Christians the world over look to the Holy Land this week as they celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus, while Jews around the globe observe Passover, recalling their exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt. Current events in Israel and Palestine, though, are no cause for celebration, and are adding fuel to racial and political fires here in the United States.
Benjamin Netanyahu secured an unprecedented fifth term as Israel’s prime minister, despite facing possible indictment on corruption charges. Netanyahu successfully energized his base with promises to annex Israel’s many, illegal West Bank settlements, narrowly defeating his main challenger, Benny Gantz.
President Donald Trump amplified Netanyahu’s reelection chances, first by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, then by formally endorsing Israel’s annexation of the occupied Golan Heights, land Israel seized militarily from Syria in 1967. Israel’s domestic politics have consistently veered further and further to the right, while a global movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people, “boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS),” is growing in opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its brutal siege of the Gaza Strip.
“Netanyahu offers Israelis safety and security, very, very low mortality rate as part of the occupation and siege,” Israeli journalist Haggai Matar said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. “Unlike Palestinians who are being killed en masse by Israel.”
The anti-Palestinian rhetoric during the Israeli election was particularly vile. Benny Gantz, the former head of the Israeli military, ran an ad with a rapidly climbing body count laid over images of Palestinian funeral marches. The ad closed with the chilling phrase, in Hebrew, “1,364 terrorists killed — 3.5 years of quiet in the south.” Another ad was run by Oren Hazan, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, who represents a Jewish-only, illegal West Bank settlement. In it, Hazan’s face is superimposed over Clint Eastwood’s character in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” as he kills a man with the face of Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
Israel is wrongly described as the Middle East’s only democracy — for whom? Diana Buttu, a Palestinian-Canadian attorney and citizen of Israel, spoke to “Democracy Now!” from Haifa, explaining, “about 16% of the people who are eligible to vote are Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. Look at the vast remainder of people that Israel controls … in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip or in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. Close to 6 million individuals who are ineligible to vote in Israeli elections, and yet are being governed by Israel.”
While many Palestinians who were eligible to vote boycotted the election, there is a growing nonviolent resistance movement in the occupied territories and around the world. In Gaza, 2 million people live under Israeli siege in what former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called the world’s largest “open-air prison.” For the past year, tens of thousands of Palestinians have marched every Friday to the separation fence between Gaza and Israel. It’s called the “Great March of Return,” and is met by Israeli military snipers who fire live ammunition into the nonviolent crowd. According to the U.N., over 270 Gazans have been killed, at least 41 of whom were children, and close to 30,000 have been injured, with many of those injured suffering amputations. Journalists and medical first responders have also been shot, some fatally.
Just this week, Israel ordered Human Rights Watch’s investigator in Israel, Omar Shakir, to leave the country by May 1st. In response, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) said, “The increasing efforts to silence criticism of Israel’s human rights violations are in direct response to the growing criticism.” Last year, Israel deported CCR Executive Director Vince Warren and Board Chair Catherine Franke, a Columbia University professor.
Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian activist who co-founded the BDS movement in 2005 to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. He was scheduled to speak in the United States this week, at Harvard and New York University, and to meet with members of Congress, but was prevented from boarding his plane in Israel. The Trump administration had rescinded his permission to enter the U.S., despite his valid visa, which he has used when visiting many times.
Unable to fly out of Israel, Barghouti appeared on “Democracy Now!” from a TV studio in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, explaining, “It shows how this right-wing [Trump] administration, which is completely in alliance with Israel’s far-right regime, is terrified of our voices, is terrified of telling the truth.”
Justice and security for Palestinians will only enhance security for Israel. Stifling speech, blocking travel and violating human rights won’t bring peace. A negotiated settlement will.