The Only Language Israel Understands
Image credit: The Leaflet
The title of my essay, provocative as it might appear, is a version of Nathan Thrall’s fantastic book The Only Language They Understand.
In his book, Thrall shows how Israel has historically come to the talking table only after diplomatic and military pressure has forced it to do so. It goes without saying that Palestinians have hardly been the winners in all these negotiations. They have always suffered deceit, defeat and disappointment.
The latest spurt of resistance from the Palestinians is nothing but a reflection of all the pent-up anger. I emphasise the word resistance because mainstream Indian media has had the temerity to call it ‘terrorism’.
Since there is no globally accepted definition of terrorism as more often than not ‘one man’s terrorist is another person’s revolutionary’, for our immediate purposes we can follow Prof. Benno Teschke’s understanding of terrorism and its modern manifestation.
Teschke argues that modern terrorism as a phenomenon belongs to the phase of informal empires, he writes, “terrorism becomes the most effective form of anti-imperial struggle— a new form of strategic-tactical creativity against an enemy whose sinews of power are flows of capital and long-range military-technological surveillance and control. Given the physical absence of the imperial power in the indirectly controlled area, terrorists have to carry the fight against civilian targets.”
During the phase of formal empires, armed oppositional action was a form of ‘partisan warfare’ wherein the enemy physically occupied the land and the battle against it was marked by a war of attrition and other forms of guerilla warfare. So, for instance, what the Indian armed revolutionaries, like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), did against the British was a form of ‘partisan warfare’.
Similarly, the fight for a free and independent Palestine waged by the Palestinians is not terrorism but a form of partisan warfare against a ‘settler colonial state’ that has metamorphosed into an ‘apartheidic’ one. Many in the liberal West would not tend to agree that Israel is an apartheid state. So, it will be better to recall the time when John Kerry, the US Secretary of State during the second (Barack) Obama administration, decided to enter the morass and settle the Israel–Palestine dispute once and for all through a two-state solution. He had declared, after seeing the Jewish settlement expansion, ‘‘soon Israel would face the choice between either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state … the window for a two-state solution is shutting.’’
In August this year, Amiram Levin, former head of the Israeli army’s Northern Command, said that “there hasn’t been a democracy there in 57 years, there is total apartheid” and that the Israeli army “is becoming a party to war crimes in the West Bank in processes that resemble Nazi Germany”.
Swearing on both sides of the scale, Kerry had promised a pre-1967 border State to the Palestinians, a post-1967 border commitment with a prisoner swap deal to Israel and a US $4 billion investment in the West Bank. The deal collapsed, thanks to Israel’s skullduggery in releasing the last batch of prisoners.
One should not read too much into the Obama administration’s extension of the olive branch. The US-representative to the United Nations, Susan Rice had vetoed a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. Obama often sided with the Israeli government in other ways. The US has increased military aid for Israel, especially for the Iron Dome anti-missile system. During major Israeli clashes with Hamas in 2012 and 2014, the US rhetorically supported Israel’s right to defend itself. At the United Nations, the US delegation voted in the UN General Assembly against elevating Palestine to “non-member observer State” status.
The bullish arrival of Donald Trump and his decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem along with this insistence on economic growth before a palpable solution to the century-old political problem only emboldened the Netanyahu-led right-wing. Trump’s appointment of two of his personal real estate and bankruptcy lawyers, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, as US ambassador to Israel and envoy for Israel–Palestine negotiations, respectively, showed that for Trump it was ‘another business deal to snatch’.
Worst of all, Trump deputed his real-estate magnate son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had no experience whatsoever in the diplomacy or politics of the Middle East, to solve the problem. Kushner turned out to be so pragmatic that he defiantly told the Israelis and Palestinians ‘not to talk to me about history’. It turned out that Jared’s father Charles Kushner was a major donor to pro-Israel and Zionist causes.
Departing from Kerry’s slightly considerate stance, Greenblatt declared that the West Bank settlements were ‘not obstacles to peace’. Friedman went a step ahead and demanded that the word ‘occupation’ be dropped by the US State department.
All this emboldened Israel to entrench its nefarious settlement activity. In 2017, the settler leader Yaakov Katz thanked Trump and admitted that during his presidency settler activity grew at nearly twice the rate of Israel’s population. In 2020, with the official visit by Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to a settler colony in the West Bank, the 1978 memo by State department legal adviser Herbert Hansell, which deemed Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines as illegal, was officially binned.
From 1967 through 2017, over 200 Israeli settlements were established in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). Their current population, as per the report of Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories is almost 620,000!
In June 2023, the Biden administration attempted to slap Israel on the wrist by declaring that it would not be transferring any funds to research institutes and technological projects in the West Bank. However, when asked whether Trump’s policy of encouraging settlements has been reversed, the State department confirmed “we have not taken that step”.
The current regime of Netanyahu and his far-right allies such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have been scrumptiously chomping at such meaty portions of appeasement thrown at them by the US. Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, who are against the very idea of a free state of Palestine, hold the key portfolios of finance and national security respectively in Netanyahu’s cabinet.
Both are provocative political animals who see no room for Palestinians. Since the time they have licked the candy of power, they have left no stones unturned to cause chaos and resentment among Palestinians. In August, Ben-Gvir had declared that his family’s freedom to move around Judea and Samaria (the biblical term for the occupied territory) is more important than the freedom of movement of the Arabs.
A concerted attempt is being made to show that violence has always been the favourite stratagem of the Palestinians’ resistance against Israel. Such a narrative has been sweetly packed into the case that reads ‘Islam and its adherents are essentially prone to violence’.
The Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel was a peaceful movement. It almost appeared akin to Gandhian methods of resistance. Given its initial worldwide success, the US and NATO responded alarmingly by trying to criminalise BDS across Europe and North America— claiming, with the help of Zionist lobby groups, that boycotting Israel was ‘antisemitic’.
Overall the life of Palestinians is a miserable one. Since the blockade of Gaza in 2007, four out of five Gazan children suffer from depression, grief and trauma. More than half of them have thought about suicide, and three out of five of self-harm.
About 90%–95% of the water supply in Gaza is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Water consumption by Israelis is at least four times that of Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Palestinians consume, on average, 73 litres of water a day per person whereas an average Israeli consumes 300 litres of water per day. Till last year, the unemployment rate in Gaza stood at a staggering 46%!
The resistance by Palestinians is the concentrated expression of all the wrongs that have been meted out to them. Netanyahu and his fascist allies would now have no scruples or hesitation in signing off the annihilation of Palestinians. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the influential countries of the world have seemingly decided to stand with Israel.
For them, the immediate attack on Israel has appeared to be problematic ‘inhuman’ and ‘terroristic’. The daily drudgery and travails of the Palestinians for over seven decades mean nothing to them. The liberal world has a set of ‘fashionable’ and ‘unfashionable’ victims. The suffering of Uyghurs and Tibetans at the hands of China (real and gruesome as they are) is a matter of global concern. Unfortunately, the Palestinians do not fit the bill. They are unfashionable victims.
As expected, the Modi regime in India has decided to stand solidly behind Israel. The forces of Hindutva are quickly accomplishing the task of equating Hinduism with Hindutva just the way Zionists have globally succeeded in equating Jewishness with Zionism. But the irony here is that when Jews were being subjected to a merciless genocide at the hands of Hitler, one of the (in)glorious pundits of the Hindu right in India, M.S Golwalkar alias Guruji, the second chief of the proto-fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), wrote in his book We or Our Nationhood Defined (published in 1939):
“German race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the semitic races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by (pg. 87–88).”
Someone must send this book to Bibi (Netanyahu) and his allies. Meanwhile, long live Palestine! Long live the Resistance!
Shubham Sharma is a research scholar at the Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut, US. The views are personal.
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