Category Archives: Naftali Bennett

Israel has every reason to fear this bold Palestinian prison break

It would be impossible for Palestinians not to revel in six prisoners carrying out a daring escape from one of Israel’s most secure and modern jails. Israel may be working overtime to demonise the six men as “terrorists“, but for Palestinians, they are among its finest and bravest foot soldiers.

They are prisoners of war, most of whom were serving long sentences after they tried to liberate their homeland by killing Israeli soldiers or settlers – those seen to be implementing and enforcing Israel’s decades-old occupation.

All Palestinians can identify with the plight of these men. Imprisonment is a rite of passage for much of the male Palestinian population; estimates are that many hundreds of thousands have passed through Israel’s jails over the past five decades.

Many are in jail awaiting trial, as were two of the six escapees. Others are in administrative detention – jailed without trial or even being told what charges are levelled against them. Inmates’ rights are serially abused. They are kept in overcrowded cells, have little contact with their families, and are often beaten or tortured.

In the summer, footage emerged – redolent of the abuses committed by the US army at Abu Ghraib in Iraq – of mass beatings of Palestinian inmates at Ketziot prison in Israel’s south in 2019. No action was taken even after the video leaked, presumably because this kind of thing – if rarely seen – is entirely routine. It confirms what Palestinian prisoners have long been saying.

And most Palestinian political prisoners are held in jails inside Israel, outside the occupied territories – the six fugitives broke out of Gilboa prison, in northern Israel – in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and Israel’s obligations under the laws of war. As a result, family visits are often difficult, if not impossible.

Humiliation for Israel

Every Palestinian will glory in Israel’s humiliation. Guards failed to spot the prisoners gradually widening a hole in the drainage system in their cell over many months. The six men moved undetected past a sleeping guard, and they planned a sophisticated getaway – seemingly assisted – that foiled a police manhunt hot on their tail.

But the celebrations in Palestinian communities across the region, and far beyond, relate not just to the jailbreak. Every day the prisoners remain free – and four were still at large on Friday, after two were reportedly caught in Nazareth – is another hammer blow against the occupation. That is not just the way Palestinians see it. It is how Israel’s officials and much of the public understand it too.

The six did not just escape from an Israeli maximum-security prison. They jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. They broke out of the small prison that is Gilboa into the much larger prison for Palestinians that is their homeland under occupation.

Every minute the men remain at large, Israel’s occupation is defied. Every minute they can’t be found, Israel’s system of control is defeated. Palestinians are reminded that freedom may ultimately be possible; that the occupation is not invincible.

Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian militant faction to which five of the men belonged, has urged Palestinians not to speak of this as an escape but as an “act of liberation”. This is precisely why Israel is determined that, as soon as possible, the men are returned behind visible bars – or maybe killed in a shootout, a fate that often befalls those who defy Israel. The point of its occupation is to crush any hope, any sense that freedom can be attained.

Hierarchy of confinement

In fact, like Dante’s circles of hell, Israel has created a hierarchy of confinement for Palestinians. The more they resist the fate intended for them by Israel – to be dispossessed and erased from their homeland – the more harshly Israel constrains them.

Prison is the ultimate punishment. But as is so often pointed out, Gaza is also a giant detention camp, the largest open-air prison in the world. The coastal strip, run by Hamas, is surrounded by an electronic perimeter fence, and besieged by the army and navy on all sides.

Over in the land-locked West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, formally the Palestinian president but in practice the unelected head of a few cantons in its midst, has won minor privileges for his own population through good behaviour.

By serving as Israel’s security sub-contractor – remember his infamous words saying “security coordination” with Israel was “sacred” – Abbas has managed to slightly loosen the chains of confinement. There are fewer Israeli checkpoints, and less of an Israeli army presence, in the small areas of the West Bank not being plundered by settlers.

But Israel’s furious reaction to the jailbreak, as well as the fugitives’ limited options in the face of this backlash, were a reminder of deeper realities. The occupied West Bank was put under immediate military closure – the cell door slammed shut – in a familiar move of Israeli collective punishment.

The six men are from Jenin and its immediate environs. The small Palestinian city in the northern West Bank is only a stone’s throw from Gilboa prison. They could have expected to be hidden there, if they could have reached it. In another act of collective punishment – a war crime – Israel arrested several of their relatives.

Given Abbas’s “security coordination” with Israel, however, the fugitives may prefer to stay out of the West Bank. Abbas has noticeably avoided expressing any support himself for the men. He recently met Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, in a bid to revive a long-stalled “peace process” that served in the past only to perpetuate, and provide cover for, the occupation.

Israel’s intelligence agencies are constantly eavesdropping on Palestinian communications, and they operate an extensive network of collaborators in the occupied West Bank. Or as the Haaretz military affairs correspondent Amos Harel put it with revealing frankness: “With the possible exception of a number of totalitarian regimes, the West Bank is subject to as comprehensive and intensive intelligence coverage as anyplace on earth.”

Escape route

The fugitives’ best hope of remaining out of Israel’s clutches may be leaving their homeland and crossing the border into Jordan. Amman would find it hard to return them, given their status as heroes and Jordan’s concerns about inflaming passions among its own large Palestinian refugee population.

But making such an escape would be no mean feat. Israel already has tight security along the Jordan Valley.

Underscoring the paradoxes of the occupation, Israel seems most concerned that the fugitives may try to break into Gaza. It has reportedly beefed up patrols around the perimeter. The coastal enclave may be an open-air prison, and has been under 15 years of Israeli blockade, but it is one where, uniquely, the Palestinian inmates have some degree of control inside the walls of their massively overcrowded, resource-poor, polluted cell.

Israel’s sanctions are mostly at arm’s length. It keeps the inmates on a near-starvation diet, and intermittently – when they start to riot – it sends in missiles or soldiers as the equivalent of punishment beatings.

The final option for the men is to stay inside Israel. Already, the Israeli media is hinting to its readers that the fugitives were aided, and sheltered, by Israel’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population who have very degraded citizenship. These Palestinians are the remnants of the native population who were otherwise expelled from their lands during the new state of Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations in 1948.

Some of Gilboa’s guards have been interrogated on the assumption that the prisoners received inside help. That is one way of seeking to diminish their achievement in escaping from an Israeli maximum-security jail. But it is also a finger of accusation pointing at Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens.

The Druze are a very small sect among the Palestinian minority whose young men are, uniquely for the minority, conscripted into the Israeli army. Afterwards, most end up with few opportunities apart from working in low-paying security jobs, often as prison guards.

Israeli authorities have every interest to shift the blame onto one or more of these guards for the jailbreak, if it means their own incompetence or complacency can be taken out of the spotlight.

Heroes three times

What happens next will be difficult for Israel, whatever the outcome. The six escapees are now heroes to the Palestinian public three times over. They originally made personal sacrifices to join the military resistance to the occupation and risk their lives. They carried out a bold and rare prison escape under the very noses of Israeli authorities. And now they are on the run, and most have so far evaded capture, despite Israel using every one of the many means at its disposal.

They have rapidly become symbols of the plight of every Palestinian – and what every Palestinian aspires to achieve through defiance.

Inspired by the six men’s actions, Israeli political prisoners have already rioted to stop efforts by Israel to collectively punish them over the prison break and move them to different jails. They are also threatening a mass hunger strike next week over new forms of collective punishment in response to the jailbreak, including cancelling already limited family visits. Hamas could fire rockets into Israel if matters escalate.

Support among the Palestinian public is likely to be rock-solid, and discontent – both against Israel and against Abbas as Israel’s security contractor – could easily explode across the region, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and among Palestinian citizens in Israel. Some Palestinians responded to a Hamas call for a “day of rage” in support of the prisoners on Friday, and there were warnings that an uprising could be imminent.

On the other hand, the new right-wing government of Naftali Bennett, after more than a decade of rule by Benjamin Netanyahu, is vulnerable to claims by his rival that both the jailbreak and the failed manhunt are evidence of dangerous incompetence on his watch.

For many of Bennett’s own supporters, the preferred outcome would doubtless be the fugitives’ execution while on the run. Alon Eviatar, a former Israeli intelligence officer, spoke bluntly of either catching or killing them. The latter outcome would be seen by much of the Israeli public as reasserting “deterrence” and as fitting “justice” for men widely reviled.

Most Israelis want a forceful message sent to Palestinians: that resisting their imprisonment – whether in a small jail such as Gilboa or in the bigger jail of the occupation – is futile.

For a while longer, however, Palestinians will be able to exult in the idea that resistance might actually achieve something after all.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel has every reason to fear this bold Palestinian prison break first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Hashtag “Untie_Our_Hands”: How Many More Palestinians Must Die for Israel’s “Security”?

A large Israeli army campaign is taking social media by storm. The unstated aim of what is known as the “#Untie_Our_Hands” initiative is the desire to kill, with no accountability, more Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence. The campaign was motivated by the killing of an Israeli sniper, Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who was reportedly shot from the Palestinian side of the fence on August 21.

An immediate question comes to mind: what do Israeli soldiers want, considering that they have already killed over 300 unarmed Palestinian protesters and wounded and maimed thousands more at the Gaza fence during what Palestinians referred to as the ‘Great March of Return’ between 2018 and 2020?

This ‘march’ is now being renewed, though it often takes place at night, where frustrated Palestinian youth gather in their thousands, chanting anti-Israeli occupation slogans and, at times, throwing rocks at Israeli snipers who are stationed nearly a mile away.

Months after the Israeli onslaught on Gaza – a relatively brief but deadly war between May 10-21 – the stifling status quo in the besieged Strip has not changed: the hermetic Israeli siege, the snipers, the occasional nightly bombardment, the devastating unemployment, the closures, and the lack of everything, from clean water to cement to even cancer medication.

Therefore, it should not be surprising that Palestinians in Gaza, especially the youth, are in desperate need of a platform to express their justifiable rage at this ongoing misery; thus, the renewed mass protests at the fence.

Israeli politicians and media intentionally exaggerate the ‘threat’ posed by the Gaza protesters to Israel’s security. They speak of ‘incendiary balloons’ as if they are 500-pound bombs dropped by fighter jets. They are terrified by the prospect of Gaza kids ‘breaching the border’, with reference to fences that Israel has arbitrarily established around Gaza without respecting any ceasefire demarcations as recognized by the United Nations.

This fear-mongering is now back with a vengeance, as the killing of the Israeli sniper is offering an opportunity for Israeli politicians to present themselves as the defenders of the army and the champions of Israeli ‘security’. A political witch hunt quickly followed, regarding those who are supposedly ‘cuffing the hands of our troops.’

This same assertion was made by Naftali Bennett in 2019, before he became the country’s prime minister. “The High Court is cuffing the hands of IDF troops,” Bennett has said, vowing to “free the IDF from the High Court”.

A year earlier, Bennett offered more details on how he intends to end Palestinian protests at the Gaza fence.  Responding to a question during an Israeli Army Radio interview on what he would do if he were the country’s defense minister, he replied: “I would not allow terrorists to cross the border from Gaza every day … and if they do, we should shoot to kill. Terrorists from Gaza should not enter Israel … Just as in Lebanon, Syria or anywhere else we should shoot to kill.”

The emphasis on ‘killing’ in response to any form of Palestinian protests seemed to be the common denominator between Israeli officials, military brass and even ordinary soldiers. The latter, who are purportedly behind the social media campaign, seem to be enjoying their time at the Gaza fence. Israeli snipers – per their own testimonies – keep track of the number of Palestinians they shoot, try to break each other’s’ records and cheer on video when they document a ‘clean shot’ of a Palestinian protester, which should demonstrate the horrific violence meted out against those Palestinian youth.

Israeli snipers at the Gaza fence work in pairs. A third person, known as the ‘locator’, helps the snipers locate their next target. Eden is an Israeli sniper, who, among others, gave testimonies to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in March 2020. Eden is particularly proud of a grizzly milestone that he and his team have achieved.

“On that day, our pair had the largest number of hits, 42 in all,” he said. “My locator wasn’t supposed to shoot, but I gave him a break, because we were getting close to the end of our stint, and he didn’t have knees. In the end you want to leave with the feeling that you did something, that you weren’t a sniper during exercises only. So, after I had a few hits, I suggested to him that we switch. He got around 28 knees there, I’d say.”

Such testimonies are further validated by occasional video footage of Israeli snipers cheering after shooting Palestinian kids at the fence. In April 2018, a particular video of cheering soldiers, along with the kind of dialogue that indicates that Israelis have no regard for Palestinian lives whatsoever, was leaked to international media. Even CNN reported on it.

This violent phenomenon is not confined to Gaza. The debate on Israel’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories has been raging on for years. In 2017, Human Rights Watch linked the increased number of Palestinian casualties, who are killed at the hands of trigger-happy soldiers, to the violent discourse emanating from the Israeli government itself.

HRW “has documented numerous statements since October 2015, by senior Israeli politicians, including the police minister and defense minister, calling on police and soldiers to shoot to kill suspected attackers, irrespective of whether lethal force is actually strictly necessary to protect life,” the report read.

The above issue was highlighted in the execution of the incapacitated Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in the occupied city of Al-Khalil, Hebron, in March 2016 and in the killing of Ahmad Erekat, at a military checkpoint in the West Bank in July 2020. Not only did Erekat pose no immediate threat to the lives of the occupation soldiers, but according to a statement by 83 Palestinian and international NGOs, Erekat “was then left to bleed to death for an hour and a half, while the Israeli occupying forces denied him access to medical care”.

Considering the disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties which, at times, push Palestinian morgues in Gaza to full capacity, it is inconceivable what Israeli soldiers, army generals, and politicians want exactly when they speak of ‘untying their hands’. Far more bewildering is the international community’s apathy while Israelis debate about how many more Palestinians ought to be killed.

The post Hashtag “Untie_Our_Hands”: How Many More Palestinians Must Die for Israel’s “Security”? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The People vs. Mahmoud Abbas: Are the Palestinian Authority’s Days Numbered?

“The Palestinian Authority’s days are numbered”. This assertion has been oft repeated recently, especially after the torture to death on June 24 of a popular Palestinian activist, Nizar Banat, 42, at the hands of PA security goons in Hebron (Al-Khalil).

The killing – or ‘assassination’ as some Palestinian rights groups describe it – of Banat, however, is commonplace. Torture in PA prisons is the modus operandi, through which Palestinian interrogators exact ‘confessions’. Palestinian political prisoners in PA custody are usually divided into two main groups: activists who are suspected by Israel of being involved in anti-Israeli occupation activities and others who have been detained for voicing criticism of the PA’s corruption or subservience to Israel.

In a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch, the group spoke of “dozens of arrests”, carried out by the PA “for critical posts on social media platforms.” Banat fits perfectly into this category, as he was one of the most persistent and outspoken activists, whose many videos and social media posts exposed and embarrassed the PA leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah party. Unlike others, Banat named names and called for severe measures against those who squander Palestinian public funds and betray the causes of the Palestinian people.

Banat has been arrested by PA police several times in the past. In May, gunmen attacked his home, using live bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. He blamed the attacks on Abbas’ Fatah party.

His last social media campaign was concerned with the almost-expired Covid-19 vaccinations which the PA received from Israel on June 18. Because of public pressure by activists like Banat, the PA was forced to return the Israeli vaccines which, before then, were touted as a positive gesture by Israel’s new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett.

When the PA men descended on Banat’s house on June 24, the ferocity of their violence was unprecedented. His cousin, Ammar, spoke of how nearly 25 PA security personnel raided Banat’s house, pepper-sprayed him while in bed and “began beating him with iron bars and wooden batons.” After stripping him naked, they dragged him into a vehicle. An hour and a half later, the family learned the fate of their son through a WhatsApp group.

Despite initial denial, under pressure from thousands of protesters throughout the West Bank, the PA was forced to admit that Banat’s death was “unnatural.” The PA’s Justice Minister, Mohammed al-Shalaldeh, told Palestine TV that an initial medical report indicated that Banat was subjected to physical violence.

This supposed explosive revelation was meant to demonstrate that the PA is willing to examine and take responsibility for its action. However, this is simply untrue as, one, the PA has never taken responsibility for its past violence and, two, violence is the cornerstone of the PA’s very existence. Arbitrary arrests, torture and suppression of peaceful protests are synonymous with PA security as numerous reports by rights groups, whether in Palestine or internationally, have indicated.

So, is it true that “the Palestinian Authority’s days are numbered?” To consider this question, it is important to examine the rationale behind the PA’s very existence, and also to compare that initial purpose to what has transpired in the following years.

The PA was founded in 1994 as a transitional national authority with the purpose of guiding the Palestinian people through the process of, ultimately, national liberation, following the ‘final status negotiations’, set to conclude by the end of 1999. Many years have elapsed, since, without a single political achievement to the PA’s name. This does not mean that the PA, from the viewpoint of its leadership and Israel, has been a total failure, as the PA security continued to fulfill the most important role entrusted to it: security coordination with the Israeli occupation; i.e., protecting illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank and doing Israel’s dirty bidding in PA-run autonomous Palestinian areas. In exchange, the PA received billions of dollars from US-led ‘donor countries’ and from Palestinian taxes collected on its behalf by Israel.

That same paradigm is still at work, but for how much longer? Following the Palestinian revolt in May, the Palestinian people have exhibited unprecedented national unity and resolve that have transcended factional lines, and have daringly called for the removal of Abbas from power, rightly linking the Israeli occupation with the PA’s corruption.

Since the mass protests in May, the PA’s official discourse has been marred by confusion, desperation and panic. PA leaders, including Abbas, tried to position themselves as revolutionary leaders. They spoke of ‘resistance’, ‘martyrs’, and even ‘revolution’, while simultaneously renewing their commitment to the ‘peace process’ and the American agenda in Palestine.

As Washington resumed its financial support of Abbas’ Authority after it was disrupted by former US President Donald Trump, the PA hoped to return to the status quo, that of relative stability, financial abundance and political relevance. The Palestinian people, however, seem to have moved on, as demonstrated in the mass protests – always met with violent response by PA security throughout the West Bank, including Ramallah, the seat of the PA’s power.

Even the slogans have changed. Following Banat’s murder, thousands of protesters in Ramallah, representing all strands of Palestinian society, called on Abbas, 85, to leave, referring to his security goons as ‘baltajieh’ and ‘shabeha’ – or thugs – terms borrowed from Arab protesters during the early years of various Middle Eastern revolts.

This change in discourse points to a critical shift in the relationship between ordinary Palestinians – emboldened and ready to stage a mass revolt against Israeli occupation and colonialism – and their quisling, corrupt and self-serving so-called leadership. It is important to note that no aspect of this Palestinian Authority enjoys an iota of democratic credentials. Indeed, on April 30, Abbas canceled the general election that was scheduled to be held in Palestine in May, based on flimsy excuses.

The PA has proven to be an obstacle in the face of Palestinian freedom, with no credibility among Palestinians. It clings on to power only because of US and Israeli support. Whether this Authority’s days are numbered or not, depends on whether the Palestinian people prove that their collective will is stronger than the PA and its benefactors. Historical experience has taught us that the Palestinian people will eventually prevail.

The post The People vs. Mahmoud Abbas: Are the Palestinian Authority’s Days Numbered? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Bennett’s Political Theater: The Decisive Israeli-Palestinian Fight Ahead

Many Palestinians believe that the May 10-21 military confrontation between Israel and the Gaza Resistance, along with the simultaneous popular revolt across Palestine, was a game-changer. Israel is doing everything in its power to prove them wrong.

Palestinians are justified to hold this viewpoint; after all, their minuscule military capabilities in a besieged and impoverished tiny stretch of land, the Gaza Strip, have managed to push back – or at least neutralize – the massive and superior Israeli military machine.

However, for Palestinians, this is not only about firepower but also about their coveted national unity. Indeed, the Palestinian revolt, which included all Palestinians regardless of their political backgrounds or geographic locations, is fostering a whole new discourse on Palestine – non-factional, assertive and forward-thinking.

The challenge for the Palestinian people is whether they will be able to translate their achievements into an actual political strategy, and finally transition past the stifling, and often tragic, post-Oslo Accords period.

Of course, it will not be so easy.  After all, there are powerful forces that are keenly invested in the status quo. For them, any positive change on the path of Palestinian freedom will certainly lead to political, strategic and economic losses.

The Palestinian Authority, which operates with no democratic mandate, is more aware of its vulnerable position than at any other time in the past. Not only do ordinary Palestinians have no faith in this ‘authority’, but they see it as an obstacle in their path for liberation. It was unsurprising to see PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, and many of his corrupt inner circle, riding the wave of Palestinian popular revolt, shifting their language entirely, though fleetingly, from a discourse that was carefully designed to win the approval of ‘donor countries’, to one singing the praises of ‘resistance’ and ‘revolution’.

This corrupt clique is desperate, eager to sustain its privileges and survive at any cost.

If Palestinians carry on with their popular mobilization and upward trajectory, however, Israel is the entity that stands to lose most. A long-term Palestinian popular Intifada, uprising, with specific demands and under a unified national leadership, would represent the greatest threat to Israel’s military occupation and apartheid regime in many years.

The Israeli government, this time under the inexperienced leadership of current Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, and his coalition partner, future Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, is clearly unable to articulate a post-Gaza war strategy. If the political raucous and the bizarre power transition from former Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, to Bennett’s coalition is momentarily ignored, it feels as if Netanyahu is still holding sway.

Bennett has, thus far, followed Netanyahu’s playbook on every matter concerning the Palestinians. He, and especially his Defense Minister, Benny Gantz – Netanyahu’s former coalition partner – continue to speak of their military triumph in Gaza and the need to build on this supposed ‘victory’. On June 15, the Israeli army bombed several locations in the besieged Strip and, again, on June 18. A few more bombs, however, are unlikely to change the outcome of the May war.

It is time to convert our “military achievements (to) political gains,” Gantz said on June 20. Easier said than done; as per this logic, Israel has been scoring ‘military achievements’ in Gaza for many years, namely, since its first major war on the Strip in 2008-09. Since then, thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and many more wounded. However, Palestinian resistance continued unabated and zero ‘political gains’ have actually been achieved.

Gantz, like Bennett and Lapid, recognizes that Israel’s strategy in Gaza has been a complete failure. Since their main objective is remaining in power, they are bound to the rules of the old game which were formulated by right-wing politicians and sustained by right-wing extremists. Any deviation from that failed stratagem means a possible collapse of their shaky coalition.

Instead of mapping out a new, realistic strategy, Israel’s new government is busy sending symbolic messages. The first message is to its main target audience, Israel’s right-wing constituency, particularly Netanyahu’s disgruntled supporters, that the new government is equally committed to Israel’s ‘security’, to ensuring a demographic majority in occupied Jerusalem as in the rest of Palestine, and that no Palestinian state will ever be realized.

Another message is to the Palestinians and, by extension, to the whole region whose peoples and governments rallied behind the Palestinian revolt during the May war, that Israel remains a formidable military force, and that the fundamental military equation on the ground remains unaltered.

By continuing its escalation in and around Gaza, its violent provocations in Sheikh Jarrah and the entirety of East Jerusalem, its continued restrictions on Gaza’s urgent need for reconstruction, Bennett’s coalition is engaging in political theater. As long as attention remains fixated on Gaza and Jerusalem, as long as Bennett and Lapid continue to buy time and to distract the Israeli public from an imminent political implosion.

The Palestinians are, once more, proving to be critical players in Israeli politics. After all, it was Palestinian unity and resolve in May that humiliated Netanyahu and emboldened his enemies to finally oust him. Now, the Palestinians could potentially hold the keys to the survival of Bennet’s coalition, especially if they agree to a prisoner exchange – freeing several Israeli soldiers captured by Palestinian groups in Gaza in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held under horrific conditions in Israel.

On the day of the last prisoner exchange, in October 2011, Netanyahu delivered a televised speech, carefully tailored to present himself as Israel’s savior. Bennett and Lapid would relish a similar opportunity.

It behooves Israel’s new leaders to exercise caution in how they proceed from this point on. Palestinians are proving that they are no longer pawns in Israel’s political circus and they, too, can play politics, as the past few weeks have testified.

So far, Bennett has proven to be another Netanyahu. Yet, if Israel’s longest-running prime minister ultimately failed to convince Israelis of the merit of his political doctrine, Bennett’s charade is likely to be exposed much sooner, and the price, this time, is sure to be even heavier.

The post Bennett’s Political Theater: The Decisive Israeli-Palestinian Fight Ahead first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Putting Lipstick on a Pig”: Why Washington is Fawning over Israel’s New Government

When former US President Barack Obama used an old cliché to denigrate his political opponent, the late US Senator, John McCain, he triggered a political controversy lasting several days.

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” Obama said at a campaign event in 2008. The maxim indicates that superficial changes have no bearings on outcomes and that modifying our facade does not alter who we really are.

American politicians are an authority on the subject. They are experts on artificial, rhetorical and, ultimately, shallow change. Once again, Washington’s political make-up artists are busy at work.

Since the dramatic ousting of his former mentor, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, is now being presented as the alternative to Netanyahu’s right-wing, chauvinistic and rowdy political style. However, for this to happen, more makeup is required.

Much can be said about Bennett and his party of ultra-nationalists and right-wing extremists, Yamina.

Yamina is a decidedly racist political party. Their meager seven seats at the Israeli Knesset (parliament) were garnered through their constant appeal to the most violent and racist constituencies in Israel, whose oft-repeated chant “Death to the Arabs” is a daily reminder of their sinister political discourse.

Bennett is often cited for this famous statement from 2013: “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that”. Yet, there is more to the man’s politics than such an abhorrent declaration. Since Israeli leaders do not perceive any form of Palestinian resistance to be legitimate and, in their eyes, Palestinians are either terrorists or potential terrorists, consider the following ‘solution’ offered by Bennett to deal with the problem of ‘Palestinian terrorism’.

As Israel’s Minister of Education in 2015, Bennett proposed the building of a ‘deterrence’ wall, one which “demands that incitement be ended and that terrorists are shot dead before they have a chance to hurt innocent people. It means that a terrorist who is shot will be dead and never walk again. It means that Israel remains in control of its homeland forever, unmoved by terrorism.”

So why does the Biden Administration want us to believe that Bennett is different?

Immediately following his inauguration, President Joe Biden was the first world leader to call and congratulate Bennett on the new post. This act carries a deeper symbolic meaning when compared to the fact that it took Biden a whole three long weeks to phone Netanyahu, following the former’s own inauguration to the White House in January.

A close aide to Israel’s new prime minister explained the nature of the amiable phone conversation between Biden and Bennett in an interview with the Axios website. “The White House wants to have close and regular consultation and engagement with Bennett and his team based on candid exchange of views, respect for differences, a desire to work toward stability and security,” the Israeli source was quoted as saying.

Aside from the emphasis on candor and ‘respect’ with reference to the US-Israel future relationship, there has also been an equal and constant emphasis on the need for privacy in dealing with differences between the two countries. “Unlike its predecessor,” the Times of Israel reported with reference to Netanyahu, the Bennet government “would voice its criticism (of Washington) in private.” For months, the US had pleaded with Netanyahu to tone down his attacks on Washington, to no avail.

Now that Bennett is in charge, he is clearly ready to play along. And why should he not? He is eager to present himself as the antithesis of Netanyahu. By making such a ‘concession’, he would surely be expecting Washington to reciprocate. For Bennett, it is a win-win.

Bennett understands that US politics towards Israel is not determined by the attitude of Israeli leaders. For example, in comments made last May, Biden laid to rest any suggestion that the US will hold Israel accountable during his term in power. There is “no shift in my commitment, commitment to the security of Israel. Period. No shift, not at all”. If this solid pledge was made when boisterous Netanyahu was still in power, no change whatsoever should be expected, now that the supposedly agreeable Bennett is Israel’s new prime minister.

American politicians are fawning over Bennett and his main coalition partner and future Prime Minister, Yair Lapid. They are eager to turn a new page, and move forward past Netanyahu’s tumultuous years. Bennett is expected to visit the US in July, while Lapid has already been invited to visit Washington by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Meanwhile, a large Israeli military delegation headed by Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Aviv Kohavi, should already be in the US to discuss various subjects, including Iran, Hezbollah and to ‘negotiate’ yet more US gifts to Israel in the form of military hardware.

The US is keen on rebranding its relationship with Israel, not because Israel has changed, but because Washington has suffered repeated humiliation at the hands of ousted Netanyahu. Under Netanyahu, the US found itself often accused of not doing enough for Israel. Even Obama’s $3.8 billion annual military aid package did not spare him the repeated Israeli verbal assaults. Biden is willing to do whatever it takes to avoid that sordid scenario.

Biden’s doctrine on Israel and Palestine is simple. He does not want to make an actual commitment to relaunching the peace process, for example, nor does he want to be placed in a position where he is forced to make demands from, let alone put ‘pressure’ on Israel. Since Biden has little or no expectations from Israel, Bennett seems willing to play the role of the accommodating and sensible politician. He would be foolish not to do so, for, per his own political ‘vision’, he merely wants to manage the conflict and prolong the occupation while, like his predecessor, continue to promote his own version of the deceptive notion of ‘economic peace’.

While the Americans and the Israelis are busy engaging in the ever-familiar ritual of ‘putting lipstick on a pig’, the Palestinians remain irrelevant in all of this, as their political aspirations continue to be discounted, and their freedom delayed.

The post “Putting Lipstick on a Pig”: Why Washington is Fawning over Israel’s New Government first appeared on Dissident Voice.

New Israeli Government, Same Israeli Apartheid

After 12 years, Israel finally inaugurated a new prime minister. While being hailed by many as the opportunity for a fresh start, Naftali Bennett is at best a continuer of Netanyahu’s policies and at worst an ideologue whose positions are to the right of Netanyahu’s.

In 2013, as Middle East peace talks were set to resume after a five-year freeze, Bennett reportedly proclaimed to Israeli National Security Adviser Ya’akov Amidror, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that.”

In 2014, Bennett, who had previously been the director of the Yesha Settlements Council, contradicted Netanyahu by asserting that all Jewish Israelis living in the West Bank, even those living in outposts that violate Israeli law, should remain under Israeli sovereignty, and called for more settlement construction. “This is the time to act,” he said. “We must continue building in all corners of the Land of Israel, with determination and without being confused. We are building and we will not stop.”

In 2016, as Israel’s Minister of Education, Bennett called on Israeli Jews to “give our lives” to annex the West Bank. While this might seem relatively innocuous, it was not. Bennett’s remarks invoked Kahanism, a Jewish supremacist ideology, based on the views of Rabbi Meir Kahane, that calls for violence and terrorism to be used to secure Israel as an ethno-nationalist state. In 1994, Israeli settler and Kahane follower Baruch Goldstein massacred Palestinians in the West Bank Ibrahimi mosque. In 1988, the Kach party was banned from running for the Israeli Knesset. In 2004, the US State Department labeled Kach a terrorist organization.

Sunday, June 13, 2021, right before he was inaugurated to replace Netanyahu as the prime minister of Israel, Bennett doubled down on his anti-Palestinian views proclaiming  that his government would “strengthen settlements across the whole of the Land of Israel.”

It’s not only on the Palestinian issue that Bennett is a far-right ideologue. Bennett uses his adherence to orthodox Judaism as cover for his opposition to gay marriage. “Judaism doesn’t recognize gay marriage, just as we don’t recognize milk and meat together as kosher, and nothing will change it,” he declared.  Netanyahu, by contrast, touts himself as being pro-LGBTQ+ rights. As recently as 2018 he wrote: “I am proud to be the prime minister of one of the world’s most open and free democracies… Israel consistently upholds civil equality and civil rights of all its citizens regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”

So why then are progressive politicians and organizations responding so positively to the change in Israel? Bernie Sanders, known for his progressive stances and for being a congressional champion of Palestinian rights, said in a video that he was “hopeful” that the new government would be one “we will be better able to work with.” Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of Shalom Achshav, Israel’s preeminent anti-settlement/pro-peace organization, released a statement that it “welcomes the swearing-in of Israel’s new government.” On Sunday night after the new government was sworn in, thousands of Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv — considered Israel’s bastion of secular liberalism — and celebrated into the night.

One answer lies in how fed up people inside and outside of Israel had become with Netanyahu’s rule. His tenure was marred by corruption charges and shrewd maneuvers to remain in power, and what had become an endless cycle of Israeli elections, during which the government was paralyzed and unable to pass a budget for the past three years.

The other answer, however, is that this was the best change that could be obtained from a government that prevents about five million people living under its rule from being able to vote. Here’s the situation:

About 20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinian. They can vote in all Israeli elections and have representation in Knesset. This election saw the first Palestinian party join an Israeli majority government coalition. However, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship represent only about one-third of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule and military occupation.

Though the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are the official governments of the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, Israel is the absolute power in charge. Israel controls the borders, the currency, and the central bank. It collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), maintains the right to carry out military operations on Palestinian land, and controls the amount of freedom, or lack thereof, that Palestinians are granted.

Israel approves only about half of the permits that residents of Gaza apply for to travel outside of Gaza for vital medical treatment. In 2017, 54 people died while awaiting a permit to travel for medical treatment, leading to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, to release a joint statement calling for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted.

Reasons for denying people in Gaza necessary medical treatment are often absurd, such as denying travel because a relative at one time moved from Gaza to the West Bank without Israeli permission. Even when not carrying out a massacre, such as the May 2021 one that killed 256 Palestinians, Israel regulates the fuel and building materials available to Gazans. At times, it has even controlled the number of food imports according to the number of calories Gazans should consume.

Israel controls not only the exterior borders of the West Bank but what goes on inside as well. While the Palestinian Authority manages utilities and infrastructure for much of the West Bank, Israel is the ultimate authority.  Israeli settler regional councils control 40% of West Bank land. Even in areas like Ramallah, supposedly under complete Palestinian Authority control, Israel reserves the right to enter the city at any time, close streets and shops, burst into homes, and make warrantless arrests.

While the PA does maintain a judicial and penal system, one that itself is incredibly repressive, Palestinians are also subject to Israel’s military court system and laws such as Military Order 101, which bans peaceful protest. Though they are prosecuted in Israeli military courts and serve time in Israeli military prisons, Palestinians have no say over who is appointed to run the Israeli military, let alone the military courts.

Jerusalem was captured by Israel in 1967 and formally, and illegally, annexed in 1980. Common sense might follow that Israel would have then absorbed the East Jerusalem Palestinians, now numbering around 370,000, and made them Israeli citizens.

Rather than holding citizenship, however, Jerusalem Palestinians hold the status of permanent residents, allowing them to vote in municipal, but not national, elections. While this may at first seem a move in the right direction, a closer look reveals careful manipulation of demographics to ensure an at least a 70% Jewish majority at all times. Through such policies as exorbitant taxation, requiring constant proof of residency, and denial of family unification, since 1967 Israel has managed to revoke the residency of 14,595 Palestinian Jerusalemites.

Right now Israel’s courts are in the process of ethnically cleansing the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Before the Nakba, when over 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and lands to establish the state of Israel, two Jewish trusts purchased a plot of land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. When Israel was established, the Jewish families living in Sheikh Jarrah left for West Jerusalem as that section of the city was now part of the new state of Israel while East Jerusalem came under Jordanian and UN control. In 1956, Jordan and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees resettled 28 Palestinian families who had been forced out of their homes inside the new state of Israel into Sheik Jarrah. In exchange for giving up their rightful refugee status, the 28 families were to receive ownership of the Sheikh Jarrah properties, but they never got the deeds to their properties. Israel is now trying to return the properties to the Jewish trusts who later sold them to Nahalat Shimon, a real-estate company registered in the US state of Delaware. The kicker is that while Israel regularly uses this tactic to remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Israeli law bars Palestinians from recovering property they lost in the Nakba, even if they still reside in areas controlled by Israel.

2021 marks 54 years of occupation, including 14 years of the siege of Gaza, and 28 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords that were supposed to create a Palestinian state. 600,000 Israeli citizens now live in the approximately 200 illegal Israeli settlements that cover the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

A breakdown of who is and isn’t allowed to vote between the Jordan river and the sea reveals Israel’s motivations:

  • Number of Jewish Israelis living in Israel proper, and East Jerusalem, and West Bank settlements: 6.589 million (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics)

  • Number of Palestinian citizens of Israel (Palestinians who can vote in national elections): 1.5 million (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and Jerusalem Municipality)

  • Number of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza who cannot vote in Israeli national elections: 4.88 million (Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics)

As we get to know Israel’s new prime minister and government, as we continue to watch Israel forcibly remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem, as we worry about a next massacre in Gaza, and as we continue to hear the absurd label of Israel as a democratic state, let’s not forget that the right to vote is only granted to 60% of the total population and only one-third of Palestinians who live under Israeli rule had any say Naftali Bennett becoming Israel’s thirteenth prime minister.

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Israel’s new government will deepen rifts, not heal them

The photo was unprecedented. It showed Mansour Abbas, leader of an Islamist party for Palestinians in Israel, signing an agreement on Wednesday night to sit in a “government of change” alongside settler leader Naftali Bennett.

Caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fervently try to find a way to break up the coalition in the next few days, before a parliamentary vote takes place. But if he fails, it will be the first time in the country’s 73-year history that a party led by a Palestinian citizen has joined – or been allowed to join – an Israeli government.

Aside from the symbolism of the moment, there are no other grounds for celebration. In fact, the involvement of Abbas’s four-member United Arab List in shoring up a majority for a government led by Bennett and Yair Lapid is almost certain to lead to a further deterioration in majority-minority relations.

There will be a reckoning for this moment, and Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, a fifth of the population, will once again pay the heaviest price.

The sole reason that this makeshift coalition exists – the only glue holding it together – is the hostility of the various parties towards Netanyahu. In most cases, that is not a hostility towards his political positions; simply towards him personally, and towards the corrupting stranglehold he has exerted on Israel’s political system for the past 12 years.

The “change” referred to by this proposed government coalition begins and ends with the removal of Netanyahu.

Doubly offended

It barely needs stating again that Bennett, who will serve first as prime minister in rotation with Lapid, is even more right wing than Netanyahu. In fact, three of the new coalition’s main parties are at least, if not more, rabidly nationalistic than the Israel’s longtime leader. In any other circumstances, they would be enthusiastically heading into government with his Likud Party.

As Bennett and Mansour huddled inside a hotel near Tel Aviv to sign the coalition agreement as the clock ticked down on Lapid’s mandate to form a government, far-right demonstrators noisily chanted outside that Bennett was joining a “government with terror supporters”.

Much of the ultra-nationalist right is so incensed by Bennett’s actions that he and other members of his Yamina party have been assigned a security detail for fear of an assassination attempt.

No one has forgotten that it was Bennett’s own settler camp that produced Yigal Amir, the man who in 1995 shot dead the then-prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in a bid to foil the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. Amir killed Rabin in large part because the latter was seen to have betrayed the Jewish people by allowing “Arabs” – Palestinian parties in the parliament – to prop up his minority government from outside. They did so to pass legislation necessary to begin implementing the Oslo process.

The chain of events that followed the assassination are well-known. Israelis lurched further rightwards and elected Netanyahu. The Oslo track with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was derailed. A Palestinian intifada erupted. And – coming full circle – Netanyahu returned to power and is now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Today’s potential Yigal Amirs are doubly offended by Bennett’s behaviour. They believe he has stabbed the right’s natural leader, Netanyahu, in the back, while at the same time allowing Abbas – seen by the right as Hamas’s man in the Knesset – to dictate policy to the Jewish owners of the land.

Digging in heels

It was notable that Bennett and Abbas were the last to sign the coalition agreement, after both made great play of digging in their heels at the final moment for more concessions. Each risks inflaming their own constituency by being seen to cooperate with the other.

Commentators will try to spin this agreement between a settler leader and the head of an Islamic party as a potential moment of healing after last month’s unprecedented inter-communal fighting inside Israel.

But such a reading is as misleading as the narrative of the recent “Jewish-Arab clashes”. In fact, protests by Palestinian youths against systematic discrimination escalated into confrontations only after Israeli police turned violent and let Jewish gangs take the law into their own hands. Just as the balance of power on the streets was weighted in favour of Jewish vigilantism, so the balance of forces in this new coalition will work solidly against Abbas.

When Bennett spoke publicly on Sunday, as the horse-trading began in earnest behind the scenes, he underscored his credentials as the former head of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements. That will be the theme of this proposed “government of change”.

Pact with the ‘devil’

During the coalition-building negotiations, the more moderate Labor and Meretz parties conceded time and again to the demands of the far-right and settler parties on ministerial positions and policy. That is because the moderates have nowhere else to go.

They have built their whole electoral strategy on ousting Netanyahu at any cost, using the anti-Netanyahu street protests of the past two years as their rallying cry. They cannot afford to be seen as missing this opportunity.

By contrast, as the death threats highlight, Bennett has far more to lose. Some 60 percent of his party’s voters recently told pollsters they would not have backed him had they known he would join a coalition with Lapid. Equally at risk are Gideon Saar, whose New Hope party broke away from Likud to challenge Netanyahu, and Avigdor Lieberman, a settler politician whose right-wing base has found in him their local strongman.

These three must now do everything in their power during the term of this new government – if it happens – to prove to their constituencies that they are not betraying the far-right’s favourite causes, from settlements to annexation. Baiting them from the sidelines at every turn will be Netanyahu, stirring up passions on the right – at least until he is forced to step down, either by his party or by a verdict against him in his current corruption trial.

The Achilles heel Netanyahu will keep prodding as viciously as he can is the fact that his rivals on the right have made a Faustian pact with the Arab “devil”. Netanyahu has never been shy to incite against the Palestinian minority. To imagine he will restrain himself this time is fanciful.

Bennett understands the danger, which is why he tried to legitimise his dealings with Abbas on Thursday by calling him “a brave leader”. But Bennett was also keen to emphasise that Abbas would not be involved in any security matters and that he was not interested in “nationalism” – in this case, indicating that Abbas will neither offer support to Palestinians under occupation nor seek to advance national rights for Palestinian citizens of the kind Israeli Jews enjoy.

Early on Thursday, Netanyahu had decried the new coalition as “dangerous” and “left wing”. He will most likely be in the driving seat, even while in opposition. Far from healing the country, a “government of change” could rapidly provoke yet more street violence, especially if Netanyahu believes such a deterioration would weaken Bennett as prime minister.

Extracting benefits

Abbas, the United Arab List leader, reportedly held out until last before signing. His whole electoral strategy was built on a promise to end the permanent exclusion of Palestinian parties from Israel’s national politics. He will be keen to show how many benefits he can extract from his role inside government – even if most are privileges the Jewish majority has always enjoyed by right.

Abbas trumpeted that the agreement would “provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society – planning, the housing crisis, and, of course, fighting violence and organised crime”. He has reportedly secured some $16bn in extra budgets for development and infrastructure, and three of the many Bedouin villages the state has long refused to recognise will be given legal status.

Abbas is also pushing for the repeal of a 2017 law that makes tens of thousands of homes in Palestinian communities inside Israel vulnerable to demolition.

One of his fellow legislators, Walid Taha, observed of the United Arab List’s new role: “For decades, Arab Israelis [Palestinian citizens] have been without any influence. Now, everyone knows that we’re the deciding votes as far as politics goes.”

Abbas has every incentive to use such claims as a whip to beat his rivals in the Joint List, a coalition of several other Palestinian parties that are staying in opposition. He needs to emphasise his role in bringing about change to make them look weak and irrelevant.

Hostility and disdain

But despite the promises that lured Abbas into the new government, he will face a rough ride getting any of them translated into tangible changes on the ground.

Lapid will be busy as foreign minister, selling this as a new era in Israeli politics. Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, the current defence minister who just oversaw the destruction yet again of Gaza, will offer continuity.

Back home, the key internal ministries will be held by the far-right. Lieberman will control the purse strings through the finance ministry, directing funds to settlements before Palestinian communities inside Israel. Bennett’s partner, Ayelet Shaked, will be interior minister, meaning the settlements in the occupied West Bank will be treated as more integral to Israel than the communities of Palestinian citizens. And Saar will be justice minister, helping to drive the legal system even further to the right.

Faced with this bloc, all of them keen to be seen as upholding the values of the right, Abbas will struggle to make any progress. And that is without considering the situation he will find himself in if Bennett pushes for annexation of the West Bank, or authorises another police invasion of al-Aqsa, or oversees the expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, or launches a fresh attack on Gaza.

Abbas put the coalition negotiations on pause during Israel’s assault on Gaza last month. He won’t be able to do the same from inside the government. He will be directly implicated.

As a result, Palestinian citizens are likely to end up growing even more disillusioned with a political system that has always treated them with a mix of hostility and disdain. They will finally have representatives inside government, but will continue to be very much outside of it. The triggers for the protests that erupted among young Palestinians in Israel last month are not going away.

The most likely scenario over the coming months is that Netanyahu and Bennett will engage in a furious competition for who deserves the title of champion of the right. Netanyahu will seek to break apart the coalition as quickly as possible by inciting against Abbas and the Palestinian minority, so he has another shot at power. In turn, Bennett will try to pressure Likud to abandon Netanyahu so that Bennett can collapse the “government of change” as quickly as possible and rejoin a large majority, far-right government with Likud.

Rifts will not be healed; coexistence will not be revived. But the preeminence of the ultra-nationalist right – with or without Netanyahu – will be restored.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel’s new government will deepen rifts, not heal them first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Hizbollah’s Victory and the US-Iran Conflict

Among the things that the Iran deal critics demand is a broader, better deal that curbs ballistic missile construction and prevents Iran from supporting “terrorists.” The media never questions the proposition that Iran in fact supports such people. Who are these terrorists? Hizbollah in Lebanon tops the list. (Hamas is usually next, and then the Houthis of Yemen, the Shiite militias in Iraq, the Syrian Arab Army, etc. Even the Revolutionary Guards a division of the Iranian military, is listed by the State Department as a “terrorist organization.”)

The elections in Lebanon last Sunday gave Hizbollah and its allies (mostly Maronite Christians, actually) a majority in Parliament. They won 67 out of 128 seats. Israeli politician and leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett declares that now “Lebanon equals Hizbollah.”  (Since Israel has invaded its northern neighbor in 1982 and 2006, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths, including at least 400 in the Shatila-Sabra massacre of Palestinians in West Beirut in two days in September 1982, such talk must worry most Lebanese.)

Hizbollah is little known to people in this country. Maybe some have seen that Anthony Bourdain “Parts Unknown” episode from Lebanon in 2015. Bourdain spent some time with a Maronite Christian family in Beirut who had a Hizbollah poster on the wall; the host praised their role in resisting Israeli attacks. (Bourdain  in his typical way was nonjudgmental. It’s unfortunate that some of the best, most objective commentaries on some countries are provided by this professional cook on CNN.) Maybe some question the routine designation, by the State Department echoed by the media, of the organization as “terrorist.” I myself do. But we doubters are surely few. Few organizations have been more systematically vilified.

Why has Hizbollah been designated a “terrorist” organization by Israel and the US, followed (somewhat reluctantly) by the EU in 2013 under US pressure? Germany continues to refuse to designate Hizbollah “in its entirety” as terrorist; like the EU in general it distinguishes between the “military wing” and the political party. Neither Russia nor China see it as terrorist. They realize that Hizbollah is a large political movement based in the Shiite community but enjoying an alliance with Christian and other minorities. It maintains a robust militia, more powerful than the Lebanese Army. It also maintains radio and TV stations, charities, hospitals. It has a genuine social base in Lebanon; that, rather than Iranian aid, is the key to its success. But instead of examining it in its specificities, successive US administrations have simply condemned it while emphasizing its Iranian ties.

Just like the current administration smears Houthis in Yemen as Iranian proxies. Or the Alawi-led government of Syria as a pawn of an Iran striving for regional dominance. Anyone paying attention knows that while the Houthis practice a form of Shiism it is very different from that of Iran; that a Shiite imamate ruled Yemen for 1000 years; and that there is little evidence for Iranian arms support for the Yemeni rebels. They know too that the Damascus government is led by the secular Baathist Party, which is ideologically at odds with Iran’s Islamic republicanism; the alliance is based on mutual security in the face of ongoing imperialist encroachment. But the Saudi-promoted specter of a “Shiite crescent” extending from Iran through Iraq (the only majority-Shiite Arab nation) into Syria and Lebanon, threatening to absorb Yemen and perhaps Bahrain, ruled by the Iranian ayatollahs, guides the minds of the benighted US policy makers.

Trump apparently demands a new deal with Iran that curbs its ballistic missile program and ends its support for (whatever the boss calls) “terrorism.” The principle recipients of this aid, always mentioned, are Hizbollah and Hamas. Hamas of course is the Palestinian party that governs the vast concentration camp of Gaza. It swept the Palestinian legislative election, the first and only free Palestinian election, in 2006. It has responded to Israeli occupation with violence on occasion; this itself, for the Israelis and US, constitutes terrorism. Iran-backed terrorism.

Why would Iran withdraw support from Hizbollah, even as it rises in electoral popularity and strength? Even as it successfully assists the Syrian Arab Army in fighting al-Qaeda and ISIL forces challenging the Assad government in Syria? It is an unreasonable imperialist demand. The demand of the Syrians and Iranians that the 2000 US Special Forces illegally in Syria withdraw is eminently reasonable, but US efforts to remold the Middle East through military intervention are outrageous. The US demand to determine who the world views as terrorist is similarly outrageous.

By demanding that Iran renegotiate the nuclear deal to include the irrelevant question of Tehran’s ties to different political groups in the region, Trump does what the US has done time and time again with those targeted for regime change: he sets the bar too high, and paves the way for war.

In 2002 the French and Germans made clear that they did not accept the US justification for the impending war on Iraq. But the Brits were on board, reliably, and some other NATO allies. US prestige took a blow in the court of world public opinion as the savage attack and occupation produced civil war, half a million died, and the US engaged in the types of torture revealed in the Abu Ghraib torture photos. In 2011 Germany opposed NATO airstrikes on Libya, but France and Britain strongly advocated it, and drew in Hillary Clinton who convinced a hesitant Obama.

This time, however, all the US’s top three European allies (with the 4th, 5th and 7th largest GDPs in the world), join China (2nd) and Russia (12th) in firmly opposing the US action against Iran. (Japan–3rd–is opposed but will not speak up. All major powers think Trump is crazy to try to sabotage a deal that’s good for them, Iran and the world. The only ones applauding are the Israelis (who fantasize that Iran is an “existential threat”) and the Saudis (who see Tehran as the headquarters of Shiite heresy, and in their republicanism threatening to Sunni monarchies throughout the Gulf).

Many must marvel at how the absolutely clueless Trump has been influenced by the snake oil salesman Netanyahu, who tried so hard to dissuade Obama from signing the deal–from a US Senate podium at that, and railed against it at the UN, and lectured Trump in English with a power point presentation a couple days before the announcement. And by the Saudi King Salman and Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who flattered him during his sword-dance visit last year. These are not the most reputable or trusted people in Europe or the world in general. Trump is choosing his friends on the basis who flatters him best.

Meanwhile Hizbollah, a big Iran ally, expands its control and hence Iran’s influence over Lebanon–through peaceful electoral means. And Bashar al-Assad, another big ally, militarily defeats his opponents with Russian, Iranian, Hizbollah and Iraqi Shiite militia assistance. The (Shiite, allegedly ) Houthis of Yemen hold out against the savage (Sunni) Saudi assault. These forces are not mere Iranian proxies but agents acting in their own right, with varying degrees of Iranian support.

Hizbollah was founded in 1982 as a response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The group was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini. But to see it as a mere proxy is to deny agency to the Lebanese people who support it, for reasons that have nothing to do with Iran but everything to do with resistance to Israeli aggression.

To demand that Iran, in addition to the major concessions it has already made on its nuclear program, withdraw support from the various groups it supports (to some extent; sometimes the extent is exaggerated) in the region, is to demand it concede the field to the US, Israelis and Gulf Arabs and their own favored terrorist proxies. It’s a demand that the whole world accept the US State Department’s evolving list of “terrorist organizations” as universally definitive. Enough already.

The Iranian organization Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), founded in the 1960s to violently oppose the Shah’s regime, was considered a terrorist organization by the US until 2012. Why did the designation change? Hint: It had nothing to do with any change of behavior, but had something to do with ongoing ties to US and Israeli intelligence in relation to producing regime change in Iran.

MEK famously sided with Saddam’s Iraq during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. It has allegedly killed US citizens. But now it’s cool, while Hizbollah is not. While the US embraces MEK Iran is supposed to abandon Hizbollah, because the US demands it, threatening to destroy a UNSC-approved treaty if Tehran persists in supporting this group which–did I mention?–just with its bloc swept the Lebanese elections. The arbitrary reasoning is obvious, and unjustifiable.

The US under Trump has truly lost reason. Europe should now say, “It was a fun 70 years together. But now, it’s just not working. You’ve become offensive, unreasonable. You may overestimate your power. We will for our part resist your efforts to curb our trade with Iran or any other country where we have the right to operate

In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence

Not a day passes without a prominent Israeli politician or intellectual making an outrageous statement against Palestinians. Many of these statements tend to garner little attention or evoke rightly deserved outrage.

Just recently, Israel’s Minister of Agriculture, Uri Ariel, called for more death and injuries on Palestinians in Gaza.

“What is this special weapon we have that we fire and see pillars of smoke and fire, but nobody gets hurt? It is time for there to be injuries and deaths as well,” he said.

Ariel’s calling for the killing of more Palestinians came on the heels of other repugnant statements concerning a 16-year-old teenaged girl, Ahed Tamimi. Ahed was arrested in a violent Israeli army raid at her home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

A video recording showed her slapping an Israeli soldier a day after the Israeli army shot her cousin in the head, placing him in a coma.

Israeli Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, known for his extremist political views, demanded that Ahed and other Palestinian girls should “spend the rest of their days in prison”.

A prominent Israeli journalist, Ben Caspit, sought yet more punishment. He suggested that Ahed and girls like her should be raped in jail.

“In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”, he wrote in Hebrew.

This violent and revolting mindset, however, is not new. It is an extension of an old, entrenched belief system that is predicated on a long history of violence.

Undeniably, the views of Ariel, Bennett and Caspit are not angry statements uttered in a moment of rage. They are all reflections of real policies that have been carried out for over 70 years. Indeed, killing, raping and imprisoning for life are features that have accompanied the state of Israel since the very beginning.

This violent legacy continues to define Israel to this day, through the use of what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe describes as ‘incremental genocide.’

Throughout this long legacy, little has changed except for names and titles. The Zionist militias that orchestrated the genocide of the Palestinians prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948 merged together to form the Israeli army; and the leaders of these groups became Israel’s leaders.

Israel’s violent birth in 1947- 48 was the culmination of the violent discourse that preceded it for many years. It was the time when Zionist teachings of prior years were put into practice and the outcome was simply horrifying.

“The tactic of isolating and attacking a certain village or town and executing its population in a horrible, indiscriminate massacre was a strategy employed, time and again, by Zionist bands to compel the population of surrounding villages and towns to flee,” Ahmad Al-Haaj told me when I asked him to reflect on Israel’s past and present.

Al-Haaj is a Palestinian historian and an expert on the Nakba, the ‘Catastrophe’ that had befallen Palestinians in 1948.

The 85-year-old intellectual’s proficiency in the subject began 70 years ago, when, as a 15-year-old, he witnessed the massacre of Beit Daras at the hands of Jewish Haganah militia.

The destruction of the southern Palestinian village and the killing of dozens of its inhabitants resulted in the depopulation of many adjacent villages, including al-Sawafir, Al-Haaj’s home village.

“The notorious Deir Yasin massacre was the first example of such wanton killing, a model that was duplicated in other parts of Palestine,” Al-Haaj said.

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine at the time was orchestrated by several Zionist militias. The mainstream Jewish militia was the Haganah which belonged to the Jewish Agency.

The latter functioned as a semi-government, under the auspices of the British Mandate Government, while the Haganah served as its army.

However, other breakaway groups also operated according to their own agenda. Two leading bands amongst them were the Irgun (National Military Organization) and Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang). These groups carried out numerous terrorist attacks, including bus bombings and targeted assassinations.

Russian-born Menachem Begin was the leader of the Irgun which, along with the Stern Gang and other Jewish militants, massacred hundreds of civilians in Deir Yassin.

‘Tell the soldiers: you have made history in Israel with your attack and your conquest. Continue this until victory. As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou has chosen us for conquest,” Begin wrote at the time. He described the massacre as a “splendid act of conquest.”

The intrinsic link between words and actions remain unchanged.

Nearly 30 years later, a once wanted terrorist, Begin became Prime Minister of Israel. He accelerated land theft of the newly-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, launched a war on Lebanon, annexed Occupied Jerusalem to Israel and carried out the massacre of Sabra and Shatilla in 1982.

Some of the other terrorists-turned-politicians and top army brass include Begin, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Rafael Eitan and Yitzhak Shamir. Each one of these leaders has a record dotted with violence.

Shamir served as the Prime Minister of Israel from 1986 – 1992. In 1941, Shamir was imprisoned by the British for his role in the Stern Gang. Later, as Prime Minister, he ordered a violent crackdown against a mostly non-violent Palestinian uprising in 1987, purposely breaking the limbs of kids accused of throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers.

So, when government ministers like Ariel and Bennett call for wanton violence against Palestinians, they are simply carrying on with a bloody legacy that has defined every single Israeli leader in the past. It is the violent mindset that continues to control the Israeli government and its relationship with Palestinians; in fact, with all of its neighbors.