May is always a difficult month for Palestinians. Mid-month marks Nakba Day, the annual commemoration of the start of the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. Over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes by the Irgun militia that terrorized Palestinian-majority cities, and the Israeli Haganah—the precursor of today’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—grabbed more and more territory and expelled and demolished entire villages after the British washed their hands of the political mess they had made of Mandatory Palestine. Three years ago, hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza began the “March of Return” to the Israeli border fence in an attempt to act and speak effectively outside the increasingly ossified frameworks of Hamas in Gaza and the Palestine Authority in the West Bank. Protesters and medics alike were picked off and shot dead by IDF snipers.
This May has been “déjà vu all over again,” as Israeli settlers invaded (and audaciously claimed as their own) Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a reprise on a small scale of the 1948 Nakba—indeed, a reminder that the Nakba never ended. On May 7 and 10, Israeli forces invaded the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan prayers, injuring over 500 worshipers. Along with Israel’s decision to bar Palestinians from gathering at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem in the first weeks of Ramadan, it is hard not to read the events of the first half of May as a calculated Israeli provocation, and perhaps a message to the new Biden Administration in Washington that Israel will continue to create facts on the ground. It was also a tactic for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold onto his political power (as well as his immunity from corruption charges) by taunting Hamas into military action.
The provocation certainly worked: Hamas warned Israel to stop its aggressive actions in Jerusalem or face a barrage of rocket fire that would begin on May 10. Within days, the IDF was again brutally bombing Gaza, the densest population center on Earth. The Israeli Air Force took out residences, schools, hospitals, and high-rise buildings, including one that housed the Al Jazeera and Associated Press offices. Israel justified its action against the latter on the specious grounds that Hamas was operating from the building. Spokespersons from Al Jazeera and the AP disputed that claim vociferously. It was hard not to read this attack as an attempt to shut down global media agencies’ reporting on the carnage. The disproportionate violence was, again, obvious: ten Israelis (including one child) and two Thai guest workers were killed by Hamas rockets that escaped Israel’s efficient Iron Dome defense system, while Israel killed over 240 Palestinian civilians, more than 40 percent of whom were children and women, along with some top Hamas officials.
Gaza is an open-air prison that already suffers from a crushing economic blockade, food shortages, permanently damaged water and electrical infrastructures, and insufficient resources to counter the COVID-19 virus. Israeli bombs damaged or destroyed 30 health facilities, including a primary healthcare clinic. COVID-19 testing was temporarily halted after Israel bombed a clinic housing Gaza’s main testing laboratory. Among the civilian dead were a psychologist and two respected physicians, one of whom was doing his utmost to protect Gazans from the pandemic. Yet Israeli hasbara (propaganda) asks us to believe that this latest chapter in its ongoing genocide-on-the-installment plan of Palestinians is justified by its right to defend itself against an immiserated people it has ceaselessly traumatized, strangled, taunted, and disrespected for over half a century.
The United States knows very well that we have been here before—in 2006, 2008/09, 2012, 2014, and 2018/2019, when Israeli assaults on Gaza caused unimaginable horrors. If anything is new about this month’s criminal Israeli attack on the strip, it is that growing numbers of people throughout the world are no longer buying Israel’s media spin. Even ardent supporters of Israel have had to question the brutality with which its forces responded to attacks from Gaza, and they have indeed criticized the resort to indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and targets. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Israel itself. What was especially poignant was the unity displayed by Palestinians in all of historic Palestine, particularly in towns and villages inside Israel. The United States must understand this as an attestation to the fact that Palestinians are a national group whose aspirations for equality and justice can no longer be ignored.
Meanwhile, a new ingredient was added to the mix when Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem recently released damning reports that clearly defined Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as apartheid, a crime against humanity according to international principles. Growing calls for US aid to Israel to be conditioned on human rights concerns has added ballast to a louder and wider than usual outcry against Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
Another new dimension that should give the Biden Administration pause is the growing resistance in the US House of Representatives and Senate to Israel’s criminal behavior and the widening chasm between the younger, progressive branch of the Democratic Party and the old guard, best represented by none other than President Joe Biden himself. This chasm is only going to widen as more Americans are exposed to increasingly unvarnished reporting on the conditions under which Palestinians inside Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the occupied West Bank live.
It is important that the Biden Administration not see the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, reached after 11 days of fighting, as ending the conflict. This month’s carnage is just one more reminder that the Palestinian Nakba continues. After a year in which Black Lives Matter protests and Native American activism in the United States have opened more eyes to the stark realities of racism and systemic violence at home, many Americans are now viewing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in a new, and harsher, light. Finally, although it is too early to declare that this is an historic inflection point in the United States’ treatment of Israelis and Palestinians, something is definitely shifting at the grassroots level in this country that bears watching—and encouraging.
Laurie King is a member of Arab Center Washington DC’s Board of Directors, and a Professor of Anthropology at Georgetown University.
Image credit: flickr/DYKT Mohigan