Informed Comment / August 21, 2023
Belfast – It was a normal warm summer evening in the Palestinian village of Burqa in Ramallah district until the village was attacked by armed Jewish settlers who came to steal a land in order to create another illegal outpost. As unarmed Palestinians came out to defend their village, they came under fire from the settlers who killed a Palestinian teenager called Qosai Mi’tan and wounded two others. After the killing, two suspects were arrested but released soon after. It turned out one of them was a member of the extremist party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) which is a major coalition partner in the Israeli government.
This party is led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a lawyer and serves as the National Security Minister in the Israeli government. Instead of condemning the killing or at least offer his condolences to the Palestinian victim’s family, he described the killers as heroes who will get his backing.
Ben-Gvir’s statement sent shock waves through occupied Palestine and beyond. Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Hussein Alsheikh called on the international community and international organizations to designate Ben Gvir’s party as a terrorist organization. Many Palestinians, however, still criticize the Palestinian Authority for its lack of action when it comes to Israel crimes against the Palestinians.
Even in Israel, opposition Labor Party leader, Merav Michaeli criticized Ben-Gvir’s visit to the settlers accused of the killing while they were in jail by posting on her X account “The political wing comes to visit the military wing.” She also said “This is how the organization works. A party of terror-supporters in Netanyahu’s coalition.” While it is becoming increasingly common in Israel to describe settlers’ violence towards the Palestinians as terror, it’s worth pointing out that it was the center-left Labor Party and its allies that started building the illegal Jewish settlements immediately after the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967.
In response to the recent killing, the US State Department said, “We strongly condemn yesterday’s terror attack by extremist settlers that killed a 19-year-old Palestinian.” It’s highly unlikely that the statement is a turning point in America’s foreign policy, but this announcement differs from the traditional State Department boilerplate expressing the cliché of “Israel has the right to defend itself” or at best equating between the Palestinian victims and their Israeli oppressors. The Jewish Power party was dismissive of the State Department’s remarks.
This dismissal reflects the confidence Israelis in general feel that no action will be taken against them by any Western power no matter what. Historically, any action against Israeli crimes against the Palestinians didn’t go beyond criticism, and the US has for the most part ensured this impunity by using its veto in the UN in order to block any practical punishment of Israel.
If there is a genuine desire to end to the suffering of the Palestinians and the ongoing ethnic cleansing carried out by Israel, the UN Security Council and other authorities have to take concrete action. Clearly there is a lack of desire to do so. The least that can be done is to designate the Jewish Power Party as a terrorist organization. Other actions can be freezing their financial assets or banning supremacists like Ben-Gvir from entering the US and other countries. An example of that was in 2008 when the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, banned the Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin, who was the leader of the Jewish Leadership faction in the Likud Party and later became deputy speaker of the Knesset, from entering UK due to his extremist views. Feiglin was quoted by the website Mondoweiss praising Hitler.
The double standard foreign policy which involves turning a blind eye when it comes to Israel is evident in the way western countries dealt with Russia invasion of Ukraine. Sanctions were imposed on Russia immediately and military aid to Ukraine to defend itself hasn’t stopped. In fact what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is worse than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Israel has been carrying out ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians before its official establishment on Palestinian land in 1948 with a number of western countries supporting the ethnic cleansing by different means including arming and financing Israel.
Speaking of Russia, it hasn’t taken any action to help the Palestinians either. Putin’s Russia has allowed Israel to bomb Syria with stunning silence from those who are duped with Putin assuming that he is anti-imperialist. At the same time, despite Israel being heavily reliant on American military and financial aid, it has been reluctant to help Ukraine, desiring to keep its good relations with Russia, which decided recently to open a new consulate in Jerusalem.
Clearly ending the inhumane situation in Palestine might start by calling things with their real names. Treating Ben-Gvir’s party as a terrorist organization with all the implications that come with it would be a good start.
Mohammed Samaana, a freelance journalist published in the Belfast Telegraph, is originally from Palestine and lives in Belfast