Maryam Hassan and Zaina Shahid Khan
During the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a video featuring a blonde-haired, fair-skinned girl confronting a uniformed soldier went viral, with many lauding the “Ukrainian girl” for her courage and resistance. Soon after, it was discovered that little Ahed Tamimi was a Palestinian girl, the uniformed man, an Israeli soldier, and the imperialist world, a prejudiced community.
Labelled as a terrorist and nazi sympathizer, Tamimi, like many Palestinian activists, has been arrested multiple times since 2017, with the latest being in October this year. Yet, the only time she was deemed worthy of appraisal for her resistance by the Western world was when mistaken as a Ukrainian; a white-passing. In an essential case of irony, the fake news surrounding Ahed highlights the hypocritical reaction of the world when discussing the ongoing Gaza genocide.
On October 7, 2023, the Palestinian armed group, Hamas, launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, an attack on Israel in response to the 75-year-long Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Israeli army is reiterating with unending bombardment and a blockade of food, water, and electricity in Gaza, with Israeli President Netanyahu declaring a state of war that has now killed more than 10,000 civilians in Gaza.
While the statistics and live visuals are accessible to all on social media, the narrative being perpetuated by the imperialists is disheartening, if not shocking. This article aims to individually highlight the dehumanization of Palestinian men, women and children, owing to their Eastern identity.
Men of Palestine
The West has always dominated all postmodern discourses, just like they have always manipulated history. Declaring the eastern inhabitants as savages, misogynists and hatemongers, they retained their image as the ones worthy of being on the higher moral ground. Ironically, almost all discriminatory discourses have been perpetuated by the colonizers; and yet, it is their beliefs which remain deeply inherited within individuals across the globe. Islamophobia is one such example, wherein Muslim men are labelled as abusive, terrorists and wife-beaters. It is this prominent imperialist narrative which is playing a vital role in dehumanizing the Palestinian male civilians.
Men of Gaza have been among the most valiant individuals during the entire course of the ongoing massacre of their comrades. Performing multiple roles at once, they are tirelessly working to their utmost individual capacities, whether it be to ceaselessly search for people under the rubbles, to be at the beck and call for anyone in need, to attempt to save each life, or even in assuring proper burial of the deceased.
Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah, a plastic surgeon in the occupied Gaza Strip, continues to provide audio-visual updates along with his ongoing duty as a doctor. Wael Al Dahdouh, an Al-Jazeera journalist, lost his entire family to Israeli bombarding on the night of October 22. However, it did not stop him from continuing his work as a reporter. Ahmad Gahnaim’s house was bombed on October 24, narrowly missing him. He is a content creator who continues to share live videos from his land.
While the massive protests which followed the killing of George Floyd in 2020 led to major police reformation bills in many states of the US, today’s protests in support of Palestine, an event that requires equal attention, are being banned or ignored all across the world. The call for a ceasefire by an overwhelming number of protestors especially in American cities has been completely ignored by the US Government, which instead confirmed a military aid of nearly $14.5 billion to Israel on 03 November 2023.
Moreover, western media outlets’ manipulative narratives are nothing short of a disgrace to the Palestinian struggle. Leading global channels, such as AP News, would certainly applaud Ukrainian doctors like Dr. Petro Nikitin, a lead trauma surgeon who was overwhelmed by the severe injuries of Ukrainian soldiers due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine; but would never alter their biased and supposedly neutral stance on the ongoing Israeli aggression on Gaza, let alone commend Palestinian medical servants. In this way, they continue to perpetuate the narrative of Muslim men as criminals, dehumanizing and disregarding them as worthy of empathy.
Women of Palestine
Israeli aggression has killed more than 2000 women in Gaza, while many others endure the brunt of miscarriages and premature births. The dangers of a pregnancy amidst heavy bombardment, lack of treatment and healthcare centres, in a city holding about 50,000 pregnant women is increasing.
“Every day, I wonder how I’ll give birth and where. The bombs don’t stop, and no human, tree or stone has been spared”, says Al-Barabari, one of the many women in Gaza who is nearing their delivery.
Apart from this is the monthly issue of menstruation. Due to unsanitary circumstances, lack of water, and menstrual products caused by the offensive, women in Gaza are forced to take period-delaying pills, knowing the side effects. “She needs sanitary pads and water to wash, but these basic needs are not available”, a displaced mother speaks for her daughter to Al-Jazeera.
Despite these obvious genocidal actions against women, prominent women’s rights advocates who once had a voice that shook the American conscience on the Roe vs Wade overturns, are now silently witnessing fetuses taken out of dead Palestinian women; vocal women whose two worded tweet of “Me too” made 19 states adopt new sexual harassment protections and introduce 2324 bills in state legislatures to counteract harassment, now label the news of Israeli forces humiliating body searches on young Palestinian girls as “complicated”; celebrities and female advocates who shaved their heads and burned headscarves in solidarity with Iranian protests against Hijab, are now complicit to the brutalized dead bodies of little girls in Gaza.
In a world where the concept of mainstream feminism is gaining momentum, to the extent of influencing political decisions with their voices, the deafening silence and hypocrisy shown by this very group when discussing the plight of Palestinian, and in general Muslim women, is exigent.
Moreover, their selective participation comes at the cost of justifying imperialism by displacing the notions of liberation and saving Muslim women from their beliefs and religious practices, while satisfying their brand of feminism within the comfort of their Western perspectives. A perspective that only views Hijabi women in need of liberation from their clothing, while turning a blind eye to the thousands of Palestinian mothers cradling their dead girls.
Children of Palestine
“We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” said Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defense Minister; and he made sure that the scenario in Gaza mirrors his exact words. Gaza is facing a humanitarian catastrophe, with more than 4500 children killed (as of 10th November). Young children, infants, and even premature fetuses are taken out from mothers on the verge of death–an example of each such instance being documented by all Gazan journalists, only for the world to turn a blind eye.
Following the Hamas’ act of resistance on October 7th, false news of 40 Israeli babies beheaded by the Palestinian group was circulated worldwide. Many Hollywood celebrities took to social media to condemn Hamas and cry for the aforementioned story which turned out to be fake. Despite Israel’s declaration that it could not produce a proof for the same, the superstars continued to propagate for Israel. American actress Jamie Lee Curtis, posted a picture of terrified children looking up to the sky, mistaking them as Israelis.
However, she took down the post when she learnt about their real identity. Singer Justin Beiber made a similar mistake of sharing a story of the destruction in Gaza, mistaking it for Israel.
Such actions reinstall the continuous dehumanizing narrative of Palestinian children–who, due to their Eastern and Muslim identity, are not capable of pity or empathy. Citizens of Gaza continue to share audio-visuals of the devastating injuries of their kin, in hopes that the world would interfere for the sake of humanity. When Biden questioned the Palestinian death toll, the Palestinian Health Ministry released the list of more than 7000 names of Gazans killed by Israel until 23rd October 2023. In the 210-page report, at least 6 pages were occupied by the names of infants less than a year old.
Unsurprisingly, these children did not receive even half the international outrage that the 40 fake Israeli babies received. Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman, who is also renowned for her activism for human and animal rights, had posted a video on her Instagram in support of Israeli children on 13th October; but she did not share a word on the children of Arabs. Are Palestinian children not even worth the least amount of celebrity outrage, which even animals get entitled to?
Hamas and the Hostages, Israel and the Prisoners
What further requires scrutiny is the treatment of hostages from both sides. “They (Hamas) were delicate and gentle with them and took care of all their needs”, translates the daughter of Yocheved Lifshitz, one of the 4 captives who were released by Hamas after negotiations through Qatar and Egypt.
On the other side, Palestinian prisoners have reported multiple cases of abuse and torture at the hands of the Israeli forces – “…they were hung and beaten. They were asked if we knew anyone from Hamas”, “…they took our money and clothes, they left us naked for three days while they tortured us”.
However, a crucial point to be noticed here is that these hostile situations were not only endured by the 5000 prisoners kidnapped by the Israeli military in retaliation to the Hamas attacks, but were also faced by the previously captured “5000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including 160 children, and approximately 1100 detained without charge or trial”, according to a UN human rights report released in July 2023, before October 7th.
One may only state that Hamas’s operation Al-Aqsa was in response to this decades-long discrimination. They started to release the 240 Israeli prisoners in exchange for the now 10,000 Palestinian prisoners – a demand that even the Israeli hostages and their families agreed to. “Free their citizens, Free their prisoners”- this is what one of the Israeli hostages captured by Hamas addressed to Netanyahu in footage obtained by Al-Jazeera. Yet, this is a demand that Netanyahu has declined.
Upon restarting the rudimentary appeal for a humanitarian pause on Israel’s continuous attacks on Gaza, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres was called out by Israeli representatives who demanded his resignation. Football players like Anwar El Ghazi and Karim Benzema faced backlash and were even suspended from their teams after they displayed their support for Palestine through social media. These are just a few examples of the thousands of people facing repercussions on even the most basic call for a ceasefire.
Their acknowledgement of the decades-long agony of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation is met with the bombardment of the same question – “Do you condemn Hamas?”
No such rhetorics were imposed when Ukrainians resorted to armed resistance against their Russian invaders. A child born in eastern suburbs, witnessing violence by the occupying forces of his land, is expected to be the ‘perfect victim’; despite beholding the sight of his family being tortured and his cries being completely ignored by the criminals, he is not entitled to resistance. The world turns a blind eye when journalists and activists protesting against the ongoing 75-year-old occupation are arrested, but they are quick to define them as soon as they resort to arms.
Labelling resistance against the decades-long occupation as an act of terrorism whilst vehemently backing or feigning ignorance of this horrific genocide is a criterion sufficient to identify one’s morality and rationale. Had this wall of struggle not been situated on Eastern grounds, the imperialists would not have surrounded it with their supposedly superior fence, embellished with tyranny, injustice, and hypocrisy.
Maryam Hassan and Zaina Shahid Khan are aspiring writers. They have completed their graduation in English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.