How Netanyahu unleashed a calculated war of terror against Palestinians

By Saleh Mamon

At first sight, the current attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank and the relentless bombings of Gaza may look disconnected. But a closer investigation shows that the chain of events had political calculations behind them.

For the past two years, Netanyahu has been fighting for his political life.  On May 4th Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, 28 days after the inconclusive election of March 23rd. The corruption case against him was a factor that led to this failure. Since 1996, he has demonstrated political wizardry by snatching power back just when he as on the brink of losing it. It is not inconceivable that he calculated that a small war against defenceless Palestinians would save him politically.

After all, there is a strong historical precedent for this. Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to al-Aqsa compound, the third holiest site in Islam, on September 28th 2000, accompanied by Israeli riot police led to protests and riots.  Palestinian youths hurled stones and chairs at the police who retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets.

This set off the al-Aqsa Intifada which subsided after 2005, with an estimated death toll of 3,000 Palestinians, 1,000 Israelis and 64 foreigners. The Israelis used gunfire, tank, air attacks and targeted killings while the Palestinians resorted to stone throwing, gunfire, rockets and suicide bombings.

The visit was a part of Sharon’s campaign to lead the Likud party to outmanoeuvre Netanyahu. He wanted to show that the Temple Mount where Al-Aqsa is located would remain under Israeli sovereignty. His reward was to be elected as the Prime Minister in February 2001 and he remained in power until he was incapacitated by a stroke in 2006.

Tensions have been building up in Jerusalem for weeks during the holy month of Ramadan which started on April 12th, because of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians wanting to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque. Simultaneously, the attempted evictions of four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood became an explosive issue with Palestinians resisting and Israeli forces raiding neighbourhoods, resulting in arrests and injuries.

On the last Friday of Ramadan, May 7th, more than 70,000 congregated to pray after having been forced to go through iron security barriers and identity checks by the Israeli police. Throughout the day, protesters in Jerusalem were violently dispersed by the police, forcing many to retreat to the confines of the mosque. After prayers, Palestinians in the mosque compound began demonstrating, raising both Palestinian and Hamas flags.

Later that evening, armed Israeli forces entered the complex to disperse the worshippers using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that hundreds were injured and hospitalised. Many of the injuries inflicted were to the head and eyes. Israeli police reported that six officers were injured.

Palestinian civil society called for a day of anger on Saturday May 8th in response to the crackdown. Palestinians in towns throughout Israel including Jaffa and Nazareth demonstrated in a show of anger at the storming of al-Aqsa and the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.

The situation was extremely tense ahead of the 27th night of Ramadan, one of the holiest nights (Laylat al-Qadr) when worshippers stay up during the night performing prayers. Israeli police carried out further raids and arrests. Despite the intimidation, some 90,000 Palestinians filled the courtyard for prayers.

After the prayers, as the worshippers were leaving the Old City, Israeli police attacked them, wounding at least 90, according to medics, and arresting many. At the Damascus Gate, which was adorned with lights to mark Ramadan, Israeli police, some mounted, used tear gas, smoke grenades and rubber-coated bullets to attack Palestinians, wounding many.

After a relatively tense but on the whole quiet Sunday, on Monday May 10th heavily armed Israeli forces raided the al-Aqsa mosque in the morning and later in the evening. They fired tear gas and sound grenades at Palestinians to disperse people and caused damage to the interior of the building. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 305 Palestinians were injured and 228 others hospitalised – some in a field hospital set up near al-Aqsa – including four in a critical condition.

Natanyahu could have stopped all this if he wanted to.  In Israeli political circles there was discussion that he would manipulate a security incident at the Gaza border to prevent a new cabinet being formed. Now all he had to do is to wait for the situation to escalate so that could turn the crisis to his own advantage.

Hamas issued an ultimatum for Israeli forces to evacuate al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah by 6 pm on Monday. As expected, Netanyahu ignored the warning because he knew that it would play into his hands. A barrage of rockets from Gaza were fired towards Jerusalem. This was a godsend for Netanyahu who unleashed a savage aerial bombardment on Gaza, aiming to unite the entire Jewish citizenry.

 After eleven days of bombing, it can be seen what pain, suffering and destruction was heaped on a defenceless people. At least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, have been killed in 11 days of Israeli bombardment. On the Israeli side, 12 people, including two children, have been killed. The scale of devastation on Gaza has been horrifying. The human and financial toll is indescribably unbearable for an already beleaguered society.

Entire families were wiped out when their homes were bombed. Residential tower blocks were demolished. It is not a matter of body count. Those injured, at least 1900, would in many cases, bear their wounds and disabilities for a lifetime. The psychological trauma especially for children, who are half of the population, can be debilitating.

The wanton destruction of at least 230 buildings and damage to at least 678 homes have displaced more than 75,000 who found shelter in schools.  Power supplies and roads were bombed. The already poor water supply was further restricted. Livelihoods in an economy on its knees have been destroyed. The Jalal Tower which housed many media agencies was given an hour to evacuate before its demolition. Altogether targeted Israeli air force attacks have destroyed the premises of 23 Palestinian and international media outlets to stop first hand media witness reports.

Israel used its well-honed public relations machine to cover up the ethnocide. Out came the tropes of Hamas using civilians as human shields, its willingness to sacrifice Palestinian children, Hamas placing rocket firing operatives on top of residential buildings, residential buildings used for tunnels, etc. These were repeated in the Western press without critical examination and verification.

What political calculation was Hamas making? After legitimately winning the Palestinian Legislative Elections in 2006, Hamas was never allowed to take power and was confined to Gaza by Israel with the support of the US and regional allies. Fourteen years of blockade followed, with three massive Israeli assaults. The worst one in 2014 destroyed the economy of Gaza and created immense problems for basic services. Most of the population depends on humanitarian aid.

It is inconceivable that Hamas leaders are irrational actors. They were fully aware that they cannot win militarily with rockets against the Israelis’ air power. That 10 percent of their rockets got through the seemingly impenetrable Israeli iron dome system must have been some sort of triumph for them. Their calculation was to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of the majority of Palestinian community.

For the first time in many years, Palestinians in Gaza, Israel, West Bank and East Jerusalem have risen up in unity. In response to Palestinian mass protests in Israel, the Israeli response was to develop a narrative of civil war when in reality Jewish mobs roved around cities in Israel, attacking and lynching Palestinians in the street or trying to break into their homes. Palestinians reacted by staging protests, burning tyres, and attacking Jews. The general strike on 18th May by all Palestinians was yet another sign of unity and renewed solidarity.

The Palestinian Authority, set up following the Oslo Accords, is defunct. Its security forces are there to control Palestinians, especially any resistance against the Israelis. It is entirely dependent on Israel for revenues, and funded by the United States and Europe. It has no strategies to protect the Palestinians against house demolitions and displacement. The postponement of Palestinian Legislative elections this year has frozen politics. 

The leaders of Arab nations showed their bankruptcy. Their failure to support the Palestinians is laid bare.  The Arab masses have viscerally always been for the Palestinians. Their ruling dynasties are minorities armed against their own people.  The leaders of the world’s richest region have failed to use its wealth and strategic location to exercise power. They put all their eggs in the American basket and were reduced to pleas to the US.

The United Nations also showed its utter impotence. Four meetings of the Security Council failed to agree even a statement because of the US veto. The US callously went on to make it impossible for a ceasefire resolution to be passed for 11 days, letting the killings and destruction continue. Biden has to answer questions about how many Palestinian children had to die before he would call for a ceasefire. Moreover, the unconditional ceasefire reached with Egyptian mediation fails to address the issues that caused the eruption. The Security Council has yet to address the root causes of the conflict for seven decades.

Israel has once again proved that, as a nuclear armed regional power with its military fed by America with huge quantities of sophisticated weapons, it is free to kill civilians, destroy their homes and cut down necessary services as it wills. This is the horror of technological extermination. Its public relations internationally have generated sweeping and blind support from the media as a whole, covering up ethnocide. Unless there is a countervailing power to stop this, it does not bode well for peace, justice and stability in the region.

Palestinians cannot win militarily against Israel but in the long term they can win politically. They need to learn from their struggles to unite and organise a militant non-violent resistance. They need solidarity from people across the world. There have been rare times in history when people have refused to tolerate the intolerable. The mobilisation against the war in Vietnam and the Anti-Apartheid Movement showed that people can change the course of history.

The huge demonstrations in London and across the world in solidarity are a sign of hope. People need to join campaigning organisations such as Stop the War, War on Want, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Against the Arms Trade and BDS amongst many, to continue to work for justice for Palestinians and oppose Israeli apartheid.

Saleh Mamon is a retired teacher who campaigns for peace and justice. His research interests focus on imperialism and underdevelopment, both their history and continuing presence. He is committed to democracy, socialism and secularism. He blogs at https://salehmamon.com/ 

Top image: Israeli rocket attack on a building Rafah Khan Yunis, Gaza. Source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/126296c3-3396-4306-bb71-e0f265076b27 Author: Zoriah, licensed with a CC BY-NC 2.0 license. End image: Labour Hub.

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