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Shifts in the Palestinian struggle

The Israeli brutality on the Palestinians spanning over 11 days was symptomatic of a larger pattern that has informed Israel’s forever war on Palestine.

The Netanyahu government’s policy of using disproportionately excessive military force may have been backed by Israel’s traditional allies and partners in the name of its ‘right to defend itself’, but the latest bout of terrorism has exposed the cracks in the unanimous support for Israel that will widen with time.

As the response to the Israeli aggression indicated, new dynamics seem to emerge that will shape the contours of debate around the Palestine-Israel dispute in the future. The following is instructive in this regard:

As Senator Mushahid Hussain put it in a TV talk show, there is now a more pronounced split between “the elite and the street” over the Palestinian question. This gulf in how the common people express concerns on the worst human rights abuses is sharply contrasted with the stance maintained by the governments that are closely aligned with Tel Aviv.

This gulf is not confined to Muslim countries, as is generally understood, but is increasingly manifesting itself across many European countries as well as the US, the traditional bastions of Israeli diplomatic, political and economic support. People are developing a new understanding of the Palestinian struggle for a sovereign state, which was pledged to them in the Oslo Peace Accords and the UN resolutions.

At the heart of this consciousness is the absolute impunity with which successive Israeli governments have turned the Occupied Territories into a living hell. If the images of death and destruction that periodically emanate from Palestine were disturbing, the everyday lived experience for Palestinians has been equally horrible.

While Palestine makes international headlines only when Israel sprays bullets and its jets pound buildings with lethal bombs, the talking point that gets least traction is how Palestinian men, women and children are subjected to life in a dehumanizing environment marked by constant fear of repression, roadblocks, a dilapidated civic infrastructure, and humiliation at the Israeli police checkpoints.

There is no better way to sum up the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in both times of repression and (relative) peace than to employ what Human Rights Watch has described as a combination of “apartheid and persecution”. For Palestinians, ceasefire only represents a respite from the immediate death and destruction, it, however, does little to change their overall experience of living in an “Israeli cage.” The standard terms of engagement remain unaltered.

The new global consciousness, particularly among the youth, around Palestinians’ rights defies, if not breaks, the stereotypes that have been passed down to them by their respective governments. There is a discernible discomfort, if not an outrage, at how the advocacy for the Israeli ‘right to defend itself’ by the ‘allied’ governments does not pass the humanitarian test when Tel Aviv has the audacity to kill around 250 people including 65 children for 12 Israelis killed by the Hamas’ rocket attacks.

Of note is also the realisation as to how the acts of a few (read: Hamas) can be used as a justification to condemn the Palestinian struggle with the political language of ‘extremism’. While the world capitals have gone about extending their support to Tel Aviv in a robotic fashion, the streets have remained unimpressed by the explanations offered by the ruling elites.

The elites’ near-monopoly on directing the public debates on as delicate an issue as Palestine has been increasingly constrained by the critical role information technology is playing by providing people varied means of collecting information and critical discourse analysis.

The video footage and still pictures of children’s bodies being recovered from the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli jets, of unarmed men, women and children standing up to heavily-armed Israeli forces without fear of harm and the mere fact that, deprived of all manner of support from even their co-religionist Arab governments, Palestinians’ sense of defiance has served to shape an ‘alternate’ reality away from what standard narratives seek to spell out.

The resultant romanticism speaks to people’s shared spirit of defiance when pitted against the formidable odds. Social media is instrumental in shaping this new form of reality, and consequent new understanding of the present-day struggle of Palestinians.

Every act of liking, tweeting, retweeting and sharing content in support of Palestine is an act in political choice making and akin to identification with the larger cause it represents. Helping the process of articulating solidarity for Palestinians is the civil rights Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that has gone a long way in rallying support against the structural racial discrimination. There is now more acute awareness of why it is important to have a just society that privileges equality of rights and rule of law and rubbishes every form of discrimination and marginalisation.

While talking of people who are not ready to listen to the official truth about Palestine, Hagai Al-Ed, the executive director of B’Tslem, the Jewish human rights organization that described Israeli actions as constituting apartheid, stated, “Believe your eyes. Follow your conscience. The reason that it looks like apartheid is simply because it is apartheid.”

The shift in global opinion is slowly but gradually enveloping the Jewish-American community that is increasingly coming out in support of Palestinians’ fundamental rights. In an opinion piece published in ‘The Guardian’ on May 22, Arielle Angel, editor-in-chief at ‘Jewish Currents’, a left-wing magazine, documented how support among American Jews for Palestinians has increased from the 2014 attacks onward.

Angel asked readers of ‘Jewish Currents’, struggling to understand the recent phase of violence, to send in their questions. After analysing the questions, she went on to say, “These questions taken in aggregate paint a striking portrait of a community at a turning point…. Young Jews becoming politically conscious for the first time saw a powerful, rightwing Israel intent on entrenching a decades-long occupation – a story that contrasted sharply with the one many of their elders had told them.”

The support for Palestine is no more a ‘fringe’ issue. It is finding powerful voices to convey the historical injustice and repression visited upon them since the expulsions from their lands. In a recent news analysis for the BBC website, its North America reporter, Anthony Zurcher, detailed how much “the political centre of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved on the conflict in recent years.”

Anthony listed several factors to explain what pollster John Zogby describes as “the shift is dramatic; it is tectonic.” Topping the factors is the Democratic diversity in Congress, a trend that has been increasingly creeping in. The Congress in 2021 has 23 percent representation from diverse backgrounds compared to 11 percent two decades ago and one percent in 1945. This change in composition of the US Senate and House Representatives has implications for America’s Israel policy.

The recent years have also witnessed the strengthening of the progressive wing in the Democratic Party. Led by Bernie Sanders, this faction has been vociferously critical of the impunity various US administrations, including that of President Biden, have provided to Israel.

Bernie Sanders broke the unwritten rule when he spoke openly of Palestinian plight under Israel such as their “decimated houses, decimated healthcare, decimated schools.”

Likewise, in a powerful column for The New York Times as well as his passionate speech in the US Senate, Sanders was unsparing in his criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as well as the Biden Administration’s arms sale to Israel amid former’s acts of violence in Gaza. His description of “Palestinian Lives Matter”, which draws a parallel to BLM, serves to enthuse a new generation of activists.

Shorn of governmental controls and propaganda wars, the new global consciousness about the universality of Palestinian rights movement is founded on shared humanity, igniting hope amid the darkness.

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Amanat222