrifying end game?
Chuck Idelson is the Communications Senior Strategist for National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional organization of registered nurses with 175,000 members