The Middle East is in the midst of its most volatile period since 1967, though all the signs suggest the ramifications of the current period will far outlive even those of the Six-Day War.
Inside Israel, the country is experiencing its worst social crisis for decades and the largest demonstrations in its history, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets and setting up camps to protest against social issues, particularly housing, healthcare and education. It would be remiss not to mention the salient absence of Palestinian rights within the umbrella of these movements, in spite of the fact that the occupation is an integral part of Israel’s economy; a debate on the housing crisis which doesn’t factor in the 500,000 settlers on Palestinian land or the continued demolition of Palestinian homes to make way for Israeli settlers is flawed at best. Indeed, for many Knesset members the solution is precisely to continue to build more settlements on Palestinian land and continue to make even more Palestinians homeless.
There is also, of course, the greater regional turmoil with popular movements clamouring for democracy, sparked by Tunisia, followed by Egypt and then quickly spreading across many countries, most prominently Bahrain, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Democracies in Arab countries are a threat to Israel’s position simply because the people are infuriated by the ignominy of being forced into complicity with Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians by their autocratic leaders.
Moreover, although the impending vote for statehood at the United Nations in September has divided Palestinian supporters – Viktor Kattan has called it a ‘turning-point’ whilst Ilan Pappe believes it’s ‘a charade’ and Ali Abunimah dismisses it as an ‘elaborate farce’ – the Israeli government has been united almost without exception in its condemnation of the plan. This isn’t because they necessarily see it as a threat in and of itself, but rather because they have subsumed the strategy into their professed anxieties over ‘delegitimisation’.
One of the chief architects of Operation Cast Lead, Ehud Barak, has referred to the seismic events taking place as a ‘regional earthquake’ and ‘diplomatic tsunami’. In short, this is a defining moment in the history of the region and -crucially- the momentum is stacked overwhelmingly against Zionist aspirations.
The only thing that could possibly detract attention from social unrest and international pressure is renewed military conflict with the Palestinians. This is why, during a lecture last week, the esteemed Israeli historian and professor Ilan Pappe predicted that Israel was on the brink of instigating another major war.
Wars, except in the most belligerent of cases, require pretexts; though thinly veiled, Israel has offered a pretext to a rabidly supportive ‘international community’ (read: leaders) for its aggression throughout the years, including Operation Cast Lead where it falsely claimed that Hamas broke a ceasefire.
The pretext for Israel’s present bombardment of Gaza is the attack on Israelis near Eilat. The loss of civilian life of any shade is deplorable and to be condemned with the utmost vigour. Those responsible should be brought to justice. That much is surely a given.
Yet whilst the facts surrounding the Eilat attacks remain unclear, Israel’s response is vivid and instructive: return to our favourite punch bag Gaza, detract attention from domestic and international problems and reinforce our ‘deterrence capacity’, which has taken yet another blow. And seemingly this has worked: the tent protests in Israel have been called off, US Congressmen are reiterating calls to veto the Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence, and Palestinians have taken another merciless battering in the besieged Gaza strip.
Yet Ali Abunimah’s outrage conveys the incredulity that many onlookers are feeling and reality that many nonpartisan citizens are waking up to: ‘Zionists literally don’t get that you can’t just kill a bunch of random Arabs and say it’s justified because someone else attacked you.’
There is no evidence that anyone in Gaza carried out the Eilat attack – it has been denied by Hamas and the more plausible explanation given the nature and location of the attack is that it was Egyptian-led – yet Gaza has once more been made to pay the price. And it is a heavy price, with 15 dead so far and dozens injured. As the siege of Gaza exceeds 1,5000 days, it is clear that the collective punishment of the Gazans, illegal under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, seems to know no bounds.
There have since been retaliatory airstrikes launched from Gaza and Egypt has recalled its ambassador in Israel for the first time in a decade as the tensions look set to escalate further still.
Israel’s attempt to diverge attention from its domestic problems is indicative of a wider instability and disunity within the country, which requires an external enemy to keep it united. For years, the conflict with the Palestinians has been the glue keeping the disparate, unequal and deeply divided Israeli civil society together.
Long after the innocent Gazans have finished counting their dead, however, the biggest threat for Israel will continue to emerge: the shattering of this very mirage. This latest attack is a self-defeating move – another deterioration, Norman Finkelstein might say, in the state’s ‘decision making’.
Appendix I: Full list of the residents killed by the army since Thursday;
1. Abu Awad Al Nairab, Secretary General of the Salah Ed Deen Brigades.
2. Imad Hammad, Popular Resistance Committees.
3. Abu Jamil Shaath.
4. Khaled Al Masry.
5. Imad Nassr.
6. Malak Shaath, 2 years old.
7. Mahmoud Abu Samra, 13 years old.
8. Ashraf Azzam, 30.
9. Mohammad Enaya, 22.
10. Samed Abed, 25.
11. Anwar Islayyim, 21.
12. Imad Abu Abda.
13. Monther Qreiqe’, 32.
14. Islam Qreiqe; 2.
15. Mo’taz Qreiqe’.