Generation Z will free Palestine

Haythem Guesmi

Al-Jazeera  /  May 28, 2021

This new generation has already proved that they will not give up the fight until the oppression of the Palestinian people is over.

This time it is different – the Palestinian struggle for equality and freedom has reached a new and radical stage.

In the face of Israel’s most recent assault on their rights and lives in occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza, the Palestinians not only demonstrated unprecedented courage and unity, but also embarked on a landmark general strike, the first in decades, with the full support of both Fatah and Hamas.

Moreover, there has been an equally new outburst of solidarity with the Palestinians in the international arena.

On social media, thousands of people from around the globe condemned Israel’s latest deadly attacks on the Palestinians under hashtags like #SaveSheikhJarrah and #Gazaunderattack. Despite relentless attempts by Israel and social media companies to silence them, they raised awareness about Israel’s illegal occupation as well as its repeated violations of Palestinian human rights and international law.

Also, for the first time, many members of the United States House of Representatives, including Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have publicly called Israel an apartheid state. Senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has introduced a resolution to block a $735m weapons sale to Israel in response to Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza, which killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children. Even a correspondent for staunchly pro-Israel Fox News, Geraldo Rivera, condemned on air the US complicity in Israel’s war crimes and voiced his support for ending arms sales to Israel.

Public figures and celebrities including John Oliver, Bella Hadid, Susan Sarandon, Malala Yousafzai, Paul Pogba, Kyrie Irving and many others have condemned Israel’s apartheid practices and used their platforms to raise awareness about the Palestinian struggle for justice and peace.

And this global outburst of support for Palestine is unlikely to be temporary: As demonstrated by the growing influence of social justice movements like MeToo and Black Lives Matter, young people around the world are more eager to confront injustices at home and abroad than ever before. They are more supportive of the Palestinian struggle than any generation before them and are not afraid to scrutinize and criticize Israel’s propaganda about its occupation and other inhumane and unlawful actions.

This, of course, does not mean this new generation – dubbed Generation Z – is not facing any obstacles in their efforts to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

Big tech companies like Facebook and Google are working overtime to erase criticisms of Israel and Zionism from their influential platforms. Since the beginning of the latest escalation in violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Gaza, these companies have been censoring posts and videos by activists, campaigners and other Palestinian allies aiming to raise awareness and share information about Israel’s war crimes and human rights violations. YouTube has even added age restrictions to Al Jazeera Arabic’s live stream amid the channel’s continuing coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The restriction was removed only after widespread criticism of the move.

Gaming platforms and blogs that are popular among Generation Z, such as IGN, Gamespot, Kotaku, and Game Informer all published statements of support for Palestinians and compiled links to Palestinian charities after the beginning of Israel’s latest bombardment of Gaza. Nevertheless, several of these companies later removed these statements and articles, raising concerns that they, too, are being pressured to silence any criticism of Israel on their platforms.

And the censoring of criticism of Israel is not limited to social media and blogs. Leading Western media organizations are still covering Israel-Palestine with an undeniable pro-Israel bias, and refusing to acknowledge Israel’s apartheid, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, despite the growing calls for social justice at home and abroad by young Americans, the current US administration is showing no desire to change Washington’s Israel policies and cease its support for Israel’s routine deadly assaults on the Palestinian people.

And perhaps most crucially, Generation Z’s social justice activism and radical support for Palestinian human and land rights are being countered with a narrative that seeks to infantilize and pathologize them.

In media, members of Generation Z are often labelled as anxious, depressed and mentally disturbed individuals who waste their time sharing meaningless videos on the popular app TikTok. As a result, their political activism is ridiculed and dismissed as a form of intellectual dysphoria. This method of delegitimizing resistance and activism by depicting as irrational and emotional is of course nothing new – racial, sexual and political minorities have long been suffering from such attacks.

Despite these myriad obstacles, however, generation TikTok already triggered a new and radical wave of solidarity for the Palestinians and successfully brought their decades-old struggle for justice under the spotlight.

Sure, we have already been reading reports, studies and news stories about the growing support for Palestine among young people back when members of Generation Z were much younger –  but Generation Z’s activism is different from those who came before them.

Unlike Millennials whose limited support for Palestine often remained cosmetic and never translated into concrete action, Generation Z is doing a lot more than issuing hollow statements of solidarity. They are organizing campaigns and pressuring universities and other public institutions to take action. They are not only relentlessly confronting anti-Semitic rhetoric but also taking those spreading Israeli propaganda and trying to dehumanize Palestinians to task. They are actively calling on their governments to stop selling bombs to Israel that they know will be used to kill Palestinian civilians. They are not afraid to call Israel what it is: A settler-colonial apartheid state.

This cultural shift on Palestine came on the back of the highly influential BLM and MeToo movements which highlighted the intersectionality of social justice issues from racism and gender discrimination to colonial oppression. Now that young people overwhelmingly see the Palestinian struggle as a crucial part of their efforts to achieve justice, equality and freedom for all, it is logical to assume that voices in support of Palestine are going to become louder and more influential over the coming years.

Israel’s latest assault on the Palestinian people may have ended in a ceasefire, but the Palestinian struggle is far from over. Yet today, I am more hopeful than ever before, thanks to a new generation who sees fighting injustice and oppression as their duty and privilege, that freedom and justice are no longer out of reach for the Palestinian people.

Haythem Guesmi is a Tunisian academic and writer