Dr. Mohammad Makram Balawi
Where and when does history begin? And who decides? This is a crucial point when it comes to the conflict in Palestine due to the conflicting narratives. The mainstream media, for example, opt for the narrative in which “a Palestinian gunman shot two Israeli brothers in the Palestinian village of Huwara,” whereas the Palestinian narrative is that, “After the Israeli army killed 11 Palestinians in the neighbouring city of Nablus, a member of a Palestinian resistance group opened fire at two members of the armed forces who lived in an illegal Jewish settlement and happened to be brothers.” According to Israeli media outlets, the two Israeli settlers were a sailor, while the other planned to serve as a combat soldier in the Israeli army.
Since the early 1990s, Israeli academics and security officials have issued warnings to the government about the destructive role of heavily-armed illegal settlers, not only to the Palestinians, but most importantly — from the Israeli government point of view — also to the authority of the Israeli occupation government in the West Bank. Israel, though, chose not to act and in many cases has provided settlers with arms as well as legal and political cover.
Armed settlers attacked the Palestinian village of Huwara near Nablus on 26 February, burning houses, shops and cars, and attacking the local residents. The damage was so great that some Israelis sympathised with victims and denounced the actions of the settlers. One general called it a “pogrom“, which is an emotive word for a Jew to use. European diplomats flocked to the village to meet the people and express their solidary. They too condemned the settlers’ crimes.
What, though, was new, or different, about the settlers’ attack on Huwara that made the diplomats feel that they had to go there? What the settler thugs did was actually Zionism in action; Israel’s founding ideology is a form of fascism. In 1975, the UN declared Zionism “to be a form of racism and racial discrimination.” This resolution was later rescinded under intense pressure from Israel’s allies on the world stage. Nevertheless, human rights organisations such as B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that the occupation state has now passed the legal threshold for classification as an apartheid state.
Zionists in the US and Europe are apparently shocked by what they are seeing in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. They have tended to look at Israel through rose-tinted glasses as a replica of their own countries, a so-called “outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism”.
Israel drowning in its crime – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]
Europeans see the pillars of Israel shaking, as if the state is about to crumble, with its identity as a secular democracy replaced by a far-right Jewish theocracy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cronies are going ahead, it seems, with their judicial coup which will undermine Israel’s already only partial democracy. The Israel Defence Forces and security agencies are witnessing what would be called a mutiny in other countries in protest at the planned judicial “reform”. Massive demonstrations have taken place in Tel Aviv for the past ten weeks, and Israeli leaders across the political spectrum are receiving death threats even as Israeli settlers rampaging through the West Bank exposing the real face of “democratic” Israel. Far-right extremists pursuing the goals of the Religious Zionist Party are taking control; its followers have infiltrated all state agencies and are growing in number. If a General Election was to be held tomorrow, they would maintain their — admittedly slim — majority in parliament. The shift to the far right looks both inevitable and irreversible.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog and former top security and army officers are warning that Israel may face a civil war if the country stays on this trajectory. Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich are trying to divide the army and police and turn them into far-right militias to work alongside the illegal settler militias in the occupied West Bank.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned last year about “the eighth decade curse”. Israel, he said, could cease to exist before its 80th anniversary if the ideological split is not taken seriously.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan will start next week. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and other Muslims will fill Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem. Israel has prepared for this by sending hundreds of troops to the area. Ramadan has become an Israeli phobia in recent years as it tends to see a sudden hike in violence and sometimes IDF military offensives during the fasting month. While Muslims go to Al-Aqsa Mosque seeking peace and serenity, Israeli forces and settlers insist on provoking worshippers to show them who the bosses are; such provocation often generates a strong reaction. This scenario has become a major issue for discussion between Netanyahu and his foreign counterparts.
Israel will be caught between a rock and a hard place: between the Palestinians who have long been dreaming of freedom and are ready to pay for it with their lives, and a divided Jewish community caught up in an existential confrontation of its own making. Ramadan 2023 could well be another symptom of the occupation state’s “eighth decade curse”.