How the West’s opinion of Israel may be changing
Another round of exchanges of fire followed by a negotiated ceasefire between the Israeli occupiers and the Palestinians is complete. This is the never-ending cycle of violence and destruction because of the injustice and humiliation the Palestinians have suffered at the hands of the Israelis for more than 70 years now. Unless true peace and justice is reached, we can expect similar attacks to flare up again.
Security for one group of people living in the same territory as another group will not be attained unless the members of both groups feel secure in their homes and on their lands. Attempting to evict one group of people and replace them with another will only exacerbate the situation and will not result in peace and security. This is the reality that Israel refuses to accept because it feels confident in its power and is immune from accountability as long as it is protected by the US. The latest round of attacks did, however, ignite an unfavorable turn of events for Israel.
Every conflict has two sides, otherwise it wouldn’t be a conflict. Controlling the narrative and public opinion is an essential component in winning any conflict. How the story is framed, including the words used and images published, helps to gain and maintain official and public support. Once there is a more persuasive argument that challenges the dominant discourse and grabs people’s attention, it causes questioning and rejection.
The latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the dominant narratives on both sides. Those on the side of the Palestinians are aware of the historical facts that led to the creation of the state of Israel at the Palestinians’ expense, as well as the suffering and deprivation of the Palestinians and their rights ever since. These facts and realities on the ground, however, have not been widely or adequately explained and delivered beyond the region. They are most often overshadowed by other crises and conflicts and undermined by internal divisions and mismanagement.
On the other side are the powerful, rich Western countries and those under their influence who promoted the right of Israel to exist as a haven for Jews who had suffered from discrimination, particularly during the Holocaust, in lands far away. By trying to atone for their bigotry and atrocities against the Jews, the West supported and continues to support Israel politically, financially, militarily and in the media, turning a blind eye to any atrocities it commits.
For people in the region, Israel is a sore reminder of the West’s colonial and imperial legacy — a malign foreign body deliberately created to serve the interests of the former colonizers.
Controlling the narrative and public opinion is an essential component in winning any conflict.
Israel calls itself a “democracy” and a “civilized state” that is surrounded by barbaric people and autocratic states. Such words and their framing are important to understand in the wider context of Islamophobia and the demonizing and negative stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims in the West.
A closer look at Israel exposes it as a racist, militaristic and fundamentalist state, which is what a Human Rights Watch report released last month determined. “Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” the report stated. Its findings were based on an “overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.”
A few other significant changes contributed to this reconfiguration in the balance of worldwide public opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Social media has provided a platform for immediate, raw and touching footage by Palestinians of the destruction and abuses they have suffered. This has garnered overwhelming support and sympathy around the world and rallied demonstrators in various cities, even though some of these platforms tried to censor the Palestinians by blocking hashtags and suspending accounts that referred to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, where this latest round of violence erupted after the Israeli security services forcefully tried to displace Palestinians from their homes and attacked worshippers.
Such aggression and violations of human rights infuriated Palestinians in many cities and towns and caused them to rise up in a much-needed show of unity. In response, Israel went as far as bombing a tower in the Gaza Strip that housed media offices in an attempt to silence local and international news coverage under the guise of targeting terrorists. Living under the inhumane conditions of blockade, poverty and threat in Gaza — described as the world’s largest open-air prison — we need to ask, who is being terrorized and dehumanized?
Calls by Western countries for human rights to be upheld and defended ring hollow when these same nations refuse to acknowledge the abuses and violations committed by Israel and bring it to justice. Some even prevent peaceful demonstrators from expressing their support for Palestinians or callously raise the flag of Israel over their institutions in a show of solidarity. Claims that Israel has the right to defend itself need to be challenged by asking, who is the aggressor?
We finally heard a change in the tone of the discourse in the US and other Western nations and a noticeable shift within the Democratic and Republican parties to take a tougher stance against Israel. The presence of conscientious politicians, especially those with Arab and Muslim backgrounds, and other supporters in the corridors of power is giving the Palestinians a voice, which had previously been muffled and their very existence obscured.
It remains to be seen how the Palestinians and their supporters will be able to build on and cultivate this turn of events to reach their ultimate goal of having an independent, viable state where they can live in dignity.
• Maha Akeel is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. Twitter: @MahaAkeel1