Skip to main content

Israel, Duterte and Khan al-Ahmar: The bullies are on the march

The state has proved its weakness through grotesque and brutal actions meant to display its strength

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted last month that “the weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive”, his apparent target was Iran. 

Had he forgotten, then, the Holocaust and the six million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis, or various other genocides - historical and contemporary - inflicted by the strong upon the weak? 

To say the tweet was tone deaf is to do the prime minister a kindness that is richly undeserved, especially when you consider the second part of his tweet: “The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong.” 

That was a message intended not for Iran, but for Palestinians: you will take the peace deal put together by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or we will ride roughshod over you.  

Thuggish allies

It is a deal that was arrived at, shamefully, without any Palestinian involvement. Acceptance would require Palestinians to give up the right of return, accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and see what remained of the West Bank incorporated into a so-called confederation with Jordan, while Gaza was extended as a strange appendage into Egypt’s North Sinai. That’s what Washington and Riyadh call a peace deal.

To underline just what a tough guy he is, Netanyahu proceeded to warmly welcome the thuggish president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, in the first such visit since 1957. Duterte, you might recall, in justifying the war on drugs he launched shortly after winning the presidency in 2016, cited the Holocaust and said he would be happy to “slaughter” drug addicts. 

This is what bullies do. They use their power to abuse the weak. They humiliate and insult. They believe they can act with impunity

The exact quote, in which he compared himself favourably to Adolf Hitler, is even more chilling than the Netanyahu tweet: “Hitler massacred three million Jews ... there’s three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Duterte, like that other notorious bully in the White House, pays scant attention to the facts, which explains why he managed to halve the number of Jews that the Nazis massacred. For his part, the Israeli prime minister was happy to overlook his guest’s admiration for Hitler while sharing the same basic tenet of the bully creed: the strong shall always prevail over the weak. 

Indeed, the slaughter of the weak is somehow viewed as a noble undertaking, in Duterte’s case because it saved the next generation from the “terrible perdition” of drug addiction and in Netanyahu’s because “in the end peace is made with the strong”.

Extrajudicial killings

In a visit that must surely go down as one of the most grotesque and bizarre in recent memory, Netanyahu thanked Duterte for the “remarkable phenomenon in Israel where thousands and thousands of families have taken heart from the support given by Filipino care workers to the elderly”. (The prime minister’s family had hired a Filipino health worker to assist with his father’s care.)

Duterte, for his part, in a statement thick with unintended irony, promised to assist Israel in combatting “those who have the corrupt ideology, who know nothing but to kill and destroy”.

Then it was off to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where Duterte, acknowledging the setting, mused that Hitler was, after all, “insane”. Looking thoughtful, he added: “I could not imagine a country obeying an insane leader, and I could not ever fathom the spectacle of the human being going into a killing spree, murdering old men, women and children. I hope this will not happen again.”

Palestinian men perform Friday prayers before a protest on 7 September 2018 in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which is threatened with imminent destruction (AFP)

Don’t we all, Rodrigo, don’t we all. But then, this is a man who, according to Human Rights Watch, is responsible for the extrajudicial killing of more than 12,000 people. Fine company indeed for the prime minister of Israel to keep, all the while charming his guest with warm words of friendship while discussing weapons sales, including assault rifles for the Philippines national police force - the same force that was involved in thousands of summary executions of known and suspected drug dealers. 

We are, without a doubt, in a high time for bullies. Taking a cue from Trump, the bully-in-chief, they strut their stuff and proclaim their invincibility. So, what better way - and at what better time - to show everyone just how tough Israel is, by beating up on the residents of a small West Bank Bedouin village, Khan al-Ahmar.

On 5 September, just as Duterte was winding down his historic visit, the Israeli High Court of Justice denied a petition by villagers to prevent their eviction from the place where they have lived for decades, after being evicted from the Negev desert in the 1950s. The three justices in the case had previously presided over earlier decisions to allow the eviction and demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, on the grounds that the villagers could not prove the land they lived on was not state land.

Above the law

The Israeli right and the settler movement have exulted in the decision, none more effusively than Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “No one,” he proclaimed “is above the law. No one will prevent us from exercising our sovereignty and responsibility to the state.”

Not satisfied with forcing the villagers out, authorities - in true bullying fashion - offered to relocate them to a site adjacent to a sewage treatment plant. That was after an earlier plan to place them next to a garbage dump in Abu Dis was thrown out. It is worth noting that Abu Dis, a Palestinian village bordering Jerusalem, is what the Kushner-bin Salman plan offered Palestinians as a capital.

Israel's opportunism comes with unforeseen costs
Taha Ozhan
Read More »

This is what bullies do. They use their power to abuse the weak. They humiliate and insult. They believe they can act with impunity - that contrary to Lieberman’s false claim of no one being above the law, they and they alone tower above it. Indeed, the law will - as in the Khan al-Ahmar decision - kowtow to their wishes.

So they revel in the moment. They preen and threaten. They do enormous damage. They kill. And yes, they seem all-powerful. But in truth, bullies are weak, and the measure of their weakness is the grotesque and brutal lengths to which they will go in an attempt to prove their strength. 

- Bill Law is a Middle East analyst and a specialist in Gulf affairs. He tweets @billlaw49.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) stands next to the president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte (L) during their meeting in Jerusalem, 3 September  2018. (AFP)

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.