Israel: Trapped in an oxymoron

Readers may need to be reminded: There are Palestinians living in the state of Israel. One could be forgiven for not appreciating this given the way UK mainstream media reports the so-called ‘democratic’ protests within Israel.

But the truth needs to be told: Palestinians comprise around 20% of the population of the state, rising to just over 50% of the population if one includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – land Occupied by Israel and under its effective control.  

In an admittedly thoroughly unscientific assessment, based on my personal viewing/listening habits of mainstream media, I heard the word ‘Palestinian’ barely mentioned in reports on the ‘pro-democracy’ demonstrations, still less any examination of Israeli-Palestinian citizens’ perspectives. Palestinians are noticeably missing from the demonstrations, a fact that should at the very least aroused media curiosity as to why.

As to the 4.7 million Palestinians living under Israeli military law in Gaza and the West Bank, the Occupation itself making a mockery of pro-democracy rhetoric, mainstream UK media, as with mainstream Israeli opinion, generally sees no Palestinians, hears no Palestinians, speaks not of Palestinians.  We might dub this syndrome ‘negative affinity’: the way UK mainstream media replicates the lacunae, absences and seeming indifference to the perspectives of Palestinians.

Elastic words

A prerequisite for speaking intelligibly with another is agreement, implied for the most part, on the meaning that attaches to key words and concepts. True, language, being by its nature elastic, protean, allows for degrees of latitude in use, but there are limits beyond which the meaning of a word or concept cannot be stretched without doing violence to the possibility of speaking intelligibly with another.  

The question thus arises as to whether Israeli Jews, many of whom are demonstrating with passion and conviction to save ‘their’ democracy, have stretched the meaning of that word, ‘democracy’ beyond the degree of latitude that enables meaningful speech, thereby limiting the degree to which political action can be conducted in good faith.

Athenian democracy – you wouldn’t want it

As suggested, the meanings accorded words and concepts change in use, change over time.  Thus, whilst it may still be said that fifth century Athens marked the birth of democracy, we would not now hold it up as an exemplar of what present day democracy should look like.  

Athenian democracy was essentially based on an exclusionary principle, such that only free – non-slave, non-foreigner, non-woman – male citizens could vote and therefore have ultimate control of the Athenian polity and the actions that flowed from it.

If we look at what Israel means by democracy, we see that – at present – it dons itself in the accoutrements of a democratic state: citizens have the vote, a parliament, a Supreme Court and so forth.  But beneath this coat of many colours lies a more monochrome reality, one that ultimately governs the particular nature, the possibilities inherent in, Israel’s version of democracy.  I refer of course to what amounts to Israel’s built-in statute of limitations. To give its full title: Basic Law: Israel-The Nation State of the Jewish People, which goes on to say:

The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.

The realization of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish People.

The contention here is that violence is done to language to propose that, given the Basic Law, Israel is a democracy in the way that term is generally understood.   Within the expression of the positive – the exclusive right to self-determination of the Jewish People – lies the unarticulated, but ever-present negative, the denial of the right to self-determination to any other category of people within the Israeli state. The Athenian exclusionary principle rescripted for current use.

What follows from this is that the current demonstrations are not inherently about securing democracy, properly understood, but about protecting particular sets of privileges aimed at re-embedding within the Israeli polity a broadly, but not exclusively, secular dispensation. 

Grand and tragic irony

The grand and tragic irony is that for those of us who wish for a genuinely democratic state, one that makes no claim to ‘exclusive’ rights for any particular population group, we feel compelled to support, in highly qualified support, those opposed to the current Netanyahu government, its personnel and policies. And why is this? It is, as the poem says, for fear of finding something worse.

At the time of writing, Netanyahu has called a temporary halt to pursuing his government’s judicial reforms. It is beyond my powers of clairvoyance to divine what may happen next. But the Netanyahu pause prompts the obvious question: What do the demonstrators want? The status quo ante bellum, the reversion to the position as it was before? Even supposing that were possible.  

The question arises, does Israel, or at least that proportion of the population which considers itself liberal-leftist, even egalitarian, have the internal resources – ethical, political, spiritual, intellectual, emotional – to confront the inherent contradictions of its own position? In a nutshell, the view that it is possible to square the circle of conceiving oneself a democratic state, at the same time as being constitutionally committed to Jewish supremacism. 

The evidence thus far is that it is a contradiction that Israel finds difficult to acknowledge, still less to confront and explore.  In contrast, there is a strain of Israeli dissenting opinion that focuses on campaigning against the Occupation, this undertaken with vigour and rooted commitment, as I’ve had the privilege to observe. (It is not suggested that those opposing the Occupation are not also involved in the wider campaign) This stance is replicated among some out-of-Israel Jewish organisations, broadly on the liberal/leftist spectrum, which campaign both within the Jewish community, and more widely, to persuade/force Israel to end the Occupation. 

Which elephant?

The Occupation is sometimes characterised as the ‘elephant in the room’, i.e. the subject neither Israeilis, nor out-of-Israel Jewish communities want to talk about, hence the title of one Israeli anti-occupation group: ‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’.

Ending the Occupation is a good in itself, and the more campaigns against it the better.  However, from another perspective, focusing on opposing the Occupation could be construed as a form of displacement activity, a way, of avoiding, perhaps unconsciously, not the elephant, but the terrain upon which it walks. And this is on the unfirm ground of an oxymoron: democratic and Jewish.


Just before posting this article, I saw in Haaretz a piece by Anat Saragusti.  The title: ‘Israel’s Docile Liberals Must Share the Blame for the Judicial Crisis’.   In her article Anata fills out what is on her mind. 

We have managed, in the 75 years of the State of Israel’s existence, to create bypass routes that would enable us to imagine that we are living in a country that has a liberal democracy.

She then goes on to list seven areas where ‘docile’ liberals sold the pass to the least desirable elements of the Israeli polity.  The full article can be found here. I’ll share three extracts:

Few of us took to the streets when laws that reinforced Jewish supremacy were enacted….Few of us took to the streets when the nation-state law was passed, which de jure (and not just de facto) made Arabs here second-class citizens.

We consented to a Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty that does not include equality, or freedom of expression, or the right to demonstrate. We kept quiet in the face of this absurdity, and now that the regime coup is upon us…

Now, not only mustn’t we go back to the way things were, it is impossible to go back… We must stand up for equality and freedom of expression… We cannot be quiet or put the issue of the occupation in the hands of zealots, racists and supporters of Jewish supremacy.

Is release possible?

The article is not only a critique of Israel’s deep-rooted, seldom acknowledged, malaise but it also serves as a signpost pointing to a different vision for a state that, for the present, is trapped in its own internal contradictions.

Israel broken? Repairable?

The symbolism couldn’t be starker.

On the one hand, the many Israeli flags held aloft by Jewish religious nationalists as they marched through Jerusalem’s Muslin Quarter on Jerusalem Day, May 2022, shouting ‘Death to Arabs’. 

On the other, the many Israeli flags held aloft around the country this March 2023, notably in Tel Aviv, by Jews protesting against the current government measures to restrict judicial power, seen by them as an assault on Israeli ‘democracy’.

The same flag, different meanings. The one, rooted in religious fundamentalism and unconcealed racism. The other, making claim to be wedded to democracy, secularism and equal rights.  Certainly, the democracy protesters were marching for the protection of Jewish-Israelis’ right to live in a secular space with all the attendant freedoms that implies: marry who you wish, LBGTQ rights, self-determination in respect of religious, or non-religious, practice and so forth.

The Israeli flag has now become a symbol of national disunity, directing attention to the fault lines running through the Israeli state and the Zionist enterprise. I’ll come back to this later in the article.


The events in Hawara, a Palestinian town on the outskirts of Nablus, are easily recounted.  Some 400 settlers from a nearby Settlement entered the West Bank village of Hawara, set fire to homes with their occupants inside, shot at reporters and apparently shot to death a 37-year-old Palestinian.   Reports from the area indicate that Israeli troops did nothing to prevent what is now widely described as a ‘pogrom’.  That the Settlers were planning an assault was known from the monitoring of their social media but this did not move the Israeli state to prevent the attack. Indeed, reports indicate there were at least some Israeli soldiers present at the time. They did nothing.   

From Touching Photographs:

By all accounts—and there are many first-hand witnesses—it was a night of terror in Hawara. The settler terrorists tried to break into houses and successfully set fire to some 40 homes, in nearly all cases with families huddling inside. Mothers tried to hide their children in the bathrooms or storage rooms; husbands who were coming home from work were unable to get through the vicious settler bands and received desperate phone calls from their wives: “They are here, dozens of them, trying to break down the door. They have broken the windows and they’re throwing flaming torches inside. The smoke is choking us. We can’t see or breathe. We’re going to die. Where are you?” By a miracle none of the children and women and elderly were killed. I guess God exists, sometimes.

Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist Party, now Finance minister and a minister in the Defence Ministry in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank responded to the ‘pogrom’ at Hawara:

‘Huwara needs to be wiped out. State of Israel should do it,’

Events at Hawara should not be seen as a one-off, or in any sense unusual, as the report below demonstrates: another Jewish-settler attack, this time in Burin a suburb of Nablus, has been perpertrated.  Violence is the modus operandi of the settlers.  They harass and attack Palestinians all the time,  A violence allowed, facilitated, encouraged – yes, encouraged – by the Israeli state.

Protest one: Solidarity with Hawara

Groups such as ‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’, are active every week in protest against the Occupation and the Settlers.  Hundreds of them protested in central Tel Aviv on Monday against the settlers’ torching of Hawara.  Protesters also headed towards Hawara for a ‘solidarity visit’. They were blocked from getting there by Settlers and the army.  Settlers, however, had free access to Hawara. 

Protest two: Against Government’s reforms

On Wednesday, thousands of Israelis took to the streets in a nationwide mass protest against the government’s assault on the country’s judicial system.  This demonstration one among others taking place and planned.  From Haaretz:

Israeli police cracked down on the pro-democracy protesters in Tel Aviv and other locations, using tactics normally reserved for protests by Palestinians in the West Bank – including firing stun grenades, water cannons and confronting them on horseback.

Spot the difference

There is, however, a contrast to be noted here: the demonstration against governmental reforms attracted thousands. The one in solidarity with Hawara, hundreds. No doubt many, if not all, of the ‘hundreds’ also supported the other demonstration.  Nevertheless, the differential turnout is telling us something. 

I have previously remarked that, justified though the protests against judicial reform and related governmental changes may be, they have a solipsistic hue in that they are almost exclusively directed at defending the rights and privileges of, in particular, Jewish Israelis.  The Guardian reported:

Small blocs of anti-occupation protesters have marched at most of the demonstrations, but a refusal to allow Palestinian flags onstage in the Tel Aviv demos, and the fact that only two Palestinian-Israeli speakers have addressed the crowds so far, has left many Palestinian citizens of Israel feeling alienated from the anti-government movement.

The protests, in other words, are in support of an already warped democracy, one where Palestinians have only a diminished form of citizenship.  As for the Occupation, it did not generally figure in the outrage of these demonstrators.

The Supreme Court, in any case, is no defender of Palestinian rights.  It is deeply complicit in securing the legal framework that enables the Occupation to continue unhindered by Israeli legal impediment. 

What would ‘success’ look like?

Let’s imagine that the demonstrations against the judicial and related governmental measures succeed in having them cancelled, and another, almost certainly dysfunctional, government is formed. If experience is any guide, it will duck and dive, advance and retreat, do and undo deals with erstwhile governmental partners in the attempt to hold together Israel’s fissiparous polity.

At present, it is grimly predictable that no imaginable Israeli government will address the structural, fundamental flaws of the Israeli state.  It has wilfully eyes wide open – passed the 2018 Basic Law that cements-in ‘national self-determination as exclusive to the Jewish people’.  In other words, Israel defines itself as a Jewish supremacist, ethno-nationalist state and there is little or no momentum to overturn that.   (Though see the One Democratic State Campaign.) In addition, the Basic Law proclaims: ‘…the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and shall [note the ‘shall’] act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation’. By any other words, this clause presages the annexation of all, or a major slice of, the Occupied Territories.  This clause alone establishes that even the idea of a two-state ‘solution’ is but a contrived chimera. 

The 2018 Basic Law is Israel’s self-constructed Separation Wall between it and the possibility of creating an authentically democratic state. 


Israel, in itself, is a fragile state, its internal contradictions now being exposed to itself in graphic, dramatic ways. And here ironies abound:

And perhaps the greatest irony of all is that Israel is inflicting on itself what BDS has for years so assiduously sought to achieve: the flight of capital and business out of the Israeli economy. From The Times of Israel:

Bankers estimate that some $4 billion has been transferred out of Israel and into foreign banks in the past three weeks, amid growing fears over the government’s impending judicial makeover, according to a Wednesday report.

Several unnamed banking sources…said the majority of the outflowing capital was transferred to Europe and the United States, and moved mostly by individuals rather than institutions. It said that in the past two weeks “about 50 companies,” mostly from the high-tech sector, had also moved money abroad.

Internal contradiction

Two contradictory visions of the state vie with each other for dominance.  There is what might be called the secular camp which, along with some non-ultra-religious adherents, is wedded, seemingly uncritically, to a version of the current flawed notion of what a democratic state should look like. Here the idea of an ‘independent’ Supreme Court is integral to its understanding of itself.  No matter, as alluded to above, that the Court has in effect sanctioned Israel’s Occupation. Settlements are adjudged illegal in International Law. Yet at least one sitting judge’s home is in a Settlement. 

A certain degree of political myopia is required to sustain the broadly secular camp’s political vision. Palestinians are more-or-less out of mind, the Occupation perhaps even more so.  The state dons itself in the accoutrements of a democracy sufficient to obscure its essentially Apartheid character. Al Jazeera reports:

Israel’s parliament has passed a law denying naturalisation to Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or Gaza married to Israeli citizens, forcing thousands of Palestinian families to either emigrate or live apart.

This is the state beloved by the West in particular. 

This secular constituency, if it thinks about it at all, would likely as not relinquish the Occupied Territories, or at least a proportion of them, and go along with the two-state ‘solution’ if pressed. For the past fifty-six years it has felt no such pressure.

The other vision, is of an overtly, loudly proclaimed ethno-religious state.  One hemmed-in, or from their perspective, liberated, by religious prescriptions that they are happy to inflict on  other Jewish religious dominations – to the extent that they recognise them at all – and secular Jews.  The Occupation does not represent an issue for them because it is not in fact, from their perspective, an Occupation at all.  The West Bank in particular being seen as an integral part of Israel – from the river to the sea. As the 2018 Basic Law suggests.

As to Palestinians, they are surplus to requirements; they can be expelled and/or further marginalised within the Israeli state.

Toxic governance

The current Netanyahu coalition government is so toxic, so racist, so beyond the pale of what Western democracies are pleased to call their fundamental values, that one can almost hear Western leaders shifting uncomfortably in their seats as they try to figure out how to square their effectively uncritical support for Israel, with a now beyond-justifiable regime seemingly indifferent to the slithery, not-quite-convincing admonitions the West feels able to issue. 

Israel: Broken? Repairable?

Israel is replete with fault lines, only two of which have been touched upon in this article. Certainly it is a country in flux , the ground beneath its feet no longer firm.  There is a sense that something has broken, perhaps the illusion that Israel had of itself. 

But not only for Israelis, but also perhaps for non-Israeli Jews.

Will we confront the contradictions inherent in so many of our positions, the primary one being the delusionary belief that a state can at once be a vehicle for the self-determination of Jewish people alone, yet also democratic. From this error, all that is ill flows.

The Alternative: Building a Movement of Liberation Against a Colonial Regime, Not Demonstrating to Defend “Jewish Democracy”

This is a succinct, significant statement combining analysis of the present, inherently racist and self-interested protests seeking to secure a flawed Israeli ‘democracy’, essentially a ‘democracy’ only for Jews, whilst at the same time pointing to a more positive and necessary project: to build ‘a single democratic state in historic Palestine on the ruins of the apartheid regime and its criminal offshoots.’

Free Haifa

Statement of the One Democratic State Campaign

February 21, 2023

(The following declaration was published on the ODSC site. It was originally published in Arabic.)

Since Israel’s Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, announced sweeping “reforms” in Israel’s judicial system, intended to nullify the power of the Supreme Court to declare laws unconstitutional and to pack the judiciary with political appointees, a regime based on settler colonialism, apartheid and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians has been debating how to preserve itself as “a democracy”. A growing protest movement has arisen calling for civil disobedience, including “militant” statements of defiance by former senior political, security and military officials.

No one can predict how this confrontation will end. It is clear, however, that it represents solely an internal Zionist dispute. The protests never reference the other side of Israeli “democracy”: the exclusion of Arab citizens, who the “opposition” leaders make clear are…

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Israelis protest – for some, not all

So, Israelis know how to protest. They can be roused.

Generally quiescent and indifferent to burning injustices – the murderous iniquities – that their state daily perpetrates against Palestinians, when their own interests are pricked, they know how to yelp. 

And yelp they do, furious at the impending curtailment of their freedoms, the potential diluting of their God-given right to live in a democracy.  A tainted, exclusionary democracy, a Jews-only democracy, to be sure. But it’s theirs and they intend to keep it. Hands off! One hundred thousand Israeli citizens in Tel Aviv marched in protest against the new government, with notable, but smaller demonstrations in Jerusalem, and smaller towns.

The newly formed Netanyahu government comprises, at its core, an amalgam of overt racists, homophobes, religious ultras, along with proponents of a Greater Israel eager to annexe all, or great swathes of, the Occupied West Bank. They will brook no impediment to their malign intent.  Secular citizens, Palestinian citizens of Israel and the LGBTQ community, to say nothing of asylum seekers and refugees, have every reason to fear the policies and consequential actions that are about to be unleashed.  

Netanyahu, of course, has his own very personal reasons for denuding the Supreme Court of its powers. He has skin in the game and will sup with the devil if needs be, a necessity realised in the new government’s unsavoury line-up. Thus he hopes – intends – that the proposed new judicial arrangements will finally enable him to cancel, wash away, the charges of corruption currently laid against him.

Supreme Court

Beyond Netanyahu’s personal judicial travails, Israel’s Supreme Court features large in the new government’s demonology.  It is accused of thwarting the democratic will of the people, as interpreted by the now elected racists, homophobes and fellow-travellers cited above. Therefore, its powers are to be curtailed.  

The ‘Supreme’ court will no longer be supreme, the final judgment on matters brought before it now open to further adjudication by the elected Knesset (Parliament). The Supreme Court in any case offered, at best, flimsy to ultimately non-existent protection to those one would generally think should benefit from its judgments. For example, the Palestinian Jerusalemites of Sheikh Jarrah facing eviction from their homes; the Bedouin whose homes have and are being demolished to make way for more Jewish-only settlements and army firing zones.  

On the Occupation, the Supreme Court took a collaborators stance.  As Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz puts it:

‘Now of all times, at its most difficult moment, we must not forget the Supreme Court’s shameful collaboration with the occupation…. Through its support for the occupation, the court sowed the poisonous seeds whose fruits we are reaping today. If it had refused to legitimize the occupation back when it had the power to do so, there would be no Itamar Ben-Gvir, there would be no settlements and there might even be no occupation.’

But absent is protest about the occupation, about the besieging of Gaza, about the daily killings of Palestinians at the hands of the IDF and Border police.  Over the past week [as at 21 January] Israeli occupation forces killed eight Palestinians, the youngest being a 14-year-old boy, bringing the total death toll from Israeli fire, in the West Bank, to 18 in the first twenty days of 2023. This was not worthy of protest. Nor was any other week replete with cruel injustices against Palestinians – child, woman, man – worthy of protest.

Still less was even a murmur to be heard about the Apartheid Israel practices against the ’48 Palestinians, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. A flawed, partial citizenship, not comparable to the meaning and status of citizenship as we understand the designation here in the UK and other countries more generally.  

Solipsistic endeavour

Israeli Jews erupted on their own behalf, afeared that their notionally liberal democracy is now under existential threat. A whole world, an entire worldview that seemed deep-rooted, suddenly feels fragile, potentially lacking the tensile strength to resist the incursion of alien values. 

But what weight and credence should we attribute to those values when they are so securely gated within an exclusive ethnoreligious realm? 

A Jewish democracy is a self-cancelling proposition, one that should be the legitimate and necessary target of strident protest.  But that is not what the protesters are thinking about now.

Fragments from a visit to Palestine/Israel

In November 2022 I returned to Palestine/Israel (P/I) for the first time in three years.  I returned primarily to meet with some of the people I had met on previous visits. All were, and are, significantly involved in P/I politics, with long and noble personal histories of activism, for which they and their families have suffered at Israeli hands.

Only fragments

Any account given here can be no more than the sharing of fragments, glimpses of insight necessarily incomplete.  Underpinning all the conversations were the questions that exercises so many of us: Who speaks for Palestine? When will a legitimate leadership emerge?

Oslo Accords

The legacy of the Oslo Accords (1993/94) permeated, explicitly or not, all the conversations.  The Accords created, or exacerbated, existing centrifugal tendencies within the Palestinian people and polity. 

The Accords, coupled with the Palestinian National Council’s 1998 Declaration of Independence, effectively disaggregated a previously assumed unity of Palestinian concerns and interests into three distinct spheres:

  • those within the OPT – 22% of historic Palestine, the subject of the Declaration of Independence – wherein a new Palestinian state was supposed to emerge.;
  • the Palestinian diaspora’s right of return consideration of which was to be subject of final status negotiations within five years of the Accords;
  • and the ’48 Palestinian citizens of Israel that figured not at all under Oslo.


Among the younger people I spoke to, their goal was liberation, an end to colonialism. Armed resistance was seen as legitimate for a range of reasons: as pushback to counter the violence daily perpetrated by the Israeli colonialist regime; and because talking and negotiation had failed utterly.  These views chime with a December 2022 survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research which found that 72 percent of respondents supported forming armed groups similar to the Lion’s Den, which is based around Nablus.

Liberation! Then what?

When I asked my interlocutors, after liberation, then what? This question brought no clear answer. The focus was on liberation first, what follows would be determined after it had been achieved. Tactics taking precedence over strategy. The goal is known: Liberation. And, at this stage, that’s enough to be getting on with. The difficulty here is that liberation is an abstract idea, it’s not a programme for change or governance.

By way of contrast, and a salutary reminder that Palestinians are not a homogeneous group sharing in every regard the same interests, two or three students I interviewed at Birzeit university took issue with my questioning the role of the Palestinian Authority.  These particular students supported the PA and straightforwardly explained why: family members were PA employees. The PA was a source of family livelihoods and was not to be dismissed in negative terms.

One knows, of course, that the PA is a substantial, possibly the predominant, employer in the West Bank and a significant one in Gaza. But the encounter with those particular students turned abstract figures into the flesh and blood of real lives being lived, and the fragility that attends them.  Any change, or unravelling, of the PA at some potential future point will need to take into account how, for many Palestinians, daily existence relies on that body, and that, not simply cynically, but pragmatically, prompts loyalty to it.

Activist family

One young woman I spoke to, she a committed, courageous activist, was clear that the older generation, her parent’s generation, who in this case had been, and are, activists, had got it all wrong. They had failed. They had believed in the value of talking, negotiating but for what?  Things had got worse. As for the Oslo Accords, they represented ‘a sort of giving up’. ‘My generation will fight for all rights, from the river to the sea’. ‘We have no leadership in this situation.’

 ‘We are not victims. You need to see us as freedom fighters. ‘Only choice we have is to struggle against the colonising enemy.’ She had no faith in the UN, nor in other international institutions.

Here, too, the ‘after liberation, what? question had no answer. And in this conversation at least, seemed not immediately pressing. This was a brave, young woman, seemingly inhabiting a space between resolve and despair.

Her father, I’ll call him ‘X…’, had an interesting comment about his daughter and her generation. He described his daughter’s generation as more active, strong and brave. Thinking about himself at his daughter’s age, there was a ‘colonisation of the mind’. Israel had not only colonised the land, but also the Palestinian psyche. Hence, Oslo. He sees the two-state solution as a project of the Israeli left. The ‘solution’ maintains Israel as a Jewish state for which Palestinians have to relinquish 78% of historic Palestine. At one time he had supported Oslo and the two-state solution. 

 Palestinian leadership

The conversation with ‘X…’ turned to the question of leadership. Oslo had split Palestinians from themselves. Palestinian citizens of Israel in particular felt cut off by the endorsement of the two states approach. Israeli Palestinians ‘felt alone’, uncoupled from the wider Palestinian people. In response, some had begun to identify more strongly with Israel, to seek full rights there, for it seemed that is where their future lay. However, in contrast to this nascent tendency, X… felt that it had reached its peak and it was now in decline. This a judgment, at this stage not informed by polling or other opinion gathering.  

More widely, and perhaps encouragingly, attention was being turned to revitalising Fatah, this as part of a process to revive the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people as a whole. An approach that negates Oslo.  Informal talks were going on between a range of Fatah, and ex-Fatah people. This assessment underscored by a cautionary note that it is early days yet.  How matters will turn out, cannot at this time be known.

Palestinian Popular Conference (14 million)

Against the divisive, damaging logic of Oslo and its consequences, there is the hope that a unified counter-movement is developing. On the 5 November 2022 the Palestinian Popular Conference (14 Million) was held simultaneously in Occupied Palestine, and among ’48 Palestinians, as well as in places where Palestinians are present in the diaspora. At its heart was the call for the reinstatement of the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, based on the Palestinian National Charter of 1968.

I had a conversation with one of those involved. Significantly, he is a ’48 Palestinian, this in itself a testament to the integrative intent of the conference. He believed that over the past decade Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli dissenting intellectuals and academics had contributed to broadening thinking about responses to the Palestine/Israel situation. (Interestingly, by way of an aside, he floated the notion that, within Zionism, nothing that could be described as new thinking had emerged in the same period)

However, the imperative was now to create a popular movement, not limited to or dominated by intellectuals and academics. A movement ‘built from below’. 

How this initiative will fare cannot at this stage be assessed. But what can be said is that the conference represents a radical break with the rationale underpinning, and the policies pursued, over the past fifty years. 

One Democratic State from the river to the sea

Those I spoke to, Palestinian and Jewish-Israelis, are all engaged with the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC). What was, and to a significant degree still is, a campaign generated and sustained by intellectuals and academics, has as its self-appointed task to broaden the popular base of the campaign.

One democratic state from the river to the sea, notwithstanding the momentous difficulties and obstacles that need to be overcome, is not only an ethical imperative, but also a political necessity if there is to be the remotest chance of peace in historic Palestine.

It is of course true that the West, the PA and other interests continue to pay homage to the ill-described two-state ‘solution’, but empty rituals of obeisance to a dead idea will not revivify it. Notable in this context is another finding in the survey of Palestinian opinion referred to above.  Support for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict with Israel in the framework of the two-state solution has receded over the course of three months, now standing at 32 percent, according to the poll. A decade ago, support was at 55 percent.

Immediate position

Nothing said here can minimise nor counter the dire state of affairs in Palestine/Israel. In the words of one of the Palestinian interviewees, ‘The immediate position is bleak, it will get worse, there will be more blood spilled. We are going to suffer’.

In the same conversation, in discussing the absence of a unified Palestinian leadership, yet taking account of, for example, the discussions taking place among Fatah members and ex-members, and the Palestinian Popular Conference (14 Million), and the continuing momentum of the ODSC, he quoted Gramsci:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear

An oft-quoted line, perhaps, but here has a sense of unerring accuracy.

Normalcy in an abnormal world

Below I share a short article prompted by my recent (November 2022), relatively short trip, to Palestine/Israel. In this article I purposely resist too much comment, trusting that the incidents recorded speak for themselves.  What I do emphasise – you could say the clue is in the title – is the events set out below are unexceptional, barely worth remark according to the distorted worldview of the Israeli state and its thuggish underpinning, the settlers. 

In the same month Israel demolished 120 Palestinian structures. ‘Structures’ include entire homes and local infrastructure.  Forty-six adults and 47 children, a total of 93 people, were displaced by the demolitions. One hundred and ninety adults and one hundred and eighty-two children, a total of 385 were affected by these demolitions.

A perverse normality

In a cruel echo of my time in Hebron three years ago, I was this November (2022) again at a local Hebron hospital with Human Rights Defenders. They were taking a statement from an eleven-year-old lad who had been attacked by Settlers for riding his bike outside his Palestinian restricted area. A car full of Settlers stopped, and attacked him.  In fleeing, he fell into a ditch with resultant injuries to his face.

In 2019, I had also been with a Human Rights Defender at a Hebron hospital, at that time taking a statement from a sixteen-year-old Palestinian lad who had been attacked. 

Nothing unusual going on here. Just the quotidian, regular, perversities of a militarised, racist, state.

Same day. November 2022. Another echo

K…… (name withheld) is at the Human Rights Defenders’ Hebron office reporting Settler attacks on a Palestinian in the vicinity of his house.  K’s house is in Tel Rumeidah, Hebron, where there is a Settler enclave. One of its residents is the notorious Baruch Marzel, leader of a movement that produces and glorifies Arab-killers. (For those with a sense of irony, ‘Baruch’ is Hebrew for ‘Blessing’.)

K’s house abuts a road on a hill such that the roof of his house is parallel, and at the same level with, a section of the road. In other words, it is easy for Settlers to step on to the roof from the road, thus making the house and its surrounding yard vulnerable to attack. It is regularly attacked.  

The incident being reported this day (November 2022) included: a Palestinian injured by Settlers was not allowed by the army to take the direct route to hospital because settlers were blocking the way; a Palestinian ambulance was not allowed into the area because it was out-of-bounds to them. Eventually, people took him to hospital via a tortuous, long route that avoided the military barriers.

Why echo? 

Three years ago, I was at K’s house, again with a Human Rights Defender, who was taking a statement about Settler attacks on him and his house. In fact, K… regularly comes under attack (a) because he is a Palestinian (b) because of where his house is (c) because he is an activist, opposing Israel’s occupation.

Nothing unusual is going on here. This is daily fare. Unrelenting, repetitive, always causing injury – to Palestinians.  Frequently, and increasingly, lethal. More than 200 Palestinians, including more than 50 children have been killed this year. Twenty-seven Israelis were killed in 2022

Another incident

‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’, a small organisation that aims to do what its title suggests: to get Jewish Israelis to take responsibility for the Occupation, and the evil deeds it necessarily spawns. The protesters are nothing if not committed and tenacious. On this particular day, a day of persistent and heavy rain, they were standing at a road junction by a Settlement with their banners and shouted slogans. 

Coincidentally, police had stopped a car with some young Palestinians in it, about five of them.  The police had them get out of the car, this to facilitate a search.  The young Palestinians were required to squat on the soaking wet pavement, in the pouring rain, and this for some time. The ‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’ demonstrators did what they could to challenge the police, but to no avail. In the end the driver was taken away. When asked why he was taken the claim was a ‘weapon’ had been found, by which was meant, or so it was said, a knuckle-duster.

The relative efficacy of a knuckle-duster against, say, Israelis police guns requires no sophisticated understanding of ordnance. It’s difficult to think that they inhabit the same category: weapon.

The young Palestinians, meantime, were still squatting on the wet pavement in the pouring rain. Once the driver had been taken away, the young men were able to go to the car to wait of a friend who had a driving licence (none of the passengers did).

In UK terms, we would say that the ‘stop and search’ by the police suggests it was a consequence of racial profiling. They were stopped because they were Palestinians. What followed – being made to squat on a wet pavement in the pouring rain – was simply the meting out of a dose of standard-issue humiliation.

Daily humiliations

The meting out of humiliations is one of the tracks Israeli Apartheid runs on. It is highly functional, fulfilling the dual role of ‘othering’ Palestinians in the eyes of Israelis, whilst at the same time confirming to Israelis their inherent sense of superiority.  

These humiliations reach into virtually every aspect of Palestinian life: the military checkpoint Palestinian children must go through to get to school; to the roads and areas prohibited to Palestinians, no matter that the thoroughfares and places – for example, in Hebron – are within Palestinian towns; to Checkpoint 300, the caged interface between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem that Palestinians working in Israel have to cross via barriers and a glass-fronted soldiers’ booth where a barely-out-of-nappies, armed Israeli soldier watches with an air of disdain as the mass of workers, now conceived as supplicants, shuffle their way through – unless, of course, one is turned back.

So it is, and so it will continue, but only more so with the election of a government comprising avowedly racist and homophobic ministers, committed to annexing large swathes of the West Bank. 

Matters will now get worse. Palestinians I spoke to acknowledged this with a sort of weary resignation.

But something else is also going on. There was a palpable sense that notwithstanding how far into the darkness Israel is prepared to go, Palestinian resistance will outpace it, though the cost will be high. 

We in the West have a crucial role to play, and that is to affect the policies of our governments which at the moment support Israel in its criminal misdeeds. More on this in subsequent articles.

The unchilding of Palestinian children

Israel is founded on violence, and exists by virtue of it.  As discussed in an earlier post, it has to be this way, for it is a regime rooted in the need to dominate, the need to curtail the full existence of an entire people – Palestinians. By definition, this stance prompts modes of engagement – violence in all its forms – that can never cease so long as Palestinians remain in the land bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

And it is Palestinian children, particularly in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, that bear the burden of this need to dominate, to undermine, to control.   Precisely because children represent and embody ideas and aspirations about the future, that children are, quite literally, the future, Israel must stymie and distort their very existence. For the Israeli state cannot abide the prospect of Palestinian growth and flourishing. It must unchild Palestinian children.

Unchilding is the term coined by Professor Nudera Shalhoub-Kevorkian[1], who argues that Israel treats Palestinian children as nobodies, unworthy of global children’s rights and as dangerous and killable bodies needing to be caged and dismembered physically and mentally.

Implied in the idea of unchilding is that it is systematic, intended. It is not simply the violation of norms and rules by individual soldiers or police in specific instances. It is a mode of being, forms of engagement, encoded in the very ethos of the Israeli state.

Thus it is that children must see and bear the constant presence of armed soldiers, fully kitted out and inherently menacing. The realisation of that menace daily actualised in the raids and takeovers of family homes; the killing of kids by live fire. The army’s oft-used justification for those deaths being that these youngsters were throwing stones.

Even I needed to stop to read that last sentence again for in truth it is surreal. So normalised has the unchilding of children become for Israel, that this form of justification – death and disabling injury for throwing stones – makes sense to them. Has, presumably, for them, some sort of moral saliency.

What, then, are the limits in behaviour that this militarised state adheres to, what moral compunctions constrain it?  Judging by the death toll of kids – yes, ‘kids’, some are playing outside my London window now, not an armed soldier in sight – any formal guidelines must be uncommonly slack. Another way of putting this, is that the Israeli army acts with impunity, does what it will. 

The following table drawn up by Defence of Children Palestine charts the killing of Palestinian children (aged up to 16/17) in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2000:

Killing of Palestinian children (aged up to 16/17) in Gaza, the West Bank & East Jerusalem since 2000

This gives a grand total of 2224 deaths so far. The 2022 figure does not include the number killed in operation ‘Breaking Dawn’ (August).

ITV News Friday 21 May 2021: More than 70 children have been killed in the Israel-Palestine conflict. These are their faces.

A taste for irony?

On the 3 July 1990 Israel signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified on 4 August 1991.  The convention defines a child as a person below the age of 18 years. It’s worth looking at a couple of the Convention’s Articles:

Article 6
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Consider now Article 6 in the light of the actions of the Israeli state. Above, I have barely touched on the range and persistence of the Israeli state’s calculated unchilding of Palestinian children.

USA Today reported on Professor Jess Ghannam’s findings. He specialises in the health consequences of war on displaced communities and the psychological effects of armed conflict on children.

Childhoods marked by trauma

In places untouched by war, childhood is marked by milestones. For children growing up in conflict zones, childhood is marked by trauma. 


Consider also Article 31 of the Convention:

States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

Play, surely, is one of the hallmarks of childhood. This is not a trivial matter. Play is fundamental to a child’s well-being in the here and now, as the playing child, but also in terms of his or her development, physically, of course, but massively in relation to their present and future mental health.  However, Jennifer Leaning, a senior research fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard said in the USA Today:

Young children aren’t spending enough time playing, which is central to healthy growth. They aren’t building social emotional skills with their peers. Their lives are defined by fear, often concerning the safety and permanence of their caregivers….”The kids have great difficulty expressing their feelings…They’ll be silent, and sullen, many of them will get very depressed…

No surprise

In the light of all that has been set out above it will be no surprise that a 2010 UNICEF assessment of Israel’s compliance with the Conventions:

[criticised] Israel for holding that the Convention does not apply in the West Bank and for defining Palestinians under the age of sixteen in the occupied territories as children, even though Israeli law defines a child as being under 18, in line with the Convention.

Israel has been explicit: it says, that for Israel, the Convention does not apply in the West Bank and Palestinian children under eighteen are not children. An Israeli kid, of course, will be a child to the age of eighteen and they will, formally, have the protection of Convention rights. Thus, does the Israeli state encase the unchilding of Palestinian children in its policies and practices. They will necessarily be brutal. They are brutal.

In 2012, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child criticised Israel for its bombing attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, stating,

Destruction of homes and damage to schools, streets and other public facilities…gross violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and international humanitarian law.

It also criticized Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel, which traumatized Israeli children, calling on all parties to protect children.

Pay no heed

Israel, of course, will pay this and other critical reports no heed. And that indifference will be echoed by, in particular, the West: USA, EU and UK. Though no doubt somewhere in the annals of honeyed words and vacuous statements an diligent searcher will find phrases offering a simulacrum of concern. Dead words. Dead children.

[1]Nudera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Lawrence D. Biele Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law-Institute of Criminology and the School of Social Work and Public Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

[2] Drawn from a review by Heidi Morrison of Incarcerated Childhood and the politics of Unchilding:


What might be the justification for denying children, or indeed adults, access to vital medical treatment?  ‘Denied’ here meaning what it says: a decision, a calculated act, an expression of policy, a rule formulated, then enacted.

The purpose? What could that be? How come that the rationally impossible task of squaring a circle is here achieved? The dictum ‘Do no harm’ gone rogue, turned on its head, transmuted now into its antithesis: ‘Do harm’. 

And the harm is done well. The objective achieved.

So it is that Israel, from the bottomless well of its disdain for Palestinian life, refuses what is totally in its power to grant, and that with no fear of detriment to itself: to grant medical treatment permits allowing Gazans access to necessary, often urgent, treatment in Israeli or the hospitals of other countries. This need to seek medical aid outside Gaza caused and exacerbated by Israel’s refusal to allow the importation into Gaza of medical equipment and key medicines. The Electronic Intifada reports:

Physicians for Human Rights Israel recently found that the number of children denied treatment had nearly doubled.

According to the organization, in 2020, 17 percent of children’s requests to leave the Gaza Strip for the purpose of receiving medical care not available in the Gaza Strip were delayed or refused.

In the first six months of 2021, this rate had nearly doubled to 32 per cent, according to calculations made by PHRI.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 155 out of a total 481 Palestinians under the age of 18 seeking to cross the Erez checkpoint for treatment in July this year were either refused or delayed.

Among 0-3 year olds, 30 children of 136 were rejected or delayed in seeking treatment.Such obstructions can prove fatal: Three children have died so far this year after permits to leave Gaza for medical treatment were denied or delayed, the human rights group Al Mezan has reported

In summary, again from the Electronic Intifada:

Gaza’s health sector is in serious disarray as a direct result of Israel’s 15-year blockade and its tight restrictions on people and goods entering and leaving the coastal strip of land…Gaza’s health ministry, for example, has been unable to import medical devices and parts for radiology and imaging services, such as CT, PET and x-ray scanning machines. In 2021, the West Bank Palestinian Authority submitted 120 requests for the entry of such equipment, of which only 30 – or 25 percent – were approved by February 2022.


Israel’s bases its restrictions on what it deems to be its security needs, its all-purpose justification for maintaining constant pressure on Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories. But Gaza is given especial attention by Israel, this for overtly political purposes. The reasons include: aiming to fuel the divide and rivalry between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas; inflicting what is in fact the collective punishment on all residents of Gaza in the hope this will alienate the population from Hamas.

It is worth recalling here that Hamas in 2006 won the parliamentary elections, to the detriment of Israel’s – and effectively the USA, EU and UK’s – proxy occupation enforcer, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. Israel and its western allies could not stomach this democratic florescence since the result did not accord with their wished-for outcome. And so Israel imposed the now fifteen year old siege on Gaza, the proximate cause of the dearth of medical equipment and medicine – and so much more – available in this coastal strip.

Consider: What might now be the situation had democratic expression not been anathematised and overturned?

Bottomless well of disdain

I referred above to Israel’s ‘bottomless well of disdain for Palestinian life’, an attitude exemplified at the highest reaches of Israeli governance. From the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU)

In early 2006, Dov Weisglass, then a senior advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, explained that Israeli policy was designed “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” In 2012 it was revealed that in early 2008 Israeli authorities drew up a document calculating the minimum caloric intake necessary for Palestinians to avoid malnutrition so Israel could limit the amount of foodstuffs allowed into Gaza without causing outright starvation.

This devilish form of computation is nothing but raw, controlled, incremental violence, aimed at the debilitation of Gaza’s population, but not to kill (but of course such measures will).

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)

And yet, we are told that campaigning for non-violent BDS as a means to pressurise Israel to cease its Occupation and its racist practices is to be legislated against here in the UK.  Another circle squared: a ‘democracy’ stifling free expression.  

As if their finger was on the trigger – its more than ‘complicity’

There are occasions when the power of words runs out. When the meanings we need them to carry, constitute too heavy a burden for them to bear. I was reminded of this when reading what is, to me, a richly evocative, deeply depressing, article by Mariam Barghouti in Mondoweiss. She is writing about a now twenty-year old, Ahmad Manasra, and also Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a not yet nineteen-year-old shot dead by Israeli forces. 

Ahmad Manasra has been suffering Israeli mistreatment, abuses, and torture – including prolonged periods of solitary confinement – since he was thirteen.  Seven years, his childhood consumed and shattered by the Israeli state.

I urge you to read her article in full, along with more about Ahmad’s Mansara’s truly horrifying case. That can be found here.  Barghouti herself had earlier in life been detained by Israel, though she was ‘lucky’ being released within a week.

Beyond describing the Israeli enforced plight of Ahmad, Barghouti shares her frustration about the limitations of language, most particularly for her as a journalist:

The Manasra story is, in and of itself, painful enough to feel the worthlessness of reporting. To keep repeating the same factual details of his case, and the urgency of the appeal to release him.

I couldn’t command the language to capture his horror, fear, and adolescent efforts to unearth some hidden inkling of hope from his tragic reality, a nightmare imagined. I couldn’t do service to the child, then adolescent, now almost adult, who has only known the prison walls of Beit Hanina in Jerusalem and then the prison walls of Eshel Prison, only to be moved again to Shakima Prison.

Magical thinking: The two state solution

I was going to begin this article with a recitation of funeral rites – funeral rights for the Two State Solution, the notional way forward to resolving the Palestine/Israel impasse.  

That ‘solution’, at base, proposes there should be two states – a State of Israel alongside a newly minted State of Palestine – on the land that falls between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Thus stated, a certain superficial attractiveness attaches to the proposal in that ‘solution’ conjures a sense of almost mathematical symmetry between the two (potentially) participating parties, a sense that there is something inherently fair in the proposal: neither party gets all that it wants, but, equally, both parties make gains.

The language of ‘solution’ acts as a sort of verbal sleight of hand, whereby the standard meaning of a word or phrase, in this case ‘solution’, negates itself by virtue of being utterly divorced from the reality of the facts-on-the-ground, not least the disparity in power between the parties.  For, in truth, Israel has never really accepted the possibility of a State of Palestine that was not in essence subservient to the Israeli state, even accepting that there were moments when Israel could countenance some sort of Palestinian entity running alongside it.

Notwithstanding all I’ve said above, the Two State Solution – the ‘solution’ that is not a solution – still attracts its adherents notwithstanding the sense of desperation that, to me, seems to attend their faith. Among them one can point to a recent article in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs ‘Is It Time to Bury the Two-State Solution?’ by Hesham Youssef, the headline of which declares:

While many may be dismissive of the two-state solution, there are no viable alternatives for peace between Israel and Palestine.

Similarly, Vox has an article by Zack Beauchamp ‘In defense [sic] of the two-state solution’ with the headline:

Some are declaring the two-state paradigm for Israel and Palestine totally doomed. But it’s not — and it’s still worth fighting for.

Both articles are actually quite good at spelling out in some detail the reasons why a Two State Solution is under (considerable) strain, but nevertheless cling tenaciously to the belief that two states is both desirable and still possible.  

Why not a Two State solution?