After this much time, you can predict the mainstream news coverage when it comes to Israel-Palestine. The headlines move in well-worn cycles. During periods of overt, physical violence in the region, the world pays attention. When the conventional violence recedes, so does that attention. Whenever it feels as though we are inching toward a precipice of some kind, shuffling however slowly toward change, the horizon blurs and it all fades from the headlines once again.
While missiles in flight and buildings collapsing to rubble make for engrossing evening news, the ongoing violence in occupied Palestine is far more quotidian in nature. When the explosions stop, the occupation remains. Recently, the Israeli government began demolishing Palestinian properties in Silwan, a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, in order to make space for a religious theme park. The baseline violence of everyday life is a malignant force of oppression that undergirds everything else. But it’s not worth prime coverage, apparently. Much less, outrage.
This time around, it felt like there was a shift in the discourse; it felt like the calls for Palestinian liberation were finally expanding beyond activist circles and independent outlets to a broader subset of the American populace. It suddenly felt a bit less fringe and sacrosanct to criticize the Israeli government. Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, both stated that Israel is guilty of practicing apartheid. Ali Velshi on MSNBC and John Oliver on HBO, among others, echoed those sentiments.
Though the conflation of critiquing Israel with critiquing Judaism is still alive and well — as I can attest being called a “self-hating Jew” and worse over and over again for the last month — many of the conversations I’ve had recently have been far more productive than ever before.
Social media has certainly helped democratize coverage, and the various movements for social and racial justice that have risen to prominence in the U.S. appear to have increased our collective awareness around oppression, and strengthened our wherewithal to fight it. Even so, since the ceasefire — which, it should be noted, held for less than a month as Israel launched air raids on Gaza again on June 15 — Palestine has once again faded to the background in mainstream media spaces. And the Biden administration is undoubtedly thrilled about this predictable development because it means they, like their predecessors, can maintain “business as usual,” without having to answer for the inherent brutality of that business.
No modern U.S. president has been particularly tough on Israel. Eisenhower threatened to withhold $100 million in aid when Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. Carter openly supported a homeland for Palestinians and brokered the Camp David Accords. Clinton oversaw the Jordan-Israel peace treaty and was in office during the Oslo Accords. George W. Bush refused to sell Israel bunker-buster bombs, was allegedly “frosty” about funding the Iron Dome, and condemned an Israeli air strike on Gaza. Obama was accused of being anti-Israel for stating that the illegal settlements expanding in the West Bank made it difficult for a two-state solution, and abstaining from a UN resolution vote calling for Israel to cease construction in the West Bank.
Then there was Donald Trump, who stated he would be “history’s most pro-Israel U.S. president.” And through a certain lens, he absolutely was. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. embassy there. He pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. He cut aid to Palestine. He helped broker the Abraham Accords. Netanyahu said Trump was the “greatest friend” that Israel has ever had in the White House, and he used Trump in campaign posters in 2019. That same year, it’s worth noting, research by the Pew Research Center found that out of 33 countries surveyed, Israel was the only country where a majority (55 percent) approved of Trump’s foreign policies.
But regardless of what some U.S. presidents have said, their actions told a different story. The money, the weapons and the vetoes of UN resolutions kept on flowing. In 1981, the United States provided Israel with just over $2 billion in aid. That total has steadily increased in the subsequent decades and now sits at $3.8 billion, which is part of a decade-long, $38 billion deal signed in 2016. It’s the largest U.S. military aid deal ever signed. Since 1972, the United States has blocked at least 53 UN resolutions against Israel. The U.S. also sells Israel more weapons than any other nation, accounting for 70.2 percent of its arms purchases. As buildings were crumbling to dust in Gaza, the Biden administration approved a $735 million arms sale to Israel.
When violence escalated in May, President Biden, the “good cop” on Israel during the Obama administration, not only refused to publicly call for a ceasefire himself, but opposed the UN Security Council’s attempt to do so. Biden has effusively praised Israel for decades, stating in 1986, “Were there not an Israel, the United States would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.” Thus, it is not surprising that during the recent violence, his administration robotically repeated that Israel has a right to defend itself, over and over while refusing to comment on whether or not Palestinians had that same right. It appears that, in this administration’s eyes, the occupier can defend itself from the occupied, but not the other way around. This rhetoric is nothing new. It has been the default status for U.S. presidents since the occupation began.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which the United Nations continually stated constitute a flagrant violation of international law, have been growing for over five decades.
Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the number of Israelis living in occupied territories ballooned from 115,700 to over 600,000. That’s a 418 percent increase. The Oslo agreement was intended to mark an end to settlement expansion, a gradual Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, and eventually the creation of a Palestinian state — though much of that was implied rather than explicitly stated. Of course, none of it ever happened. And after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a far right, ultranationalist Israeli, and Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party rose to power, the prospect of peace disintegrated entirely.
As the settlements expanded, the military rule that governs the Palestinian neighborhoods situated between and around the Israeli settlements grew all the more draconian and oppressive.
Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, do not have access to the same water supply, the same roads, the same electrical grids, the same food sources. Since the beginning of the occupation, another clear violation of international law, Order No. 101, has been in effect. The broad rule prohibits Palestinians from any assembly of 10 or more people that might be viewed as political in nature. This includes things like vigils and processions. The rule also prohibits Palestinians from publishing any political material without prior approval from the Israeli military. Violating Order No.101 is punishable with up to 10 years in prison.
There are over 592 checkpoints and roadblocks that restrict the movement of Palestinians that Israeli Jews can pass right by. And due to a devastating blockade, life in Gaza is far worse than life in the West Bank. It is a densely populated, open-air prison with poisoned water, rationed electricity and a health care system that has been on the brink of collapse since the blockade began. Forty-five percent of the people who live in Gaza are under 15 years old and it is reduced to rubble on a fairly regular basis. Nearly every aspect of Palestinian life in the occupied territories is defined and controlled by the Israeli military.
Joe Biden and the majority of lawmakers in the U.S. don’t want to talk about the occupation or the settlements. We must make them talk about it. We must use this momentum to fight for real peace, not the illusion of it. They want Palestine to remain in the background, we need to push it back to the foreground. This administration appears to want the region to hold its current trajectory. But it should be clear to everyone at this point that the situation is not only inhumane, but entirely unsustainable.
The United States is directly supporting a country administering a widespread ethnonationalist project punctuated by a brutal military occupation. Our money is funding oppression. Our money is being used to sustain a system that is a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Activists and NGOs have done everything they can to keep the Palestinian cause alive for decades, from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to offering medical and nutritional relief, fighting for clean water, providing educational opportunities and medical care, and starting youth arts programs. All of those organizations need continued support, but they are facing a powerful military backed by an imperial superpower with boundless influence and a military budget larger than the next 10 countries combined. As long as the United States continues to offer unconditional support for Israel, the occupation and all its associated abuses will continue. Again, we the tax-paying public of the United States are funding this. That’s why it’s imperative for Americans to continue to speak out.
This is an issue of human rights. If you care about oppression, justice and freedom, then you should care about Palestine — and not only when missiles are pirouetting through the sky. Sustained peace in the region means an end to the occupation.
This time around, let’s not let Palestine fade from the front page.