Even before the eruption of the latest assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, Israel had suffered a serious public relations defeat — one that tarnished its image, probably beyond repair, around the world. Its repeated horrific incursions and attacks on worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque and its attempt to carry out forced evictions of the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem backfired as raw footage of the incidents went viral on social media platforms.
Then came the disproportionate and random bombardment of Gaza, which, as expected, is resulting in the heavy loss of civilian lives, including women and children. Once more, unedited footage of the deliberate targeting of 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 widespread protests by Palestinians in the West Bank, and Israel’s response was disproportionate as usual. Palestinian youths were gunned down in cold blood in Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin and other towns and villages. The official Israeli narrative could not justify the crackdown in the West Bank. This was the post-2000 intifada generation of Palestinians marking 54 years of brutal Israeli occupation.
And “occupation” was the buzzword in this latest flare-up. The world has been reminded once again that Palestinians are under the longest colonial occupation of 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 included in tens of thousands of tweets. Israel will have a tough time whitewashing its association with stigmas such as ethnic cleansing and apartheid.
Then came the unexpected: Palestinians living in Israel joined their brethren in the Occupied Territories in protesting the attack on Al-Aqsa and the war on Gaza. Violent clashes between Palestinians and Jewish extremists, with the latter 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 then spread to other cities, including Haifa and Acre. Amid incitement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing agitators, the image of decades of Palestinian-Jewish coexistence in Israel was suddenly shattered — but not before the exposure of years of discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
Israel now finds itself fighting on three fronts — all of its own making and all aimed at serving the political expediency of an embattled Netanyahu, who has jumped at the opportunity to try and save his career.
The 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 New York to Berlin, thousands of people have taken to the streets to declare support for the just Palestinian cause. These protests marked a widening gap between governments and citizens. While most Western governments, led by the US, focus on Israel and its right to self-defense, global public opinion has turned overwhelmingly in favor of the Palestinians and their quest for justice and liberation.
Even more importantly, Democratic lawmakers, including Jewish representatives, took to the floor of the US Congress to support Palestinian rights and denounce Israeli strikes on Gaza. This was a watershed moment in US politics, which has shaken Israel’s confidence in relying on blind support from Congress.
The world has been reminded once again that Palestinians are under the longest colonial occupation of modern times.
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 fall silent. Israeli war crimes in Gaza are well documented and international and Israeli human rights bodies are urging the International Criminal Court to begin its investigations.
On the political front, there will be renewed calls on the US and the Middle East Quartet to launch a new peace process, even though the possibility of success seems remote, with Israel leaning ever further to the far right. The deep fissures that have scarred the Israeli social fabric and the collapse of claims of coexistence between Palestinians and Jews in Israel will fester for some time. In the view of Israeli pundits, the recent ruptures pose the most significant existential challenge the country has faced since its foundation.
Under Netanyahu and his far-right allies, the provocations at Al-Aqsa, the drive to displace Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents and the unchecked settlement expansion will continue, fueling outrage among the Palestinians and raising the cost of occupation — something that has not happened 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 the series of crises in Gaza, 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 won the public opinion battle and the world is recognizing that the root cause of an asymmetrical conflict is Israeli occupation.