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Palestinian lives sacrificed at altar of Israeli elections

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Picture: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP – A Palestinian boy walks past a moument showing a map of Mandatory Palestine in the West Bank town of Jenin in the north of the occupied West Bank on April 12, 2022

By Na’eem Jeenah

Over the period of three days last week, the Israeli air force and army pummelled Gaza, leaving, once again, the destruction of homes, livelihoods, and 47 murdered Palestinians – 16 of them children.

The two leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) who were assassinated were from the group’s political, not military wing, which makes their assassinations illegal under international, and Israeli, law. The Israeli onslaught was unprovoked and had absolutely no reason or purpose except in the propaganda statements of Israeli officials and their apologists globally.

No Israeli official or military officer even claims that Israel was responding to an attack. This, despite statements from the US and the UK, immediately after Israel began its attack, proclaiming that Israel had a right “to defend itself”.

The facts are not in dispute. On Monday night, August 1, Israel arrested Bassam al-Saadi, a leader of the PIJ, a Palestinian group opposing Israel’s occupation, in Jenin refugee camp. For the next four days, there was no indication that the PIJ would retaliate.

Indeed, Israel had arrested Al-Saadi seven times previously, and there had been no PIJ retaliation in those instances. Then, on August5, Israel began bombing Gaza, on the pretext that it suspected the PIJ might retaliate. Israeli officials themselves call it a “pre-emptive attack”, even though there was no imminent threat. Not only is this illegal under international law, it also stretches the bounds of absurdity.

Imagine the global response if Palestinians in Gaza fired rockets into Israel simply because they believed that Israel might be considering an attack. The real reason for the attack says a lot more about Israeli racism than any military claim might.

Palestinians have again become victims in the internal battle for power among Israeli politicians. This time, it is an attempt by a prime minister with no military background wanting to prove to voters that he can provide them with security. (Israel routinely also uses the Palestinian population to test new weapons on them before these are sold to foreign states, and uses its attacks on Palestinians as evidence of weapons’ effectiveness.)

Incumbent prime minister Yair Lapid will face, in the election, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has extensive experience using manufactured security fears to win elections. The attack on Gaza indicates that, for Israelis, Palestinian lives are entirely expendable. The coming Israeli election, then, is the first reason for the Gaza attack.

Lapid, a former journalist, has no military background to use in making the case to the Israeli electorate that he is military hawk who can effectively keep Palestinians suppressed. By highlighting a non-existent military threat, he justified a war, pretending to provide Israelis with security – by killing Palestinian civilians.

The onslaught on Palestinians was not only against those in besieged Gaza. Using the Gaza attack as a useful distraction, right-wing and religious fundamentalist settlers attacked Palestinians in Jerusalem, while Israeli occupation forces continued their assault on towns in the military-occupied West Bank, including Jenin, Nablus and Hebron, where a number of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the past week – after the “ceasefire” ended the Israeli assault on Gaza.

By attacking specifically one group, the PIJ, the Israelis also hoped to create disunity among the groups that make up the Gaza resistance, such as Hamas, the PIJ, the leftist PFLP and the nationalist Fatah. In particular, Lapid hoped to launch a brief attack, claim it was only against PIJ, and then end the attack before other groups – especially Hamas, the largest resistance group – got involved, thus forcing a clash between the two Islamist organisations.

This, however, failed. Hamas and other resistance groups did not retaliate against Israel because of the fear of another long Israeli onslaught that the 2.5 million people living in Gaza would not be able to bear.

However, the unity of the resistance forces was not broken – despite loud claims by Israeli occupation forces’ officers. Another concern for Lapid is the reinstatement of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). As this eventuality gets closer, Israel gets more determined to undermine the deal. Lapid therefore attempted to characterise the Gaza attack as an attack against Iran, implying that no agreement should be possible with Iran because it supports groups such as the PIJ.

Furthermore, it seems clear that Netanyahu will use the signing of the JCPOA against Lapid, claiming he was not up to the task of halting Iran’s nuclear development. Israel’s Gaza onslaught was not only a violation of Palestinians’ basic rights; it also constituted war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity, and reduced a 2.5 million population to playing the role of props in an election campaign.

It must be remembered, however, that each such assault on Palestinians also adds to the dehumanisation of Israeli Jews. Maintaining a population in constant fear, even if with an imagined threat, has severe long-term effects on people. The incumbent and past Israeli governments have not only not been good for Palestinians, but they have been very bad for Israelis too. Jews, Judaism and Jewish history have become captives of a racist and genocidal political system.

Jeenah is the Executive director of the Johannesburg-based AfroMiddle East Centre