Israel tries to present itself in front of the world as “the only democracy in the middle east”. In more explicitly racist and colonial terms, it sometimes claims to be a “villa” of civilisation in the “jungle” of the middle east, as war criminal Ehud Barak once put it.
But for the Palestinian people, and anyone who has spent any amount of time visiting or living among them to witness the truth, such claims ring hollow.
For the Palestinians, Israel is a democracy for its Jewish citizens alone. For its Palestinian citizens (some 20 per cent) it is an ethnocracy. Israel is defined in law and in practice not as a state of all its citizens (as other modern industrialised nations are – at least formally) but as a state of all the Jews of the world.
This means that Jews from London, New York or Yemen with no family ties or history in the land, still have more rights to the land of Palestine that the native inhabitants of that land – the Palestinian people. This is the reality of Zionism.
The minority status of Palestinians within present-day Israel is not some accident of history. The Jewish majority was violently gerrymandered in 1947-48 when Zionist terror groups expelled more than 750,000 Palestinian people. The refugees were never allowed to return – they and their descendants still live exiled in cramped and ever-increasingly-built-up refugee camps in the surrounding countries.
If you take the whole borders of historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, and look at the demographics, Israelis have for years now no longer been the overall majority. It is roughly a 50-50 split, and the Palestinians will soon be in an overall majority – if they are not already.
For the Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel’s claim to be a “civilized” democracy and a state of laws rings hollow too, to more violent effect.
After the withdrawal of direct, settler-led occupation with the evacuation in 2005, the newly reconfigured occupation of Gaza was more oriented towards controlling the boundaries of the strip, its airspace, coastline, crossing points and even (indirectly) the border with Egypt.
This occupation has been marked by periodic massacres of the civilian population of Gaza, living as most do in heavily built-up areas. The last such war of aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza killed 2,200 – mostly civilians, 550 of whom children.
And so, the 2004 prophecy of Israeli professor Arnon Soffer has come to pass: “it’s going to be a human catastrophe … The pressure at the border [with Gaza] will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”
Soffer, an ardent racist, is no fringe figure in Israel. He was the mastermind of the apartheid wall throughout the West Bank, imitated under the war criminal Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Israel’s regime in the West Bank is a torture and prisons regime – with compliant Palestinian Authority armed forces dedicated to “security coordination” with the Israeli occupier. For Palestinians, this is a totally lawless regime. Israeli settlers and soldiers can kill unarmed Palestinians at will, with no consequences.
The murder of Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif in March demonstrated this once again. Israeli soldier Elor Azarya was caught on camera calmly shooting the wounded and totally immobilised al-Sharif in the head while he lay on the ground.
The only reason Azarya was arrested at all was because the incident was caught on camera and gained some world media attention. But even then, all he faces are manslaughter charges, for what was clearly a very deliberate at. He has been released to house arrest, and the government faces popular pressure to release him altogether.
While Israeli officials are generally conscious of their image in front of the world’s press, the mask does slip from time to time. And they have become more and more blatant about it over time.
A 2009 interview with reservist Colonel Daniel Reisner was quite revealing in this regard. He was the former head of the “International Law Division” of the Military Advocate General’s office.
Far from ensuring adherence to international law, the interview gives a picture of an organization whose job it is to help come up with ways of circumventing the law.
According to one Israeli jurist, the journalist conducing the interview wrote, “the unit is considered more militant than any other legal body in Israel, and is ready to adopt the most flexible interpretations of the law in order to justify” Israeli military attacks.
Resiner made it even plainer: “we defended policy that is on the edge: the ‘neighbour procedure’ [use of human shields], house demolitions, deportation, targeted assassination.”
Justifying Israel’s systematic violation of international law he said: “international law progresses through violations.”
He boasted of how Israeli murder programmes have been adopted by other countries such as the US and UK: “We invented the targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal moulds. Eight years later it is in the centre of the bounds of legitimacy.”
Violations of international law are in reality the opposite of “progress”.
In the leaked Palestine Papers, former foreign minister and former “justice minister” Tzipi Livni made it even more plain: “I was the minister of justice. I am a lawyer … But I am against law – international law in particular. Law in general.”
In other words, Israel is against any measures to hold it to account for its consistent violations of the basic human rights of Palestinians.
This is a lawless state whose impunity needs to end.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.