Burned cars after a raid by Israeli settlers in Hawara in the West Bank (Alamy/ SOPA Images Limited)

Israeli society has plunged deeper into crisis after ­hundreds of its citizens went on a murderous rampage against Palestinians, and police clamped down on “democracy” protests. Politicians, prominent ­supporters and even members of the military fear they can no longer defend Israel as liberal and democratic thanks to its right wing government.

Israel’s finance minister Bezalel Smotrich had to backtrack after saying last week that the state should “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Hawara. His call came after hundreds of settlers—Israelis living on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank—rampaged in the town. They killed one Palestinian, injured some 400, and torched dozens of Palestinian homes. 

In the aftermath Smotrich—who is also the minister in charge of ­settlements—said, “I think the village of Hawara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it.” Under pressure, Smotrich had to say several days later that his comments were a “slip of the tongue.” But he certainly meant it. Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party is rooted in nationalist and settler movements who want to drive Palestinians out and claim their land for Israel.

The apology came just as Israeli cops attacked “pro-democracy” ­protesters blocking roads in Tel Aviv and other cities. The protests are against planned changes to Israel’s judicial system that would give the government more freedom to do what it wants.

Protest leaders have made sure to effectively exclude Palestinians. They know that being seen to support Palestinian rights would undermine the movement’s popularity. Instead, the movement’s ­supporters say the changes would make it almost impossible to defend Israel as a “democratic” state.

A group of active reservists in Israel’s air force refused to sign on for training exercises this week. They say that the planned judicial changes could leave them vulnerable to facing justice in international courts. And supporters of Israel were set to march in London and other cities around the world against the government. Organisers of the march in London said it was for “friends who love Israel”.

Reuven Ziegler, one of the speakers at this Sunday’s protest in London, said the march would be “anything but hostile to the Israeli state.” But, he added, “Many Jews have felt the need to defend Israel, right or wrong. That sentiment may be ­weakening, but ultimately the blame for that lies squarely with the current government.” 

The crisis is a result of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, and the racism built into the state’s foundations. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is deeply entrenched, and every mainstream Israeli party wants to make settlements officially part of Israel. But none of them want to live alongside more Palestinians, as the state was founded on the promise that Jewish citizens will always be a majority over Arabs. 

That problem left Israel without a stable ­government for almost five years, until the present one was elected last year. In practice, every Israeli government has worked to drive Palestinians from their land. But they’ve always felt the need to hide it with the pretence that Israel was a democratic and equal society—something the new government wants to discard. Now many of Israel’s supporters worry this will weaken support for Israel.

Fire engulfs the world’s largest refugee camp

Fire destroyed thousands of makeshift shelters at the world’s largest refugee camp last Sunday leaving some 12,000 people without homes. Smoke and flames engulfed Camp 11 of the Kutupalong refugee camp in south east Bangladesh. More than 1.2 million mostly Rohingya people are forced to live there.

Camp residents say that emergency services were slow to react to the fire, and rudimentary medical facilities are completely overwhelmed. Each hut in the camp is made of a mixture of wood and tarpaulin, and houses four or five people. They exist in an area separated from the rest of the country by hills and are regarded as a “burden” by the Bangladeshi state.

Rohingya people fled their homes in Myanmar after the state launched successive pogroms against the Muslim minority over a 30-year period. The crisis reached its height in 2017 as the Myanmar military burnt villages, and tortured and raped their way through the west of the country. 

The US state said Myanmar had committed genocide and tasked the United Nations (UN) with investigating the crime. But that same UN last month decided to slash food aid to the Rohingya in Bangladesh, cutting monthly vouchers from £10 to £8. While the West condemns the Myanmar military regime and says it supports the Rohingya people, countries erect more barriers against refugees. 

Yuri Prasad

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