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As Israel’s Far Right Nears Power, Palestinians Feel a Pang of Fear

As Israel’s Far Right Nears Power, Palestinians Feel a Pang of Fear

JERUSALEM — For Jewish Israelis, the election this week of a far-right alliance left some joyful, and others with a sense of bewilderment and apprehension.

But for Palestinians both in the occupied territories and within Israel’s Arab minority, it has evoked a different and contradictory mix of emotions: fear, indifference and, in some cases, a sense of opportunity.

Unless there is a last-minute reversal, Benjamin Netanyahu, the outgoing Prime Minister, will form a government with a far-right bloc whose settler leaders seek in various ways to end Palestinian autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank, expel those they deem disloyal to Israel, and make it easier for soldiers to fire on Palestinians while on duty .

One of these leaders, Itamar Ben Gviruntil recently hung a large photo of an extremist Israeli who shot dead 29 Palestinians in a mosque in the West Bank in 1994 on his wall at home. It still displays a photo of Meir Kahane, an extremist rabbi who sought to strip Arabs of their Israeli citizenship.

For some Palestinians, the rise of the far right can hardly make matters worse for them. Israel has been operating for a long time a two-speed legal system in the occupied West Bank which tries Palestinians in military courts and Israelis in civilian courts; rarely punishes violent Israeli settlers; and is already rising almost daily raids in Palestinian areas – raids that helped make this the deadliest year in the West Bank since at least 2015.

Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to travel restrictions, almost all unable to drive to Israel, while neighboring settlers come and go freely. Many struggle to access their private land near settlements and likely to attack when they do.

In Gaza, Palestinians live under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that aims to stop the supply of weapons to militants, but severely restricts Gazans’ ability to leave or access certain medical equipment and 3G internet.

For this reason, some hope that the arrival of Mr. Ben-Gvir will even bring an opportunity: Some have long considered the Israeli state to be indistinguishable from Mr. Ben-Gvir, and they hope that the world will now see what they see.

But for many Palestinians, a far-right government, dotted with lawmakers with a history of opposition to Arabs, has no good side. It is simply terrifying.

“I fear a very bleak future,” said Issa Amro, an activist in Hebron, in the southern West Bank. “Ben-Gvir is very bigoted and extreme and, to me, a fascist. He is a big threat.

With Mr. Ben-Gvir in government, some Palestinians fear even more impunity for settler violence and even more restrictions on their movement. They also fear that Mr. Ben-Gvir’s calls to expel people who oppose the State of Israel are a code for expelling Palestinians.

For Mr. Amro and other residents of Hebron, Mr. Ben-Gvir is a known quantity – and not in a comforting way.

Mr. Ben-Gvir lives in a settlement in Hebron and has a history of confrontation with local Palestinians. A video from 2015 showed him involved in an attack on a Palestinian shop in the old city of Hebron, pulling a clothes rack to the ground.

The 1994 mosque massacre, whose perpetrator, Baruch Goldstein, was once celebrated by Mr. Ben-Gvir at his home, happened a few hundred meters away.

“I’m afraid the bigoted settlers will feel more empowered” by Mr Ben-Gvir’s rise, Mr Amro said. “I’m afraid that more massacres of Baruch Goldstein will occur.”

The atmosphere at Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where settler movements seek to evict Palestinian residentswas also worried.

Mr. Ben-Gvir frequently visits and defends the settlers of Sheikh Jarrah, even setting up a tent there which he has declared his temporary office. His provocative presence heightened tensions in the neighborhood that contributed to the outbreak of an 11 day war in May 2021 between Israel and militants in Gaza.

Last month, he returned to Sheikh Jarrah, brandishing a pistol and telling police to shoot Palestinians nearby.

“Friends, they are throwing stones at us,” Ben-Gvir said, pull out his handgun. “Kill Em.”

Mr. Ben-Gvir says he has become more moderate in recent years. He tells his followers to sing “Death to Terrorists”, replacing their previous chant of “Death to Arabs”. He still calls Mr. Kahane “a hero,” but has moved away from the rabbi’s more extreme positions.

“I have no problem, of course, with minorities here,” he said. recently said in a voicemail to the New York Times, after declining an interview.

But in Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian residents blame Ben-Gvir for galvanizing the groups of Israelis who have roamed the neighborhood throwing stones, and the movements seeking to evict them. They fear his ascent will cause “great harm to Sheikh Jarrah and Jerusalem in general,” said Muhammad al-Kiswani, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah who said his house was damaged by settler stones.

As they were driving to Friday prayers, Mr. al-Kiswani’s 5-year-old son, Zeinidden, leaned forward at the mention of a familiar name.

“Baba, is that – is that the man with the gun?” asked Zeinidden.

“Yes,” Mr. al-Kiswani told his son. Returning to the interview, he added: “Our kids are developing mental issues because of what’s going on.”

Some Palestinians, though fearful, predict that Mr. Ben-Gvir will do little that Israel has not already done for Palestinians living under occupation or as a minority within the State of Israel.

“Our daily life will not be so different,” said Nour Younis, an activist living in Tel Aviv. “We could pay the price, of course, but we have already paid the price with any government.”

Some Israelis, Jews and Arabs, nevertheless hope that this moment could also bring a better future. Jewish-led left-wing parties were nearly wiped out in the elections – and to regain their influence, some hope they will be forced to work more closely with Palestinian minority parties and narratives and establish a greater empathy for them. .

“The days are also difficult for anyone who considers themselves center-left Zionist,” said Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian lawmaker in the Israeli parliament.

“We have to think differently now,” she added. “This is not a reality we have ever known and it requires all democratic forces to work together in an effort to stop the raging right.”

Others also hope the rise of the far right will draw greater international attention to Israel’s worst excesses, making them harder for the world to ignore, said Ms. Younis, the activist.

“I’m looking on the bright side – finally the true face of Israel will show itself,” she said. “When that face is exposed to the international community, I hope they finally understand that there really isn’t a true partner for peace in Israel.”

But others were less optimistic.

The world would still lack empathy for Palestinians, with or without Mr. Ben-Gvir, said Maha Nakib, a Palestinian activist from Lod, an Israeli city with a recent history of inter-ethnic tensions.

“They really don’t care,” Ms Nakib said. “Our eyes are not blue and our hair is not blond like Ukrainians.”

Rami Nazzal contributed reporting from Ramallah, West Bank, and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.