We spoke to a Palestinian scholar based in the UK to reflect on the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza and elsewhere in the occupied Palestinian territories. We are reproducing both the audio and text of the conversation.
- Many Palestinians are describing the ongoing events in Gaza and other parts of occupied Palestinian territory as Nakba 2.0. How accurate is that explanation of the ongoing Israeli assault?
Text: It remains to be seen what the final outcome of this round of escalated Israeli aggression is going to be. The current situation, of course, is incredibly devastating. Many people have been displaced. We know that the number of people killed is at the time of recording, around 8000. Many Palestinians, including, for example, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hassan Zomlot, are worried and nervous that the possible situation that could arise out of this current round of aggression could be another Nakba, where hundreds of thousands or possibly even millions of Palestinians are displaced from their homes into neighboring countries or territories. Already Israel has attempted to displace a million people in the north of Gaza, to the south of Gaza today, there was a document leaked from one of the Israeli ministries that talks about displacing Palestinians into the Sinai Desert or the Sinai Peninsula rather. And so obviously, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but these are things that are being talked about in Israeli policy circles, Israeli defense circles, and of course, Palestinians are conscious of this.
However, as a further sort of indication of this, a lot of Palestinians, so people I know personally, have said that, having learned from the experience of their ancestors who were displaced supposedly temporarily in 1948 and in 1967, and in many of the years that were in between and after, they are refusing to leave their homes. Because history has shown us that displacement is not temporary until we return. All of us. And so many people have completely rejected this notion of being further displaced, wishing to be martyred in their own homes. And so obviously it’s heart-breaking for all of us who know people who are, are in Gaza and who are, who have made that decision for themselves. But it’s one that we understand completely, given the devastating consequences of the Nakba in 1948.
Text: A large proportion of the people in Gaza. In fact, the majority of the population there are already refugees from the previous expulsions in 1948, and in 1967. So, for example, many people who reside in Gaza today actually originally come from other parts of Palestine that were occupied by Israel previously. So generally speaking, from the coastal areas. So Yafa is one of the big ones from Haifa, but also from the desert in the south.
2. How would you characterize the language used by Israeli politicians and their supporters against the Palestinian people?
Text: The language used by Israeli politicians is nothing short of genocidal it harkens back to the language that was used by colonizers in the last few hundred years to talk about the communities and populations that they colonized. Frantz Fanon, for example, talks about how the colonizers use zoological terms to talk about the colonized. And so, one of the early statements was from the Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, who called Palestinians human animals. Of course, there is the tweet from one of the Israeli official government institutions that said that this is a battle between the children of the light versus the children of darkness. Netanyahu came out and cited stories from the Old Testament that again were about genocide and killing on a mass level.
And so the language that’s been used by Israeli politicians and its supporters, as I said, is genocidal language. And of course, other media outlets out there in the world, particularly the big sort of mainstream English language ones I can speak of, often refuse to directly attribute Palestinian suffering to Israel, preferring generally to use the passive voice. So, for example, the BBC reports that Israelis are killed by Hamas, whereas Palestinians and Gaza simply just die without mentioning the cause of their death being Israeli airstrikes. And so the language that’s used often attempts to, on one hand, dehumanize and demonize Palestinians and Palestinian resistance, while at the same time, it erases the role of Israel as a colonizing force and as a murderous regime.
3. Are you surprised at the support of the US, the UK, and the EU for Israel despite its continued violation of international law?
Text: It’s not a surprise that Israel is being backed by these states. However, the scale upon which there has been a backlash inside those states against people who seek to advocate for Palestinians has been surprising only in its scale, but not in the fact that it happened. And so, for example, many people I know who are here in the UK on visas have been intimidated into silence, even though, of course, expressing solidarity with Palestine or support for the Palestinian cause should be a matter protected by freedom of speech. The accusation of anti-Semitism or the invocation of potential hate crimes based on anti-Semitism have been used also to silence a lot of pro-Palestine sentiment here in the UK and I believe even more so in Europe than over here and also in the US.
The fact that the US has barred its own spokespeople from talking about de-escalation or a possible ceasefire is also surprising only in that it’s a departure from the US’s previous approach and reaction to escalations by Israel in the past. But of course, no one is under any delusions that the United States or Britain, or the EU seek to safeguard Palestinian lives or the rights of Palestinians. And so the surprise is only in the scale at which these entities, these states, have sought to suppress pro-Palestine sentiment inside their borders and not in the fact that they’ve done so because these states were never allies of Palestinians in the first place. And it will take a lot for them to be that, especially the United States, which is itself a settler colonial state and in many ways its support for Israel is on the basis that its own history is nothing to be ashamed of, at least from its perspective. And so, no, we’re not surprised, but we are nervous and anxious, especially those of us whose situations are, or whose legal status is in theory not precarious, but in practice somewhat precarious, because of the fact that many of these states are not being clear about how laws can be used against people who are pro-Palestine.
4. Despite the Israeli government and its allies mounting a large public relations blitz, there has been an outpouring of support for the Palestinian struggle. Is there a shift in mood and understanding about the Palestinian cause among the people across the globe?
Text: And just to add to the previous response, two instruments in the UK that have been mobilized against pro-Palestine sentiment have been the Prevent1 duty and the IHRA. So that’s the International Holocaust Remembrance Association or alliance their definition of anti-Semitism which conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It’s a definition that even its own author has distanced himself from. And yet this was a definition that the UK government pushed upon many institutions, including universities in the country. And so doing this means that there is almost in many ways like legal avenues to target pro-Palestine sentiment because of the way that these definitions or directives or duties have been articulated, and worded and spelled out. And so by kind of combining the accusation of anti-Semitism with accusations of extremism, the UK sea weeks to clamp down on attempts to express solidarity with Palestine. And that is not surprising, but it is incredibly worrying, especially when we think about the wider implications that this could have on freedom of speech in general and not only in relation to Palestine.
- Prevent is a controversial programme, launched in 2005 by Tony Blair’s Labour government, to “safeguard and support those vulnerable to radicalization, to stop them from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism”. The programme’s focus on Muslims prompted complaints of discrimination and concerns that it was crafted to collect intelligence against Muslim community members. ?? ↩︎