Tuesday, 01 June 2021 09:43

How to Rebalance the Power Asymmetry Between Israel and Palestine Featured


Shortly after the International Criminal Court announced its decision to investigate Israel for war crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Tel Aviv continued its annexation of East Jerusalem through forced expulsions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The residents protesting their eviction were met with excessive force from the Israeli military, including the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, in the midst of the holy month of Ramadan, and attacking peaceful worshippers. Hamas, a Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, reacted by launching thousands of rockets into Israel, approximately 90% of which were intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome defense system.



In retaliation, Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes on Gaza, killing over 200 Palestinians, including 65 children. On May 14, an airstrike leveled a Gaza tower block housing media organizations, among them Al-Jazeera and Associated Press. This attack on press freedom caused an uproar around the world, including in the United States. A week later, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt. Meanwhile, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories continues.

This series of events demonstrates the power imbalance between Israel and Palestine. This asymmetry is a result of decades of British and US support — political, economic and military — for the Zionist settler-colonial project. Over the decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has, in essence, consisted of Israel carrying out ethnic cleansing against Palestinians and being met with resistance. The latest bout of fighting emphasizes Washington’s tendency to justify Israel’s behavior while perpetuating the false narrative that Palestinian violence is terrorism. As such, there is an urgent need to rebalance the equation to protect Palestinian rights and lives through changing the narrative, supporting Israeli civil society and ending US weapons sales to Israel.

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US leaders typically bring up the legitimacy of armed violence only when violence is being perpetrated by Palestinians. For instance, instead of condemning Israel’s bombing of civilian areas, President Joe Biden, like all of his predecessors, claimed that Israel has a right to self-defense. Although he did call for a ceasefire, Biden’s words fall flat. First, the US has repeatedly blocked UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire. Second, on May 5, Biden went on to approve a whopping $735-million sale of precision-guided weapons to Israel. Third, the ceasefire brokered by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Egypt does not address the core issues of Palestinian statehood and Israeli occupation. Rather, it manages armed violence in the short term, promising to rebuild the same Gaza that was destroyed by US weapons.

Emboldened by Israel’s actions and the context of impunity, some Israeli settlers in the occupied territories have formed mobs to sporadically attack Palestinians in the streets. With ethnic clashes engulfing the country, the Israeli settlers will get to have their day in a civil court while Palestinians are subject to Israeli military courts. In fact, Israel has arrested over 1,550 demonstrators since May 9, many of whom are children. Among those detained, over 70% are Arab citizens of Israel. This disproportionality exemplifies the impunity of Jewish Israeli citizens vis-à-vis Palestinians and highlights the power imbalance inherent in Israel’s judicial system.

Palestinians, often armed only with rocks, are commonly condemned as terrorists by Israel. Yet a nuclear Israel, backed by the most powerful country in the world, is always justified in its self-defense. Hamas is a security threat to Israel, but the damage it inflicts is usually contained to the few rockets that manage to get through the Iron Dome. Furthermore, conflating Palestinians, especially Gazans, with Hamas is a dangerous assumption that has a direct cost for Palestinian lives.

As part of this power asymmetry between Israel and Palestine, Tel Aviv has long controlled the narrative around the conflict, resulting in a paradigm in which any criticism of Israel is perceived as anti-Semitism. This makes legitimate dialogue and policy reevaluation challenging. However, the narrative is slowly changing thanks to long-standing Palestinian activism.

How can the power imbalance be offset and peace achieved? A simple answer would be ending the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, restoring the 1967 borders and respecting the rights of Palestinians. Short of this, there are three additional steps that can go a long way in improving the facts on the ground for Palestinians.

First, human rights activists, and especially journalists, have a moral responsibility to counter the narrative that opposing Israeli apartheid is anti-Semitic, that Tel Aviv’s actions are justified in the name of self-defense, and that Palestinian resistance is terrorism. Thanks to social media, Palestinian activists have slowly shifted this narrative, with many leaders and protesters around the world denouncing Israel’s actions and advocating for Palestinian rights.

Second, Israeli citizens themselves must recognize the atrocities upon which their state was built. Human rights groups within Israel, such as B’Tselem, voice concern and attempt to raise awareness, but it is up to ordinary citizens to decide if ethnically cleansing Palestinians is the right way to build a nation. Israelis committed to a democracy built around values of liberty, equality and reciprocity have a responsibility to oppose their government’s policy, including the targeting of NGOs that promote Palestinian rights.

Third, the US must halt weapons sales to Israel and push for the protection of Palestinian rights. Currently, Israel receives $3.8 billion in military aid from the US annually and is equipped with high-technology defense systems such as the Iron Dome.

In a marked shift of mood, US congress members are standing up for Palestinian rights. For instance, Rashida Tlaib (herself a Palestinian-American), Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have condemned Israel’s use of armed force against civilians, as well as its annexation policy. On April 15, these representatives co-sponsored Betty McCollum’s bill defending the human rights of Palestinian children and families living under occupation. Senator Bernie Sanders also introduced a bill to block a weapons sale recently approved by President Biden.

These are positive steps toward rebalancing the power dynamic between Israel and Palestine, but without a comprehensive shift of the narrative to more accurately reflect the complex reality on the ground, correcting decades of asymmetry will be hard to achieve.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.