On March 25, 2019 while the major media fixated on Trump and his potential indictments in regards to Russia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing his own political opponents, an upcoming election and five potential indictments back home, stood with President Trump in Washington, DC. Trump signed an executive order that recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Once Syrian, and not internationally recognized, the Golan Heights is a section of land taken by the Israelis in the 1967 war despite being a violation of international law as spelled out in Security Council Resolution 497.
Author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: a Primer and Institute for Policy Studies Middle East Analyst Phyllis Bennis expected Trump to sign the executive order. “Overall, we have seen a pattern of Trump giving the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu everything it wants — to make its reelection more possible. Bennis adding, “This includes moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the decision to deny that Palestinian refugees exist. All of these are things Netanyahu wanted from the Trump Administration and they are things he’s gotten,” remarked Bennis.
On the same day that Trump and the United States recognized the Golan Heights, Israel responded to a long range rocket aimed at civilians and allegedly fired by Hamas, in showing a clear use of collective punishment and disproportionate retaliatory force. This was unlikely however, a major offensive since Netanyahu was in DC at the time and he most likely returned to Israel mainly for political purposes. Israel fired over a dozen separate intense airstrikes, totaling more than 60 missiles in the first 12 hours onto the Gaza Strip, deescalating by day’s end with the Egyptian led ceasefire.
Whether it was Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or an independent rogue cell, all three of which act outside the interests of the organized vast majority of Gaza, the violent response coming from Israel mirrored the responses to the peaceful nonviolent Gazan demonstrators who mobilize on a weekly basis and have over the course of the last year. The entire disproportionately hideous exchange, much like the Golan Heights production, was seen as an extreme and brazen optic in order for Netanyahu to win reelection.
Professor Noura Erakat wrote, “as in the past, the latest air strikes on a besieged population are brutal tools used by Israeli political officials, just weeks out from an Israeli election, to boost the standing of candidates who benefit from brandishing a ruthless disregard for Palestinian life. Erakat elaborated and called the Israeli response “gleeful,” coming within the context “of the Great March of Return, in which Palestinians have been protesting at the Gaza boundary every Friday, demanding the right to return to their homes and their freedom. Israel has responded with bullets and death, killing 195 Palestinians and injuring more than 28,939.”
Benny Gantz, a former general and commander, who bragged of leading slaughters in Gaza and attempts to become Israel’s next prime minister, remarked that Netanyahu is “too soft” on Gaza and that he has “lost grip on Israeli security.” Middle East Historian Lawrence Davidson also indicated that “the general feeling among the Israeli ‘left’ is that Benjamin Netanyahu has to ‘crush’ Hamas,’ or as Bennis put it, Netanyahu sees “bombing Gaza as a campaign slogan.”
International Relations scholar and researcher Richard Falk indicated that several factors also bear watching. Falk stated that, “Israeli leaders often cause a spike in violence just prior to national elections, and sometimes seem to stage false flag operations in order to validate.” Falk added that, “their recourse to military action, in any event is disproportionate, excessive, and indiscriminate.”
Furthermore, Falk expressed a concern that the recent violence may be part of an advanced payment for the “anticipated land day demonstration at the Gaza fence and the first anniversary of the Great March of Return.” There is also little question that “Trump’s green lighting of Israeli expansionism, came with the latest outrage — an endorsement of Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights.” Both Trump and Netanyahu continue to rule “in defiance of the international consensus,” Falk observes.
In a March 21, 2019 New York Times article, entitled Palestinian Lives Don’t Matter*: *Unless Israel is to blame, Bret Stephens cites the factual repression of Hamas, but incorrectly asserts that Hamas’ bullets are “buried by most Western news accounts” in an attempt to ensure that readers single out Israeli aggression. Stephens also goes on to state that since Bashar al-Assad “kills more” Syrians, Israel isn’t really an aggressor at all and should be let off the hook with the coverage of that region. The reality is that the Syrian’s government atrocities get extensive coverage, some even considered to the “far left,” exercises in propaganda. The article is filled with language that is essentially racist in character, and entirely misleading in its claim — that the world media is biased against Israel.
Despite Bret Stephen’s griping, Professor Stephen Zunes points out that Hamas has “in fact gotten a fair amount of coverage and it’s been reported by Amnesty International, etc.” And in terms of everyday Gazans, Zunes adds that he’s “not aware of the latest round of protests resulting in any fatalities, unlike the peaceful Gazan protests at the Israeli border.”
Noam Chomsky has previously pointed out “plenty of reasons to criticize Hamas, just as there were reasons to condemn crimes of the partisans,” and added that, “99% of the crimes however, are traceable to Israel.” In another way but in the same context, Richard Falk recalled a mean spirited and cynical assertion of Golda Meirwho is thought to have said, “There will be peace when the Palestinians love their children more alive than our children dead.” Falk stated that, “of course, there is nasty violence within the Palestinian communities, in part due to splits that Israel has encouraged over the years, including helping to found Hamas after the 1967 war.”
Falk remarked that, “the dominant and overriding reality is the apartheid structure of control created by Israel to impose and maintain a Jewish state with self-determination rights only for the Jewish people. The large casualties associated with the “Great March of Return” exclusively comes from Israel’s use of excessive and deadly force against largely unarmed demonstrations. In other words, yes, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and rogue actors can perpetrate a large number of extremely rotten things, but central to the Palestinian’s misery are the actions and policies by both the United States and Israeli governments.
The recent discourse in Middle East politics has been enormous and as AIPAC loses relevancy with progressive voters and younger Jews, CUFI unfortunately gains traction with fundamentalist Christians. As the work of Carolyn Karcher indicates, “Judaism is being reclaimed from Zionism,” as Jewishness no longer automatically ties to Israel. A stunning amount of candidates (seven) for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020 have said they would not attend the AIPAC conference taking place March 24 – 27. This comes on the heels of protest, organization and support for progressive politicians. The political spectrum increasingly widens in the United States in regards to Jews and their perspectives of the United States, Israel and Palestine. This now features a prominent and vibrant left, a fading but stable center, and more importantly an increasingly diminishing right, for liberal and centrist Jews.
The sad reality on the ground for the Palestinians is that nothing really has changed. But as for American politics and the shift in language, it can only be viewed as a positive sign that casual and unapologetic support for Israel comes with a political price tag. This marks a historical first.