For the past few weeks, the decades-long violence in the Middle East, particularly in Israel and Palestine, has been plastered across headlines. Israel’s continued incursion into Palestine and its persecution of Palestinians have been called by many names. While the leaders of the free world have been swift in their condemnation of Palestinian groups, calling them terrorists, they have been careful in criticizing Israelis attack on the civilians in Palestine.
The peace process between the two countries looked defeated as Israeli Defense Forces were seen in several videos blatantly disrespecting the human rights of civilians. As the call for a ceasefire of attacks on Palestine soared, Western media appeared dismayed and their governments continued to express unequivocal support for “Israel’s right to defend itself.”
What’s at once noticeable is a long history of support by Western governments for Israel’s crimes while also remaining a “strong” advocate for human rights in other countries.
The similarities between Israel’s crimes and those of Western countries cannot be ignored. In some ways, it feels like white supremacists masking as democratic leaders lead most Western countries. The supposed rights of Israel to defend itself is only a sham, a look in the mirror for most Western governments.
The Role of Colonialism and the Similarities
As social media feeds filled up with terrifying images of Israeli mobs being helped by the police and atrocities being committed by the IDF, I can’t help but see the parallels as a person living in a continent of black people who have faced many forms of oppression at the hands of colonizers.
The pressure on Palestinian communities has been building for years. What began in Ramadan as an attack by the police on Muslims in a mosque quickly erupted as a global movement. Israelis were shocked to see their fellow citizens and other Palestinians protesting in Lod, Ramle, Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth, the Galilee, and elsewhere. People all over the world took to the streets, waving Palestinian flags, and singing solidarity songs.
Israel suffered a PR disaster.
However, it didn’t start this past Ramadan. It started earlier, here:
The state of Israel was founded on a grievous crime. The British government had expressed support for Zionism in a letter by Britain’s then-Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lionel Walter Rothschild. He expressed the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The letter would be known as the Balfour Declaration.
After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, a treaty which was made to punish Germany and the Central Powers, entrusted Britain with the temporary administration of Palestine, with the understanding that it would work on behalf of its Arab inhabitants. However, Britain had denied Palestine’s right to self-government as promised by the mandates of the treaty.
In the aftermath of World War II and the terrors of the Holocaust, growing international support for Zionism led to the official declaration in 1948 of the nation of Israel after Britain gave lands owned by Palestinians to Jews relocating to Israel in search of refuge.
What began as the relocation of Jews escaping genocide soon became a land grab and forced eviction scheme. Israel achieved an ethnic Jewish majority by expelling 750,000 Palestinian Arabs in what Palestinians call the Nakba.
The colonial gifting of land didn’t begin there for Israel. Earlier in 1903, the founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, proposed British East Africa as a haven for Jews, speaking at the Sixth Zionist Congress.
While this proposal of what’s now part of Kenya is attributed to Herzl, it was the brainchild of the British government. In 1902, in a meeting, Herzl tried to convince the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain to allow Jewish settlements in Cyprus or Sinai as a temporary solution for endangered Jews. The proposal didn’t come to fruition.
In another meeting in 1903, Chamberlain proposed a Jewish settlement in East Africa. Though Herzl initally rejected the idea, he reconsidered it after realizing that his plan for a Jewish settlement in Sinai wasn’t lacked sufficient support.
Sir Clement Hill, Superintendent of African Protectorates, wrote that Chamberlain will be prepared to entertain proposals for the establishment of a Jewish colony or settlement in East Africa. The letter stated that such a Jewish colony would have local autonomy, with a Jewish Official as chief of the local administration, and a free hand when it came to religious and domestic matters.
Herzl brought this proposal before the Sixth Zionist Congress, where delegates voted 295-178 in favor of sending an investigatory commission to check out the territory.
The proposal still lacked the full support of Jewish people, however. The Russian delegates at the conference walked out of the hall, while others threatened to do the same. In their eyes, the Uganda scheme went against the very ideological basis of Zionism.
In December 1903, Max Nordau, who co-founded the Zionist Movement with Herzl, was targeted in an assassination attempt. Chaim Zelig Luban, a 27-year-old Russian student, shot two bullets at Nordau while crying out, “Death to Nordau, the East African.”
In 1905, the investigatory commission reported on its findings from East Africa at the Seventh Zionist Congress. The scheme was voted down, never to be tabled for discussion again.
Avoiding this history in the discussions about Israel’s current occupation of Palestine makes the whole process towards “peace” a joke. Britain’s role in the long history of continued violence in many parts of the world cannot be overlooked.
It appears that Israel borrowed leaves from British history and have now learnt how to use them in their colonial occupation of Palestine.
Colonial occupiers have long claimed their unwavering right to defend themselves against the native population. In Kenya, British troops slaughtered, tortured, and detained the Kikuyus in concentration camps following the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s. Over 1.5 million Kenyans were put in these concentration camps as the British called them terrorists. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela remained on the US terrorist watch list until 2008 because of his resistance against the apartheid regime.
The idea that imperial land grabbers and occupying forces should have an unfettered claim to defend themselves in the hands of resistance is a popular narrative among all occupying forces. France used it against the Haitians and the Algerians. Belgium used it in their brutalities against the Congolese. America used it against the Indian population. Germany used it against the Herero and Namaqua tribes in Namibia. Britain used it against more than half of the world’s countries.
As a result, many Western states resort to moral obfuscation in justifying attacks against the civilian population of Palestine; constantly noting that Israel’s violence is merely against Hamas, a terrorist organization that was created as resistance to Israel’s occupation.
Gaza today is an open-air prison. To ignore the death of Palestinian children, women, and men is a scary indicator that the lives of Palestinians matter less than Israel’s right to colonize no matter what.
Western Media, Bothsideism, and Large-Scale Complicity
For a long time, Western Press has accepted that Israel is waging a legitimate war. Generally, there has been unequivocal support for Israel as the media tries to paint what’s happening as a conflict between two sides. What is a clear case of occupation is qualified in subtle terms like “cycle of violence,” making a false equivalence between oppression and resistance.
There have been a series of unfortunate reports or total exclusion from media coverage that have plagued the fourth estate. During the last spate of killings, Western journalists and media outlets, when asked to speak the truth, were confronted with three choices: be muffled, be neutral, or be sacked.
Trevor Noah, the South African-born Daily Show host, drew criticism from pro-Israel supporters and Palestinian resistance groups for his comments on the ongoing violence. Noah framed the events of the 11-day bombardment of Palestine by Israel as a fight between siblings where the older was to exercise restraint.
At face value, this was a well-meaning monologue. But on closer look, the statements were more than problematic. To consign the blatant disregard for human rights by Israel into the realm of the need to “exercise restraint” is to assume that colonizers and those who resist them have the same moral standing. Only one side has consistently violated UN resolutions and killed children.
In his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, former US President Jimmy Carter details how Israel has imposed an ever more onerous policy of apartheid under the guise of securing its citizens by grabbing land and disregarding agreements. Former President Carter wrote:
“Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement … In order to perpetuate the occupation, Israeli forces have deprived their unwilling subjects of basic human rights. No objective person could personally observe existing conditions in the West Bank and dispute these statements.”
There’s no Israel versus Palestine as Trevor Noah makes it out to be. There’s only Israel’s occupation and those who resist it; and an occupying force doesn’t dictate how the local population should resist.
At The New York Times, the use of neutral language is no different. In an article published by the media outlet on May 13th, formerly titled “Conflict Between Israel and Palestinians Continues To Escalate,” Patrick Kingsley uses language that suggests the violence was merely a conflict between two sides. This “bothsideism” is seen in a paragraph that has circulated on social media. I have highlighted how problematic the paragraph is in the following paragraphs:
The Palestinian part:
- 67 Palestinians: the paragraph doesn’t deem it fit to tell us if the Palestinians that were killed were soldiers, children, women, etc. It just tells “Palestinians.” You will see why this is important later.
- “Have died”: the report tells you that these 67 Palestinians simply died. What did they die of? Chickenpox? Did they run into a Missile? Did a building fall on them? It removes agency from Israel, whose forces are responsible for the death. It uses the exonerative passive word “died.” The appropriate word is “killed” or “murdered.”
- “Conflict”: what’s happening is not a conflict. It’s a massacre. It’s a violation of the fundamental human rights of people, including the right to life.
- “Palestinian health officials said”: the writer makes sure to tell us that it was not them that said it. That it’s a reported statement. The New York Times didn’t state it.
The Israel part:
- “Islamist”: this term is very interesting. While I won’t write an article on it, Islamism means, to the west, fundamentalism. When Western media uses it, they infer a version of Islam snatched by terrorists. But, of course, we know who is the terrorist in this case, right?
- “Killed”: do you see how The New York Times actively tells us here that Israelis were murdered by “Islamist” terrorists? They didn’t say “died.” They want you to know how evil Islamists are. They don’t remove the responsibility for the death. They emphasize it.
- “Six Israeli civilians”: They didn’t just say “Israelis.” They told us they were six and they were just innocent “civilians.” Earlier, the “Palestinians” didn’t get this same distinction. Since you don’t know the identity of the Palestinians, readers are free to assume they were combatant soldiers.
- “5-year-old boy”: for the Palestinians, they told us “16 children.” That’s a statistic. For the Israeli, they give an identity: a 5-year-old boy. They give you his age and gender. When a story is specific, it evokes stronger emotions.
- “One soldier”: By its very definition, the word “civilian” does not include soldiers yet this sentence structure leaves room for ambiguity. The missing comma after “boy” leaves open the assumption that “one soldier” is counted among the civilians and that this soldier’s death should be treated with a similar sense of tragedy as the 5-year-old boy, even though the soldier, unlike the child, is trained for and knowingly went into combat.
After Israel bombed the Press building housing Al-Jazeera and Associated Press in Gaza, Reuters’ headline ignored Israel’s attack on Press freedom, quickly becoming another example of Media complicity. The Headline read: “Gaza tower housing AP, Al Jazeera collapses after missile strike- witness.” Although the headline has since been changed, it showed readers that even though Israel (who has lauded itself as the only democracy in the Middle East) was silencing the Press, other media outlets were ready to disregard the attack and not call them out.
On April 27, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the cautious darling of the Western press, published a 213-page report belatedly finding that Israel has ruthlessly and systematically persecuted Palestinians. Not a word was uttered about the HRW report by any Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) journalist on April 27, despite the network having received an advance copy.
However, on January 14, 2020, CBC posted a story online of an HRW report regarding China’s human rights outrages. Even though when it was time to do the same with Israel, the CBC turned a blind eye.
In a long history of adversarial approach to pro-Palestinian journalists, Emily Wilder, a 22-year year old Associated Press journalist was fired for purported “anti-Israel” tweets. An indictment of the Media complex as the not-so-neutral free press.
For social media companies, the story is no different. There have been reports of large-scale censorship by social media on topics, images, videos, hashtags, and reports that further exposed Israel’s atrocities.
Many journalists, human rights lawyers, and activists have had their accounts limited, shadowbanned, or permanently banned. They have had their posts and videos deleted.
Several Al-Jazeera and AFP news agency reporters working in Gaza and the West Bank have also said that their WhatsApp accounts have been blocked for “breaching community standards.”
Facebook’s oversight board, the board tasked with determining what posts and which actors constitute a violation of the company’s user policies, includes the former Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, Emi Palmor, who also managed Israel’s Cyber Unit.
An Israeli newspaper reported that Israeli Justice Minister Benny Gantz met with Facebook and TikTok executives to take action against pro-Palestinian accounts, urging them to remove content posted by “extremist elements that are seeking to do damage to our country.”
Social media has not offered a level playing field for the “two sides.” While Israel has the backing of company executives, Palestinians have to fight their way out of censorship. For example, the official Twitter account for the state of Israel posted a tweet on May 17 that included no words, only dozens of missile emojis. This was a not-so-subtle reminder that as of May 20, the Israeli military has killed more than 248 Palestinians, including 65 children and 35 women, in Gaza since May 11.
If it was an account by Palestinian activist that had posted these emojis at the heat of the violence, Twitter would have placed a permanent ban on the activist.
American Aid and the Human Cost
The world’s most recognized “liberator” or “freedom fighter” is the United States of America. From Libya to Cuba, America’s footprints can’t be ignored in the socio-political landscape of most countries of the world. But with Israel, it seems America is a cheerful giver, a father Christmas who cares less if the children of Palestine receive bullets as their gifts.
How much money does Israel get from America?
The US gave Israel $3.8 billion in funding in 2020, as part of a long-term, yearly commitment promised by the Obama administration.
The agreement, signed by former president Barack Obama in 2016, is due to run until 2028, meaning Israel will receive a total sum of around $38bn (£26.8bn) in military aid.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that nearly all of the aid given last year was for military assistance.
This money has helped Israel develop one of the world’s most advanced defense systems called the Iron Dome. The funds have also allowed them to purchase advanced military equipment, including 50 F-35 combat aircraft, which can be used for missile attacks. 27 of the aircraft have so far been delivered cost around $100m each. In 2020, Israel also bought eight KC-46A Boeing ‘Pegasus’ aircraft for an estimated $2.4bn. These are capable of refueling planes such as the F-35 in mid-air.
According to data from the USAID, after Afghanistan, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. While Afghanistan takes about $5 billion in aid because of U.S. troops stationed in the country, Israel collects $3.5 billion in yearly aid. With U.S. troops set to leave Afghanistan by September this year, only about $370 million has been requested for 2021. However, Israel is set to take a shipment of $735 million in weapons sales from the Biden administration.
The human cost of this aid can be seen in the numbers. What feels like a handshake between the world’s “most moral army” and the “liberators,” leaves quite a lot of bodies lying in Gaza’s narrow streets.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 5,600 Palestinians were killed and almost 115,000 were injured between 2008 and 2020. Approximately 250 Israelis died and 5,600 were injured during the same time period. Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in response to the kidnapping and death of three boys, making 2014 an especially deadly year.
To pat the back of Palestinians, the Biden’s administration will be giving $235 million in funding to Palestine, two-thirds of which will be going to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which has suffered a financial crisis since it lost $360 million of U.S. funding in 2018.
The human cost of America’s funding is detrimental to calls for peace. The U.S. cannot continue to negotiate for peace while it funds the war. Israel has developed its military to become one of the most advanced in the world, but it’s as if Palestine doesn’t have a police or an army to defend itself.
While IDF soldiers twerk on TikTok, Palestinian children groan in pains under the rubbles of buildings.
The upswing of violence only follows a long list of violent rhetoric by Israeli top officials which reveals that Israel is not, as it claims, acting solely in self-defense. The statements from political and military officials in Tel Aviv are the kind of words that spark genocide.
Israel doesn’t look like a country needing defense. It has all the money and military prowess. It’s a country in need of conscience.
So What’s Allowed for the Oppressed?
Since the fight for Palestinians’ right to defend themselves is mostly considered Hamas-sponsored and the buildings bombed by the IDF considered Hamas strongholds, it appears that all Palestinians are terrorists waiting to be deservedly killed. When a South African-style boycott is called against Israel, it’s also suddenly tagged anti-semitism.
The question that should ravage any human with a conscience is what is left for the oppressed? For the one who are now unsheltered? The ones who have lost their family to deadly missiles?
The answer is clear: nothing.
Israel’s right to defend itself is, in reality, a right to colonize, to kill, to destroy, with the backing of the media and Western governments. And let the world unpack the PTSD it leaves behind with each new Palestinian territory Israel moves into.