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ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR
Tribune
Opinion articles written in the style of their author." These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. shall feature, along with the author's name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

The dark side of democracy

Western aid to Israel cannot be unconditional. It must establish clear limits on the country’s retaliation

Tribuna Sánchez-Cuenca 17/10/23
NICOLÁS AZNÁREZ

The Hamas attack against Israel on October 7, which left more than a thousand victims, hundreds of them civilians, has once again attracted international attention to the Palestinian cause. The same thing happened in the early 1970s with the international attacks by Black September, the terrorist organization specialized in air hijackings (linked to Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO). The whole world then became familiar with the situation of the Palestinians. In propaganda terms, it was a success; In strategic terms, a disaster. Less than a decade later, after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, the PLO had to take refuge in Tunisia, unable to continue the armed struggle beyond sporadic international terrorist attacks.

The first Intifada, which began in late 1987, marked the resurgence of the Palestinian movement. For the first time, it came from within Israel’s borders and not from outside. It was a massive campaign of resistance and protest that did not resort to armed violence. Israeli repression, however, was merciless. Hamas (an acronym meaning “zeal” or “enthusiasm”) was born that same year. As an Islamist organization, it played an important supporting role during the Intifada. As the protest cycle weakened, Hamas gained greater prominence. In 1992, it created a clandestine terrorist group, the Ezzeldin Al-Qassam Brigades, which the following year, in rejection of the Oslo Accords, began to carry out suicide attacks.

The second Intifada was much more violent than the first, focused mainly on the use of suicide terrorism. During the period of 2000 to 2008, Palestinian groups killed 1,063 Israelis, 728 of whom were civilians. In retaliation, Israeli security forces killed 4,861 Palestinians, almost five Palestinians for every Israeli killed. Furthermore, to stop the offensive, Israel then began the construction of the separation wall, isolating the West Bank and annexing part of its territory.

By 2007, the armed wing of Hamas was no longer a clandestine group, but a formidable militia that, after a fierce battle against Fatah forces, had taken over Gaza. Since then, living conditions in the strip have progressively worsened. The inhabitants of that territory have been subject to various attacks by the Israeli Army in response to rocket fire and other hostile attacks by Hamas. In this climate of increasing degradation, with no hope of an acceptable solution in the near future, Hamas has committed a brutal and indiscriminate attack that is provoking an equally brutal and indiscriminate response. As on previous occasions, everything seems to indicate that the Palestinian victims will end up being several times greater in number than the Israeli ones.

This infernal dynamic, this cycle of occupation and resistance, which in each iteration produces more hatred and distrust between the parties, strains Israeli democracy. Since the second Intifada, public opinion has shifted towards increasingly nationalist and entrenched positions, although there remain deep divisions in Israeli society. The government that Benjamin Netanyahu led until October 7 has been the most right-wing in the country’s history, facing widespread protest for its illiberal plan to reform the Supreme Court. But despite these problems, also visible in many other countries, Israel is a full democracy, with elections, competition between parties and the rule of law. The contrast between the Israeli regime and the autocracies of Middle Eastern countries is evident.

Unfortunately, the fact that Israel is a democracy is not a guarantee of respect for human rights. Democracies are respectful of their own citizens, but not necessarily those of foreigners. With all the caveats that may be introduced, Israel’s policies are not so different from those carried out by Western democracies in the era of colonialism. These were liberal democracies, which guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms to their citizens, but did not respect the inhabitants of the colonies. Despite being democracies, Western powers left a trail of violence, exploitation, oppression and depletion of ecosystems and natural resources. In the case of Israel, it is rather an internal colonialism, the result of the annexation of territories after the Six-Day War.

At this point, the possibility of Israel becoming an inclusive democracy is remote. Palestinians living in Israel outside the occupied areas have citizenship rights, though they are second-class citizens: they do not have full freedom, for example, to buy land or settle in certain areas of the country. The problem is that it does not seem feasible to extend this scheme to Palestinians living in the occupied areas. The gap between the two communities is too deep.

In the same way, the two-state solution, which seemed possible after the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the Oslo Accords, is today a chimera. Israel considers that a two-state solution would not eliminate the threat to its survival: Hamas, as is well known, aspires to the destruction of the Jewish State. Furthermore, the expansion of settlements in the West Bank has eliminated the viability of the occupied territories. Both the evolution of the conflict itself and the political trends in current Israel point rather towards an alternative based on apartheid, the expulsion of the Palestinians and even ethnic cleansing. It has become commonplace to speak of Gaza as the largest open-air prison in the world and of the regime applied to Palestinians in the occupied areas as a kind of apartheid, comparable in many ways to the conditions in South Africa until 1994.

Israel’s pattern of action, seen in historical perspective, is clear. Each security crisis suffered, as a result of the attacks launched by neighboring Arab countries or by Palestinian armed groups, has served to outline the ultimate objective of an ethno-nationalist Greater Israel. It seems anachronistic that a democracy like Israel’s can, in the 21st century, so marginalize and repress those who do not fit into its national project. The fact that the exclusionary policy is practiced by a liberal democracy enhances it instead of mitigating it. Because democracies harbor a dark side when they face demographic problems, it does not make much sense for Western countries to provide unconditional support to Israel. The fact that Israeli citizens enjoy rights and freedoms within their country does not prevent the State of Israel from violating the human rights of residents in the occupied territories.

Israel deserves help to defend itself from its enemies. That is not in question. But aid should not come at any cost. Liberal democracies, especially the United States, should not give up helping Israel, but they should establish conditions, specifying the limits of the repression and punishment that Israel can exercise against those who attack its citizens. Without Western support, Israel would be much more fragile. All possible pressure must be used to prevent new human catastrophes.

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