May 22, 2024

I do not blame Benjamin Netanyahu. I do not blame the Israeli prime minister for what is happening to my people. I do not blame him today, as Israeli bombs destroy every corner of Gaza, and children die under the rubble. I did not blame him back in 2013, when I had to watch the slaughter of my people in Gaza on the evening news, either.

My mother did not blame him when snipers perched on rooftops shot at her as she tried to make her way to work in the West Bank. My grandfather, God rest his soul, did not blame him as he died without ever returning to the land settlers stole from him in the 1980s, either.

For me, for my family, for my people, what we are witnessing in Palestine today is not “Netanyahu’s war”. It is not his occupation. He is nothing but another cog in the relentless war machine that is Israel.

Yet if you were to ask senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, the supposed champions of Palestinian rights and progressive humanitarianism in the United States, everything that has happened to us in the past 75 years, and everything that is happening to us today, can be blamed on one man, and one man alone: Netanyahu.

Sanders insistently calls the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza “Netanyahu’s war”, and demands that the US “not give Netanyahu another nickel”. Meanwhile, Warren denounces “Netanyahu’s failed leadership” as she calls for a ceasefire.

For these progressive senators, the cause of all the pain and suffering in Palestine is clear: a far-right, hawkish prime minister hell-bent on continuing a conflict that keeps him in power.

Sure, Netanyahu is evil. Sure, he committed countless crimes against Palestinians and against humanity, throughout his long career. Sure, he is continuing to fuel the carnage in Gaza today in part for his own political survival. And he should be held accountable for everything he has said and done that caused harm and pain to my people. But the racism, extremism and genocidal intent that is on display in Gaza and across the occupied Palestinian territory today cannot and should not be blamed on Netanyahu alone.

Blaming Israel’s blatant human rights abuses, disregard for international law, and open celebration of war crimes on Netanyahu alone is nothing but a coping mechanism for liberals like Sanders and Warren.

By blaming Netanyahu for the suffering and oppression of the Palestinian people, past and present, they keep alive the lie that Israel was built on progressive ideals, rather than ethnic cleansing.

By blaming Netanyahu, they whitewash their seemingly unconditional support for a state blatantly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

By blaming Netanyahu, and casting Israel as a progressive, well-meaning state that would respect international humanitarian law but is currently taken over by a bad leader, they are absolving themselves – and the US at large – of complicity in Israel’s many war crimes.

Of course, Sanders, Warren and all the others pushing this line know well that the “conflict” in Israel-Palestine would not magically disappear and Palestinians would not immediately achieve liberation and justice if Netanyahu were gone.

After all, they’ve seen a similar scenario play out in the US only a few years ago. People had said if only Trump was removed from the White House, problems that he fuelled and provoked would disappear. The American democracy would be saved and everything would be just fine.

But did that happen? It has been almost four years since the eventful end of Trump’s presidency, but we can still see rampant racism, inequality, gun violence and poverty across the country.

These problems have not been magically fixed after Trump’s presidency, because they were not created by Trump. These were never “Trump” problems, but American ones. Furthermore, there is a very real chance that Trump will return to the White House next year because millions of Americans support him and his agenda.

The same is true for Netanyahu and Israel.

The suggestion that Netanyahu betrayed Israel’s progressive, democratic foundations and caused the “humanitarian catastrophe” we are witnessing in Gaza today, ignores the systemic oppression that is inherent to Israel as a settler colony.

Sanders and others may want to believe the Zionist myth that Israel is an essentially progressive country with socialist foundations, built on a “land without people” by a people without land. But they cannot escape the fact that Palestine has never been a ”land without a people”. Indeed, the founding of Israel required the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are Indigenous to the land, and the survival of Israel as a “Jewish Nation”, as stated in its Nation State Law, requires the continued oppression, disenfranchisement and abuse of Palestinians.

Today, millions of Palestinians continue to live and die under Israeli occupation, and they – alongside Palestinian citizens of Israel – are subjected to what is widely described as an apartheid system.

This untenable and unjust dynamic is hardly the creation of Netanyahu and his government.

From the very beginning, the state of Israel tied its long-term survival to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, complete erasure of the Palestinian identity, and the oppression of Palestinians who remained on their lands.  Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that “There is no such thing as Palestinians” in 1969, decades before the beginning of Netanyahu’s reign.

Sure, the Israeli left promote their agriculture-based communal living situation in “kibbutzim” as a socialist dream, and many Israelis take pride in their country’s “democracy”. But all this is true only if you ignore the humanity of Palestinians who have been ethnically cleansed from their lands to make way for the socialist kibbutzim, and who cannot participate in Israel’s democracy despite living under full Israeli control in illegally occupied territory.

Before the beginning of the genocide in Gaza, Israelis protested en masse against what they deemed to be an attack on the country’s legal system and democracy by Netanyahu for months. Yet they have never protested in such numbers and with such force the occupation, murder, and brutalisation of Palestinians by their own state and military.

In November, a full month into the genocide, only 1.8 percent of Israelis said they believed the Israeli military was using too much firepower in Gaza, and now, five months into the genocide, some 40 percent of Israelis say they want to see a revival of Jewish settlements in Gaza.

It seems the images of thousands of dead and maimed Palestinians do not mean much to Israelis. They are not moved by the videos of fathers carrying the remains of their children in plastic bags, or mothers crying over the bloodied bodies of their murdered babies. They do not care about hungry children stuck under the rubble, or toddlers being poisoned by the bird feed they are forced to eat amid a man-made famine. They are not merely indifferent to the suffering their military inflicts on innocents – thousands of them actually protest at the border gates to ensure no aid reaches Palestinians on the brink of starvation.

Many of these are the very same Israelis who took to the streets less than a year ago to protest against Netanyahu’s so-called attack on their democracy.

So, no – what we are witnessing in Palestine today is not “Netanyahu’s war” as Sanders and Warren insistently claim. This conflict, this genocide, did not start with Netanyahu’s rise to power and it will not end with his inevitable fall from grace.

Settlers began stealing Palestinians’ lands, homes and lives long before Netanyahu became relevant in Israeli politics. Palestinians have been stuck in open-air prisons since long before he was prime minister. The Israeli military did not start abusing, harassing, maiming and killing Palestinians when Netanyahu became their commander.

The problem is not Netanyahu or any other Israeli politician or general.

The problem is Israel’s occupation. The problem is the settler colony whose very security and long-term viability are reliant on a system of apartheid and the never-ending occupation, oppression and mass killing of an Indigenous population.

This is not Netanyahu’s war, it is Israel’s genocide.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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