The Impact of Israel’s Extreme-Right Policies on Palestinians

Israel’s extreme-right wing coalition government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has dramatically increased tensions throughout occupied Palestine since it took office. While this year has seen the highest monthly Palestinian death toll, in the West Bank for 20 years, media attention has focused on Israeli popular opposition to judicial reforms. The first few months of the new coalition’s government has seen the use of extreme measures, designed to assert Tel Aviv’s dominance over the Palestinian people. New security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, caused a United Nations Security Council meeting to be held after he stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, only days into the formation of the new government. Israel has also increased violent raids on Palestinian cities, towns, and refugee camps, as well as carrying out further home demolitions in the occupied territories. Additionally, the Israeli Knesset approved new legislation that when implemented will strip Palestinian citizens in Israel of their passports and see them deported if they commit attacks against Israelis. Israel’s new government has repeatedly ignored calls from the U.S Biden administration to halt illegal settlement expansion. Tel Aviv has also recognized 9 settlement outposts and approved the construction of thousands of settler units in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. New legislation has also passed a preliminary vote in the Knesset, to introduce the death penalty for Palestinians accused of attacks against Israelis. Another policy development has, however that has infuriated a large section of Israeli society is the extreme-right government’s proposed reforms of the judicial system. The reforms are aimed at “eliminating the power of the supreme court to supervise the government,” and makes it “quite obvious that when this reform will pass, they will use it in order to pass anti-Palestinian laws” according to Israeli journalist and editor at Local Call, Meron Rapaport .
I think this policy, of allowing for soldiers and settlers to shoot and maim Palestinians, has been something Israel has been advocating for years. Ubai Al-Aboudi Executive Director of Bisan Center for Research and Development

The Emergence Of A New Era Of Confrontations

In May of 2021, Palestinian armed resistance factions launched what was known as operation “Saif al-Quds”, or the “Sword of Jerusalem” battle, a form of retaliation after a month of violent assaults against Palestinian worshippers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and throughout occupied East Jerusalem. A state-backed Israeli settler campaign to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, as well as the attacks on Palestinians during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, saw not only a response from the armed movements in Gaza, but also from Palestinians inside the 1948 occupied territories. Following the launch of rockets towards Israeli settlements surrounding occupied Jerusalem, the Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, launched Operation Guardian of the Wall”, resulting in the murder of at least 260 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the majority of whom were civilians. This 11-day assault was the fourth major offensive against Gaza, since the start of the Israeli imposed blockade in 2006. In May of 2021, a small band of armed fighters, from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement in Jenin refugee camp, began an initiative to form what was four months later officially declared as the Jenin Brigades. In June of that year, Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party lost power after failing to win enough Knesset seats to form a coalition. As a result, Naftali Bennet became Israeli Prime Minister, heading what was dubbed to be the most diverse Israeli coalition government in its history known as the “Change government”. Under Bennett’s administration the Israeli military amended its open-fire policy in December of 2021, permitting occupation soldiers to shoot-to-kill Palestinians who throw stones at Israelis, even when they are running away and posed no active threat. According to Ubai Al-Aboudi, the Executive Director of Bisan Center for Research and Development, “the numbers speak for themselves” as to how the open-fire policy has affected the death toll inside the West Bank. “I think this policy, of allowing for soldiers and settlers to shoot and maim Palestinians, has been something Israel has been advocating for years. What has changed even more recently, under the new government, is that with Israeli ministers like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, they are now overtly working on allowing more of this sort of violence with complete impunity,” Al-Aboudia added. Dror Sadot, the spokesperson for Israel’s leading human rights organization B’Tselem, told red. media that “the open fire regulations are not transparent, we don’t know exactly what is written. We know some regular guidelines, but we don’t know exactly what the open fire regulations are.” Sadot added that “I don’t think we are talking about the regulations themselves, as much as we are talking about the open fire policy,” which she shares are often conflated with one another. “I think those are two different things, because the policy that the Israelis have implemented throughout the years is not specialized to the Bennet government or any other government…it’s a very lethal policy that doesn’t consider Palestinian life as something to be guarded.” In February of 2022, an Israeli special forces unit, known colloquially as Yamam, launched the first ‘targeted assassination’ attack in the West Bank in fifteen years. They fired at least 80 bullets on a civilian car, killing three Palestinians who were members of the unofficial Fatah-party armed affiliate, known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. These extra-judicial killing, carried out in broad daylight, instigated a new era of violent attacks inside the occupied West Bank. On March 31, the Israeli military launched “Operation Break the Wave”, an ongoing campaign that they claim is designed to prevent attacks on Israelis.
“Israeli aggression is causing Palestinians to increase their resistance, and this is a fact, we see from reports that every time they kill people in Nablus for instance, the friends and extended family of those killed feel compelled to pick up the guns in their place and respond,” says Ubai Al-Aboudi. “I think this is the cycle that Israel wants to induce here, I think they favor the idea of attacking en-mass Palestinians and then painting the Palestinians as terrorists and dangerous as they are armed.” Meron Rapoport argued that although Operation Break the Wave has proven to be a failure, the Palestinian armed groups do not currently pose a significant military threat to the Israeli army in the West Bank. He explained that at least 35,000 Israeli soldiers are operating inside the territory compared to hundreds of Palestinian fighters. However, he argued that these groups are creating a political crisis for the Israeli government.

What Has Changed For Palestinians Under The New Government?

Historically, every Israeli government has been a coalition of multiple parties which were traditionally part of the Labor, Zionist, or Revisionist Zionist traditions. Although significant focus has been placed upon Israel’s shift to the far-right, with the Revisionist Zionist leaning Likud Party of Netanyahu receiving a lot of attention for its often racist rhetoric towards Palestinians, some of the worst atrocities in the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict were actually committed under Labor governments. Up until 1977, when Menachem Begin took power, all Israeli Prime Ministers had been associated with the Labor movement. The ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland, between 1947-1949, was a crime committed by figures who were wrongly described by journalists as socialists, or at least to have been on the Left, this prominently included David Ben-Gurion of the Israeli Labor Party. It is important to note that those who are often described to have constituted the Israeli Left, or to have been socialists, can’t be considered leftwing. In 1951, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed that Israel is neither capitalist or socialist, but that it was simply a Jewish state. It is for this very reason that such assertions about an Israeli Left versus Right should not be viewed in the way such rivalries are usually seen. Following this period, during a period known as Israel’s “Border Wars” of 1949 to 1956, as many as 5,000 Palestinians were killed. Until 1966, the Palestinians who were not ethnically cleansed in the late 1940’s were then placed under Israeli military rule, inside what was declared as Israel. Many aspects of these policies would later be imposed on the people of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, following a further displacement of around 300,000 people from their homes in June of that year. Speaking to red. media, Meron Rapaport explained that the new Israeli coalition government represents a split from the liberal values of Israeli governments of the past. He says it constitutes a new political alliance, one that “seeks to Judaize the whole space, yes to Judaize the West Bank and to put pressure on the Palestinians inside Israel…but also to Judaize the secular Jews inside Israel, to make them more religious, they see this as one project.” “This government is really a coalition of, on the one hand openly racist parties like that of Itamar Ben Gvir [Israel’s security minister], openly transferist parties like Bezalel Smotrich [Israel’s finance minister], openly anti-secular parties like the ultra-orthodox parties and I would even say in American terms evangelists; anti-gay rights, anti all that is related to liberal values. So it’s a very mixed coalition with parties that sometimes don’t have much in common, besides a desire for revenge against the liberal side of the Jewish population,” Rapoport explained. Furthermore, he says what has changed with this government, is that it represents a break from the previous policy of maintaining the status quo, bringing the issue of the Palestinians into the public conversation, “something that wasn’t there around two years ago”. On the issue of judicial reforms, planned by the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu, Meron Rapoport argued that this is currently an internal issue within Israeli society, but warned that if passed it will pose a significant threat to Palestinians as well. “If it passes, it is quite possible that the parties representing the Palestinian minority in Israel will be targeted and may be prevented, in one way or another, from running for elections, so we have a very specific threat here that is on the table once this reform will be adopted,” he stressed. Rapoport also said that “the potential is there” for a second Nakba (ethnic cleansing of Palestine) but added that this would be difficult for Israel to do. Khaled Barakat, a Palestinian journalist, and a leader of the Palestinian Alternative Revolutionary Path (PARP) movement, told red. media that “In the past Israel would promote itself as a State with a project, but today Israel has lost that. Everything they are doing now is designed to maintain a certain political coalition, to keep it in power, and that is important,” he stressed, explaining that the importance of this change, which has been demonstrated through six general elections in only four years, “shows that it has no historical project, but instead it seeks to serve the colonialist and imperialist powers, along with certain sectors within its own fascist society.” “This new government is a reflection of how much the Israeli extreme right is dominating Israeli politics today and this is also interesting to see, because in our view this doesn’t actually play in the favor of the Zionist project in the long run, in deepening the internal crisis.” Khaled Barakat says that “even if you take the case of Itamar Ben Gvir and his storming of al-Aqsa, you have to remember that Ariel Sharon did that in the year 2000” and that therefore the actions committed by the Israeli government shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as different. In fact, he argues: “Due to the normalization deals with Arab regimes, to the carte blanche given by the West, to the immunity they receive, they feel that at this time they can get away with anything they want, and this is what is dangerous and we must make this a failure for them. If we look at the resistance forces in the West Bank, this is what they are actually doing, they are embarrassing Netanyahu and Ben Gvir, holding them accountable.” “Last year was the most lethal year in the West Bank since 2004”, commented B’Tselem’s Dror Sadot, noting “that this was with the Change government, with the Left government, not with this one”. Sadot said that “when we talk about this government, I think that we are going to see things getting worse, but we also need not to view it as exceptional completely…because also the previous governments were using lethal force under the open fire policy, and house demolitions, and taking over Palestinian lands, and backing settler violence.” “I think that now, Israel is putting up tons of very racist legislation”, she said, adding that “now is the time for them to put out the things they couldn’t before, we have to wait to see what they will do, last they just started to try and introduce the death penalty for those who commit attacks on Israel”. “What they are doing now with the Ben Gvir and Smotrich government is that they are committing these policies as official written policies, instead of them being unofficial” Ubai Al-Aboudi said in relation to the nature of the new Israeli government’s behavior on the ground. In agreement with Dror Sadot of B’Tselem, he said that the greatest change so far has been in the rhetoric of the Israeli government.

More Violence Ahead?

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently undertook the second high-profile Mideast visit made by US government officials to the region so far this year. This is in part  an attempt to prevent escalation between Palestinians and Israel during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. Austin’s trip included a visit to Jordan, which is a key player involved in coordinating on issues concerning the West Bank and Egypt, which plays a mediating role between Israel and Gaza during times of conflict. In addition to this, Qatar’s Mohammed al-Emadi visited Gaza on March 6, in order to consult with members of the Hamas government there, regarding a new aid grant to the besieged coastal enclave. Qatari aid has in the past been used as a means of pressuring Hamas to stay out of armed confrontations with Israel. What appears to be a key factor in driving any potential escalation are the activities of Israeli settlers inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem. After a pogrom was carried out by extremist settlers in Hawara town, against Palestinians, some Israeli politicians emboldened the settlers by calling on the Israeli government to go further, in the case of minister Bezalel Smotrich to “wipe out” the entire town of Hawara. It is clear from a ten-point policy platform put forth by the Religious Zionism List the second largest Party in the Israeli ruling coalition, that the goal is to conquer the West Bank and to make the issue of destroying any semblance of a Palestinian national movement the main goal of the government. Although past Israeli governments have sought to maintain the status quo with the Palestinians sidelined as an issue, this has clearly changed under the new coalition. The strength of an once fringe group of extremist settlers, who see the only way forward as being through the total elimination of the Palestinians as a nation has now become mainstream. Future escalation is likely to be caused by these extremist settlers.
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