In Israel, Netanyahu is a symptom, not the cause of the problem

In Israel, Netanyahu is a symptom, not the cause of the problem
Blaming Netanyahu for the Gaza war is convenient, but the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is core to the Zionist ideology Israel is built on, writes Ahmad Ibsais.
7 min read
06 Mar, 2024
The notion that Netanyahu betrayed Israel's supposedly progressive foundations ignores the systemic oppression inherent in a settler-colonial state, writes Ahmad Ibsais. [Getty]

I don’t blame Netanyahu. Not now, as I watch 30,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza, children left to die under the rubble - I don’t blame him. I did not blame him when I saw my people in Gaza slaughtered in 2013 on evening news, as if it was casual.

My mother did not blame him as she retells of being shot at by perched snipers as she made her way to work between Nablus and Ramallah. And my grandfather, God rest his soul, did not blame Netanyahu, even though he died without seeing the land he bought stolen from him by illegal settlers in the 1980s.

However, if I were to ask Senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, or most liberals in the Western world, people decidedly not indigenous to the land of Palestine, they would blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Israel’s horrific war, which has killed over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

But as evil as Netanyahu may be, the racism, extremism, and genocidal intent that we are currently witnessing go far beyond his brazenly indiscriminate bombing of an occupied population.

"The notion that Netanyahu alone betrayed Israel's supposedly progressive foundations ignores the systemic oppression inherent in a settler-colonial state"

Blaming Israel's human rights abuses on Netanyahu alone is a coping mechanism that absolves liberal supporters of their complicity. It allows them to pretend the country was founded on progressive ideals, rather than ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian people.

Early Zionist leaders were explicit about their goals; Nachman Syrkin, the Godfather of labour Zionism, argued that Jewish liberation could only be won through the creation of a socialist Jewish state in Palestine, one that meant bringing Jews from Europe to work in Kibbutz’s and expelling the indigenous Palestinian population.

Many Israeli leaders have expressed sentiments similar to those that Netanyahu currently boasts about: former PM Naftali Bennett said “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that” while former justice minister Ayelet Shaked called Palestinian children “little snakes”. 

In fact, the examples of Zionist and Israeli leaders endorsing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine are almost endless.

But blaming Netanyahu is convenient for Western liberals. In the US, it allows them to absolve themselves of responsibility for the more than $300 billion in aid to Israeli “defence” since WWII, while millions in this country go to sleep hungry (it would cost a fraction of aid to Israel to solve hunger in the US).

They cling to the false hope that the system will magically reform itself if Netanyahu were gone. Same was said for this country: if Trump was removed then the instability he provoked would die.

But it has been almost four years since, and I still see rampant racism, school shootings on every avenue, and a crushing economic future for those most marginalised.

The notion that Netanyahu alone betrayed Israel's supposedly progressive foundations ignores the systemic oppression inherent in a settler-colonial state. Zionism, as a political ideology, was founded in the early 1900s; yet it proclaims to be rooted in religious self-determination. 

The myth that was spun was that Palestine was a “land without a people for a people without a land”. But Palestinians have always been there and always will be, for we are the land itself.

Therein lies the problem: for a secular Jewish state to exist, the Palestinians could not. The talking points of the occupier aimed at justifying the dispossession of Palestinian land as a practical means to remove the natives during the Nakba.

To claim that Zionism, the foundation of Israel, is Jewish self-determination is to conflate Judaism and a settler-colonial agenda, which are two completely different ideologies.

The occupying  government controls both Israelis and Palestinians; their own Nation State Law claims that the right to self-determination in “The Land of Israel” is “unique to the Jewish people.”

Golda Meir, the first female Prime Minister, said “There is no such thing as Palestinians” in the Washington Post in 1969, even though she was born in Ukraine and lived in the US before becoming a settler.

Israel has weaponised this erasure and denial to ethnically cleanse Palestinians for decades, trying to wipe any notion of a Palestinian people, culture, or resistance. In fact, more than 65 laws exist in Israel to discriminate against Palestinians.

"The debate in Israel has never been over whether to subjugate Palestinians, but merely the form that subjugation should take"

For instance, Palestinians are barred from entering the recently built illegal settlements, unable to move freely across Palestine, unable to access water and electricity, and unable to fight for their right to self-determination.

Israeli law has always codified racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and even more so against Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. 

And while Israelis are willing to protest against their government when it serves their own interests, most are perfectly content with the occupation, murder, and brutalisation of Palestinians.

Amidst the ongoing genocide, Israelis have been protesting against Netanyahu for not doing enough to bring back the hostages. Some are protesting because they believe a ceasefire was the solution, others because they think the violent assault that has claimed tens of thousands of lives was not enough.

These protests hold that only Netanyahu is at fault but do little to challenge the underlying ideology of Zionism.

In fact, a month into the genocide, only 1.8% said they believed the IDF was using too much fire power, and, now four months into the genocide, 40% of Israelis are in favour of building settlements in Gaza, as apartment plans and hotel developments are drawn up.

Do the images of the dead and injured, people pulling each other out of rubble, parents carrying the remains of their children in plastic bags, and children screaming as they watch their parents burn not elicit a bare human response?

For the thousands of Israeli protestors blocking humanitarian aid, food and water from reaching Gaza’s 2.2 million starving people, those images do not.

What this means for the Palestinian liberation movement is that a ceasefire is not enough, it is just the bare minimum towards lasting justice. Why? Because the day after a ceasefire, Gaza will remain in ruins, and the rest of historic Palestine will still be under colonial rule.

In organising for Palestine, we must focus on the only solution – a one state solution, one where people of all creeds can rest under the shade of olive trees and see freedom in every direction.

Otherwise, Palestinians will remain divided under Israel’s apartheid state: one that will undoubtedly continue its settlement endeavours, its systematic violence, and decades of ethnic cleansing.

The debate in Israel has never been over whether to subjugate Palestinians, but merely the form that subjugation should take. Successive Israeli governments, regardless of political orientation, have reliably perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Netanyahu may be more brazen, making Israel's oppression harder for liberals to defend, but he represents continuity, not aberration.

So no, I cannot blame Netanyahu. Settlements grew before him, and will continue to after him; he did not place Palestinians in concentration camps in the 1940s, just children in military detainment; and he is not the one forcing IOF soldiers to mock the ruins of Palestinian life.

The problem is not Netanyahu, but the people that voted for him, the people that continue to illegally colonise Palestinian land, and the very fabric and history of a state built on the blood and bones of my people.

Ahmad Ibsais is a first generation Palestinian American and law student who writes the newsletter State of Siege.

Follow him on X (Twitter): @AIbsais

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.