Al-Jazeera / April 10, 2023
Once again Israeli violence rages in occupied Palestine and once again Israel and its allies are trying to obfuscate it.
After carrying out yet another bout of brutal raids on occupied Jerusalem’s holy places, the Israeli propaganda machine is attempting to shift the world’s attention to the rockets being launched from the besieged Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon. Western journalists, academics and commentators are, of course, dutifully embracing this discourse and propagating it.
In the face of yet another attempt to cover up Israeli crimes, those of us committed to truth, justice, and decolonisation must always keep our sight fixed on the only violence that explains the reality of the situation: Israeli settler-colonial violence.
Israeli violence is first and foremost structural. It involves the dehumanisation of the Palestinian people in Israeli culture, education, and politics; the checkpoints; the apartheid wall; the besiegement of the Gaza Strip; the home demolitions; the permits system; the economic hardships Palestinians suffer; the restrictions on Palestinian access to healthcare and social services; the imprisonment; the denial of the freedom of movement; the limited access to holy places; the stealing of Palestinian lands; the building and expansion of illegal settlements, and so on.
Succinctly put, this structural violence concerns Israeli legal, political, cultural, and economic structures that are designed to strip Palestinians of their sovereignty and freedom, denying them basic human and political rights, exposing them to uninhibited Israeli state military violence.
Israeli violence is also carried out by identifiable agents: the military onslaughts; the raids on Palestinian cities, towns, and places of worship; torture in prisons; settler militia violence; police shootings and beatings, and so on.
These lists are not exhaustive of all of the forms of Israeli violence that fall within these two general types. Israel saturates the world of Palestinians with settler colonial violence. There is no break, no relief, no space to breathe, no time to recover.
Yet, despite the barbarity, cruelty, and destructiveness of the ubiquitous Israeli violence, the mainstream Euro-American public discourse spotlights defensive armed Palestinian resistance as the cause of the latest “escalation”. Israeli structural violence is not identified as violence and is instead normalised and legitimised.
The reality, however, is that against the list of structural acts of violence above, there is no Palestinian equivalent. Israelis are not subjected to nor do they experience any sort of structural violence from the Palestinians. None. And when we compare violence committed by identifiable agents, we find that Israel unleashes much greater violence against the Palestinians.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the number of casualties since 2008 “that are the result of confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis in the context of the occupation and conflict” are 6,269 Palestinians and 293 Israelis, with 146,613 injured Palestinians compared with 6,147 injured Israelis.
On top of this, we must include the difficult-to-quantify yet massive destructive effects that Palestinians suffer directly as a result of Israeli structural violence – in mental and physical health, in their inability to live free, in economic hardships and destitution, in lives and livelihoods, and so on – compared with zero Israelis in this category because there is no Palestinian structural violence.
If one wants, after this, to equate Palestinian and Israeli violence, to suggest, for example, that 6,269 equals 293 as a new mathematical equation, then they are at best stupid or ignorant, but more often than not, a liar, propagandist, apologist, and violent colonialist and racist.
In a recent interview with the BBC, occupied Jerusalem-based Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd brilliantly responded to other speakers who tried to shift the focus to the rockets from Gaza. El-Kurd reminded the viewers that these speakers’ discourse has no connection to the reality of the situation, and he accurately likened their entitlement to speak about Palestine to that of racist British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, who paved the way for its colonisation.
Like the Balfour Declaration of 1917, with which the British government promised Zionists a state, theirs is a violent discourse that erases the experiences and perspectives of the Indigenous Palestinian population and thus backs colonial violence.
When Palestinians are disgusted and aggravated by such Euro-American intellectuals, politicians, policy analysts, and journalists, it is because they are looking at this immense Israeli structure of violence on the one hand, yet find these apologists and propagandists for the Israeli state fixated on Palestinian armed resistance on the other. It is truly flabbergasting to hear people centring the rockets in the context of massive Israeli violence deployed on a daily basis.
Palestinians are continuously killed, brutalised, bruised, beaten, and scarred, and yet they are the ones being asked about how their violence is causing an “escalation”.
These talking points are indefensible on intellectual and moral levels. They are not honest questions or arguments. They do not move us closer to understanding fundamental causes. In fact, these are questions and arguments that are designed to move us away from understanding those fundamental causes, precisely because the Israeli settler colonial state, backed and supported by its imperial sponsor the United States, does not want to expose or change them.
Since the early days of the Zionist movement, Zionists have always known that they were undertaking a project of colonial aggression against the Palestinians. Of course, Zionists understood the strategic advantages of painting themselves in the international arena as the victims of the “blind terrorist hatred and the savagery of the Arabs”, but they knew very well that they were the political aggressors, and Palestinians were simply defending themselves.
One does not need to be an academic to understand that when a land is already inhabited by a people, the Palestinians, who settlers must remove to create a new state, Israel, this is, in its foundation, an aggressive, colonial project. Everything has always stemmed from this basic fact.
None of this is new. People in powerful positions, whether in the media or politics or academia, know this reality as well, but they refuse to acknowledge it.
Therefore, this is not a question of people who “don’t know”. This is a question of people who intentionally obfuscate because they think that Palestinians are an acceptable sacrificial lamb and are simply not powerful or important enough to matter.
I wish that they would have the courage to say their real position loudly and honestly. Say it: that you don’t believe that saving Palestinian lives from Israeli violence is a priority because Palestinian freedom does not contribute to the advancement of Euro-American imperial interests. The clothes these emperors are wearing are so transparent, they might as well just take them off already.
What is happening right now in Palestine is not an “escalation”. Rather, these are moments where Israeli violence is even further intensified.
And when “calm” returns, let us not forget that we are talking about a return to a still great level of violence that Palestinians suffer. Despite all the odds, the Palestinian people will persevere, and will one day be free. And all of these “intellectuals” and “journalists” will be remembered as the cowardly, violent, racist, and colonialist individuals that they are.
Muhannad Ayyash is Professor of Sociology at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada