May 23, 2021

Israel’s Terrifying War against Palestinians

Vijay Prashad

ON May 6, 2021, Israeli officials arrived at Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to support the Zionist settlers who were in the midst of a campaign to evict Palestinian families from their homes. East Jerusalem, where Sheikh Jarrah is located, has been under Israeli occupation since 1967; ‘occupation’ is a technical term, since the United Nations Security Council resolution 242 (1967) protected the seized areas of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank as areas to be treated by Israel as the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). In 1972, Zionist settlers filed a case in Israeli courts to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah; the courts should have thrown out the case since it violated Israel’s obligation as an occupying power, but they did not. The Palestinians fought the case valiantly and defended their right to their homes. Aryeh King, deputy mayor of Jerusalem according to Israel, arrived in the area on May 6 and made illegal remarks. Mohammed Abu Hummus, who lives in Sheikh Jarrah, had been shot in the back; pointing to his head, Aryeh King said, ‘It’s a pity it didn’t got in here’.

Outrage at Aryeh King’s gesture and the violence of the Zionist settlers was met with necessary resistance by the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah. The Israeli State sent in the border police to attack the Palestinians. These soldiers entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque, unconcerned about the inflammatory impact this would have during Ramadan. From Gaza, several Palestinian factions warned the Israeli State to back off from the armed response and to stop the evictions. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed this warning and Israel’s outrages continued. Hamas and other factions fired a handful of rockets into Israel. Israel then began a terrible bombardment of Gaza, which has resulted in the loss of over two hundred Palestinians, with untold injury and damage to the infrastructure of Gaza. Many of the key doctors who have been fighting the Covid-19 epidemic in Gaza died in the first bombings by Israel. Israel’s defence minister Benny Gantz said in the early days of the Israeli barrage, ‘Israel is not preparing for a ceasefire. There is currently no end date for the operation. Only when we achieve complete quiet can we talk about calm’. The phrase ‘compete quiet’ is chilling.


On May 14, the US government blocked a UN Security Council meeting to discuss a statement regarding the Israeli violence. All moves to insist on a ceasefire by the United Nations were doomed by the intransigence of the United States government. When China, Norway, and Tunisia tried to organise a meeting of the Council to issue a statement on the violence on May 16, the US prevented the meeting from being held. There is no better indication of the full backing of the US ruling class than US President Joe Biden’s refusal to allow any criticism of the Israeli bombing, a refusal that mimicks the hard-core support given to Netanyahu by former US President Donald Trump.

Trump called his plan for the Palestinians the Deal of the Century. The plan offered nothing to the Palestinian people but provide a pathway for Israel to accelerate its seizure of the remainder of Palestine. Two main Arab states – both monarchies – were crucial to the plan. Trump offered both states – Morocco and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – deals that allowed them to buy weapons from US arms manufacturers if these monarchies would normalise relations with Israel. For Morocco, the US accepted the occupation of the Western Sahara, held by Morocco illegally; for the UAE, the US allowed them – along with the Saudis – to continue to prosecute the vicious war against Yemen. The Saharawi people and the Yemenis, including the Palestinians, were sacrificed by this deal so that Israel could further erode Arab sentiment to support the Palestinian cause. The hope is that if the US – on behalf of Israel – continues to work on Arab states, the Palestinian liberation struggle will be isolated to the extent that no-one will come to the defence of the Palestinian people.

The deal accelerated a policy position held by the US government since 1948, namely, to back the Israeli annexationist policy over all the lands of Palestine. But this acceleration qualitatively changed the confidence of the Israeli ruling class to act against the Palestinians. This confidence came at the same time as Israel is struggling with a serious internal political crisis. A fractured political class has been through four parliamentary elections over two years, with no result available even now. Netanyahu faces serious criminal charges of personal corruption, which have been held off because he has partial immunity as a prime minister; he is desperate to stave off the prosecution, even if it means the further erosion of Israeli democratic institutions and even if it means prosecuting a war against the Palestinians to distract from his own personal troubles. It was these three elements – the US deal of the century, the internal political crisis in Israel, and Netanyahu’s personal problems – that provide part of the context for the escalation into Sheikh Jarrah and the Israeli State’s response to Palestinian resistance. Full US backing for Israeli violence defines the character of Israeli ferocity.

Relief for the Palestinians is not available from the United Nations. It is not available from the European Union either, whose various bodies have said that they cannot come to a consensus on the violence. This paralysis in Europe is largely due to the weight of the Nazi Holocaust, in which the Nazis and their allies killed six million Jews and others. Europe is yet to come to terms with the Holocaust or with its long history of anti-Semitism. It was a consequence of anti-Semitism in Europe that made Theodor Hertz write his book calling for a Jewish homeland in 1896. Evidence of any anti-Semitism in Palestine against Jews who had lived there for centuries is minimal, certainly nothing at the level experienced by European Jews. It was the ascendency of Hitler in 1933 that sent large numbers of European Jews to Palestine, backed by the British imperialists who preferred to settle the Jews in Palestine rather than give them refuge in Britain. This preference – to transfer Jews out of Europe – as a consequence of anti-Semitism continued after Second World War, when Jewish refugees were refused entry into western European states, whose powers sent them to Palestine. The problem of European anti-Semitism, rather than be settled in Europe, was exported to Palestine, and the price paid for the European Holocaust was not paid by Europeans – whose current hypocrisy is galling – but by the Palestinians themselves.

There is no relief either from the Arab states, most of whom are deeply weakened by the imperialist interventions. Palestine’s neighbours – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt – are in no position to assist the Palestinians. Lebanon and Syria are yet to emerge from the long-term crisis set in motion partly due to the attempted regime change in both countries. Jordan was created as a figment of the imperialist imagination and is now firmly a subordinate ally of the United States. Egypt’s current ruler is a client of Saudi Arabia, which itself operates largely as a client of the United States. In an earlier period, under properly national liberation leadership, Egypt might have scrambled aircraft and declared the skies over Gaza to be a ‘no-fly zone’, but no stomach for that exists in Cairo. Neither Egypt nor Jordan would do anything to cross the lines drawn by the United States, and neither Lebanon nor Syria have the military capacity at this time to do anything beyond condemn the violence against the Palestinians.

The populations in the Arab world, including Palestinian refugees, have been furious about the violence. Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan marched to the border with Israel in large numbers, demanding the right to return. Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem as well as inside Israel proper have been conducting protests against the violence, including the repulsive vigilante violence of Zionist settlers across Israel and the OPT. The governments of the Arab world know that normalisation might please Washington and Tel Aviv, but it will not sit well amongst their citizens and subjects. There is deep frustration, which can erupt in many ways across the Arab lands. This frustration is already felt in Turkey, whose government has made some noises of protest, but which continues to uphold normal relations with Israel. In the decades before the ascent of the United States to its unipolar status, Arab ambassadors would have been recalled and the Arab League would have made loud noises. Now there are only shuffles backstage as envoys desperately try to get a ceasefire through. Their interest is not for the Palestinians but for their own frayed legitimacy.


On May 16, the Palestinian Ambassador at the United Nations Riad Malki said, ‘Jerusalem is not for sale. Our roots are deep. War and peace start from Jerusalem. Palestinian freedom is the only path to peace’. This is a precise formulation.

Ten days previously, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the Israeli law being used to evict the Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah is ‘applied in an inherently discriminatory manner’. If the Israelis continue to transfer populations, then it ‘may amount to a war crime’. The UN is taking about the evictions. These are themselves war crimes. The war crimes being conducted by the bombardments are separate and even more hideous. But these are all war crimes. The entire Israeli occupation of Palestine is a war crime. That occupation must end.