Israeli defense forces (IDF) attacked Gaza and brought down buildings that housed media offices ostensibly to target the Hamas that has been raining its home made missiles on its capital, Tel Aviv, and other cities. In the name of defending itself from the Arabs, the Israeli government tried to show that it was on high moral ground, but they are losing the battle of narratives as well as friends like India.
Worse, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s real game behind his war against “Hamas” is slowly unraveling.
On May 5, Israeli President Rivlin invited the leader of Yash Atid party, Yair Lapid, and gave him the mandate to form the government after Bibi Netanyahu, country’s longest serving Prime Minister, failed to cobble together a majority in a 120 member Knesset even after three elections had failed to yield a clear winner. Lapid, a centrist and loved by the disenfranchised section of secular Israelis promised change and the religious right knew what it meant for them and their leader. If he took over as the PM, then Lapid would have done two things: fast tracked the corruption trial of Netanyahu, which he has been stalling, and secondly, dismantling of the consolidation of religious right wing parties that was not just ruling Israel since 1996, but also responsible for the virulent Islamophobia that was sweeping the world.
What happened thereafter was not unexpected. In a space of a few days, Israel’s fault lines were violently provoked by the racist right wing Zionists mobs. Opposing any space to be given by Lapid to an Arab Islamists party, Raam, headed by Mansour Abbas, which holds the balance in the Knesset, they feared the return of secularism to Israel’s politics. The violence that unfolded in East Jerusalem, in the last few days of holy month of Ramadan has dangerous implications for the region and the world. If it is not tamed, it could draw in Iran and Arab countries in this seething cauldron of war and racial hatred. While this could lead to the continuation of Netanyahu’s government, but it could mean the undoing of US President Joe Biden’s resolve to revive the Iran nuclear deal, which had been scrapped by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
In many ways, the violence in Israel that includes the communal riots in its mixed cities has far greater implications for the stability of the region than it’s made out to be. Jerusalem Post stated that the Hamas missile attacks have brought to the fore the communal fragility of the Israeli society. Jews and Arabs are lynching each other. Now Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians of Gaza have come together to fight the racist mobs and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Iran that backs Hamas is a beneficiary of this violent standoff. What is also being challenged by this situation is the aggressive assertion of populist politics based on religious fascism that challenges the liberal democratic surge in the US represented by Joe Biden’s win. This is the reason why and more that the Indian government that has always sided and celebrated the Palestinian cause took its time to respond to these happenings. Ideologically, Modi government and the BJP have a common view on many issues especially on the threat that comes from radical Islam, but clearly Prime Minister Modi can read the straws in the wind and recognises that Netanyahu is on his way out and it is high time he hitched himself to the new order.
Though many followers of the hinduttva ideology identify with Israel, the Palestinian is not a communal issue. It is more about about colonial expansion and the manner in which the original inhabitants- Muslims and Orthodox Christians- were ousted after a deal was struck in London known as a Balfour declaration of 1917 that carved out a Jewish state in an Ottoman enclave of Palestine. Since then history has been unkind to the Palestinians who have been made to find homes in different parts after the world after the Nakba ( catastrophe) of 1948 when they were chased out from their homes.
Much of what is played out in the last few weeks has its origin in Nakba and how some Palestinians set up home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem, which after the 1948 war was under the control of Jordan. These Palestinians were given the permission to build houses and before the entire process was completed, in 1967 Israel in a swift 7 day war captured Eastern Jerusalem. Since then the Israeli government has been trying to oust these Palestinians and settle their own. It has resorted to expensive litigation that compels the hapless Palestinians to actually pay for their own ouster. The recent provocation has been the ouster of 9 families that had been staying there for more than 60 years. A judgement of Supreme Court is awaited, but the Israeli authorites allowed the humiliation of the Palestinians devotees in the holy month of Ramadan as well as Easter, by making it difficult for them to visit shrines that are dear to them. Israel has been consciously trying to Judaise this city, which is so dear to all the three religions- Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Muslim devotees fear the Jews would demolish Al-Aqsa mosque if the Arabs do not come to their assistance. In other words, it has the making of a mind numbing religious war.
During Easter, the Christian Palestinians were not allowed to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and later the Muslim devotees were stopped from hanging out at the Damascus gate- something they had been doing for long.
However, the biggest provocation was the manner in which the Israeli forces entered the revered Al-Aqsa mosque- the third holiest for the Muslims. Using batons, rubber bullets and tear gas shells, the Israeli troops used the kind of brutal force that no one really expected. More than 300 Muslim devotees were injured. Worse, the soldiers did not allow the entry of even ambulances to pick up the injured.
This was followed by a provocative march by the settler community that celebrate the occupation of Eastern Jerusalem. The march should have been cancelled, but it fueled the high tension that traveled to Gaza and West Bank, Palestinian settlements that routinely see and experience Israeli violence. Gaza, which is under the control of Hamas, feeds Israeli narrative of Palestinian cause being a radical Islam project. This is encouraged by the Israelis against the secular Al-fatah movement which was led by late leader Yasser Arafat.
Hamas, which is armed with missiles sent a fusillade of these rockets, but they were effectively blocked by the iron dome, which has been set up by the US government. The missile attack made Palestine as aggressors and helped the Israeli government to change the narrative to their advantage. Even US President Joe Biden defended the right of Israel to protect itself. In doing so, his administration was walking into the trap laid down by Netanyahu who was trying to protect the Abraham accords that the earlier US President facilitated the signing between Israel and Arab monarchies like UAE, Bahrain, Morocco- all worried by the expected rise of Iran.
Israel army retaliation was packaged as an act to protect itself. Media companies operating out of two high-rise buildings in Gaza were bombed out. Hundreds are dying in Gaza and
Occupied West Bank without getting any help coming to them from anywhere. Interestingly, the Gazans cannot escape the bombing as they are living in an open jail and can’t leave their enclave without the permission of the Israeli army.
US government is sending an envoy to broker piece between the two contesting parties. It’s an asymmetrical conflict where every government backs Israel. Only the people in the Arab street and those who have a sense of history support the Palestinians, but in these days it is not enough. Fairness and justice has become a casualty of deliberate re-interpretation of history that stokes misplaced grievances that continue to deepen fault lines that sustain divisive politics and violence.