Sansom Milton & Mohammad Alhamawi
Middle East Eye / May 18, 2023
On the Nakba’s 75th anniversary, people around the world must become more engaged with the desperate plight of the Palestinian people and Israeli barbarism against them.
A year after the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, two years after the May 2021 war, and 75 years since the Nakba, the Israeli state persists in its utilization of disproportionate violence against Palestine, shrouded under the guise of security.
The five-day round of violence, called “Operation Shield and Arrow”, was characterized by a return to the policy of assassinations, seemingly at the request of Itamar Ben-Gvir, and is part of the once “invincible” Israeli government’s attempt to once again re-establish its power of deterrence.
Moreover, the recent rounds of aggression, in 2021, 2022 and 2023, following a seven-year hiatus of major conflagrations between 2015 and 2021, have been carried out with the intention of weakening the Palestinian factions – this time the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) – and then to subsequently negotiate a ceasefire that preserves the changed status quo.
Now, Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security, has managed to hold the government hostage for a ransom of the Palestinian leadership in Gaza. This embodiment of the linkages between Israel’s electoral politics and military operations undertaken by the Israeli military is not in isolation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been faced with the challenge of balancing his own agenda with that of Ben-Gvir in order to stay in power. The attempted judicial overhaul is another example of this balancing act. Not pursuing these reforms would probably have collapsed the Israeli ruling coalition and sent the embattled prime minister back to the opposition benches – and possibly to the realm of the judicial unknown concerning his corruption charges.
His electoral position is certainly made more difficult as some polls, before this month’s aggression, had shown that his government was unpopular in its overall performance. Thus, Netanyahu has been in a battle for political survival for some time now.
Nonetheless, a resurgence in the policy of assassinations neither ends nor deters Palestinian resistance operations. This policy has killed various prominent leaders in the Palestinian factions in the past, notably those who have established the factions’ military capabilities. Yet, the factions in the Gaza Strip continue to develop, advance and deploy new technology against Israel – albeit technology inferior to that of the Israelis.
Their goal here is not necessarily to cause death, but to make the cost of attacking the Gaza Strip high enough to deter further Israeli aggression. For instance, while the rockets and missiles launched from Gaza do not regularly hit “a target”, they incur a cost of up to $180,000 per missile interception by the Iron Dome, and nearly $1m per missile interception by David’s Slingshot – a missile that costs the different Palestinian factions no more than $800.
Additionally, during the May 2021 round, the Israeli economy suffered anywhere between $368m and $2.5bn in losses.
The populations of Gaza, and indeed Palestine, find themselves bereft of international avenues to seek assistance, intervention or justice. This is a direct result of a western policy to cut out the de facto authority in Gaza – Hamas – from the international sphere, while allowing for a modicum of communication between the group and Egypt and Qatar, the consistent mediators in Gaza.
Even the brokered “calm” that follows these Israeli attacks is anything but. It is merely a different form of violence against the Gaza Strip – a structural and economic one – that only serves to exacerbate the worsening living conditions in the territory.
As the people of Gaza gather to pick up the pieces following yet another round of bombing followed by ceasefire, the inevitable question arises – when will the next wave of Israeli aggression begin? A question that ceaselessly looms over the strip. Even with a security guarantor – usually Egypt – to mediate and back a ceasefire, there is little that can be done to rein in the Israeli state.
Thus, ceasefires can be short-lived and a renewed outbreak of aggression against the Gaza Strip is inevitable. The most recent ceasefire, which went into effect on 13 May, stipulated that the “two sides will abide by the ceasefire which will include … an end to targeting individuals immediately when the ceasefire goes into effect”.
While the representatives of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) declared that this meant that Israel would not return to the policy of assassinations, some Israeli security sources rebuffed the notion that they were bound by such terms in the ceasefire.
As such, it would be incredibly naive to believe that the Israeli state will not launch another attack when it deemed it necessary to its interests. Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli far-right finance minister, even said that “the moment will come when there won’t be a choice but to reconquer Gaza”.
Absence of political will
It would also be naive to sit idly and wait for other governments and states to stand up to the injustice that this occupying power embodies. The ability to take swift action, or even so much as a decisive stand, against such aggressions, is present, as seen elsewhere.
However, there is a clear absence of political will to do so. For many, the viability of alleviating the suffering of Palestinians is offset by the possible head-on confrontation with the Israeli government.
The conspicuous absence of accountability, from both the Israeli public and the international community, underscores the recurrent nature of Israeli aggressions against the Gaza Strip. And the Israeli ruling class, in all its ideological forms, from the “left” to the “right”, has heaped praise on the attacks.
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli electorate only finds its voice to defend democracy and life with dignity when it comes to the judicial overhaul, and not when the Israeli government acts in violation of international law, whether through settlement expansion or the policy of apartheid.
A collaborationist entity
The Palestinian people have also been dealt a collaborationist political entity, the Palestinian Authority (PA), by which they are governed and policed, and which they have not been permitted to give consent to through elections.
The 33 killed in Gaza during the latest round joined more than 100 other Palestinians killed at the hands of the Israeli state since the beginning of 2023.
What can the PA do to stop this? Absolutely nothing. What can a hollowed-out ceremonial political entity do after it has signed away any power, and real legitimacy, it held to its occupying power?
Furthermore, the international perception of the Palestinian “issue” is fundamentally flawed, and this is rooted in its understanding of the “conflict”. The constant portrayal of this as a “conflict” or “clash” implies that there are two more or less “equal sides”. This is certainly not the case.
One “side” is armed to the teeth with over $3.8bn in annual US military assistance, while the other is a blockaded and internationally ostracized territory that may import life-saving materials with the permission of the other “side”.
This perception only serves to dehumanize Palestinians into legitimate targets of the Israeli state, where arbitrary labelling of Palestinians as “terrorists” is meant to justify the brutality of Israeli military operations and those otherwise perceived as “innocent” as mere “collateral damage”. The responsibility for this consciousness around the language of conflict falls on the audience.
Thus, and in the face of the enabling positions of western governments, there is no excuse for ignorance in the modern era of greater media freedom and accessibility. It is up to the people themselves to grow and increase critical engagement with, and awareness of, the plight of the Palestinian people as the world gathers to commemorate the 75th birthday of the Israeli state – and the 75th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba.
Sansom Milton is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha, Qatar
Mohammad Alhamawi is a Research Fellow at the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS) in Doha, Qatar