Palestinian lives do matter

October 15, 2023
Palestine lives matter placard
A rally for Palestine in Meanjin/Brisbane on October 13. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

October 7, 2023, will become another date to add to the modern history of Palestine and Israel.

In a “meticulously planned, well-executed lightning incursion”, Palestinian armed groups broke out of the Gaza Strip to attack Israeli military targets and towns in southern Israel, killing hundreds of Israelis and capturing dozens of Israeli soldiers and civilians as hostages.

The Israeli government again declared war on Hamas on October 8.

Images of Palestinian fighters paragliding over the fence and bulldozing their way out of what is often termed the world’s “largest open-air prison” — the Gaza Strip — will define this devastating outbreak of violence. Yet more images of Palestinian neighbourhoods in Gaza flattened and destroyed under another relentless Israeli bombing campaign will fill our screens.

The military atrocities on Palestinian and Israeli civilians are to be deplored. At no time are civilians or civilian infrastructure legitimate military targets. After the devastation of two world wars in the 20th century, the international community built the laws of war and humanitarian protections precisely for these reasons.

There were swift condemnations of Hamas and declarations of support for Israel from around the world. United States President Joe Biden was at pains to emphasise that the US will “stand with Israel” while referring to the “act of sheer evil” committed by Hamas, condemning them as terrorists using “the worst rampages of Isis”.

Biden references the nature of Hamas’ attacks to make the carpet bombing of Gaza seem an acceptable response. According to Biden, the Western world must be united in their defence of Israel, no matter what Israel has done in the past to the Palestinians, or will do now. Biden’s words seek to distance world solidarity from the Palestinian people, whose rights the US government has never protected.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, foreign minister Penny Wong and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton each condemned Hamas’ “abhorrent attack on Israel” and reiterated “Israel’s right to defend itself”.

The media responds

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared “We are at war”, much of mainstream media reported the unfolding events in Israel in sensational terms as “scenes ripped from a nightmare”, “terrorists butcher civilians” and “slaughter”.

The dehumanising of Palestinians was in stark display when Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant called Palestinians “human animals” and ordered “a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.”

As the world’s media demanded Palestinian interviewees condemn the Hamas attacks, their double standards were called out.

In an interview with CNN, Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian diplomatic mission to Britain, stated flatly: “The Western media must really abandon this framework that has gotten us to where we are today … the blindness and the deafness of the world and the international community for so many years, of the warnings we have been saying that this was coming.”

Referencing data up to the end of September this year showing that Palestinians are being murdered by the Israeli Defence Force, or Israeli settlers, at the rate of almost one person a day, Crikey’s Bernard Keane commented: “The steady killing of Palestinians draws virtually no comment from Western governments, and any coverage in the Western mainstream media is minimal.”

British journalist Jonathan Cook wrote: “There will be little sympathy in the West as, yet again, besieged Palestinians are bombed by Israel, their immense suffering justified by the term ‘Israeli retaliation’.”

Australian media has been little better. As the Palestinian community in Australia reeled yet again, Palestinian Australians have to plead their humanity.

When questioned on television by journalists about “the awful atrocities” committed by Hamas and directly asked “can you see why the world is outraged?”, Nasser Mashni, of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, replied: “I’d like you to include me in the world … It’s past time for the world to stand up and say Palestinian lives matter.”

Context matters

What has been lacking in much media analysis is context — the context of how Israel turned Palestine into the biggest prison on Earth.

Diana Buttu, lawyer and former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said in interviews this week: “The problem is that I don’t think that this is put in its proper political context. This isn’t just a war. This is actually an occupation that has gone on now for 56 years.”

Israeli Professor Jeff Halper has consistently stated: “The Palestinians have never been at war with Jews; they have been resisting a unilateral settler colonial project whose declared aim is the take-over of their homeland, the transformation of Palestine into Israel and the erasure of the Palestinian people, its culture and heritage.”

Palestinian journalist and author Ramzy Baroud said that “the daring Palestinian military campaign, deep inside Israel, on Saturday, October 7, was only possible because Palestinians are simply fed up. [Seventeen] years ago, Israel imposed a hermetic siege on the Gaza Strip … 17 years are long enough for a whole generation to grow up under siege, enlist in the Resistance, and fight for its freedom.”

“We've been shouting every day,” said Zomlot. “Every single day Palestinians are targeted, killed, arrested, rounded [up], their land is confiscated, their holy places are desecrated … Our people have been seeing apartheid being enforced on them … and their hope for a political solution that will fulfill their rights dissipating.”

The world cannot continue reporting and speaking of “another round of violence” in Israel and Palestine. As Palestinians have consistently told us, it’s been 75 years of ongoing violence since the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948.

The “silence of the international community” to the Palestinian reality cannot continue. The documentation of this reality by Palestinian organisations and the United Nations is as impeccable as it is overwhelming. Never can the world say “we did not know”.

‘Enough is enough’

Our first task is to call for an immediate end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombing and massacre of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Half of the 2.2 million population of Gaza are children.

“It is high time for Western powers to start acting like grown-ups and stop parroting Israel’s debunked lies and cliches," wrote Marwan Bishara in Al Jazeera. "Make no mistake, there is no military answer for the Palestine tragedy, only a political and diplomatic solution.”

Socialist Alliance member Sue Bull, who visited occupied Palestine in August, told Green Left: “Palestinians we spoke to said that many of their young people are losing hope for the future. There was real fear, worry and anger in many places that the ongoing daily violence of the Israeli occupation was only getting worse.”

Palestinians are calling for accountability.

Years of impunity for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians has “gotten us to where we are today,” as Zomlot said. “The world was expected to do one thing — uphold international law equally on everybody, on Ukraine, on Palestine. And the world fails to do that. No accountability.”

While governments around the world continue to laud the “two-state solution” and the vision of “two peoples living side-by-side in peace and security”, it appears no government — including Australia — is taking any sort of action to end the illegal Israeli occupation.

This resounding international failure to act is not lost on the Palestinians, who have long stated that the two-state solution is dead: “[T]he system between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is a one-state reality, an apartheid state where one community has all the privileges of citizenship, while the other community is deprived of its fundamental human rights,” said Palestinian academic Haidar Eid, in 2021.

The “gargantuan colonisation project” that is the Israeli occupation of historic Palestine is the modern reality that needs to be challenged. Palestinians have long been clear about “what our struggle for liberation is — dismantling a Zionist settler-colonial regime and achieving self-determination in Palestine” — in the words of Al Shabaka’s Tareq Baconi.

First, we need to understand the nature of Israeli settler colonialism. Secondly, we need to build effective international solidarity with the Palestinian people in their efforts toward decolonisation and liberation.

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