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How Israel found itself embroiled in three-pronged fronts all of its own making

May 19,2021 - Last updated at May 19,2021

Even before the eruption of the latest assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, Israel had suffered a serious public relations defeat; one that has tarnished its image, probably beyond repair, around the world. Its repeated attacks on worshippers at Al Aqsa mosque and its attempt to carry out forced evictions of Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem had backfired as raw footage of the horrific incursions of Al Aqsa compound and its provocations of residents of East Jerusalem went viral on social media platforms. 

Then came the disproportionate and random bombardment of Gaza Strip; which, as expected, resulted in heavy losses in civilian lives including women and children. Once more unedited footage of the deliberate targeting of houses and residential buildings was posted on social media even as western news agencies tried to avoid running graphic images of human losses. 

The bombing of Gaza triggered wide-spread protests by Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel’s response was disproportionate as usual. Palestinian youths, who were protesting at Israeli checkpoints, were gunned down in cold blood in Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin and other towns and villages. The Israeli official narrative could not justify the crackdown in the West Bank. This was a post-2000 Intifada generation of Palestinians who were marking 54 years under brutal Israeli occupation.

And “occupation” was the buzzword in this latest flare-up. The world was reminded again that Palestinians were under the longest colonial occupation in modern times. On social media, activists from all over the world lambasted Israel for its horrific treatment of Palestinians. And when apologists for Israel tried to respond, spewing lies and half-truths, they were silenced by advocates, the great majority of whom were anti-Zionist Jews. On Twitter hashtags like #IsraeliApartheid and #IsraeliTerrorism were trending in the tens of thousands. Israel will have a tough time whitewashing its association with stigmas such as ethnic cleansing and apartheid. 

And then came the unexpected: Arab Israelis  joined their brethren in the occupied territories in protesting the attack on Al Aqsa and the war on Gaza. Violent clashes between Arabs and Jewish extremists, who were often protected by the police, erupted in Lod, a mixed city, as rioters attacked Arab shops, burned cars and went on a lynching spree chanting “Death to Arabs”. The violence spread to other cities including Haifa and Acre. Amid incitement by Benyamin Netanyahu and other right- wing agitators, the image of decades of Arab-Jewish co-existence in Israel had suddenly been shattered but not before exposing years of discrimination against Arab citizens.

Israel found itself fighting on three different fronts; all of its own making and all aimed at serving the political expediency of an embattled Netanyahu, who jumped on the opportunity to save his political career.

Israel’s attack on Gaza, the fourth in the span of 13 years, has triggered an unprecedented global wave of sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinians. From Toronto to Tokyo and from New York to Berlin, thousands of people took to the streets to declare support for a just Palestinian cause. The protests marked a widening gap between governments and citizens. While most western governments, led by the United States, sided with Israel and supported its right to self defence, world public opinion had turned overwhelmingly in favour of the Palestinians and their quest for justice and liberation.

Even more important, Democratic lawmakers, including Jewish representatives, in the US Congress took the floor to support Palestinian rights and denounce Israeli strikes on Gaza. This was a watershed moment in US politics; one that has shaken Israel’s confidence in relying on a blind support from US Congress.

With pressure mounting on Israel and the Biden administration to wrap up the assault on Gaza, questions about the long-term damage to Israel’s image abroad are already surfacing within a divided Israeli public. The pressing issue now is what happens once the guns go silent? Israeli war crimes in Gaza are well documented and international and Israeli human rights bodies are urging the International Criminal Court (ICC) to begin its investigations.

On the political front, there will be renewed calls on the US and the Quartet to launch a new peace process even though the possibility of success seems remote with Israel leaning further to the far-right. The deep fissures that have scarred the Israeli social fabric and the collapse of claims of co-existence between Arabs and Jews will fester for some time. In the view of Israeli pundits the recent rupture poses the most significant existential challenge for Israel since its foundation.

Under Netanyahu and his far- right allies the provocations at Al Aqsa, the drive to displace Jerusalem residents as well as the unchecked settlement expansions will continue; fuelling outrage among the Palestinians and raising the cost of occupation; something that did not happen since the 2000 Intifada. In all likelihood, this Palestinian grassroots awakening will not subside anytime soon. Israel has opened a Pandora’s Box and while Netanyahu may have ignited a series of crises, in Gaza, in the West Bank and inside Israel itself, he will not be able to contain them. Despite the heavy human losses of the past week, the Palestinian cause has the won the public opinion battle and the world is recognizing that the root cause of an asymmetrical conflict is Israeli occupation.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.     

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