Editorial: The response to Palestine has been disheartening

By Farah Bassyouni Oct 13, 2023
My parents in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, sign in the back says "the people want the downfall of the regime" in Arabic.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are personal and do not reflect the views of The Argus or Illinois Wesleyan University.

Most children grew up with bedtime stories and fairytales, but children in Arab countries grew up with dreams of a free Palestine. While some parents tucked their children in at night with thoughts of magic and castles, we grew up on war stories, massacres, and our people being driven from their land. The story is a tale as old as time: colonizers came to our lands, claimed that it belonged to them, then murdered everyone and forcefully took it. We’ve seen this in Africa, North America, Southeast Asia, Latin America and countless other regions. 

You’d think anyone who supports the Black Lives Matter movement, Ukraine against Russia or basic human rights would be interested in the freedom of Palestine and wouldn’t condone the killing of innocent civilians on either side. But I’ve witnessed Israel’s strategic psychological war and noticed how in Western news, Israelis are always “murdered’ while Palestinians just miraculously “die”. Language matters. As Malcolm X once said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

History has been against Palestine since the end of WW2 when Western countries felt so bad for standing by during the Holocaust that they wanted to fulfill the Jewish people’s wish of having their own homeland. Nothing wrong with that. But the British government, the big bad notorious colonizer of the world, had colonial power over Palestine since 1920 and decided that Jews could settle on Palestinian land in the name of Zionism, the political ideology that argues the creation of a Jewish state would be the only viable solution against Jewish persecution. However, in order to do this, it would require the expulsion of the already inhabited Palestine.  With the help of the UK, the Jewish population in Palestine increased and on May 15, 1948, Britain announced they’d be handing over Palestine to the United Nations, despite granting independence to the rest of their colonies, as if it was theirs to give away. According to the UN, this day of the handover is what Arabs call the Nakba, which means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic and refers to the near total destruction of Palestinian society at the hands of the Zionist militia upon the establishment of Israel. It was a planned, organized and most importantly, still ongoing process of ethnic cleansing. 

The UN wanted to divide Palestine into Zionist and Arab states and give over half of the Palestinian land to the Zionists, including cities with Palestinian majorities. Naturally, Palestine and the rest of the Arab/Middle Eastern/North African region opposed this, considering that this is colonialism and Palestine would lose their homeland. Shortly after, fighting broke out between Palestinians and Zionist armed groups who were being funded and trained by Britain. Zionist forces removed over 750,000 Palestinians, turning them into refugees in their own homeland. The Zionist forces seized over 78 percent of Palestine through the destruction and depopulation of hundreds of villages and cities. 

The Zionist movement did not stop there, and in 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the eastern part of Jerusalem, forcibly expelling 430,000 Palestinians who had already been originally displaced back in 1948. Even today, Israel continues home demolitions, arbitrary arrests and blockades, surrounding any remaining Palestinian land with settlements and military outposts. As a result, millions of Palestinians live without basic human rights, be it in the West Bank where they are immobilized by the Apartheid Wall and cannot go anywhere, or in the open-air prison that is the besieged Gaza Strip. 

Since 2005, Israel’s military blockade of Gaza has prevented over two million Palestinians living there from leaving, while no one can enter. So when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said he ordered Palestinians to “leave Gaza” for their own safety, he was lying. Palestinians living in Gaza are literally being held in an open-air prison. 

When Palestinians tried boycotting Israel through Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), they were met with imprisonment. Any journalistic effort was met with the arrest and assassination like that of Ghassan Kanafani, Naij A Ali, Shireen Abu Akleh, and many more. Peaceful protests such as Land Day in 1976 and the Great March of Return in 2018 were met with violence.

Palestine does not have a military or army. According to The Intercept, Hamas is a political and military group that was formed in 1987 and initially funded by Israel in order to create political unrest in Palestine and was called a ‘blowback’ by journalist Mehdi Hasan. That didn’t end up working in Israel’s favor, as Hamas filled a political power vacuum and became Palestine’s only retaliation option against Israeli forces. I want to make it clear that not everyone who supports Palestine supports Hamas, and many countries in the Arab League have condemned the killing of innocent civilians. But Palestinians are clearly fed up with just accepting violence upon violence while being expected to be the ‘perfect victims’ of Israel. Under international law, as outlined in UN Resolution 3246, Palestine has a right to defend itself against colonialism. Western media doesn’t cover this because it’s easier to justify the killing of an entire population if you can tell the world that it’s targeted toward ‘terrorists.’

But this war isn’t about Hamas and it has nothing to do with religion. It’s not about Judaism vs Islam, nor is it antisemitic to support Palestine. According to Amnesty International, this is about Palestinians’ right to resist 75 years of Israeli settlers colonizing their native land and ethnically cleansing their native people under decades of illegal Israeli military occupation and apartheid. 

According to the BBC, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said that Israel’s response in Gaza is not in accordance with “the right of international law, humanitarian law.” Yet there is unqualified support for Israel in the U.S., which is mystifying.  Good Morning America even called this ‘Israel’s 9/11’ without the consideration that Israel has occupied Palestinian lands for decades. Israel is dealing with retaliation and the world is having a louder outcry for them than for Palestinians who have dealt with oppression, murder, and home demolition under Israeli occupation for decades. Figure 1 is the result of rocks from Palestine, and literal bombs from Israel. This is not a ‘two-sided conflict’ because that would require an equal fight with equal retaliation, which this is not. 

Figure 1. Source: United Nations

The real question, given President Biden’s declaration that Hamas was “evil” and that the U.S. “stands with Israel,” is why the U.S. cares so much about Israel. Some argue that Jewish people are actually indigenous to the land of Jerusalem according to the Torah, even though according to the Quran and even the Bible, Muslims and Christians are also indigenous to the land of Jerusalem because the crucifixion of Jesus is relevant to all three monotheistic religions. But why doesn’t the U.S. fund every single ‘indigenous’ group’s return to their land? The U.S. is responsible for the displacement of entire populations of Native Americans and Black people from Africa through slavery (and still through oppressive systems of police brutality, prison institutions, etc). Even many indigenous Americans do not have their land back, so why do you think the U.S. government cares about Israel so much that they would personally see to it that these militaries are armed and funded? 

The U.S. has historically only cared about its own agenda and Israel being the most powerful country in the Middle East benefits them because they get to control yet another region in the world. This is a perfect example of political realism.  You can espouse democratic ideals and still support undemocratic regimes (UAE), regimes that commit blatant murder of American journalists (Saudi Arabia) and even ethnic cleansing (Israel) if it serves your national interest.

The real tragedy is that Israel is filled with people who have faced massive generational trauma as a result of their own genocide in the Holocaust, yet ironically many can not understand that they are committing similar oppressions against Palestinians who are now also being ethnically cleansed. No one, be it Jewish, Israeli or Palestinian is safe under a colonial power, and are all victims of the Israeli government.  

History repeats itself, and unfortunately, the dehumanization of Palestinians in the media actually worked on the West and convinced you this was about anti-semitism and not the liberation of the Palestinian people. This attack on Palestine is rooted in racism, back to the tale as old as time, spear-headed by colonizers stealing land that is not theirs. 

Currently, Israel is on a full offensive and imposed a “complete siege” on the already-blockaded Gaza Strip. According to BBC, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “Crucial lifesaving supplies including fuel, food, and water must be allowed in Gaza. We need rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access now,” in response. This ‘collective punishment’ is just one of many international war crimes committed by Israel. 

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know there was a pro-Israel agenda until I moved to the U.S. two years ago to become a student at IWU. I thought, ‘Surely, anyone who knows this story supports the indigenous people of Palestine who are being massacred by the thousands and not the colonizer that is bullying these people out of existence’. But after seeing all the misinformation, I realized how important it is to show support for the people of Gaza, now more than ever, for all innocent civilians who have been indiscriminately targeted.

We can’t protest, can’t fight, can’t speak about it or we are labeled ‘terrorists’ and can’t post because social media is shadow-banning us. We can’t even put up boards in our campus hallways because it will anger people who think we’re condoning the murder of Jewish people. I have personally received hate and threats and been targeted for my activism in support of Palestine.

When I learned about the current Hamas attack and Israel’s scorched-earth response, I called my mom and my sisters and we talked about what this could mean for Egypt, my home country where my family currently resides. We are all afraid of the threat of war. I grew up in Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian revolution and I can still hear the chants for liberation and cries for loved ones arrested and persecuted. I watched all my family members protest for what we knew in our hearts was right; these values of freedom are instilled in who we are as people who have consistently had to rid themselves of colonialism. Unlike a lot of the people defending Israel, we can’t hide behind our privileges because we know very well the fear and struggle of oppression under occupation, losing our history and being villainized by the entire world. Because of that lived experience, I also know that we are not powerless and that fighting with the risk of losing is better than not fighting at all. So we write and we cry together and we stand with Palestine, knowing there is not a shred of doubt that we’re on the right side of a history that needs to be told. 

My parents in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, sign in the back says “the people want the downfall of the regime” in Arabic.

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