The unforgettable image should still shame enlightened Israelis.
It is July 2014. Israel has decided, yet again, to teach Palestinians a lengthy, lethal lesson. Bit by inevitable bit, day and night, from the land, sea and air, the Israeli army went about methodically obliterating swaths of Gaza and the imprisoned children, women and men who try, often in vain, to survive the recurring terror.
All the while, jubilant Israelis gathered, perched safely on a hilltop overlooking nearby Gaza. A UPI photographer captured three young men in flip-flops, sporting close-cropped hair and binoculars, sitting on a bulky, cream-coloured leather couch. What appears to be a green, half-empty beer or pop bottle rests upright by one man’s bare feet. Another has trained his black binoculars on the violent scenes, to get a closer and, presumably, more satisfying look, at the death and destruction unfolding below.
The photo of the ghouls on a hill stands as a halting, fixed-in-time indictment not only of the three callous men pictured, but of the too many other Israelis who also treat the wholesale demolition of Gaza and the indiscriminate killing of its Palestinian residents as akin to a leisurely afternoon or evening of sport – with popcorn and refreshments happily at hand.
Reportedly, the prevailing mood among Israelis on that hill on that day was a giddy mixture of celebration and satisfaction. A gallery of delighted Israelis took selfies and let out cheers and whoops as bombs fell while billowing plumes of smoke and dust filled the sky over besieged Gaza.
Despite a staple of sad stories about Israelis being seized by a paralysing fear of attack, no one on that hill top seemed afraid of or deterred by Hamas and its combustible kites, balloons or metallic fire-crackers.
The Israelis smiled as Palestinians died.
We know that since 2014 Israel has jailed, maimed and killed more Palestinians in Gaza and beyond, including during an 11-day murderous blitz in May. Meanwhile, Israel continues to defy international law to destroy and steal Palestinian homes, businesses and land in occupied Palestine with impunity.
Too many Israelis are content, perhaps even eager, to watch close up or from afar as more Palestinians in Gaza and beyond are jailed, maimed and killed. Too many Israelis have gone on whooping and cheering as Israel continues to defy international law to destroy and steal Palestinian homes, businesses and land in occupied Palestine with impunity.
There are, of course, enlightened Israelis who understand that Israel’s incessant jailing, maiming and killing of Palestinians and the systemic eradication and theft of their homes, businesses and land is illegal, wrong and a blatant affront to decency and any semblance of humanity.
In January, the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, found Israel has committed apartheid against Palestinians in occupied Palestine. Israel’s calculated, overarching intent is to impose “a regime of Jewish supremacy” through a decades-old, ingrained policy of “divide, separate and rule” enabled and enforced by a ruthless military occupation.
“One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians,” B’Tselem wrote.
The solution? Enlightened Israelis must resist the apartheid “regime” and dissolve the grinding, de-humanising machinery of state-sanctioned racism perpetrated in their name.
“All of us must first choose to say no to apartheid,” B’Tselem urged Israelis. “People created this regime and people can make it worse – or work to replace it… How can people fight injustice if it is unnamed? Apartheid is the organizing principle, yet recognizing this does not mean giving up. On the contrary: it is a call for change.”
B’Tselem is right. Israelis can, if they choose to, end the injustices and crimes of apartheid visited on Palestinians since Israel’s engineered inception in 1948. But, first, they have to acknowledge finally that the crimes and injustices experienced by generation after generation of Palestinians constitute apartheid as a matter of international law, and not a rhetorical cudgel.
Too many Israelis have failed this fundamental challenge and test. Instead, too many Israelis have opted to reject any measure of blame for the deep, grievous injury and trauma Israel is indeed responsible for and have found comforting haven in the risible illusion that their country remains a shining avatar of magnanimity and democracy.
Rather than admit the demonstrable truth, too many Israelis have lashed out in denial and hurled the same sorry, familiar accusations borne of grievance and insularity to rebuff what is increasingly plain to so much of the world – Israel is an apartheid state.
More evidence of this fact was published in April by Human Rights Watch. In an exhaustive, 213-page report, HRW confirmed, in blunt, clinical detail, Israel’s long, incriminating history of deliberately carrying out crimes against humanity in occupied Palestine.
Like B’Tselem, HRW concluded the sinister aim of Israel’s entrenched, whole-of-government-approved persecution of Palestinians is not to keep Israelis safe, but to impose its ethnic supremacy in occupied Palestine and to drive Palestinians from their homes, businesses and land into ever-shrinking ghettos, where life is endured, not enjoyed.
HRW implored Israel and, by extension, Israelis, to change its calamitous, inhumane course. It called on Israel to: “Dismantle all forms of systematic oppression and discrimination that privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians and otherwise systematically violate Palestinian rights in order to ensure the dominance of Jewish Israelis, and end the persecution of Palestinians.”
Predictably, Israel’s hysterical response to the HRW report mirrored that of the legion of apologists at home and abroad who, on perfunctory cue, defamed the fastidious messenger with the tired, stock charge of “anti-Semitism”.
Shouting “anti-Semitism” in the face of what HRW rightly describes as the stubborn, damning “reality on the ground” is slowly, but surely, losing its currency and potency.
I think astute Israelis recognise this. The old, proud certainties, defences and assurances have given way to a new, jarring realisation: Israel is guilty as charged.
The proof of Israel’s cruel lawlessness can no longer be dismissed or ignored by enlightened Israelis. They now need to make a seminal choice: remain silent and unmoved at the appalling indignities, loss and suffering Palestinians have been forced to brave, or reshape the future by saying “stop, not in my name.”
It can be done. Will enlightened Israelis summon, at last, the necessary resolve and humanitarian mettle to do it?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.