In Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem, captured and since occupied by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, Israel sought to evict six Palestininian families, who have been in occupation since 1948 or before. The attempted expulsion is based on an Israeli law which gives Jews the right to recover property that they had owned in 1948 and before. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from Palestine by Jewish armed groups in 1948 but they do not have the same right. The attempted eviction started the unrest in Jerusalem around the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest shrines in Islam, in this month of Ramadan. It was viciously suppressed by Israeli troops by attacking only Palestinians, not provocative Israeli thugs
Three events followed in rapid succession. One is the sending of 2,000 rockets into Israel by Hamas which is in control of the Gaza Strip, an enclave of Palestine within Israel and, more significantly, the explosion of resistance in Israeli occupied West Bank, which the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, in control of the West Bank, and has security arrangements with Israel, has hitherto sought to suppress on behalf of Israel. Even more ominous has been the outbreak of communal violence in parts of Israel between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews for the first time. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, struggling for survival after four indecisive elections and facing corruption charges, has been apparently given a new lease of life and may survive in office. Some have argued that Netanyahu has instigated the provocations in East Jerusalem so that he can strengthen his power play with the blood of 122 Palestinian lives, including 31 children and 20 women, at the time of writing.
While the United States is no longer seen by most as an independent interlocutor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the sad reality is that while always giving Israel a free hand to kill as many Palestinians, to destroy as much property in Gaza, to evict as many Palestinians from their land, to build as many illegal Israeli settlements, it is seen as the only country with the clout, with its $4 Billion in aid a year, to bring Israel to heel. But whenever Israel goes on the rampage against the Palestinians, on the excuse of Palestinian rockets being launched by Hamas from Gaza, successive US Presidents have given Israel the green light by pronouncing that Israel has the right to defend itself. The Jewish vote in the US, particularly for Democrats, and US strategic interests, are seen as an important determinants of US policy towards Israel.
But nothing ever stands still. Triggered by Israel’s colonial project over Palestine, and the increasing categorization of Israeli policy towards Palestinians as apartheid, B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization, issued a paper in January, 2021, entitled “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid.” The defining moment that forced this conclusion, after years of accusations, is The Nation-State Act enacted in 2018. It provides that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” Israeli, not Arab, laws apply in settlements. There are separate entrances for Arabs and Jews at checkpoints. West Bank and Gaza would be akin to Bantustans as in South Africa, if they already aren’t.
Not only American Jews, but progressive Americans in general, have begun to call out Israel. Ever the iconoclast, Bernie Sanders, who twice sought the Presidential nomination as a Democrat, and who, as a Jewish person, spent time at a kibbutz in Israel in his youth, wrote an Opinion article in last Friday’s New York Times. While condemning rocket attacks from Gaza by Hamas, he said that the statement is always made that “Israel has a right to defend itself” but the question is almost never asked: “What are the rights of the Palestinian people?” He said that the evictions in Jerusalem are part of a deepening Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a continuing blockade of Gaza in which 70 percent of young people are unemployed. He accused Israel of entrenching its unequal and undemocratic control and Benjamin Netanyahu of cultivating an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian type of racist nationalism.
Opposition to Israel’s policies of occupation, oppression and apartheid is seeing a broad upsurge among American progressives, including many Jewish people and the left wing of the Democratic Party. They are linking the struggle in the United States against racism and injustice to the struggle of the Palestinian people against Israel oppression, death and destruction. Such a linkage will further internationalise the Palestinian struggle in the vital United States arena.
In 1988 James Zogby, founder of the American Arab Institute could not get Palestine mentioned in the Democratic platform. Any mention of the ‘P-word’ was rejected out of hand (Lerer and Medina NYT 15-5-21). Today, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants to the US, could stand up and speak about Palestine to the US Congress. The current conflagration from the Palestinian perspective has succeeded in widening the resistance within both Palestine and Israel, has demonstrated that it will not go away and has emphasized the urgency for a solution.