Netanyahu is back as Israel’s war on Palestine intensifies
Netanyahu is back as Israel’s war on Palestine intensifies

On the evening of 11 December, 15-year-old Palestinian Jana Majdi Zakarneh went onto the roof of her home in the West Bank city of Jenin to find her cat. Soon after, the sound of gunfire echoed across Jenin’s streets, as Israeli occupation forces carried out yet another night-time raid. After the gunfire ceased, Jana’s father and younger brother went looking for Jana. When they reached the roof, they confronted a terrible sight. Jana lifeless body lay in a puddle of blood, riddled by bullets from sniper fire.

Jana is the 166th Palestinian, and 39th child, to be killed in the West Bank this year, according to Palestinian news agency Wafa. In Jenin alone, 59 have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces, including fifteen children. According to the UN, 2022 has been the deadliest year for West Bank Palestinians since 2006. More than 9,000 have been injured.

Jana’s home, the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, was established in 1953 by Palestinian refugees who had fled Zionist militia during the Nakba. Today, the camp is home to 12,000 Palestinians living in an area of just 42 square kilometres. The camp’s residents, over generations, have endured terrible crimes at the hands of their occupiers.

In 2002, during the second intifada, Jenin was invaded by Israeli infantry, elite commandos and assault helicopters. Armoured bulldozers destroyed 400 homes, leaving a quarter of the camp’s population homeless. At least one resident, a disabled man, was buried alive under the rubble of his home. Ten days later, the army withdrew. Before doing so, they hurriedly buried Palestinian bodies in the hospital grounds to hide their crimes, according to eyewitness accounts.

During the 2002 invasion, the Al Aqsa brigades—the armed wing of the Fatah faction—put up stiff resistance. Today, the brigades have long since been absorbed into the security forces of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. Jenin is nominally under the PA’s control. Yet its security forces are nowhere to be seen as Israeli troops conduct brazen offensives inside PA “territory”. Their target: a new generation of Palestinian youth determined to defend their communities against military and settler violence by any means necessary.

The new Palestinian militants come from a generation mostly too young to remember the second intifada. Organised in groups such as the Lion’s Den in Nablus and the Hornet’s Nest in Jenin, they view the PA as an extension of Israel’s occupation apparatus.

According to Palestinian-American analyst Yousef Munayyer, this new generation is not only drawing on the traditions of previous generations of resistance fighters, but seeking to bridge the factionalism that has so often divided the Palestinian resistance.

“Palestinian politics for years has been characterised by this really damaging divide between the largest factions—Hamas and Fatah—that have demobilised Palestinian politics in the West Bank and Gaza”, Munayyer told the Intercept. “What’s different here is not the fact that there is an engagement in armed resistance, of course that’s always been present, but that it’s being done under this non-factional banner.”

These groups maintain a policy of avoiding confrontation with PA forces, while having no illusions that the PA represents the interests of ordinary Palestinians. Under a policy of “security coordination”, declared “sacred” by 87-year old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, PA security forces routinely kidnap Palestinian militants and hand them over to Israeli forces for interrogation.

“The PA is doing nothing on the ground for us, its main role is protecting the settlers and implementing Israeli orders”, Mohammed, a Jenin-based fighter, told The New Arab. “Because of the failure of the PA, Israel is escalating its crimes against our people and our resistance. They—Israel and the PA—want to end the resistance in all its forms.”

Mohammed and his comrades have good reasons to fear PA repression. In 2018, Human Rights Watch documented “systematic arbitrary arrests and torture” by PA security agencies, accusing both Fatah and Hamas of developing “parallel police states” to the Israeli occupation. Like apartheid Israel, the PA has, in recent years, held hundreds of Palestinians in administrative detention, without charge or trial.

The PA has also been accused of culpability for the deaths in custody of several of its critics. In 2017, 31-year-old activist Basil al-Araj was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Ramallah while in hiding after having been detained by the PA for nearly six months. In June last year, Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the PA, died from injuries he sustained during a violent arrest by PA forces at his home near Hebron. Banat had previously been arrested seven times by the PA and faced death threats for his outspoken stance.

The dramatic escalation in Israeli military and settler violence coincides with an insurgent far right in Israeli politics. Israel’s national election on 1 November—the fifth in three years—resulted in a resounding win for ultra-nationalist and Jewish-supremacist parties, which are set to take government in a coalition headed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. More than 5 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories are denied a vote. For the 1.7 million who live in Israel, voting is a token exercise. A handful of Arab MKs (members of the Knesset) are routinely taunted by racist MKs and threatened with imprisonment for sedition should they mouth any criticism of Israel’s crimes.

Netanyahu’s coalition partners include the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, the Sephardi Orthodox Shas party and the Religious Zionism alliance. Between them, they hold 33 seats, giving them a kingmaker role in coalition with Netanyahu’s Likud, which won 32 seats. Netanyahu, who himself faces charges of corruption, has been given the green light by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to cobble together a cabinet composed of a cast of scoundrels.

Netanyahu’s pick for interior minister is Aryeh Deri, recently convicted of tax fraud and given a suspended prison sentence. Itamar Ben-Gvir, a settler and leader of the Jewish Power party, agreed to join Netanyahu’s cabinet on condition he be appointed minister for national security. Ben-Gvir has previous convictions for inciting racism and supporting a terrorist group. On the campaign trail, Ben-Gvir told reporters that, if he became a minister in a future Netanyahu government, he would seek to legislate the death penalty for Palestinian “terrorists” and immunity for all Israeli soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians.

Earlier this month, Ben-Gvir praised for a job “well done” an Israeli soldier who fatally shot 22-year-old Palestinian Ammar Mefleh at point-blank range, telling the soldier, “You really fulfilled the honour of all of us and did what was assigned to you”. Ben-Gvir’s ministerial role will give him wide-ranging powers over both domestic police and border police in the occupied West Bank.

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, has been appointed minister of finance. Smotrich, a self-described “proud homophobe”, has advocated for segregation of Jewish and Palestinian women in Israeli hospital maternity wards. In 2015, he claimed that a Jewish settler’s murder of an 18-month-old Palestinian child and his parents by firebombing was not an act of terrorism. In 2017, Smotrich called for a “subjugation plan” intended “to erase all Palestinian national hope”. When asked by the deputy Knesset speaker if he intended to wipe out whole families, including women and children, Smotrich replied, “In war, as in war”.

Netanyahu knocked back Smotrich’s initial request for the defence ministry portfolio after some backdoor lobbying from Washington. Instead, Smotrich will control a department within the defence ministry, overseeing various administrative functions of the West Bank occupation.

What all these far-right leaders have in common is a determination to advance the project of Zionism by making permanent Israel’s occupation of all historic Palestine and smashing Palestinian resistance by any means necessary.

The far right’s victory hasn’t been achieved overnight. It is the culmination of three decades of settler expansion since the 1993 Oslo accords, which has resulted in 500 permanent settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, housing more than a million Israeli settlers. This settlement expansion, once a project of seemingly marginal far-right extremists, is now openly championed by Israel’s mainstream political parties.

Meanwhile, politicians in Washington, London, Brussels and Canberra continue to mouth empty platitudes about “two states for two peoples” while looking the other way. The Biden administration could bring down Israel’s government and end its settlement expansion tomorrow, should it have any desire to do so. It funds Israel’s military apparatus to the tune of US$3.8 billion a year under a decade-long commitment made by the Obama administration.

Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to “fight very hard for the security of the Jewish state” and announced that his government will oppose a UN resolution calling on the International Court of Justice to investigate Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory”.

A memo issued by European Union officials in the lead-up to an October meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council—the first in ten years—“strongly opposes” the boycott of Israel and promotes the normalisation of diplomatic and trade relations between Israel and Arab countries under the Abraham Accords. The memo argues for “practical actions” to advance “counter-terrorism”, including collaboration on drone projects. Drone warfare has been Israel’s favoured tool for extrajudicial killings and spying in besieged Gaza.

While Israel has criticised the Albanese Labor government’s decision to reverse the former Coalition government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Australian government continues its predecessor’s stance of opposing an International Criminal Court investigation into Israel’s alleged war crimes in Palestine.

Yet, amid Israel’s intensifying war on Palestinians, a new spirit of resistance is emerging.

On 25 October, thousands turned out for the funerals of five Palestinians killed during an Israeli assault in Nablus, described by outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid as intended “to deal a severe and lasting blow” to the armed resistance in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin. However, such military actions have only incited further Palestinian resistance. Mass funerals of martyred fighters have become rallying points, much like the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead while reporting from Jenin refugee camp in May.

On 19 September, a month before his assassination by Israeli occupation forces, Lion’s Den fighter Tamer al-Kilani posted on Facebook that “the worst of humankind is a person who remains neutral in a nation where truth is struggling against falsehood”.

Such messages reinforce the belief that there is no alternative but to resist. And young Palestinians are heeding the call. As Palestinian writer and activist Ahmed Abu Artema observed in an article on the Palestinian news website Electronic Intifada, “No matter how many times Israel may think it has defeated Palestinians, resistance will always be reborn”.

Palestinian resistance needs our solidarity. We can contribute to their liberation by exposing our own government’s complicity in Israel’s genocidal occupation.

Nick Everett is the chair of Friends of Palestine Western Australia.

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