Time to focus on the rights of the oppressed, not the oppressor
Gaza has changed the political equation in Palestine. Moreover, the repercussions of this devastating war are likely to alter the political equation in the entire Middle East and to recenter Palestine as the world’s most urgent political crisis for years to come.
Since the establishment of Israel, facilitated by Britain and protected by the US and other Western countries, the priorities have been entirely Israeli. “Israeli security,” Israel’s “military edge,” its “right to defend itself” and much more have defined the West’s political discourse on the Israeli occupation and apartheid.
This bizarre US-Western understanding of the so-called conflict — that an oppressor has “rights” over the oppressed — has enabled Israel to maintain a military occupation over Palestinian territories that has lasted for more than 56 years. It has also empowered Israel to neglect the roots of this conflict, namely the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the long-denied right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Within this context, every Palestinian-Arab overture for peace has been rejected; even the supposed peace process, namely the Oslo Accords, turned into an opportunity for Tel Aviv to entrench its military occupation, expand its settlements and corral Palestinians into Bantustan-like spaces, humiliated and racially segregated.
As the bodies of Palestinian civilians, including thousands of children, started piling up, the narrative began to change
Some Palestinians, whether enticed by American handouts or shattered by a lingering sense of defeat, lined up to receive the dividends of the US-Israeli peace — pitiful crumbs of false prestige, empty titles and limited power, granted and denied by Israel itself.
However, the Israeli war on Gaza is already changing much of this painful status quo.
Israel’s constant emphasis that its deadly war is against Hamas, against “terror,” against Islamic fundamentalism and all the rest may have convinced those who are ready to accept the Israeli version of events at face value. But as the bodies of Palestinian civilians, including thousands of children, started piling up at Gaza hospitals’ morgues and, tragically, in the streets, the narrative began to change.
The pulverized bodies of Palestinian children, of whole families perished together, stand witness to the brutality of Israel, the immoral support of its allies and the inhumanity of an international order that rewards the murderer and reprimands the victim. Of all the biased statements made by US President Joe Biden, the one in which he suggested that Palestinians were lying about counting their own dead was perhaps the most inhumane.
Washington may not realize this yet, but the repercussions of its unconditional support for Israel will prove to be disastrous in the future, especially in a region that is fed up with war, hegemony, double standards, sectarian divisions and endless conflict.
However, the greatest impact will be felt in Israel itself.
When Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour gave a powerful speech last week, he could not hold back the tears. International delegations at the UN General Assembly clapped nonstop, reflecting the growing support for Palestine not only at the UN but in hundreds of cities and towns and on countless street corners around the world.
When Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan, who spearheaded many of the lies communicated by Tel Aviv, especially in the early days of the war, delivered his speech, not a single person clapped. The Israeli narrative has clearly crumbled, crashing to a thousand pieces. Israel has never been so isolated. This is definitely not the “New Middle East” Netanyahu prophesied in his UNGA speech only last month.
Unable to fathom how the initial sympathy with Israel quickly turned into outright disdain, Tel Aviv resorted to its old tactics. Erdan last week branded UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “unfit to lead” and called on him to resign. Guterres’ supposedly unforgivable crime was suggesting that “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.”
Unable to fathom how the initial sympathy quickly turned into outright disdain, Tel Aviv resorted to its old tactics
As far as Israel and its American benefactors are concerned, no context is allowed to taint the perfect image that Israel has created for its genocide in Gaza. In this perfect Israeli world, no one is allowed to speak of military occupation, siege, the lack of political prospects or the absence of a just peace for Palestinians.
Even though Amnesty International said in a statement last week that both sides had committed “serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes,” Israel still attacked it, accusing the group of being “antisemitic.” In Israel’s thinking, even the world’s leading international human rights group is not permitted to contextualize the atrocities in Gaza or dare to suggest that one of the “root causes” of the conflict was “Israel’s system of apartheid imposed on all Palestinians.”
Israel is no longer all-powerful, as it wants us to believe. Recent events have proven that its “invincible army” — a brand that allowed Israel to become, as of 2022, the world’s 10th-largest international military exporter — has turned out to be a paper tiger.
This is what is infuriating Israel the most. “Muslims are not afraid of us anymore,” said former Knesset member Moshe Feiglin. To restore this fear, the extremist politician called for burning “Gaza to ashes immediately.”
But nothing will turn Gaza into ashes, even if the 12,000-plus tons of explosives dropped on the Strip in the first two weeks of the war incinerated at least 45 percent of the housing units in the territory, according to the UN’s humanitarian office. Gaza will not die because it is a powerful idea that is deeply entrenched within the hearts and minds of every Arab, every Muslim and millions of other people around the world.
This new idea is challenging the long-held belief that the world needs to cater to Israel’s priorities, security, selfish definitions of peace and all other illusions. The discussion should now return to where it should have always been: the priorities of the oppressed, not the oppressor.
It is time to speak about Palestinian rights, Palestinian security and the Palestinian people’s right — in fact, obligation — to defend themselves. It is time to speak about real justice, the outcome of which is nonnegotiable: equality, full political rights, freedom and the right of return.
Gaza has told us all of this and much more. It is time for us to listen.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. X: @RamzyBaroud