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Recent events in Jerusalem, be they the attack by Israeli soldiers at the funeral of Journalist Shereen Abu Aqleh or the assault on Palestinians to prevent them from raising their flag in Eastern Jerusalem, strongly reflect the upheaval that Israel is going through. Despite its appearance as the strongest and most stable country in the Middle East, existential anxiety exists in the back of the Israeli mind.
The two events mentioned above underline Israel’s nature as a colonial and racist state, a description used by many international organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and even the Israeli organisation B’Tselem.
Recently, Israel emerged as a fanatical, extremist and violent state. Sights of fully-armed soldiers and actions carried out by the settler groups of extremist, nationalist, religious and right-wing Jews are sufficient evidence.
Now, Israel wrestles with the Palestinians, who previously would settle over a mosque, a minor piece of land, or a number of houses here and there. Israel went as far as clashing with the Palestinians over a flag previously recognised in the Oslo Accords, a flag recognised by most world states, raised in the UN and the White House.
Israel is thriving while taking concrete steps toward becoming a rightist, nationalist, religious and extremist state. The case is not exclusive to a group of settlers, as major parties, be it liberal, national or leftist, are powerless against the rise of the religious, national extremist current. On the contrary, they flatter this current, like the ruling coalition and every other coalition government that has ruled Israel.
Recently, Likud Member of Knesset (MK) Eli Cohen submitted a bill for approval in the Knesset to ban any display of the Palestinian flag. An unacceptable bill, even to Haaretz, which deemed the bill “insane”. According to the newspaper’s editorial on May 30, “The Palestinian flag is the flag of the Palestinian people, and it is to be hoped that one day it will be the flag of a Palestinian state established alongside Israel.” Haaretz said that “the Palestinian flag is the flag of the Palestinian Authority, an authority established by diplomatic treaty with Israel. It is the legitimate emblem of an authority recognised by the entire world, including Israel.” Haaretz added: “The hostile attitude toward the Palestinian flag indicates a process of radicalisation that Israeli society is undergoing.” Also, the obsession over the Palestinian flag “apparently reminds Israelis of the sin of occupation, which they deny.” Haaretz concluded the editorial by saying: “No matter how much Israel persists in its attempts to deny the existence of the Palestinian people, its symbols, flag, history and aspirations for independence – it will be to no avail.”
The currents that established the Zionist movement and Israel were secular and democratic, but they associated nationalism with religion, an incorrect association. They also relied on biblical religious myths to win over the Jewish masses and justify the establishment of a state in “the promised land of God’s chosen people!” However, history’s irony is bitter as the internal developments in Israeli society reflect. These currents now adhere to the needs of other, oftentimes more religious and radical, streams instead of utilising religion as a tool to push their own agendas. It is also clearly visible in legal patterns and the extent to which the religious current dominates life in Israel, including relations with the Palestinians.
In this context, the Israeli political analyst Nahum Barnea addressed the settlers and extremist Jews’ transgressions on Jerusalem Day. He wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth: “The far-right and their supporters hijacked this day and made it their own. Aside from being a reason to celebrate, Jerusalem Day is a reason to incite – defy the government for not being right-wing enough to their liking, and oppose the presence of the Arabs in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Hatred towards Arabs has replaced love towards Jerusalem.”
Israeli reporter Nir Hasson also addressed what happened on Jerusalem Day and wrote in Haaretz that marchers sang, “May your village burn down.”
Since its establishment, Israel has acted as a Jewish state, or more accurately, a private state for the Jews, as is easily noticeable in the Declaration of Independence, the institutions, the flag, the anthem and the symbols. It also extends to laws, such as the Law of Return, granting all Jews migrating to Israel citizenship, and the land and property laws, which turn Palestinian lands, or the “Land of Israel”, into the exclusive property of the people of Israel.
All this has led to three dilemmas. The first lies in the contradiction between Judaism, a religious bond and national identity, and Israelism, the Israeli nationalism originating from the establishment of Israel. The second dilemma presents in defining who is Jewish; only religious people, or are secular Jews included? Is Judaism nationalism or a religion? These questions are only natural to cast their shadow on the relation between religion and state and religion and nationalism. This matter requires strenuous debates in the Israeli academic community and among the religious, political and intellectual circles. The third dilemma is in the democratic structure of society and state, which is consequential to the question of the relation between religion and the state. Defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jews signals the possibility to legally strip non-Jewish citizens from their citizenship. In other words, it would discriminate against non-Jews on the basis of religion and deem them inferior citizens, primarily threatening Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
The current direction does not reflect strength in Israel but rather tension, aggravation and anxiety in its internal affairs, self-perception, and relationship with its Palestinian and Arab environment. This direction also shows that Israel, which has long considered itself an oasis of secularism and modernity in the region, is regressing to the national and religious right-wing, especially since Israel still did not define its geographical or human borders.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Jerusalem has been an incubator for several uprisings. Such as the uprising against Israel’s digging of a tunnel beneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister. This incident resulted in the deaths of 65 Palestinians and 17 Israelis. Palestinian security forces participated in this uprising, the first Palestinian-Israeli confrontation since the Oslo Accords. In 2000, Ariel Sharon’s entry to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound led to the second intifada. This time, approximately 5,000 Palestinians and 1,040 Israelis were killed. In 2021, we witnessed the Palestinian rally, from the river to the sea, to protest the attempts at uprooting Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.
Israel insists on being a colonial, settler, Jewish and racist state. Everything confirms that it has sunk into the quagmire of extremist fundamentalist currents, obsessed by the myths of history and superstitious illusions. This Israeli approach will not benefit the Jews there, and it will not be in favour of its relationship with the Palestinians.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.