If you’ve been observing, following, and analyzing Israel, especially in its current offensive in Gaza, you might be asking a central question: What exactly is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doing?
Aren’t his orders that have resulted in the destruction of entire neighborhoods unnecessary? Aren’t his directives that have led to the annihilation of media outlets, humanitarian outposts, and Gaza’s main power plant severe and irrational? Aren’t his commands that have caused the deaths of over 1600 Palestinians, 80% of them civilians, extreme, disproportionate, and excessive?
If he really wanted to stop the rocket fire, couldn’t he just continue to pluck them from the sky with his Iron Dome, as he is so effectively doing right now, finding a political way to sideline Hamas without firing a shot? If he really wanted to destroy the tunnels that snaked into Israeli territory, couldn’t he destroy or cap them from the Israeli side to prevent anyone from coming through?
If he were really interested in the decay of Hamas, why wouldn’t he allow the Palestinian unity government to form, a process that would most likely lead to a quieter and more marginalized Hamas? If he wanted to stop terrorism, why would he continue to bombard the innocents of Gaza, a move that every analyst in the world knows will only fuel Hamas’ popularity?
You would not be too crazy to ask these questions. In fact, posing these sorts of inquiries might seem entirely normal… entirely normal, that is, if you weren’t a Palestinian.
To us Palestinians, what Benjamin Netanyahu is doing comes as no surprise. To me, as a child of Palestinian refugees driven from their ancestral homes by Israel, the Israeli prime minister is simply doing what all his predecessors have. The story of Palestinians is personified by despair after despair, anguish after anguish, refuge after refuge.
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel’s posture has been to see us Palestinians as outsiders, as foreign, as a threat. I do not expect anyone else to understand what it is like to be viewed as a menace in your own homeland, to be denied simple humanity on the lands of your grandfathers, to be labeled as a “demographic threat” by a group of outsiders who hate your existence but seemingly love your food.
But we live this. And we cannot escape it. Being Palestinian is relentless. It is about relentlessly enduring, attempting to outlive our oppression.
This isn’t about Gaza. This isn’t about Hamas. This isn’t about a missing soldier. This isn’t about thousands of slaughtered Palestinians. This isn’t about tunnels. This isn’t about rockets. This isn’t about demilitarizing Gaza.
It is about something much bigger, yet quite simple. To us, it is about survival.
That strong sense of identity informs how we see the current war. We Palestinians do not see Gaza as a specific conflict in its time and place, but rather as another phase in Israel’s ongoing attempts to ethnically cleanse us and drive us from our lands.
The current massive non-violent marches and rallies in the West Bank and Israel by Palestinians are not simply being undertaken to protest the Israeli atrocities in Gaza. To think as much would be to misunderstand Palestinian identity entirely. They are about resistance to occupation, racism, and dispossession. They are part of the Palestinian narrative, which is precisely why they have been so violently repressed. Tens of thousands have marched peacefully in the face of live ammunition, fired by a military that cares not if it kills them. Human beings do not demonstrate and die in search of hate. They do it in search of freedom.
They do it to protest an Israeli tradition that has told them things like:
A Jewish state on only part of the land is not the end, but on the beginning… A Jewish state must be established immediately, even if it is only in part of the country. The rest will follow in the course of time. David Ben-Gurion (1937)
There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. Golda Meir (1969)
[The Palestinians] are beasts walking on two legs. Menachem Begin (1982)
The past leaders of our movement left us a clear message to keep Eretz Israel from the Sea to the River Jordan for future generations. Yitzhak Shamir (1990)
Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories. Benjamin Netanyahu (1989)
It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization, or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands. Ariel Sharon (1998)
Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial. Ariel Sharon (2001)
and this, by Zionism’s founding father:
Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly. Theodor Herzl (1895)
The Israeli assault on Gaza, the crackdown on Palestinians marching nonviolently, and all the previous onslaughts on our narrative are nothing more than a punishment for not accepting complete Israeli hegemony. It is precisely because we have not capitulated that we are being slain. It is because we have not forgotten. It is because we have survived.
What is most important to understand is that Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to achieve specifically what Zionism requires of him: the abolition of Palestinian civilization.