Following months of growing police violence, home demolitions, and forced displacements, the Israeli military launched its most recent open attack on the occupied Palestinian territories on May 10, 2021. The bombings continued for 11 straight days until the formal ceasefire on May 21; 248 Palestinians, including 66 children were killed. On May 16 alone, Gaza’s deadliest night, Israeli airstrikes killed 44 people.
The ceasefire, however, did not mean an end to Israeli air raids in Gaza; in the early hours of June 17, Israeli airstrikes targeted a civil administration building in the northern part of the city. In the same week, Israeli forces used indiscriminate force and assaulted Palestinian civilians, preventing many from reaching their homes, ahead of a right-wing Jewish rally in Jerusalem, attended by three members of Israel’s Knesset, in which slogans like, “Death to Arabs,” were chanted.
For Palestinians who have lived under a military-enforced blockade with close to no political representation for more than 14 years, this is the dismal, unchanging reality. Moreover, in the mainstream Muslim community thus far, activism for Palestinians living under occupation has thrived only in the gap between one major Israeli military operation and the next.
But the current climate is shifting. The conversation on Palestine is becoming more permanent; the censorship of Palestinian and activist voices is becoming more apparent; the silencing of journalists is becoming more deadly (with the bombing of the Al Jazeera tower in Gaza). In short, all the stakeholders in the cause for Palestinian freedom have, for the first time, enough fuel to keep their advocacy going for longer than a fleeting outcry.
Conversation on Palestine here to stay
Earlier this year, my father and I were engaged in one of our lawyer-esque debates about whether or not Pakistan should recognize the state of Israel. He argued that the ideological premise of Pakistan’s founding fathers’ decision was a thing of the past, holding back future progress. I obstinately argued the opposite, also employing ideological logic.
What both of us had forgotten was the real-life side to the issue. This was three months before the airstrikes on Gaza began. Until the most recent escalation in violence that received media coverage, no news reached our ears of the daily atrocities in Gaza that never ceased: the forced evictions, the police brutality, the night raids in homes, the South African apartheid-reminiscent laws.
Read more: Is Pakistan going to recognize Israel?
At this critical juncture in modern history, with the global fight for racial justice gaining more ground every day and information-sharing on social media transcending all barriers of distance, time, and ideology, the climate could not be more conducive to change. This article is an effort to unpack how a transparent and inclusive conversation on Palestine in American politics and society – 7 decades overdue – is here to stay.
For activists – Muslim and non-Muslim – the United States’ stance on Palestine will be at the forefront of voting issues in the next elections. For the first time, candidates will have to meaningfully and truthfully address the motives of the American foreign policy in the Middle East to earn their vote.
Except for a few dedicated individuals and organizations, the mainstream community’s response on Palestine is always the highest and most energized – in the streets, on social media, and through commercial boycotts – in the period immediately following the violence.
It is only now, through increased spotlight on (and silencing of) real-time Palestinian activists, and the journalists who were arrested for covering the atrocities, that we learned that Palestinian suffering is a constant state. It is not sporadic bursts of violence, but a continuous onslaught orchestrated to clear Palestinians of their land.
What’s different this time?
So what makes the current violence, and our response to it, different from the 2014 Gaza War? For one, there was not the same minute-by-minute sharing of experiences of forced evictions, police brutality, and unlawful arrests directly from Palestine, to a worldwide online audience of the size that it is today.
More importantly, the recent racial reckoning in the United States and the profound impact of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement worldwide has played a crucial role in fostering an environment of solidarity for Palestinians.
Both causes share a history of occupation and racism, making the connection between Palestinian activism and Black activism a very intimate and intersectional one. President Biden actively leaned into the anti-racist sentiments during his election campaign, making promises to confront racism in America in a way that has not been done before.
At this critical stage in the global fight for equality, with societies around the world reexamining the racial injustices that are woven into their social and political fabric, it is impossible to not judge the Palestinian cause through the same lens.
The contrast between the Biden administration’s domestic stance on inequality and the American foreign policy mirrors every one of its predecessors in its selective advocacy and moral inconsistencies. And amid all these social changes, the moral inconsistencies at the heart of the American foreign policy on Israel are impossible to reconcile with.
Inconsistencies within the American foreign policy
This inconsistency looks like opposing police brutality domestically, but funding armed occupation abroad; championing flexible immigration policies at home, but justifying apartheid (with a wall) elsewhere; protesting voter suppression here, but supporting a system in which millions are stateless and denied the right to political representation; being allies against Islamophobia at home, but turning a blind eye to suppression of Palestinians, not just Muslims but non-Muslims as well; welcoming refugees at home, but fighting to retain a status quo in which Palestinians cannot return to the homes they have owned for generations.
This kind of inconsistency weakens the United States’ effectiveness in ending inequalities and systems of oppression around the world, especially in a time when President Biden is dedicating himself to mending international alliances and perching the United States once more atop the traditional pre-Trump world order.
The most recent escalation of violence in the region, and the nature of the reporting on it (defined by skewed language, misleading headlines, and problematic framing, such as describing the forced displacements in Sheikh Jarrah – which are in violation of international law – as “evictions” or “real estate disputes”) brought to light the need for the public to actively educate themselves on their American foreign policy and role in the UN, especially on issues for which the mainstream media offers only one narrative.
People should be aware of the consequences of their country’s stance in the UN on real individuals’ lives in affected areas.
US military aid to Israel
In the waning days of the tumultuous Trump presidency, Biden’s promise of reversing the heavily Islamophobic Trump-era ‘Muslim ban,’ – cautiously welcomed by many – was sufficient to win over an overwhelming percentage of the Muslim vote.
In such an atmosphere, with heightened impatience for the transfer of power and the conversation on domestic inequalities reaching boiling point, the most morally inconsistent aspects of American foreign policy – not exclusive to any one administration – were conveniently left out of the picture.
Nearly all Muslims had forgotten about the $3.8 billion dollars of American tax money channeled to Israel annually, used to enforce the over-policing of occupied Palestinian territories for years. In fact, according to Brookings, Israel is the “largest cumulative recipient” of the military, political and financial aid from the US since World War II.
Even in days of relative peace, if ever questioned why the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East, with a GDP of nearly $400 billion, needed this much unconditional aid, the White House defaulted to the rehearsed “Israel’s right to self-defence” response.
It was only when fresh bombs started raining down on Gaza a few weeks ago, and the United States’ inexplicably rigid support for Israel was reiterated that people truly re-examined the narrative they had been subscribing to for years.
Later, as Israel rejected global calls for a ceasefire, the United States went on to become the only country in the UN Security Council to oppose a joint statement calling for an end to the violence. Washington’s blanket support of Israel encourages a disproportionate use of force against Palestinians with complete impunity.
Advocating for an exclusively “Jewish” state
Currently, the United States advocates for every country in the Middle East to “acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state.” However, advocating for an exclusively “Jewish” state contradicts the notion that states should equally represent all their citizens – a notion that is at the center of the democratic principles President Biden is determined to champion on global forums.
The consequences of this messaging on a practical level can be seen in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and other historically Arab neighborhoods, where Palestinians are being forced to choose between paying crippling fines and demolishing their own homes. This is illegal under international law.
This status quo provides privilege and impunity to Jews – including non-citizens – over non-Jewish citizens, to the extent that a Jew who is not a citizen of Israel and has no existing connection to the land has an automatic right to citizenship and to settle in homes seized from Palestinians, and to own all of their assets.
Meanwhile, a non-Jewish citizen of the land has none of the same rights. Making the conversation on Israel in the American political system exclusively about Jewishness rather than about two coexisting national identities has not only emboldened a system of oppression in the name of religion but has also made conversation on the subject unnecessarily sensitive and complicated, blocking out real concerns.
As the new government took shape in Israel’s Knesset, the Biden administration had an opportunity to modernize its historic stance. Recognizing Israel’s right to exist, the way one would recognize Jordan, Kuwait, or any other country in the region, does not require blindly endorsing a system of unjust laws. The United States needs to learn to separate the two.
The author is a Pakistani living in Virginia, USA, currently interning at the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area. She frequently writes for publications including The Express Tribune, Daily Times, and South Asia Magazine.