Each year since 1967, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories has gone from strength to strength, a reality not only measured in the growth of the settlement units but also in the way the settler movement has entrenched itself in the corridors of political power. This year, it culminated with the swearing in of Naftali Bennett, the first Prime Minister to emerge from the settler population.
From this vantage point, a Jewish settler living in the occupied West Bank might easily conclude the current year is yet another high-water mark for the colonial-settlement-enterprise. However, they would be profoundly mistaken, because there is plenty of data points to suggest future historians may look upon 2021 as the year that set the Israeli occupation on a trajectory towards its nadir.
Certainly, one swallow does not a summer make, nor an autumn or winter, but a climax of events has turned 2021 into a public relations nightmare for the Israeli state and handed the boycott movement an unprecedented hand—one that may ultimately turn out decisive.
A climax of events has turned 2021 into a public relations nightmare for the Israeli state.
For the past seven months, Israel has made international headlines for all the wrong reasons, starting with the images of hundreds of government backed Jewish settlers marching through the streets of Jerusalem in April, chanting, “Death to Arabs,” “Muhammad is Dead,” and other racist slogans.
Multiple violent raids by Israeli security forces on al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site – which were carried out with the support and physical presence of dozens of settlers – cemented in the minds of a global audience lingering suspicions that the settlers and soldiers were indistinguishable. This notion was given further energy when multiple videos emerged showing Israeli forces cooperating and coordinating with settlers in attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.
The settlers “attacked the school with stones and broke its solar panels…while the settlers did all that, the soldiers covered for them by gunfire. The soldiers led, gave orders, everything looked coordinated. The soldiers pointed for the settlers, where to go, where to uproot, and then they shot at anybody who tried to get close,” an eyewitness to an attack on a Palestinian village in the West Bank on May 14 told The Intercept.
As footage of Jewish settlers carrying out home invasions against Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah beamed across social media, the stark power imbalance between the occupied and the occupier was laid bare before the world. Videos showing American accented settlers taunting Palestinians by promising to steal their homes put a human face to their humiliation.
Then the Israeli military pounded the Gaza Strip for 11 consecutive days, after Hamas fired seven rockets into Israel on May 10, which the group said were a response to injuries sustained by more than 300 Palestinians during raids on al-Aqsa Mosque. Throughout those 11 days, the world was given yet another display of the merciless cruelty Israel is willing to inflict upon two million residents of the world’s largest open-air prison.
Anybody who owned a television set or a smart phone bore witness to grieving Palestinian mothers and fathers pulling the bodies of their dead children from under the rubble of their destroyed homes. By the time a ceasefire was brokered on May 21, more than 250 Palestinians had been killed, including 66 children.
The aerial assault on Gaza caused a notable hardening of American attitudes towards Israel.
The aerial assault on Gaza caused a notable hardening of American attitudes towards Israel, according to a University of Maryland poll, which found that 70 percent of Democratic Party voters believe their congressperson supports Israel more than they do.
What’s also notable is that support for Israel among American voters aged 18 to 34 has fallen by 50 percent since last year, with 18 percent wanting the US to favor Palestine over Israel in 2020, compared with 34 percent who want the same today.
Moreover, these polls were published months before Amnesty International, along with a consortium of newspapers, revealed Israeli spyware company NSO Group is helping authoritarian regimes and nefarious actors hack into the cell phones of journalists, human rights activists, and political dissidents using its software – Pegasus, which is widely used in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT).
“In the eyes of most of humanity today, instead of its preposterous, self-proclaimed image as a ‘Start-up Nation,’ Israel is viewed as a Spy-up Nation,” said Omar Barghouti, a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in a recent interview.
International outrage towards the spyware scandal has now morphed into diplomatic action against Israel, with French President Emmanuel Macron calling on his Israeli counterpart to investigate allegations that “his phone and most of his cabinet could have been infected with [the spyware] Pegasus.”
This international pressure received an added jolt when US ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s announced it will end sales of its products in the occupied Palestinian Territories, prompting a hysterical and insane counter-response from both the Israeli government and its right-wing allies in the US. Such “lunatic” responses, according to Peter Beinart, are “not merely intellectually and morally bankrupt; they are strategically stupid,” which only highlights the absurdity of pro-Israel slogans and tropes, and the legitimacy of Palestinian appeals to international law.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog accused Ben & Jerry, whose founders are American Jews, of being anti-Semitic, and ushering in a “new type of terrorism against Israel,” while Foreign Minister Yair Lapid described the boycott as a “shameful surrender to anti-Semitism.”
But their hyperventilating remarks didn’t fool many, including the pro-Israel organization J-Street, which called Ben & Jerry’s move a “rational and principled, even pro-Israel position” for making a distinction between the Israeli state and the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
New polling shows Israel is now losing support among American Jews.
New polling shows Israel is now losing support among American Jews, with roughly one-third now believing Israel is operating a system of apartheid, and 22 percent believing it is guilty of committing genocide against the Palestinians.
It goes without saying, the Israeli occupation cannot continue without broad support among American and Jewish allies, support that is being chipped away by the criminal and inhumane actions taken by the Israeli government.
Time will tell whether 2021 is the year that breaks the back of the world’s longest military occupation.