Israel Awakens the Palestine It Tried to Crush
25 July 2014
By Ramzy Baroud
When the bodies of three Israeli settlers - two
teenagers, Aftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16,
and Eyal Yifrach, 19 - were found on 30 June near
Hebron in the southern West Bank, Israel went into a
state of mourning and a wave of sympathy flowed from
around the world. The three had disappeared 18 days
earlier in circumstances that remain unclear.
The entire episode, particularly after its grim
ending, seemed to traumatize Israelis into ignoring
harsh truths about the settlers and the militarisation
of their society. For instance, one of the three has
since been accused of humiliating Palestinian
prisoners, while another was reportedly an occupation
Amid a portrayal of the three as hapless youths,
although one was a 19-year-old soldier, commentators
have failed to provide badly needed context to events.
Few, if any, assigned the blame where it was most
deserved – on expansionist policies which have sown
hatred and bloodshed.
Before the bodies' discovery, the real face of
Netanyahu's notoriously right-wing government was
well-known. Few held Illusions about how "peaceful" an
occupation can be if run by figures such as Foreign
Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali
Bennett, and Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon. But
because "children" – the term used by Netanyahu
himself – were involved, even critics didn't expect an
exercise in political point-scoring.
The was sympathy elicited for the missing settlers
case, but it quickly vanished in the face of an
Israeli response (in the West Bank, Jerusalem and
later a full-scale war on Gaza) largely seen as in the
crucible of world opinion as disproportionate and
cruel. Rather than related to the tragic death of
three youths, this response obviously reflected
Netanyahu's grand political calculations.
As mobs of Israeli Jews went out on an ethnic lynching
spree in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank that some
likened to a "pogrom", occupation soldiers conducted a
massive arrest campaign of hundreds of Palestinians,
mostly Hamas members and supporters.
The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas said it has no
role in the death of the settlers, and this appears
plausible since they rarely hesitate to take credit
for something carried out by their military wing.
Israeli military strategists were well aware of that.
This war on Hamas, however, has little to with the
killed settlers, and everything to do with the
political circumstances that preceded their
Nakba and a New Intifada
On 15 May, two Palestinian youths, Nadim Siam Abu
Nuwara, 17, and Mohammed Mahmoud Odeh Salameh, 16 were
killed by Israeli soldiers while taking part in a
protest commemorating the anniversary of the Nakba, or
‘Great Catastrophe'. Video footage shows that Nadim
was innocently standing with a group of friends before
collapsing as he was hit by an Israeli army bullet.
The Nakba took place 66 years ago as the so-called
Arab-Israeli conflict emerged. An estimated one
million Palestinians were forced out of their homes as
they fled a Zionist invasion. Israel was established
on the ruins of that Palestine.
Nadim and Mohammed, like the youths of several
generations since, were killed in cold blood as they
walked to remember that exodus. In Israel, there was
no outrage. However, Palestinian anger, which seems is
in constant accumulation – being under military
occupation and enduring harsh economic conditions –
was reaching a tipping point.
In some way, the deaths of these Palestinian youths
were a distraction from the political disunity that
has afflicted Palestinian leaderships and society for
years. Their deaths were a reminder that Palestine, as
an idea and a collective plight and struggle, goes
beyond the confines of politics or even ideology.
Their deaths reminded us that there is much more to
Palestine than the whims of the aging Palestinian
Authority ‘President' Mahmoud Abbas and his Ramallah-based
henchmen, or even Hamas's regional calculations
following the rise and fall of the ‘Arab Spring.'
The Israeli reaction to the settlers' death has been
different. After the bodies' discovery, fellow
settlers and right-wing Israelis began exacting
revenge from Palestinian communities. The mob was
united by the slogan "death to the Arabs", reviving a
long-disused notion of a single Palestinian identity
that precedes the emergence of Fatah and Hamas.
Perhaps paradoxically, the grief and anger provoked by
the death of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, 17, who was burnt
alive by Israeli settlers as part of this lashing out,
has furthered this reawakening of a long-fragmented
Palestinian national identity.
An identity that had suffered due to Israeli walls,
military tactics and the Palestinians' own disunity,
has been glued back together in a process that
resembles the events which preceded the first and
second uprisings of 1987 and 2000 respectively.
Much can be said about the hypocrisy in which Western
governments have responded to the deaths of
Palestinians and Israelis, the sorry state of Arab
affairs, the pressure placed on the increasingly
collaborative Abbas to find the killers, and the lack
of a serious response to Israeli army and settlers
abuse of Palestinian youth, including an
American-Palestinian boy. But Palestinian collective
action is hardly motivated by the renowned hypocrisy
of the West. The greatest Palestinian priority for now
is finding a common strategy that would cement unity
and eventually achieve their national aspirations.
However, unlike in the previous Intifadas, the hurdles
towards a unified voice this time seem insurmountable.
Abbas is a weak leader who has done so much to meet
Israel's security expectations and so very little to
defend the rights of his people. He is a relic from a
bygone era who merely exists because he is the best
option Israel and the US have at the moment.
In the aftermath of the Israeli violent response to
the killing of the settlers, Abbas laboured to
coordinate with the massive Israeli search. At times,
he stayed away as Israeli troops brutalised
Palestinians in the West Bank.
It is clear that there can be no third Intifada that
leaves Abbas and his wretched political apparatus in
place. This is precisely why Palestinian Authority
goons prevented many attempts by Palestinians in the
West Bank to protest the Israeli violence unleashed in
the occupied territories, which finally culminated
into a massive war against Gaza that has killed and
wounded hundreds. These very PA officers who stood by
as the army raided Palestinian homes at will were the
ones that swiftly moved to crush Palestinians who
tried to assemble in protest.
Whatever credit Abbas supposedly gained by closing
ranks with Hamas to form a unity government last June
has been just as quickly lost. It has been
overshadowed by his own failures to live up to
commitment under the unity deal, and the relevance of
his ‘authority' was quickly eclipsed by Israeli
violence, highlighting his and his government's utter
irrelevance to Israel's political calculations.
A Hamas Re-launch
When Israel launched its massive arrest campaign,
which mainly targeted Hamas in the West Bank, the
Hamas' political wing was already considering
"alternatives" to the unity government in Ramallah.
This was not seen in statements by Hamas officials,
who refused to reveal their frustration with Abbas and
his Ramallah echelon, but rather in the clearly worded
remarks uttered by senior Hamas official Dr Ahmed
Yousef in an interview with Ma'an news agency.
"The (Rami) Hamdallah government has failed to fill"
the political vacuum left open by the dismantling of
the Hamas government in Gaza, Yousef said. "We are
talking about an all-faction leadership to prevent
security chaos and solve the crisis of salaries for
the Gaza Strip's civil servants," he added.
Hamas's objectives were not being met. The unity deal
was meant to achieve several goals: end Hamas's
political isolation in Gaza, resulting from the
intensifying of the siege by Egypt's dictator Abdul
Fatah al-Sisi, solving the economic crisis in the
Strip, and also allowing Hamas to revert to its old
brand, as a resistance movement first and foremost.
Hamas was perhaps hoping for a similar political
arrangement like the one enjoyed by Hezbollah in
Lebanon: to hold massive political sway, to maintain
its military presence and to navigate its way between
resistance and politics as it sees fit. It is a
difficult model to duplicate though, since the
physical topography and political landscape of
Palestine is largely different from Lebanon.
Even if Hamas succeeded in establishing a new brand
based on resistance/political model, Israel was
determined to deactivate any potential for Palestinian
unity. Destroying that unity became almost an
obsession for Netanyahu.
The disappearance of the settlers gave Netanyahu's
quest a new impetus. He immediately began a campaign
pressuring Abbas to break away from Hamas. In fact,
Abbas became the target for a Zionist campaign that
goes beyond Israel. His language was closely
monitored, and criticized by the likes of the
pro-Israel Anti-defamation league. ADL, which is
always supportive of Israeli wars on Gaza, fumed when
Abbas used the term ‘genocide' to describe the killing
While Abbas was surviving in a state of political
irrelevance, Hamas launched a fierce resistance
campaign in Gaza. It united various resistance groups,
including those affiliated with Abbas's own party,
Fatah, and began responding with barrage of rockets
into Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and elsewhere.
Although few Israelis were hurt, at least at the time
of writing this article, while hundreds of
Palestinians were killed and wounded, Hamas's show of
prowess further alienated Abbas, now growingly seen,
along with his authority as ‘collaborators' with
Majdi, a 28-year-old from Deheisheh refugee camp put
it best: "The Palestinian police are mercenaries for
the Israeli occupation; they just watch and do
An Embattled Bibi
Netanyahu has focused his attacks on Hamas. He wants
to eradicate them from the West Bank, per his own
statements, then strike them and other resistance
groups in Gaza. His motivations are many, including
the need for periodic strikes that constantly erode
the preparedness of the resistance every few years -
past assaults were launched in 2006, 2007, 2008-9,
2012 and now 2014.
But this time there were new objectives inspired by
new circumstances, including the fact that Netanyahu's
own government, which stood on a very shaky ground
since its inception - partly due to constant
infighting between Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni and
others on the far right – is in political trouble.
Livni's last threat to leave the government was made
on June 11, a day before the settlers disappeared. The
right wing union, between the prime minister's own
Likud party, and that of Liberman's Yisrael Beitenu
was dissolved on July 07.
Such cracks in Netanyahu's coalitions seem too deep
for even a massive war on Gaza to remedy.
There is still more to Israel's war on Gaza than this.
Fearing an intifada that would unite Palestinians,
threaten the PA, and slow down the construction of
illegal settlements, Netanyahu's war on Gaza means to
distract from the slowly building collective sentiment
among Palestinians throughout Palestine, and among
Palestinian citizens in Israel.
This unity is much more alarming for Netanyahu than a
political arrangement by Fatah and Hamas necessitated
by regional circumstances. The targeting of Hamas is
an Israeli attempt at challenging the emerging new
narrative that it's no longer about Gaza and its siege
anymore, but the entirety of Palestine and its
collectives regardless on which side of the Israeli
"separation wall" they live.
A true Palestinian unity, culminating in a massive
popular Intifada is the kind of war Netanyahu cannot
- Ramzy Baroud is a PhD scholar in People's History
at the University of Exeter. He is the Managing Editor
of Middle East Eye. Baroud is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media
consultant, an author and the founder of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father
Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto
Press, London). (This article was first published in
Middle East Eye - www.middleeasteye.net)