Stop indulging Israel

Donald Trump’s America-first foreign policy was a policy of snubbing allies, coddling dictators and turning the State Department into an agent of the US arms industry.

May 28, 2021

A Palestinian woman carrying her son evacuates after their home was hit by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, May 12, 2021 (CNS photo/Mohammed Salem, Reuters).


Donald Trump’s America-first foreign policy was a policy of snubbing allies, coddling dictators and turning the State Department into an agent of the US arms industry.

The Biden administration promised a fresh start. America would once again promote democracy abroad, oppose the rising tide of ethnonationalism and defend human rights.

An early test of the new administration’s commitment to human rights has now appeared in a part of the world Biden had hoped to put on the back burner: Israel and the Palestinian territories.

One can easily understand his reluctance to spend much time on yet another attempt to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. For decades, US presidents have tried and failed to find a “two-state solution” that would satisfy both sides. Even when conditions for peace appeared to be ideal, negotiations always hit a snag, and, with a right-wing coalition now governing Israel and the militant group Hamas in charge of Gaza, conditions are far from ideal.

But Biden cannot just look away from the violence that has erupted in the Holy Land in the past few weeks.

The trouble began in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, with what the Israeli government has called a realestate dispute and what Palestinians describe as ethnic cleansing.

For decades, Palestinian households whose families have lived in Sheikh Jarrah have been gradually forced out by a settler organisation and the Israeli courts. Such evictions are part of a larger pattern of displacement.

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, more than 14,600 Palestinians in East Jerusalem have had their residency revoked by Israel, which claims all of Jerusalem for itself in defiance of international law.

Tensions over the impending eviction of four households — and over the government’s decision to block off a Palestinian gathering place near the Damascus Gate — had been building since April.

On May 7, the last Friday of Ramadan, Israeli police raided alAqsa Mosque, where thousands of Palestinians had gathered to pray and show their support for the Arab residents of Sheikh Jarrah. Hundreds were injured in the ensuing clash between stonethrowing protesters and police armed with rubber-tipped bullets and tear gas.

The following Monday was Jerusalem Day, when Israeli nationalists celebrate the disputed reunification of the city by parading through the Muslim Quarter on their way to the Temple Mount, the site of al-Aqsa Mosque.

This was also the day the Israeli Supreme Court announced its verdict on the latest round of evictions. The police, anticipating more clashes between Palestinians and Israeli hardliners, raided al-Aqsa Mosque again.

Hamas warned that Israel would pay a “heavy price” if its forces did not leave the mosque before 6.00pm that evening. The first rocket fire from Gaza began a few minutes after the hour, the first Israeli airstrikes not long after that.

In days which followed, Hamas launched more than three thousand rockets into southern Israel. Most of these were intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” defence system, but the few that managed to get through have killed at least twelve people. Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes killed 219 people in Gaza, including 63 children.

There were also alarming outbreaks of violence within Israel proper between Jewish and Arab citizens — people dragged from their cars and beaten, Arab stores ransacked, synagogues torched. The situation rapidly escalated beyond anyone’s expectations, provoking fears of a full-blown civil war.

The effort to remove or subjugate Palestinians “from the river to the sea” is a textbook case of ethnonationalism and a clear violation of human rights — the kind of thing we routinely denounce when it happens anywhere else in the world.

We must denounce it in Israel too, and demand that the Israeli government stop treating Arab Israelis like second-class citizens and Palestinians in the occupied territories like captives. — The Editors, Commonweal

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