IDF Operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’: Prelude, Aftermath, Prospects
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 14 Jun 2021
7 Jun 2021 – This consists of four journalistic pieces that were initially published in April and May leading up to the fourth in the sequence of massive military operations against Gaza in each instance falsely presented as ‘defensive.’ These operations resulted in large casualties and were further justified as ‘counter-terrorism’ because the alleged target was Hamas, a terrorist organization. Somehow, this latest attack on Gaza was more fairly reported in the Western press, and let to the most convincing show of Palestinian unity in a period of crisis. It also was an event that weakened Netanyahu’s hold on power, not because of objections to his hardline policies, but due to distaste for his personality and character, and a coalition is poised to form a new government awaiting only confirmation by the Knesset on June 9th.
IDF Operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’: Prelude, Aftermath, Prospects
Responses to Questions from Daniel Falcone (May 11, 2021)
1) Why is it that American politicians cannot say the words ‘Israeli apartheid’?
As an international crime, apartheid is a collective crime against a distinct race, that is one step down in severity from genocide. There is a major distinction. As the South African antecedent experience illustrates, apartheid is reversible, although the material and psychological harms suffered by its victims is not. As death is the core of genocide, it is as a practical matter irreversible, and its legacy lingers as the instance of the Holocaust illustrate. In fact, Israeli apartheid may be partly understood as an unintended consequence of the Holocaust. Israel probably could not have been successfully established without widespread international support, which would not have been so forthcoming without the shame of liberal guilt of the West in doing so little to oppose the extreme antisemitism and racism of Nazi Germany, including closing their doors to Jewish refugees.
In any event, the Palestinian people were made to pay the price of Nazi wrongdoing in the form of the imposition of a non-Palestinian state in their homeland at the very time when European colonialism was unraveling elsewhere in the world. In such a setting it was to be expected that Palestinian society would resist, and that Israel’s security would depend on effective means of repression. Such an interaction was accentuated by the characteristics of the Zionist Project that sought a Jewish state that was governed in accordance with democratic principles. Given the premise of such ethnic politics, this induced an ethos of ethnic cleansing to ensure stable Jewish demographic control of the state in what had been Palestine. It also meant discriminatory treatment of immigration and residency, denying Palestinians basic rights while giving Jews many privileges based on identity alone. Such discrimination is crudely exposed in the grant to Jews worldwide of an unrestricted right of return and immediate access to Israeli citizenship could
American mainstream political arenas and media are frightened and intimidated by the prospect of being labeled as antisemitic. The widely relied upon IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Anniversary) definition of antisemitism would easily result in any allegation of apartheid being treated as proof positive of antisemitism. This is so, despite respected studies concluding that Israel’s practices and policies satisfy the definition of apartheid as set forth in the 1973 UN International Convention on Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. And despite the Rome Statute (2002), the treaty governing the operations of the International Criminal Court regarding in Article 7(h) apartheid as one type of crime against humanity.
This inhibition on describing apartheid as ‘apartheid’ has been eroded by two 2021 reports confirming the apartheid allegation. The first report is by B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights NGO, that characterizes Israeli apartheid as the imposition of Jewish dominance upon the Palestinian people in the territory governed by Israel, that is, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea that encompasses both Israel proper and the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. (This is Apartheid, 12 Jan. 2021) The second report by Human Rights Watch reaches the apartheid conclusion after an exhaustive examination of systematic Israeli racial discrimination and reliance on inhuman measures resulting in Palestinian victimization in furtherance of the Zionist Project of maintaining a Jewish state. (A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, 27 April 2021) Back in 2017 I co-authored a report with Virginian Tilley, under UN auspices (Economic and Social Commission for West Asia or ESCWA) that investigated the apartheid allegation and concluded that Israeli practices and policies were an instance of apartheid, which we felt was best understood in relation to the Palestinian people (including refugees and exiles) rather than confined to territory. (Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, March 2017)
2) How, in your estimation, will Biden respond to the “Jerusalem crisis?”
On the basis of past behavior and the initial statements of close advisors, it is most likely that Biden visors will call for calm, while making one-sided and unconditional criticisms of the rockets and artillery shells from Gaza fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad as ‘provocations’ and ‘escalations’ of the underlying conflict. The one-sidedness is almost certain to be underscored by refraining from any criticism of Israeli responses, which are almost certain to be disproportionate in terms of casualties, devastation, and firepower.
The one-sidedness will be further highlighted by the absence of direct reference to Israeli provocations in Jerusalem such as right-wing settlers marching through East Jerusalem shouting ‘death to the Arabs’ or municipal plans to expel a series of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem on the basis of flimsy legal pretexts. The admitted goal is to prepare the way for further Jewish settlements, which is regarded by almost every Palestinian as a continuation of the ethnic cleansing that began in 1947, and has occurred periodically in 74 ensuing years. The Palestinian steadfastness (sumud) in Sheikh Jarrar is epitomized by their slogan ‘we will not be erased.”
Biden places a high priority on sustaining a bipartisan image in the conduct of foreign policy, especially with respect to Israeli policies. He has already indicated that the United States will accept Trump’s unlawful initiative of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, will not question the unlawful annexing of the Syrian Golan Heights, and applauding the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries so heralded as triumphant diplomatic achievements during the last stage of the Trump presidency.
Although there is some friction from a small group of Democrats in Congress resulting from such an imbalanced approach, it is strongly endorsed by both political parties and by the powerful lobbying influence of AIPAC. Leading Biden foreign policy representatives have made clear that the $3.8 billion military aid package will not be affected by negative findings in the annual country reports of the State Department, which signals a green light for Netanyahu’s aggressive approach to relations with the Palestinians.
3) The media still repeats in the passive voice, “21 killed by Israel’s Retaliatory strikes”. Has any dimension of the press coverage improved however in your estimation?
There is a subtle change in the coverage of the liberal print media, as highlighted by the New York Times and Washington Post. Instead, of reporting only Palestinian violence as objectionable there is more of a tendency to place nominal blame for periodic crises on both parties. I regard this as conveying a distorting image of symmetrical responsibility shared equally by Palestine and Israel while overlooking the structural realities of gross inequality arising from Israeli oppression and expanding territorial claims. It is always deceptive to treat the oppressor and the oppressed as if equal. As here, the oppressor acts contrary to applicable international law and elementary morality while the oppressed is countering by exercising rights of resistance and suffering the deprivation of basic rights. Of course, the tactics of resistance should be scrutinized by reference to legal and moral constraints, but without losing sight of overwhelming structures of dominance and the far greater harm done by state violence than by the violence of resistance.
4) Just hours ago, it was reported that “Israel launches airstrikes after rockets fired from Gaza in day of escalation.” This headline conveys that the situation is somehow symmetrical and the media’s interest in maintaining a false balance. Is this a correct observation?
As my last response suggests, one of the worst flaws in liberal journalism is to treat asymmetries as if symmetrical. Such a practice has been notorious in relation to the so-called ‘peace process’ or Oslo diplomacy where the Palestinians are made to share equal responsibility with the Israelis. This is so despite Israel making clear that its acceptance of ‘peace’ with the Palestinian people depends on Palestine giving up its inalienable right of self-determination as well as claims to having its capital in Jerusalem or challenges to extensive Israeli armed settlements unlawfully established.
5) I have a friend who recently wrote, “Israel, as an ethnostate is [on the verge of] committing suicide.” This in reaction to May 7th’s headline “Palestinians, Israel police clash at Al-Aqsa mosque; 53 hurt”. What kind of political consequences do you perceive the Israelis to suffer?
There is an ambiguity in your friend’s assertion of Israel being on the verge of committing suicide. Is this because Israel is encountering difficulty in the enforcement of its claims as an ethnocracy to occupy all of the ethno-religious space? Or is it because Israel has been compelled to challenge the red line of Islamic identity, by forcibly entering Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, attacking and injuring hundreds of Muslim worshipers, thereby threatening what it sought to achieve by the normalization agreements. Time will tell.
It remains to be seen what this latest flareup will produce by way of effects. One alternative is a Third Intifada that is sustained sufficiently to uphold claims to preserve the Palestinian identity of East Jerusalem. Another alternative is for Israel to mount a massive attack on Gaza in response to the 300 rockets that have allegedly targeted Jerusalem and southern Israel in the vicinity of Ashkelon and Ashdod in recent days of a similar or greater intensity to such prior attacks as in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. With the West, especially the U.S. singling out the rockets from Gaza, despite the far greater human injury inflicted on the Palestinians in the Jerusalem incidents, the scene is set for Israeli violence in Gaza to be treated as ‘defensive’ or even as ‘self-defense.’
The unresolved Israeli domestic political turmoil is not to be discounted as an influence, tempted Israeli escalation. Netanyahu is thought to have better chances of surviving as Israel’s leader if the security agenda again becomes prominent.’
(2) Jerusalem: Bloody Polarization
The events of the past week revealed the deep fissures of the Israeli Apartheid state. Right-wing Israeli extremists, referred to ‘Israeli nationalists’ by most Zionist media, staged a demonstration some days ago that featured the slogan ‘death to the Arabs.’ Israeli security forces countered by attacking the Palestinian resisters, wounding hundreds, and reportedly using non-lethal weapons to inflict maximum injuries, with many head wounds reported, including eyes shot out.
In the background were fanatical efforts in April and early May by Israeli settlers to Judaize the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, evicting four Palestinian families. The Israeli High Court deferred ruling on these controversial moves for a month in light of the tensions in the city.
This riotous atmosphere was further inflamed when Israeli security personnel forced their entry to Al-Asqa Mosque compound where Muslim worshippers were present in large numbers on the last Friday of Ramadan. More injuries resulted as well as the defiling of the third holiest Islamic site in the world. Jordan called the Israeli behavior ‘barbaric’ and the UAE objected officially despite the recent normalization agreements. The magnitude of this interference with religious observance have led some to call the pre-Gaza encounter the ‘Ramadan Intifada.’
The latest episode is associated with the march route celebrating the unlawful annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 War, coupled with Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the expanded city limits of Jerusalem now that Israel controlled the entire city. The Knesset established May 12 as Jerusalem Day to acknowledge the unification of the city under its control, supposedly heeding the words of Psalm 122: “Built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was jointed together.” On the advice of Israeli security forces, backed by Benny Gantz, the Defense Minister, the proposed route of the march was revised to exclude passage through the Damascus Gate, which was regarded as a flashpoint, likely to provoke renewed Palestinian resistance and Israeli police violence. At the last moment, the Israeli authorities bowed to international pressure and redirected the settler demonstrations away from the Damascus Gate, which would assuredly have resulted in confrontations between unarmed Palestinian Youth and violent settlers alone among West Bank residents permitted to carry arms.
This is in the spirit of Netanyahu’s response to the mayhem, which is to say that Jerusalem is our capital and we will do want we want in the city. This signals an acceptance of the legitimacy of the settler violent efforts to push for further the ethnic cleansing of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem through eviction notices and intimidation based on discriminatory Israeli laws and thuggery as to Palestinian residency and property rights.
Netanyahu, speaking on TV at an event celebrating Jerusalem Day, defiantly voiced support of settler claims and of Israeli security behavior in violently suppressing Palestinian oppositional activity and Ramadan worship. “We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late,” “I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do.”
I also take note of the silence of the UN, which once again fails to uphold its responsibilities for Israeli compliance with International Humanitarian Law as embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention governing Belligerent Occupation.
U.S. officials, including Jake Sullivan, Biden’s National Security Advisor, calls for calm of both sides, which a meaningless whisper in the face crisis conditions prevailing in Jerusalem.
(3) Daniel Falcone Questions (June 3, 2021)
1) Can you comment on the US role in the ousting of Netanyahu?
The U.S. Government while vocal in denouncing leaders of rival countries, is discreet when it to friends, above all Israel. There are undoubtedly some private conversations
among influential persons in both countries, suggesting that sustaining friendly
relations would be easier without the belligerent discourse and political style of Netanyahu. Other Israelis are as resolutely right-wing but less confrontational, and one suspects that the Biden Administration would rather try its luck with a post-Neetanyahu leadership, no matter what its outlook on such questions as settlements, a state for Palestine, or a nuclear deal with Iran.
2) What is the game plan for the Israeli government moving forward?
It appears that if this so-called center/right coalition headed by Yair Lapid and Naphtali Bennett takes over the leadership of Israel for the next four years, it will not change its position on relations with Occupied Palestine or with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. It will focus on the internal economic agenda, improving secular-religious relations, and promoting closer relations with Arab neighbors by implementing the ‘normalization agreements’ and seeking to additional such agreements within the Middle East. I feel that formal annexation of portions of the West Bank will also be deferred by Israel to avoid friction with the U.S. and Europe.
On the restoration of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Israel will likely offer less opposition than Netanyahu, but seek to exert influence in similar directions, seeking to impose more restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and possibly conditioning the removal of sanctions on Iranian discontinuance of work on precision missile technology or support for Hamas and Hezbollah. It should be appreciated that Bennett is scheduled to serve as prime minister of Israel for the next two years, and he has been an impassioned advocate of settlement expansion and an uncompromising opponent of establishing a Palestinian state. Bennett favors what he calls ‘autonomy on steroids’ to be exercised by Palestinians on 40% of the West Bank.
3) Does this leadership shift signal anything to the rest of the world about authoritarianism?
I think Israel is such a special case of a hybrid state, combining an apartheid regime subjugating the Palestinians with democratic constitutionalism for the Jewish citizenry of the country, that this prospective leadership shift doesn’t signal any wider trend of departure from international authoritarian leadership. This is especially true as the political shift is almost totally about the personality and character of Netanyahu, and not any fundamental shift in policy or in governance. The issue of Palestinian governance is not even part of the main coalition-building conversation. I suppose there could be surprises. Maybe the small Islamic Arab party that belatedly joined the anti-Netanyahu coalition hints at this possibility, but it seems more motivated by the desire to get rid of Netanyahu than anything more substantive.
4) How can we expect the media to cover the change in leadership?
I would imagine that the mainstream media would share much of my assessment, perhaps giving more emphasis to a less stressful relationship with the U.S. and EU, and possibly the UN. There will likely be a more hopeful tone about this transition demonstrating Israel’s democratic character. Also, more discussion of Netanyahu mixed record during his years in office as the longest serving prime minister, as well as his legacy and recent fall from grace.
As Bennett is known to be a more pleasant and diplomatic in style, he will be presented to the public as more compatible with Biden. Possibly also, the media will give greater influence to the more secular and supposedly moderate outlook of Lapid, both as the leader of the coalition process and scheduled to succeed Bennett as prime minister in two years. Given the rightest consensus in the Knesset, estimated to be as 100 of its 120 members, it is not likely that there will be any expectation of changes of significance with respect to Palestine. There is an outside chance that more civil society pressure will cause some fracturing of this status quo consensus on Palestine, especially if global pressures grow from BDS, the UN, and governments and internal tensions in Israeli/Palestinian relations mount. .
(4) Is the Tide Finally Turning in Favor of the Palestinians? Repetition or Change?
The latest Israeli violence, at first glance, seemed just like the prior massive attacks on Gaza of 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. There were large number of primitive rockets fired by Hamas in Israel’s direction that fell harmlessly or were intercepted by the Iron Dome, causing minor damage. In its turn, Israel inflicted widespread death and destruction by bombs, artillery shells, missiles fired from land, sea, and air, which once again terrorized the totally vulnerable people of Gaza 24/7 for from May 10-21.
As in the earlier attacks, there were calls from almost everywhere for a ceasefire to halt the carnage, including at the UN Security Council. As before, these pleas were spurned by Israel and blocked by the United States. Denunciations of Israel’s attack without action came from Arab governments. As is its habit, the U.S. provided the shield that allowed Israel to continue with the attack against the weight of world public opinion, giving the familiar lame excuse: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Further, anything goes, since Gaza is controlled by Hamas, ‘a terrorist organization’ by the Western moral compass, which amounts to signaling to Israel that anything goes, and international humanitarian law is not applicable to such an adversary.
When the smoke cleared in Gaza, 90,000 Gazans were displaced with their homes destroyed, over 1900 wounded, at least 243 dead, including 66 children. In contrast, Israel suffered 12 fatalities, including two children. Without minimizing the loss of life, the contrast reflects differences in military technology, tactics, and relative vulnerability of Israelis and Gazans, and Israel’s brazen indifference to the loss of Palestinian lives despite protestations to the contrary.
Nothing seemed changed. Hamas was still in firm control of Gaza with its impoverished population of over two million living in a permanent lockdown, borders were armed on the Israeli side and almost all Palestinians unable ever to leave the tiny, blockaded enclave where over 50% are unemployed and 80% are dependent for life support on humanitarian assistance.
It would seem that there is nothing new to report. We are left to speculate as when to expect the next cycle of violence. Yet this time maybe these appearances of repetition are deceptive.
Beneath the Surface
In the past few months Palestine has won notable victories in the symbolic domains of political struggle, which contrary to conventional wisdom, often determine the eventual winners more than combat zones.
The International Criminal Court in a Pre-Trial Chamber decided that its Prosecutor could launch a formal investigation is Israel’s international crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza that occurred since 2014. It was evident that the Prosecutor had ample evidence of specific crimes associated with disproportionate violence in the 2014 attack on Gaza, the use of excessive violence in dealing with the 2018 Great March of Return at the Israeli border, and in relation to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Even if not a single Israeli official is ever prosecuted by the ICC, this validation of Palestinian allegations of Israeli wrongdoing, and what is more Israel knows it. Why else would Netanyahu greet such a decision with the simplistic dismissal of ‘pure antisemitism’? Israel has long insisted that the UN was biased, but has never before smeared an international institution that had given it the benefit of the doubt while conducting a legal proceeding.
An even bigger Palestinian victory was recorded by mainstream reports finding that Israel was guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinians under their authority. Both the leading Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, and the most influential global human rights NGO, Human Rights Watch, issued reports documenting their central conclusion that Israeli policies and practices constituted apartheid. The recommendations of the reports call for application of international criminal law and confer on all countries a legal responsibility to take steps to suppress and oppose apartheid.
These developments are of great victories in what I have called the Legitimacy War dimensions of conflict. Reviewing the record in anti-colonial wars since 1945 it becomes clear that the side that prevails in such a legitimacy war fought to gain command of the high ground of law, morality, and public approval, usually goes on to control the political outcome. The French lost the Indochina and Algerian wars despite having superior weaponry, and the U.S. totally dominated the battlefield in Vietnam and yet lost the war.
The most relevant legitimacy for Palestine involves the collapse of the South African apartheid regime despite its effective monopoly of security capabilities. It collapsed because of the combination of non-violent resistance and global solidarity efforts rooted in anti-racist civil society initiatives prompting the apartheid leadership to reevaluate their options. They decided it was better to dismantle apartheid and take their chances with constitutional democracy than to go on living as an international pariah state.
Palestinian Symbolic Victories Impact on the Future
The just concluded Israeli military operation, code named Guardian of the Walls, exhibited some impacts of these Palestinian symbolic victories. The most salient can be. noted:
- signs of division within Israel that never before were visible during prior military operations;
- an opinion poll showing that 72% believe the ceasefire came too early, suggesting that the Israeli leadership bowed, after all, to international pressures, including from Washington;
- increasing expressions of Palestinian Arab-Jewish communal violence in Israeli towns;
- more balanced treatment of the violence by Western media platforms, with unprecedented coverage of the daily misery of Palestinian lives under occupation;
- widespread condemnation of collective punishment inflicted on the blockaded civilian population of Gaza in the midst of the COVID pandemic and a badly degraded medical and health system;
- new signs of Palestinian unity in reaction to Israeli violence within Jerusalem, including intrusions on worship during Ramadan, right-wing settler violent provocations protected by Israeli police, and protests by massed Palestinian refugees on the borders with Lebanon and Jordan;
- weakening support for Israel and rising criticism of unconditional U.S. support of Israel;
- increasing support in many countries for BDS and other civil society initiatives, as well as solidarity moves by labor unions and religious groups seeking boycotts and sanctions to promote a just peace for Palestinians.
A Sharpeville Moment?
In retrospect, many felt that the Sharpeville Massacre was the turning point that led in the end to the demise of apartheid in South Africa. The incident arose from a protest at the provincial police facility in the township of Sharpeville by Africans against the pass laws used to enforce segregation and limit mobility. 69 unarmed protesters were killed by the police, many shot in the back while fleeing the scene. The incident exposed to the world what apartheid meant.
Of course, even if history proves that Guardian of the Walls was a turning point, it does not mean that Israeli apartheid is on the verge of collapse. The Sharpeville massacre occurred in 1960, yet it was not until the early 1990s that apartheid was dismantled. It often takes a long time for prophetic writing on the wall to be registered in historical happenings.
The Palestinian ordeal is certainly not over, but for the first time we can envision it ending!
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019).
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Tags: Checkpoints, Conflict, Coronavirus, Fatah, Gaza, Geopolitics, Hamas, Human Rights, ICC, Israeli Apartheid, Israeli Army, Israeli occupation, Nakba, Oslo Accords, Palestine Israel Apartheid Wall, Palestine/Israel, Palestinian Rights, Politics, Power, Settlers, Social justice, State Terrorism, UN, USA, Violence, West Bank, Zionism
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