When the road to “security” goes through injustice

In its last controversial move, the Knesset has approved a law that seeks to alter the demography of the Holy City. Expect security problems to increase – and don’t get surprised about it.

Three days ago, the Knesset passed a law that allows the Minister of Interior – in the specific of the current governing coalition, Shas’ Ariyeh Deri – to strip of their resident permit in Jerusalem those Palestinian citizens who are judged “not loyal” to the State of Israel; who have obtained their residence permit on the basis of false information; and who are accused of criminal behavior.

As if in Jerusalem the situation was not already marked by an horrendous discrimination between Jewish and Palestinian citizens – Jewish people born in Jerusalem are Israeli citizens, while Palestinians born in Jerusalem can only get blue ID cards that give them the right to reside in the city but that de facto keeps them in a condition of second-class citizenship – the new law makes reality in the Holy City even more unjust for the 420,000 Palestinians who are there, as it breaches the rights that they should enjoy under international humanitarian law (IHL) as “occupied people”. According to IHL, in fact, Jerusalem is “occupied territory” and the occupying power (i.e. Israel) cannot revoke the permit of residency to the occupied people (i.e. the Palestinians) nor impose loyalty requirements upon them.

After the new piece of law was approved, Deri promptly proceeded to defend it saying that it will allow him to protect the security of the citizens of Israel. Yet, what the new law actually does is to progressively remove any physical connection between Palestinians and so as to ultimately change the demographics of the city in favor its Jewish population.

By referring to security concerns, Deri retrieved the old security dogma that Israel has constantly used and abused over its 70 years of existence to justify its worse violations of international law: the demolition of Palestinian houses allegedly built without the necessary permits; the relentless construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank; the imposition of a blockade on Gaza that keeps its residents in an open-air prison from which there is no way out; the construction of a 470-km long concrete walls that has illegally included in the Israeli territory portions of land that go beyond the Green Line and has severely limited the freedom of movement of the Palestinians; the imposition of checkpoints through which most Palestinians have to pass daily to go to work; the recent decision to expel to Uganda and Rwanda hundreds of thousands of refugees who came to Israel as they fled wars, famines and poverty; and now the law to revoke residence permits.

The list of violations is long and what is most worrying is that it grows longer every year, as the Knesset proposes and approves laws that make life for Palestinians a daily struggle. This has been particularly been the case over the past year, when the victory of Donald Trump in the United States has emboldened the extremist right-wing coalition that is currently in charge of writing the history of the Jewish State. To quote the most blatant example of this dynamic, the decision of President Trump to recognize Jerusalem – the disputed city that all claim as religious point of reference and all seek as political capital – as Israeli and the decision to cut aid to the Palestinians has de facto given to the Likud-led coalition the green light that it needed to push its discriminatory policies further. All in the name of security for the Jewish citizens of Israel.

However, similar measures do little to increase security. On the contrary, they seed resentment, anger and despair among the Palestinians – three sentiments typically linked with political violence. In this way, that vicious cycle that has so often marked the past seventy years is protracted endlessly: more discriminatory policies on part of Israel generate anger; anger finds its way of expression in violence, being impossible and credible any other alternative; violence triggers more discriminatory laws and measures justified on ground of security. And the story repeats itself endless times.

Therefore, in embracing an Israeli policy strikingly in favor of its current right-wing government, the Trump administration has taken on its shoulders a great responsibility: it has become complicit in the breaches of international law that Israel is increasingly enacting and therefore responsible for the security problems that in the long term all this will inevitably generate on that piece of land. However, something that both the Knesset and Trump seem to be ignoring is that there can be no security in the continuous violation of international humanitarian law.


The coalition-rift that benefits the coalition leader

While the parties of the ruling coalition are fighting between them, the one who might take advantage of the situation is Bibi.

As the Netanyahu judiciary saga unfolds, with ever more details and ever more protagonists emerging every week, another drama is developing in Israel these days: the infighting within the coalition that has been governing the country since 2015.

The rift in the ruling coalition has seemingly reached the point of no-return this past week, but its roots go back before the coalition even existed. It all began in 2014, when the then Knesset voted in favor of penalties to be imposed again yeshiva students who evade military conscription. In response, in 2015, an amendment to the conscription law removed all criminal consequences for yeshiva students evading their military duties. In the latest episode of this never-ending contestation, last September the Supreme Court struck down the 2015 amendment, arguing that it deprived the Defense Minister of his right to decide the quota of ultra-Orthodox youths who must be enlisted in the army every year. The Court deliberated that the Knesset had 365 days to pass an alternative law.

After the deadline for the new conscription law to be drafted and adopted was set by the Court for September 2018, the issue waned in the public debate. Or at least it did until now, when it is making the headlines once again. In fact, as Netanyahu’s power becomes less steady and the option of a future government in which ultra-orthodox forces are excluded or marginalized becomes less improbable, Shas and the other religious parties have been pushing for the adoption of a law that would exempt religious students from being called to the arms. Their proposed bill, though, has been opposed staunchly by the party Ysrael Beitenu and by its leader Avigdor Lieberman, who has argued that as Defense Minister he will never compromise on the duty for all Israeli citizens to serve in the army. In response, religious parties have threatened to block the 2019 budget, which Finance Minister Kahlon and his Kulanu party want to be approved by the end of the current Knesset session on the 18th of March. If that deadline expires without the budget having been approved, a non-confidence vote against the government will be cast.

On the background of this infighting among the various parties of the ruling coalition, two scenarios are possible. In the first scenario, the rift sparked by the debate on the conscription law cannot be solved and early elections are called. If this was the case, Netanyahu would likely benefit from it because running in early elections would delay the legal proceedings against him. Furthermore, if elections were anticipated, Netanyahu would be the likely winner. In fact, the most recent polls – conducted at a time when the involvement of the Prime Minister in Cases 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 is becoming clearer – show a small but steady increase in public support for Netanyahu and his Likud party. Apparently, Netanyahu’s strategy of responding to the allegations by labelling his opponents “anti-Israel operatives” and by denouncing the accusations as a “witch-hunt” has been successful in convincing many Israelis that he is not the culprit but the victim of a political persecution. To make Netanyahu’s popularity even more relevant in view of early elections, then, is the deep unpopularity of the Left: over the past years, left-wing parties have failed to advance political programs capable of rallying mass support and their main leaders – Gabbay and Lapid – lack Netanyahu’s charisma and political acumen. Finally, polls reveal that the other coalition parties in the Right camp do not enjoy the sway necessary to subtract voters to the Likud, which would thus be the party winning most seats. Such a victory on part of Netanyahu would not make the accusations filed against him disappear, but it would nonetheless send a strong signal that the Israeli people are with him – something that would make Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s work more difficult to be brought on as smoothly, rapidly and undisturbed as it should.

It is in light of these considerations that many have pointed to the possibility that the current coalition crisis is actually being masterminded by Netanyahu himself, who is seeking a subtle way to call early elections without being accused of manipulating the electoral process to make his interest and save his skin.

In the second scenario, the rift currently experienced by the ruling coalition is solved by Netanyahu before the closure of the parliamentary session on March 18th. If this happened – an outcome that an experienced politician such as Netanyahu could presumably reach with an adequate scheme of compensations for each of his quarrelling partners – Netanyahu would not reap the benefits that an early election could bring, but he would succeed in presenting himself in the eyes of the Israeli public as the leader that the country needs to solve stalemates and balance its different political forces. To this, it is then to add the success with which Netanyahu is using his current five-days visit to the United States where he addressed the AIPAC on the Iranian threat, his friendship with Trump and Friedman, and the American decisions to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem and cut aid to the Palestinians to present himself to his domestic constituency as the sole leader who can influence the United States and secure Israel’s interests. The cunning way in which Netanyahu is boosting his image as the irreplaceable leader without whom Israel cannot survive its inner contradictions nor have a say on the international arena is likely to counterbalance the negative effect of the judicial investigations and to pay off when elections will be held in 2019.

Be it actual or premeditated, end it with elections or with reconciliation, the current rift within the ruling coalition is nothing but positive for its leader. A further confirmation that Bibi is not leaving anytime soon.

Which future for Gaza?

One month after the Turkish-Israeli agreement and the arrival of the first Turkish aid in Gaza, the issue of what future lies ahead for the Strip under a blockade regime that Israel is not intentioned to lift remains open and debated


After the agreement between Tel Aviv and Istanbul with which the two countries retrieved their bilateral relations, in early July a cargo ship delivering Turkish aid reached Gaza. Indeed, when the deal was reached, among the Turkish requests there was the end of the blockade imposed by the Israeli government on the Strip. However, among the Israeli positions there was the refusal of any significant change to the blockade regime. Therefore, a compromise was necessary and this was found in the consent given by Israel to Turkey to send aid towards Gaza through the Israeli port of Ashdod, where any cargo directed to the Strip needs to be inspected by Israel before it can reach its final destination.

Due to this agreement, thus, on the 3rd July the vessel Lady Layla reached Ashdod and from there Gaza City, where it transferred 11 tonnes of aid, among which food, clothes, toys, products for personal hygiene and other goods of first necessity. Once in Gaza, the aid was put in the hands of the Ministry of Social Affairs, in charge of distributing 75% of all aid to the 75,000 poorest families who depend on subsidies (the remaining 25% is administered by the Palestinian Red Crescent).


In the words of Etimad al-Tarshawi (Secretary General of Planning and Development in the above-mentioned Ministry), this aid –even if only a small part of what Gaza needs- is extremely important for the families that receive it, since it helps to cope with an economic situation which is desperate to say the least.

Since June 2007, indeed, when Hamas won administrative control over Gaza, Israel has imposed severe restrictions to the movement of people and goods from and to the Strip. The Israeli policy –justified by the government as a measure which is necessary to prevent weapons from being delivered to Hamas and to prevent extremists from entering the Israeli territory and endangering the country’s security- did not succeed in weakening the group, that continues in fact to administer the Strip and to enjoy a broad popular support thanks to the services it provides to the population. On the contrary, the Israeli policy had the only effect of obstructing any possibility of economic development for the Strip, thus paving the way to the emergence of a thriving black market that benefits those who manage the smuggling networks and condemns instead to poverty the civilian population. Following the Israeli policy, in fact, the almost 2 million civilians who live in Gaza are confined within the borders of the Strip, prevented from moving to other places in search of job, and left without means of subsistence and without hopes of a future improvement.

Moreover, because of the blockade that prevents construction materials from reaching Gaza, houses, schools, and hospitals that had been destroyed in 2014 during the last conflict have not been rebuilt yet.


According to the UN, if this situation does not change in the short run, Gaza will become “uninhabitable” by 2020. Similar warnings have also come from the World Bank which has defined Gaza’s economy as being “on the verge of collapse”.



In light of this grim economic situation, it is clear how the aid coming from Turkey is vital to Gaza and its inhabitants. Nevertheless, the agreement between Turkey and Israel (and in particular the section related to Gaza) has given rise to discordant reactions on part of the Palestinians.

On one side, there are those who have stressed the positive impact that Turkish aid can have on the conditions of Gazans and have underlined the necessity and the hope that Turkey continues its policy of concrete support made possible by the recent agreement. In this group, there is also Hamas that presented the agreement as a turning-point that can make Turkey more active in pressing Israel to lift the blockade.

On the other side, instead, there are those who criticize the terms of the agreement because they regard it as being not only insufficient but even counter-productive as far as the lifting of the blockade is concerned. What many civilians and analysts settled in Gaza maintain, in fact, is that the agreement fails to reckon the difference between embargo and blockade and that its efficiency is limited exclusively to the former. As far as the latter is concerned, in fact, the agreement merely allows the transfer of aid to the Strip but does not guarantee the opening of Gaza to international economy, risking in this way to crystallizing the blockade rather than paving the way to its lifting.


This stance highlights an important element: despite the undeniable importance of humanitarian aid for an area of the Levant where the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, what Gaza really needs are development projects capable of revitalizing its economy. It is necessary a long-term and broader approach, capable –through initiatives and in loco development projects- of giving to Gaza a real economic structure and to the population residing there possibilities of work and self-sufficiency.

Without this kind of approach, Gaza will continue to be dependent on aid and its population will continue to be excluded from development, with the consequent risk that the territory might become a hotbed for extremism. Without alternatives and in a socio-economic context made of alienation, poor education, unemployment, and lack of direct contacts with the outer world -in fact- radical religious and political groups and organizations voted to violence and terrorism might easily exploit the despair of young Gazans to win support and attract recruits.


A situation of this kind would serve no one’s interests: it would not benefit Gaza, its population, Hamas, nor would it benefit Israel and Egypt – the countries responsible for the maintenance of the blockade.

With the Strip radicalized and exposed to the risk of proliferation of terrorism, Israel would find itself having at its borders a serious threat to its security – much more serious than the one that, according to the government’s rhetoric, there would be if Gaza was enabled to have its own economy and to maintain economic, trade and financial relations with the outside world.

A similar discourse applies to the Egyptian case: if a Gaza forcibly kept isolated and underdeveloped became an operative ground for extremist and terrorist groups, the Sinai would see itself exposed to a direct threat to its security and stability, and from the Sinai (that already is for Egypt the most volatile region and the most difficult to be controlled from Cairo) the threat would rapidly extend to the rest of Egypt.


However, within the Israeli establishment this reality is reckoned only by few, among whom Maj. Gen. H. Halevy. In a recent speech, he underlined how “if there is no improvement [of Gaza’s situation], Israel will be the first one to pay the price” and warned the Knesset that the reconstruction of Gaza is actually the best (and perhaps the only) way to avoid the risk of a future war.


It is thus in the hands of the international community the responsibility of using all the possible economic, political and diplomatic leverages to convince Israel that keeping Gaza underdeveloped does not serve its; to push Israel to include in the distension of relations with Turkey the lifting of the blockade; and to induce Egypt to modify its policy of support to the blockade.