Opinion

Biden's green light for Israel

The president made it clear where he stands on the conflict in East Jerusalem and Gaza

The Gaza Strip is once again under attack. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been blasting the area with air and artillery strikes, deliberately destroying numerous residential towers, and is now preparing ground operations. At time of writing, at least 122 Gazans had been killed. Hamas, meanwhile, has launched hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory, killing eight Israelis, but the vast majority of them have been shot down by the IDF's Iron Dome interceptor system.

What Israel is doing is a war crime: deliberate punishment of innocent civilians in order to beat Gaza into submission. Hamas is guilty of the same thing, but is so wildly overmatched in terms of firepower that the effects do not bear comparison. More importantly, the United States is deeply implicated in Israel's actions — not only does that country receive lavish American subsidies and diplomatic protection, on Wednesday Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with Israel Minister of Defense Benny Ganz, reiterating America's "ironclad support for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and its people[.]" President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau, and "conveyed his unwavering support for Israel's security and for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and its people[.]"

It was a green light for attack.

As Mari Cohen and Joshua Leifer explain at Jewish Currents, the proximate cause of this latest outbreak of violence is the attempted eviction of six Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Jewish groups had purchased this area in the 19th century under the Ottoman Empire. But during the Nakba in 1948, about 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in what is now Israel. At the time, Jordan took control of East Jerusalem and settled many Palestinian refugees there. But Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, and upheld the old Ottoman deeds (which are disputed, by the way) — while refusing to respect Palestinians' pre-1948 property rights. Settler groups bought up these deeds, and Israeli courts have gradually evicted more and more of the Sheikh Jarrah residents.

Israel's Supreme Court is set to rule on whether to uphold the eviction ruling, which sparked off the current crisis. Palestinians rightly see it as part of a strategy to gradually push them out of Jerusalem and to assert Israeli control over the whole city.

Another important political context here is that Netanyahu failed to win a majority in the last election, and is under indictment for corruption. Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennet (another extreme right-winger) had been in talks with left-wing and even Palestinian parties to form a government. That process has now been disrupted, and Bennet is now back in talks with Netanyahu. The violence has been very advantageous for the embattled prime minister.

The broader root of the problem though is the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. About 4.8 million Palestinians in those two places live under the complete domination of a government in which they have no representation. That government has continued to confiscate West Bank land for Israeli settlers, and otherwise tightly control where Palestinians are allowed to go and what they are allowed to do. It's the dictionary definition of an apartheid regime.

In some ways the Gaza pummeling is just business as usual — "mowing the grass," as the cynical Israeli phrase goes. There has been continuous war against Gaza's civilian population since 2007 in the form of a siege. Hamas won the 2006 elections there, and Israel and the U.S. have collectively punished the Gazan people with a strict blockade ever since, reducing almost the entire population to desperate penury, plus regular bombings and invasions in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018, and now 2021. The casualties have been enormous. As Gaza resident Refaat Alareer writes in The New York Times about himself and his wife, "Nusayba and I are a perfectly average Palestinian couple: Between us we have lost more than 30 relatives."

However, in other ways this time feels different. Liberal Zionists and other American apologists for Israel have (as usual) attempted to deflect blame by pointing to Hamas, insisting Israel has the right to defend itself in a conflict it started, and so forth. But this time many Israeli officials and ordinary Israelis have not bothered to hide their desire for vindictive violence and ethnic cleansing.

Right-wing Jewish mobs have roamed the streets all over Israel chanting "death to Arabs," smashing Arab businesses, and brutally beating people who appear to be Palestinian. (Some Arab Israelis have responded in kind.) Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King was caught on film yelling at a Palestinian activist that "it's a pity" he wasn't shot in the head. Reporter Abby Martin interviewed a bunch of ordinary Israelis in West Jerusalem and heard overt support for ethnic cleansing. "Israel has to take over … we have to kick them away," said one. "This is our land now, I don't think they should be here. No Arabs," said another. "I would carpet bomb them … it's the only way to deal with it," said a third. "We need to kill Arabs," said a fourth, laughing.

King admitted to the Times that the evictions were part of a strategy to eventually control East Jerusalem. It "is the way to secure the future of Jerusalem as a Jewish capital for the Jewish people," he said. "If we will not be in big numbers and if we will not be at the right places in strategic areas," future negotiators "will try to divide Jerusalem and to give part of Jerusalem to our enemy," he added. "I want Jerusalem to be Jewish," another settler told the Times. "This land belonged to the Jewish nation, to the Jewish people."

Even former Times writer Bari Weiss, ostensibly on the side of liberal Zionism, argued that massacring innocent children in Gaza, while a tragedy, is simply "one of the unavoidable burdens of political power, of Zionism's dream turned into the reality of self-determination."

At this point, there are two realistic options for the future. Given ongoing Israeli settlement growth, the idea of two states, one for Jews and one for Palestinians, is increasingly far-fetched. That leaves either one secular state for everyone living in the territory Israel controls (the South Africa solution), or Israel continuing its current ethnic cleansing strategy — accelerating settlements, deportations, and/or massacres until all Palestinians are pushed out of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, or simply killed outright.

Given the horrifying words coming out of the mouths of Israeli officials and citizens, the genocide option seems increasingly possible.

The question for the immediate future is whether President Biden is going to keep participating in Israeli atrocities. As noted, Israel continues to receive massive military subsidies from the American state, and nearly automatic use of the U.S. veto on the United Nations Security Council to block international accountability, reportedly including twice this week.

As Branko Marcetic writes at Jacobin, Biden has long been a die-hard Israel partisan — but that is a position that is deeply and increasingly unpopular among Democratic voters. If he continues his knee-jerk support for the Israeli government no matter what it does, the prospects for the Palestinian people look grim.

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