This past weekend, the armed forces of an occupying power engaged in another round of brutal repression of the neighboring people they are subjugating, attacking unarmed civilians with everything from tear gas to live ammunition, and clearly committing war crimes. In this case, however, the abusive belligerent happens to be a Western ally.
A year after Israel’s bloody raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque mushroomed into an eleven-day-long war on the Gaza Strip, the world appears to be looking at an extremely violent case of déjà vu. Over Easter weekend, Israeli forces again raided the structure, firing live rounds and stun grenades into the mosque, storming the prayer hall, and indiscriminately beating protesters, worshippers, and other civilians. The attacks left more than a hundred fifty injured on Friday alone, including journalists and paramedics.
The Israeli attacks were sparked after worshippers, bristling at the presence of Israeli snipers and other forces as they went to worship and anticipating a raid, began putting up wooden roadblocks and firing firecrackers at the troops. As part of an agreement made after the 1967 war, the compound — whose location is of religious significance to all three Abrahamic faiths — is under the management of the Jordanian government, which accused Israel of “illegal provocative measures” for letting Jewish worshippers on the site after its crackdown, an act even an Israeli judge ruled was illegal last year. It’s also worth noting that attacks on cultural sites and places of worship are strictly forbidden under international law.
There is a very real risk we could see Israel fight yet another “war” on Gaza — a somewhat misleading term, since the vast imbalance in military capability means such wars tend to be one-sided affairs where Israel simply pummels Gaza indiscriminately from the sky. Two of Israel’s last four wars against Gaza have been launched during Ramadan, including last year’s, which began with virtually identical violence in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, before turning into a bombing campaign that killed nearly two-hundred Palestinian civilians. We could end up in the same place now, as protests and violence intensifies, especially with Palestinian militants now seeming to resume rocket attacks on Israel, which had been on pause for months.
The current violence is the result of a confluence of factors. A spate of terrorist attacks against Israelis that left fourteen dead, including, most prominently, a shooting in a Tel Aviv nightclub at the start of April, spurred Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett to give his armed forces “full freedom of action” to “defeat the terror.” This led in turn to a spate of killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces. Bennett, not unlike his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu when he ordered the same kinds of raids last year, is in a tough position politically right now, having just lost his parliamentary majority. Meanwhile, Israeli extremists threatened in the lead-up to the day to carry out an animal sacrifice on the grounds, violating the ban on Jewish worship at the site.
But the deeper cause of the current violence is the same broad factor that led to last year’s Israeli raids: Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine and its gradual theft of Palestinian land. The Tel Aviv nightclub shooter came from the occupied West Bank, and his attack was preceded by an uptick in settler violence.
A Staggering Double Standard
While Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is its own unique outrage, it can’t go unremarked upon how stark the difference is in how the West has responded to these events, and the response and policy prescriptions we’re hearing when it comes to the war in Ukraine.
Since Russia’s invasion, Western officials and commentators have started sounding curiously like Noam Chomsky: they’ve denounced violations of international law and territorial sovereignty, thrown around terms like imperialism and war of aggression, bewailed a supposed tendency to draw a false equivalency between the aggressor and their victims or to falsely blame both sides for violence, made widespread accusations of war crimes, and devoted an unprecedented amount of airtime to the invasion.
In this climate, there’s been virtually no limit to the action this state of affairs is held to demand from the West, even at the risk of a wider conflict between nuclear powers and an assortment of potential long-term ripple effects: such action includes massive quantities of arms shipments and providing logistical, intelligence, and other military support to defeat Russia, to unprecedented sanctions for collectively punishing the Russian population and private censure against ordinary Russians who had nothing to do with the war. A shocking number of voices have called for the West to not just begin directly fighting a war against Russia, but to be comfortable with the idea of a nuclear exchange with the country, along with publicly and privately spelling out a strategy of regime change.
These are, needless to say, risky and potentially disastrous ideas. But it’s notable that amid this sudden upsurge of armed solidarity with the victims of imperialistic military occupation, virtually no one is calling to offer Palestinians even an iota of the same kind of support. (This is, for the most part, just as well: if the Western world suddenly abandoned the long-standing consensus for a negotiated settlement to the conflict and began instead giving Palestinians Ukraine-like backing to fight a war of resistance against Israel, it would very likely trigger a brutal military response against the Palestinians, while causing massive loss of life on both sides, while at worst running the risk of a nuclear standoff).
But it’s not just that reckless military options are, thankfully, off the table. Even the solidarity so quickly and correctly offered to Ukrainians is missing from this latest attack on Palestinians, for whose suffering all the suddenly popular rhetoric about territorial sovereignty, agency, imperialism, and war crimes has simply evaporated.
As always, Western officials have shied away from so much as calling out the aggressor in this situation, with the US state department and the EU foreign policy chief calling on “both sides” or “all sides” to act with restraint. See if you can find anything that UK officials, some of the most gung ho when it comes to puffing their chests out against Russia, have said about Israel’s actions this past weekend. Western media, meanwhile, has reverted to the same style of coverage that usually prevails when it comes to Israel’s actions: simply talking about nebulous “clashes” that ascribe no blame or agency to anyone involved them, and treating the violence and crimes disproportionately carried out by Israel’s occupying forces as if it were weather.
We would be rightly outraged if Western officials and the press treated Moscow’s invasion like this, but outside of some pockets of the mainstream press and vanishingly few progressive lawmakers, there seems to be no real push for moral and intellectual consistency on this issue when it concerns a Western ally. The invasion of Ukraine could have been a teachable moment, for the Western public to apply its lessons to the violations carried out and supported by their own governments, and to ensure justice everywhere. As it stands, it looks like these lessons will only apply when it concerns those countries our officials consider enemies.