President Joe Biden phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to tell him the deadly attack that day near a synagogue in the Neve Yaakov settlement by a Palestinian gunman was “an attack against the civilized world.”
This sort of language is not employed against the Israeli government when the might of the apartheid state is brought to bear against the occupied Palestinian population. Netanyahu is a “gardener”; Palestinians “the jungle” in Biden’s book.
The president’s language is reserved for a young Palestinian seeking “revenge”, as his family put it, for the death of a distant relative, an 18-year-old, killed days earlier while holding a fake gun.
The actual shooter of the teen carrying the fake gun was praised and given an award by Israel’s national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Police had been in the Shuafat refugee camp to carry out a punitive home demolition, a form of collective punishment, when teen Muhammad Ali was shot dead.The shooter Friday evening in occupied East Jerusalem, Khayri Alqam, is the grandson of a man who was stabbed to death in 1998 by an Israeli settler. That settler, thought to be Haim Perelman, was close to Ben-Gvir, who advocated on behalf of his innocence. Perelman never did get charged.
The American president did offer “all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel over the coming days” and “stressed the ironclad US commitment to Israel’s security.”
This is a green light to Israel to take heavy-handed action against the occupied Palestinian population.
The situation was no different Friday at the State Department.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken tweeted that “our thoughts are with the Israeli people following the terrorist attack in Jerusalem.” There was no such tweet following Thursday’s Israeli attack in the Jenin refugee camp.
In fact, there has been no tweet from Blinken expressing concern or outrage about Israel’s killing of Palestinian children throughout the month of January.
There was, however, a late December tweet saying he looked forward to working with the incoming Netanyahu and “his government to promote democratic values, advance shared interests, and tackle mutual challenges. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering.”
“Democratic values” from an apartheid state is difficult to fathom. Perhaps it makes sense at Foggy Bottom and elsewhere in Washington.You play around with war criminals and apartheid and downplay how there are now followers of the extreme racist Meir Kahane in the midst of the government and you can expect things to go from bad to worse. And that is precisely what has transpired.
Blinken is visiting the region this week in accordance with pre-existing plans.
Before his arrival, Vedant Patel, a deputy spokesperson for the State Department, started Friday’s press conference with a similar statement about the attack Friday evening.
Unlike Thursday’s statement from the head spokesperson Ned Price, this time there was no call for “all parties to de-escalate.”
Instead, using language not employed against state actor Israel, Patel described Friday’s attack as “absolutely horrific” and a “heinous act of violence.”
He added that “we condemn this apparent terrorist attack in the strongest possible terms” before noting that “our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad.”
The US wanted de-escalation after Palestinians were attacked. The term’s absence in the prepared State Department statement following Friday’s incident when Israelis were attacked can be seen as a public go-ahead to Israel to take the punitive measures it sees fit.
Notably, during the question and answer period, Patel specifically excluded Friday’s incident from one needing consideration for de-escalation.
Patel stated to journalist Said Arikat: “I want to be very clear about this, we have been consistent and clear, as recently as yesterday from both myself and Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf, from Ned [Price] earlier in the week, from the secretary [Blinken] as often as he is asked about this, about condemnation of any kind of violence against civilians and the need broadly – again, not talking specifically about this situation, Said, because it just happened, but the need broadly for steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions.”
No, this situation, according to Patel, doesn’t necessarily require de-escalation.
How will Israeli right-wing extremists around Netanyahu interpret that?
Rather than insist Israel abide by international law regarding occupation, illegal settlements and refugees, the US continues to provide almost $4 billion in military aid annually to subjugate the Palestinian people as the situation deteriorates year after year.Ben-Gvir is already pushing for an extremely violent response. At the site of Friday’s attack, amidst calls for death to Arabs, terrorists and leftists, he was game when pushed to arm more Israelis.
“I hope that soon we’ll change the gun policy. More and more civilians need to have guns.”
He reiterated that determination to put more guns on the streets in a tweet Saturday night.
“I ordered the manpower in the firearms department to be doubled. Weapons for more civilians is a quick and lethal response against terrorism. It is our duty to establish the National Guard and equip it as a significant preventive and offensive force.”According to a recent Haaretz editorial, Ben-Gvir is seeking his own militia, or national guard, including 10,000 volunteers.
Bezalel Smotrich, de facto prime minister of the West Bank according to The Times of Israel and a second military commander in the West Bank according to defense minister Yoav Gallant, tweeted Saturday night that it’s “test time,” words weighted with the threat of coming violence.
“It is on our watch and our responsibility. We promised an uncompromising fight against terrorism and security for the citizens of Israel, and with God’s help we will do so. Test time has come.”On Friday morning, Almog Cohen, a member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, called for a “disproportionate” response to Hamas rockets fired that day out of Gaza following the deadly assault on Jenin.
On Saturday night, he added, “We promised to deal with terrorism with an iron fist, and so it will be!”Cohen has previously urged soldiers and police officers to kill rather than arrest Palestinians, and “to wash the streets of Gaza with blood.”
The Israeli government is already in the process of introducing measures demanded by its most belligerent ministers. Netanyahu announced on Saturday that Israel would accelerate issuing gun permits to Israeli citizens and step up the demolition of Palestinian homes.The New York Times reported Saturday that “the police said they had arrested 42 people connected to the Palestinian assailant in the attack on Friday night outside a synagogue at an Israeli settlement.” That collective punishment had begun even prior to the cabinet meeting.
Will the homes of these 42 also be demolished or will only the house demolitions of immediate family be deemed legitimate by Israel and its courts?
Sam Husseini also questions State
Journalist Sam Husseini was on hand at Friday’s State Department press conference to ask additional questions about Israel that highlighted not just how out of touch the Biden administration is, but how willing it is to look away from Israeli human rights violations.
First, Husseini asked about Israeli nuclear weapons. Vedant Patel – replying for the State Department – looked foolish failing to acknowledge their reality.This avoidance should come as no surprise as the previous day Patel refused to say whether the Palestinians live under military occupation.
Later in Friday’s press conference, Husseini addressed the historical reality of Israeli expulsions of Palestinians and the threats of further expulsions from right-wing Israeli ministers. Again, Patel had nothing to offer and refused to answer whether he would get an answer in future to Husseini.In a situation of an ongoing Nakba and dispossession of Palestinians, along with the threat of enormous Israeli violence looming over Palestinians, this is terrifying.
And there’s congressional support for dispossession of Palestinian Americans too.
Just days after Rashid Khalidi’s opinion piece in The New York Times explaining how his family property is in danger of being taken for use by the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Congressman Ritchie Torres tweeted his support for the embassy. Torres completely disregarded Khalidi, who teaches in New York, the same city Torres represents.
Starting in the White House, too many Democrats who claim to care about racism look the other way when it comes to anti-Palestinian racism. They accept the most shallow arguments and explanations on behalf of Israel and its West Bank occupation even as a dual system of law is applied to Palestinians there every single day.
Blinken gives zero indication that he has any interest in publicly pushing back this week against the current state of affairs. At most, he will champion a return to the status quo ante – the deadly anti-Palestinian “calm” of early January.
Arriving Monday at the Tel Aviv airport, Blinken declared, “It’s the responsibility of everyone to take steps to calm tensions rather than inflame them.” Speaking alongside Netanyahu, Blinken said, “We’re urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate.”
This is more conciliatory than language employed in previous days, but not the sort of blunt language needed against an apartheid and occupying state whose everyday policies are both violent and predicated on the threat of violence.
The US policy remains conflict management over conflict resolution.
Most important of all is that the US will not remove its steadfast military aid for Israel in favor of vigorously promoting freedom and equal rights for Palestinians.This article was updated after initial publication to correct the age of Muhammad Ali, who initial reports indicated was a child age 17.