Israeli settlers are trying to evict Palestinian families from homes in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. “Since 1967,” says Amnesty International, “it has been the policy of successive Israeli governments to promote the creation and expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” (Amnesty International).
Israel, like the United States, is a settler-colonial state, in which the inhabitants of a territory are killed or expelled by settlers who create their own society on the same land (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs). The foundation of the State of Israel saw the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people.
In the last two decades, dozens of Palestinian families have been evicted from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood alone. But the current attempted expulsions led to a huge wave of Palestinian opposition.
Far-right Israelis chanted “death to Arabs” at counter-protests, and the Israeli military stormed Al Aqsa Mosque, beating and shooting sniper rounds at those inside (Al Jazeera). When groups in the Gaza Strip launched rockets at Israel, the Iron Dome missile defense system shot down 90% of them. “Israel is the vastly more powerful player,” says the BBC. “Its air force, armed drones and intelligence-gathering systems enable it to strike targets in Gaza pretty much at will” (BBC).
Israeli airstrikes are now leveling buildings in Gaza, an impoverished region mostly inhabited by descendants of Palestinians whose families were forced out by the new State of Israel after the 1948 Arab-Israel War. Many live in refugee camps to this day (History). The Gaza Strip has high unemployment, inadequate water and sewage, and suffers from Israeli sanctions that block imports of resources like food supplies (Britannica). At least three high-rise buildings were destroyed by airstrikes last Wednesday alone. “There is nowhere to run, there is nowhere to hide. That terror is indescribable,” said a pharmacist whose apartment building was obliterated (AP News).
Violence is, of course, deplorable in general. But those liberal politicians and celebrities who merely condemn such violence “on both sides” miss two crucial points.
First, Israel is a settler-colonial nation-state immeasurably more powerful than its opponents. It was the more powerful party which started the current cycle of violence by supporting the eviction of families from land it occupies by force. Those dispossessed and displaced are organized into several opposition groups, all with significantly less capacity to inflict military damage than the Israeli state.
Second, when American leaders condemn “both sides,” they make it seem as if the United States were a disinterested party. But the U.S. is firmly aligned politically with Israel. In fact, the U.S. is Israel’s chief benefactor, providing both weapons and with international cover for the occupation. A 2018 UN Security Council resolution denouncing Israeli killings of Palestinian civilians would have passed had the U.S. not been the one member to vote against it (Reuters). The U.S. gives Israel over $3 billion each year in weapons, weapons which today are detonating in the Gaza Strip (U.S. State Department). On Monday, the Biden administration approved $735 million in precision-guided weapon sales to Israel (Washington Post). The day before, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the building containing the office for the Associated Press as the death toll in Gaza climbed to 148 (MSN). That same day, the United States stood alone in blocking a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire between all parties involved (MSN).
There are many reasons for the United States’ uniquely strong support of Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbies for near-unconditional American political and military support of the country, brags of being the most influential lobbying group in Washington (New Yorker). Some evangelical Christians cynically support Israel out of a belief that Jewish control of the Holy Land is necessary for Jesus Christ to return and initiate the literal end times from the Book of Revelation (Belief Net).
The strength of pro-Israel sentiment in the U.S. government and vigorous efforts by Israeli politicians to ensure continued U.S. support do not mean that Israel alone controls the United States’ every move, a false idea connected to anti-semitic paranoias about all-powerful Jewish conspiracies. The United States is a superpower. Israel, the size of New Jersey, depends on U.S. weapons sales and international support. Thanks to American military aid, Israel is the most heavily armed country in a region whose location and natural resources are important for U.S. state interests (Observer). Arming and defending Israeli apartheid allows the American government to exert influence in a region thousands of miles away. “Were there not an Israel,” Joe Biden said in 1986, “the United States would have to invent an Israel to protect its interests” (Politico).
According to Human Rights Watch, the Israeli government committed crimes against humanity even before the current attacks (Human Rights Watch). The political, economic, and military support offered by the United States makes the U.S. government an active agent in these crimes. The residents of the United States have exponentially more power to fight for an end to Israeli apartheid, displacement, and aggression than anyone else in the world. “The size of the global solidarity has angered the [Israeli] occupation government,” said Sheikh Jarrah activist Muna al-Kurd. “I believe in popular resistance” (Al Jazeera).
U.S. support for international oppression is nothing new. In 1973, the U.S. helped overthrow democratically-elected Chilean President Salvador Allende’s government and its replacement by an authoritarian “reign of terror” under Augusto Pinochet (NPR). During the Salvadoran Civil War, the U.S. gave military training and $4 billion in aid (Britannica) to a government that tortured and slaughtered civilians, including the entire population of a village called Mozote (Huff Post). Today, the U.S. provides “defensive support” to a Saudi-led war in Yemen that has created conditions the United Nations describes simply as “hell” (Vox) (United Nations).