By Sophie Reaville
In the space of just under two weeks, we have borne witness to staggering levels of violence, what some have been calling terrorism, ethnic cleansing, genocide and crimes against humanity.
The barbaric attack carried out by Hamas is unforgivable, and of course the loss of civilian lives is always tragic and unacceptable, but to say this attack came out of nowhere, is simply untrue.
It is important to remind readers of the 75 year long illegal military occupation that Palestinians have been victim to, in which they suffer from brutal structural violence, described by human rights
organisations, such as Amnesty International, as an apartheid regime. Furthermore, the binary
framing of the Israeli-Palestinian issue by the Western world, both politically and through the media,
is not only misleading, but irresponsible and has slowed peace efforts, if not exacerbated the
violence seen over the last few weeks.
As strongly put by Barnaby Raine on Novara Media recently: “When you carpet bomb people living under a colonial siege and constant bombardment, the only effect it can have, is to strengthen people’s fury, anger and resolve to resist the colonising power”.
Within this framework of structural violence by the Israeli state, Palestinians are regarded as
inferior. They do not benefit from the same citizenship rights as Israelis, they have been
dispossessed of their land and homes, they have little to no freedom of movement. In Gaza, home to
over two million Palestinians, in an area about half the size of Paris, the vast majority of the
population are in fact internally displaced people who have had to flee from other parts of Israel.
This area is completely controlled by Israel who have placed an illegal blockade around the
perimeter. It is Israel who controls the entry of food, medication and other goods, and the
production of water that is ironically extracted on Gazan land. The life expectancy of Gazans is about
10 years less that of Israelis, caused by chronic oppression, security risks and poverty.
On the 7th October, the day of the Hamas attack, around 1,400 Israelis were killed. Since
Israel has engaged in a completely disproportionate siege of Gaza, and consistently broken
international law with utter impunity, despite the colossal loss of civilian life. This reaction was
predicted by many, including academic Christopher Cramer, member of the Centre on Conflict,
Rights and Justice at SOAS, University of London, who felt that he could “see a massive and
disproportional reaction from the Israeli state” and that it seemed like “a chronicle of a tragedy
Over 8,000 Palestinians have been killed, not to mention the 20,000 injured since the beginning of
the siege. The UN special rapporteur on the situation on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories,
Francesca Albanese, warned that “Palestinians were in grave danger of mass ethnic cleansing”.
The reaction by the international community, namely the western world, has been dubbed by many,
including the global south as “double standards”. Between the global north and global south, two
clear stances have been adopted. The global north has taken the position of condemning Hamas and
unequivocally supporting Israel and its defence strategy, while the global south has taken a more
measured view condemning the killings of all civilians and calling for a ceasefire.
In the last few weeks Western leaders, Biden and Sunak and the EU’s Ursula Von Der Leyen have paid controversial visits to Israel to meet with far right president Netanyahu in a bid to supposedly calm tensions.
However, after the horrific bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, President Abbas of Palestine, and President Sisi of Egypt cancelled talks planned by Jordan, with the Foreign Minister of Jordan, Ayman Saffadi, stating that the meeting would be rescheduled when the parties could agree to end the “war and the massacres against Palestinians”. On the 19th October, the USA vetoed a UNSC resolution to allow a humanitarian corridor into Gaza, while the UK and Russia abstained.
It’s understandable that Western nations, like the USA, would back Israel in its self-defence efforts,
given the substantial arms deals they engage in, as this mutually benefits both parties. Just recently,
the US sold $735 million worth of precision weapons to the Zionist state, and this is much the same story for countries like France and the UK. Since 2015, the UK has sold £422 million in
arms to Israel and France is the leading European arms exporter to Israel.
From a European perspective, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is also tarnished by the guilt of the
Holocaust and growing Islamophobia in the region. Comparing Palestinians to pogromists is not just
an affront to Palestinians fighting for their basic human rights but also to Holocaust victims and their
present-day families. Must Palestinians pay the price for the Europe’s past?
Furthermore, this stance exacerbates the dehumanisation of Palestinians, a trend observed in Western media and Israeli government rhetoric, which has likened Palestinians to “animals” – language that the Colombian President likened to Hitler’s terminology for Jews.
This dehumanisation and blame placed on the Palestinian people allows the European community to distance themselves from their historical culpability in the Holocaust and their responsibility for the Israel/Palestine problem, as discussed in my previous article on the British Empire’s role in this. Reactions from the Arab and Muslim world, notably Iran, Lebanon, Tunisia and Qatar, among others, have been supportive of Palestine, with some actively supporting Hamas.
Aside from the diplomatic stance taken by Western nations, the media framing of the entire issue in
the global north has been nothing short of misleading and frankly dangerous. The obsession with uniquely condemning Hamas’ attack as if it has happened in a vacuum, without acknowledging the context of Israeli occuptation has been frustrating to say the least, as felt by Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Husam Zumlot interviewed on the BBC recently.
We see a trend in Western media to consistently oversimplify and paint conflicts as binary, black and white, good vs evil, coupled with a real lack of measured, socio-historical and academic analysis of multi-faceted and complex situations such as these. Many criticised the binary framing of the Russia-Ukraine war, and today we see it with Israel and Palestine.
Even labelling the Israel-Palestine issue as a “conflict” or a “war” is misleading, as it assumes that
both sides are equal and of equal capacity, when they are clearly not. This is a battle between the
coloniser and the colonised.
Western media have also brilliantly failed to mention that Nentanyahu himself allowed the funding
of Hamas by Qatar to weaken President Abbas of Palestine and the PNA (Palestinian National
Authority), exacerbating instability and violence in the POTs (Palestinian Occupied Territories) to
justify continued oppression against the Palestinian population.
Looking solely from an academic standpoint, labelling Hamas as a terrorist organisation is a topic of controversy. This is particularly evident when we reflect on historical instances like Nelson Mandela and the ANC, who were also branded as terrorists by the West.
While the actions of Hamas two weeks ago were unquestionably indefensible; designating an organisation as terrorists allows us to separate them from their political identity, thereby disconnecting them from their legitimate pursuit of peace and freedom, as seen in these two specific cases of resistance movements against apartheid.
The diplomatic and media stance taken by the Western world will only exacerbate the violence, as
we have seen, and allowing and encouraging Israel to defend itself, has in reality given the country a
licence to kill, as put by the Palestine UN observer Riyad Mansour. Their inability and lack of courage
to take a stand for peace and freedom in this case, is spineless and irresponsible.
They have a responsibility and moral and legal obligation, as signatories of the UN charter, to uphold human rights and international humanitarian law, subsequently holding accountable their counter parts and intervening where necessary.
The ongoing situation involving the relentless siege of Gaza, resulting in the daily loss of hundreds of civilian lives, is increasingly resembling genocide. Will the Western community once again fall short in preventing another instance of ethnic cleansing, and will they face repercussions for their inaction?
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