One event above all others has haunted me for the past year. An unforgivable and unforgettable scene that echoed around the world. It was tragic, heroic and very symbolic.
Surprised, my colleagues and I stared in disbelief, lost for words, as it all began to unravel live on our screens. Just three days after it killed Al Jazeera Shireen Abu Akleh, Israel had decided to double down on its criminal actions. Orders were given to attack her funeral and decimate its Palestinian character.
As soon as her mourners gathered peacefully in the courtyard of St. Anna’s Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem, carried the coffin and prepared to go to Shireen’s final resting place, Israeli security forces attacked to stop the procession. She viciously attacked the grievers, who brutally beat them with batons, making it impossible for the bearers to protect their bodies.
But these courageous Palestinians stood their ground, clinging to the coffin, preserving its sanctity as it swayed and nearly fell to the ground. Soon tens of thousands of Palestinians joined the procession, making it the largest in memory. To them and countless others around the world, Shireen became an icon of freedom and sacrifice.
Her funeral highlighted what Shireen has reported throughout her life, that the occupation is evil, cruel and sadistic. She probably would have been less surprised, less dramatic, and more level-headed if she had reported it herself, considering the attack for what it is: cowardly. For nothing frightens the mighty nuclear state than the Palestinians uniting around their national flag and patriotically chanting, “Liberate, free Palestine.”
If the Israeli security forces’ intention was to prevent the funeral from spilling onto the street, they could have simply blocked the exit. But their true intention was to hurt and humiliate the Palestinians in front of the international media. To show the world that Israel can do what it wants, how it wants, when it wants, and to make it clear to its Western constituency, especially its American patrons, that they have no influence over Israel, even when it comes to killing a prominent Palestinian-American journalist.
Why? Because Israel is so drunk with power, it has gone mad.
For much of its history, Israel has done its best to hide its brutality, cover up its violence, and camouflage its racism, in order to curry favor with liberal Western powers. The justification for excessive force was always the same: it did it all in self-defense, it had no other choice. In short, the Israelis mastered the art of chutzpah, of killing and crying.
But today’s Israel is no longer coy about its racist violence, regardless of who is at the helm of the state echelon. Unlike the older generations of Zionists who had a fresh memory of European fascism and the Holocaust and were receptive to Western pressure, the new generation of smug Sabras (Jews born in Israel), religious zealots and illegal settlers have no qualms about calling fascists to be or behave.
The Robocop-type thugs who attacked Shireen’s peaceful burial, like the ones who raided her house after killing her, lack any human and moral conscience. Like their leaders, no one was held accountable for their crimes. Because, unlike other rogue regimes who were rebuked for their transgressions, Israel was generally rewarded for its aggression – the greater the transgression, the greater the reward from the United States and the West in general. Even Middle Eastern regimes have recently joined the schmooze ritual, rewarding Israel for its aggression, under the pretext of “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
Netanyahu received some $40 billion in US military aid after repeatedly insulting and belittling US President Barrack Obama. Israel’s relentless bombing of the Gaza Strip, the expansion of illegal settlements and the attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque were rewarded with wider Arab normalization and more European aid and investment.
Such blatant schmoozing and appeasement has driven Israel completely mad. Like a troubled child, he constantly pushes the boundaries of bad behavior, curious when his patrons will finally act like adults and put an end to his violent attacks and tantrums. In vain.
It is therefore no surprise that the Israelis have concluded that aggression is not only allowed, but that it also pays handsomely. No surprise they elected the most extreme government in the state’s history after the so-called moderate government delivered the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2006. It will only get worse.
Impunity leads to arrogance and extremism.
At the helm come the new fascists, who hate the media and care little about international public opinion. They want to transform Israel’s legal and political system into a new fascist theocracy and demand that the state’s racism and violence be freed from legal constraints and judicial control. In the process, they turn against their Jewish compatriots for being too liberal, secular, or gay—in other words, like the Palestinians, for not belonging, prompting one veteran Israeli journalist to say, “Zionism is racism.” .
Indeed, the government is new manifest declares that the Jewish people have an “exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the land of Israel”, i.e. to all of historic Palestine. Predictably, the rising star and Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, has called for closing Al Jazeera and expelling its journalists. He, who was barred from serving in the Israeli army because of his extreme views, and who applauded the 1994 massacre of 29 innocent Palestinians in Hebron, calls Al Jazeera “an anti-Semitic and false propaganda network.” That would certainly have baffled Shireen. If alone.