Israel’s impunity, U.S.’ complicity

Print edition : June 18, 2021

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken just before a joint news conference in Jerusalem on May 25. Photo: REUTERS

Yahya Sinwar, Palestinian leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, greets supporters at a rally in Gaza City on May 24, days after a ceasefire between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel. Photo: John Minchillo/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resorts to military operations in Gaza with U.S. support to hold on to power and mow down Hamas as it is the only force that stands in the way of Israel’s long-term land grab operation.

The prevailing narrative has more than one flaw. First, it is not an Israel-Palestine war as Associated Press or The New York Times and others have put it. War is between two parties, generally states, often with comparable military might. Here, one side is the nuclear-armed state of Israel, militarily the mightiest in the West Asian region, and under no threat from its neighbours or anyone else under the moon. The United States, the only superpower, is committed to secure Israel’s security. The other party is Hamas holding limited administrative responsibilities in Gaza, the largest open-air prison in history holding two million human beings.

Second, the prevailing narrative holds that Hamas had given an ultimatum to Israel and started firing rockets after the ultimatum expired. Therefore, Hamas should be held responsible for the death and destruction in Gaza and in Israel. This conclusion is based on the fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc (Since event Y followed event X, it follows that X caused Y.) Any competent journalist would have investigated what caused X.

Third, the narrative almost invariably assumes that Hamas is a terrorist organisation.

It has been said that truth is the first casualty in any war or conflict. Reflection will show that it is more accurate to say that honesty is the first casualty, not truth. Let us pose a few questions to clear the cobwebs created deliberately, mostly by Israel and its apologists. Chronology can be helpful.

Who orchestrated the crisis and why?

This writer holds the view that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orchestrated the crisis for two reasons. First, even after holding the office of Prime Minister for 15 years (1996-99, and since 2009), Netanyahu wanted to continue in office. Four elections in two years have demonstrated that he lacks majority support to form the government. In March 2020, his Likud Party got 36 of the 120 seats in Knesset. In the latest election in March 2021, Netanyahu got only 30 seats.

Also read: Savaging the Gaza Strip

April 6

President Reuven Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming a government with a deadline of May 4. Netanyahu seeks support from parties with contradictory ideologies. He approaches the extreme right among the Jews and their political adversaries, the Arab political party.

He starts working out a plan to create conditions that would help his agenda of holding on to office.

April 13

Ramadan begins, coinciding with the Memorial Day observed in honour of the fallen soldiers of the wars of Israel and the victims of terrorism.

The Al Aqsa mosque has made arrangements for the worshippers outside to listen to the prayers. The security forces enter the mosque and cut the cables. The excuse given was that President Rivlin was addressing the nation. A compromise could have been worked out, but the intention was to raise tension.

April 21

Netanyahu had sought the support of Itamar Ben Gvir, a Knesset member. Gvir is an admirer of Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinians and injured 125 in 1994. The victims were praying in a mosque.

Gvir took out a procession in East Jerusalem, which was already tense because of the move to expel Palestinians staying at Sheikh Jarrah for decades.

The followers of Gvir screamed “death to Arabs” as the police looked on.

May 4

Netanyahu reports to the President his failure to cobble a majority. However, he does not give up his project to hold on to power. He continues as the caretaker Prime Minister.

May 5

The President tasks Yair Lapid to form the government within 28 days. By then 56 legislators had told the President that they would support Lapid.

May 6

Lapid makes rapid progress and it appears that he would have a majority of 61 within a few days.

May 7

Security forces enter the Al Aqsa mosque and attack worshippers with stun grenades and rubber bullets, injuring 53.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates condemn the attack.

As tension mounts, Palestinians are disappointed that President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (P.A.), who had earlier cancelled the election that was to be held after a gap of 15 years, finds himself incapable of taking a stand against Israel. Obviously, Hamas does find an opportunity to assert itself as the true and fearless leader of Palestinians.

Netanyahu has already calculated that with sufficient provocation, Hamas will start firing rockets and then he can retaliate with obscenely disproportionate force with the support of the U.S. and the rest of the West, not to speak of other powers in the United Nations Security Council, including India.

May 9

Lapid gets the majority of 61.

Netanyahu decides to do whatever is necessary to provoke Hamas.

More clashes at Al Aqsa and elsewhere, especially in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah.

May 10

The clashes at Al Aqsa and elsewhere continue.

Hamas plays to Netanyahu’s script by issuing an ultimatum, which is to expire at 6 p.m. local time.

Netanyahu gladly ignores the ultimatum and asks his Air Force to be ready.

The rockets are fired first, and the retaliation follows.

The thesis of Netanyahu orchestrating the crisis has not been widely discussed in the media. There are one or two reasons for it. First, when it comes to Israel, the Western media, with a few honourable exceptions, do not apply their investigative tools. The following report of Al Jazeera, carried on May 16, five days after the ceasefire, illustrates this point:

“Shortly after the March 23 elections, Yair Lapid met with defence minister and White and Blue Alliance chairman Benny Gantz and, according to Haaretz writer Yossi Verter, told him the following: ‘There is one thing you need to consider. If Netanyahu feels that the government is slipping through his fingers, he will try to create a security incident. In Gaza or the northern border. If he will think that this is the only way to save him, he will not hesitate for a moment.

Also read: The Nazification of Israel

There is an uncritical approach to Israel in the West and, hence, in a good part of the rest of the world. Israel is like motherhood and apple pie. Whatever Israel says is accepted as true.

Is Hamas a terrorist organisation?

Israel’s branding of Hamas as a terrorist organisation reminds one of the saying: Those living in glass houses should not throw stones.

Some Zionists resorted to terrorism before Israel was established. Here is a specific case. Irgun, one of the progenitors of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, organised the bombing of King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946. The hotel hosted the secretariat and the military headquarters of the British Mandate for Palestine administration.

Ninety-one people were killed and 46 injured. The future Prime Minister Menachem Begin was one of the leaders of Irgun. British Prime Minister Clement Attlee condemned it as an “act of insane terrorism”.

Hamas was established in 1987, drawing inspiration from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. President Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood, the first democratically elected President, was brought down by the Egyptian military in 2013. The lesson is that the Brotherhood or its associates winning an election will not be permitted to govern and will be punished for the ‘crime’ of winning a free and fair election.

Hamas won the election in the West Bank and Gaza in January 2006, scoring an easy majority of 74 in a house of 132. The Fatah party of President Abbas, supported financially and otherwise by Israel and the U.S., was defeated. The European Union declared that the election was better than the elections in some of its member states.

The Mossad (Israeli intelligence agency) had calculated that the Fatah would win. It decided to punish Hamas. Israel and its supporters, the U.S. and Europe, withdrew financial aid to the Hamas-led government, and Abbas obligingly sacked the Prime Minister. Hamas, which had a strong support base in Gaza, took over the administration there, and Israel tightened the screws on the Strip and made the open-air prison worse.

It is true that Hamas has carried out violent attacks against the occupying power Israel. Did not the French Resistance during the Second World War carry out violent attacks against the occupying Nazi Germany? Are they terrorists?

In any case, Israel, which practises state terrorism by killing scientists as in Iran, and Netanyahu, in particular, have no moral credentials to speak of terrorism by Hamas.

Also read: Massacre at Gaza

Would a Gandhi have succeeded in Palestine? The short answer is a counter question: How long would a Gandhi have lasted under Israeli occupation? Did not Israel poison the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat even after he recognised and pledged to stop using violence against Israel?

Given the above facts, it will be wrong to conclude that the Machiavellian manipulations by Netanyahu alone can be a full explanation of the crisis. He could not have succeeded but for the support he got from the Israeli military-cum-intelligence and, equally important, from U.S. President Joe Biden.

As Karl Marx put it: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

Israel's policy of land grab

Israel was not at all satisfied with the area allotted to it under the 1947 U.N. plan. It has used war, violence and other means, including what may be called an aggressive settlement policy to expand the area from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea under its control. The two maps accompanying this article illustrate the point.

The only force that stands in the way of further land grab is Hamas. Therefore, there is the need to resort to military operations against Hamas from time to time. The Israeli military calls it the mowing operation. What Netanyahu wanted coincided with the military’s long-term plan.

Biden's complicity and vital support

Netanyahu would not have been able to carry out his plan without the support of Biden. What is striking is that Netanyahu had done his utmost to help the previous U.S. President Donald Trump get re-elected. Biden took almost a month to return Netanyahu’s phone call, a delay that was seen as a snub.

However, once Hamas started sending rockets into Israel, and Israel started to bomb Gaza, Biden called Netanyahu again and again. He publicly reiterated the ‘iron-clad’ security support to Israel. He spoke of Israel’s right to defend itself, implying that Palestinians had no such right.

Also read: Israeli violence in Gaza: Shooting an angel

Biden, who as a presidential candidate and as an elected President, pledged to uphold human rights did not see that the elementary human right to life was violated by Israel. One wonders whether in Biden’s eyes Palestinians cease to be humans as he does not acknowledge their human rights.

Biden adopted a recipe of public support and private pleading after a few days of asking Netanyahu to ‘de-escalate’ leading to a ‘ceasefire’, a word he dared to utter in public only by May 17, after seven days of reckless bombing.

By May 13, Lapid’s plan to form a government had collapsed. However, stopping the bombing the next day, would have exposed Netanyahu to the charge that he did it all to escape jail by hanging on to office.

Biden’s recipe of public support and private pleading, or more accurately, claims of such pleading, fitted in perfectly with Netanyahu’s scheme.

Pathetic performance of India and Europe

Upon joining the U.N. Security Council on January 1, 2021, India said: “We will use our tenure to bring human-centric and inclusive solutions to matters of international peace and security. India will be a voice for the developing world.”

In the present case, in its first intervention at the informal meeting of the Security Council, India condemned “all acts of violence” but specifically criticised “indiscriminate” rocket attacks from Gaza, at an emergency closed-door session of the Security Council called to discuss the ongoing hostilities in Gaza, where Israeli air strikes have killed 65 Palestinians, including 16 children and five women. India refrained from calling for a ceasefire. It joined other members days later when it was clear that the U.S. too was edging towards demanding a ceasefire. In short, it was not the finest hour of India’s diplomacy.

A commentary is called for on the adjective “indiscriminate”. Hamas lacks the technology that the U.S. has given to Israel. It is called JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) made by Boeing. Can Hamas be blamed for not using a technology it does not have? To take the logic further, Israel has made good use of the technology by specifically targeting residential buildings, a COVID-19 testing laboratory, water, electricity, and even a library.

Israel claims to having killed 225 Hamas commanders and soldiers. The Gaza Healthy Ministry stated that the death toll was 248, of which 66 were children and 39 women. That works out to 143 men.

Also read: Palestine: End of a hate plan

Foreign Ministers of Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia visited Israel on May 20. “I am speechless after I witnessed the destruction and terror that Israel has experienced,” said Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek after touring a rocket-devastated building in Petah Tikva. The reader might wonder what the same Minister would have said if he had visited Gaza. Expression of sympathy for the people in Israel and lack of any sympathy for those in Gaza who suffered infinitely more damage characterise the mindset of European leaders.

What next?

Will the ceasefire hold? It might unless Netanyahu decides otherwise. For a few days, the Biden administration used words to show its support for a ‘two-state’ solution. It has stopped doing that now. So long as Netanyahu holds power there is no question of any serious talk about a Palestinian state.

The reconstruction needs money and good governance. Good or bad, Hamas alone can provide the governance. In this context, Biden’s plan to carry out the reconstruction through the Ramallah-based P.A. does not make much sense. However, it is rather amusing to note the U.S.’ keenness to rebuild what was destroyed by Israel using American weapons.

Qatar and Egypt have said that they will give $500 million each. There is much fudging in the figures announced by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In any case, it is much less than what smaller powers such as Egypt and Qatar have offered.

What might be the cost of Israeli occupation? The cumulative economic cost of the Israeli occupation, from the prolonged closure and military operations in Gaza, during the 2007-18 period, is estimated at $16.7 billion, according to a UNCTAD (U.N. Conference on Trade and Development) report to the U.N. General Assembly in November 2020.

What can we expect from Israel?

Is India in a hurry to give?

Ambassador K.P. Fabian is Distinguished Fellow

at Symbiosis University, Pune. He is the author

of the forthcoming book The Arab Spring

That Was and Wasn’t.