Israel-Hamas conflict: The only language Israel understands
Netanyahu and his allies will have no scruples signing off on the annihilation of Palestinians, writes Shubham Sharma
The title of my essay, provocative as it might appear, is a version of Nathan Thrall’s fantastic book The Only Language They Understand. In his book, Thrall shows how Israel has historically come to the talking table only after diplomatic and military pressure has forced it to do so. It goes without saying that Palestinians have hardly been the winners in all these negotiations. They have always suffered deceit, defeat and disappointment.
The latest spurt of resistance from the Palestinians is nothing but a reflection of all the pent-up anger. I emphasise the word resistance because mainstream Indian media has had the temerity to call it ‘terrorism’.
Since there is no globally accepted definition of terrorism and as more often than not ‘one man’s terrorist is another person’s revolutionary’, for our immediate purposes, we can follow Prof Benno Teschke’s understanding of terrorism and its modern manifestation.
Teschke argues that modern terrorism as a phenomenon belongs to the phase of informal empires. He writes: ‘Terrorism becomes the most effective form of anti-imperial struggle—a new form of strategic-tactical creativity against an enemy whose sinews of power are flows of capital and long-range military-technological surveillance and control. Given the physical absence of the imperial power in the indirectly controlled area, terrorists have to carry the fight against civilian targets.’
The fight for a free and independent Palestine is not terrorism but a form of partisan warfare against a settler colonial state that has metamorphosed into an apartheid state. Many in the liberal West will disagree that Israel is an apartheid state.
So, let’s recall the time when John Kerry, the US secretary of state during the second Barack Obama administration, decided to enter the fray and settle the Israel–Palestine dispute once and for all through a two-state solution.
Seeing how the Jewish settlement had expanded, Kerry had remarked: “Soon Israel will face the choice between being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state… the window for a two-state solution is shutting.”
In August this year, Amiram Levin, former head of the Israeli army’s Northern Command, said, “There hasn’t been a democracy there in 57 years, there is total apartheid” and that the Israeli army “is becoming a party to war crimes in the West Bank in processes that resemble Nazi Germany”.
Swearing on both sides of the scale, Kerry had promised a pre-1967 border state to the Palestinians, a post-1967 border commitment with a prisoner swap deal to Israel and a $4 billion investment in the West Bank. The deal collapsed, thanks to Israel’s skullduggery in releasing the last batch of prisoners.
One should not read too much into the Obama administration extending the olive branch. Susan Rice, the US representative to the United Nations, had vetoed a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. Obama often sided with the Israeli government in other ways.
The US has increased military aid for Israel, especially for the Iron Dome anti-missile system. During major Israeli clashes with Hamas in 2012 and 2014, the US supported Israel’s right to defend itself. In the United Nations General Assembly, the US voted against elevating Palestine’s status to non-member observer state.
The arrival of Donald Trump and his decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem along with his insistence on economic growth before a solution could be found to the century-old political problem only emboldened the Netanyahu-led right wing. In 2017, the settler leader Yaakov Katz thanked Trump and admitted that during his presidency, settler activity had grown at nearly twice the rate of Israel’s population.
In 2020, with the official visit by Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo to a settler colony in the West Bank, the 1978 memo by the state department legal advisor Herbert Hansell, which deemed Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines as illegal, was officially binned.
From 1967 through 2017, over 200 Israeli settlements were established in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). Their current population, as per the report of the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories is almost 620,000!
In June 2023, the Biden administration tried to slap Israel on the wrist by declaring that it would not transfer any funds to research institutes and technological projects in the West Bank. However, when asked whether Trump’s policy of encouraging settlements has been reversed, the state department confirmed “we have not taken that step”.
A concerted attempt is being made to show that violence has always been the favourite stratagem of the Palestinian resistance against Israel. This narrative has been packed into a case that may have read: ‘Islam and its adherents are essentially prone to violence.’
Palestinian civil society’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel was a peaceful movement, reminiscent of the Gandhian method of resistance. Given its initial worldwide success, the US and NATO responded with alarm, trying to criminalise BDS across Europe and North America, claiming with the help of Zionist lobby groups that boycotting Israel was ‘anti-Semitic’.
On the other hand, since the blockade of Gaza in 2007, four out of five Gazan children suffer from depression, grief and trauma. More than half of them have contemplated suicide and three out of five self-harm. About 90–95 per cent of the water supply in Gaza is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Till last year, the unemployment rate in Gaza stood at a staggering 46 per cent!
The Palestinian resistance is an expression of all the wrongs meted out to them over the years. Netanyahu and his fascist allies will have no scruples signing off on their annihilation.
As expected, the Modi government in India has decided to stand solidly behind Israel. The affinity the two regimes have for each is not superficial: Just as the forces of Hindutva have sought to conflate Hinduism with Hindutva, so have the Zionists succeeded in equating Jewishness with Zionism. The irony here is that when Jews were being subjected to a genocide in Hitler’s Germany, one of the (in)glorious pundits of the Hindu right in India, M.S. Golwalkar alias Guruji, the second chief of the proto-fascist RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), wrote in his book We or Our Nationhood Defined (published in 1939):
‘German race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the Semitic races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by (pg. 87–88).’
Someone must send this book to Bibi (Netanyahu) and his allies.
(SHUBHAM SHARMA is a research scholar at the Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut, US. A longer version of this essay first appeared in The Leaflet)