Israel has a right to defend itself – from people living in their houses, from children sleeping in their beds, from people praying in their places of worship. It has the right to torment them if it has to.
There hardly could be any other translation of Biden’s unconditional support for Israel’s crimes in Gaza, but even Palestine more generally, which was echoed by other Western leaders too.
Yesterday it was Manifest Destiny, today it’s the right to self-defense. But the object remains the same: dispossession of the locals by a violent takeover with ornate stories justifying it.
The US made the case for it on the basis of cultural superiority, while Israel is being handed over the baton on the pretext of self-defense, now. It’s just the redressing of rhetoric to make it more in line with what’s relatively acceptable today: self-defense as opposed to superiority. But the aim remains the same.
A quick history of Israel and its settler project
It began with the Zionist Jews being handed over Palestine through the Balfour Declaration in 1917 by the British government because the British deemed it fit to slice up the Middle East as per their whims. European colonizers did not have a thought-out plan for the demarcation of borders anywhere in the world. What Britain did in Palestine was no different either.
The promise for a land for the world’s Jews, who were overwhelmingly populated in the West before, materialized in the form of a state in 1948, with the West pushing through the resolution for partitioning of Palestine at the UN.
The new state of Israel captured some of the lands that were originally to be a part of Palestine under the UN partition plan, as Israel ‘won’ the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war. This resulted in 700,000 Palestinians to become refugees in their own land – what is remembered as the ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe. In the second Arab-Israeli war of 1967, all of the Palestinian land was occupied by Israel.
Thus the sway of Israeli state – which was heavily supported by European states in wars and in times of peace alike – expanded into the ‘Palestinian Territories’ of Gaza and the West Bank. Further, the new state starts to enable ‘settlements’ of Israeli people in what is internationally recognized Palestinian lands.
These settlements are illegal under international law, but still get more spending per person by the Israeli state, compared to ‘Israel-proper’, today. Essentially, these projects represent state-facilitated land-grab, euphemized for the world’s conscience to the more acceptable term, ‘settlements’.
The expansion affected East Jerusalem too – the portion of the city that has the Old City, revered by the followers of all 3 Abrahamic religions – but occupied by the Israeli state in 1967. It had been a predominantly Muslim populated area, but over time it has come to be inhabited by more and more Jews.
It’s a matter of time before the Jews may become the majority in East Jerusalem. That wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t a state-backed dispossession project.
Understanding Sheikh Jarrah
The recent episode of tensions began with the forced expulsion of residents from Sheikh Jarrah in a Palestinian-populated neighborhood of East Jerusalem – which Israel has no business in under international law, but which may be legal under Israeli law that is biased in favor of the Israeli Jews by design.
The Israeli Jews who want some properties there claim that they were the original residents living there before the 1948 war, and were expelled then as the land fell in control of the Palestinian-backing Jordan. But these are homes that were built by the UN and Jordanian government in 1956 for Palestinian refugees who were expelled from the Israel-controlled areas in the same war.
The Israeli Jews’ claims today are judged by independent bodies to be marred with legal lacunae and problems as serious as a possible forgery. But even if accepted at face value, they capture the essence of apartheid: while displaced Israeli Jews can claim the properties they owned before the war, Palestinians cannot. There are two different laws based on one’s ethno-religious identity, being used to benefit one group at the cost of the other.
This is not the first time the Palestinian residents’ Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is facing ‘eviction’, which happened in 2002, 2008, and 2017 before this. As Israeli settlements aggressively expand into East Jerusalem – given its ideological and national importance to the Zionists – the Palestinians face a battle for survival. They were expelled in 1948 from their lands and came here as refugees. Now, they face another expulsion.
The recent flare-up
To make things worse, when people gathered for worship in what are the holiest Ramadan nights for Muslims, and perhaps express solidarity with the Sheikh Jarrah residents, they were stopped from praying at Al-Aqsa – one of the holiest places in Islam – and showered with stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets while literally praying, inside the compound.
It is difficult to shut one’s eyes to the state’s complicity which went beyond that.
How could one say that the Israeli youth could actually dance and curse the Palestinians when the Muslims were attacked praying, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque appeared to be burning, freely? How could mobs attack the Muslims’ houses and shops, with law-enforcement nowhere to be seen? How can one conceive the possible lynching of a Muslim driver, among other such episodes, was just an accident?
Once you put whatever happened, and is still happening, in a historical context, it’s impossible to ignore the reality of the crass Israeli apartheid.
The ‘right to self-defense’
Let’s assume whatever happened, happened as an outcome of the need for ‘self-defense’. The Israeli Jews owned the land ‘originally’ – like the European colonizers owned America. Let’s say they had the right to ‘reappear’ and displace the people living in Palestine for centuries – who could not be ‘original’ to the land because they are not Zionist Jews.
Let’s say the evictions are justified – the settlers from Europe and America are a superior race, and it’s Manifest Destiny 2021.
Over 248 Palestinians were killed in the assault on Gaza, including over 66 children. They were real human beings, with touching stories of moments just before being bombed. They had names, which are documented.
Read more: Children of war: Where is Israel’s morality?
The strikes displaced over 40,000 families, destroyed the main road to a central hospital, attacked a refugee camp killing 10 Palestinians – 8 of them children – bombed a COVID-19 testing center, and razed a 12-storey iconic media tower. This is an extremely short and unrepresentative list of Israel’s crimes but gives some idea of the scale of grossness.
So much for your ‘self-defense’ Joe.
But let’s assume for a moment that all this indeed was some form of defense. Let’s assume that Nakba, the occupation, settlements, apartheid, and the assault on Gaza every few years was self-defense.
The question is, is the world ready to extend the same rights to the Palestinian resistance in the future too? The people of the land arguably have the foremost right to self-defense – if that is what it gets to be called.
Instead of lazy and unthoughtful remarks, world leaders need to take responsibility. Their statements have moral and legal ramifications. Shedding crocodile tears, after being criminally complicit in the assault, and dispatching a Blinken or two, upon waking up, doesn’t do Joe. Don’t kill civilians, whatever their color or creed be, for your own vested interests. History is taking note.
Usman Masood is a member of the Social Sciences Faculty at SZABIST, Islamabad. He tweets at: @Masood_U. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.