Content warning: This article discusses the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine.
This past weekend has been an emotional one for me and many of my peers on campus. I’m shaken to the core by the news coming out of the Middle East and the Canadian media’s despicable coverage of events. No, I do not support the killing of Israeli settler civilians and children. But what makes me so angry is the sheer hypocrisy of Western politicians, institutions, and media organizations.
Following Hamas’ invasion of Israel, Canadian politicians were quick to announce their unequivocal backing of the Zionist state. On October 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued statements fully supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, while Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow later condemned the pro-Palestinian rally that took place in Toronto on October 9. On the same day, U of T also issued a message to the community, expressing deep sadness at the attack. The response from the United States was even tougher, with President Joe Biden announcing on October 7 “rock solid and unwavering” support for Israel, which was followed by the US sending assistance to Israel by mobilizing aircraft carriers, missile cruisers, munitions, and fighter jets.
Hamas’ killing of over 1,300 Israelis over the past few days is saddening and deplorable, but so is the Israeli forces’ killing of 6,407 Palestinians between January 2008 and September 2023 as recorded by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The 6,407 Palestinians include over 1,437 children and 626 women. And this is just the death toll, which discounts the number of Palestinians that the Israeli forces have injured, unlawfully imprisoned, starved, and kicked out of their homes. If you have been following events in Israel, you know that the far-right government has created an apartheid regime that allows for them to regularly harass Palestinians and treat them as second-class citizens.
In 2023 alone, Israel killed more than 200 Palestinians before last week’s violence began. Settlers seized 290 Palestinian homes in the first quarter of the year. Israeli forces attacked Muslim worshippers as they prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque during the holy month of Ramadan. Israeli settlers have attacked multiple Palestinian towns, including Jenin, Turmus Aya, Baytin, Qablan, and Huwwara.
And while Canadian politicians ‘tut, tut’ at this oppression when they visit our mosques to seek support for their political campaigns, they never light up the Ottawa Peace Tower in red, green, and black when Israel bombs Gaza seemingly indiscriminately.
In fact, political leaders who call attention to the plight of the Palestinian people face immense pressure from other politicians to stay silent. Premier Ford called for Hamilton’s New Democratic Party MPP Sarah Jama to be removed from caucus after she posted a statement calling for the end of Israel’s “apartheid” — a word the United Nations has also used. The deafening silence of the West in the face of Israel’s ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people throughout the years sends a clear message: the right to safety and support is reserved for Israelis alone.
The reason for this vast discrepancy in Western institutional response is not hard to imagine. Palestinian oppression has become so normalized across the world that many see it as sad yet routine. In contrast, Hamas’ violence against Israeli settlers is shocking, and has resurfaced the Western world’s collective guilt from the Holocaust — as seen in statements by world leaders like US President Joe Biden.
I believe the Western world’s guilt for the genocide of the Jewish people should persist and act as a moral compass. Intergenerational trauma is very real and Jewish people experience it to this day.
But the Western narrative conveniently ignores that Palestinians who were forced out of their homes 75 years ago by Zionist militants to create the Israeli state also experience intergenerational trauma. In the 1948 Nakba, or “Catastrophe,” Israeli forces destroyed 531 villages, killed 15,000 Palestinians, and forcefully displaced 750,000. For the 5.9 million current Palestinian refugees, the trauma they experienced is ongoing as they continue to live a life of displacement, occupation, and violence.
Some of the facts emerging from last week are so bizarre and jarring to me that I am left amazed at the immense state of disassociation in the West.
One of the sites of Hamas’ violence was a music festival on the outskirts of Gaza. The UN Report of the Special Rapporteur defined Gaza as an open-air prison, where 2.3 million people live in blockade on 365 square kilometres of land. Within this blockaded region, 81.5 per cent of the population live in poverty, and the majority of people face barriers to accessing clean water, electricity, food, fuel, and medical supplies because the passage of goods and people is under the complete control of Israel. In a practice the Israeli military has called “mowing the grass,” the Israel Defense Forces also regularly bomb this densely packed strip of land, where over half the residents are children.
I am flabbergasted that a music festival was happening outside the barricaded fences, with revellers partying throughout the night, while Gazan children slept in starvation. Is the Western world so out of touch with the concept of absolute poverty that our sympathy is only for those who share our lifestyle?
While I condemn the brutal killing of the festival attendees, I am allowed to call attention to this stark discrepancy in living standards between Israelis and Palestinians. My heart bleeds for all the civilians killed in this conflict. I do not know what the solution is. All I know is that Western sympathy, support, and criticism has always felt one-sided, and this one-sidedness has consequences on the way Palestinians are treated.
Sieges of civilians are illegal under international law, but as I write, the siege of Gaza continues. At least 2,228 Gazans are dead, including 724 children. Israel shut off the region’s electricity and water. Hospitals are running out of fuel.
Yet the West is silent. As of October 14, Western officials, such as Mayor Chow or President Biden, have made no statements expressing support for Palestinians. While the West pays considerable attention to the terrorist tactics deployed by Hamas, they never call the terrorist tactics of the Israeli state into question. Does the normalization of terror have a different name in Israel?
Raafia Shahid is a second-year Master of Public Policy student at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
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