The goal of today’s leaders in Israel is to carry out a program of vast cruelty and violence while maintaining the public perception that they’re liberal democrats who advance peace and equality. But as the genocide against the Palestinians continues in front of the world, and as Israel slips into dictatorship, maintaining this image is an increasingly difficult task.
Concealing the ethnic cleansing operation of Israel
Israel presents itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, the operator of the most moral army in the world, and an upholder of equality. Yet by deliberate design, most Palestinians don’t even have the right to citizenship in Israel; the government has stopped granting citizenship to East Jerusalem Palestinians in recent years, and citizenship is all but impossible for Palestinians to get if they live in Gaza or the West Bank. And under the “administrative detention” policy, Palestinians can be indefinitely detained without charge, while Israel gives Palestinians far fewer rights in the legal process than it gives the more favored ethnic groups.
Other means of Israel’s collective punishment against the Palestinians include discriminatory curfews, the requirement for Palestinians to pay the Israeli court upfront before they can sue their employers for labor violations, checkpoints that restrict Palestinians from traveling in and out of the occupied areas, and efforts to deprive Palestinians in the occupied areas of food, water, and health care.
Meanwhile, Israel’s military is engaged in an effort to systematically harass and kill Palestinians. When they have the opportunity, Israeli forces lure and kill Palestinians in Gaza, bomb hovels in Gaza City, and take other measures to murder innocent Palestinians. The amount of recorded cases of abuse by IDF soldiers is staggering, and the Israeli military has actively enabled them. This deliberate and concerted effort to destroy Palestinian lives has been shown in Israel’s responses to the Great March of Return protests, which have been met with unprovoked IDF sniper fire that’s killed hundreds and wounded thousands in the last year.
These are among the many other ways Israel’s laws are designed to punish disfavored groups, including a denial of equal surrogacy rights for gay families and mass deportation policies that target black people. And, Netanyahu’s public statements claim Israel is committed to equal rights but are contrasted by the vicious racism and open calls for a genocide which members of his own government have repeatedly expressed.
In a 2014 Facebook post, Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked endorsed the contents of an article which says that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy,” and that “its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure” must be destroyed. Then last year, Deputy Speaker Bezalel Smotrich said that if Palestinians in the occupied areas don’t stop resisting Israel’s attempts at colonization, “the Israel Defense Forces will know what to do.”
Smotrich may be a member of Tkuma, which is further to the right than the ruling Likud party. But Netanyahu, who knows how it would look to the world if he more openly embraced Israel’s ethnic cleansing programs, distances himself from the extremists mainly in terms of rhetoric. Netanyahu still appointed Shaked as justice minister in 2015, and he still oversees Israel’s land grabs, resource blockades, and military attacks against Palestinians with full knowledge of the death and pain he’s causing.
When possible, Netanyahu and Likud’s other spokespeople will hide anything that suggests they’re carrying out this destruction of the Palestinians. And when the subject has to be addressed, they’ll use euphemisms to make their atrocities sound palatable; as the columnist, Richard H. Curtiss wrote in 1988, “transfer” is “the Likud word for genocide.” And as Chris Hedges has assessed, Israel redefines its war crimes by calling the deliberate shooting of innocent Gaza youths “children wounded in crossfire,” by calling bombings of Gaza hovels “surgical strikes,” by calling Israel’s destruction of Palestinian houses and apartment blocks “the demolition of the homes of terrorists,” and by classifying killed Palestinian children as “human shields” despite the lack of evidence that Hamas uses civilians as human shields.
The goal is to conflate all of Israel’s atrocities with its legitimate efforts to defend from Hamas’ attacks, a framing approach that makes the genocide against Palestinians invisible to anyone who believes Israel’s narratives. But otherwise, it’s impossible for the world not to see that Israel has turned Gaza into a concentration camp while carrying out collective punishment onto all the Palestinians within its power.
Trying to ignore Israel’s drift towards authoritarianism
In his 2014 piece Why Israel Lies, Hedges concluded that “Israel engages in the kinds of jaw-dropping lies that characterize despotic and totalitarian regimes.” And when Netanyahu’s government treats the truth like this, it’s natural that the government has come to resemble a dictatorship in many other ways.
For instance, under the “Boycott Law,” any Israeli individual or organization who advocates for BDS is liable to be sued for damages. Under the “Nakba Law,” the Israeli finance ministry denies funding for organizations that don’t explicitly recognize the country as a Jewish state. In 2016 Israel passed a bill, promoted by Ayelet Shaked, that forces foreign human rights groups to reveal their funding for the purpose of intimidating those groups into submission.
To a great extent, modern Israel resembles Soviet Russia, with the state exercising surveillance powers greater than those of the U.S. government, freedom of movement being forbidden for Palestinians in the occupied zones, and the state arresting many teens who refuse to serve in the military, with especially severe punishments applying to those who won’t serve for political reasons. Israel’s police state has lately been used to intimidate critical journalists, like when liberal Zionist writer Peter Beinart was detained this year and questioned about his political opinions and activities. And Netanyahu is going in the direction of dictatorship, with his government attempting to dismantle the power of Israel’s supreme court because of its inconvenient enforcement of human rights laws.
This July’s passage of the Israeli nation-state law, which makes Hebrew the country’s official language and proclaims the legality of all Israeli settlements, solidified that Israel wants to go in the direction of Jewish supremacy and social repression instead of becoming more liberal. Much of the country’s public is behind this decision, with a 2016 Pew poll saying that half of Israeli Jews support expelling Arabs and that around eighty percent want to have “preferable treatment” over non-Jewish minorities. Netanyahu and Likud didn’t rise through undemocratic means, and their agenda is completely within the mainstream of Israeli thought.
Going by the requirement that an ostensibly democratic country give all of its people the right to participate in government, Israel is not a democracy. Click To TweetAnd even if it technically qualifies as a democracy, it’s a “democracy” that fulfills Orwell’s line “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Where hope lies
As is always the case with populations who’ve been given a false view of the world by the propaganda of their governments, it’s hard to say how much blame these supporters of the ethnic cleansing operation deserve for having developed their beliefs. The support for Jewish supremacy, and the contempt for the people who Israel has displaced, are ingrained into many Israelis from a young age. And as Israeli journalist Amira Hass assessed last year, devaluing the lives of the Palestinians is tempting when one’s secure situation in life is essentially built on the destruction of Palestine:
“Maybe even more appalling than the sight of the police and the Border Police — and their arrogant, alienated and hostile sneers at the Palestinians — is Israelis’ delight at their attractiveness, heroism, and sweetness. Our own cruelty — moment after moment, day after day, month after month, year after year — doesn’t bother us. As long as our cruelty guarantees our lives are generally good, it’s legitimate.”
Evidently, most Israelis have taken the path of least resistance in this collective trampling of the conquered group. Netanyahu and the other right-wing Zionists seek to erase the Palestinians because the Palestinians get in the way of the grand plan for a fully expanded Jewish ethnostate. And for many of the people who are assigned the privileges in this new nation, disregarding the lives that this project destroys seems like a worthwhile compromise of morals.
So aside from dissenting Israelis like Hass, hope for improvement can mainly be found from outside of the country. Despite Israel’s attempts to expand its propaganda reach into worldwide Jewish life, vocal opposition to Israel’s atrocities is growing within the Jewish community, especially among younger Jews.
The vast majority of countries don’t share the U.S.’ blind support for Israel. And Israel’s defenders have repeatedly had to resort to conspiracy theories about anti-Semitism when the U.N. has called out Israel’s human rights abuses, which makes Israel’s spokespeople impossible for most of the world take seriously. Meanwhile, amid the growth of BDS and the overwhelmingly bad worldwide publicity for Israel’s actions, change of some kind is clearly unavoidable.
The question is: to what degree will we take this effort towards justice and restitution for the people of Palestine?
After decades of Israeli transgressions, the two-state solution is no longer feasible. The solution, as Palestinian rights advocate Lana Habash has concluded, is complete decolonization:
“The colonial project in historic Palestine, like all colonial projects — on this continent and elsewhere — is a dead end. There is no humanity in it. You cannot make it ‘more just’ while it still exists. For Palestinians and all indigenous people to have justice, they must have their land back. All Palestinians know this and so does Israel, which is why they try to keep that discussion off the table by shooting unarmed protesters, journalists, and farmers.”
History shows that this option is entirely possible. Throughout the mid-to-late 1950’s, numerous African countries underwent widespread revolts against European colonial rule that ultimately succeeded. The Palestinians are on their way towards liberating themselves in the same way, but they still need our help.