Support for the Palestinians

Ghada Karmi
Tuesday 3 Jan 2023

Arab and international support for the Palestinian cause was more evident than ever at last year’s Football World Cup in Qatar, so why has more not been done to halt Israeli violence towards the Palestinians, asks Ghada Karmi


If defeating Israel relied on popular support for the Palestine cause, then Palestinian victory would have been assured long ago.

Last year’s World Cup events in Qatar can leave no one in any doubt about Palestine’s place in the hearts of Arab citizens and many others. The ubiquitous sight of the Palestinian flag fluttering over sports stadiums, draped across people’s shoulders, and printed on their T-shirts, with banners proclaiming ‘Free Palestine’ was eloquent testimony to Palestine’s continuing importance in the Arab world, despite decades of Israel’s existence.

It was also a signal to the Arab governments that have been normalising their relations with Israel that their citizens do not agree.

to destroy life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in line with Zionist thinking, however. Last year saw an escalation of Israeli army and settler violence to an extent not seen before.

The random killing of Palestinians has become an everyday occurrence, including of children. In 2022, the total number of Palestinians killed varied between 125 and 136, depending on the source, with a further 49 victims in Gaza. These totals included more than 34 children. Israeli settlers are also permitted to attack Palestinian farmers and farms, burning crops, in particular olive trees, and stealing sheep. All this is aided by Israel’s so-called Defence Forces, which are complicit in the theft and plunder.         

At the same time, the most right-wing government in Israel’s history has been formed under Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now serving his third term as Israel’s prime minster.

The new government includes several hardline right-wingers: Itamar Ben-Gvir is a rising star, a proponent of deporting Palestinian Israeli citizens, and an admirer of the racist and anti-Arab rabbi Meir Kahane; Ben-Gvir has started his mission with a visit to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, angering Palestinians who see the visit as a provocation.

“Our government will not surrender to the threats of Hamas,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement, after the Palestinian militant group had said such a move would be a “red line”.

Ben-Gvir’s visit last Tuesday came days after he took office as national security minister, a position that gives him powers over the police. Bezalel Smotrich, also, another right-wing racist and head of the Religious Zionism bloc, is Israel’s new finance minister. Smotrich is in favour of legal action against Palestinian house building in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, and virulently opposed to Jewish-Arab coexistence; and Avi Maoz, who is strongly anti-LBGTQ, is in charge of a new brief on “Jewish identity”.

All these men are members of the Religious Zionism bloc, along with others who are even more extreme.

Between them, they control the national security brief in the new Israeli government, with far-reaching authority over the West Bank, Jerusalem, and mixed Arab-Jewish cities, as well as control of the civil administration in the West Bank to bring it into line with Israeli civil law, which is tantamount to making it an extension of 1948 Israel.

The present status of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, with Israeli settler incursions confined by the police to specific times, might change to allow the settlers full access to the mosque at any time. The overall effect of these developments will be to increase Palestinian oppression, with more arbitrary killings, settler assaults, and land theft.

Western supporters of Israel will be dismayed by this new right-wing government. The US had been hoping for a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, paving the way for Israel’s wider acceptance in the region, and for Israel to desist from annexing Palestinian land, stop provocations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and to maintain the newly agreed maritime treaty between Israel and Lebanon on gas and oil, which Ben-Gvir has threatened to terminate.

All these things are now in peril under Israel’s new government. At the same time, relations with the European Union are showing signs of strain, although those concerned may be waiting for the new Israeli government to be properly established before these reactions are finalised.

The UK’s position in this context is worth noting, since it has a unique responsibility towards Palestine that it chooses to ignore. British Conservative Party policy has usually favoured Israel; most ministers in the present Conservative government and MPs are staunchly pro-Israeli, and the previous prime minster, Liz Truss, went so far last October as to propose moving Britain’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Though this has been halted by her successor, Rishi Sunak, there is no guarantee that it will not be implemented in future.

The British opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer, is a fervent Zionist who is likely to become Britain’s next prime minster and will be more pro-Israel than the rest. He ran a fierce campaign against what he called “antisemitism” in the British Labour Party, defining this as being anti-Israel, and he has purged the Labour Party of many of its members in this way. Behind this support for Israel is a long-standing belief inherited from 20th-century British socialists that Israel basically shares the Labour Party’s values.   

At variance with Israel’s treatment by a compliant international community is its attitude towards the war in Ukraine. No one is in any doubt about the Russian aggression and its effects on Ukraine. Outpourings of sympathy, coupled with stringent sanctions against Russia, are taken as natural. The whole of the western world has joined in the fight against Russia, supporting the fight against its army and generously arming the Ukrainians, with talk of a moral war against a brutal Russian dictator.

Why is this same logic not applied to Palestine, which is under a brutal Israeli occupation and has an equal moral claim to international help and rescue?

That the same logic is not applied is due to Israel’s license to violate international law at will and inflict gross human-rights abuses on the Palestinians it rules. This impunity has served Israel’s soldiers well, as they murder Palestinians, including children, hold them captive on flimsy charges, confiscate their farms, and destroy their livelihoods. It has enabled Israel to maintain a murderous siege on Gaza, depriving its people of the fish that keep them alive by shooting their fishermen.

The fact that this impunity continues is an indictment of the whole international system. Castigating Israel’s abuses may help to blow off steam, but it will change nothing. It is high time for all right-thinking people to face Israel’s murderous impunity head on, understand what’s behind it, and smash it before it destroys more Palestinian lives.


The writer is a Palestinian doctor, activist, academic and writer.

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