Israel and Hamas finally reached a ceasefire agreement for the Gaza Strip on May 20, a day after US President Joe Biden implored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, amid mediation attempts by Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations.
In the days prior to the ceasefire, diplomatic efforts had intensified to bring about a de-escalation to the Israeli attacks on Palestinians, which have seen Gaza bombarded, the Holy Mosque of Al-Aqsa stormed with troops, and the residents of Sheikh Jarrah subjected to violent attempts at forcible dispossession of their property and homes.
The conflict, which began in early May, caused a significant loss of life with over 227 Palestinians and 12 Israelis killed. Netanyahu sought to rescue his political career by taking a heavy-handed offensive approach, after failing to form a coalition government. Moreover, the Israeli establishment has escalated its attempts to “ethnically-cleanse” East Jerusalem following stubborn resistance on the part of Palestinians, who refused to relocate despite relentless harassment, arbitrary restrictions, and open provocation including home squatting from more extreme elements of Israeli society.
There is little doubt that Netanyahu will emerge stronger domestically from this recent bout of the decades-long conflict between the Israeli occupation and the Palestinians. It is expected that he will hold onto power through emergency rule before pushing for a new election in order to secure another bid to form a government. The alternative for Netanyahu would be to stand trial on corruption charges, which he is loath to do and therefore keen to maintain immunity.
Netanyahu is likely to experience the political “gains” as a pyrrhic victory in the wider context of how this latest war has unfolded.
However, Netanyahu is likely to experience the political “gains” as a pyrrhic victory in the wider context of how this latest war has unfolded. Indeed, the Palestinians have inflicted two heavy defeats on Israel that the latter is unlikely to ever recover from.
Changing the Narrative
The first resounding victory that the Palestinians have delivered on Netanyahu is the successful breaking of Israel’s monopoly over the narrative, discourse, and terminology with which the wider conflict is often broached. For the first time, the conflict is being discussed through terms that more accurately reflects the realities on the ground. The words “apartheid,” “occupation,” and “colonization” have become normalized in mainstream discussion.
“Apartheid” initially gained traction the month prior to the conflict in a Human Rights Watch report dated April 27, which followed a prior Paper by Israeli Rights Organization B’Tselem released on January 12.
However, it took off after Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted “apartheids states aren’t democracies.” Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib also brought the terminology to the Congress floor in May, in what was an undeniably powerful and symbolic moment given the US’ long-standing tradition of providing unquestionable immunity to Israel’s actions in the past. John Oliver used the term in an episode (now removed from the Show’s HBO channel) of the “Last Week Tonight” while an increasing number of celebrities and public personalities – including Mark Ruffalo, Lena Headey, and Roger Waters – have also propagated the language of “apartheid” and “Israeli war crimes.”
The ease with which Palestinians have been able to access social media means that they have been able to bypass the traditional monopolies on information.
This phenomenon has been made possible by the unique circumstances in which Israel’s latest attacks have taken place under. This is the first time that an offensive has been fought in a time of decentralized media. The dominance of social media and the ease with which Palestinians have been able to access it means that they have been able to bypass the traditional monopolies on information, which mainstream media outlets have enjoyed in the past.
Moreover, this is the first time that there is a Palestinian generation who grew up with social media and who is especially attuned to its effectiveness and accustomed to is usage. Palestinians have been able to effectively send videos, live feeds, and images across multiple applications and networks to share with the world. These posts have had such a significant impact on global opinion that an agitated Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz urgently met with Facebook and TikTok executives on May 14 to demand that pro-Palestine content be taken down under the pretext of “incitement” and “hate speech.”
The surge in social media usage by Palestinians has also provided fuel for media outlets to better access information on the ground, further enabling Palestinians to discredit much of the Israeli narrative that has been propagated on mainstream networks. Videos of child victims rendered homeless by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza are now being broadcast by prominent media outlets.
Accordingly, Palestinian commentators who have drawn attention on social media have been invited on prominent platforms such as CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and others, to present their narrative against Israeli commentators and former diplomats. Sky News has provided live coverage of Jerusalem with its reporters regularly expressing alarm and dismay at the practices of Israel’s security forces against the local population.
Israel’s frustration at the media coverage has been such that it decided to bomb the offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press in Gaza. Though Israel claimed it had provided evidence of Hamas operations in the building to the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was swift to deny such claims and told a news conference in Copenhagen that he had seen no such evidence. The Jerusalem Post also published a condemnation of Turkish media that it accused of inciting anti-Israel sentiment.
A Blow to Israel’s Image
The second resounding victory that the Palestinians have delivered on Netanyahu is the decimation of Israel’s image as an “invincible” and “moral” army. The iron dome failed to prevent rockets from landing on Tel Aviv, while Israeli forces were unable to locate and destroy munition facilities and supply depots in Gaza that allowed rockets to continue to be fired.
Israel also struggled to locate and take out Gazan commanders. In frustration, Israel sought to destroy the homes of these commanders as well as those of their families. In doing so, it wrought horrific damage on Gaza that turned public opinion against its operations and severely dented its image as an efficient, well-equipped army that upholds moral standards of integrity.
In a bid to rectify this, Israel sought to provide examples to the public of its forces informing the inhabitants of a building to leave an hour before an air strike. However, the lack of any such notice for Gazan families has had a greater impact on public opinion than the carefully curated Israeli PR messages.
Ultimately, Israel failed to achieve any military goals of any significance. Despite claiming to have exceptional intelligence on the armed groups in Gaza, it failed to take out any weapons or supply depots of value that might dent Hamas’ capabilities. This suggests that Tel Aviv’s security apparatus is not as efficient and capable as is often touted.
The Impact of Palestinians’ Victories
These victories have significant ramifications for the wider Palestine-Israel issue.
First, Palestinians now have a greater agency in the wider debate than they have had for a very long time. Irrespective of how the conflict ends, many Palestinians have secured large social media followings and now have direct communication with the outside world, allowing them the power to at least influence the framing of the debate, something that has been denied to them for years.
Second, the two-state solution is no longer a starting point as many Israelis begin to seriously consider the prospect of a one-state solution with equal rights for Palestinians. This solution has often been a particularly uncomfortable one for Israelis and even politicians such as Bernie Sanders.
Sanders admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera that he was against it because a one-state solution would mean a majority Palestinian state, and eventually result in “[democratic] Palestinian control” of Israel’s state institutions.
The fear is essentially that there will be a repeat of the South African experience in which the liberated Black population supplanted the apartheid regime’s control of the state. It is worth mentioning here that Netanyahu’s decision to delay annexing large sections of the West Bank in 2020 had more to do with the demographic dilemma than international pressure. In other words, Netanyahu was more concerned over the potential diluting of the Jewish Israeli population in the event the Arab populations of the annexed territories were incorporated into the Israeli state.
Much of the Hebrew discourse within Israel has laid the blame for the escalation on Netanyahu’s political aims and ambitions.
However, with the impact of the recent escalation being felt within the 1948 borders in places such as the city of Lod, and with rockets falling on Tel Aviv itself, the war has been felt far too close for comfort for many Israelis. Much of the Hebrew discourse within Israel has laid the blame for the escalation on Netanyahu’s political aims and ambitions.
Many Israelis have also begun to ask why Palestinians should not be afforded equal rights under the law. While such ideas may take time to secure sufficient traction at the diplomatic level, they are nevertheless being touted more frequently than ever before in Israeli society.
Lastly, Israel has seen an exceptionally unified approach to resistance amongst Palestinians. What began in early May as a confrontation between Palestinian worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Israeli security apparatus, blew up into a conflict that saw Palestinians within the 1948 borders take to the streets; a nationwide strike of Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank; and a military mobilization from Gaza.
Although Palestinian factions had fallen out less than a month ago after the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, cancelled elections for a unified authority, the recent escalation with Israel has created an environment conducive to a unity government. This can only strengthen Palestinian leverage at the negotiating table and the anticipated – yet unfavorable – peace process that Biden is expected to present at some point. Palestinian groups have been reminded that they can still be united by resistance regardless of their personal differences.