Are the walls closing in on Israel?

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Change is a funny thing. Either it takes place all of a sudden like it did with the collapse of the Soviet Union or the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, or it is a long, drawn out process that takes years to culminate. For the Palestinians, the latter is the obvious case.

The Palestinian struggle for independence from Israeli rule is decades old and has taken many shapes and forms. Through it all, Israel’s image as a democracy and free society has managed to remain intact, despite its continued occupation of Palestine and its refusal to recognize the refugee problem which it created.

While this image is still largely unharmed, cracks in its surface are beginning to show, which inversely means the quest for Palestinian statehood may be drawing nearer. Israel, in fact, is a democracy, at least for its Jewish population. However, more and more of the world is beginning to realize that a true democracy cannot also be an occupying power through which it subjugates an entire nation and deprives it of even the most basic human rights, freedom and dignity in particular.

Israel’s image has been unchallenged for years. The idea that Israel –” the so-called biblical homeland for the Jews –” could be anything but a safe haven for all those who lived there, was unacceptable. Today, as Palestinians make more noise and assert themselves as a nation deserving of freedom, Israel’s perfect image is showing signs of distress. And the best way to gauge that level of distress is to monitor Israel’s reactions to events that reflect this new reality.

Take for example Israel’s recent passing of the Boycott Law, which stipulates that anyone who boycotts Israel or even Israeli settlements can be penalized and taken to court by the target of the boycott. There is nothing democratic about banning a boycott, long recognized as a civilized, nonviolent means of protest. Many Israelis realize this and are protesting the boycott, not necessarily on the grounds of the settlements’ illegality but for the democratic preservation of Israel’s character. Even the United States, Israel’s most loyal “blind eye” advocate, found the boycott law difficult to swallow.

"Freedom of expression, including freedom to peacefully organize and protest, is a basic right under democracy," a State Department official said on July 12. "It is a right that the American people hold dear and it is among the democratic values that the Israeli and American people have long shared." In other words, take the hint, Israel. This is not cool with America.

The Jerusalem march, which took place on July 15, is another example that things may be falling apart for Israel’s rightist government. Thousands of mostly Israelis took to the streets of the city waving Palestinian flags and calling for an independent Palestinian state. For Palestinians, the mere sight of the Palestinian flag raised in Jerusalem is enough to make the heart dance since Israeli authorities have long outlawed it in the occupied city.

A few handfuls of left-wing Israelis go to Sheikh Jarrah every week to protest the takeover of Palestinian houses by Jewish settlers but the sheer number that took to the streets last Friday was incredible and a reflection of the gradual shift in mainstream Israeli thinking. Not many are happy with the way Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is conducting state affairs, saying his policies are counterproductive to Israel irrespective of their ramifications on the Palestinians.

Then there was the Freedom Flotilla and later the “Flytilla” into Ben Gurion Airport, which Israel squashed with an iron hand. Israel’s overreaction was so exaggerated, it most likely helped the campaign rather than harmed it. It also showed Israel’s true “democratic” colors once again. The peace activists simply declared their intention to visit Palestine if and when they were asked by the airport’s border control officers. In response, Israel called them “provocateurs” and “hooligans” trying to undermine the sovereignty of the state. The activists were either deported or not allowed to board in Europe. And thanks to social media, cameras, televisions and the internet, the world knows all about it and is gradually questioning the legitimacy of so many of Israel’s bogus claims regarding Palestinians.

This will all come together in September. With the cracks in Israel’s façade growing wider by the day, only time will tell whether it will be enough for the world to come together to support Palestinian statehood. The United States has strongly hinted it would boycott any resolution calling for the recognition of Palestine along the 1967 borders. This “indefensible” position is not necessarily because of the United States’ lack of endorsement of a Palestinian state so much as it is its usual indiscriminate support for Israel. However, if Israel continues to prove its intransigence in both the peace process and even in terms of these “shared values” of democracy, come September, the US just may have a change of heart.

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