Israeli bombardment of the besieged Gaza strip continues. In the pretext of "self-defence", Israel has bombed not only military targets in Gaza, but has also targeted densely populated civilian locations. The country has attacked a Palestinian refugee camp killing at least 10, including eight children. At the time of writing this, the casualty on the Palestinian side stands at more than 150, 41 of them children. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been wounded. According to UN estimates, around 10,000 civilians have been displaced. On the Israeli side, 10 have died. In the occupied West Bank at least 13 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces as they protested against Israeli atrocities.
And invariably as always, Israel has done all these in the name of "self-defence" including the latest air strike on al-Jalaa building, which housed major media outlets including AP and Al Jazeera, destroying it to rubble. The Israeli army said the building was a base for Hamas' military intelligence, without substantiating this claim. This act has significantly reduced the capacities of the news outlets to report from Gaza and has been criticised by many as an attempt to silence the media.
Earlier in May, Israeli forces attacked the Arab Palestinian protestors who were being illegally dispossessed in the Sheikh Jarra neighbourhood by them, in self-defence. They raided the al-Aqsa Mosque, entered its compound and used stun grenades, rubber-coated steel rounds, and tear gas to disperse the worshippers and protestors alike, in self-defence.
And when Hamas fired rockets towards Israel after the expiry of their ultimatum to the country to stop atrocities against the Palestinians, Israel retaliated fast with the bombardment of Gaza, killing civilians and Hamas leaders—in self-defence.
The United States in its response stressed on its "ironclad support" for Israel's right to self-defence.
Germany, in its statement said, "Israel has the right to self-defence against these attacks" condemning, "these incessant rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli cities in the strongest terms", adding they "could not be justified".
While of course Israel has the right to self-defence, one wonders why the world is not talking about the basic human rights of the Palestinians, who are being displaced, dispossessed and massacred by Israel—more often than not in acts of "self-defence".
Perhaps the right to self-defence is exclusive to Israel?
What about the right to self-defence of those who had been brutally killed—around 15,000 Palestinians—centring the first Nakba (meaning catastrophe in English)? At least 750,000 Palestinians had been turned refugees and more than 531 villages and cities were destroyed by the Zionists to create a homeland for themselves. And not one word about their right to self-defence.
Since then, Israel has fiercely fought many wars, annexed lands of the Palestinians and have actively ensured their ethnic cleansing, which continues to this day. And in the recent years, this is being done citing self-defence against terrorism.
Let us take the case of the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza, which killed 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians. 551 of them were children. Israel lost 67 soldiers and six civilians. The invasion by Israel began as self-defence.
In April 2014, in the wake of the formation of the second unity government in Palestine with Fatah and Hamas, Israeli premier Netanyahu suspended peace talks with Palestine. In June, three teenage Israeli settlers went missing and their "abduction" was attributed to Hamas, without any evidence. From that point onwards, events took a turn for the worst. On July 2, a Palestinian boy was burned alive by three Israelis. A day later on July 3, the victim's cousin was brutally beaten up by Israeli forces. On July 6, Israel bombed a Gaza tunnel killing six Hamas personnel. Hamas retaliated with firing rockets, and thus Israel began "Operation Protective Edge", in self-defence. "Israel says it launched the offensive on Gaza to put an end to rocket fire and remove the threat of attacks by militants tunnelling under the border," noted BBC in a 2015 report titled, "Gaza conflict 2014: 'War crimes by both sides' – UN".
This time as well, Israel is bombing Gaza in self-defence.
"In the popular imagination confected by state propaganda, and dutifully echoed by everyone else in authority, Israel is almost always reacting to or retaliating against 'terrorism.' But neither the inhuman and illegal blockade Israel imposed on Gaza nor the periodic murderous 'operations' Israel has unleashed against it trace back to Hamas rocket fire. These were Israeli political decisions springing from Israeli political calculations, in which Hamas military actions figured as a null factor." wrote Norman Finkelstein, in the preface to his book "Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom".
Indeed, this idea cannot be discounted in the context of the current situation. The escalation between Palestine and Israel has played very well into the hands of the current Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu—mired in corruption charges and lacking in popular support—who took his staunch anti-Palestinian, ultranationalist narrative up a few notches, in both his firm commitment to the expansion of Israeli settlements and his decisive action against the terrorists: Hamas. "We stand united in the face of a vile enemy. We all mourn the dead and pray for the wounded and stand behind the IDF forces," he said, further promising that "With determination, unity and strength, we will restore security to the citizens of Israel."
It has been suggested by Sami Abu Shehadeh, leader of the Balad party and a Palestinian member of the Knesset that, "In order to survive this political crisis he [Netanyahu] finds himself in now, and in order for him not to lose control and not to lose his seat as prime minister…he is ready to do anything. All the escalation we are seeing now has a clear political target from Netanyahu's point of view, and he is ready to do anything to keep himself in power including this massacre that we are going to see in Gaza...What is happening here is a clear political decision that Netanyahu is responsible for to keep power."
And Abu Shehadeh's warning has not been wrong, indeed a recent Reuters report titled, "Netanyahu poised to gain political lifeline as violence flares", states that in view of the escalating crisis, Netanyahu's opponents have given up their attempts to form a coalition in favour of a wider unity. The ultranationalist Yamina party's chief Naftali Bennett said that he was abandoning talks with Yair Lapid—who had been tasked to form a unity government by the country's president in view of the political deadlock of the past two years—for a greater unity in the country's interest.
The Reuters report also quoted Israeli journalist, Ben Caspit, who had written in Maariv newspaper, "From the moment (the fire) was lit, the government of change was dead and Netanyahu came back to life".
In the context of the faltered coalition talks, Israel is potentially set to witness a fifth election. And there is a good possibility that this time around, Netanyahu might win the support of the nationalist and ultranationalist vote banks and political parties to form a government. All at the cost of Palestinian lives, all in the name of self-defence.
Indeed it seems, Israeli political parties have over the years used the Palestine issue to fuel the existential fear of its own people for their vested political gains. The Israelis will always know that they had exterminated Palestinians from their own land in order to create a land for their own, and till a two-state solution is found, the existential fear will persist among the Israeli population. And this is where Hamas is used as a scapegoat by Israel to both feed the fears of its people and to prevent the possibility of a two-state solution.
A Middle East expert, Aaron David Miller, in his 2014 article, "Israel and Hamas Need Each Other" while writing about the interdependence of Israel and Hamas, wrote that among many factors, "Hamas presents a wonderful bogeyman for those Israelis looking to avoid dealing with the questions of how to make the two-state solution a reality. Hamas's hostile and frequently anti-Semitic rhetoric is a gift to Israeli right-wingers, providing them with any number of talking points about why Israel can never trust Palestinians."
Right now, Israel needs to overcome the political stalemate it is faced with, and the only way is by making sure the majority vote for one leader in the next election. In the wake of the escalating situation, it is Netanyahu who will deliver them from this crisis.
The bogeyman's rocket launch has created the right context for the unity needed in Israel right now and it has also given Israel the ground to legitimise its attack on Gaza as an act of self-defence. And the west needing a strong Israel in the Middle East to keep the regional forces under check-and-balance, has asserted their support for Israel's right to self-defence. In a world of complex geo-politics, self-defence is exclusive to a certain few, and Palestine is certainly not one of them.
Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star.
Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem