Earlier this month, Israel held a special early election which saw right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu re-elected for his fourth consecutive term in office, and fifth overall. The 2019 elections took place amid widespread reports of voter intimidation, increased hostility towards occupied Palestinians and the lowest recorded Arab turnout in years. The election of Netanyahu is a signal that Israel has no intention of reaching a peaceable settlement with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu is the leader of the right-wing Likud Party and, despite currently facing three charges of bribery and corruption, was able to secure 35 seats for his party in the 21st Knesset. Through a coalition with the other right-wing parties, Netanyahu is currently in talks to form the next Israeli government, one that is likely to intensify the persecution currently faced by the Palestinian people. Likud has already been caught installing over 1,200 hidden cameras in Arab community polling sites with the explicit intent to drive down voter turnout. The day after the election the PR firm hired by Likud bragged on Facebook that “thanks to us placing observers in every polling station we managed to lower the voter turnout to under 50 percent, the lowest in recent years!”
While the anti-democratic actions of Netanyahu’s Likud party are heinous enough, the full extent of Palestinian oppression goes far beyond the 2019 election. While the Arab-Israeli population is treated as second-class citizens, over three million Palestinians in the West Bank and almost two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip enjoy zero citizenship rights and yet are still subjected to Israeli control. The Palestinian people are living under the world’s longest lasting military occupation.
In the West Bank, Palestinians live under the constant threat of Israeli expansion. Palestinian homes and shops are demolished, olive trees are uprooted, and the barrier continues to encroach further into the West Bank. Any attempt to resist the settlements or the barrier are met with brutal repression from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). IDF soldiers protect illegal Israeli settlements while shooting at and detaining protestors indiscriminately. Many of those detained, including children, have reported abuse at the hands of the IDF. In one case, a teenager, was shot while blindfolded and handcuffed.
The situation is not much better for Palestinians in Gaza. While the region is nominally autonomous, it has been the victim of an illegal blockade by Israel for the past 12 years. Israel controls Gaza’s airspace, coastline and five of their six land crossings. This gives Israel the power to control Palestinian access to food, water and basic goods and humanitarian supplies, as well as limiting the freedom of movement of those that live in Gaza. Additionally, Israel has routinely subjected Gaza to airstrikes under the pretext of combating Hamas. This has made the civilian population of Gaza, one of the most densely populated regions in the world, the victims of mass reprisals by the Israeli government.
What we are witnessing in occupied Palestine is nothing less than an ethnic cleansing. Since 1948, over 500 villages have been destroyed or depopulated. Refugees have fled to neighboring countries while those that remain in the West Bank and Gaza sit in what is effectively the world’s largest open air prison. Many Palestinians still dream of returning to their villages and continue to keep the keys to their historic homes as a memento of what was lost; however, while Israel guarantees the right of return to Jewish people, that guarantee is not extended to the thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants who were displaced during the colonization of Israel.
The situation is Palestine is unlikely to change anytime soon, and in fact is likely to get much worse. Netanyahu has been adamantly opposed to the prospect of Palestinian statehood and has vowed to fully annex the West Bank now that he has returned to power. He has a powerful ally in the United States and President Trump, who has already moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized the Israel annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria.
If we claim to truly care about peace and democracy, then we cannot remain silent on the Palestinian oppression. Just like Jim Crow America and apartheid South Africa, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is the human rights issue of our time. Palestinians deserve to be able to live in peace in their own homes without the threat of being displaced by settlers or detained by a foreign military. The state of Israel will not allow this to happen in its current form. A two-state solution will not be viable without massive forced population transfers or the creation of highly dependent Bantustans. Instead, we must push for the end of apartheid conditions in Israel and the transition to a secular state with equal protections for all its inhabitants. We must stand in solidarity and share the dream of a free Palestine!
Zoey Turturino is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.