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On ‘gassing the Arabs’ and other diseases: Is Israel a ‘sick society’?

Dec 07,2021 - Last updated at Dec 07,2021

For whatever reason, some mistakenly perceive the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, as liberal, progressive and even ‘pro-Palestinian’. Of course, none of this is true. This misconstrued depiction of an essentially Zionist and anti-Palestinian newspaper tells of a much bigger story of how confusing Israeli politics is, and how equally confused many of us are in understanding the Israeli political discourse. 

On November 28, newly-elected Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, stormed the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Palestinian city of Al Khalil (Hebron) with hundreds of soldiers and many illegal Jewish settlers, including the who’s who of Israel’s extremists. 

The scene was reminiscent of a similar occurrence where late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, had stormed, along with thousands of soldiers and police officers, the Haram Sharif Compound in occupied East Jerusalem in September 2000. It was this particular event that unleashed the second Palestinian uprising, Intifada (2000-05), which led to the killing of thousands.

Herzog’s gesture of solidarity with the Kiryat Arba settlers was identical to Sharon’s earlier gesture, also made to win the approval of Israel’s burgeoning and influential right-wing extremists.

Only a few months ago, Haaretz had described Herzog as a “centrist, soft-spoken, ‘no drama’” person who had, at times, “felt out of place on Israel’s stormy and fractured political battlefield”. According to Haaretz, Herzog “may be exactly what Israel needs”. But is this really the case? Marvel at some of the statements made by Herzog as he visited a site where twenty-nine Palestinians were massacred by a Kiryat Arba extremist, Baruch Goldstein, and where many more were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the aftermath of the tragic event. Not only did many Israelis celebrate the memory of Goldstein with a shrine befitting of heroes and saints, but many of Herzog’s companions during the provocative ‘visit’ are ardent followers of the Israeli Jewish terrorist.

“We have to continue dreaming of peace,” Herzog declared while marking the first night of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah inside the Ibrahimi Mosque compound, which was previously emptied of its Muslim worshippers. Proudly, he “condemn(ed) any form of hatred or violence”. Meanwhile, hundreds of Israeli soldiers were terrorising 35,000 inhabitants of the old city of Al-Khalil. These Palestinians, who suffer daily violence at the hands of nearly 800 armed Jewish settlers in Kiryat Arba, along with an equal number of Israeli soldiers, were all locked in. Their shops were closed, their life was put on hold, their walls covered with racist graffiti.

“If he had walked around the corner,” the Israeli news website 972Mag reported referring to the Israeli president, “Herzog might have seen the graffiti on the walls reading “gas the Arabs”.

Chances are Herzog already understands, in fact, supports, such racism; after all, he was joined by the likes of Eliyahu Libman, who heads Kiryat Arba regional council and Hillel Horowitz, the leader of the Jewish settlers of Al Khalil. It is these two men who preach extremism and violence against the Palestinians as a matter of course. Aside from hosting the Goldstein grave and shrine, the settlement has a park that carries the name of Meir Kahane, the spiritual leader of Israel’s most violent extremists. 

In an emotional speech given by Horowitz in the company of Herzog, the settler leader announced that the Israeli president’s violent storming of the Ibrahimi Mosque “reminds us that we did not take the land of foreigners”. He followed with “Your visit here strengthens our mission”.

From Horowitz, Libman and their ilk’s point of view, their “mission” has been a great success. They have managed to steer Israeli politics almost entirely towards the right. Even the “centrist, soft-spoken” president is now fully embracing their sinister mission. 

But will Haaretz acknowledge this reality? That the “liberal” and “progressive” editorial line they have allegedly championed for many years has completely failed, and purposely so, to depict the truth about Israel?

Compare Haaretz’s positive portrayal of Herzog with their coverage of the former right-wing Israeli president, Reuven Litvin. The latter, on various occasions, and rightly so, was criticised for his pro-Likud political line and for his divisive role that contributed to an already fragmented Israeli political scene. But when Rivlin, in October 2014, had declared that “Israeli society is sick, and it is our duty to treat this disease,” a Haaretz columnist lashed out, suggesting that “Rivlin’s comments are positively bursting with Jew-hatred”.

“First he called Jewish society ‘sick’—dredging up anti-Semitic tropes about Jews as carriers of cultural and ideological disease. Then he asked whether Jews are ‘decent human beings’: Questioning their humanity itself,” the article argued. 

Of course, the sickness of “violence, hostility, bullying, [and] racism”, that Rivlin had then pointed out, is very much real. Other symptoms of this horrible disease also include military occupation, apartheid and genocidal violence like that frequently meted out against the besieged Gaza Strip.

While this Israeli “disease” is becoming common knowledge globally, with such organizations as Human Rights Watch and many others describing it in the most honest and blunt terms, the vast majority of Israeli society, including their representatives and their “soft-spoken” president, remain blind to it, shielded from the truth by their own hubris, infatuated with their military power and intoxicated by the humiliation and violence to which Palestinians are subjected to, in Al-Khalil, in Gaza, in Jerusalem and throughout occupied Palestine.

There are no indications that Israeli society, government and media — “liberal” or right-wing — will, on their own, develop the necessary antibodies that will cure the disease of racism, military occupation and apartheid. Yes, it will ultimately be the Palestinian resistance that will make the decisive difference of holding Israel accountable. But that can only happen when the international community takes a courageous stance in advocating Palestinian rights and unconditionally supporting the Palestinian quest for freedom.

Whether right-wing, left-wing or centre, Israel is committed to its military superiority, its racism and to the military occupation more than ever before. The sooner we accept this fact, and quit subscribing to the illusion that change in Israel will happen from within, the sooner the Palestinian people will finally achieve the justice they need and deserve.

 

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a non-resident senior research fellow at the Centre for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

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