Israel-Palestine war: Israelis in fear and denial as society slides towards fascism
On Monday, I logged into a Zoom meeting of the High Follow Up Committee for the Arab Citizens of Israel, an organisation representing Palestinian citizens, which includes politicians, academics, and activists among its members.
Was this an act of treason? It might have been.
By Thursday Mohammed Baraka, the head of the committee and a former leader of the leftist Hadash party, who served as a member of the Knesset for 16 years, had been arrested.
Two more senior political figures, Sami Abu Shehadeh, the leader of the Balad party and a former member of Balad MK, and Haneen Zoabi, another former member, were also arrested.
Their crime was to call for a small demonstration in Nazareth against the war in Gaza.
It is certainly now a criminal offence to watch the Hamas channel on Telegram, for which you can spend a year in prison.
A purge is underway against Palestinian students and lecturers in Israel’s universities and colleges.
Adalah, the Palestinian-run legal centre and human rights organisation, already has more than 100 cases of students and teachers expelled summarily for what they wrote on social media or even in private WhatsApp groups about Gaza.
According to Adalah, some of these posts merely quoted verses from the Quran or published lists of journalists on the ground in Gaza.
Hasan Jabarin, the general director of Adalah, told the committee of one teacher who was summoned for posting that “there is no god but Allah”, a phrase used in bereavement.
She explained that her aunt had died. The school demanded to see her aunt’s death certificate and was only “pardoned” then.
The witch-hunt started at Haifa University.
On the same day as the Hamas attack, a student there received a letter from the dean telling her that she had been suspended from her course and had to move out of her dormitory room the next day.
She was accused of having “supported the terror attack on the settlements near Gaza and the killing of innocents"; an accusation she flatly denied.
There was a protest and a petition signed by 24 lecturers demanding due process, and for the case to be heard by a disciplinary commission.
Adalah took up the case. The student’s expulsion, it said in a letter to the university, had been “arbitrary and unreasonable” and amounted to a “serious violation of the student’s rights to a fair process, to housing and to freedom of expression”.
The case is still pending.
It’s not just happening in Haifa. A friend of mine, Warda Saadeh, a professor at Kaye College, a teacher training college in Beersheba, posted that Gaza had been under siege for 16 years, without in any way justifying or praising Hamas’s attack. She clearly condemned the killing of civilians. She was dismissed after 30 years of work for the college.
The same thing is happening in Israel’s health service where Palestinians make up 40 percent of personnel in hospitals, medical centres, and pharmacies.
Nihaya Daoud, a public health researcher at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and the head of the follow-up committee’s subcommittee for health, described a campaign to expel doctors and health workers, including sometimes for things they had written before the war started.
Abed Samarah, a cardiologist from Hasharon Hospital, was fired without a hearing because he posted - a year before the attack - the flag of Islam with a dove carrying an olive branch.
Daoud said Palestinians in the health service were facing harassment from some Jewish colleagues and no action was being taken by the unions or the medical association.
Impunity also surrounds the petition signed by hundreds of Israeli Jewish doctors calling for the bombing of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City - a call which is unprecedented either in Israel or in the rest of the world, according to Daoud.
She claimed this was a direct contravention of both the Geneva Conventions and the Hippocratic Oath.
What is even more worrying is that much of this is not coming from the top, from a government filled with the extreme right.
These 'thought police' purges are being done by the university or hospital authorities themselves.
It is Jewish colleagues of Palestinian lecturers and doctors who are on the march.
What is going on?
Firstly, I think this is a conscious collective decision, at both official and unofficial levels, to avoid reality.
No Israeli television channel broadcast last Friday’s speech by Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, on the grounds that it helped the enemy.
Al Jazeera, by contrast, has broadcast live the Israeli army’s daily press briefings.
Too many Israeli Jews want to shut themselves off from the reality that two million Palestinians living in Israel feel solidarity with the people of Gaza. Of course they do.
Too many Israeli Jews want to shut themselves off from the reality that two million Palestinians living in Israel feel solidarity with the people of Gaza. Of course, they do. Many of them, especially in Jaffa or Ramle, have family members in Gaza, refugees who fled from these cities in 1948.
But Israel acts as if this strong attachment between these different parts of the Palestinian people will disappear if nobody talks about it.
The same make-believe world surrounds the issue of the hostages. Two weeks ago, before the ground offensive started, both sides were close to a deal to release women, children, and foreign nationals in exchange for Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons.
As Middle East Eye reported, there were unresolved problems about the length of a ceasefire and to whom the Israeli prisoners should be released, but the two sides were described by officials handling the negotiations in Qatar as “two inches” away from a deal.
The deal fell through when the ground invasion started. As soon as that happened, the story changed.
The Israel army’s spokesperson, and then all military commentators and correspondents, came out as one with the line that the ground invasion was putting more pressure on Hamas to release their hostages.
Some of the families of the hostages plainly disagreed, but could not say so for fear of sounding unpatriotic.
No one even asks the question: “How on earth does a ground invasion put more pressure on Hamas to release hostages? In what way? Why?”
It’s just another question that is buried under the rubble of this war. The same is true of what Israeli Jews see and hear of what is going on in Gaza. There is almost zero footage of the atrocities.
The massive weekly demonstrations in London, Washington, and elsewhere, are portrayed as international leftists who support the massacre of Israeli civilians.
The growing revulsion around the world at what Israel is doing in Gaza is not reported and, when it is, it is in a completely twisted way, as if it’s some huge antisemitic plot against Jews and Israel.
The purge is not limited to Palestinians. Jewish dissidents are experiencing mob rule.
Eran Rolnik, a psychiatrist who had written for years in Haaretz, was summoned on Wednesday to a disciplinary hearing by the Civil Service Commission for the articles he wrote against Netanyahu.
Meir Baruchin, a civics teacher who posts names and pictures of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli forces in Gaza or the West Bank, was arrested on Thursday on charges of "conspiring to treason".
An ultra-Orthodox leftist journalist, Israel Frey, who wrote that he was praying for the child victims of the kibbutzim and Gaza alike, is still in hiding, after fleeing his home when a mob gathered outside.
The big question, and my biggest fear, is what happens next?
You can place this current reign of terror in a context of fear and revenge, an understandable if much-exaggerated feeling following the atrocious Hamas attacks after which no Israeli Jew feels safe in their home.
But will this internal regime of silencing and intimidation evaporate when the war ends? Or are we standing on the doorstep of full-blown repression against Palestinians and Israeli dissidents?
Is Israel on the cusp of fascism? Unfortunately, I cannot give a comforting answer.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.