Israel – foundling of a failing empire (British) on the backyard of another (Ottoman), within the nightmare shadow of a third (Nazi), adopted by a fourth (US), whose exploitative bid to establish a proxy imperial force in the Middle East and scatter competing candidates for imperial failure (including Soviet, Arab, and Iranian), has helped beget and stiffen this settler-dominated, nuclear, dependent, theocratic, apartheid, political entity (i.e. a state and the territories it has forcibly annexed) of approximately seven million Israelis (mainly Jews) and seven million Palestinians (mainly Muslim) – equivalent to only a third of the population of California – whose perennial conflict is a disproportionately fractious threat to a planet of eight billion.
Knee-jerk deference to Israeli interests is exhibited by all US administrations – none less than in the case of the current Biden-Blinken team, who have even resurrected a frothy insistence on US support for the “two-state” solution as the only possible solution. Of course, there will be some insignificant distracting theatrics in response to progressive Democratic protest. It is more important to note that resort to “two-state” nonsense is depressing at various levels, most particularly because of what it reveals about the odious combination of ignorance, misunderstanding and hypocrisy, and the resounding absence of anything resembling imagination in the US State Department. If the two-state solution were going to work, it would have worked by now. It has had at the very least, twenty-five years of gestation. It was and is a still-birth. It has not worked, because it could never have worked.
The Oslo Accords of 1993 were deeply deceptive: they pretended to settle a relationship between one all-powerful and one powerless entity as though they were equals, in a territorial arrangement which could never, can never, make any life worth living, nor any sense whatsoever. If Biden and Blinken cannot do better than drag out the shibboleth of a two-state solution they either do not have a grip, are incapable of getting a grip, or they are committed to a solution that they know perfectly well is a piece of nonsense. The principal reasons are as follows. The idea of a two-state solution is a commitment to the creation of two adjacent extremist feudal, theocratic entities, of which one is a highly militarized, rogue nuclear power that is heavily dependent on US subsidy for its continued existence, and the other is divided between a sleepy stooge (Al-Fatah), in charge of the Palestinian Authority, and several jihadist groups of which Hamas is currently the most energetic, heavily subsidized by a cluster of Islamic, Arab, and Iranian powers, among others, all with their own state interests. Adjacency, in whatever misshapen, fragmented headache that diplomats can nightmare, is no pancea for peaceful relations.
The knee-jerk reflex of Biden-Blinken is generally presumed to reflect a deep-State US need for Israel as a nuclear US proxy in the Middle East that will keep at bay, and in obedience, all the region’s competing powers and allow the USA a master hand in controlling fossil fuel sources and routes. This presumption is debunked by Larry Wilkerson, a retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He thinks of Israel not as a strategic asset but as a strategic liability. Indeed, he cites the Joint Chiefs of Staff for President Truman as regarding Israel as a strategic deficiency because it was surrounded by 400 million Arabs even as it forged a path to apartheid status (see May 2021 Human Rights Watch judgment below).
“That’s why I said in that speech, and I have said subsequently, publicly and privately, Israel is in its most dangerous time and we are part of that danger because we’re aiding and abetting this state that is not a democracy, that exercises power brutally, that looks more like those who oppress them in the forties and the late thirties than they do the democracy we first recognized, and that’s not good for the United States and it’s not good for Israel”.
Wilkerson predicts that Israel will lose US support as the scale of its atrocities against Palestine become more visible, even in mainstream media whose foibles are increasingly held to ridicule by alternative media (see MediaLens on the “savage punishment of Gaza,”). If Israel, its reckless elites fueled by greater-Israel fantasies, evolves further in the direction of apartheid, it will cease to exist. Americans will wake up to the reality that subsidizing a nuclear state that has not signed the non-proliferation treaty is illegal, and to the consequences of that reality for what it says about them, about international Judaism, and about the direction of 21st century diplomacy. Without US subsidy there is no Israel.
Since the two-state concept is a nonstarter, therefore, there is only one real solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is a unitary state that is integrative, secular, democratic, and fundamentally equitable in relations to all its citizens – in the sense nor merely of genuine equality of opportunity (requiring massive investment in education, healthcare, transportation, and housing for all) but also in terms of full compensation for previous wrongs committed and redistribution of wealth. This state needs to be independent of the political, financial, and other shenanigans of Western and Arab powers. It will not be easy, but it is possible, with hard work, and infinitely more possible than an artificial arrangement that presages ever more racist hostility, violence and destruction, international opprobrium, inequality of wealth and opportunity, the nihilist seduction of nuclear weapons.
The Puppet State
Israel and the US media like to concentrate on what they claim is extensive aid to Palestine from Iran. They do not pretend to explain how it is that a country like Iran which is demonized by the West for its alleged aspiration to and near-realization (they insist) of nuclear weapon status, and whose “threat” status in terms of sophisticated technology requires regular Mossad and US assassinations of Iranian scientists and military personnel, can be responsible for the horribly low sophistication and inefficacy of Palestinian weaponry that for the most part has been paralyzed since 2011 by Israel’s Iron Dome, a US gift to its regional proxy. Either Iran is a good deal less sophisticated than US and Israeli fear-mongering propaganda needs us to believe, or that Shia-dominated Iran is not wholly enthusiastic about supporting Sunni jihad in Palestine, or that Palestinians are quite self-sufficient in the manufacture of ineffective missiles (in ever larger numbers so as to ensure that at least a handful penetrate the dome). Probably all three explanations apply.
The country that is shockingly dependent on foreign goodwill and subsidy is Israel. The USA provides Israel nearly $10.5 million in military aid per day, while it gives the Palestinians $0 in military aid. This dwarfs the amount that the USA provides to any other state. Israel has been the largest annual recipient of direct U.S. economic and military assistance since 1976 and the largest total recipient since World War ll ($142 billion in total cumulative aid, not adjusted for inflation, by 2020; if opportunity costs and costs to US taxpayers contingent upon the main aid are included, the total could run to several trillion dollars). The US President’s request for Israel for 2021 represented approximately 59% of total U.S. foreign military financing worldwide, and one fifth of its entire foreign aid budget. Annual military financial aid to Israel represents approximately 20% of the overall Israeli defense budget. Israel’s defense expenditure as a percentage of its Gross Domestic Product (5.3% in 2019) is one of the highest percentages in the world. US subsidy to Israel, paid for by US taxpayers with a direct negative impact on their quality of life, also feeds the Israeli economy. Contrary to usual US policy, Israel is allowed to use over a quarter of US military aid to purchase equipment from Israeli manufacturers. This has fortified the Israeli arms industry to the extent that by 2020 it had become the world’s eighth largest arms exporter, selling $7.2 billion in military goods to other countries. Some US aid feeds into other parts of the Israeli economy. Israel is using an estimated $1.2 billion each year (38.7% of the aid it receives from the U.S.) to directly support its domestic budget. The USA also contributes funds for the joint U.S.-Israeli Missile Defense Program, Iron Dome. For FY2021, Congress authorized $500 million for this purpose.
By contrast, the US has never provided military aid to the Palestinians. Aid to Palestinians is largely designated for the policing of their own people as well as for humanitarian and development needs. Such funds are only authorized once Congress has received proof that they will be used for “non-lethal assistance. The State Department sought $215 million in economic assistance and $35 million for non-lethal security for the Palestinians for FY 2019, down from previous annual averages of $400 million and $100 million for economic and non-lethal security assistance, respectively. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided the Palestinian people with some indirect economic assistance through funds distributed to US-based NGOs operating in the West Bank and Gaza. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) receives US financial backing for food, shelter, medical care, and education for many of the original refugees from the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli war and their families—now comprising approximately 5 million Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The US annual allocation to UNRWA amounts to less than one tenth of the amount of its military aid to Israel, even though these funds make up nearly a third of UNRWA’s budget. The Trump administration in 2018 announced an indefinite cessation of all UNRWA funding from the USA and in 2019 the USA withheld all funds to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. These measures were expected to be rescinded by the Biden administration.
About $50 million in US assistance to the Palestinians goes to Israel, which uses the money in part to pay off Palestinian debts to Israeli service providers such as electricity companies. All such aid to Palestine, for whose care Israel has a nominal responsibility, enables Israel to use up more of its own budget to confiscate Palestinian land and promote illegal settlements. Recent research has shown that at least 78% of international aid money to the West Bank and Gaza ends up in Israel’s economy. Between 1973 and 1991, a massive sum of $460 million of US funds was allocated to resettling Jews in Israel, many of them now occupying the West Bank illegal settlements. Under the guise of charitable donations, tens of millions of dollars are also regularly sent to Israel in the form of “tax-deductible gifts” for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Other US money ends up in the Israeli government’s coffers under deceptive pretenses.
Not only do gross inequities in the politics of aid as between Israel and Palestine invite sharp criticism from the perspective of basic principles of fairness but invite unfavorable comparison between US largesse for Israel and stinginess towards US citizens. For example in this continuing period of pandemic, progressive broadcaster Sonali Kohatkar noted in May 2021 that more than 60 percent of Israelis are vaccinated, which is 20 percentage points higher than the USA. Due in large measure to US largesse, Israel experiences lower infant mortality and maternal mortality rates than the USA., likely as a result of the universal health coverage its citizens enjoy, and which will appear in the USA only when hell freezes over.
UN under-secretary general and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission of Western Asia, Rima Khalaf, introduced the 2017 ESCWA report on Israeli Practices Towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid as the “first of its type” from a UN body that “clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people.” ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social development in member states. The report was prepared at the request of member states. The report found the “strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people” was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through “distinct laws, policies and practices”. Although Israeli agents did their best to smear the report and the Commission that had produced it, the ESCWA judgment was endorsed and updated by an even more damning report in April 2021 from Human Rights Watch (A Threshold Crossed:Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution).
War is not even the worst outcome of the imperial misjudgment which the foundation of Israel represents. Far more pernicious is the staggering injustice of it for the Palestinian people and the message of Israel’s boastful claim to immunity for injustice that it has disseminated for over seventy years.
Human Rights Watch detailed the extent of the wrongs daily perpetrated by Israel in defiance of intensifying demographic disparities and in the name of securing a permanent, political majority on the basis of race and religion. Its report identified a range of inhumane acts carries out by Israeli authorities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). These included sweeping restrictions on movement; confiscations of land; categorical denial of building permits, leading thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes; denial of residency rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their relatives; an effective freeze on family reunification over the last two decades; suspension of basic civil rights, such as freedom of assembly and association, depriving Palestinians of their voice.
Many such abuses have no legitimate security justifications; others fail any reasonable balancing test between security concerns and the severity of the underlying rights abuse. Inside Israel, the government has systematically discriminated against and violated the rights of Palestinians by refusing to allow access to confiscated lands, even making it virtually impossible for tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Negev, for example, to live lawfully in the communities they have lived in for decades. Israeli authorities have refused legal recognition to 35 Palestinian Bedouin communities, making it impossible for their 90,000 or so residents to reside lawfully. The objective is to maximize the land available for Jewish communities. Israeli law considers all buildings in unrecognized villages to be illegal, allegedly excusing the demolition of 10,000 Bedouin homes in the Negev between 2013 and 2019.
Israeli authorities refuse to permit the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled in 1948, and their descendants, to return to Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They impose blanket restrictions on legal residency, which block many Palestinian spouses and families from living together in Israel. In the West Bank, confiscated land, much of it privately owned by Palestinian, accounts for one third of the total land which authorities declare is “state land.” More than 30 percent of the land used for settlements is acknowledged by the Israeli government as having been privately owned by Palestinians. It is virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in those parts of the West Bank (60%) under full Israeli control. Inside Israel, authorities have confiscated 65 to 75 percent of all land owned by Palestinians before 1948, and 40 to 60 percent of the land that belonged to Palestinians who remained after 1948 and became citizens of Israel. Such discriminatory land policies cram Palestinians, accounting for nearly a fifth of the Israeli population, into municipalities that have jurisdiction over less than 3% of all land in Israel, and that lack opportunities for natural expansion that are enjoyed by Jewish municipalities.
Authorities have restricted the entry and exit of goods to and from Gaza, limiting access to basic services, devastating the economy, and making 80 percent of the population reliant on humanitarian aid. Centrally provided electricity is available for between 12 and 20 hours per day. Water is critically scarce, and the UN considers more than 96 percent of the water supply in Gaza “unfit for human consumption.”
While allowing Jewish settlers to move freely within the West Bank, Israeli authorities prohibit Palestinian ID holders from entering areas such as East Jerusalem, lands beyond the separation barrier, and areas controlled by settlements and the army, unless they secure difficult-to-obtain permits. They have erected nearly 600 permanent obstacles, many between Palestinian communities, that disrupt daily life for Palestinians. Israel’s 1952 Citizenship Law contains a separate track exclusively for Jews to obtain automatic citizenship. By contrast, the track for Palestinians conditions citizenship on proving residency before 1948 in the territory that became Israel, inclusion in the population registry as of 1952, and a continuous presence in Israel or legal entry in the period between 1948 and 1952.
Israel has repeatedly expressed its intention to retain control of East Jerusalem in perpetuity. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel has expropriated more than one-third of East Jerusalem for the construction of settlements, despite the ban under international humanitarian law on transferring civilians to occupied territory. Israel has zoned only 13 percent of East Jerusalem—home to 380,000 Palestinians—for Palestinian construction. Because building permits are in practice expensive and difficult to obtain, much construction takes place illegally, providing the authorities with the pretext to demolish the buildings and evict the residents.
“Throughout most of this area, Israel is the sole governing power; in the remainder, it exercises primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule. Across these areas and in most aspects of life, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
Since 2008, the Israeli army has launched three large-scale military offensives in Gaza in the context of hostilities with armed Palestinian groups. As described in the report, those offensives have included apparently deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and killed well over 2,000 civilians. In addition, Israeli forces have regularly fired on Palestinian demonstrators and others who have approached fences separating Gaza and Israel in circumstances when they did not pose an imminent threat to life, killing 214 demonstrators in 2018 and 2019 alone and maiming thousands. These practices stem from a decades-long pattern of using excessive and vastly disproportionate force to quell protests and disturbances, at great cost to civilians. Despite the frequency of such incidents over the years, Israeli authorities have failed to develop law enforcement tactics that comport with international human rights norms.
Unequal Voting Rights
Excluding Gaza, one in every 4.5 people living under Israeli rule does not have the right to vote; that one person is (almost) always Palestinian. If Gaza is included, it is one in three who is not represented. The Israeli Knesset rules, except for the Gaza Strip which exercises a (very) limited degree of independence since the 2005 disengagement. The rest of the territory is under complete Israeli control. The Israeli government has a monopoly over the use of force in the West Bank, it controls the central bank and the only currency (the shekel), it collects some of the authority’s taxes and it has full control over the borders. Palestinians wishing to travel outside the country need to do so through borders controlled by Israel, and only with special permits issued by the army. Writing in 2012, Journalist Noam Sheizaf calculated that the parameters that determine political participation in Israel break down according to ethnic and geographic lines: in the West Bank, for example, Jews can vote while their Palestinian neighbors – regardless of whether they live in “Palestinian” Area A or in “Israeli” Area C – don’t vote. Things are more complicated in Jerusalem. He concluded that 7,659,000 people living in Israeli territory had voting rights, while 2,128,115 people had no voting rights. If Gaza was included, the number of unrepresented climbed to 3,820,372, or roughly one in every three people.
Reporting in 2019, Amnesty International noted that even when Palestinians got to be elected they were targeted by discriminatory regulations and legislation that undermined their ability to represent and defend the rights of the Palestinian minority population. Its report, Elected but Restricted, demonstrated that the right to freedom of expression of Palestinian members of the Knesset (MKs) was threatened by discriminatory legislative changes, proposed bills and Knesset regulations. It highlighted the inflammatory rhetoric used by Israeli government ministers to stigmatize Palestinian MKs and exposed how bills put forward by Palestinian MKs were unfairly disqualified on discriminatory grounds.
Rooted in Imperial Conflict
The birth of Israel is rooted not in any collective guilt for the horrendous abuse of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany (although this terrible episode did much to confuse the issues at stake for Palestine in the 1940s), but in a much earlier, arrogant British pursuit of short-term imperial interest in conceding to Zionists the promise of a land that had long been settled by others.
A history of claims to a Jewish homeland in Palestine date back at least to the 1897 First Zionist Congress and were endorsed in 1917 by a declaration from Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary, to Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild (of Tring), a leader of the Anglo-Jewish community, which committed Britain to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration specifically stipulated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The document did not address the political or national rights of these communities and did not refer to them by name.
The Balfour Declaration was endorsed by the principal Allied powers, was included in the British mandate over Palestine, and formally approved by the newly created League of Nations on July 24, 1922. The Mandate for Palestine included a binding obligation on the British government for the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
In May 1939, however, the British government recommended a limit of 75,000 further immigrants and an end to immigration by 1944, unless the resident Palestinian Arabs of the region consented to further immigration. In 1947 the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine recommended the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state and the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that divided Great Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948 when the British mandate was scheduled to end. Under the resolution, the area of religious significance surrounding Jerusalem would remain a corpus separatum under international control administered by the United Nations. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, which was immediately recognized by US President Harry S. Truman.
Endless Succession of Wars
In addition to conflicts between Palestinians and Jewish settlers before World War 2, and between Jewish settlers and the British occupation army (the Jewish Insurgency in Mandatory Palestine) from the late 1930s onwards, major conflicts between Israel and Arab powers, involving Palestinians (and, over time, focusing increasingly on the largely Israeli controlled and/or occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank), include:
1948 Arab–Israeli War (November 1947 – July 1949) between Jewish and Arab militias leading to the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, which established the armistice lines between Israel and its neighbors, also known as the Green Line.
Palestinian Fedayeen insurgency (1950s–1960s) involving infiltration of Arab guerrillas infiltrated from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Six-Day War (June 1967) between Israel and Arab neighbors Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The nations of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, and others also contributed troops and arms to the Arab forces. Israel won this conflict and its territory expanded significantly to include the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Golan Heights, Sinai and Gaza. (Sinai was later restored to Egypt in 1979 following the Oslo Accords).
War of Attrition (1967–1970) between the Israeli, Egypt, the USSR, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, in a failed attempt by Egypt to recover Sinai.
Yom Kippur War (October 1973) between a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria against Israel in a failed attempt to recapture territories lost to the Israelis back in the Six-Day War
Palestinian insurgency in South Lebanon (1971–1982) followed relocation of the PLO to South Lebanon from Jordan and subsequent attacks on Israel. Israel’s Operation Litani sought to expel PLO forces from the territory.
1982 Lebanon War (1982) in which Israel Defense Forces invaded southern Lebanon and expelled the PLO from the territory and created an Israeli Security Zone in southern Lebanon.
South Lebanon conflict (1985–2000) between Israel Defense Forces and its Lebanese Christian proxy militias against Lebanese Muslim guerrilla, led by Iranian-backed Hezbollah in South Lebanon.
First Intifada (1987–1993), the first large-scale Palestinian uprising against Israel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000–2005) – the second Palestinian uprising.
2006 Lebanon War (summer 2006) between Hezbollah paramilitary forces and the Israeli military, settled by a United Nations-brokered ceasefire August 2006, and Israel’s lifting of its naval blockade of Lebanon in September.
Gaza War or Operation Cast Lead (December 2008 – January 2009) between Israel and Hamas. Israel declared an end to the conflict on 18 January and completed its withdrawal on 21 January 2009.
2012 Israeli Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012) an offensive on the Gaza Strip.
2014 Gaza War or Operation Protective Edge (July–August 2014), an offensive on the Gaza Strip.
2021 Israel–Palestine crisis or Operation Guardian of the Walls (May 2021)
Since 2008, therefore, the Israeli army has launched four large-scale military offensives in Gaza. These have killed well over 2,000 civilians and often deliberately. Israeli forces have regularly fired on Palestinian demonstrators and others who have approached fences separating Gaza and Israel, killing 214 demonstrators in 2018 and 2019 alone and maiming thousands.
Totally Foreseeable and Foreseen
This perennial slaughter has for long been foreseen. Celebrated voices of concern, identified by Ron Forfother, include the US King-Crane Commission to examine the question of Palestine in 1919, which realized that the establishment of a Zionist state could likely be achieved only through dispossession of current residents and force of arms. Rabbi Judah L. Magnes, first president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote in 1929 to oppose a Jewish Home in Palestine “built up on bayonets and oppression.” There could never be peace without a wholescale change in Zionist ideology. Mahatma Gandhi said in 1938 that successful settlement of the Jews in Palestine could only be based on Arab goodwill. Albert Einstein was skeptical that the nature of Judaism was reconcilable with the idea of a Jewish state. In 1942 the American Council for Judaism was formed rejected the creation of an exclusively Jewish state as undemocratic. Loy Henderson, director of the US State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, argued in 1947 that the UNSCOP (U.N. Special Committee on Palestine) plan, if adopted, would guarantee the permanent extension of conflict and that it contravened various principles of the UN Charter itself, such as self-determination and majority rule, by upholding the principle of a theocratic racial state, and introducing discrimination on the grounds of religion and race against persons outside of Palestine. Leading philosopher Bertrand Russell said in 1970 that the tragedy of Palestine lay in the handing over of their country by a foreign power to another people, making many hundreds of thousands of innocent people permanently homeless.
Pretexts for Uprising
Only this broader historical background of abuse can make satisfactory sense of any particular act of Palestinian subversion of, or resistance to, Israeli forces as occurred for eleven days in May 2021. In addition to the broad context, former US President Donald Trump had in 2020 revoked a $200 million aid package to Palestine (restored by his successor, Joe Biden, in May 2021) and offered Palestinians a totally unacceptable “deal of the century,” which called on Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state with all of Jerusalem as its capital, to give up the right of return that would allow Palestinian refugees to live in Israel, to accept the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the illegal Israeli settlements there, and, as the Guardian put it, to live in a series of Bantustans (effectively inaugurated by the much-touted Oslo accords of 1993) connected by roads and tunnels that would all essentially be controlled by Israel (pretty much an extension of the current reality).
Immediate Cause for Violence
Nightly raids and violence by Israeli police and Jewish extremists on Palestinians in devastated East Jerusalem, in the context of forcible evictions of families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, would be sufficient pretext. Jewish riots and rampages were directed by a well-coordinated leadership composed of Zionist and Jewish extremist groups, according to reporter Ramzy Baroud, including the Otzma Yehudit party and the Lehava Movement, with the implicit or explicit support of Israeli politicians, among them Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King. Another factor, explains Baroud, is Israel’s court system, which has provided what he describes as a veneer of legality for the targeting of Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem. The legal basis is the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which allows Jews to sue Palestinians for properties they claim to have owned prior to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. Palestinians are excluded from making similar claims about the properties from which they have been driven. Confiscated homes are often sold to Jewish settler organizations to build yet more colonies on occupied Palestinian land. In February, the Israeli Supreme Court awarded Jewish settlers the right to have Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah but allowed Palestinians to relinquish ownership rights to their homes and continue to live there as tenants.
Prior to the May uprising, the fundamental injustices suffered by Palestinians were addressed in 2021 at the UN event, Delivering Critical Assistance for Palestine Refugees: Challenges and Opportunities in a Complex Context. Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA told the attendees of growing despair in the refugee camps of the West Bank, Gaza, Joran, Lebanon, and Syria. Gwyn Lewis, Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, reported a dramatic Covid impact on the economy — 40 percent households on the West Bank experienced income decline by more than half [and] unemployment increased in the camps, by 23 percent. In Gaza, unemployment hit 49 per cent.
The May 2021 intifada was not the bloodiest, but it may have been the most significant of the three since 2008 – given the strange US policy lacunae since the arrogant intervention by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner’s 2019 “peace plan.” (Palestinian representatives rejected the entire plan from the outset and refused to be involved in any aspect of its creation). The May 2021 uprising featured more Palestinians in Israel protesting for greater equality and an end to discrimination and exposed the Oslo Accord “Bantustan” concept as counterproductive, yielding as it did four different variants of the Israel/Palestinian crisis. At least 279 Palestinians were killed (compared to 12 Israeli deaths), including 66 children and 39 women, and 1,948 others injured in Israeli attacks on Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 525 businesses were damaged or destroyed, including at least 50 factories, along with hundreds of small businesses. Electricity cuts and Israeli suspensions of fuel deliveries shut down even more. Israeli authorities closed most of the Gaza fishing zone, meaning nearly 3,600 fishermen lost their daily income and food (In 2012 Israel denied more than 3,000 Palestinian fishermen access to 85% of the maritime areas agreed to in 1995). The UN has estimated that nearly 450 buildings were damaged, including six hospitals, 53 schools and 11 primary healthcare centers Attacks on civilian infrastructure were more pernicious even than charges that the West routinely and often mistakenly cites against the Assad regime’s damage to rebel strongholds as it moved to recover sovereign Syrian territory from jihadists from 2015. More than 1,000 housing units in 258 buildings had been destroyed. 14,500 homes suffered damage. More than 100,000 people had been internally displaced, and about 10 times that number had little access to piped water because of the destruction of three major desalination plants, as well as power lines and sewage works. 400,000 people were without access to a regular supply of clean water, leaving hundreds of thousands without access to basic hygiene. Even before the recent hostilities the average daily consumption of water was just 88 liters per capita, below the global optimal requirement of 100 liters. In addition, Israeli police made over 1,500 arrests, 90 per cent Palestinian, despite a significant number of communal attacks by right-wing Jewish groups. Another 500 people were targeted for detention.
The first Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections in 15 years had been due to take place in May and July, but Mr Abbas (in power since 2009) had postponed them indefinitely, on the grounds that the Israeli government refused to allow polls to take place in east Jerusalem. An opinion poll conducted by the Israeli Channel 13 before the conflict found that 32 per cent of Palestinian voters supported Hamas, with just 17 per cent for Mohammad Abbas’s Fatah. Another 13.9 per cent supported Mohammed Dahlan, a rival to Mr Abbas. On the PA presidency, nearly 28 per cent backed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and 11 per cent Mr Abbas. In effect, therefore, both Israel and Fatah had reason to suspect that the planned elections would not favor their interests and that they would benefit from their cancellation. The Palestinian Authority (PA) adopted a low profile during the May uprising, merely issuing pro forma condemnations of the Israeli bombing campaign and the staggering death toll it caused. Civic leaders, especially Palestinian youth, filled the vacuum, organizing a general strike throughout the occupied West Bank and Israel in the wake of Israeli war crimes. Significantly, the strike united Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and those who are not.
A Demographic Time Bomb
About 6.8 million Jewish Israelis and 6.8 million Palestinians live today between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, an area encompassing both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the latter made up of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The population of Israel proper was under 9 million in 2021 (8.8 million) of which Jews represented 74%, a slight decline that marked increasing numbers of those of Arab descent. Since the establishment of the State, the population has increased approximately tenfold, primarily as a result of the high immigration of Jews into the country. In recent years the Jewish population has grown by approximately 1.8% as against a growth rate of 2.4% for the Arab population.
Israel in 2021 accounted for about half of the global population of Jews. The world’s “core” Jewish population, those identifying as Jews above all else, was 14.6 million in 2018. The “connected” Jewish population, including those who say they are partly Jewish or that have Jewish background from at least a single Jewish parent, in addition to the core Jewish population, was 17.8 million. The United States of America also has a large population of Jews, around 7 million, with a majority living in New York, California, Florida, and New Jersey. These are the only two nations with Jewish populations that exceed 1 million.
The Israeli government seeks to ensure that Jewish Israelis maintain domination across Israel and the OPT. The Knesset in 2018 affirmed Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” declaring that within that territory, the right to self-determination “is unique to the Jewish people,” and establishing “Jewish settlement” as a national value. To sustain Jewish Israeli control, Israeli authorities have adopted policies aimed at mitigating what they have openly described as a demographic “threat” that Palestinians pose. This is the basis of the movement to overt apartheid identified by Human Rights Watch (see above).
Apartheid policies seek to limit the population and political power of Palestinians, grant voting rights only to Palestinians who live within the borders of Israel as they existed from 1948 to June 1967, and limit the ability of Palestinians to move to Israel from the OPT and from anywhere else to Israel or the OPT. Other steps include “separation” of Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza, prevention of the movement of people and goods within the OPT, and “Judaization” of areas with significant Palestinian populations, including Jerusalem as well as the Galilee and the Negev in Israel.
Israel is in danger of becoming a failed state. Its demographic engine will ensure numerical superiority of Arabs over Palestinians, even in Israel itself, as time goes forward. This will force a theocratic and racist authority to ever more short-term suppressive and brutal measures over Palestinian rights in Israel and Palestinian existence in the OPT. Their actions will lose Israeli authorities the support of intelligent Americans and Europeans, of international Judaism itself, and of Muslims everywhere. For humanitarian but also for strategic reasons it will become obvious that Israel has become a moral and strategic liability, an anachronism in the modern world. This will have negative implications for its attraction as an investment destination. There will be just too many other ways of making money. China and Russia will be perceived as better, and safer partners, than American proxies and the sinking American hegemon. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, even Shia Iran (in alliance with Baathist Syria) will find more subtle ways to pick up the mantel of religious identity and safeguard the regional interests of all Muslims in and around Israel. Under ever more intense economic, political, cultural and environmental pressures, Israeli intellectuals and liberal religious leaders, in association with allies in the USA and pro-peace movements everywhere, will direct their attention more seriously to unitary-state alternative visions for a new and equitable political entity freer of identity politics. US politicians will learn to follow.
Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is an expert on international media, news, and propaganda. His writings can be accessed by subscription at Substack at https://oliverboydbarrett.substack.com.