The drumbeat of war is once again echoing loudly in the Middle East. World leaders and voices of reason are scrambling to avert what is already deadly fallout in occupied Palestine where aggression by the Zionist State of Israel has flared up and countermeasures by resistance groups like Hamas and Islamic Jehad has intensified.
Live broadcasts captured Israeli air strikes plummeting the Al-Shouk Towers, a 14-story building housing businesses and media offices in Gaza. Israeli missiles destroyed government buildings and targeted homes. Six senior leaders of the resistance group, Hamas, including its Gaza Brigade Commander, Bassem Issa were killed.
Hamas confirmed the commander’s death and the loss of “other leaders and warriors” and said in a statement: “Thousands of leaders and soldiers will follow in their footsteps.”
“If they (Israeli forces) want to escalate, the resistance is ready, if they want to stop, the resistance is ready,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said.
U.S. President Joe Biden expressed support for a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers in a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 17, but stopped short of demanding an immediate stop to the eight days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket barrages that have killed more than 200 people, most of them Palestinian.
After summoning 7,000 army troops to occupied territories it bombarded with airstrikes for several days, the Israeli Defense Forces announced in a May 13 Tweet that: “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.”
Mr. Netanyahu told Israeli security officials late May 17 that Israel would “continue to strike terror targets” in Gaza “as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”
The troop buildup is comparable to the 2014 Gaza War that killed an estimated 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
Loud warning sirens blared into the night sky where rocket launches and counter launches gripped cities. People ran for cover and children frantically screamed in terror of the uncertain situation. Other shocking images on May 10 showed Palestinians under attack by Israeli security forces inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred site of Islam. Israeli forces stormed the mosque interior firing tear gas and stun grenades and wounding 300 peaceful worshippers gathered for prayers during the Muslim fast and holy month of Ramadan.
According to several media reports, the Israelis have refused assistance from outside mediators. With this latest explosion of conflict with Israeli atrocities against Palestinians once again being thrust front and center before the world, the question many have is, where will this end?
According to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, his teacher, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad warned global war was on the horizon, sparked by conflict in the Middle East. He warned America, the world’s greatest superpower, will be forced out of the region. If America is forced out what hope does Israel have to survive? Will there be blood? “Plenty,” warned the patriarch of the Nation of Islam.
Where did this current crisis begin?
“One aspect of the current crisis began with the attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque toward the end of Ramadan,” said Phyllis Bennis, political analyst, and commentator in a telephone interview with The Final Call.
However, the attack was preceded weeks earlier, when Israeli police blocked a long-standing Palestinian tradition of breaking the daily fast with their families on the grounds of the site. This caused anger, which the Israelis responded to using non-state actors to attack Palestinians and chant “death to the Arabs.”
The brazen defiling of Al-Aqsa compounded age-old disputes concerning access to the holy site, revered by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike.
“All of that was rooted in a very heightened level of anger and tension across Jerusalem because of the escalation in recent months of house demolitions and evictions … that have been underway … for several years,” said Ms. Bennis.
Palestinians were protesting active efforts by Jewish settlers to displace Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah community in occupied east Jerusalem.
Violence erupted over a May 2 Israeli court decision ordering six Palestinian families to vacate their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. The Jerusalem District Court rendered the rule, although the families resided there for generations. Many Palestinians are threatened with imminent dispossession from their homes.
Resistance to displacements could be understood in Sheikh Jarrah history. The community was established by 28 Palestinian refugee families displaced from other occupied areas in the mid-1950s. East Jerusalem was under the mandate of Jordan at the time until 1967 when it became occupied by Israel.
The fundamental problem is one of subjugation and occupation after the UN granted European Jews, Palestinian lands in 1948. There has been friction ever since, with no apparent end in sight.
Like Indigenous people throughout the world, the Palestinian people demand a life of dignity, sovereignty and self-determination, argued The Black Alliance for Peace in a May 17 press release linking the plight of the Palestinians to African liberation. “As Black internationalists, we will always be in solidarity with the Palestinian people as they struggle against U.S. imperialism and Zionist settler-colonialism,” the statement read in part.
Palestinians determined enough is enough, because the “dispossession just keeps on happening,” said Khury Petersen-Smith, the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Mr. Petersen-Smith told The Final Call, the current crisis is also rooted in the creation of Israel replete with aggression and encroachment of Palestinian land going back generations.
“This is fundamentally about power, and historical injustices that continues,” said Mr. Petersen-Smith.
Those injustices involved forcing the Palestinian people into a marginalized second-class citizenship with curtailed rights. It’s not a conflict between two sides and one side happens to have bigger guns, stated Mr. Petersen-Smith. “One side is the occupier, and one side is the occupied,” he said.
Years of brutality, aggression, and heavy-handed rule that analysts described as apartheid against the Palestinian people has worsened.
America’s role and global reactions to a growing crisis
The White House said, in a telephone call with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Biden condemned the rocket attacks by “Hamas and other terrorist groups,” including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The official Whitehouse press release said, Mr. Biden conveyed his “unwavering support for Israel’s security” and for “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself” and its people.
However, several U.S. lawmakers rebuked the Israeli attacks and illegal displacement effort in Sheikh Jarrah. In Washington, D.C., Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) joined a pro-Palestinian protest outside the U.S. State Department organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and American Muslims for Palestine.
In a separate joint statement as the only three Muslims in Congress, Reps. Carson, Tliab and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) condemned the assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the displacement efforts and spiraling courses of events in the occupied territories. They raised the duplicity of U.S. unwavering support of Israel, in the face of its contrary actions.
“We continue to provide the Israeli government with over $3 billion in military aid every year—with no conditions or accountability for wanton human rights abuses and continuing illegal seizures of Palestinian land,” their statement read.
“For decades, we have paid lip service to a Palestinian state, while land seizures, settlement expansion, and forced displacement continue, making a future home for Palestinians more and more out of reach. It is long past time we finally take action to protect Palestinian human rights and save lives,” the statement continued.
In response to Mr. Biden’s echoing the standard phrase that “Israel has the right to defend itself,” New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) blasted the president’s statement as meaningless.
“Blanket statements like these [with] little context or acknowledgement of what precipitated this cycle of violence—namely, the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on Al Aqsa —dehumanize Palestinians [and] imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations,” she tweeted May 12. “It’s wrong,” she added,
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said: “naming Hamas’ actions—which are condemnable and refusing to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians,” Mr. Biden “reinforces the false idea” that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence.
“This is not neutral language,” she argued. “It takes a side—the side of occupation.”
There is a growing backlash against America’s “go to narrative” on Israel’s right to defend itself. People are asking the Biden administration, “do the Palestinians have the same right?”
Turkey, which has been calling on the international community to stop Israeli aggression, condemned the U.S. characterizing the crisis as Israeli self-defense.
At the UN headquarters in New York, the Security Council held an emergency session on the crisis, where the U.S. was the sole holdout blocking a joint statement to demand a cessation of violence.
It remains to be seen what actions the Biden administration will take in the matter. Israel enjoys unyielding bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and is the largest recipient of annual foreign and military aid. Besides military support, historically the U.S. has provided protection, material support, and diplomatic cover. At the UN, the U.S. spared no opportunity to use its veto power to quash any measure of accountability of the Jewish state.
The Palestinian Authority said silence at the UN and blaming the victim is a blind policy that does not reveal the truth.
“Silence towards Israel’s crimes encourages it to continue attacking our people. Failure to condemn Israel in the UN gives it the green light to commit more crimes,” said Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh, Palestinian prime minister.
International and regional organizations also condemned the clashes. In a statement, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “deep concern” over continuing violence in occupied East Jerusalem and called on both sides to exercise maximum restraint.
De-escalation of the Palestine-Israel conflict is “an absolute must,” said the Mr. Guterres on May 12, declaring that the mounting death toll, including children, was totally unacceptable.
In a tweet the same day, Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said the “fire” must stop immediately.
“We’re escalating towards a full-scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation,” Mr. Wennesland of Norway wrote. “The cost of war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid by ordinary people,” he added.
The special envoy said the UN is working with all sides of the problem to restore calm. However, observers of problem of occupied Palestine have told The Final Call that the UN has been an ineffective institution because of Israel being under the protection of powers like the U.S. and others on the UN Security Council.
Mr. Wennesland has been meeting behind closed doors with the Security Council where no unified statement has yet to come forth. Mr. Wennesland reminded council members that it is the civilian population on both sides, that bears the burden of war and that the most vulnerable are the ones at greatest risk of suffering.
He also told the council that the cycle of violence would only end with a political resolution of the conflict, an end to the occupation and a realization of a two-State solution on the basis of UN resolutions, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.
The Arab League which was at odds with Palestinian Authority leaders who accused league members of abandoning their cause when the League signed normalization agreements with Israel with the U.S. brokered Abraham Accords, condemned Israel’s aggression.
“Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and the government’s tolerance of Jewish extremists hostile to Palestinians and Arabs, is what led to the ignition of the situation in this dangerous way,” said its chairman Ahmed Aboul Gheit before an emergency summit on the issue.
The head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which held an urgent meeting in Jeddah, “praised the steadfastness of the Palestinian people stationed in the occupied city of Jerusalem and their response to the Israeli attacks on the holy sites,” Saudi state agency SPA reported.
Worldwide Palestinian solidarity grows
Pro-Palestinian solidarity is growing worldwide in condemnation of the ongoing Israeli aggression. The anti-war A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition website listed over 50 U.S. cities where solidarity rallies were organized by different organizations. Globally from London to Karachi and Rabbat, people demonstrated. Mr. Petersen-Smith said there is rising dissatisfaction with Israel, internationally and in America.
“What Israel does to the Palestinians…is so unmistakably colonial in the eyes of so many people around the world,” he said.
There is a kind of indignation redolent to the global reaction to the George Floyd killing by a White Minneapolis cop. There is a struggle playing out within the Democratic party about what is the progressive direction of America.
“Palestine is a key issue,” he said. “It is the main issue when it comes to what a progressive foreign policy looks like,” he added, explaining the divide and pushback directed at the Biden administration response to the turmoil.
Although there are more people in Congress now, willing to criticize Israel and U.S. aid to Israel, Mr. Petersen-Smith is doubtful policy changes would be easy.
On the movement side in the streets, the conversation is ahead of the government on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. So, even though the issue is nearly 80 years old, the crisis is happening in a time of a social and political shift favorable toward the oppressed Palestinians. This is not the first time Israel had an episode of naked violence.
“We say to our Palestinian Brothers and Sisters—our family—we stand in solidarity with you and hold on to the rope of Allah, all together and be not disunited,” said Student Minister Ishmael Muhammad, national assistant to Min. Farrakhan. “This injustice will be met by the justice that only God can give,” he said.
Student Minister Muhammad expressed support for the Palestinians in May 16 remarks at Mosque Maryam, the Nation of Islam’s Chicago headquarters. (Associated Press contributed to this report.)