American president Joe Biden is among the latest western politicians to land in Tel Aviv in a show of support to Israel.
As Israel’s primary backer, the United States has sent two aircraft carriers to the region and indicated it could deploy 2,000 American troops to Israel.
Biden was also set to meet Palestinian and Arab leaders in the Jordanian capital Amman. But Jordan cancelled the meeting after a reported airstrike on Oct. 17 killed around 500 people at a Gaza hospital.
In the days after Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood against Israel, European and North American governments (with few exceptions) were quick to provide a unified and consistent message of support for Israel.
That message contains at least four interconnected elements:
— Israel is the victim of an unprovoked terrorist attack;
— Israel has the right to defend itself;
— The West fully stands with Israel against the barbaric and wanton violence of the Palestinians;
— Hamas is to blame (either partially or fully) for all civilian deaths on both sides since they began these hostilities and forced Israel’s hand while hiding behind civilians.
There are a few important features of this message, but I want to focus on two that highlight the West’s double standards. First, is the advancement of anti-Palestinian racism in the West. It is critical to underscore a salient feature of anti-Palestinian racism: the silencing of the Palestinian critiques of Zionism and Israel.
This is a dynamic which has its roots in the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) and erases Palestinian voices, history, presence, aspirations and identity from public discourse.
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Political, media and educational institutions in the West regularly sideline and silence Palestinians and their supporters. This is not just an issue among the right-wing or even centrists, but occurs across the political spectrum. Left-wing politics, including progressive spaces, that purport to be anti-racist often remain hostile to Palestinian voices
Here in Canada, a statement by progressive Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow painted a rally in support of Palestinians as allegedly supporting violence and as a threat to the safety and security of Canadian Jews. That statement is still up on her X account.
This is precisely the anti-Palestinian narrative that has permeated in the West for years: that all support for Palestine is inherently violent and driven by antisemitic hatred of all Jews. Thus, in the name of anti-racism, Palestinians and their supporters are denounced and even criminalized.
Differing reactions to civilian death
Second, the double standard is on display in the reactions we have seen to the killing of Israeli civilians and the reactions — or lack thereof — to the killing of Palestinian civilians. Many are rightly highlighting western hypocrisy by drawing comparisons to how the West responded to Russia’s war on Ukraine.
We need to look at how western governments have responded to the killing of Israeli civilians versus the killing of Palestinian civilians. For the Israeli state and Israeli victims, political, military, economic, cultural and social institutions have fully mobilized to provide support.
The same is entirely absent for the Palestinians. For the Palestinians, there are no evacuations. Aircraft carriers are not sent to provide military support. Mainstream political and cultural discourse does not humanize Palestinian life and mourn Palestinian death.
Aid relief is withheld and used as a bargaining counter. Economic support is not forthcoming. Institutions do not send Palestinians messages of support.
In some ways, this silence is not surprising. No one expressing support for Israel risks losing their livelihood. Many who have voiced solidarity with Palestinians have lost their jobs, been rebuked, suspended and faced doxing.
States are not moral entities, but act purely in self-interest. Palestinian freedom and liberation does not align with the interests of the U.S.-led West.
Therefore, western institutions repeat the increasingly weak talking point that “terrorism” is the cause of all the violence. This talking point is used to provide Israel with the green light to unleash uninhibited violence against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Jerusalem.
The idea that western governments and institutions are horrified by violence against civilians rings hollow because of their silence when it comes to violence against Palestinian civilians and other groups around the world.
For decades, Palestinians have been expelled from their land, killed and maimed in great numbers, including in mass atrocities and many well-documented cases of sexual violence and torture in Israeli prisons. This only scratches the surface of the violence that Palestinians continuously experience, and have experienced, since well before Hamas was formed.
Palestinians continue to suffer what Palestinian scholars Nahla Abdo and Nur Masalha have called an ongoing Nakba and genocide of the Palestinian people. Yet, when Palestinians suffer, as they are now in Gaza, what Israeli historian and expert on genocide Raz Segal has called “a textbook case of genocide,” western governments remain silent.
There was no western outrage when Israel ordered more than a million Palestinians to leave their homes in 24 hours. In February, Israeli settlers went on an hours-long rampage in the Palestinian town of Huwara after two settlers were shot by a Palestinian. Western condemnations of the rampage were muted or non-existent.
Hundreds of scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies and genocide studies are now sounding the alarm about the possibility of genocide being perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The stories of Palestinian lives that end with the sudden drop of a bomb are not told. Palestinian voices that explain the settler colonialism they suffer remain sidelined. And Palestinian aspirations for decolonized liberation are denied.
The West’s institutional reaction is not just hypocritical, it is an expression of where western governments stand on the question of Palestine. The West is an active participant in the erasure of Palestine, and when moments of intensified violence like this happen, the West’s true position becomes clear for all to see.
However, people power across the world, including in the U.S., provide reason for hope. Increasingly, many in the West are disgusted and ashamed by the erasure of Palestine and the killing of Palestinian civilians.
More people are joining the protests and calling for the siege on Gaza to be lifted once and for all. More people power is needed to demand that governments do everything they can to resolve this issue, which can only begin to move towards peace and justice when the Palestinian people are free.