Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Gaza Onslaughts Highlights an Emerging Paradigm Shift

Gaza onslaughts
People wave the Palestinian flag as they celebrate in front of a destroyed building in Gaza City early on May 21, 2021, following a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Nour Odeh

During eleven days, Israel turned the besieged Gaza Strip into “hell on earth”: Dozens of multi-story buildings leveled to the ground by Israeli bombing, killing some or wiping out fifteen nuclear and extended families losing like the Tanani nuclear family and 21 members of the Qulaq family.. Families fleeing in sheer terror, with tens of thousands seeking shelter in United Nations-run schools.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians protesting across historical Palestine, brandishing the Palestinian flag, and chanting for freedom in unison. Israel, using its immense military power and unleashing brutal police violence against unarmed protestors. Funerals, tears, and cries of agony.

Most analysis of the latest carnage was predicated on drawing a fictional and imaginary line and using it as the start of the latest “escalation”. Yet this conventional approach of analysis is both superficial and misleading. The reality in Palestine is a continuum of injustice, dispossession, and oppression spanning nearly a century since the onset of the ongoing Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948.

Events of the past month and subsequent months to come are a consequence of this amassing and multi-layered injustice.

There was nothing tranquil about the perceived “calm” prevalent before this crisis. The embers were always present and not very far from the surface.

Tensions sharply rose during the holy month of Ramadan, with Palestinians facing draconian Israeli restrictions in Jerusalem that limited access to thousands of Palestinians who normally flock to the City and more specifically to the Aqsa Mosque Compound during Ramadan. In addition to making access to Jerusalem extremely difficult for Palestinians in the rest of the occupied West Bank, Israeli occupation authorities also attempted to deny Palestinians their tradition of gathering at the Damascus Gate and praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound. Even the Holy Fire procession was not spared from Israeli brutality. Israeli occupation officers brutalized worshippers and bystanders, employing brutal force that caused hundreds of injuries.

This brutalization was happening as Israeli settler organizations were pushing ahead with their declared goal to socially engineer Jerusalem, specifically the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, by dispossessing 28 Palestinian families from their homes using Israeli courts. Not surprisingly, the Israeli government minimized the significance of Sheikh Jarrah, describing it as a “real estate dispute” between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. The position caused further outrage among Palestinians and international organizations, including the United Nations, which have decried Israel’s silent ethnic cleansing of the City. Inside Israel, Palestinian citizens of the State were also facing their own struggle against looming dispossession and institutional racism. Rightwing organizations tied to the settler movement in the occupied West Bank were also overtaking Palestinian neighborhoods, further entrenching the Palestinian-Israelis  sense of subjugation and disenfranchisement.

All this, amid the normalization of racism and incitement against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem, and inside Israel. Lynch mobs march down Jerusalem streets chanting “Death to Arabs” while Israeli occupation forces provided them with protection and brutalized Palestinians protesting the hate attacks. These same mobs hunted down PalestinianIsraelis in Lydd, Akka, and Yaffa only days later and with the explicit collusion of Israeli police.

And while the contours of the reality in the besieged Gaza Strip may be different from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, events in Jerusalem provoked Palestinians in Gaza who hold Jerusalem in the highest national and religious regard. The assault on the City and its holy sites happened at a time of a heightened sense of abandonment amid Arab normalization. These conditions also all came about amid domestic setback, with the Palestinian President unilaterally and indefinitely postponing Legislative Council elections, dashing any hope of needed change in Palestinian politics.

The conditions for the perfect storm of Palestinian anger were set. Israel’s colonial regime of oppression, dispossession, and siege, coupled with its arrogance of power, utter international failure, and deadlock in domestic Palestinian politics together created the mother of all sparks, igniting the region in a new episode of agony, suffering, and loss.

All these events are signs of the ongoing Palestinian Nakba and Israel’s colonial regime, which Israeli and international groups now agree is a regime of Apartheid. They are also a cruel reminder of the failure of the so-called rules-based international system, which affirms repeatedly that Israel’s actions are illegal yet willfully fails to hold it accountable and prefers to manage this entrenched conflict rather than resolve it.

This was evident in the slow-moving and tone-deaf international diplomatic machine that continues to fail Palestinians, which had to be pushed by public opinion into mediating a ceasefire after eleven days of carnage. In this universe of politicians and world leaders, colonizer and the colonized are equated, Palestinians are blamed for their own suffering, Israel is pampered and protected, and interest is only focused on returning to “calm”, which in this case does not relate to Palestinians, who will continue to endure life under occupation and siege in chilling silence.

But there is a parallel anti-establishment universe that is fed up with colonial formulas that disregard Palestinian lives and dehumanize or erase Palestinian voices. While grey-haired politicians dust off and reshuffle old and failed formulas for a “resolution” to the conflict, tens of thousands of citizens around the world continue to organize and mobilize to voice their absolute disgust with the status quo of dispossession, oppression, and murder.

This shifting paradigm is most evident in the United States, where progressive and some mainstream Congress members expressed in unprecedented clarity their support for Palestinian rights and opposition of Israeli policies. Even mainstream journalists and comedians dared to utter the word apartheid and to speak about the Palestinian people’s right to exist. And while social media platforms restrict and censor Palestinian content, Google employees published a letter demanding that their employer take a clear stand against the Israeli onslaught.

The conversation about Palestine is changing faster than pundits realize. Both-sideism and false equivalence are no longer the only game in town. For Palestinians, building on that emerging bridge of solidarity and common humanity is the only feasible option to ensure that the ceasefire does not stop at giving Israel the calm it wants. These developments offer Palestinians a chance to challenge the international system that has failed them and to finally make Israel’s colonial regime costly. Such mobilization would secure the desperately needed reconstruction in Gaza but more strategically, it would bring Palestinians closer to achieving their long-sought freedom.


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