The Trump administration recently gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a tepid slap on the wrist regarding the burst of new illegal settlement building on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying it “may not be helpful” in achieving peace. The ascendancy of Trump and his ideologically right-wing team is emboldening the Israeli extreme right as well as our own homegrown white nationalists. Trump’s chaotic distrust toward Muslims entering the U.S. and his promise to move the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem feed this frenzy of racism and demonization. This all lends support to an us-versus-them version of the world where toughness and military might supercede diplomacy. The Israeli right couldn’t be happier.
I have just returned from the region, where I saw the rising power of the right wing led by leaders such as Defense Minister Avigdor Leiberman, a settler whose political stands are best described as fascist and racist, and Education Secretary Naftali Bennett, who shares similar views. Bennett is pushing for the annexation of the huge Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and 60 percent of the West Bank, where the massive settlement expansion is occurring. Ma’ale Adumim is located just outside of occupied East Jerusalem and annexing it would effectively cut the West Bank in two. In addition, the Israeli parliament has just passed a bill that retroactively “legalizes” Jewish settlements located on Palestinian privately owned land.
Meanwhile Palestinians are facing increasing loss of land, the inexorable construction of new settlements and the separation wall, 85 percent of which may be located within the occupied Palestinian Territories once it’s finished. Palestinians in the West Bank face permitting and mobility issues daily, waiting in hours-long lines at checkpoints, and the two million residents of the Gaza Strip are effectively imprisoned there. Palestinians suffer from restrictions on Israeli-controlled water availability, often only receiving water delivery every few weeks for some six hours during which they fill their rooftop water tanks, hoping it will last until the next time the spigot is opened. I saw rising numbers of home demolitions and extrajudicial shootings by trigger-happy Israeli military; every Palestinian guilty until proven otherwise, which was often too late.
A particularly egregious incident occurred on January 18, when two Palestinians—one of whom was a beloved teacher and father of 12—were killed during a home demolition in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. In addition, Ayman Odeh, a member of the Israeli Knesset or parliament representing Palestinian Citizens of Israel, was shot in the head by Israeli security forces with a sponge-tipped bullet during the attack. The residents of Umm al-Hiran, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, were transferred to this village in 1956 by the Israeli government, but it remains an “unrecognized village” due to the byzantine and racist policies that characterized Israel’s approach to its non-Jewish populations. The military was destroying the Bedouin village to make way for a Jewish Israeli village on the same land. On January 24 the headline in Haaretz read, “Umm al-Hiran: A Cautionary Tale of an Israeli Government Emboldened by Trump.”
Enter our new president, who has no political expertise, even less knowledge of the history of this complicated region of the world, a set of far-right advisers, and a temper that is easily triggered to make irresponsible decisions without regard for their consequences.
Add to this dangerous concoction the Breitbart News/Steven Bannon version of reality which is simultaneously anti-Semitic and “pro-Israel.” Jews in the U.S. threaten the Aryan nation-style Christian purity that is the goal of white nationalists, thus the sooner “they” leave to “go home,” the sooner the Jewish question will be resolved, striking another blow against multi-culturalism. At the same time, the State of Israel is useful as the U.S. bulwark in the Middle East, a partner in a vast military industrial complex, fighting the savagery of the Muslim Arab world, defending American “values,” and hastening the coming of the apocalypse, if one is an ardent Christian Zionist. Israel has become a shining example of a successful state, supported by the U.S., where ethnic purity and institutional racism are embedded in the social consciousness and legal system beneath a veneer of a “Jewish democracy.” Trump’s unfettered and extremist arrogance will dangerously embolden the Israeli right in its quest to control historic Palestine and complete the displacement of its indigenous population that began long before 1948.