Palestine must be saved from Netanyahu, and Israel from itself

Most of us in my generation grew up with enormous sympathy for Israel as the home country of the survivors of the worst genocide in history. When it came to the consequences for the Palestinians, for a long time, we were myopic. Israel became known as the only democracy in the Middle East, constantly threatened by hordes of hostile Arab states. But in the 1967 war, Israel conquered all of historic Palestine, and since then democracy only serves one half of the people who live under Israeli control.

Benjamin Netanyahu is one of this world’s most repulsive and unscrupulous elected leaders. He will stop at nothing to maintain power, and avoid the looming conviction for corruption. His return as head of government in coalition with the worst racists and fascists in Israel is a deadly threat to the rule of law and peace in the country. The new government wants to undermine judicial independence by giving parliament the authority to override the Supreme Court’s decisions and replace independent judges and prosecutors with its own henchmen. It is the same course as Viktor Orbán’s Hungary – only Netanyahu’s dismantling of the rule of law is described as Orbán on steroids. The judicial reforms have sparked mass protests in the Jewish population.

Disempowered ‘home rule’

Sadly, these Israeli mass protests do not yet address the fact that Israel/Palestine has been transformed into an apartheid state with no prospect of peace and reconciliation: The Palestinian ‘home rule’ is more powerless than the ‘home rule’ of the blacks in the so-called Bantustans of apartheid era South Africa. The settlers have good roads, but the Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the occupied territories is hampered by poor infrastructure and incessant harassment at Israeli checkpoints. They are squeezed together and walled off in small enclaves with no real opportunities for development. They are unjustly governed by the Israeli military, which conduct arbitrary house searches and detentions day and night. Jewish residents in the illegal settlements on occupied land, on the other hand, enjoy full Israeli civil rights and military protection: the latter also applies when the most extreme of the settlers attack their Palestinian neighbours with impunity and destroy their property – e.g., by cutting down thousands of their olive trees. Civil society organisations – such as are supported by Denmark – are attacked and punished with unfounded accusations of terrorism when they criticise human rights violations.

The Palestinian state that UN member states have overwhelmingly demanded for decades has effectively become impossible. The world community has only responded with critical resolutions, while Israel’s offensive settler policy has pierced the Palestinian territories like a Swiss cheese. With the most radical right-wing ministers in the driver’s seat, the expansion of the settlements and the formal annexation of Palestinian territories are now even more accelerated. The annexation is taking place more subtly, but equally contrary to International Law as Vladimir Putin’s attempts to move borders by force in his annexation of the eastern provinces of Ukraine.

Disproportional Israeli retaliation

Israel justifies any violation against Palestinians as an effort against terrorism. Terror against civilians on both sides of the conflict must be unconditionally condemned. Terror is a vicious circle of mutual retaliation, where one side is a state power with one of the world’s strongest militaries, while the other is an occupied civilian population. When Palestinians react to the hopelessness of 55 years of occupation with violence, murder of Israeli civilians and rockets from Gaza, it is the path deeper and deeper into hell. Each time it gives Israel an opportunity to strike back even harder and bloodier against the Palestinian civilian population. Not least does it unfold in the shape of the always brutal rain of bombs against the over 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, who live in deplorable conditions, locked up in an area the size of the Danish island of Langeland (with 14.000 inhabitants). People in Gaza have no possibilities of supporting themselves: they live the world’s largest open prison, and survive only on UN emergency aid. 

The US must exert friendly pressure 

Hope for peace and justice can only be rekindled from outside. It will not happen unless the United States as Israel’s friend, sponsor and military ally takes the lead. Fortunately, there are signs that many in the powerful Jewish-American community are demanding pressure on Israel to change course. The Biden administration has also reacted critically. But the risk is always that the tragedy of the Palestinians will be overshadowed by larger wars, crises, and tragedies elsewhere.

Europe has a key role in – also by appealing to the USA – preventing it from happening again.

We have a moral obligation to save the Palestinians from even worse oppression – and, if at all possible, to save Israel from itself.

This is a translation of my column in the Danish national newspaper Berlingske on 21st of February, 2023.

Illustration: Demonstrating against PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister for Justice Yariv Levin’s plans to suppress the Supreme Court, 13 Feb, 2023. Photo: Oren Rozen via Wikimedia Commons