Opposition to Israeli belligerence

Israeli attack on Gaza sparks global outrage

Print edition : June 18, 2021

During a massive demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinian people, in London on May 15. Photo: AP

Yemeni fighters perform a traditional dance to express solidarity with Palestinians, in Sana’a on May 20. Photo: AFP

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Photo: REUTERS

Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip evokes unprecedented worldwide condemnation but right-wing regimes stand by it, while several Democratic leaders urge the Biden administration to protect the rights of Palestinians.

Millions of people around the world were outraged by the new war Israel unleashed against the blockaded and impoverished Gaza Strip, the most densely populated place in the world. Although the United States, Canada, and most European nations continue to support Israel even after its refusal to implement the Oslo Accord that provided for the creation of a Palestine state, public opinion in these countries is fast turning against the Jewish state.

Huge demonstrations to show solidarity with the beleaguered Palestinian people were held in most of the major western cities including New York, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Melbourne after the declaration of the ceasefire. Many people marching in the streets were draped in Palestinian flags. Others carried banners calling for the establishment of a ‘free Palestine’ and demanding ‘sanctions on Israel’ for the war crimes it has been committing against the Palestinian people since its creation.

London witnessed one of the biggest protest marches in recent years, in which more than 200,000 people participated. The French government initially wanted to ban the solidarity march using the pandemic as a pretext. Among the most popular slogans chanted by thousands of marchers in Paris were “We’re all Palestinians” and “Israel assassin and Macron accomplice”.

Also read: Savaging the Gaza Strip

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister and architect of his country’s expansionist and racist policies implemented in the last decade and a half, specifically thanked Emmanuel Macron, the French President, and Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, for standing with Israel during the onslaught on Gaza. Netanyahu also thanked Alexander Van der Bellen, the Austrian President, who had decided to fly the Israeli flag alongside his country’s flag for the duration of the latest conflict in Gaza. Austria is currently under a Islamophobic right wing government. The right-wing governments in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also promised their unalloyed support to Israel.

India’s stance

India, which currently holds a rotating seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), called on both sides to de-escalate the crisis. At the same time, India’s Permanent Representative in the U.N. laid the blame on Hamas, the Palestinian resistance outfit, for starting the conflict by resorting to “indiscriminate” firing of rockets into Israel.

The Indian envoy did not mention the serious Israeli provocations against the Palestinians and the firing of much more deadlier weapons into Gaza.

The Palestinian Ambassador to India, who belongs to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), has also been critical of the attitude taken by India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Netanyahu have boasted about their close friendship, but Netanyahu, for reasons unknown, did not thank Modi for his tacit support for Israel. After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, the tilt away from the Palestinian cause became even more pronounced. The party’s predecessor, the Jana Sangh, was the only Indian party to oppose the government’s recognition of Palestinian statehood in 1988. Modi is also the only Indian Prime Minister to have visited Israel.

However, it was the Congress under P.V. Narasimha Rao that was responsible for establishing close-knit security and military ties with the Jewish state. There has been no looking back since then, with Israel emerging as a major arms supplier to India and its counter-insurgency tactics widely emulated in the country.

Nowadays, India prefers to mostly abstain from voting in U.N. resolutions condemning Israeli human rights abuses and war crimes in Gaza. It did so again on May 27 by choosing to abstain from voting on a U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHCR) resolution to set up a permanent commission to probe human rights violations in Gaza, Israel and the occupied West Bank. The resolution, jointly sponsored by Palestine and Pakistan, was passed with a comfortable majority, despite the opposition of the U.S. and most of its allies on the UNHRC India abstained.

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This is the first time that an international commission of inquiry is being set up to look into “all the underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of the conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial and religious identity”.

The official Indian statement once again criticised the “indiscriminate rocket attacks” from Gaza while choosing to remain silent on the non-stop indiscriminate bombing of the enclave by Israeli planes, drones, helicopters and tanks for 11 days.

India did not give any reason for its decision to abstain from voting on this resolution, which came after the carnage in Gaza. It issued a statement in Geneva—where the UNHRC meeting took place—that was similar to those delivered after the UNSC and U.N. General Assembly meetings on Gaza earlier in May. The statement welcomed the ceasefire agreement and reiterated that none of the parties “should attempt to change the existing status quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods”.

India’s abstention came after the U.N.’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said that Israel’s recent actions in Gaza could possibly constitute “a war crime”. She was speaking at the opening of the special session of the UNHRC on May 27. Michelle Bachelet said that she had seen no evidence to suggest that the high-rise civilian buildings in Gaza demolished by Israel were used for military purposes.

Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh police arrested a 32-year-old man from Azamgarh, coincidentally named Yasser Arafat, for posting a pro-Palestinian image and comments on his Facebook page. He was arrested “for indulging in public mischief”. Arafat had said in his post that Palestinian flags would fly over every house, vehicle and office in a show of resistance to Israel’s aggression. The U.P. Police said that the post had inflamed communal tensions in Azamgarh. Arafat was later released.s

Even as support for Israel increases in countries ruled by right-wing parties, there has been a noticeable erosion of public support in the U.S., the most consistent backer and protector of the state of Israel until now. Also, there is dissent among the Democrats on the issue of supporting Israel.

President Joseph Biden and his Vice President, Kamala Harris, have been close to the influential and wealthy Jewish lobby in the U.S. Both have been keynote speakers at events organised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most influential lobbying groups in the country.

Democrats’ dissent

The solid bipartisan support for Israel in the U.S. that existed until recently has disappeared. In April, 75 Democratic Congress members refused to sign a letter drafted by the AIPAC demanding that the annual $4 billion aid package to Israel be “unconditional”.

The group known as “Progressive Democrats” led by Bernie Sanders now has a sizeable presence in both the Congress and the Senate. These Democrats were quick to make their displeasure and anger known at the blatantly pro-Israeli stance of the Biden administration even as the Israeli war machine was relentlessly pounding Gaza. After the events in May, the Democratic Party now is openly divided on the issue of Palestine.

Also read: Israel: March of the Right

“Progressive Democrats” openly questioned the rationale behind the carte-blanche that the Biden administration has extended to Israel. Biden said that Israel’s attack on Gaza was not “a significant overreaction” on the part of the Jewish state even as the number of civilian casualties there was rising. For more than 10 days the Biden administration even blocked the UNSC from passing a resolution calling for a ceasefire. Writing in the hitherto pro-Israeli New York Times, Sanders said that the U.S. should stop harping on the mantra of “Israel having the right to defend itself” and instead focus on the “rights of the Palestinian people” too. He said that incidents like the continued eviction of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem suburb of Sheikh Jarrah “are part of a broader system of political and economic oppression”.

He also wrote that for many years the U.S. had been watching the government of Benjamin Netanyahu “marginalise and demonise Palestinian citizens of Israel, pursue settlement policies designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution and pass laws that entrench systemic inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel”. He emphasised that the U.S. could no longer be an apologist for Israel, especially since it provides $4 billion in military aid to the country annually.

More than 25 Democratic members of the U.S. Congress wrote to Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, urging the Biden administration to stop Israel from forcibly evicting Palestinians. The letter pointed out that Israel had demolished more than 5,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem since 1967. It said: “East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank, and, under international law, Israel is in military occupation of this territory, notwithstanding its illegal incorporation of East Jerusalem within the Jerusalem municipality.”

Among those who signed the letter were prominent Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, Aryanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who actually supported the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014, apparently had a change of heart and is now in favour of restricting military aid to Israel and has strongly condemned the forcible eviction of Palestinian families from their houses.

A significant section of Jews in the U.S. no longer blindly support Israel. Moderate Jewish groups such as JStreet, along with groups such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voices for Peace, have been open in their criticism of the Netanyahu government’s policies. The “Black Lives Matter” movement, which has gained significant political traction in the U.S., has also helped the Palestinian cause.

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“Palestinian lives matter too” banners and slogans are now seen widely in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Many Americans have now realised that the Israeli policies against the Palestinians are inherently racist and draw parallels between the treatment of blacks and minorities in the U.S. with the treatment being meted out by Israel to the Palestinian minority.

U.S actions after ceasefire

Antony Blinken, who was on a visit to Israel, the West Bank and Egypt after the Gaza ceasefire was announced, pledged “an immediate disaster assistance” of $5.5 million for Gaza and $32 million for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He also promised additional funding of $71 million for Palestinians this year. The U.N. has appealed for $95 million in the next three months to address the “very immediate needs” of the Strip.

Blinken also announced the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, which has been tasked with looking after relations with the Palestinian Authority (P.A.), which is in partial control in some areas of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. U.S. ties with the P.A. had deteriorated after the previous Donald Trump administration, in 2019, merged the Jerusalem Consulate with the U.S. embassy in the city, which had been transferred from Tel Aviv a year earlier. That move was widely condemned by the international community.

In a statement during his visit to the West Bank, Blinken talked about the need for a “two state solution” for a durable peace to be established in the region. He was careful not to bring the issue up publicly during his visit to Tel Aviv and meeting Netanyahu, signalling that the Biden administration continues to treat Israel with kid gloves.

Everybody in the region knows that the “two state solution” was virtually demolished by Netanyahu with the aid and abetment of successive U.S. administrations. The Trump administration was the worst offender as it sought to facilitate the takeover of most of the West Bank by the Jewish state.

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The Biden administration wants the P.A. under Mahmoud Abbas to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people. It has been obvious for some time that the P.A. and the Fatah movement have lost a lot of credibility among the Palestinian people. One of the important factors that prompted Abbas to postpone the Palestinian elections that were scheduled this year was the fear of losing once again to Hamas. After the recent events in Gaza, the popularity of Hamas has received a further boost, according to most observers of the region.

However, the U.S. and several of its allies in the region, such as the West Asian kingdoms and Egypt, do not want Hamas to play a pivotal role in Palestinian politics. The Biden administration has said that it would partner with the P.A., the Gulf states, Egypt and the U.N. to funnel in aid to Gaza “to ensure that Hamas does not benefit” from the millions of aid dollars flowing in.

The PA has very little influence in the Gaza Strip after being defeated electorally and militarily in 2006. The Hamas leadership has reiterated that it will not touch a penny from the international humanitarian aid flowing in after previous Israeli military assaults.

Hamas said in a statement that the Biden administration was trying to create a new fissure between it and the Fatah leadership in the West Bank. Hamas continues to be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. and the European Union. The U.S., which has no problems in talking to the Taliban, has refused to engage with Hamas, despite the fact that Hamas won the last free and fair election held in 2006 in the occupied territories under international supervision.

The Egyptians and conservative Gulf countries have no love lost for Hamas because of its close links with the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. Egypt played a key role in negotiating the ceasefire in Gaza, with its envoys shuttling between Tel Aviv and Gaza. Gaza was administered by Egypt until the 1967 war. But the authoritarian Egyptian government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has not gone out of its way to support Palestinian statehood.

In the past, whenever Palestinians faced a crisis, Egyptians used to stage the biggest rallies in support of their Arab brethren. The el-Sisi government saw to it that Egyptians did not come out on the streets in large numbers this time. The government even imprisoned two Egyptian activists for supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel for its apartheid and settlement policies. The movement has elicited widespread support in many European countries. They have started boycotting Israeli products, especially those produced in the occupied territories.

Iran backs Hamas

Iran was among the countries cheering the resistance put up by Hamas against the overwhelming display of force by the Israeli army. It has been a supporter of Hamas from the outset and has appreciated Hamas’ refusal to formally recognise the Jewish state and its determination to fight on for genuine Palestinian statehood. Israel has been staging audacious attacks inside Iran, targeting the country’s vital nuclear installations and its scientists. Israel has been also regularly carrying out attacks on Iranian military advisers in Syria. Israel is said to have passed on intelligence to the Americans about the movements of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was assassinated during a diplomatic mission to Baghdad on Trump’s orders.

Also read: Palestine’s voice

The fact that Hamas could deter Israel with its crude rockets has not been lost on Iran’s military planners. Iran has a huge arsenal of sophisticated medium-range missiles that have proved their accuracy in recent years. The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the Palestinians for their battle against Israel, saying that it was the duty of all Muslim nations to help the Palestinians economically and militarily.

Iran is also happy that the widespread anger on the Arab streets will deter more countries in the region from recognising Israel. Any hopes that Saudi Arabia would follow suit and recognise the Jewish state have now been dashed. Saudi Arabia has now stopped Israeli aircraft from overflying its territory. Flights from India and the United Arab Emirates to Israel were granted access to Saudi airspace last year.

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