The decades-long conflict in the Middle East and the blood spilt on the “alter of peace” in the region have failed to teach Israeli politicians the most important lesson: coexistence cannot take place from an arrogant perspective, where one party (Israel) boasts scientific advancements and so-called democracy in a region where it is “surrounded by dictatorships,” a rhetoric which Israel has successfully propagandised in the West, while another party (Palestine) is denied the simplest and most basic right: that of life itself.
From Golda Meir, a former prime minister of Israel, with her notorious “there is no Palestinian people and never was,” which Israeli historian and thinker Yuval Noah Harari satirically quoted under “some fake news lasts forever” in his insightful “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” to incumbent Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who is burning his own bridges and letting fanatics steer the course of his cabinet, all Israeli leaders, except in rare instances, have never given serious thought to peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs at large.
Israeli power-thirsty politicians like Itamar Ben-Gvir do in practice inflict huge damage on great minds who have inspired the world like Noah Harari or Daniel Kahneman and on such peace-advocating organisations as the unfortunately now-muted Peace Now. The voice of the fanatics resonates much more loudly. As an inevitable outcome, Israel’s image in the Arab world has been one of murders in cold blood, the dishonouring of basic human rights, and an adamant refusal to lead a normal life with its neighbours.
The recent brutal murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, the correspondent of the Qatari flagship media organisation Aljazeera in Jerusalem, is further testimony of how Israeli governments respond to uncovering truths. The world watched live shocking scenes of the assault on the funeral of the slain Palestinian-American journalist by a phalanx of Israeli forces, entailing condemnations from everywhere in the globe.
In the past, Israel used to argue that it needed to take all the measures it dubbed necessary in order to preserve its right to “existence” against those who wanted to “wipe it off the map.” Now, as the Arabs, including those who have never been on the frontline with Israel, have opted to “normalise” their ties with Tel Aviv, why is making peace a reality still just a daydream?
The Arab rhetoric of throwing the “Jews into the sea” is long gone. But that of former Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan, who said that “there is no reason to establish a Palestinian state, as it would just cause troubles,” is still viable. But if moderate Arabs and those who want to share a decent life with their Israeli neighbours find it difficult to respond to why Israel continues to kill, what does the country expect from the hardliners?
The failure of the Bennett-led government to take action against the storming by fanatics led by a member of the incumbent government into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holy shrines for Muslims, or the restrictions it has imposed on faithful Christians celebrating the “Holy Fire” ceremony in Occupied Jerusalem, tells us that peace is not an Israeli priority. It may come late on the list against a firm Israeli belief in its “superiority” over its neighbours and its “exclusive” right to life.
Such attitudes cost dear. The peoples of Israel and Palestine are again slipping into an undesirable and unwanted collision course because of irrational actions by irresponsible officials who are keeping busy proving to their voters how wrong they were in placing the “lame-duck” Bennett in office. Unfortunately, they are apparently being assisted by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “deep state” and security apparatus.
Even Bennett himself looks to be acting against the tide. When Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in the history of the 74-year-old Israeli state, went, prospects were high that the new coalition government shared by Bennett and news anchor-turned-politician Yair Lapid, currently the Israeli foreign minister, would be on a different model from its predecessors, particularly since the Arab bloc in the Knesset was the reason, to the surprise of many in the Arab world, that this government assumed power.
But nothing has changed, and nothing seems to change in the near or far future. In an act intended to appease voters, Bennett himself, the first yarmulke-dressed prime minister in Israel’s history, orchestrated the construction of new settlements in what is left of “historical” Palestine in the West Bank.
His action cornered the United States, the number one ally of Israel in the world, which millions of people in the Arab and Muslim world blame for the reckless behaviour of the “spoiled child” Israel. It also leaves rational governments such as Egypt’s and that of Israel’s immediate neighbour Jordan in a bind. They will find it hard to convince their respective peoples to bury the hatchet and wash away the past with its sorrows and pains, while tapping into the future with hopes and promises, as a result of Israel’s actions. This takes us to an inevitable conclusion: even hopes of a “cold peace” are completely shattered.
For the Western media that has against all the odds covered the death and funeral of Abu Akleh after years of blocking vital information from their audiences about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there remains a crying need to continue to commit to the number one principle of journalism and the media: to report the truth, leaving audiences the freedom to think for themselves. Nothing has twisted the mindset of Western peoples more than the “victimised” coverage Israel used to be given on the major Western news networks. This time, things have gone beyond “ditching” the Palestinians.
The last-ditch effort Israel can make now to “quench” the outrage in the Middle East is to bring to justice those who murdered Shireen Abu Akleh and to bring down the law to quell those who are dimming the flickering lights of “coexistence” between the Palestinians, the Arabs as a whole, and the Israelis. Otherwise, there will be more Shireen Abu Aklehs in the days, the months, and the years to come.
The wall of hate between Israel and its neighbours will mount as a result, and the peoples of the region, including the Israelis themselves, will in no way under such circumstances be able to lead a trouble-free life.
* The writer is a former press attaché in Ethiopia and an expert on African and international affairs.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.