Israeli security forces are seen as they enter Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during prayer, May 7, 2021. Photo: Mostafa Alkharouf, Andalou Agency.

This past January, a major and respected Israeli human rights organization published a new report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories titled A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid. It was a long and detailed explanation of why B’Tselem now believed that “the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group.”

Around the same time, the International Criminal Court ruled that it had jurisdiction in territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. Two months later, Chief ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced her decision to open an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “undiluted antisemitism,” while the U.S. State Department said the ICC had no jurisdiction in Israel/Palestine. The European Union stood by the ICC but the decision was condemned, to varying degrees, by Austria, Lithuania, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Canada.

Then several things started happening all at once:

  • For years, Muslims observing Ramadan had been gathering in the evening at the square by Damascus Gate, one of the entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City. This year, for no apparent reason, police barricaded the square.
  • Daily protests were taking place in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah where, for many years, Palestinians have been evicted from their homes to make way for Jews. Israel’s High Court of Justice was about to pronounce on the most recent eviction efforts.
  • Human Rights Watch offered its views on Israeli apartheid in a report called A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.
  • Meanwhile, Jews were preparing for the annual Jerusalem Parade, which celebrates Israel’s 1967 capture of east Jerusalem. Hundreds of Israeli fascists were already marching through the streets, chanting “Death to Arabs.”
  • Thousands of people were celebrating the end of Ramadan on the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount). Police were deployed in large numbers and at one point fired stun grenades into the al-Aqsa Mosque, where hundreds of people were gathered.

Palestinians were winning on several fronts: police finally reopened the square by Damascus Gate; Israel’s High Court of Justice announced it would delay its decision on Sheikh Jarrah, meaning the evictions, too, were delayed; police announced changes to the route of the Jerusalem Parade, and then its cancellation. One journalist commented in Haaretz on “the fearlessness of the young Palestinians and their willingness to confront the police, even at the risk of injury or arrest.” Another wrote in Middle East Eye that “a new generation of Palestinians is rising under (Netanyahu’s) nose, which no amount of skunk water, tear gas, and sound grenades will stop.” Others compared this new generation of Palestinians with protestors who gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

That’s what the month was like: international reports about ordinary Palestinians standing up against Israeli overreach and police violence; and condemnations of Israeli apartheid and a possible trial at the International Criminal Court. It was several bad weeks for Israel’s reputation. The protective shell of Jewish victimhood was cracking, if just a bit.

Then Hamas saved the day. It’s always the same. Two men are fighting, an Arab and a Jew. A cop breaks it up. “How did this start?” asks the cop. The Jew points at the Arab and says, “It all started when he hit me back.”

There are conflicting stories. Initially, it seemed, Hamas had announced it would fire rockets at Israel unless police were withdrawn from the Haram al-Sharif, and then Hamas fired rockets. But who knows? Maybe Israel fired something into Gaza first. Who cares?

What’s clear is that Hamas has succeeded in stealing the spotlight and that international commentary is now about Jewish victims and Israel’s right to defend itself. Defenders of Palestinian rights have effectively been silenced. Many entirely ignore Hamas; some apologize for Hamas: one Palestinian commentator understood Hamas’s “frustration and rage.” Another said that people tend to be a little “fixated on what Hamas says and does.” A Jewish Israeli criticized Hamas for undermining the “nonviolent struggle.” But this isn’t about violence versus nonviolence – it’s about resistance versus terrorism.

It’s time for Hamas to renounce immediately and forever all attacks on civilians. Pending that, it’s time for Palestinians and those who support them to cut Hamas off. Even if it’s true that “Israel started it,” even if the media are biased, even if Fatah and the Palestinian National Authority (PA) are corrupt and compromised, and even if you believe there is some ethical excuse for sending rockets in the direction of civilian targets, you have to face the fact that it is a suicidal tactic and that, intentionally or not, terrorism is a subversion of the struggle for Palestinian justice.