Michael Lavalette explains why Israel has escalated its violence against Palestinians and how Palestinians are resisting
Israeli state violence against Palestinians always increases during the holy month of Ramadan. They implement more roadblocks, initiate more incursions into Palestinian areas in the West Bank, launch attacks on Gaza and harass those trying to enter the Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are situated.
In this sense, the events of the last few weeks might be viewed as part of the normal routine of control, abuse, harassment and oppression of the Palestinian people by Israeli occupation forces. But I think it would be wrong to just dismiss the events of the last month as simply the horrific ‘norm’ of Palestinian life.
Things are definitely more tense, the attacks more vicious and the killing spree more significant than has been the case over recent years.
This Ramadan, the Israeli occupation forces regularly entered the Haram al-Sharif compound. Muslim men, women and children were beaten and arrested simply for trying to pray. The windows of the Al-Aqsa Mosque were smashed by troops, and gas canisters and rubber bullets used against worshippers.
On each of the Fridays of Ramadan, there were mass arrests of Palestinians as they tried to enter the Old City on their way to Jumu’ah prayers. The Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City has become a heavily policed site of random attack and arrest of (mainly young) Palestinians. The scale of the attacks is quite shocking. On the second Friday of Ramadan alone, 150 Palestinians were injured and 400 arrested as occupation forces stormed the Mosque compound.
But it’s not simply Palestinian Muslims who have suffered. Palestinian Christians were stopped from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate the Holy Fire event, which takes place on the Saturday before the Orthodox Easter. Christian pilgrims and celebrants were allowed to take part in the event, unless they were Palestinian. Palestinians were separated out, banned from entering the Church, attacked and arrested by Israeli forces.
The arrests and killings have not just been limited to Jerusalem. There have been incursions into refugee camps across the northern sector of the West Bank (especially in Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarm). According to the human rights organisation Euro-Med Monitor, so far during 2022 the Israelis are killing Palestinians on the West Bank at five times the rate of 2021. To date in 2022 there have been 36 Palestinians killed and a further 943 have been seriously injured.
And of course, there have been attacks and raids on Gaza with a series of bombing raids on the central Gaza strip.
To understand what is going on, I think we need to look at three interlinked aspects.
Naftali Bennett and the far right
First, the Israeli government is a very unstable amalgam of forces under the leadership of the far right. Rather bizarrely the right-wing coalition also includes some Arab Islamist groupings. The government has given support to settler groups and settlement expansion, supported the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah, and de facto given occupation forces free rein to respond violently to Palestinian protest when, at the start of the month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett granted a mandate to the army to wage an unrelenting war on (what he called) terrorism.
Nevertheless, the fact that the government includes Arabs has not gone down well with many far-right activists and settler groups. Zionist and extremist settler forces, in a direct challenge to the government, staged an illegal march through the Old City on the weekend of Passover in an attempt to storm the Mosque compound. For a government in trouble, lashing out at Palestinians is a way of trying to bolster up their support amongst their core.
Second, last year, after similar tensions during Ramadan, the Israelis attacked Gaza. Last year, this provoked a response from Palestinian communities right across Palestine48 (inside Israel). This was the most significant political action by Palestinian communities inside Palestine48 in support of their brothers and sisters in Gaza and the West Bank since the end of the First Intifada.
Then, in the late 1980s, the Palestinian community right across Palesine48 were involved in the campaign and activities of the uprising. The institutionalised separation of the West Bank and Gaza, the creation of the Palestinian Authority as a consequence of the Oslo Accords, broke that link to some extent. But last year, to see strikes and protests in Palestinian villages and towns across Palestine48 was really very heartening.
Furthermore, for a period during and immediately after the Second Intifada, Israel tried to stop Palestinian workers from Gaza and the West Bank entering Palestine48. The Apartheid Wall was built to exclude them and to stop their movement. But increasingly more and more Palestinian workers from the West Bank (not Gaza) cross through the Wall and its various checkpoints to work inside Palestine48.
They work inside the export zones in factories, and they work on building sites in towns and cities across the country. In Tel Aviv, for example, there are large building projects, and most are reliant on Palestinian labour.
Now I don’t want to exaggerate. This is not like South Africa in the 1980s where the entire economy was dependent on Black South African labour and the South African trade unions became the key force in the liberation struggle. Palestine48 is not like that. But it is certainly true that there is a shift in the makeup of the labour force inside Palestine48. And this, alongside the rebuilt connections between Palestinians ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of Palestine48, opens up interesting possibilities for the renewal of the struggle.
This has created a separate and different problem for the Israelis: how do they control the growing Palestinian population within ‘their’ borders.
Making matters worse for them, over the last few months, there have been attacks on Israelis inside Palestine48 itself (in Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva) where the gunmen were either working inside Palestine48 or had the support of some Palestinians with residency there.
The impact of the apartheid system on Palestinians inside Palestine48, the consequences of cantonisation of the West Bank, the repeated military assaults on Gaza are building huge political and social tensions. Traditionally the Israelis respond by tightening the pressure-cooker lid, but you can only do that for so long. Eventually the demand for justice and rights will burst out and it can do so in ways that the Israelis will find difficult to control.
‘Mowing the lawn’
Third, in the recent past, the Israelis try to impose their control in part by what they have termed, ‘mowing the lawn’. What they mean by this is the fairly regular military assaults that kill and maim Palestinian youth and lead to the arrest of many more - all as a way of ‘decapitating’ the resistance movements, disrupting recruitment to their ranks and wiping out key militants. And the Israelis have always been opportunist: when the eyes of the world are on conflicts and crises elsewhere, they are not averse to increasing their violence against Palestinians.
Ukraine, Israel and imperialism
The opportunism of Israel is paralleled by the hypocrisy of the West towards international law.
The Russian invasion and attack on Ukraine are an outrage and Russian troops should get out now. But the UK and US government take this position with regard to Ukraine while ignoring equally horrendous attacks and invasions when they undertake them (Iraq and Afghanistan being the obvious recent examples) or when their allies act in a similar way.
So today in Yemen or Palestine, the governments of Saudi Arabia or Israel attack, invade and brutalise civilians, while the UK and US say nothing. Of course, US and UK support for Israel has deeper roots. It is deeply embedded in the imperial carve-up of the Middle East and the way that Israel has positioned itself as the ‘watchdog’ for Western imperialism in the region.
Israel is a sub-imperial power in the region, it acts in its own interests, but it is also willing to act in the interests of wider Western interests in the area. And for this reason any time there is an attempt to criticise Israel for its mistreatment of the Palestinians, the US and UK rally to their side.
The liberation of Palestine will not be delivered by the international solidarity movement. The liberation of Palestine will be painted in Palestinian colours! It is the people of Palestine - and the wider Arab world - who will lead the campaign for their own freedom (from imperialism, from Israel and from their own quisling leaders). It was the same in South Africa – it was the people of South Africa who threw off the shackles of apartheid, not the international anti-apartheid movement.
But whilst we must start with that assertion, we must also make clear that there is a key supportive role to be played by the global solidarity movement. When Israel launches its next assault on Gaza (as it will) or if it invades the Jenin camp (as it may well do) we need to take to the streets and raise our voice against another Israeli atrocity. Recent history shows that, when Israel attacks, if we come out in big enough numbers across the world, we can shine a light on their murderous activities and bring pressure on them to stop their war on Palestine.
In our unions and community groups we should look to implement the BDS campaign. It raises spirits in Palestine and, in our unions and community groups, it raises awareness of international political issues.
In our personal lives we need to take the decision to make sure we do not buy Israeli goods.
If we work in HE, or are students, or if we work in local government or are elected politicians, we need to campaign to ensure that there is no attempt to ratify the IHRA definition of antisemitism, because it equates criticism of the Israeli state with antisemitism, a position which is simply untenable.
There is no doubt that this government (and the Labour Party leadership) want to silence criticism of Israel and the voice of Palestinian solidarity. This can be seen in the Tories’ plan to outlaw BDS, and the attacks on Shahd Abusalama, Lowkey and Labour Party members who support Palestine.
In response we need to make the cause of Palestine part of our political routine and we need to be embedded in the international solidarity campaigns that are fighting for justice for Palestine.
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