Photo: Twitter/OCHA oPt
Large-scale discontent with Israeli government
Israel's 37th government took office on 29 December 2022, the most right-wing, anti-Palestinian, and religiously conservative cabinet in Israeli history. This cabinet, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu of the Likud party, consists of two ultra-Orthodox and three ultra-nationalist parties. Several ministers from this cabinet have therefore spoken out about their desire to annex the West Bank. In addition, several Israeli ministers openly express their opposition to equal rights for women and members of the lhbtqi+ community. Unsurprisingly, this government has already caused massive discontent since taking office: from leftists to liberals, and from Palestinians to Netanyahu's own old elite unit.
Less than a month after taking office, the first large-scale protests against this far-right government took place after it announced plans to curtail the powers of the Supreme Court. Many feared that this would remove democratic checks and balances and make minority rights worse protected. Israel has no controlling institutions such as a Senate or constitution, so curtailing the Supreme Court is a major threat to democracy, especially in a country not unfamiliar with corrupt politicians, including Prime Minister Netanyahu himself. Despite taking a short 'pause' for reform, Netanyahu has not taken the reforms off the table. Meanwhile, the Israeli parliament has also agreed to them. This triggered yet more massive nationwide protests, which led to tens of thousands of protesters, arrests, and roadblocks.
Escalation in the Palestinian Territories
On this troubled stage of Israeli politics, the situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is also escalating. Recently, Jenin, a Palestinian town in the northern West Bank, featured extensively in the news. Already earlier are, both in Jenin as in other Palestinian areas, carried out many Israeli attacks. Yet there is currently a negative trend when looking at the scale and modus operandi of recent attacks.
The new nature of tensions became especially clear when, on the night of July 2 to 3, Israeli army invaded a neighbourhood called 'the refugee camp' in Jenin with brutal aggression which included airstrikes and bulldozers, killing at least 12 Palestinians, five of whom were minors. Of the past 20 years, this is one of the largest Israeli army operations in the West Bank.
The recent raid not only caused a lot of damage to the area, but also a lot of anger and fear. Thus, around 3,000 people have fled the refugee camp and several protests have flared up. Prime Minister Netanyahu has announced more similar actions in the future.
In conversation with insiders
The gravity of recent developments in Jenin and the overtly racist, anti-democratic nature of the far-right Israeli government raise important questions about the Israeli-Palestinian question. What do these developments say about the future of the two-state solution? Should international progressives refocus on this? Is it time for a firmer left-wing stance towards Israel? On these questions, following the recent incursion into Jenin, FMS spoke to two insiders in the Palestinian perspective on the conflict and the harsh realities of life in the occupied territories:
- Geerke Visser was until recently active as an observer in Jericho, a city located in the Jordan Valley and part of the West Bank. She had been dispatched by peace organisation PAX for a programme of 'The World Council of Churches'. Her task for three months was to monitor human rights violations in the area and report on her observations in the field; and
- Edwin van 't Pad is policy officer of 'The Rights Forum', an independent knowledge centre dedicated to 'a just and sustainable Dutch and European policy towards the Palestine/Israel issue', focusing on public education and campaigns. His career has been dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian issue for seven years.
Questioning Israeli accountability
Israeli authorities describe the recent raid as a disarmament and anti-terrorist operation targeting the refugee camp, which they describe as a weapons cache and terrorist operations centre. There is indeed armed Palestinian resistance there, in addition to a large number of Plaestines peacefully resisting the occupation, but Geerke Visser poses the counter-question: "Do you have to carry out such a large-scale operation for that, which only creates more resistance? Should there be so many deaths and injuries, including children, in the process?"
She explains that this attack in Jenin is part of a broader and long-term military campaign by the Israeli army called 'Breaking the Wave'. She also talks about the overall militarisation of Israeli society, in which the entire society is implicated in the occupation of the Palestinian Territories and drawn into narratives based on ignorance and fear. This is done, among other things, through anti-Palestinian propaganda and conscription for two to three years. The 'Breaking the Wave' campaign is carried out under the guise of 'counterterrorism' and has resulted in a high number of Palestinian deaths.
Edwin van 't Pad explains that Israeli authorities stick the label of 'terrorism' on any form of resistance, which inevitably arises in the "hopeless occupation". He stresses how important it is to be mindful of the context of Palestinian resistance: "No people in the world accepts to live under foreign military rule, including Palestinians". According to him, resistance is additionally fuelled by the fact that the two-state solution is out of sight, as Israel has made it impossible through complete annexation and control.
Despite the fact that the current Israeli government is causing a further escalation of violence and is "unashamedly anti-Palestinian racist and ultra-nationalist", Van 't Pad notes that the violence in Jenin, like the overall occupation, met with the approval of almost the entire parliament. He also sees no major difference between the current and the previous government.
The international response
According to Geerke Visser, Dutch and other Western politicians and media often adopt the coloured Israeli perspective. For instance, they mainly talk about 'Israeli self-defence' and 'Palestinian terrorists', and paint a picture of an equal conflict, while there is a great imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Yet reporting increasingly also criticises the brutal nature of Israeli attacks such as in Jenin
The international response to the Israeli incursions currently gives little hope. According to Van 't Pad, "sharp criticism" came from the UN and EU on the one hand, while on the other, Israel continues to receive diplomatic and economic support from the international community: "The settlers are still allowed to sell their products on the Dutch and European markets, so the illegal settlements remain profitable". According to Van 't Pad, the effect of the lack of international action against Israel, combined with the effect of the unwillingness to protect Palestinians, is that Israel will intensify repression.
Geerke Visser also sees a huge increase in human rights violations. She explains that attacks like the recent one on Jenin regularly take place on a smaller scale at other refugee camps in the West Bank. According to her, this attack is not an isolated incident but fits into a wider pattern of escalation: "Previously, according to the UN, 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the Second Intifada. Now, halfway through the year, they say 2023 is on its way to being the deadliest year."
Violence is escalating, the politics of illegal settlements are intensifying and democracy in Israel is under threat. Amid these negative trends, it is sometimes searching to see bright spots in this situation as well. Yet there are. A number of Israeli and Palestinian organisations continue to offer hope and advocate for more justice despite everything. In addition, critical voices are increasingly heard among younger generations in the Netherlands. Also, as mentioned earlier, media are showing more critical views on the Israeli occupation since the current far-right cabinet came to power.
The Israeli government is also under increasing pressure at home, which can be seen in the current large-scale Israeli protests. Take, for example, the growing Israeli movement opposing the democratic decline of Netanyahu's government. Geerke Visser hopes that this movement will also start focusing on the occupation. She hopes they will ask themselves, "Is a democracy democratic if the same democracy is carrying out an occupation and certain groups are excluded from the right to vote?"
The next elections, which will mark the end of the current government period, offer hope for the necessary progressive, left-wing sound, which can be represented by Meretz, among others. The Israeli party is one of the PvdA's sister parties and does speak out explicitly against the Israeli occupation and in favour of a peaceful two-state solution. Meretz unfortunately failed to reach the electoral threshold in the most recent Israeli parliamentary elections in 2022, but the next Israeli parliamentary elections will hopefully be a step in the right direction - that of a peaceful end to the occupation.
The recent attacks in Jenin have once again demonstrated the urgency of this. Indeed, in Israel's current political landscape, we can expect the intensity of attacks like the one on Jenin and support for settlements to only grow. It is therefore time for progressives, social democrats, socialists, and members of other leftist groups to raise awareness about the state and future of the Israel-Palestine issue.