By John Strawson, University of East London |
It’s a week since hundreds of Israeli settlers descended on the Palestinian village of Hawara to terrorise civilians and burn cars and buildings.
The killing of two young settlers sparked the violence that led Bezalel Smotrich, Israeli finance minister, and now also head of civilian affairs in the occupied territories, to call for the village to be “wiped out”. While he wants the state of Israel to conduct the destruction, settlers have responded by calling for another attack.
The attack has been roundly condemned by many in Israel. Newly elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the settlers, for “taking the law into their own hands.” The top Israeli general in the West Bank, Major General Yehuda Fuchs, went further, calling the attack a “pogrom”.
Since the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government with the far right in late December there has been an increase in violence in the Palestinian territories. This has been led on both sides by groups beyond the control of the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority. But as the occupying power and with overwhelmingly superior military force, Israel bears much of the responsibility.
Behind the “green line”, which marks the 1949 armistice border, in Israel, there has been unrest of a different character. For nine weeks there have been mass demonstrations against the government’s plans to diminish the role of the supreme court and the role of the non-political attorney-general.
On Saturday, March 4, hundreds of thousands of Israelis were on the streets – 150,000 in Tel Aviv alone. It was announced on March 6 that pilots and other members of the country’s armed forces would join a growing strike in protest at the reforms.
Undermining Israel’s judiciary
While Israel lacks a written constitution it has created a system of checks and balances through the adoption of basic laws, judicial review by the supreme court and professional legal advice within ministries.
The government’s plans will see the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – being able to overturn supreme court decisions, politicise the appointment of judges and end the objective legal advice to ministers. The protesters see these plans as setting Israel on the road to an illiberal state with little protection for minorities.
The government sees the demonstrators as anarchists and malcontents. Far-right minister of national security, Itamar Ben Gvir, who has convictions for terrorism, has even suggested that some demonstrators are planning political assassinations, including his own. His response to peaceful demonstrations has been to deploy water cannons, stun grenades and horses.
The violent face of the Israeli state that has been experienced by Palestinians for the past 55 years of the occupation is now turned toward Israeli protesters.
Deeply divided society
In the demonstrations, the issue of the occupation has barely surfaced. Some protesters took Palestinian flags to some initial events, but they have been submerged by a sea of Israeli flags as organisers focused on an Israeli agenda. Even Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamist United Arab List – who supported the previous government – said that the occupation was not the central issue.
But the inclusion in the government of three far-right parties who see themselves as the settlers’ political leadership brings to the heart of the government the colonial practices and attitudes of the occupation. Indeed, one could say that the antidemocratic politics of the occupation is now turned in full force on Israel itself. In other words, there is a connection between the lack of democracy in the Palestinian territories and the attack on democracy in Israel.
There is also another connection that has not gone unnoticed by the IDF command – is a threatened falloff in reservists reporting for their three weeks of duty on the green line and in the occupied territories. This is a trend that is directly related to the deep opposition to the government’s judicial policy that is seen as undermining the legitimacy of the state, and thus the orders of military commanders.
While some may simply not turn up for their service, others have prominently announced why they will not participate in training or reserve duty. The 69th Squadron, which is an elite air force arm, has seen nearly all the reservists refusing to undergo a training exercise. They have also indicated that they will not serve at all is the judicial policy is implemented.
these days Israel is in danger, and this time the enemy is from within. … It’s sad, but you, Bibi [Netanyahu], are consciously and with open eyes sacrificing the state and the nation of Israel for your own interests.
These developments underline the broad opposition to Netanyahu’s government. The protesters branded as anarchists by ministers are in fact composed of Israelis in all walks of life – tech workers, lawyers, teachers, professionals of all kinds as well as members and former members of the security services. The fall of the shekel and the fall in inward investment have sent shock waves through business and wide sections of the middle classes.
Netanyahu made his deal with the far-right racist parties before last year’s election, having been deserted by the liberal right. He also hoped power would allow him to frustrate the corruption case he was facing in the courts. When he won, although with only 48% of the vote, he rewarded these forces with major positions in the government and has allowed them to prioritise their agenda which includes the annexation of the West Bank.
Having prided himself on his record of reducing violence, managing the occupation and creating a successful market economy he now faces rising violence, chaos in the occupied territories and a faltering economy – and hundreds of thousands of Israelis on the streets. All the result of his own political agenda.
The politics of the occupation are now evident. The occupation does not stop at the green line. Israel cannot remain a democracy and an occupying power. Hawara underlines the depth to which the colonial practices can sink. While the Palestinians bear the daily violence and humiliation of the occupation, Israelis are learning the cost it brings to their society.