In the coverage of Israel’s attacks on Palestinians in Sheik Jarrah, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in occupied Jerusalem, and since the establishment of the Israeli state, major U.S. media outlets have continuously framed Israeli state-sanctioned genocide against Palestinians as the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
This rhetoric has recently been seen in the coverage of protests in Sheik Jarrah, where four Palestinian families—al-Kurd, Iskafi, al-Qasem and al-Jaouni—are facing expulsion from their homes by Israeli settlers.
In a ruling made by a Jerusalem high court in October 2020, the four families were to be forcibly removed by May 2, despite conflicting claims to the property. As the Israeli Supreme Court considers the family’s appeal, each family has faced violence from Israeli settlers attempting to dispossess them from their homes, a violent continuation of Nakba, the historical forced removal of Palestinian natives from their ancestral homelands.
Historically, displaced Palestinian families were moved to Sheik Jarrah after the expulsion of nearly half of Palestinians from their ancestral homeland by Zionist militias in 1948 to create the state of Israel. The forced displacement of these four families by Israeli settlers in collusion with the Israeli government is a repetition of the violence faced as a part of Nakba.
“Israeli-Palestinian Hostilities” from the New York Times. “Surge in Israeli-Palestinian conflict prompts concern…” writes The Boston Globe. “Israeli-Palestinian Violence” declares NPR, all coining the violence Palestinians are experiencing as mutual. This framing of Israel and Palestine in a “conflict” or “crisis” validates the violent genocidal settler-colonialism enacted by the nation-state of Israel and its military through the demonization of Palestine as a complicit aggressor, assuming that they are operating on equal terms. Israel is an internationally funded nation-state, occupying Palestine’s unceded West Bank and Gaza, settling Palestinian land, and forcing native Palestinians out. There is no “conflict” between Israel and Palestine because of the sheer power imbalance at play.
This power imbalance is monumental. In a document outlining the U.S.’s relationship with Israel, the Congressional Research Services described Israel as funded with millions of dollars in U.S. aid, specifically to its military, with almost all aid going straight to military and defense funding. “To date, the United States has provided Israel $146 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. At present, almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although from 1971 to 2007, Israel also received significant economic assistance.”
Using the rhetoric of “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” blatantly misinforms the public on the amount of military funding and power the settler-state of Israel wields, and validates its genocidal ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the guise of defense from an equitable aggressor.
This forced displacement enacted by the nation-state of Israel is part of its larger Zionist expansion project, the prevailing far-right ideology that aims to remove Palestinian natives and replace them with Zionist settlers. As discussed by the group Jewish Voice for Peace, Zionism in its current iteration serves as the ideological basis of Israel’s founding, advocating for the establishment of a Jewish ethnostate in Palestine. The violent settler colonialism exercised by Israel is based on an ideology that has worked hard to conflate itself with Judaism, co-opting it so that any critique of Zionism can be labeled as anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, supports the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism, including “evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad…It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination. In general, the same norms of debate that apply to other states and to other conflicts over national self-determination apply in the case of Israel and Palestine. Thus, even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.”
The critique of Zionism is one that calls into question how Palestine is being erased in order for Israel to maintain settler power. Simply put, this is not a “conflict”—this is Palestine being occupied and colonized by Israel, a settler state. Any action that Palestine takes to defend itself is just that—a nation and people defending themselves from ethnic cleansing and genocide that the settler state of Israel necessitates to maintain its existence.
Jewish Voice for Peace writes that Zionism “has meant profound trauma for generations, systematically separating Palestinians from their homes, land, and each other. Zionism, in practice, has resulted in massacres of Palestinian people.” The rhetoric deployed by U.S. media outlets framing the “Israeli-Palestinian crisis” or “conflict” fails to see the epistemological and ideological foundation that the nation-state of Israel has built itself on, a foundation that calls for the eradication of Palestine and its people in favor of a new, pure state only for Israelis.
As Zionism is the prevailing national ideology of the settler state of Israel, it serves as the validation for ethnic cleansing and genocide of Palestinian natives. Amid the forced removals in Sheik Jarrah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech, “Israel is the capital of Israel. Just as every nation builds its capital and builds in its capital, we also reserve the right to build Jerusalem and build in Jerusalem. This is what we have done, and this is what we will continue to do.”
Netanyahu’s disregard for the Palestinian right to land and historical presence in Jerusalem as well as Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza is nothing less than a violent promise that genocide and ethnic cleansing will be enacted on all parts of Jerusalem until that vision is seen through. Essentially, as observed by the violent tactics deployed by Israeli military forces and by the very definition of settler-colonialism, for Israel to replace Palestine, Palestinians must be completely eradicated.
“Zionism essentially saw Palestine as the European imperialist did, as an empty territory paradoxically ‘filled’ with ignoble or perhaps even dispensable natives,” wrote the late Palestinian academic, Edward Said. To continue the Zionist project that Israel has built itself upon, Palestinian natives must be forced out to make room for the Jerusalem that Israel plans to create with violence. The forced removals of displaced Palestinian families in Sheik Jarrah are just one instance of the militant actions of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing that the state of Israel necessitates in order to create a racially and religious homogenous nation-state.
Subsequently, in another act of settler-colonial violence, the Israeli military prevented Palestinians from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the final Friday of Ramadan, firing rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades at those who protested the expulsion from their holy site. Over 200 Palestinians were wounded, and Israel escalated its violence through a flash-raid conducted in Al-Aqsa again, throwing stun grenades, escalating police presence and firing rubber bullets inside the mosque.
To label tear-gassing and shooting at praying Palestinians as a “conflict” or “crisis” denies that the actions taken by the Israeli military are brutal attacks on Palestinian civilians, and as such are nothing less than an extension of a genocidal project denying Palestinian rights to exist.
But that is exactly what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is encouraging when he says “Israel is the capital of Israel.” According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 213 Palestinians, including 61 children—as of press time—have been murdered by ongoing deadly airstrikes in Gaza for responding to their homes, religious places and ancestral territories being colonized in front of them.
Using the rhetoric of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” equates blame onto Palestinians as much as it does on the settler state of Israel. The Palestinian response to state-sanctioned genocide and ethnic cleansing is not simply a conflict, it is a call for help that all colonized peoples across the world have echoed.