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Opinion: Free Palestine shouldn't be a Controversial Statement

Leave politics aside has emerged as a core mantra punctuating social media’s response to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Put simply, I believe that to leave politics aside is to leave morality aside. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the subsequent Hamas attacks and the Israeli siege of Gaza and ensuing mass-killings of Palestinians are innately political but undeniably have extensive humanitarian implications and ignites questions surrounding the state of morality. I don’t believe that you must surrender your politics in order to ‘choose morality’; the two are inextricably linked.

Anti-Semitism has existed as long as the Jewish community itself. An additional atrocity produced by the war in Israel is the abhorrent manipulation of a politically sensitive and contentious issue in order to fuel the anti-Semitic rhetoric that plagues global history. In the UK, Jewish parents are deciding whether it is safe to send their children to school: the Jewish Free School has permitted students to forgo their school uniforms amid concerns over safety. Police have increased their presence in London’s Jewish communities as kosher restaurants are vandalised and anti-Semitic attacks soar in frequency. I attended the University of Leeds vigil for Israel where the collective grief and shared fear felt for the Jewish community was palpable. It is a terrifying time to be Israeli. It is a terrifying time to be Jewish.

Without negating the pain and suffering felt by the Jewish community globally, it is also morally imperative to acknowledge that it is a terrifying time to be Palestinian.

To ignore the wider context of the situation is not to tastefully “leave politics aside,” but to neglect an ongoing humanitarian crisis and, in doing so, neglect morality. Call me optimistic, but I like to believe that humans harbour the emotional complexity required to extend their empathy to Israelis and the Jewish community, whilst also maintaining their condemnation for the prolonged cruel and unjust treatment of Palestinians under the state of Israel’s policy of Apartheid. To equate ‘letting Israel grieve’ with the silencing of public disdain for the Israeli state’s excessive use of force against the people of Gaza following the Hamas attacks is redundant. It does not benefit Israelis; it does not benefit Palestinians. We should not be silent when Gaza, the population of which half comprises children and 80% is reliant on humanitarian aid, is forced to endure a bloody form of ‘collective punishment’, for the atrocities committed by Hamas. We should not be silent when the world’s largest open-air prison is being deprived of electricity, water and food as the state of Israel attempts to ‘reduce it to rubble’. We should not be silent when Israel’s siege of Gaza breaks international law.

The disproportionate amount of media coverage offered in favour of the plight of Israel compared with that of Palestine is tightly linked to Western political motivations and endorsement of Israel. Owen Jones recently spoke about the concept of a ‘hierarchy of death’ and how such a disparity in media coverage between Israel and Palestine exposes a chilling truth about the conflict. Media exposure of the attacks in Israel has been far more extensive than the degree of attention paid to the human suffering faced by Palestinians as a result of recent developments and over the past few decades. There exists a hierarchy of death, and Palestinians are near the bottom. Western media narratives reinforce this sentiment – they control the discourse surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, demonstrating clearly that the loss of Israeli lives is more important than the loss of Palestinian lives. In doing so, and reiterated by the supplying of military aid to the IDF, the West condemns violence towards Israel and yet, puzzlingly, condones violence towards Palestine. It has become apparent this week that much of the media coverage of the conflict aligns closer with propaganda than fact. The distinction between the state of Israel’s defence forces and the Israeli people is as critical as the distinction between Hamas and the people of Palestine. But when conflict erupts, it is not terrorist organisations, the politicians or those in power, that face the consequences, it is the innocent people who had no control over the society into which they were born, that pay the price. This has happened in Israel, and this continues to happen, as it has done in previous decades, to the people of Palestine.

Free Palestine is not an adversarial statement rooted in a disdain for Israelis, Jewish Israelis or the Jewish diaspora. Free Palestine is a statement rooted in a firm belief in humanity: a belief that regardless of race, religion, political orientation, and by way of our humanity, we have innate rights that should be vehemently upheld. The intensification of the conflict in Israel, and an uptick in dialogue on social media starkly illuminates a sense of mass-polarisation pervading the matter. I have witnessed first-hand the spread of misinformation online, the reproduction of ill-informed posts that, in some cases, reinforce Islamophobic and anti-Arab sentiment, whilst failing to accurately account for the facts of the conflict. One example is the widespread sharing of a clip of BBC reporters explaining that the IDF warned innocent civilians of Gaza to evacuate for their own safety before the conflict erupted. The post was headlined “The IDF cares about the people of Gaza” – this is not true. The people of Gaza have no way of escaping the prison that the Israeli state has forced them into; the borders are controlled by Israel, there is nowhere to flee. It is vital, in times of crisis, to fact-check what you are putting online – discourse has tangible effects. 

If both your morality and your politics are guided by a belief in human rights and freedom from oppression, then you should condemn the killings of any civilian life. You should condemn human rights violations perpetrated by any power – Hamas, the Israeli state, the IDF, and Western powers enabling such violence – and thus, you should champion the Free Palestine movement. If both your morality and your politics are also guided by justice, then it is imperative to question the silence from the international community which neglects the Palestinian crisis; it is imperative to question whether political motivations make intervention and aid selective. Defending justice should never be controversial – the strength of pro-Palestinian activism should not be diluted by accusations of ‘Hamas-apologism’ or anti-Semitism. In order to achieve peace, there must be a ceasefire, there must be an end to the unjust and bloody occupation of Palestine. We all share a humanitarian responsibility to speak for the voiceless; silence over Palestine equates to consent.

Words: Issy Maple, she/her

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