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Palestine on a knife-edge as extremists surge to power

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21 Dec 2022 05:12:30 GMT9
21 Dec 2022 05:12:30 GMT9

Last month, 30,000 Israelis descended upon occupied Hebron — where a few hundred radical Zionists live amid 200,000 Palestinians — and proceeded to attack citizens while chanting “death to the Arabs.” Homes of Palestinian activists were singled out for violent assault. When residents called the police, they were frequently beaten up by the police themselves.

Demonstrators provocatively chanted the name of Itamar Ben-Gvir, Hebron resident, leader of the extreme-right Jewish Power party and the incoming public security minister. In one widely circulated video from Hebron, a soldier boasts to a demonstrator: “Ben-Gvir is going to sort things out here. You guys have lost.”

Ben-Gvir was also the name on people’s lips during violent demonstrations by ultra-Orthodox extremists in Jerusalem. Protesters denounced Israeli security forces as “Nazis, murderers and terrorists,” and chanted that “Ben-Gvir is going to set things in order here.”

Even notorious far-right MKs were unnerved by the outbursts of violent extremism that Benjamin Netanyahu’s fascist stablemates have unleashed. Outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that “there is a strong feeling that ultra-Orthodox rioters are allowed to do anything.”

There is no more eloquent indication of Ben-Gvir’s vision for Arabs than the fact that his home previously conferred pride of place to a large portrait of Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron. Ben-Gvir himself was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement and supporting a Jewish terrorist organization.

An unusually strong UN press release condemned the escalating trend of murderous attacks by settlers. “Armed and masked Israeli settlers are attacking Palestinians in their homes, attacking children on their way to school, destroying property, burning olive groves and terrorizing entire communities with complete impunity,” said the UN experts, who noted that security forces often collaborated in these attacks. More than 150 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces this year, including 33 children — like 16-year-old Jana Zakarneh, who was shot dead in recent days while standing on her roof in Jenin.

Palestinians warn that as a result of Ben-Gvir’s appointment, along with that of Bezalel Smotrich as finance minister with responsibility for administration of the West Bank, annexation of much of the West Bank is inevitable. As well as championing full annexation of the Palestinian territories, Smotrich is also an advocate of apartheid in its purest form, right down to suggesting that Arab and Jewish mothers should be separated in maternity hospitals.

Netanyahu granted these quasi-fascists concession after concession, including scandalous proposals for enabling the Knesset to overrule the Supreme Court. Israel’s attorney general — himself a Likud right-winger — warned that “without judicial oversight and independent legal advice, we will be left with just the principle of majority rule and nothing else. Democracy in name, not in essence.” A recent example of such arbitrary exploitation of legal power was the deportation of French-Palestinian human rights lawyer Salah Hamouri, who was also stripped of his Jerusalem residency.

Israel’s governing system has become dangerously skewed under the supremacy of a fundamentalist minority. Although only 15 percent of Israelis define themselves as observant Jews who subscribe to a “Greater Israel,” religious Zionists have heavily infiltrated the senior ranks of the security establishment, police and media.

Israel’s governing system has become dangerously skewed under the supremacy of a fundamentalist minority.

Baria Alamuddin

Half of Israel’s population — largely ultra-Orthodox and Arabs — do not pay taxes due to poverty and underemployment, meaning that 90 percent of income tax revenue comes from the professionalized 20 percent of the population that is systematically excluded from political influence.

Netanyahu has promised a windfall of additional budgetary benefits and privileges for the ultra-Orthodox, including enhanced funding for educational institutions that do not teach core secular subjects like math, while rolling back initiatives for enforcing ultra-Orthodox participation in military service. The incoming Cabinet also aspires to reform the mainstream education system, imposing hard-line Zionist theology upon everyone.

Due to high birth rates, the ultra-Orthodox’s share of Israel’s population has doubled within a generation, meaning their monopolization of politics will grow. Consequently, the least productive segments of today’s Israel impose their fundamentalist vision on the most economically productive demographics.

Five stalemated rounds of elections have demonstrated that half the electorate passionately loathes Netanyahu. This was amplified in recent days through large demonstrations against his coalition, where one speaker warned that the incoming government would “change the DNA of the state of Israel forever … into a religious, messianic, fundamentalist, Khomeinist country, where the orthodoxy is dictating the lifestyle to us, the secularists.” Many fear that, given Netanyahu’s escalatory rhetoric concerning Iran and his readiness to go to any lengths to secure his position, he could drag Israel into a region-wide war with Tehran and its proxies if he felt his premiership being threatened.

Palestinian citizens are close to becoming a quarter of Israel’s population and many of the best-educated are settling in cities like Tel Aviv and dominating sectors like pharmacies and medicine.

The comparison between these highly educated Arab professionals and unemployable ultra-Orthodox radicals with a smattering of basic education is stark. However, brutal intercommunal killings in 2021 highlight the risks of coexistence, particularly in the context of Netanyahu’s denunciations of Arabs as fifth-columnist “traitors.”

Netanyahu fantasizes about peace deals with leading Arab and Muslim states that would “end the Arab-Israeli conflict” and “expand the circle of peace beyond our wildest dreams.” Yet even states that were party to the Abraham Accords stress the necessity of a just and lasting solution. The fact that, during the Doha World Cup, the best-selling flags and paraphernalia were for Morocco and Palestine shows that, under the surface, Arabs have lost none of their ardor for the Palestinian cause.

Netanyahu should acknowledge that none of the civilized world has recognized the illegal concessions made by the Trump administration. Indeed, his highly promoted friendships with the globally unpopular Donald Trump and with Vladimir Putin may see him struggling to make headway internationally. The only parties that benefit from Netanyahu’s maximalist policies are the Iranian proxies that use such travesties to justify their existence.

Human rights cannot just be for Ukrainians and Westerners. Justice is not divisible or amenable to double standards. Palestinians are going nowhere. Jewish Israelis comprise less than 47 percent of Palestine’s current population and demographics are inexorably working against them. If justice, rights and peace are not available today, the steadfast Palestinian people can wait another 10 or 100 years.

A majority of Palestinians have no memory of the optimism of the long-dead Oslo years. Many justifiably feel abandoned by their leaders, the Arab world and the international community. The younger generation largely shuns religious sentiments but is more radical in its nationalist aspirations than any Palestinian generation that went before it.

As Israeli power is consolidated in the hands of a quasi-fascist cabal with a long-standing record of comments about exterminating the Arab population, it is not just the prospect of a peaceful two-state solution that we lose, but also the prospect of any kind of near-term peace.

• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

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