- Selma Saik
Knesset elections and the PIJ: Scapegoating the Gaza siege
As featured in Edition 41, available here.
By SELMA SAIK (2nd year - History and Politics - London, United Kingdom)
Just months prior to the upcoming Knesset elections, incendiary attempts to elicit Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) or anyone into an act of violence – that would be used to justify bloodshed – were futile. Losing patience and needing an opportunity to exhibit his commitment to keeping Israel ‘safe’ ahead of the elections, Prime Minister Yair Lapid decided to embark on the bloodshed anyway.
The ‘pre-emptive’ airstrikes that the IDF launched on the 5th August against the PIJ killed Taysir al-Jabari, a senior figure presumed to be commander of the northern branch of the organisation. In character with previous ‘pre-emptive’ Israeli airstrikes, they also resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians, with the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza reporting the deaths of 36 people, as well as the wounding of 253. In retaliation the PIJ launched just over a hundred rockets into Israel; all of which were intercepted, resulting in no casualties.
The PIJ is a Palestinian Islamist organization formed in 1981 by Gazan Islamic fundamentalists Dr Fathi abd al-Aziz Shaqaqi, Abd al-Aziz Awda, and a few others, in the mould of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood itself was advocating both peacefully, and later militarily, for the implementation of a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture that would be the dominating influence behind government policy. Bankrolled by Iran and later Hezbollah, the PIJ is considered the most radical organisation in the Gaza strip, not least for its penchant for belligerence. The PIJ is thought to be at the forefront of armed resistance and rejects all diplomatic avenues to peace with Israel; instead advocating for the destruction of the state, as well as the establishment of a sovereign Islamic state in the occupied lands. It is worth noting, however, that sufficient crackdowns on the PIJ – spearheaded by the Israelis and supported by the Palestinian National Authority – that began in late 1990 have significantly weakened the movement, with the organisation thought to have less than 1,000 fighters.
The PIJ aside, the tradition of blockading almost two million people in an area of 365 square kilometres and bombing them every time an election is on the horizon is profoundly sadistic. Yet it has become common practice for the Israelis. Emboldened by what can only be described as an embarrassingly sparse international condemnation, this uncalled for cruelty has become common practice for Prime Ministers trying to bolster their political clout at the expense of innocent Palestinian lives. Indeed, the electoral success of successive right-wing Israeli governments signifies popular support for such brutal policies, which have become synonymous with protecting the Israeli public and the sanctity of the state.
More recently, the Israeli government admitted responsibility for a further airstrike that massacred five children playing at a cemetery in Gaza. That was just mere hours before a negotiated ceasefire on 7th August, and after the blame was initially placed on a misfired PIJ rocket. It was only a few months ago that Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist, was shot and killed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in the Jenin area of the West Bank, covering the occupation forces’ illegal annexations, whilst wearing a blue vest with “PRESS” emblazoned on the front. The IDF also shot at journalists who came to her aid.
An AFP journalist, Al Jazeera, and the Palestinian Ministry of Health all declared that it was an IDF soldier who killed her. Their accounts were corroborated by sequential probes by the Associated Press, CNN, the New York Times and The Washington Post. All this was whilst IDF spokespeople instead suggested the shot was fired by a Palestinian, despite there being no combatants but themselves present. Despite overwhelming evidence proving Shireen to have been martyred by an IDF soldier Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State in the United States, declared the US would ‘follow the facts’ and wait for the results of an internal Israeli investigation, that no doubt would exonerate itself. This initial denial and readiness to blame the Palestinians for the deaths of their own has become Israel's modus operandi; lying to the press until the evidence is irrefutable to deflect criticism of its brutality, at which point the story will have disappeared from headlines, the victims resigned to anonymity and injustice.
Concerns about the outbreak of an all out war in Gaza have unsurprisingly reappeared, however as Gazan researcher Tamer Qarmout, of the Doha Institute of Graduate Studies put it, “There is no appetite for war”. Gaza has never recovered from a twenty-year siege that has trapped and crippled its residents. In the words of Qarmout, “it just lives from conflict to conflict”.
Image: Flickr/ michael lodenthal