No blank check to kill Palestinians

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Tuesday 18 May 2021

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened that the military operation he happily launched in Gaza would “take time”. But diplomatic efforts led by Egypt and other key regional powers – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – as well as Europe and the United States will probably result in a ceasefire sooner rather than later.

Hardly any country is buying the official Israeli rhetoric aimed at justifying the bloody war in Gaza that entered its second week on Monday, resulting in the death of over 200 Palestinians and 11 Israelis. Nearly half the Palestinians killed were women and children.

No sane mind can justify such bloodshed, destruction and heavy human losses. The scenes of tall buildings falling like sand dunes following heavy bombardment by advanced Israeli military jets provided by the United States government, is only one example of Israel’s reckless behaviour, which the whole world can see live on television screens with astonishment and disbelief.

With every war Israel has launched against Gaza since its official pull out of the heavily crowded, besieged Strip in 2005, the Jewish state has made no gains. If anything, it has sustained heavier losses in terms of its reputation as a country with no respect for basic human rights or human lives.

Stop the “racist” occupation has become a common rally call in dozens of demonstrations all across the world, including the United States, demanding an immediate end of Israel’s military attack on Gaza. The protesters worldwide are aware that the suffering is not limited to Gaza, but exists in every Palestinian city falling under occupation, topped with occupied East Jerusalem, which witnessed the trigger for the ongoing cycle of war.

In a common practice that has only escalated with the rise of right-wing governments in Israel, Jewish settlers, protected by the Israeli army, violently attacked residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem to forcibly evict 20 Palestinian families from their homes. Extremist Knesset members, whom Netanyahu is seeking to include in yet another failed attempt to form a solid government to run Israel, raided Al-Aqsa Mosque, adding fuel to fire by disregarding the holy nature of the Muslim month of Ramadan, and preventing thousands of worshippers from performing their prayers.

The Biden administration adhered to Washington’s classic, official line, defending Israel whether it was right or wrong during the first days of the conflict: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” However, Israel’s madness in conducting the war, indiscriminately killing civilians and even targeting journalists, including major US media organisations such as the Associated Press, slowly changed the US view, even if that was taking place behind closed doors and in diplomatic contacts.

What has been significant, however, is the clear change in traditional US politics providing blind support to Israel. Late on Sunday, Senator Jon Ossoff, a Democrat from Georgia, and 27 other senators called for an immediate ceasefire “to prevent further loss of life.”

Biden’s initial statement that Israel has a right to defend itself invited a rebuke from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who said “blanket statements” like Biden’s “dehumanise Palestinians and imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations.” Vocal liberals have criticised the White House for placating Israel and ignoring human rights as violence mounts, as well as loudly criticising Biden for not openly opposing Israel’s planned evictions of Palestinian families from the Al-Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Israeli bombardment has forced 38,000 people to seek sanctuary in dozens of UN schools in Gaza, the United Nations said. Gaza now faces power failures at least 16 hours a day, while damage to a desalination plant has threatened some 250,000 people’s access to drinking water, the United Nations added.

Israel’s airstrikes have also stopped all Covid-19 vaccinations and virus testing in the Palestinian enclave and raised the risk of viral contagion as civilians cram into shelters for safety, UN officials said.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, held a series of phone calls with counterparts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar “about the need to calm tensions in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.” Blinken added, “we agreed we must continue our ongoing outreach to halt the current violence and lamentable loss of life from the crisis.”

In his conversation with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, Blinken “reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence, which has claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children,” the State Department said in another statement.

Qatar’s foreign minister also had a phone call on Sunday with Shoukri, in which they reviewed “bilateral cooperation relations and developments in Palestine.” The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the two ministers agreed on “the importance of working to reach an immediate ceasefire between the two sides, and they also agreed to continue coordination in the bilateral framework, as well as in regional and international ones, regarding what is in the interest of the Palestinian people and reaching a ceasefire.”

The intense diplomatic efforts by Egypt also included a visit by a high-level security delegation to Gaza amid a series of moves aimed at supporting the Palestinian people, and pushing Israel to stop its war and lethal targeting of Palestinian leaders in Gaza. Egypt was clear in stating that Israel’s failure to restrain itself would influence the positive relations the two countries have maintained over the past few years.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi urged “a return to calm” and an end to “violence” and “killing”. He also declared that all Egyptian hospitals were open to receive Palestinians who suffered injuries in the ongoing war, and ordered the opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

Egyptian ambulances have been stationed along the border in order to help transfer Palestinian victims to hospitals. During the Friday prayers, popular anger was evident as the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and other key religious figures praised the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and condemned Israel’s aggression.  

The worldwide condemnation of Israel’s latest war against Palestinians should also be a clear warning to Israel that the latest initiatives made by Netanyahu to normalise relations with several Arab countries are not going to change realities on the ground. Even in Arab countries that have lately normalised relations with Israel, or those that signed peace treaties such as Egypt and Jordan, there have been loud and clear calls on concerned governments to reconsider their openness in dealing with the Jewish state. Palestinian blood and basic rights are clear red lines, and Egypt, as well as Arab countries and supporters of human rights worldwide, will not compromise them or act blind.

The war against Gaza has also resulted in an unprecedented wave of confrontations between Palestinians living in mixed cities with Israeli Jewish citizens, reaching the brink of a civil war. That and demonstrations across the occupied West Bank have made analysts wonder whether Palestinians are on the verge of a major uprising, the third since the late 1980s.  

On Sunday, an umbrella organisation for Arab leaders in Israel appealed to the international community to help protect Palestinian citizens of Israel “from violent attacks and human rights violations by both state and private actors.” The group added, “Palestinian citizens, collectively, are afraid for their lives.”

The Israeli war against Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank must stop now, and Israel has to deal with the fact that it has no blank check to kill Palestinians.

Netanyahu is obviously seeking a victory to mobilise Israelis and allow him to stay indefinitely in office. Yet, with every Palestinian child or innocent civilian being killed in this war, the Israeli premier is edging closer not just to losing his most favourite post, but possibly to facing charges of war crimes in international courts as well. As for the majority of world opinion, watching the killings live on television, there is no doubt which is the party to blame.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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