Palestine Center Brief No. 333 (October 15, 2019)
By Mohamed Mohamed
Last week, President Donald Trump ordered US forces to withdraw from their positions in northeast Syria. This move paved the way for Turkey to begin its air and ground offensive in the area, which began shortly after American troops withdrew.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey’s goal is to “prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border and to bring peace to the area.” Specifically, he is referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is a Kurdish militia involved in the Syrian civil war that until now, has enjoyed strong US support, but is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey due to its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey’s aim is to drive SDF fighters away from its borders and to create a roughly 30-kilometer “safe zone” deep into Syrian territory.
Shortly after Turkey’s invasion, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted:
“Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies. Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.”
One would think that Netanyahu, who is increasingly likely to face legal charges of corruption, and who is struggling to maintain his role as Prime Minister after the very narrow results of the Israeli election in September, would try to maintain a low profile and avoid such comments.
But more importantly, given its own history of invasions, violations of sovereignty, military occupation, ethnic cleansing, and overall aggression, one would think that Israel should remain silent about the events taking place in Turkey and Syria.
Of course, this is not to defend Turkey’s invasion and aggression. But for more than 71 years, Israel has engaged and continues to commit the offenses mentioned above.
In 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee from their homeland thanks to the violence and terrorism of invading Zionist forces. Most became refugees, and Israel refused to allow them the right to return to their homeland, effectively resulting in the ethnic cleansing of Israel’s newly captured territories (in fact, one could say that Israel is a shrewd pioneer in ethnic cleansing). The Palestinians who were able to stay are now treated as second-class citizens, and they face institutional and societal discrimination.
In 1967, Israel preemptively launched a war and invaded the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Egypt, and Syria. This resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, and the Syrian Golan Heights. This situation created another wave of Palestinian displacement and refugees. As was the case with the refugees of the Nakba in 1948, many of these refugees were never able to return to their homes.
Furthermore, Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. It has established and continues to expand settlements in these territories, which is completely illegal under international humanitarian law. (The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, prohibits a hostile, occupying power such as Israel from transferring members of its own population into the territory of the occupied people). In addition, Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation suffer from a wide range of human rights abuses, including theft of their land and resources, restrictions on their freedom of movement, collective punishment, extrajudicial killings, and many more injustices.
Despite withdrawing from Gaza, Israel has placed it under a near-total land, sea, and air siege for more than 12 years now. In just 10 years, it launched three devastating wars against Gaza and its population, causing the deaths of thousands of people, most of whom were civilians. Over the course of the “Great March of Return” protests that have taken place since 2018 in Gaza, Israel killed more than 260 and injured over 30,000 Palestinians who were protesting for their right to return and for their basic human rights.
Many people have also forgotten or are not aware of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This offensive caused the deaths of thousands and thousands of people, many of whom were innocent civilians. Under the guise of creating the “South Lebanon Security Belt,” Israel occupied a large area of southern Lebanon until the year 2000. Ironically, the “security belt” excuse is the same “safe zone” excuse Turkey is using today in its invasion of Syria.
The list of Israeli hostility is clearly extensive, and this is why it is in absolutely no position to criticize the aggression of other countries. One might wonder how Netanyahu could have the nerve and arrogance to speak out against Turkey, when Israel has engaged in worse behavior for much longer.
One of the main reasons is that it faces little to no accountability for its actions. This is not just referring to the coercive actions of world powers such as the US, which could hold Israel accountable for its conduct. It also applies to the mainstream media, which rarely highlights Israel’s offenses. Many major media outlets are criticizing Turkey for its incursion into Syria, but there was far less outrage over Netanyahu’s recent vow to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, or for President Trump’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.
The bottom line is, if Israel does not suffer any significant economic, military, or reputational costs, it will continue to say one thing and do another.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Palestine Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.