In a popular Israeli TV serial, which followed intertwined lives of Israelis, and Palestinians of the West Bank, one of the protagonists is an Israeli male who has a Palestinian girlfriend. He has hidden this fact from his parents, when one day, hoping to gently reveal the truth, he tells his mother, “Mom, my girlfriend is an Arab.” His mother, having assumed as a matter of course that his girlfriend was Israeli and Jewish, promptly replies, “You don’t have to abuse your girlfriend,” signifying that calling someone an Arab is a sort of an abuse.
Now this might be just some light-hearted and canned humor of a TV serial, but Palestinians have known for years that they are viewed and treated almost as sub-humans by many Israelis. Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant’s recent statement that, “We are fighting human animals,” underscores a common perception about the Palestinians.
Their methods of resistance and protest – often men and the youth hurling stones – is considered about as primitive as the lives they lead. The more gruesome ways adopted by some of the armed fighter groups, that of suicide bombings, efforlessly earns the Palestinians the general label of terrorists.
So it is not surprising to see almost every news-reporter and Israeli eyewitness accounts pointing to the “terrorists” who shot people down in Oct 7th’s attack.
And it is these terrorists, who are supposed to have stooped unimaginably and inhumanly low to butcher innocent civilians – especially babies, women and older folk – in their attacks on Israeli settler-enclaves.
There is, almost naturally, disgust and abhorrence at the reports of such acts. And that, more than almost anything else, has tipped the balance in the narratives of justifications and moral claims when Hamas made incursions into Israel on October 7. Hamas had crossed a line by targeting innocent civilians and such barbarity had to be met with severely punitive measures.
While a few news channels have attempted to show that the reports about the alleged brutality against children and women is not founded on any hard evidence, most mainstream news outfits, especially the influential western ones, have swallowed the story hook, line and sinker. Without asking for proof. This in an age of fake news, video and image tampering, when most news channels quite self-righteously state that the news they are publishing has been verified by them. But in this case, no deep investigations were carried out but there was acceptance of the Israeli accounts at face-value.
Even before one digs further into this alleged atrocity by Hamas, one cannot ignore the offences of the Israeli military against Palestinian children who routinely get shot, either intentionally or in cross-fire, and are also incarcerated in big numbers.
The Defense of Children International-Palestine (DCI-P) estimates that, “Each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone throwing.” In a more chilling summary, DCI states that the year 2023 has seen close to 51 children fatalities till now. In 2014, the year of the deadly Operation Protective Edge by Israel, the toll was 546, out of which 533 were from Gaza.
For the latest numbers after the October 7 2023 Hamas attack, the DCI-P has this record, “More than 724 Palestinian children have been killed by the Israeli military’s relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip since October 7.”
But if one wishes to see the continuous string of atrocities as documented by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza, one can just take a look at the report before the Oct 7 incident, as a “random” but routine example. It should give one some sense of what the Palestinians go through on a daily basis, Hamas rockets or not. For example, an entry from Gaza in the above PCHR report: “On 27 September 2023, a Palestinian was shot with a live bullet in his leg and others suffocated after IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces or the IDF ]fired bullets and teargas canisters at Palestinian protestors, east of Khuza’a village in eastern Khan Yunis.”
These numbers of the incarceration of Palestinian children is also maintained by Israeli human rights outfit, B’Tselem as well which has this record on its site: “At the end of June 2023, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) was holding 147 Palestinian minors in detention or in prison on what it defined ‘security” grounds.'”
B’Tselem also documents continuing violence by settlers and how they brazenly usurp land of the Palestinians, for example in a report filed on Oct 03 2023, titled, “Israeli settlers enter Burqah village lands. During clashes with residents trying to drive them away, one of the settlers shoots and kills a villager.” A major target of Hamas in the Oct 7 attacks was on Israeli settler housing.
In fact, Israel’s attempts to encourage Israeli citizens to encroach (settle) on traditionally Palestinian land has been the cause of continual distress to Palestinians and one of the major reasons for confrontations. Palestinians have lost land, property, and of course lives in such confrontations with the settlers. It is little wonder then that the Palestinians watch almost helplessly as the Israeli state relentlessly pushes the cause of settlers to drive out more Palestinians from their land.
The suffering of the Palestinians is one of everyday humiliations, dispossessions and encounters with Israeli forces. And of Gaza we know how Israel has been containing and controlling that slim strip of land to make life very difficult for the Palestinians.
While Hamas’ recent violence is certainly condemnable from basic legal and human rights standards, one cannot dismiss or ignore the wider context of the sheer frustration, helplessness and violence experienced on a daily basis by Palestinians. Israel has enough blood on its hands too.
As Palestinian Ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, recently noted, “Regrettably, history for some media and politicians start[s] when Israelis are killed.” The charges of violence and terrorism that are being heaped on Hamas seem a little out of place given that Israel has violently suppressed Palestinian methods of protests and resistance that have been largely non-violent. As numerous instances have demonstrated, Palestinians have attempted all modes of communication and engagement including many that have been essentially non-violent. A lot of the protests by ordinary people all over the occupied territories involve marches to the fences, walls and borders that Israel has erected to confine Palestinians. As the film like 5 Broken Cameras demonstrate, even non-violent resistance and acts are not tolerated by Israelis.
Thus it is easy and convenient to suddenly assume the moral high ground with respect to the most recent violence unleashed by Hamas. But, in doing so, the long history of Israeli oppression is forgotten. Violence of any form is not to be excused. But in cases where the oppressed and the oppressor are clear, can we lecture the oppressed on the morality of their actions? As Black feminist bell hooks once said, “Being oppressed means the absence of choices.” To be oppressed was not the choice of the Palestinians. But it seems Israel has taken on the role of the oppressor almost by choice and in conscious fashion. Its moral posturing does seem a little flimsy given its own record of abuse and suppression of Palestinian rights.
Umang Kumar is a social activist based in Delhi NCR.