The recent murder of four Jewish worshipers in a Jerusalem synagogue has drawn intense media coverage, with the situation being described as “tense” and the country as “shaken“. U.S. officials decry the violence and call for both sides to “seek a path forwards toward peace.” Yet the Israeli government’s reaction and history demonstrate that Israel is not concerned with creating peace, but rather maintaining the status quo. If the government cared about stopping violence and protecting its population, it would immediately end the occupation and accept a political settlement that guarantees everyone in Greater Israel their right to self-determination. Instead they are exploiting the violence to tighten their control of the West Bank and Gaza and crush Palestinian aspirations for an end to the 66-year dispossession and conquest.
Recent violence coincides with the limitations Israeli authorities have placed on Palestinian access to Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam. It is also the site of the Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish religious site. On October 30, occupation officials closed the site to Palestinians for the first time in 47 years after the shooting of a radical right-wing Israeli politician, Yehuda Glick, leader of a group seeking exclusive Jewish access to the site. Glick has also sought to build a third temple on the site “with a return of animal sacrifice,” according to the Washington Post. The Post notes that Glick has been banned from the site in the past because his actions have been seen as “highly provocative.”
During the last month in East Jerusalem, Palestinians have been targeted by Israeli settlers in hit-and-run attacks and kidnappings, while occupation forces target peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas. On Nov. 16, a 32-year-old bus driver was found lynchedinside his bus. Despite witnesses claiming settler responsibility for the murder, Israeli police have concluded the death was a suicide.
In this context, the grisly murder of four worshipers at a Jerusalem synagogue was carried out last Tuesday by two Palestinian cousins, who did not belong to any political or resistance factions. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to cast blame on all Palestinian political parties who would be a partner in a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
Violence by Palestinians against Jews – whether against legitimate targets such as occupation soldiers or civilians with protected status – are always described as terror attacks, and are far less common than violence by Israeli occupation forces and settlers against Palestinians. Since 2000, about 9 times as many Palestinians have been killed as Israelis. About 20 times more Palestinian children have been killed than Israeli children, and about 7 times more Palestinians injured.
Western media uncritically accept the propaganda framework espoused by the U.S. government that Palestinians are aggressors and Israel only acts in legitimate self-defense. Horrific murders such as the synagogue killings dominate front pages and distort perception about who perpetrates the most violence.
“Major media outlets are actively erasing the Israeli violence that preceded the attack and the surging anti-Palestinian assaults that have followed,” writes Rania Khalek in the Electronic Intifada,
Khalek recounts incidents of Jewish violence against Palestinians from the last two weeks alone that have been ignored as focus remains on the synagogue killings: an 11-year old boy blinded after being shot by Israeli police; a 10-year-old girl whose skull was cracked by occupation forces; a 10-year-old shot in the neck; settler attacks with guns and knives; and a 35-year-old man shot dead and set on fire.
But when media disproportionately focus on Israeli casualties and security concerns, Israeli officials are able to legitimize the illegal occupation and entrench their policies of repressing Palestinians. This was the case in the 50 day war in Gaza this summer. Israel killed 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, and civilians accounted for at least 70% of all Palestinian deaths.
In the months that have followed, Hamas has observed the cease fire while Israel has violated it routinely. This has also been distorted by media propaganda. Israeli forces have routinely shot at Gazan fishermen and farmers with barely any mainstream coverage. Suppressing these stories denies the recognition of Palestinians as victims of violence, and propagates stereotypes of Palestinians as perpetrators of terrorism.
When sensational headlines and photos emerge of violence against Jews, the Israeli government reflexively uses racist stereotypes to discredit Palestinians politically. This old trick of Netanyahu’s has been used by Israeli officials for decades. Whether on not there is any connection, Israeli leaders instinctively vilify Palestinian political organizations to link them to violence and terrorism.
“Hamas, the Islamic movement and the Palestinian Authority have been spreading endless fabrications against the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. He also claimed “the anti-Semitic words of Abu-Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] .. leads to horrible acts of slaughter.”
Similarly, after the murder of three teenage Jewish settlers in the West Bank this summer, Netanyahu was emphatic that Hamas was responsible. Despite evidence that Hamas had no role or knowledge of the attacks before they happened, Netanyahu emphatically blamed the organization.
“Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas – the same Hamas that Abu Mazen made a unity government with,” Netanyahu said.
This statement gives away his real motivation. Netanyahu was furious that Hamas had formed a unity government and agreed in principle to the two-state solution, putting pressure on Israel to negotiate. Netanyahu had seethed when U.S. officials refused his demand not to recognize the unity government.
When Abbas announced the agreement, he had backed Israel into a corner, removing their excuse not to negotiate. Israel would no longer be able to claim that with multiple, divided parties negotiation was not possible. With this excuse gone, political engagement – Israel’s worst nightmare – appeared inevitable.
Netanyahu explicitly stated his position that he would never permit a Palestinian state, implicitly endorsing a permanent illegal occupation.
“I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” Netanyahu said. This is consistent with his Likud party charter, which states: “The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel,” and “The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem.”
In the early 1980s, Israel encountered a similar terrifying threat when the PLO had formed a sub-national state inside Lebanon, and achieved recognition as the legitimate political representation of the Palestinian people. Israel had never recognized the PLO, dismissing them as a terrorist organization in the same way that it does now with Hamas. To counter this grave threat to Israel’s repression of Palestinian political will, the government concocted a fake pretext to justify an invasion of Lebanon. During its aggressive assault in 1982, Israel killed more than 20,000 people.
“With the PLO removed from Beirut and the political cultural center of Palestinian nationalism demolished, there problem of increasingly visible PLO moderation – the ‘veritable catastrophe’ that was causing such ‘panic’ – might well be on its way to solution,” writes Noam Chomsky in Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. “And there might even be some hope that the PLO would return to the tactics of hijacking planes, terrorist bombings, killing many Jews, and other actions more welcome to the government of Israel according to the rather plausible analysis of Yehoshua Porath, Danny Rubenstein, and others.”
The problem of Hamas and Fatah moderation likewise has presented itself today as Israel’s greatest threat. Any excuse to shift the focus from political negotiations and reaching a permanent settlement are a welcome reprieve to Netanyahu’s government, as they have been to Israeli governments for decades.