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World leaders are citing Israel’s right to self-defence to justify its indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
The latest carnage follows weeks of Israeli state-violence against Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. On May 2, 2021 Israeli’s Supreme Court ordered the eviction of six Palestinian families, which triggered an uproar among Palestinians in Israel, the occupied territories and in exile. The evictions, many Palestinians noted, was Israel’s latest attempt to dispossess Palestinians from their homes.
Appalled by the scenes from Sheikh Jarrah, the U.N warned that confiscating Palestinian homes in occupied territory, and giving them to Israeli settlers, could constitute a war crime. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist resistance group in Gaza, followed with a warning of its own. The group vowed to inflict a “heavy price” on Israel if it followed through with the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. According to International Crisis Group (ICG), it was the first time that Hamas made a demand related to the city Jerusalem, instead of Gaza.
By doing so, Hamas attempted to position itself ahead of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Palestinians criticized for failing to stand up for Jerusalem and for indefinitely postponing legislative elections in the occupied territories.
Hamas, as it turns out, wasn’t bluffing. The group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel on May 10, most of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. The barrage still managed to kill ten Israelis, including one child, last week.
However, the death-toll in Gaza is exponentially higher due to Israel’s retaliatory campaign. In Gaza, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed, including 59 children.
Unlike Israeli citizens, Palestinians in Gaza have no where to hide. They don’t have bomb shelters, air defense systems, nor a route to escape to refuge. In 2007, Israel enforced a land, sea, and air blockade over Gaza, effectively caging more than two-million people inside an open-air prison. As a result, Gaza has become one of the most densely populated areas in the world. That means all Palestinians in Gaza are punished when Israel retaliates against Hamas.
But as the carnage continues, Washington refuses to condemn Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force. President Joe Biden has refrained from making any public statements, except for reiterating Israel’s right to defend itself. The lack of urgency to secure a ceasefire has divided the Democrats.
What’s more, Biden’s silence undermines his own campaign promise of recentering human rights in U.S foreign policy. Many commentators are calling him a hypocrite after he criticized former President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S embassy to Jerusalem, and slammed Jared Kushner for his lack of credentials to draft a peace proposal.
Trump dubbed Kushner’s proposal as the “Deal of the Century,” yet it went nowhere. The blueprint effectively endorsed a two-state solution that would have forced Palestinians to live on patches of land that resembled Bantustans from Apartheid South Africa.
Biden, for his part, has not spoken out against Israeli’s plan to expand settlements nor its use of brutal force against occupied Palestinians. His admin has instead boosted support for Israel. Just two days ago, as missiles rained down on Gaza, Biden approved a $735 million weapons sale to Israel.
Member states in the European Union have been equally partial towards Israel. Austria has raised Israel’s flag on its official government buildings in an act of solidarity, while France outlawed a pro-Palestinian protest. Germany too has joined the choir by stating that Israel has a right to self-defence.
However, rights groups say that Israel is breaching the laws of war. Just last Sunday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fired a missile into an apartment that killed eight children and two women in Gaza. The IDF claimed, as it often does, that the building housed a senior Hamas commander.
Journalists and free-press advocates also harshly criticized Israel for targeting a 12-story building that housed the Gaza bureaus of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. Civilians were warned to evacuate the building an hour before it was destroyed. The IDF again claimed that Hamas stored military intelligence assets inside the tower, yet Israeli officials haven’t provided any evidence. Neither the U.S nor the EU has pressured Israel to do so, effectively giving Tel Aviv the greenlight to bomb Gaza with impunity.
Arab states are more divided in their reaction to the bloodshed in Gaza. Those who signed the Abraham Accords last year have avoided harshly criticizing their new ally.
Monarchies in the Gulf are instead trying to dissuade their populations from expressing solidarity for Palestinians. In what seemed to be a state-sponsored response to the bombing of Gaza, a hashtag “Palestine is not my cause” circulated across twitter in the UAE and Bahrain last weekend.
The Emirati political scientist, Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, later admitted that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is putting the UAE in a difficult and awkward position.
Other Arab states have struck a different tone. Egypt, for one, has sent ambulances to Gaza and reopened the Rafah border crossing to provide refuge for Palestinian students and those needing medical treatment.
In the past, Cairo was happy to see Hamas, which it viewed as little more than a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, get pounded by Israel. But now President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi is adopting a more pragmatic approach. He is acutely aware that Palestinian suffering could generate protests in his own country, compelling him to urge Washington to pressure Tel Aviv to de-escalate the violence.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, also harshly condemned Israel’s “flagrant violations” of Palestinian rights. During his televised remarks, he added that Israel violated the sanctity of Islamic holy sites in East Jerusalem and condemned the expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah. The only long-term solution, he concluded, was for the global community to revive talks for a two-state solution.
However, the prospect of a Palestinian state is all but doomed unless the global community acts to halt and reverse Israeli settlements. Riyadh and Cairo are under no illusions. They are merely following a long tradition of pretending to care about Palestinian lives.
The bitter truth is that Arab regimes only care about their own survival.