Israel: The necessity of violence

As blood is to the body, so violence is to the Israeli state – an indispensable component of its existence. Violence – personal, physical, structural – courses through the organs and agents of this state, shaping its very instincts and intuitions. It is a violence it cannot forsake, nor indeed meaningfully mitigate, for, as currently formulated, Israel can, by its own lights, exist only by virtue of suppressing the full expression of personhood of an entire people – Palestinians.

Israel has thereby created for itself only one choice – which of course is no choice at all, but rather an existential scream into what it conceives as the darkness of the night – to be in its very soul ‘Israel-militant’, a reach-for-the-gun, the baton, the tear gas, the skunk water polity, excessive and aggressive in defence of what it conceives to be its essence: being a Jewish State, a state for Jews. As long as this is the Israeli state’s animating principle, that is how long it will condemn itself to be both cruel oppressor and victim of its self-created fear of the other: the indigenous, original and continuing inhabitants of the land bordered by the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea – Palestinians.  The very logic of Israel’s conception of itself impels it to dispossess Palestinians from their fields, pasture lands, villages and homes.

The manufacture of justification

Thus it is that one of the high organs of the state, the Israel Supreme Court, was able to conjure for itself justifications that enabled it to endorse the expulsion from their homes of some 1,000 Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta. This for the benefit of IDF training, but more saliently, to clear the way for yet another Jewish-only Settlement on stolen Palestinian land.  

In coming to its judgment, the court averred that the prohibition in international law against forced population transfer was not binding on Israel. In this, a new principle seems to be established: that the criminal is able to pick and choose which laws may be deemed offences. As if this were not sufficient to demonstrate the preconceived partiality of the Supreme Court, one of the justices in the case, Justice David Mintz, is himself a settler. In other jurisdictions, a judge with a clear self-interest in a hearing would be expected to stand down from the case. Not so here.

The potential ramifications of the judgment are eloquently set out by David Shulman:

The forcible expulsion of the Palestinian communities of Masafer Yatta will have implications for the whole of humanity. Israel’s Supreme Court has now brazenly claimed, in its ruling, that international laws of war and, specifically, the laws of belligerent occupation, are not binding on the State of Israel and can be overruled by legislation and the orders of senior military officers. This ruling is shameful and cannot be defended. Reputed experts on international law say that the court’s ruling on Masafer Yatta may well expose the State of Israel, and all those connected to implementing this decision, to investigation and possible prosecution in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

But there is worse to come. The court’s ruling is another milestone in the process of remorseless annexation—that is, outright robbery—of Palestinian lands and the expulsion of the rightful owners of those lands.

This judicial assault, and the physical assault on Masafer Yatta it presages, is not a one-off. Dispossessions, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the destruction of livelihoods, these are daily occurrences perpetrated by the violent Israeli state. They continue.

Is there no limit?

Is there a limit to the violence Israel feels able to perpetrate against Palestinians?  The answer must be ‘no’.  By way of example, here are some instances for the period 19 April – 9 May documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): The list is illustrative, not exhaustive.

  • 668 Palestinians, including 24 children, were injured by Israeli forces across the West Bank.
  • Israeli forces killed four Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank
  • On six occasions, the Israeli police carried out operations in and around Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, triggering violent confrontations with Palestinians. A total of 99 Palestinians, including 15 children, were injured; 107 others were arrested…These operations followed three consecutive weeks of almost daily raids by Israeli forces to evacuate Palestinian worshippers to secure the entry of Israelis into the compound.
  • Israel settlers injured seventeen Palestinians, including two children; and people known or believed to be settlers damaged Palestinian property in 27 instances.
  • Israeli settlers attacked, shot, and injured thirteen Palestinian farmers, including two with live ammunition, and three by dogs…in six separate incidents.
  • In four incidents, stones were thrown at Palestinian vehicles…causing the injury of four Palestinians, including a four-year-old girl
  • Some 450 Palestinian-owned olive trees were uprooted in thirteen incidents by settlers….

And so – predictably – it continues…

Violence begets violence

There have also been Israeli deaths and injuries arising from attacks by Palestinians. However, Palestinian deaths and injuries, including those of children, are vastly higher than those of Israelis. Figures from the OHCHR paint a stark picture: 

At least 10,349 Palestinians and 1,304 Israelis have been killed by someone from the other side since 2000. At least 2,349 Palestinian children and 137 Israeli children have been killed by someone from the other side since 2000. Since October 2015, at least 376 Palestinians and 52 Israelis have been killed by someone from the other side.

The disproportionality in deaths and injuries between Palestinians and Israelis is hardly surprising. Israel is the extensively armed illegal occupier of territory not its own and, as a direct result of this, has need to enforce control, to keep down, a people it has no rights over.  This necessitates Israel’s use of violence as a key policy instrument. By its own lights, it has no choice.   

The question then arises: what might constitute a legitimate Palestinian response to Israeli state and settler violence?  An impartial observer is likely to see obvious parallels between Russia’s violent, illegitimate attempt to take over some or all of Ukrainian territory, and Israel’s violent and illegitimate takeover of Palestinian territory.  A process that continues, Masafer Yatta, and East Jerusalem to name but two areas where Israeli land-theft continues unabated.      

The West has eulogised Ukrainian resistance, actively aided it: weapons supplied, funds made available, constant political endorsement of Ukrainian’s right to resist Russian incursions.  And Palestinians right to resist Israel’s occupation and incursions? Either silence ensues, or mock concern.

It hardly needs to be said, we wish for the day when there are no deaths or injuries by violence.

Shireen Abu Akleh

Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a well-known, highly respected reporter for Al Jazeera,  was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday 11 May  as she reported on Israeli military raids in the city of Jenin. Her producer was also shot but is in a stable condition.

Her employer, Al Jazeera, described her death as “a blatant murder” by Israeli forces.  Israel has suggested that she may have been shot by Palestinians. However, three eyewitnesses told CNN that the journalists were shot by Israeli troops and that there were no Palestinian militants immediately near to the journalists.

This death is shocking, and prompted an outpouring of grief and anger, particularly in the Arab world. At the time of writing, there is no formal confirmation of who is responsible for the death, but the evidence of the eyewitnesses quoted above, and others, strongly implicate an IDF soldier.

Israel has form when it comes to shooting journalists. As reported in The New Arab, according to Palestinian Ministry of Information figures, Israel has killed at least 45 reporters since 2000, the year of the Second Intifada. The Palestinian Journalists’ Union places the figure higher at 55.

Shireen Abu Akleh ‘s killing was shocking enough. I assume most readers are aware of the scenes – photographed and filmed, the images distributed around the world – at Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral. Israeli police stormed the funeral procession using tear gas and batons to the extent that the casket carrying Abu Akleh’s body at one moment looked as though it was about to be dropped.

The behaviour of the police is almost beyond belief, but not so when it is understood as yet another manifestation of the institutionalised, widespread violence perpetrated by the Israeli state. Since Palestinian aspirations for liberation cannot be quelled, and Israel is locked into consuming Palestinian land and resources, exercising control by violence is an inevitable consequence.

The USA, EU and UK have all registered their shock at the killing and condemned the police action at the funeral. It is unlikely that any substantive measures will be taken to censor or punish Israel for its behaviour. This would be to follow a by now well-established pattern of granting Israel effective impunity from facing up to the consequences of its actions.

Shield, sentinel and benefactor

There is every reason to believe that Israel is guilty of multiple crimes against Humanitarian and International law, along with breaches of the Geneva convention. It has constructed for itself an Apartheid regime, in effect a Jewish supremacist ethnonationalist state.

Its closest allies and benefactors are states characterising themselves as democratic, upholders of the rule of law, though in Israel’s case, other consideration seem to apply. The support Israel receives from its western allies – USA, EU, UK – inoculates it against criticism or consequence. The current attempts to outlaw BDS in the West is but one example of this.

Violence, as asserted at the head of this article, is Israel’s key operating principle, its ethos. Its ability to be this way is fuelled, funded and nurtured by the ‘democracies’ of the West who have proved themselves more than willing to entangle themselves ever more completely with Israel via trade deals, arms research and sales, military cooperation, not to mention cultural exchanges. This is something beyond mere complicity. It is the manifestation of calculated policy.

Thus the West fulfils the role of shield, sentinel and benefactor to the Apartheid state.

The protection the West offers comes at the cost of Israel never having to look at itself in the mirror, never having to face the consequences of its actions and so it repeats endlessly the only modes of being and action that it is able to comprehend: the application of violence.

Israel believes that it stands on firm foundations having constructed itself as an expansionist, Jewish ethnonationalist state.  But those foundations rest on quicksand, they cannot in the longer-term hold.  Israel’s conception of itself is its greatest weakness, blocking all avenues towards just resolution of the Palestinian/Israel impasse. It is the most profound folly to believe that justice for Palestine and Palestinians can forever be delayed, still less vanquished.

Israel does face an existential threat. But it is not from those it currently perceives as enemies. Israel’s greatest enemy, is itself.

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About Me

My name is Bernard Spiegal, I write mainly about Palestine/Israel and related issues; sometimes other stuff too


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