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The storm that Netanyahu unleashed

[Note: This is an excerpt from an article in Tikkun, an on-line magazine “The Voice of Spiritual Progressives.” It was written May 12, the day after 21 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, and two people in Israel— By the “end” of the bombing, at least 240 people had died in Gaza under Israeli bombs, and 12 in Israel under rockets fired from within Gaza. The author is the spokesperson for Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group.]

On Friday, May 7 —just five days ago, though it seems like an eternity—public attention in Israel was totally riveted to the complicated dance of party politics. Prime Minister Netanyahu, facing three serious corruption charges at the Jerusalem District Court, had just failed in his efforts to form a new cabinet. The mandate passed to the oppositional “Block of Change,” whose leaders embarked on delicate negotiations aimed at forming a very heterogeneous government coalition comprising right-wing. left-wing and center parties, which have virtually nothing in common except the wish to see the last of Netanyahu.

Members of the Olympia community assembled on Percival Landing to protest US support of Israel bombing of Gaza that killed hundreds of people including 66 children.

We had very mixed feelings about it, especially since the intended new Prime Minister Naftali Bennet is, if anything, more right-wing than Netanyahu. Still, the new government would have very strong mechanisms of “mutual veto” in place that would prevent Bennet from doing too much harm—though the same would also prevent the new government from doing much good, either. And this government would be the very first in Israeli history to rely on an Arab party for its parliamentary majority (other than the Rabin Government in 1995, whose tenure was cut short by Rabin’s assassination).

Police started to shoot “rubber” bullets directly into demonstrators’ faces, causing them to lose eyes—at least two losing both eyes and becoming blind for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, there were very concrete plans to have the new cabinet ready for parliamentary approval by Tuesday, May 11. The anti-corruption demonstrators who have been demonstrating every week outside the Prime Minister’s residence were joking about when the movers will arrive to take away the Netanyahu family furniture.

But Netanyahu had other irons in the fire.

First, there was the planned expulsion of hundreds of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Dozens of them were due to be expelled within days and extreme right settlers were going to enter into their vacated homes.

Protests in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere in East Jerusalem met brutal police repression. Then, protests spread to the Haram A Sharif (Temple Mount) compound, and so did the police repression. Police started to shoot “rubber” bullets directly into demonstrators’ faces, causing them to lose eyes—at least two of them losing both eyes and becoming blind for the rest of their lives.

Footage of the police breaking into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site and a place considered, even by secular Palestinians, as a major part of their national heritage, spread widely through the social networks, escalating the protests.

And then there was the plan to have thousands of radical young settlers hold the provocative “Dance of the Flags” right through the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, chanting their habitual racist slogans.

The police and government reiterated hour after hour that the “Dance of the Flags” would take place as scheduled. And it was then that Hamas in Gaza threatened to retaliate for the attack on the Palestinians of Jerusalem, and the government declared that it would not bend to “the ultimatums of terrorists”.

At the very last moment the “Dance” was cancelled—but it was too late. At 6.00 pm came the salvo of seven Hamas rockets at the outskirts of Jerusalem—which in fact caused no casualties or damage, but which precipitated the Israeli deadly retaliation on Gaza.

And now, a bit more than 48 hours later, here we are, in the midst of an escalating war, the Israeli Air Force destroying high rise buildings in Gaza and proudly announcing the “elimination” of senior Hamas activists—but unable to hinder the Palestinians’ ability to go on shooting rockets.

And relations between Jews and Arabs, fellow citizens of Israel, have descended to unprecedented depths of inter-communal violence. In Lod, the police declared a night curfew “to stop the rampaging Arabs” but Arab inhabitants refuse to abide by it and are involved in violent confrontations with police around a local mosque.

In Bat Yam and Tiberias, mobs of extreme right Jews are assaulting random Arabs and smashing up Arab-owned shops. And repeated again and again in the media is the government’s total refusal to make a ceasefire. “No, no, no ceasefire—we must teach Hamas a lesson!”

Of course no ceasefire. Why should Netanyahu want a ceasefire? Every day in which the shooting continues is one more day of keeping that dreaded mover’s truck away from the Prime Minister’s Residence, one more day of keeping power in his own hands.

If there was concrete proof that Netanyahu did it all consciously and deliberately, it would constitute criminal charges far more serious than those he is facing at the District Court of Jerusalem. But any such evidence is probably classified Top Secret and would only be published fifty years from now. So, we can’t prove that he did it deliberately, though there can be little doubt about it. We can only end the war, and immediately afterwards get rid of him.

Perhaps what is happening now will shake President Biden out of the attitude of keeping a low profile on Israel and the Palestinians? After all, all this mess had fallen on his desk with quite a loud clatter…

Adam Keller is an Israeli peace activist and the spokesman for Gush Shalom, the peace group founded by Uri Avnery.

“A cash cow”

by Phyllis Bennis

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has a whole lot to gain from this assault—among other things, it may keep him out of jail. More broadly, Israel’s strategic military planners have been waiting for another attack on Gaza. And for Israel’s arms manufacturers, assaulting Gaza is what the leading Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz has called “a cash cow.”

Netanyahu’s political capital is also bound up with his claim to be the only Israeli leader who can maintain the key levels of absolute impunity and uncritical economic and political support from the United States. Certainly the Trump years were characterized by Washington’s warmest embrace of Netanyahu’s right-wing government and the most extremist pro-Israel policies to date. But so far President Biden, presumably convinced that moving to restore the Iran nuclear deal means no other pressure on Israel is possible, has recalibrated only the rhetoric.

Washington’s actual support for Israel—including $3.8 billion in military support every year and the one-sided “Israel has the right of self-defense” rhetoric that refuses to acknowledge any such right to the Palestinians—remains in place. And history shows us that direct US backing—in the form of additional cash and weapons as well as effusive statements of support—rises when Israeli troops are on the attack.

[Gaza has been the frequent target]—in 2008-2009, 2012, and especially for the 50 days of Israeli bombardment in 2014 that left 2,202 Palestinians, including 526 children, dead.

Israel’s arms industry

These attacks on Gaza have provided a critically valuable testing ground for the Israeli weapons manufacturers whose export deals—worth $7.2 billion in 2019—represent a huge component of Israel’s GDP.

During the height of the 2014 assault, Ha’aretz reported that the company’s factories “worked around the clock turning out munitions as the army tested their newest systems against a real enemy. Now, they are expecting their battle-tested products will win them new customers.”

“Combat is like the highest seal of approval when it comes to the international markets,” explained Barbara Opall-Rome, the Israel bureau chief for Defense News, told Ha’aretz. “What has proven itself in battle is much easier to sell. Immediately after the operation, and perhaps even during, all kinds of delegations arrive here from countries that appreciate Israel’s technological capabilities and are interested in testing the new products.”

“From a business point of view,” concluded the editor of Israel Defense, “the operation was an outstanding thing for the defense industries.”

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. This is an excerpt from her May 24, 2021, article in Foreign Policy in Focus:


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