The context of the Israeli occupation

Israeli soldiers in shattered Gaza / Reproduction Telegram
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By ILAN PAPPE*

Dehistoricizing what is happening helps Israel pursue genocidal policies in Gaza.

On October 24, a statement by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres caused a strong reaction from Israel. Addressing the UN Security Council, the UN chief said who, while strongly condemning the massacre committed by Hamas on October 7, wanted to remind the world that it did not occur in a vacuum. He explained that we cannot dissociate our concern with the tragedy that occurred that day and the 56 years of Israeli occupation of territories.

The Israeli government was quick to condemn the statement. Israeli authorities demanded the resignation of Antonio Guterres, claiming he supported Hamas and justified the massacre. Israeli media joined the movement, stating, among other things, that the UN chief “demonstrated an impressive degree of moral bankruptcy.”

This reaction suggests that a new type of anti-Semitism claim may be emerging. Until October 7, Israel was pushing for the definition of anti-Semitism to be expanded to include criticism of the Israeli state and questions about the moral basis of Zionism. Now, contextualizing and historicizing what is happening can also provoke accusations of anti-Semitism.

Dehistoricizing these events helps Israel and Western governments adopt policies that they have avoided in the past due to ethical, tactical, or strategic considerations.

Thus, the October 7 attack is used by Israel as a pretext to practice genocidal policies in the Gaza Strip. It is also a pretext for the United States to try to reassert its presence in the Middle East. And it is a pretext for some European countries to violate and limit democratic freedoms in the name of a new “war on terror”.

However, there are several historical contexts for the current situation in Israel-Palestine that cannot be ignored. The broader historical context dates back to the mid-XNUMXth century, when evangelical Christianity in the West transformed the idea of ​​the “return of the Jews” into an ancient religious imperative and advocated the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine as part of the path to resurrection. from the dead, to the return of the Messiah and the end of time.

Theology became political in the late XNUMXth century and in the years leading up to the First World War for two reasons. Firstly, it served the interests of those in Britain who wished to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and incorporate part of it into the British Empire. Second, it resonated with members of the British aristocracy, both Jews and Christians, who were enchanted by the idea of ​​Zionism as a panacea for the problem of anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe, which had produced an unwanted wave of Jewish immigration to the Great Britain.

When these two interests merged, they led the British government to issue the famous – or infamous – Balfour Declaration in 1917.

Jewish thinkers and activists who redefined Judaism as nationalism hoped that this definition would protect Jewish communities from existential danger in Europe, focusing on Palestine as the desired space for the “rebirth of the Jewish nation.”

In the process, the Zionist cultural and intellectual project transformed into a project of colonization by settlement, the aim of which was to Judaize historic Palestine, disregarding the fact that it was inhabited by a native population.

In turn, Palestinian society, quite pastoral at that time and in its initial stage of modernization and construction of a national identity, produced its own anti-colonial movement. His first significant action against the Zionist colonization project occurred with the al-Buraq uprising in 1929, and has not ceased since.

Another historical context relevant to the current crisis is the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, which included the forced expulsion of Palestinians to the Gaza Strip from villages on the ruins of which some of the Israeli settlements attacked on October 7 were built. These uprooted Palestinians were part of the 750.000 Palestinians who lost their homes and became refugees.

This ethnic cleansing was noticed by the world, but it was not condemned. As a result, Israel continued to resort to ethnic cleansing as part of its effort to ensure full control of historic Palestine with as few native Palestinians as possible. This included the expulsion of 300.000 Palestinians during and after the 1967 war and the expulsion of more than 600.000 from the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since then.

There is also the context of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Over the past 50 years, occupying forces have imposed continuous collective punishment on Palestinians in these territories, exposing them to constant persecution by settlers and Israeli security forces, and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of them.

Since the election of the current Israeli messianic fundamentalist government in November 2022, all of these harsh policies have reached unprecedented levels. The number of Palestinians killed, injured and arrested in the occupied West Bank shot. To top it off, the Israeli government's policies toward Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem have become even more aggressive.

Finally, there is also the historical context of the 16-year siege of Gaza, where almost half the population is made up of children. In 2018, the UN was already warning that the Gaza Strip would become an unfit place for humans by 2020.

It is important to remember that the siege was imposed in response to the democratic elections won by Hamas following the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Even more important is going back to the 1990s, when the Gaza Strip was surrounded by barbed wire and disconnected from the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem after the Oslo Accords.

The isolation of Gaza, the fence around it, and the increasing Judaization of the West Bank were a clear indication that, in Israeli eyes, Oslo meant occupation by other means, not a path to genuine peace.

Israel controlled the entry and exit points of the Gaza ghetto, even monitoring the type of food that entered, sometimes limiting it to a certain number of calories. Hamas responded to this debilitating siege by launching rockets into civilian areas of Israel.

The Israeli government claimed that these attacks were motivated by the movement's ideological desire to kill Jews – a new form of Nazism – disregarding both the context of Nakba as the inhumane and barbaric siege imposed on two million people and the oppression of their countrymen in other parts of historic Palestine.

Hamas, in many ways, was the only Palestinian group that committed to retaliating or responding to these policies. However, the way he chose to react could lead to his own undoing, at least in the Gaza Strip, and could also provide a pretext for further oppression of the Palestinian people.

The savagery of his attack cannot be justified in any way, but that does not mean it cannot be explained and contextualized. As terrible as it was, the bad news is that this is not a game-changing event, despite the enormous human cost on both sides. What does this mean for the future?

Israel will remain a state established by a colonial occupation movement, which will continue to influence its political DNA and determine its ideological nature. This means that despite its self-portrait as the Middle East's only democracy, it will remain a democracy only for its Jewish citizens.

The internal struggle in Israel between what can be called the State of Judea – the colonizing State that wants Israel to be more theocratic and racist – and the State of Israel – which wants to maintain the status quo – which moved Israel until October 7th, will erupt again. In fact, there are already signs of its return.

Israel will continue to be a State of apartheid – as stated by several human rights organizations – regardless of the development of the situation in Gaza. The Palestinians will not disappear and will continue their struggle for liberation, with many civil societies at their side, while their governments support Israel and grant it exceptional immunity.

The solution remains the same: a change of regime in Israel that brings equal rights for all, from the river to the sea, and allows the return of Palestinian refugees. Otherwise, the cycle of bloodshed will never end.

*Ilan Pappe is a historian and director of the European Center for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. Author, among other books, of Ten myths about Israel (Ed. Tabla).

Translation: Pedro Paulo Zahluth Bastos.

Originally published on the website of Al-jazeera Network.


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