Why Netanyahu used the Paris attacks to erroneously depict the latest ‘Intifada’ as a religious and ideological war

OPINION by Megan Hanna

The sirens had barely stopped wailing before commentators started exploiting the terror attacks in Paris on Friday 13th November, twisting the horrific event to serve a range of varying political agendas. A coordinated group of gunmen associated with ISIS carried out separate attacks in the French capital, leading to the deaths of at least 129 people. While most of the world mourned in respectful grief, an opportunistic few used the event to begin speaking about issues as varied as climate change, anti-immigration and unrest in the Middle East.

Given his tendency for making tenuous connections between Israel’s plight and disparate foreign events, it’s no surprise that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first to climb up on France’s bloodied bandwagon to make hasty links between Paris and present-day Israel.

Without dwelling too long over French fatalities, Netanyahu lamented over his country’s own victimhood, claiming “the terrorists who attack us have the same murderous intent as those in Paris”, saying that world leaders should condemn the “radical Islam” as effected by Palestinians.

“It would be proper for Abu Mazen, who condemned the attack in France yesterday, to condemn ruthless terrorism against innocent people in Israel”, Netanyahu continued emphatically, using a broad brush to paint imaginary connections between foreign terrorist factions and Palestinians.

To compare the actions of ISIS with those of dispossessed Palestinians – who are resisting in an anti-colonial struggle against a brutal military occupation – is intentionally deceptive, and appears to be part of Israel’s strategy to elicit global sympathy and support in their prolonged occupation of Palestinian lands.

As explained by Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Executive Committee, “Netanyahu is attempting to exploit the cruel and inhuman terrorism of Daesh [ISIS] in order to score cheap political points at the expense of the Palestinian people… his statements are not only fraudulent and politically coercive, they are symptomatic of political and moral bankruptcy”.

In case any unwitting observer missed the connection being made between Israel and France, the Israeli government lit up the walls of Jerusalem’s old city and the Knesset in the tri-color of the French flag, to commemorate the victims of Paris – but perhaps to hammer home the point that Israel is a victim too.

Netanyahu even managed to use his statement on Paris to exempt any Israeli actions that may have prompted the current violence unfolding within the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), saying “we are not to blame for the terrorism directed against us, just as the French are not to blame for the terrorism directed against them.”

As he continued, Netanyahu dismissed Israeli’s expansion of settlements past the 1949 Green Line as a motivating factor, instead portraying Palestinians as inherently aggressive and ideologically-motivated proponents of violence; “It is the terrorists who are to blame for terrorism, not the territories, not the settlements, not any other thing. It is the desire to destroy us that perpetuates this conflict and drives the murderous aggression against us”.

A conflict rooted in religion?

In another statement issued on Saturday in relation to the Paris attacks and Palestinian violence, Netanyahu said, “militant Islamic terrorism attacks our societies because it wants to destroy our civilization and our values. I call on the entire civilized world to unite to defeat the plague of worldwide terrorism. … It’s only with this moral clarity that the forces of civilization will defeat the savagery of terrorism”.

It is almost impossible to listen to Netanyahu’s antiquated binary of ‘civilized’ and ‘moral’ forces pitted against the atavistic ‘savages’ of mindless violence, and to not hear echoes of imperial rhetoric, derived from the collective memory of past empires. For example, parallels exist between the language employed by Netanyahu and that of the British Empire, whose global colonial expansion was justified through the work of Christian missionaries and ‘humanizing’ or ‘moralizing’ ventures. Such statements are indicative of Netanyahu’s continuous tactic to convey Palestinian resistance as a barbaric and religious war where radical Muslims are fighting Jews on ideological grounds, rather than a struggle over land where the occupied are resisting their occupiers.

The Israeli leader’s comments over Paris were delivered less than a week after Israel’s security cabinet outlawed the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which provides religious and educational services for Israeli Arabs, in a bid to end “dangerous incitement”. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, commented on the move saying, “Israel must act as an example and spearhead in the struggle against radical Islam, whose emissaries we saw massacring innocent people in Paris”.

Israel’s claims that the violence is being enacted by religiously-motived radical attackers fuelled by incitement by Palestinian religious leaders, is at odds with claims of Palestinians who are pointing towards a half-century belligerent occupation as the catalyst behind recent unrest.

The role religion has to play in this on-going violence should not be completely discounted; many media discussions are interpreting the current ‘intifada’ as happening due to disagreements over the holy al-Asqa site in Jerusalem. However, religion cannot be considered a completely separate aspect of Palestinian identity, or as the singular foundation of violent impulses.  As Hala Marshood, a political activist based in Jerusalem, said: ““I don’t look at al-Aqsa as just a religious symbol. It’s a cultural symbol. It’s a symbol of our heritage and our Palestinian identity. It’s a symbol of our social life. It’s a really important place for the Palestinians in Jerusalem and outside of Jerusalem.”

Thus, interpreting Palestinian violence as a historic “desire to destroy” which is rooted predominantly in religious antagonism negates the political character of Zionism and the complexity of the situation, which is more adequately defined as a conflict over land, dispossession, occupation and colonial settlement, rather than a clash of civilizations over religion. Too often religion is used as a scapegoat for Middle Eastern conflict that masks underpinning socio-political factors. In this particular case, using Paris as a soapbox to point the finger towards religious radicalism is distracting from Israel’s political agenda, colonial expansion of settlements within the oPt, and prolonged military occupation, which appear to be a more accurate and credible reasons for the current surge in violence.