Israel’s Western Allies Have Done Everything Possible to Criminalize Nonviolent Resistance

Israel’s backers in the US and Western Europe claim to be opposed to violence. But they’ve done everything they can to shut down or criminalize nonviolent action by Palestinians and their supporters, from international legal cases to the BDS movement.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather in support of the Palestinian people during a rally for Gaza at the Consulate General of Israel on October 9, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz offered a devastating judgement on the country’s leader after the biggest crisis in living memory erupted last Saturday:

The disaster that befell Israel on the holiday of Simchat Torah is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister, who has prided himself on his vast political experience and irreplaceable wisdom in security matters, completely failed to identify the dangers he was consciously leading Israel into when establishing a government of annexation and dispossession, when appointing Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to key positions, while embracing a foreign policy that openly ignored the existence and rights of Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s cabinet allies Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir are both far-right politicians from settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Earlier this year, Smotrich claimed there was “no such thing” as the Palestinian people, while the US State Department rebuked Ben-Gvir for his “racist, destructive comments” about the supposedly inferior status of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Haaretz editorial accused Israel’s longest-serving prime minister of deliberately seeking a violent confrontation with the Palestinians:

In the past, Netanyahu marketed himself as a cautious leader who eschewed wars and multiple casualties on Israel’s side. After his victory in the last election, he replaced this caution with the policy of a “fully-right government,” with overt steps taken to annex the West Bank, to carry out ethnic cleansing in parts of the Oslo-defined Area C, including the Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley. This also included a massive expansion of settlements and bolstering of the Jewish presence on Temple Mount, near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as boasts of an impending peace deal with the Saudis in which the Palestinians would get nothing, with open talk of a “second Nakba” in his governing coalition.

Haaretz could have broadened its indictment to include the Western governments that have egged on Netanyahu and his allies at every turn. No matter how often the leading members of Israel’s political class insisted that they would never allow a Palestinian state to come into being, the United States and the most powerful European countries continued to support Israel unconditionally while pretending that there was some kind of meaningful peace process in existence.

At the same time, US and European leaders did everything in their power to block or even criminalize nonviolent forms of pressure on Israel, while telling Palestinians that they must not under any circumstances use violent methods against the occupation of their land. Now the same leaders have given Netanyahu a blank check to wage war on Gaza, when they know from past experience that this will result in massive, lethal violence against civilians.

Burning Bridges

Let’s remember how Israel’s Western allies have responded to various forms of nonviolent action by Palestinians and their supporters in recent years. In 2021, the Palestinian Authority (PA) asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories, including the attack on Gaza in 2014. The US government immediately condemned the move, and Joe Biden’s secretary of state Antony Blinken issued the following statement:

[T]he United States believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.

We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.

This statement was a calculated insult to the intelligence of those who had to read it. Blinken knows perfectly well that there are no “efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution” that might be “undercut” by an ICC investigation. In practice, the Biden administration wants Israel to be shielded from any legal accountability for its actions from here to the end of time.

After the formation of Netanyahu’s new government with his partners Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, Blinken told a J Street conference in December 2022 that US support for Israel was “sacrosanct.” As Peter Beinart noted, Blinken’s speech gave Netanyahu a green light to do whatever he wanted in the occupied territories:

Blinken didn’t even pledge to undo the gratuitous humiliations imposed on the Palestinians by Donald Trump. He didn’t promise to reopen the PLO mission in Washington or the US embassy in East Jerusalem, which was established in 1844 before being closed in 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a man who once called Barack Obama an ISIS sympathizer. Blinken didn’t say that settlements violate international law — another longstanding US position that Trump overturned and the Biden administration has failed to restore.

In the same month as Blinken’s J Street speech, there was another attempt to hold Israel accountable through the international legal framework. The UN General Assembly asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on “the policies and practices of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory.” The United States voted against the referral, along with European states like Britain and Germany. In July of this year, the British government submitted a forty-three-page legal document to the ICJ urging it not to hear the case at all.

Speaking to the Guardian, a senior Palestinian source described the document as “a complete endorsement of Israeli talking points.” Antony Blinken had previously objected to the ICC case on the grounds that the Palestinians “do not qualify as a sovereign state.” Now his British allies turned that argument on its head by presenting the occupation as a “bilateral dispute” between states. The only consistent principle at work was the demand that Israel should enjoy complete impunity.


Israel’s backers in Europe and North America are equally hostile to the idea of pressure being applied through civil society. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is an attempt to compensate for the refusal of governments to impose any sanctions on Israel for its oppression of the Palestinians. However, there have been repeated attempts to outlaw that movement, from France to the United States.

Most recently, the UK parliament passed a bill that bans public bodies such as local councils from making any decisions about procurement or investment based on “political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct.” In theory, this would oblige councils to do business with any state in the world, not just Israel, regardless of “political or moral disapproval.” But the bill allows the British government to grant a waiver from this rule in almost every case, with the exceptions of “(a) Israel, (b) the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or (c) the Occupied Golan Heights.”

In other words, the British authorities make no distinction in law between Israel as it was before the 1967 war and the occupied territories beyond the so-called Green Line. This is certainly the way the way Israeli politicians see things: they have made it clear time and time again that they consider the West Bank settlements to be an integral part of the Israeli state and have no intention of dismantling them at any point in the future.

The hostile, authoritarian response to legal and civil society initiatives from Israel’s Western allies shows us what they really want from the Palestinians. They don’t just want the Palestinian national movement to refrain from using violence against Israeli civilians, or even to refrain from using violence at all. They want it to renounce any form of action whatsoever that might compromise their ability to support the occupation and all the violence needed to enforce it.

Having encouraged Netanyahu along the road to disaster, politicians in Washington, London, and other Western capitals are now supporting his attack on Gaza in the name of “Israel’s right to defend itself,” which Israeli governments have always interpreted as the right to use violence against civilians on a massive scale. The attack has already killed hundreds of Palestinians and will kill hundreds or even thousands more if it is allowed to continue. Stopping that onslaught is the main priority today.