Israeli dream of eternal impunity becoming a reality

Last December, the Russian government closed down the human rights group International Memorial. A unified chorus of outrage emanated from the corridors of power in Western states. The US Department of State declared that this “was an affront to their noble missions and to the cause of human rights everywhere.”

The criticism was valid. Yet the hypocrisy was and remains rampant. Only two months previously the Western ally Israel had cracked down on six Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations to mass howls of orchestrated silence. The best Washington could do was to say that it was seeking “more information.”

This information-seeking process certainly has taken its time. Little has been said since.

Yet this outburst of Trappist tendencies was not just infecting Washington. The British government, which also condemned the closure of International Memorial, was similarly silent. EU governments were hardly better.

Israel could not have been more heartened by the vapid, cowardly response of the major international actors. Small surprise then that on Aug. 18 its army raided seven civil society organizations, sealing their entrances shut with bolted iron doors. The Israel defense minister carried out the next step after having designated these groups. No doubt, bank accounts could be frozen and donors threatened. Who knows when staff members will be arrested and put through the very military court system, kangaroo courts in all but name, that they have all castigated.

All this happened just 100 days after the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, almost certainly courtesy of an Israeli sniper. It highlights the same disease. Israeli leaders know they can get away with practically anything, provided it does not embarrass their friends in Washington and European capitals.  However, European and US leaders do not seem to embarrass easily these days. Was there anything more pathetic than the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week asking Israel to review its rules of engagement?
Israel claims this moral high ground while its leaders wallow in the sewers.

The EU has at least not sunk quite as low as Washington and London have. It requested evidence explaining why Israel had designated these groups as terrorist. Who was shocked that Israel was unable to provide any such evidence? The EU also had the smidgeon of courage required to state that Israel had failed to provide such evidence. But EU spokespeople still resort to placid references to deep concern, articulated by diplomats on the ground, not leaders of government.

Why does all this matter? It is, after all, six civil society groups. Most people have never heard of them.

Cracking down on civil society is not some Israeli sideshow designed to ensure Palestinians know their place. It goes to the heart of denying them self-determination.

Chris Doyle

First, Israel wants a completely free hand in the occupied territories. It has the international diplomatic system largely sorted, the only bleatings of complaint coming from powerless organs of the UN, not the Security Council. Human rights groups are a small irritant.

Second, Palestinian civil society in its myriad forms represents by far the most potent opposition and threat to Israel’s 55-year-old occupation. The Palestinian Authority is too weak. It has lost regional support and is beholden to the ever-tightening belts of the donor community. Embarrassingly it has to kow-tow to Israel’s demands, especially on the security front.

Palestinian civil society, on the other hand, has widespread support among Palestinians. It is the unifying element of Palestinian society. Unification runs contrary to the divide-and-rule strategy of the Israeli occupier. Palestinian civil society is largely viewed as more credible, in touch with the demands and aspirations of the people. It is harnessing the hitherto largely untapped dynamism of young educated, motivated Palestinians, many of whom, for example, have played such a key role in defending Jerusalem in areas such as Sheikh Jarrah.

Third, the democratic bedrock of Palestinian life is to be found in civil society. Israel fears a Palestinian democratic system. It prefers a corrupt authoritarian, if emasculated, authority with little legitimacy to any properly representative legitimate elected body. It is from civil society that a refreshed, energized new Palestinian leadership cadre is likely to emerge.

Fourth, if the political and diplomatic worlds largely play in Israel’s favor, all its leaders keep a beady eye on the available legal avenues. The state of Palestine is now a member of the International Criminal Court and has successfully managed to secure an inquiry into crimes committed on the territories Israel occupied in 1967. Israel wants to be immune from any such considerations and held to a lower standard.

Human rights groups, such as Al-Haq, Addameer and Defense for Children International, all routinely and efficiently gather evidence that makes its way to the Hague. Their professionalism is acknowledged through the prizes they have garnered and the respect they have throughout the global human rights community.

Finally, Israeli leaders have plans most of which are in absolute contravention of international law and human rights, but of an even higher order of abuse than undertaken for decades. The Israel high court’s decision in May to endorse the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian communities in the South Hebron hills at Masafer Yatta represents the biggest act of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in decades. It is in the process of doing much the same, in cahoots with settler organizations, in occupied East Jerusalem, focusing on the areas surrounding the Old City.

Israel is also pushing ahead with a host of mega-settlement projects, all of which are designed to further kill off the corpse of the Palestinian state. E1 will effectively annex land east of Jerusalem. Givat Hamatos will separate Jerusalem from the southern West Bank, while the latest settlement plan at Qalandia will cut East Jerusalem off from southern Ramallah.

Cracking down on civil society is not some Israeli sideshow designed to ensure Palestinians know their place. It goes to the heart of denying them self-determination, erasing them as a people with rights and aspirations. Palestinian civil society is to be crushed via the military fist. International civil society is damned with malicious false or overblown accusations of antisemitism. In Israeli government eyes, the two should be separated and the Palestinian issue forgotten about.

The Israeli dream of eternal impunity is fast becoming reality. Its forces almost certainly murdered a US citizen to faint response. Which leaders ever mention Security Council resolutions and Israel? Sanctions are a no-no. When was the last time an Israeli ambassador was summoned in a European capital?
The piece de resistance is for Israel to clothe itself in the garments of moral respectability claiming that it has the most moral army in the world and takes more care than any other state not to harm civilians. The reality is that it is clothed in the tissue of lies and falsehoods for which increasingly civil society is the only actor capable of calling it out.

• Chris Doyle

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