We arrived in Hebron on 6 October 2023 to volunteer with Community Peacemaker Teams – Palestine. During the following days, the unrelenting sound of jets headed to Gaza signalled the devastation occurring there. While the world’s media focused on Gaza, we witnessed an explosion of a different sort in al Khalil/Hebron and the surrounding villages, as settler attacks on Palestinian residents rose dramatically, detainments and arrests by the Israeli Occupation Forces increased many fold, and businesses and families were struggling due to the severe lockdown of the city.
Meanwhile, we struggled with how to meaningfully support the people of Hebron. One thing we could do was to listen. As the genocide in Gaza unfolded, and governments around the world commented, it became clear that there was at least one thing we had in common with Palestinian shopkeepers; despite the US’s historical support of Israel, we were all still dumbfounded and astounded at the wholehearted support given by the US Government, and many European governments for Israel’s completely disproportionate attack on the families and children of Gaza. How could a powerful, wealthy, and supposedly “civilized” compassionate country fund and encourage revenge that has resulted in what are now publicly documented war crimes, human rights abuses, and actions that are against International law? We were at a loss to respond.
We have returned to the UK and are asking the same questions. Why—after 70 years of illegal occupation, expanding settlements, home demolitions, expulsions, detainment, restriction of movement and all the other destructive methods of occupation—does the average American or British person claim not to understand the situation, and, moreover, not seem to care?
Undoubtedly, since the destruction that is continuing in Gaza, there is more public sympathy for the Palestinian people. So the question then is, why, after 500,000 people marched in London in support of a ceasefire in Gaza, will the UK government not even allow discussion of a ceasefire and abstain from a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire? While attending the 500,000 people march in London last week, it was clear that the vast majority of those marching were of Arab or Muslim descent. Are brown people invisible to the UK government?
Why, after many similarly large demonstrations throughout the US, did the US government vote against the UN Resolution calling for a ceasefire? Perhaps this should not be surprising. Since 1945, the US has used its veto power at least 34 times to block UN Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel.
Despite the increasing availability of alternative news sources on the internet and social media, biased news reporting has misrepresented the Palestinian struggle for decades. There has been a long campaign to rename the Palestinian resistance—even the peaceful resistance—as terrorism and refusing to make clear the imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine. The repetitive naming of the Israelis as victims has made the Palestinian people invisible to much of the world. The Palestinians have become ‘less than.’ The narrative told in the press has convinced Westerners that the issues are ‘complicated,’ and so they have felt able to turn away from what has happened. Sometimes reporting has been outright wrong, such as the recent ‘beheaded babies’ reports that circulated widely in the international press without any foundation in fact. Corrections came much later, but by that time the story was firmly embedded in the minds of many people. This was also the case surrounding the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces.
But sometimes the reporting is more subtle. It is particularly difficult for readers to realize the bias they are absorbing when words are chosen to favor the Israeli narrative. For instance, forced expulsions of Palestinians from their homes come to be called ‘evictions.’ a word that denotes some semblance of legality. Illegal settlements on Palestinian land become the much more cosy “Israeli neighborhoods,’ and even the simple definition of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) instead of what is really the IOF, or Israeli Occupation Force, is misleading. There are many examples of these terms, some of which can be found included in what was originally a secret document circulated to provide advice to Israeli spokespersons on how to win over the American public. In “The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary,” American pollster Frank Luntz lays out, in over 112 pages, words to be used and words to be avoided. The booklet advises spokespersons how to handle difficult questions, themes to avoid, and themes to be repeated. It makes interesting and sickening reading.
Israeli spokespersons are having an increasingly challenging task to justify the murder of now more than 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza and over 190 in the West Bank. Public opinion polls show that 66% of Americans support a ceasefire in Gaza. That seems like a very reasonable first step, although clearly a ceasefire does not solve the root cause of the struggle for justice for Palestine. But despite this, the US Government voted to provide a $14.5 billion aid package specifically for Israel to ‘ensure that Israel has everything it needs’ to destroy Hamas. The bill includes wording that allocates funding for aid to refugees forced to ‘relocate’ to neighbouring countries. In other words, the US, in addition to funding the weapons of war for the genocide in Gaza, will be funding the forced transfer of Palestinians to the Sinai, i.e. ethnic cleansing. This dovetails very conveniently with the Israeli actions, statements, and policy directives, including a leaked policy document drafted by the Israeli intelligence ministry that recommends the permanent forced transfer of Palestinians in Gaza to Sinai. It is likely that the American public will be led to believe that this is some kind of ‘humanitarian’ aid. We must all learn to read carefully and precisely. This will be funding another Nakba.
It is clear, the Governments of the USA and UK will not comply with the wishes of their citizens unless there is a serious and clear message sent. Politicians must be made to realize that the issue of a just peace for Palestine is a key voting issue. Truthful information is available from independent news sources and on the internet. If we are to consider ourselves a compassionate, law-abiding and moral society we must invest the energy to learn and understand. We can no longer allow our minds to be occupied by misinformation and subtle twisting of the narrative. We can no longer be silent.