Gaza war is a big win for Israel's far right

The more Palestinians endure abuse, the stronger Israeli extremists become

Israeli female soldiers pose for a photo with the ruins of Gaza in the background on February 19, 2024.
Israeli female soldiers pose for a photo with the ruins of Gaza in the background on February 19, 2024.

Gaza war is a big win for Israel's far right

Over the past two decades, neither Israel nor Hamas has achieved their self-proclaimed objectives in the recurrent conflicts in Gaza. Armed resistance has persisted despite the massive destruction of infrastructure and the heavy toll on civilian lives. At the same time, Israel’s suffocating occupation has only intensified, tightening its hold on more Palestinian territories, both in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

At every turn, the Israeli far right emerges triumphant, with its adherents growing increasingly audacious in justifying flagrant human rights violations against Palestinians. This extreme right has become the pivotal force keeping Benjamin Netanyahu's fragile government from falling apart.

Several months into the current Gaza war, both sides haven’t been able to declare any significant achievements in the brutal war that followed Hamas’s 7 October attack. Israel’s response has been unprecedented; it has killed and wounded tens of thousands of Palestinians and destroyed large swathes of infrastructure in Gaza—a densely populated area of over two million people.

Read more: What’s it like for an Israeli Jew to express sympathy for Palestinians?

This is not the first time an Israeli prime minister, particularly Netanyahu—the longest-serving in the nation's history—has failed to dismantle Hamas's tunnel network and eliminate its presence in Gaza. However, this conflict has an added layer of complication, with more than 100 Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas still in the group’s custody. A large segment of Israeli society has held protests nearly daily, increasingly blaming Netanyahu for failing to reach a deal to secure their release.

The extreme right has long dictated Israel's policy toward the Palestinians, not just in the present but throughout the decades since the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied in 1967

But Netanyahu has also faced global pressure over his war with Israel increasingly being viewed as a pariah state. The International Court of Justice, the top court of the United Nations, has said it is committing "plausible genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes". It has recently issued a new ruling calling on Israel to halt its current offensive in Rafah—a call Netanyahu has chosen to ignore. For its part, the International Criminal Court has requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Galant.

In the absence of a comprehensive political solution, the repeated wars in Gaza are perpetual dead-ends. However, they seem to be benefiting one particular faction: the extreme right and its ideology. These conflicts empower its political figures and bolster settler militias in the occupied West Bank.

Smotrich and Ben-Gvir take part in the ultranationalist March of the Flags near Jerusalem's Old City on June 15, 2021.

And the more Palestinians endure abuse, the stronger Israeli extremists become. There seems to be a direct correlation between the systematic military targeting of civilians in Gaza and the extreme right-wing agenda to eradicate them. This was starkly evident in statements by ministers in the current government, who have advocated for rebuilding settlements in Gaza and displacing its people, describing Palestinians as merely an "invention." One even suggested nuking Gaza.

Read more: Ehud Barak opens up about a possible major strategic blunder and whether Oslo was a trick

It appears that the extreme right has long dictated Israel's policy toward the Palestinians, not just in the present but throughout the decades since the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied in 1967. Today, right-wing leaders such as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seem almost moderate in comparison to current figures like National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Despite being secular himself, Netanyahu does not hesitate to frame his war on Gaza in religious terms to garner support from the extreme right and advance his personal political ambitions. In one of his remarks, Netanyahu stated, "The Torah tells us: Remember what the Amalekites did to you, and we actually remember that and are fighting."

The infiltration of the extreme right

Before any war erupted in Gaza or confrontations ensued between Palestinians and the Israeli occupation army, there were always signs of its imminence, such as provocative visits by extremist officials to the Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound or horrific attacks by settlers.

The influence of the extreme right and religious Zionism has grown within the ranks of the Israeli army. Some soldiers have called for a new nakba or catastrophe in the recent war, while others spoke of "divine miracles" on the battlefields.

Recently, the Israeli army said it launched an investigation into a video circulated on social media, showing a masked soldier in Gaza refusing to deliver food aid to besieged residents and threatening to defy efforts to cease the war or withdraw from the occupied Strip. In the background, graffiti on the wall of a destroyed house bore slogans of the extremist "Kach" movement.

Read more: Netanyahu vs Sinwar: Egocentrism personified in Gaza war

The influence of the extreme right transcends political and military spheres, infiltrating even football stadiums. Supporters of the Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv clubs have repeatedly attacked small, scattered demonstrations by secular leftists opposing the war and the Israeli occupation, using chairs, sticks, and stones in violent assaults over the past years.

In recent months, I have reported on the growing hatred toward Palestinians in Israeli society and spoken with Jewish Israeli citizens whose lives were upended simply for expressing sympathy for Palestinians in Gaza, who have seen their homes destroyed, families killed, and vital infrastructure reduced to rubble by Israeli air strikes.

The Israeli media—whether intentionally or unintentionally—has played a significant role in bolstering Netanyahu's populist rule and the far-right movement during the war. Consequently, Israelis seeking an alternative narrative about the conflict often turn to international media sources. Many media professionals and journalists in Israel chose to obscure the realities in Gaza and self-censor their reporting under the guise of defending the state in its war against Hamas. However, this approach ultimately emboldens Ben Gvir and his allies.

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