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Watching and reading the Western mainstream media coverage of the war in Gaza as well as the Palestinian question is frequently a source of never-ending frustration. One must continuously suppress one’s outrage at the deceptive and convoluted framing of what is essentially the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence, but which has become transmogrified into an inherent and almost genetic Arab / Muslim irrational hatred and violence towards Jews / Israel.
In the mainstream, Zionist-inspired narrative, Israel’s “right to exist” precedes and supersedes all else and, in fact, does so uniquely in the world of nations, since under international law, no other nation has or demands such a right. For Israel to have this right entails the obliteration (and not even acknowledgement) of a similar parallel right of the displaced population, the Palestinians, to also exist. Therefore, any war that Israel starts – or in most Western media narratives, does not start — it is ipso facto defensive and justified. Any questioning of this frame of reference is liable to be branded “anti-semitic”, thus conflating (and importantly from a propagandistic point of view, confusing) the actions of a state, which is first and foremost a political actor, with the belief system and religion of an entire group of people.
One of the many consequences of this superimposed narrative is to render the Palestinians almost un-human — untermenschen if you will. I use the term “human” here in its full sense as embodied in the spirit and law of the United Nations Charter and Resolutions as well as the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Very briefly, the former guarantees the rights of a national people to independence and guarantees them the right to resist occupation. The second additionally guarantees political, cultural, and economic rights to all human beings. And yet, today we find the Palestinians as the last still colonized people who are deprived of any right to resist the colonizing and occupying power.
Acknowledging, and even demanding a guarantee, for Israel’s “right to exist” necessarily demolishes and abrogates Palestinians as a people and as human beings. Thus we constantly hear the re-iteration of Orwellian phrases like “arms smuggling” through underground tunnels into the Gaza Strip – when in reality it is the Palestinians’ right and duty to resist occupation; or that “Hamas seeks Israel’s destruction” without the concomitant Israel seeks Hamas’ destruction; or the classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization, without mention of the extensive social and charitable work that they do or, more significantly, the fact that they were democratically elected. We, the readers of mainstream Western media, further face oxymoronic classifications of buildings, infrastructure, schools, and hospitals being designated “terrorist strongholds” and of any male over the age of ten being lumped in with “Hamas terrorists”.
The stripping away of Palestinians’ basic human rights has even deprived them of the right to choose their own representatives. Therefore, ever since the Oslo Accords, puppet masters in Israel, the US and to a lesser extent, Europe and “moderate” Arab states have designated the Palestinian Authority and its (now ex-) president, Mahmoud Abbas as “leaders” of the Palestinian people and the only interlocutors in any “negotiation”.
Unsurprisingly, these “leaders” seem to be for life, like all other Arab dictators. This, despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential term has officially ended on January 9th, 2009. Even after the horrific Israeli attack on the Palestinians in Gaza, during which time Abbas sided with the attackers and thereby lost all credibility and legitimacy among the majority of Palestinians, he is still invited to “speak” for them in Arab Summits and in various “talks”. If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be laughable.
Another dimension of treating the Palestinians as subhuman is that the atrocities that they suffer at the hand of the Israelis, not just in war, but also in their very cultural, social, political, and economic existence, when acknowledged at all, are presented as some sort of humanitarian crisis. A charity case that has no human rights dimension.
From the very beginning others have tried to speak for them, thereby denying them their own voices. So when Palestinians staged an uprising in the late 1930s against Jewish immigration that was aided and abetted by the British Mandate, Arab governments told them to quiet down and that they would extract their freedom and independence from the British colonizers for them. Instead, Arab leaders emerged with the completely inadequate White Paper in which the British government promised to reduce immigration, but which did not grant the Palestinians a promise of their own independence and statehood. Afterwards, they were also treated as a non-people, this time by the Zionists who falsely claimed the “land without a people for a people without a land.” And even when denial of their physical existence was no longer possible, they were simply referred to as “refugees” and not as political actors with legitimate inherent rights.
From Israel’s perspective, the forcible removal and ethnic cleansing in their newly created state was thus morally justified because those being removed were ostensibly non-existent. They were at best a humanitarian crisis, and not a human rights / political actor issue. Thus, the 400,000 Palestinians that were forcibly displaced by Israeli terrorist armed militias like the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi as well as by psychological warfare, in the wake of the United Nations Partition resolution in November of 1947 – and flagrantly before the establishment of the state of Israel, were designated mere “refugees” and responsibilities of Arab governments. As more recent historiographers have proven, the un-peopled land narrative adopted by the Zionists, was used to hide the forced and often violent expulsion of the original inhabitants. With the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948 and the Arab-Israeli war that followed, an additional 370,000 Palestinians were removed or displaced under the organized execution of Plan Dalet . They too were deemed not Israel’s responsibility, since it and only it, had the right to exist. Even after the armistice talks of the war in 1948, Israel still forcibly removed the inhabitants of the village of al-Majdal. Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared essentially a policy of non-compromise. “Expel them [the villagers of Lydda and Ramleh, July 1948]!” he ordered his officers.
Palestinians as a people did not exist, and as “refugees”, they were the Arabs’ problem. Under this rubric, Israel legalized the widespread confiscation of Palestinian land when it opined /declared those lands “abandoned properties” whose owners were “absent”, thus wiping out and Judaizing 400 Palestinian villages. Similarly, shops, homes and even bank accounts were declared “abandoned” and were expropriated. They even created a “Transfer Committee” in 1948 to supervise the destruction of Palestinian villages. And yet the Orwellian Zionist narrative of an un-peopled land persevered for several decades in Israel and in the Western mainstream.
Forced expulsions are how Gaza became essentially a giant refugee camp. Some 80% of its current inhabitants are descendants of those originally displaced Palestinians from the pre-1948 territory.
And so it continues to the present day. Israel and her backers still deny the Palestinians their own voice and their own political identity. With impunity and excessive and rabid force, Israel attacks the un-people of Gaza, now conveniently designated as “terrorists”. The attack on Palestinians, becomes an attack on Hamas. Buildings (even UNRWA schools), children, water pipes, workshops, similarly become Hamas strongholds, fighters, weapons labs or bases….
This narrative of un-peopleness has evolved over time: from non-existent, to generic Arab squatting on “Jewish” land, to refugee, to low-paid wage laborers, to terrorists, (to even “cockroaches” according to Ariel Sharon). Eventually, it reached the Oslo “Peace Process” and the designation of certain individuals (who are of course willing to concede anything and everything) as potentially worthy of “talking” to (ostensibly, with). These were people like the Israeli approved-, Egyptian and Jordanian trained- and equipped- native police force (Dahlan and his thugs) and the Palestinian Authority. Any Palestinians who disagree or demand their rights, even if they are the majority of Palestinians in Gaza, are automatically outside the pale and once again consigned to join the new outcasts in this period of world history. They are part of the “Axis of Evil”, a jumbled all-inclusive collection of boogey men of Hamas-Hezbullah-Iranian-backed-terrorist-Muslim-jihadists.
They are anything but a people with their own nationalist aspirations and an undefeated desire for freedom and equality with all other humans on this earth.
Continuing the tradition of Great Britain when Lord Balfour declared that they will not consult the “wishes of the present inhabitants” and that Zionism, “be it right or wrong” is more important than the “desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land,” the state of Israel today continues to deny the Palestinians’ basic human rights to have any rights. And the Palestinian Authority is colluding with this denial of the nationalist expression of the Palestinian people’s right and their will to resist forced “solutions”. But the people of Gaza have spoken, have persevered, and have withstood this latest vicious attack. Their continued resistance is an inspiration for all those who resist oppression. And more importantly, their persistence is a reaffirmation that peoplehood / humanity and all its inherent basic rights, are from within, and are not qualities to be granted and bestowed by those in power.
DINA JADALLAH-TASCHLER is an outraged Arab-American of Palestinian and Egyptian descent, a political science graduate, and an artist.