Ahmad Zahi Bani-Shamsa was the first fatality in the West Bank village of Beita, in its confrontation with the settlement of Evyatar under the watch of the outgoing government. He was killed before he got to celebrate his 16th birthday, after being shot in the head from behind. He was shot while trying to hang up a Palestinian flag on an olive tree. He died the next day, on the fifth day in the term of the “government of change.” So far, demonstrations in Beita against Evyatar have led to seven deaths.
The process of legitimizing the robbery of land in Beita for the benefit of Evyatar began in the outgoing government’s tenure, and will likely continue and be accelerated under the new government, across the northern West Bank as well as the rest of that area. One may assume that within days an Israeli soldier will open fire and kill the first victim of Israel’s 37th government. This will be followed by more fatalities. Under a regime of Jewish supremacy, some things never change between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
And yet, one moment before the outgoing government sinks into oblivion, it deserves further reflection. What actually transpired in the past year and a half, and what does it say about the future?
In an interview with Channel 12 TV anchor Yonit Levi and The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s political adviser Shimrit Meir explained that the precondition for the outgoing government’s existence was the suspension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since the moment that issue came up, the government’s fate was sealed. The opening gambit in establishing the coalition was that “ideology” could not be discussed, with no annexation or establishment of a Palestinian state, and no change in the “Jewish and democratic” character of the state. It’s worthwhile dwelling on Meir’s words due to the great candidness with which she described, from the very core of the prime minister’s bureau, the political reality that persisted for “almost a year of normalcy,” the period the outgoing government ruled until the coalition collapsed.
What was claimed was, in fact, that the reality in Beita, and in every area Israel controls, is not a matter of “ideology,” since the regime of Jewish supremacy is not a political or ideological matter. It is simply the way things are, the way it was and the way it will remain. A situation in which Palestinian subjects are shot to death one after another, in Beita or anywhere else, is akin to a latent conflict, since you can’t have a regime of the superior without a measured bloodletting of the inferior. One more year of total Israeli control is simply an expression of normalcy.
Meir, in her interview, expressed the prevailing political conception held by wide swaths of the Jewish public in Israel. A conception which does not view a reality of Jewish supremacy, apartheid or occupation as something unusual, but as a normal reality which is busy with its entrenchment, expropriating more and more Palestinian land in an attempt to concentrate them in dense enclaves that are easier to control, having them managed by subcontractors that are funded by international sources.
This stance, this worldview, is not only immoral in the deepest sense of the word, but is also one that is disconnected from reality. After all, what is called the “conflict,” namely the unequivocal power relationship in which the Israeli-Jewish half of the population between the river and the sea controls the land, the demography and political power at the expense of the Palestinian half, has not been “suspended” for even one moment. It is alive and well all the time, at moments in which live bullets kill a Palestinian and in moments of endless bureaucracy, with permits and checkpoints, injunctions and rulings dominate the lives of Palestinians in the name of a Jewish supremacist regime.
In this context one should relate to the intended cabinet member Itamar Ben-Gvir and former IDF Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the protagonist and antagonist of the recent election. Eisenkot talks in a statesmanlike manner about “governance,” while Ben-Gvir bluntly asks “who is the boss around here?” But the statesmanlike tone is only a transparent code everyone understands, since when Jews in Israel complain about a loss of “governance” in the Negev and Galilee, in Areas C and Jerusalem, they mean that they don’t feel like “owners” in those areas.
The argument isn’t really about the end of democracy. After all, there isn’t one here by virtue of the fact that all Palestinians are excluded, partially or completely, from the political process. It is an argument about the manner and extent of employing force against the Palestinians. Eisenkot and his ilk believe that their more measured approach to the forceful oppression of the Palestinians ensures both successful oppression and stability; Ben-Gvir and his likes believe that this process can be speeded up, and increasing numbers of voters agree with them. But the large majority of people who have reservations about the latter accept the existing situation and its processes, agreeing that Jewish supremacy is the basis of the political, geographic and demographic order between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, finding a home for this view in any Zionist party. After all, Yesh Atid, Labor and Meretz were part of the 36th government when a Palestinian youth hung up a flag on an olive tree, with the land soaking up his blood.
This doesn’t mean that “they’re all the same.” The fact that the reality was already intolerable for Palestinians even before the election does not mean that things can’t get worse, and fast, becoming more horrific and blood-soaked. Otzma Yehudit is one point on a spectrum; saying this does not mean that the range of positions along this spectrum is a marginal issue not worthy of reflection. The spectrum of positions has significance, but there is also significance to the question of the affinity between the different stances along this spectrum.
On can cry out, and people do, against the rise of Ben-Gvir. But who exactly is responsible for this? Not only in the narrow sense of the political conjunction that brought this about, but in a deeper sense. What caused the collapse of the outgoing government is not the thawing of the conflict from some imaginary thaw, and what raised Ben-Gvir was not some limited event. The driving force is reality itself. This reality must be changed. From its foundations.