This month has seen a dramatic rise in violence Israel/Palestine. The past weeks have seen multiple attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians, rocket launches from the Gaza Strip, Israeli airstrikes on Palestinians, and a growing series of protests by Palestinians, many of which have been suppressed by live gunfire. In short, this conflict is on the cusp of boiling over and may break out into a full conflict any day.
It is beyond the scope of this post to give a thorough backstory on this conflict, but I would like to call your attention to two items that are fueling it.
In the US, we often hear Israel described in glowing terms as our only democratic ally in the Middle East. It is pictured as a Western oasis of sorts. And like the US, Israel is under a constant threat of terrorism. And every time, Israel launches a new bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip (an area of land held by Palestinians), we hear that Israel has a right to self-defense. In other words, we very rarely hear discussion of Israel that isn't positive. Indeed, the coverage tends to be more uniformly positive than it is of our own government.
This situation is strange for several reasons. But perhaps the most notable reason is that leading Israeli politicians routinely say things that are outrageously brutal or discriminatory. If a major American politician said them, their job would be or their poll ratings would be immediately in jeopardy. But when an Israeli politician does it, it's usually not even a story.
One example of this occurred recently in light of the rising tensions discussed above. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (the equivalent of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter here), recently said that Israel needs to "bring about the liquidation of the terrorist stabber or attacker, the stone-thrower and the like, immediately and on the spot." Mind you, this was at a national, televised press conference. This wasn't a case where a conversation was overheard on accident, this was a position that was stated openly in public. Let's unpack this a little further.
Perhaps it is a reasonable position that a government official should support police killing an active shooter or stabber. And he's referring to them as "terrorist" rather than Palestinian, so it's not overtly racist. But then he goes on to equate stone-throwers with these terrorists. In Israel, many Palestinian protests are accompanied by stone-throwing. And while it cannot be said that a protest with stone-throwing is wholly nonviolent, no one is under any illusion that they pose a threat to Israeli soldiers in body armor. In spite of this, he is advocating for these protesters to be killed.
Cracking down on stone-throwers has been a big priority in Israel recently, as part of a continuous initiative to quell Palestinian unrest without addressing the underlying issues. In pursuit of this goal, the Israeli parliament recently passed a law that could penalize stone-throwers with up to 20 years in prison. But as incredible as this may sound, the statements and death tolls in recent days suggest that even a 20-year sentence has been deemed too lenient. Israel is now tentatively trying out the "liquidation" model instead.
The proof of this can be found in this very graphic footage taken from the Gaza Strip. Here, a group of protesters are throwing stones and projectiles at Israeli troops who are on top of a wall 100 meters away. Israeli snipers respond to the protest with live ammunition that strikes the protesters. Ultimately, 7 were reported killed in this protest and many others were wounded.
Now, after the recent bloodshed, many Palestinians are talking about another intifada, or uprising. And we should hope it doesn't come to that. Whatever one thinks about the Israel/Palestine issue, it is clear that there is no plausible military solution. But whether an armed conflict occurs or not, one thing should be clear: Israel's policies and rhetoric are directly leading to escalation. And frankly, if a non-allied government was engaged in these same policies, there are high odds that the US would already be using it as a pretext for regime change.