A week ago, thousands of Jewish settlers descended on Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, attacking Palestinians and their property in one of the largest settler marches in recent memory.
As the crowds gathered, Israeli soldiers with loudspeakers began to warn Palestinians in the area to close their shops. But before long, the settlers broke away from the designated route, and there was a descent into mayhem.
In the vegetable market of the Old City of Hebron, settlers overturned stalls and hurled rocks as well as abuse along the way. They also smashed the doors of two mosques and damaged vehicles belonging to shopkeepers.
By the morning, evidence of the ravage was everywhere: Stones strewn on the floor, mushed vegetables, and smashed windscreens and doors.
Reported a Palestinian shopkeeper:
Another shopkeeper described the settlers as acting with impunity, noting the slow response of Israeli soldiers and their attacks instead of Palestinians who were defending themselves from the settlers.
These events of November 19 in Hebron were the archetypal rule by the mob – but with a difference. Present in the area that night too was Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, who has emerged as a kingmaker in Israeli politics following recent legislative elections.
Among the most prominent policy positions laid out by Ben-Gvir and Otzma Yehudit, either in the party’s manifesto or verbally, reports the Times of Israel, are encouraging Palestinian citizens of Israel to ‘emigrate’; annexing the West Bank without affording its Palestinian residents civil rights; using live fire against Palestinians protesting Israeli policies; immunity from prosecution for Israeli soldiers for military actions they carry out; overhauling the legal system and giving the Israeli government the ability to pack the bench with ideological compatriots.
Ben-Gvir is the political heir of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, which was designated as a terrorist organisation both in Israel and in the US. Until recently, he had a picture of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, hanging in his home.
In the lead-up to the election, he brandished his gun in the face of Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, admonishing:
“We’re the landlords here, remember that, I am your landlord,” he is recorded as saying in published footage from the incident.
Embraced into the political mainstream by Benjamin Netanyahu to aid his electoral prospects, the same gun-brandishing Ben-Gvir is now poised to become Israel’s national security minister — a role that would include oversight of the national police and border police in the West Bank.
Given his political outlook and track record, for Palestinians, the prospect of Ben-Gvir and like-minded allies from the Religious Zionism slate holding such sensitive portfolios is chilling.
At the same time, Palestinians are not surprised by this extreme tilt in Israeli politics. “This is a natural result of decades of unchecked settler colonialism in the form of political persecution, institutional violence, apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” writes Palestinian civil servant Jalal Abukhater.
Along with the due focus afforded to the rise of demagogues such as Ben-Gvir, there is a need to equally acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of elected lawmakers in Israel today are drawn from parties that reject Palestinian sovereignty in the occupied territories and support variations of a status quo described as apartheid by the likes of B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch, among others.
While maintaining a diverse political outlook internally, with respect to the Palestinians, even the Israeli “centre”, posits journalist Ben White, “is right-wing, nationalistic, and committed to a variety of positions at odds with international law.”
A case in point was the last ‘centrist’ administration to lead Israel under Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Notwithstanding the absence of the likes of Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir in key posts, Israeli policy was still characterised by the continued expansion of illegal Jewish settlements, criminalising of Palestinian human rights organisations and attacks on the Gaza Strip. It also oversaw the highest number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since 2005.
When the world today marks International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, it does so with this backdrop:
On the flip side, cracks are beginning to appear in the traditional support base of Israel, including in the US. The Palestinian Authority and the vestiges of the Oslo Accord era and the “peace-process” paradigm have largely become irrelevant to Palestinians. In its place has emerged a popular non-sectarian Palestinian resistance that has now forged a connection between disparate Palestinian enclaves in the Occupied Territories, reversing Israel’s previous inroads in segmenting Palestinian communities and their broader struggle of ending the Occupation.
This result is the inevitable consequence of funding and backing Israeli apartheid governments for decades, condemnations of Israeli crimes without pursuing accountability, failing to acknowledge geographic shifts on the ground, and censoring and criminalising legitimate Palestinian expressions of resistance.
The brazen racism and open calls to the violence of the new hegemony of Israel leave the world with a reality too stark to ignore.
Deadly violence and dispossession of Palestinians has been enabled for decades, not only by western weapons, but also through an endless stream of media misinformation and misrepresentation, and a misleading moral equivalence between the occupier and occupied.
After 75 years of the passage of United Nations Resolution 181 calling for a partition of historic Palestine, Palestinians are calling time for an approach towards their cause characterised by equivocation and selective outrage. Says Yara Hawari of the Palestinian Policy Network: “Palestinians don’t want different prison guards. They want to break free of the prison.”
Moosa is a researcher at the Palestine Information Network (PIN)