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 Palestinian 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:
- otherwise patriotic IDF Reserve pilots are refusing to attend training in protest at the Government’s policies.
- Israeli police set upon Jewish protesters with stun grenades, tear gas, batons, mounted police and water cannon – as if they were Palestinians. Such force is not generally used against Jews.
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.
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
As to Palestinians, they are surplus to requirements; they can be expelled and/or further marginalised within the Israeli state.
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
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.