Terry H. Schwadron
May 14, 2021
The awful images from Israel, which reflect so many stories at once, are troubling because once again, people are getting killed, injured and terrorized in the name of political purity. The images also are upsetting because, while we are not facing an actual internal war this week, many of the images reflect on our rising American politicization in a matter disturbingly alike.
For openers, there is the hate story insistingly defying generations and the passing governments in the Middle East and here that continue to fuel age-old splits and violence. This is a battle as basic as race and ethnicity, over which we have no say, and as complex as seeking equal rights in a democracy.
That alone sounds too familiar to Americans.
It is a story of political extremism on all sides that resists compromise and recognition of The Other, and stoops to the use of weapons to defend continuing, systemic attitudes rather than looking seriously at the root causes that would send Palestinians into widespread protest in the streets in the first place. Just why right-leaning Israeli interests — and American counterparts — insist on grabbing more Palestinian housing in the name of claimed Biblical “rights” when it is an incendiary, discriminatory issue is perplexing, bringing expected street protest. And then, even before the rockets and retaliatory air strikes, there was overresponse by militarized Israeli police with weapons to shoot rubber bullets at protestors in and around holy sites for Arab and Jewish worship on the Temple Mount.
Why does that sound so like riot-equipped police responding to routine arrests in American Black communities?
Simultaneously, it is a story of the increasingly anemic response of the U.S. government, whether under Joe Biden, Donald Trump or others, to influence the various Middle East parties involved to come to terms that guarantee safety and peaceful co-existence. If anything, Biden finds himself under simultaneous pressure from every political point of view to criticize one side or the other for vast overreaction, and it also shows the veneer of what passed as Trump’s ineffective self-declaration of Middle East peacetime through the so-called Abraham Accords that are proving little more than business deals to promote travel and trade.
Finally, this conflict born of some desperation in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be able to use some Wag the Dog violence to secure himself in office under duress, and among the Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank who need warrior status to secure loyalty more than they need to recognize a legitimate Israel with whom they should reach accommodation.
Bottom line is that people are getting hurt and killed by political violence, or cringing to hide out from errant war blasts. Those rocket storms launched from Gaza don’t discriminate between Jews and Israeli Arabs as victims; indeed, the first to die in Israel this time were Arabs. The retaliatory air strikes knocking entire apartment buildings at a time don’t precisely only kill Hamas military coordinators.
A decision to double-down and use Israeli military ground forces, so far from Israeli territory, is raising more questions about what exactly the aim of the ground attack will be, with answers ranging from stopping the 2,000 missiles launched against Israel to assassination of Hamas leaders to occupation. Surely, the Israelis need to protect themselves; surely, starting a war over protests on the Temple Mount is way over the line. We’re dealing with defense now to escalation, protest and bad policy that never should have happened.
We get it. If Palestinians had simply walked away from generations-owned properties, there would be no need for response. If protesters had not been throwing rocks on the Temple Mount to protest the renewed efforts to clear Palestinians from East Jerusalem buildings that Israeli settlers want, Israeli police would not have responded with guns and explosions in and around the holy Al-Aqsa mosque. If police had not over-reacted, perhaps Gazan rockets and the inevitable retaliatory strikes would have not started.
What’s missing in this story is that politically inspired violence would not burst ablaze if all parties would have started with the root causes here — the unstopping insistence by an increasingly right-wing Israeli government to seize more and more property from Palestinians. Doing so has now gone on for multiple generations, each engendering institutionalized rioting, intifada and new legions of refugees sworn to Israeli destruction.
In our American scene, we call it all Law & Order, and insist that our streets not fill with protest over policing abusive, even if we witness it all on videos ubiquitously distributed online. We blandly label protests in Portland or Minneapolis political and dispatch armored police vehicles and tear gas, expecting that we can ignore the root causes when the politics involves anti-police messaging.
When the political tables are turned, and we see anti-democracy forces swarming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the same people who just called for Law & Order now insist that there was little wrong with a Trump-inspired mob that killed five people, including police officers. Instead, they say, we should now be looking at the root causes of election fraud, even though there is no evidence.
There is evidence galore in Israel and the West Bank of property-grabs from Palestinians, who have lived under military occupation for decades now. It’s the official policy, up to the promise Netanyahu to merely declare most of the West Bank part of Israel proper.
We have American politicians insisting that Biden speak out for Palestinian rights in an oppressive situation and others for condemnation of Hamas for its rocket attacks. We have Netanyahu asking Biden to step aside and not get in his way. We have international calls for America to step in. We have Republican voices immediately denouncing Biden for restarting humanitarian aid programs to Palestinians after Trump had canceled them in an attempt to force Palestinians to accept the inevitable of Israeli rule and giving up on two-state solutions for the region.
Politically, Biden is cooked, no matter which way he turns, because after decades of failure by America to win the peace and four years of Trump backing Netanyahu to the hilt and ignoring Palestinian voices, we have a powder-keg of frustration exploding. Biden is taking the statesmanlike approach of calling for all sides to de-escalate, even while reportedly seeking to block the release of a United Nations Security Council statement calling for an immediate cease-fire and defending Israeli strikes against swarms of rockets, but not noting Gazan deaths too.
That approach, too, is familiar from our own American experiences, and that approach, too, is inadequate to get a lasting common view of peace over chaos. We can’t just wish over-militarized policing away, we have to act on it. That’s why the current Congressional miasma over getting a police reform bill through seems such an ill-fit with the problems we see before us.
As a Post columnist noted, with Trump gone and Netanyahu only barely clinging to power, regional politics may already be pivoting away from the Abraham Accords. “For all the happy optics of Emiratis vacationing in Tel Aviv and Israelis partying in Dubai, no new countries have joined on since the initial flurry under Trump. While the Biden administration welcomed healthier relations between Israel and the Arab world, it’s unclear how much it intends to build on Trump’s major foreign policy initiative.”
Instead, we should be focused on addressing the root causes — there and here.