The long nightmare of oppression of Palestinians is not a tangential issue. It is a black and white issue of a settler-colonial state imposing a military occupation, horrific violence and apartheid, backed by billions of U.S. dollars, on the indigenous population of Palestine. It is the all powerful against the all powerless.
Israel uses its modern weaponry against a captive population that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery, while pretending intermittent acts of wholesale slaughter are wars. The crude rockets fired at Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian resistance organizations — a war crime because they target civilians — are not remotely comparable to the 2,000 pound “bunker-buster” Mark-84 bombs with a “kill radius” of over 32 yards and which “create a supersonic wave of pressure when they explode” that have been dropped by Israel on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods, the thousands of Palestinian killed and wounded and the targeted destruction of basic infrastructure, including electrical grids and water purification plants.
Malnutrition is endemic in the Occupied Territories. “High proportions” of the Palestinian population are “deficient in vitamins A, D, and E, which play key roles in vision, bone health, and immune function,” according to a 2022 World Bank report. The report also notes that over 50 percent of those aged six to 23 in Gaza and over half of its pregnant women are anemic and “more than a quarter of pregnant women and more than a quarter of children aged 6–23 months [in the West Bank are] anemic.”
Eighty-eight percent of Gaza’s children suffer from depression, following 15 years of the Israeli blockade, according to a 2022 report from Save the Children and over 51 percent of children were diagnosed with PTSD following the third major war on Gaza in 2014. Only 4.3 percent of the water in Gaza is considered fit for human consumption. Palestinians in Gaza are crammed into unsanitary and overcrowded hovels. They often lack basic medical care. Unemployment rates are among the highest in the world at 46.6 percent.
Zionism’s goal, since before Israel’s inception, has been to displace Palestinians from their land and reduce those who remain to a struggle for basic subsistence, as Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe, notes:
10 March 1948, a group of eleven men, veteran Zionist leaders together with young military Jewish officers, put the final touches on a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. That same evening, military orders were dispatched to units on the ground to prepare for the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from vast areas of the country. The orders came with a detailed description of the methods to be used to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers; setting fire to homes, properties, and goods; expelling residents; demolishing homes; and, finally, planting mines in the rubble to prevent the expelled inhabitants from returning. Each unit was issued its own list of villages and neighborhoods to target in keeping with the master plan. Code-named Plan D (Dalet in Hebrew)…
Once the plan was finalized, it took six months to complete the mission. When it was over, more than half of Palestine’s native population, over 750,000 people, had been uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and 11 urban neighborhoods had been emptied of their inhabitants.
These political and historical facts, which I reported on as an Arabic speaker for seven years, four of them as The Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times, are hard to ignore. Even from a distance.
I watched Israeli soldiers taunt boys in Arabic over the loudspeakers of their armored jeep in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza. The boys, about 10 years old, then threw stones at an Israeli vehicle. The soldiers opened fire, killing some, wounding others. In the Israeli lexicon this becomes children caught in crossfire. I was in Gaza when F-16 attack jets dropped 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on densely packed neighborhoods. I saw the corpses of the victims, including children, lined up in neat rows. This became a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory. I watched Israel demolish homes and apartment blocks to create buffer zones between the Palestinians and Israeli troops. I interviewed destitute families camped in the rubble of their homes. The destruction becomes the demolition of the homes of terrorists. I stood in the bombed remains of schools as well as medical clinics and mosques. I heard Israel claim that errant rockets or mortar fire from the Palestinians caused these and other deaths, or that the attacked spots were being used as arms depots or launching sites. I, along with every other reporter I know who has worked in Gaza, have never seen any evidence that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.” Ironically, there is evidence of the Israeli military using Palestinians as human shields, which Israel’s High Court deemed illegal in 2005.
There is a perverted logic to Israel’s use of the Big Lie — Große Lüge. The Big Lie feeds the two reactions Israel seeks to elicit — racism among its supporters and terror among its victims.
There is a heavy political price to pay for defying Israel, whose overt interference in our political process makes the most tepid protests about Israeli policy a political death wish. The Palestinians are poor, forgotten and alone. And this is why the defiance of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is the central issue facing any politician who claims to speak on behalf of the vulnerable and the marginalized. To stand up to Israel has a political cost few, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., are willing to pay. But if you do stand up, it singles you out as someone who puts principles before expediency, who is willing to fight for the wretched of the earth and, if necessary, sacrifice your political future to retain your integrity. Kennedy fails this crucial test of political and moral courage.
Kennedy, instead, regurgitates every lie, every racist trope, every distortion of history and every demeaning comment about the backwardness of the Palestinian people peddled by the most retrograde and far-right elements of Israeli society. He peddles the myth of what Pappe calls “Fantasy Israel.” This alone discredits him as a progressive candidate. It calls into question his judgment and sincerity. It makes him another Democratic Party hack who dances to the macabre tune the Israeli government plays.
Kennedy has vowed to make “the moral case for Israel,” which is the equivalent of making the moral case for apartheid South Africa. He repeats, almost verbatim, talking points from the Israeli propaganda playbook put together by the Republican pollster and political strategist, Frank Luntz. The 112-page study, marked “not for distribution or publication,” which was leaked to Newsweek, was commissioned by The Israel Project. It was written in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009 — when 1,387 Palestinians and nine Israelis were killed.
The strategy document is the blueprint for how Israeli politicians and lobbyists sell Israel. It exposes the wide gap between what Israeli politicians say and what they know to be the truth. It is tailored to tell the outside world, especially Americans, what they want to hear. The report is required reading for anyone attempting to deal with the Israeli propaganda machine.
The document, for example, suggests telling the outside world that Israel “has a right to defensible borders,” but advises Israelis to refuse to define what the borders should be. It advises Israeli politicians to justify the refusal by Israel to allow 750,000 Palestinians and their descendants, who were expelled from their country during the 1948 war, to return home, although the right of return is guaranteed under international law, by referring to this right as a “demand.” It also recommends arguing that Palestinians are seeking mass migrations to seize land inside Israel. It suggests mentioning the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Iraq, Syria and Egypt, who fled anti-Semitism and violence in the Arab world after the creation of the Jewish state. The document recommends saying these refugees also “left property behind,” in essence justifying the Israeli pogrom by the pogrom Arab states carried out after 1948. It recommends blaming the poverty among Palestinians on “Arab nations” that have not provided “a better life for Palestinians.”
What is most cynical about the report is the tactic of expressing a faux sympathy for the Palestinians, who are blamed for their own oppression.
“Show Empathy for BOTH sides!” the document reads. “The goal of pro-Israel communications is not simply to make people who already love Israel feel good about that decision. The goal is to win new hearts and minds for Israel without losing the support Israel already has.” It says that this tactic will “disarm” audiences.
I doubt Kennedy has read or heard of Luntz’s report. But he has been spoon-fed its talking points and naively spits them back. Israel only wants peace. Israel does not engage in torture. Israel is not an apartheid state. Israel gives Israeli Arabs political and civic rights they do not have in other parts of the Middle East. Palestinians are not deliberately targeted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Israel respects civil liberties and gender and marriage rights. Israel has “the best judiciary in the world.”
Kennedy makes other claims, such as his bizarre statement that the Palestinian Authority pays Palestinians to kill Jews anywhere in the world along with falsifications of elemental Middle Eastern history, which are so absurd I will ignore them. But I list below examples from the volumes of evidence that implode the Luntz-inspired talking points Kennedy repeats on behalf of the Israel lobby, not that any evidence can probably puncture his self-serving attachment to “Fantasy Israel.”
The 2017 U.N. report: “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” Since 1967, Palestinians as a people have lived in what the report refers to as four “domains,” in which the fragments of the Palestinian population are ostensibly treated differently but share in common the racial oppression that results from the apartheid regime.
Those domains are:
1. Civil law, with special restrictions, governing Palestinians who live as citizens of Israel;
2. Permanent residency law governing Palestinians living in the city of Jerusalem;
3. Military law governing Palestinians, including those in refugee camps, living since 1967 under conditions of belligerent occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip;
4. Policy to preclude the return of Palestinians, whether refugees or exiles, living outside territory under Israel’s control.
On 19 July 2018, the Israeli Knesset voted “to approve the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, constitutionally enshrining Jewish supremacy and the identity of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” the Haifa-based civil liberties group Adalah explained. It is the supreme law in Israel “capable of overriding any ordinary legislation.”
In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group — Jews — over another — Palestinians. A key method in pursuing this goal is engineering space differently for each group.
Jewish citizens live as though the entire area were a single space (excluding the Gaza Strip). The Green Line means next to nothing for them: whether they live west of it, within Israel’s sovereign territory, or east of it, in settlements not formally annexed to Israel, is irrelevant to their rights or status.
Where Palestinians live, on the other hand, is crucial. The Israeli regime has divided the area into several units that it defines and governs differently, according Palestinians different rights in each. This division is relevant to Palestinians only…Israel accords Palestinians a different package of rights in every one of these units — all of which are inferior compared to the rights afforded to Jewish citizens.
“Since 1948,” the reports continues, “Israel has taken over 90% of land within its sovereign territory and built hundreds of Jewish communities, yet not one for Palestinians (with the exception of several communities built to concentrate the Bedouin population, after dispossessing them of most of their property rights),” the report reads.
“Since 1967, Israel has also enacted this policy in the Occupied Territories, dispossessing Palestinians of more than 2,000 km2 on various pretexts. In violation of international law, it has built over 280 settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) for more than 600,000 Jewish citizens. It has devised a separate planning system for Palestinians, designated primarily to prevent construction and development, and has not established a single new Palestinian community.”
Contrary to Kennedy’s claims that “the policy of the Israeli military is to always only attack military targets,” the deliberatetargeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure by the Israeli military, and other branches of the Israeli security apparatus, has been extensively documented by Israeli and international organizations.
The 2010 Goldstone report, which is over 500 pages, investigated Israel’s 22-day air and ground assault on Gaza that took place from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009. The United Nations Human Rights Council and the European Parliament endorsed the report.
The Israeli attack killed 1,434 people, including 960 civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. More than 6,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, leaving behind some $3 billion in destruction in one of the poorest areas on Earth. Three Israeli civilians were killed by rockets fired into Israel during the assault.
The report’s key findings include that:
• Numerous instances of Israeli lethal attacks on civilians and civilian objects were intentional, including with the aim of spreading terror, that Israeli forces used Palestinian civilians as human shields and that such tactics had no justifiable military objective.
• Israeli forces engaged in the deliberate killing, torture and other inhuman treatment of civilians and deliberately caused extensive destruction of property, outside any military necessity, carried out wantonly and unlawfully.
• Israel violated its duty to respect the right of Gaza’s population to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food, water and housing.
On 14 June of this year, B’Tselem reported that “Top Israeli officials” are “criminally liable for knowingly” ordering airstrikes which were “expected to harm civilians, including children, in the Gaza Strip.”
Contrary to the myth propagated by Kennedy, reports and investigations, both by the U.N. as well as by rights groups, domestic and international, routinely cover suspected or known violations by Palestinian militants when they investigate alleged war crimes. As B’Tselem noted in the same 2019 report, in total, four Israelis were killed and 123 wounded.
Last month, the U.N.’s expert on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Italian international lawyer and academic Francesca Albanese, presented her report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. It makes for very grim reading.
Deprivation of liberty has been a central element of Israel’s occupation since its inception. Between 1967-2006 Israel has incarcerated over 800,000 Palestinians in the occupied territory. Although spiking during Palestinian uprisings, incarceration has become a quotidian reality. Over 100,000 Palestinians were detained during the First Intifada (1987-1993), 70,000 during the Second Intifada (2000-2006), and over 6,000 during the ‘Unity Intifada’ (2021). Approximately 7,000 Palestinians, including 882 children, were arrested in 2022. Currently, almost 5,000 Palestinians, including 155 children, are detained by Israel, 1,014 of them without charge or trial.
“Zero indictments have been brought,” the committee reports. “This is yet another illustration of the complete systemic impunity enjoyed by the Shin Bet’s interrogators.”
Coercive methods include sexual harassment and humiliation, beatings, stress positions imposed for hours and interrogations that lasted as long as 19 hours as well as threats of violence against family members.
“They said they would kill my wife and children. They said they would cancel my mother’s and sister’s permits for medical treatments,” one survivor said in 2016. “I couldn’t sleep because even when I was in my cell, they would wake me up every 15 minutes… I couldn’t tell the difference between day and night… I still scream in my sleep,” another said in 2017.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, expressed “his utmost concern” after a December 2017 ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court exempting security agents from criminal investigation despite their undisputed use of coercive “pressure techniques” against a Palestinian detainee, Assad Abu Gosh. He called the ruling a “license to torture.”
Abu Gosh “was reportedly subjected to ill-treatment including beatings, being slammed against walls, having his body and fingers bent and tied into painful stress positions and sleep deprivation, as well as threats, verbal abuse, and humiliation. Medical examinations confirm that Mr. Abu Gosh suffers from various neurologic injuries resulting from the torture he suffered.”
In the November 2022 elections in Israel, a far-right theocratic, nationalist and openly racist coalition took power. Itamar Ben-Gvir, from the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit, “Jewish Power,” party, is the Minister of National Security. Otzma Yehudit is populated with former members of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, which was banned from running for the Knesset in 1988 for espousing a “Nazi-like ideology” that included advocating the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as all Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. His appointment, along with that of other far-right ideologues, including Bezalel Smotrich, the Minister of Finance, effectively jettisons the old tropes liberal Zionists used to defend Israel — that it is the only democracy in the Middle East, that it seeks a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians in a two-state solution, that extremism and racism have no place in Israeli society and that Israel must impose draconian forms of control on the Palestinians to prevent terrorism.
The new coalition government is reportedly preparing legislation that would be used to disqualify almost all Palestinian/Arab Knesset members from serving in the Israeli parliament, as well as ban their parties from standing in elections. The recent judicial “reforms” gut the independence and oversight of the Israeli courts. The government has also proposed shutting down Kan, the public broadcasting network, although that has been amended to fixing its “flaws”. Smotrich, who opposes LGBTQ rights and refers to himself as a “fascist homophobe,” said on Tuesday he would freeze all funds to Israel’s Palestinian communities and East Jerusalem.
Israel has promulgated a series of laws to curtail public freedoms, brand all forms of Palestinian resistance as terrorism, and label supporters of Palestinian rights, even if they are Jewish, as anti-Semites. The amendment of one of Israel’s principle apartheid laws, the 2010 “Village Committees Law,” grants neighborhoods with up to 700 households the right to reject people from moving in to “preserve the fabric” of the community. Israel has over 65 laws that are used to discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens of Israel and those in the Occupied Territories.
Israel’s Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law prevents Palestinian citizens of Israel from marrying Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Interreligious marriage in Israel is also prohibited.
As explained by Jacob N. Simon, who served as the President of the Jewish Legal Society at the Michigan State University College of Law:
The combination of the blood line related requirements to be considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinical Court and the restriction of marriage requiring religious ceremonies shows an intent to maintain race purity. At its core, this is no different than the desire for pure blooded Aryans in Nazi Germany or pure blooded whites in the Jim Crow Southern United States.
Those who support these discriminatory laws and embrace Israeli apartheid are blinded by willful ignorance, racism or cynicism. Their goal is to dehumanize Palestinians, champion an intolerant Jewish chauvinism and entice the naïve and the gullible into justifying the unjustifiable. Kennedy, bereft of a moral compass and a belief system rooted in verifiable fact, has not only failed the Palestinians, he has failed us.