Can Israel be pressured? Or is Tel Aviv the only exception to the global political order in which every country, big or small, is subjected to pressures and subsequent change in attitude and behavior?
Several events, in recent days, bring the question of Israel’s legal and moral accountability to the fore. On February 21, Israel’s Nature and Park Authority decided to withdraw a plan which aimed at illegally seizing church-owned lands in the Mount of Olives in occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem. The plan has sparked anger and resistance among Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike. Palestinian Christian leaders had denounced the proposed theft of the land as a “premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land.”
After the Isreali newspaper, The Times of Israel, reported that the project was set to receive approval from the Jerusalem municipality on March 2, Palestinian community and spiritual leaders began rallying support not only among Palestinians, but also internationally to mobilize against Israel’s latest colonizing scheme.
The Israeli decision to withdraw its plan proves that, once more, Palestinian resistance works. This event is reminiscent of the massive Palestinian mobilization in and around Haram Sharif compound in 2017, when mass mobilization in Jerusalem forced Israel to remove metal detectors and other ‘security measures’ from the holy Muslim site.
One day following the Israeli decision to scrap the Mount of Olives plan, the Israeli Jerusalem Magistrate Court agreed to temporarily freeze the eviction order targeting the Salem family in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The Palestinian family, three generations of whom live in the targetted home, have mobilized, along with many other families and activists, Palestinians and international activists to protest Israel’s illegal seizure of Palestinian homes in the occupied city.
While the Israeli court’s decision is only temporary and must not conceal the massive and systematic ethnic cleansing campaign under way in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and the rest of East Jerusalem, it must also be viewed in a positive light, as it gives a boost to popular resistance in occupied Jerusalem and throughout the Palestinian homeland.
More still. On February 25, two Palestinian detainees, Hisham Abu Hawash and Miqdad Al-Qawasmi, returned to their families after spending many months in unlawful detention and following 141 and 113 days of hunger strikes, respectively. The immense suffering of these two men, along with numerous amounts of footage and photos of their gaunt, emaciated bodies, have been used for months by Palestinians to demonstrate Israel’s brutality and the legendary sumoud, steadfastness, of ordinary Palestinians.
Expectedly, the two freed prisoners were received with jubilation by their families, friends and thousands of Palestinians. Throughout the celebrations, the word ‘victory’ was highlighted over and over again, whether in the streets, in Palestinian media or on social media.
These are but a few examples of daily Palestinian victories that are rarely highlighted, or even recognized as such. These achievements, however seemingly humble, are crucial to understanding the nature of everyday Palestinian resistance; but are also equally important in realizing that even Israel, which likes to see itself as an exceptional state in every respect, is subject to pressure.
When Palestinians, along with many nations around the world, called on Israel to end the forced evictions of Jerusalemites in Sheikh Jarrah last May, then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted that Israel “firmly rejects” pressure, carrying on with his coercive measures unhindered.
When Palestinians rebelled, rising in collective solidarity with Jerusalem and Gaza, the likes of US President Joe Biden called on all parties to ‘de-escalate’. Yet, Netanyahu continued to behave as if his country was above the law, political protocol and even common sense. “I am determined to continue with this operation until its goal is achieved,” Netanyahu insisted. The Israeli Prime Minister even considered the war on Gaza - in fact, on all Palestinians - to be “Israel's natural right”. But when Palestinians carried on with their resistance, joined this time by a growing and vast global solidarity movement, Israel was forced to accept a ceasefire, achieving little, if any, of its supposed objectives.
Currently, Israel is seeking the help of various mediators to free several Israeli soldiers - or their remains - who are currently held in Gaza. Palestinians are open to a prisoner exchange and are demanding the freedom of hundreds of prisoners, including leading Palestinian figures, who have been held in Israel for years.
Moreover, the Palestinians are also seeking real guarantees to avoid the repeat of a similar prisoner exchange of October 2011, where over 1,000 Palestinians were released but some of whom were rearrested by Israel shortly after. In this case, too, Israel has pledged that it will relent in the face of Palestinian conditions, and it most likely will.
Israel is not the only country in the world that claims to be above pressure and accountability. Many colonial regimes in the past refused to acknowledge popular resistance in their respective colonies yet, somehow, traditional colonialism has ended with the inglorious defeat of the colonizers.
This is not to argue that Israeli exceptionalism is not a real thing. It is, and can be observed in full view at the US Congress and in the behavior of many pro-Israel Western governments. True, exceptionalism often yields hypocrisy and double standards but also the illusion that a particular state is above the natural order, which has governed state relations, politics and geopolitical realignments since the start of human civilization.
While Israel continues to delude itself that it is above pressure, Palestinians must realize that their resistance, in all of its manifestations, is capable of delivering the intended outcome, this being freedom. The rise of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its ability to challenge Israel at numerous platforms worldwide, is a perfect example of how Palestinians managed to take their fight for freedom to the rest of the world. If Israel is, indeed, not susceptible to pressure, why would it then fight the BDS movement with much ferocity and, at times, desperation?
Israel is not the exception, and like other colonial, apartheid regimes, it will eventually collapse, paving the way for a possible future where Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews can coexist as equals.