In recent days, pundits across the US and the South have swiftly moved to condemn Palestinians resisting their occupation, siege, and apartheid under Israel. Instead, the news has been largely lauding Israel’s killing of Palestinians by the hundreds in the days since. Far from a new story, we see this cycle every year, and the media seems to always reach the same consensus: Palestinians, who do not love their occupiers and dare to dream of a free future, deserve what they’re getting. In the US South, where Zionist support is arguably the strongest, we are very familiar with this double standard—the lives of the oppressed are cheap, and their struggle for freedom is never acceptable.
Things seem different this time. On October 7, Hamas began an assault against the colonial power of Israel by launching an attack that captured dozens of illegal Israeli settlements and took down the occupation’s military outposts. They continue to march to the West Bank, which is only 58 miles from Gaza, but has been impassable to Palestinians for generations because of the occupation. The facts here are indisputable: Gaza has been colonized for over a century, occupied for over 70 years, and it has been under a ceaseless and brutal siege by Israel for more than a decade. Israel’s attacks on Gaza have made it virtually unlivable. In Gaza, the water is 97% undrinkable. 80%+ of Palestinians live in extreme poverty. Because Israel continues to indiscriminately bomb water and health infrastructure every year, and will not let sick Palestinians access healthcare outside Gaza, cancer rates are extraordinarily high. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians are killed yearly by Israel for, essentially, political sport. And these are only some of the statistics that show how Israel makes life utterly intolerable for Palestinians.
After decades of purposeless negotiations that have left them worse off than they ever have been, Palestinians have long pleaded that they can no longer wait for the international community to act. A faction of Palestinians in Gaza today, Hamas and its allies, have chosen to resist their own deletion by the only method they feel they have left: armed resistance, a right enshrined under international law. Yet, in spite of the facts I have listed, the media largely chooses to frame these current events in a frame of perpetual myopia, as if Palestinians are always throwing the first punch. Nothing could be further from the truth. The century of brutality that has left millions of Palestinians dead, maimed, imprisoned, dispossessed, and erased by an aggressive, unapologetic, dominant Israel has always been the first blow. Worse, Palestinians are not the perfect victims that the world claims to love, content to be slaughtered while begging for the international community to care. In the decades that Palestinians have marched peacefully, petitioned, and engaged in dialogue, the world has silently and apathetically ignored their pleas.
This is a matter that concerns us all. In recent years, reflecting on the US’ own histories of genocide against its Native populations, many of us are beginning to understand the true depth of the infinite brutalities, genocides, and erasures enacted by European colonialism from 1492 until now. After all, Palestine is one example of a long and persisting story of European colonialism, this time perpetuated by the young state of Israel. But what we often do not learn is that no decolonizing process has been supported by Europe or its remaining settler colonies – the US, Canada, Australia, and others. Indigenous attempts to resist their own ethnic cleansing have always yielded the same response that we are seeing in the international media’s messaging about Palestine now. Indigenous resisters during Wounded Knee were referred to as “red savages” by US military forces. Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist by white supremacist proponents of apartheid in South Africa. As India began decolonizing, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called them “a beastly people with a beastly religion.” As you can see, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s current degradation that Palestinians are “human animals” sits within a familiar, racist legacy.
These intertwined histories of colonization and decolonization have taught us that there is a powerful double standard at work today that insists that some tragedies are dismissible, while others are deemed meaningful. The fact that 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their land and thousands were liquidated by Israel in 1948 merely because Israelis wanted their land has been deemed widely acceptable. The fact that tens of thousands of Gazans peacefully marched in 2018 to Israel’s apartheid wall to demonstrate their desire for freedom, and were met by a hail of bullets that resulted in “214 Palestinians, including 46 children, were killed, and over 36,100, including nearly 8,800 children have been injured,” has been purposefully forgotten. The fact that one Palestinian child a day has been killed by Israel on average in 2023 has been normalized by pro-Israeli propaganda and the media. This double standard shows that Palestinians who are murdered under the illegal Israeli occupation are treated as unremarkable stories, as if it is only Israeli lives that are worth protecting and mourning. But their deaths are not normal, not routine, and not acceptable. They are a catastrophe.
From the U.S. South, we cannot afford to ignore what’s happening—our community, too, is embroiled in this story. In Durham, the Demilitarize!Durham2Palestine coalition ended the deadly exchange program that worked to train Durham police with Israeli forces so that Durham cops could learn to use the same hyper-militarized tactics against us that Israel uses to subjugate Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. As another example, UNC supports these injustices by investing in funds used for the occupation of Palestine. UNC stocks products that bankroll Israeli apartheid, like Sabra hummus. Finally, pro-Israel voices across NC have endeavored to control what you know about Palestine in education and the media. They have attempted to abrogate the history of Palestine to make Israel, the world’s 4th-largest military and nuclear power, look like the victim of Palestinians, whom Israel has brutalized since 1948. Pro-Israel voices have created smear campaigns, threatened, and attempted to have fired many of us who teach about Palestine, including me. Israel and its allies are not victims; they are the aggressors.
This is the truth: Palestinians deserve to be able to breathe and grow, live and love, and be free just like everyone else. Decolonization cannot be romanticized—doing so places an impossible double standard on colonized populations whose human rights are right now, at this moment, being denied. In order to get free, every colonized people, including the Indigenous populations across North America, have used armed resistance. The messy reality of casting off one’s shackles in the face of a deleterious occupier, like Israel, should not cause our gaze to turn away from the colonized. We should not care about the dispossessed only when they are dead, gone, and have become the past. We should remember that the Western world has never loved decolonization, has always levied a bargain too high for the colonized to bear. In this, there is nothing new to be seen in Palestine. They must be set free.