Netanyahu's Israel Is Teaching the World How to Fight Occupation

The actions of Israel's most right-wing government inadvertently create a road map for resistance

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Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to supporters at a Likud rally in December, 2017.
Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to supporters at a Likud rally in December, 2017.Credit: Emile Salman
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

There's an axiom in Israeli politics which holds that only the right wing can bring down the right wing.

It should come as no surprise, then, that step after lumbering, ill-considered steps taken by Benjamin Netanyahu's government - easily the most unapologetically right-wing in the nation's history - are unintentionally composing a manual for how to fight against the jewel in the crown of the right, Israel's eternal military occupation of the territories.

Lesson one: Boycott settlements

Israel has spent years promoting anti-boycott legislation and expending great efforts in asserting that there is no difference between boycotting settlements and boycotting Israel as a whole.

Unless, that is, it's the government of Israel which is backing the boycott.

This week, with nary a whimper from aggressively pro-settlement cabinet ministers, Israel approved a cooperation and aid agreement with the European Union, a pact which provides that companies or organizations beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders – that is, located in West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – will be ineligible to take part in the initiative or receive its funding.

In plain English, Israel officially agreed to a settlement boycott.

Moral: You now have the green light on the Green Line. Everyone who opposes the settlement movement as an obstacle to peace and as the primary driving force eroding Israeli democracy, should feel free – in fact, should take the initiative – to boycott the products of settlements.

Lesson two: Prove that Israel's goal is permanent rule of all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem

With blinding speed - which in a Trumpiverse may be entirely intentional - Israel's ruling party spent the first week of the New Year confirming the contentions of some of its most strident critics.

To those who have long contended that Netanyahu's Israel will never allow a Palestinian state, certainly not one with a capital in Jerusalem, and that Israel's goal is permanent, comprehensive dominion over all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem with no negotiations with Palestinians over equality of rights or self-determination, the answer came this week. The answer was – "You were right all along."

On New Year's Eve, by an astonishing unanimous vote, the ruling body of the Likud party, the all-important Central Committee, approved a resolution to annex a dominant archipelago of the land area of the West Bank, encompassing all areas claimed by settlements, legal or otherwise. While the resolution is not binding, it charts a course for eventual annexation by the government, which would have declared Israeli law binding on all the Israelis in the region, while Palestinians would remain bereft of rights and under military occupation.

In plain English, or rather, Afrikaans: Apartheid.

And that wasn't all. Late on New Year's night, the Knesset passed a law which appeared to be intended to make it impossible to negotiate or compromise over Jerusalem's borders. In the end, it turned out to be worse. The law apparently makes it possible to deal with the large numbers of Palestinians in the city, by carving away as many as two-thirds of them into a bleak extra-municipal bantustan still under Israeli control. Apartheid within Apartheid.

Moral: When rightists talk about their desire for peace, ask them what, if anything, they're willing to compromise on or give up. If they talk about how moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is a step for peace, refer to Lesson Six below.

Lesson three: Promote icons of Palestinian resistance

In the West Bank, a teenage Palestinian girl slaps an IDF soldier. A mention in The New York Times and even the girl's attorney acknowledge that the soldiers she confronted acted with admirable restraint.

Israel could have let this be. But, no. As social media ultra-hawks and publicity-starved rightist cabinet ministers tumbled over each other to howl bloody murder, with the Education Minister even calling for a life-sentence for Ahed Tamimi, 16. The embarrassed government's every subsequent move acted to confirm the teen as a contemporary Joan of Arc or a female David in the Goliath story – in all, a powerful icon of Palestinian resistance to an colossally unjust military occupation as rudderless as it is permanent.

After dithering for days, the military raided the Tamimi's Nebi Saleh village home in the dead of night. They arrested the girl, her mother and her cousin. The three were subjected to a range of humiliations. Among the wide range of charges brought against the girl, one of them dates back nearly two years.  And, yes, David-like, Ahed Tamimi is accused of having used a slingshot. In April, 2016 she is alleged to have used the sling against the Israeli security forces which have spent years vainly seeking to quell the village's protests, often with deadly consequences for the villagers.

Lesson four: Dig the hole deeper

As Ahed Tamimi and her mother remain jailed, rightists have been quick to deepen the damage to Israel and the occupation, adding to the mix a fresh tinge of racism, xenophobia, and no little self-hate.

"When The New York Times compliments us, I know we're in trouble," prominent right-wing commentator and attorney Nadav Haetzni said last month. "This demonstrates the nerdy Ashkenazi lack of understanding of The New York Times, and of supporters of Obama and of Hillary, who don't understand - just as Obama did not understand - the Arab world."

Telling Israel Channel 10 that the Tamimis as a whole were a "family which long ago should have been in prison, or deported from here," Haetzni, son of settlement movement pioneer Elyakim Haetzni, had harsh words for Palestinians as a whole:

"I'm Askenazi too, but I try to understand my surroundings. In the surroundings in which we're located, if you don't react to things like this, the other side, which is wild, uncivilized, receives a photo of a victory, and this just encourages it to bring about terrorism and hunt you down."

Lesson five: Confirm judicial injustice

Case Study: In late 2015, a masked settler teen attacks a rabbi who is head of a Jewish human rights organization. The teen beats Rabbi Arik Ascherman, at the time the head of Rabbis for Human Rights, throwing a rock at him and swinging a knife at him. The attack was caught on video.

Last month, after Interior Minister Aryeh Deri had written a letter in support of the defendant, saying he knows the teenager personally and believes he has a big heart and is characterized by helping others, a court decreed that the assailant, now 19, would not be convicted of any crime. Instead, he will do 150 hours of community service.

Judge Sharon Halevy wrote that she opted for community service in part because a conviction could hamper the teen’s chances of getting drafted into the Israeli army.

Moral: Settlers can do what they want. Assault whom they want. Steal and occupy and vandalize what they want. Justice? When it comes to settlers, it really IS blind.

Lesson six: Trump 

Last week, Netanyahu's Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced that Israel will name a railroad station after Donald Trump in East Jerusalem's Old City, and the station is expected to be located - if it's built at all - at the holy city's Dung Gate.

You can't make up any of the preceding sentence up.

Lesson seven: Branding the Jewish National Fund as an occupier

Of many, many examples, the most recent is this: A subsidiary of JNF is aiding a generation-long effort to evict a Palestinian family from its home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where the settlement NGO-cum-conglomerate Elad is waiting to take the house over.

Moral: Do not give to the Jewish National Fund.

Lesson eight: The Iran angle

On Monday, Netanyahu tweeted that he wished "the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom." He added that "Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. The seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades."

Hmm. No freedom for Palestinians? No problem. No prospect of rights or privileges? No problem.

Moral: Wish the Palestinian people success in their noble quest for freedom. If for no other reason, than they are human beings. And that they seek the basic liberties that have been denied them for decades. And that freedom for Palestinians may also finally liberate Israelis from, well, themselves.

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