Palestinians on Ukraine double standard: ‘Their resistance is legalized, ours is not’

Qalandya checkpoint, near Ramallah (Shadi Hatem - APA Images)

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  March 21, 2022

Palestinians are reacting to the difference in how the Western media is covering Ukraine from how it covers Palestine. This has been most obvious in two places: the issues of refugees and resistance.

From the moment Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in late February, Rizk Atawneh, 30, a social and political activist from Hebron in the occupied West Bank, was glued to the news. 

Like many Palestinians, and millions of people around the world, Atawneh was captivated by the news coming out of Russia and Ukraine, anxiously awaiting any developments. After all, this could possibly turn into “World War III,” Atawneh quipped, something that would “affect us all.” 

What started off as an interest in international affairs, however, soon turned into a more personal matter for Atawneh. 

“It became clear very quickly that there was a big difference in the media when it came to talking about Ukraine, versus how they talk about Palestine,” Atawneh told Mondoweiss. 

“As Palestinians, our land has been occupied for more than 70 years, and we are attacked and expelled from our homes every single day, but the media does not shed light on these practices,” Atawneh said. “But in Ukraine, these acts were portrayed as a crime from the very beginning.”

Atawneh is not alone. Over the past few weeks many Palestinians have expressed their frustrations over what they say is a “double standard” in the media and among global institutions and governments when it comes to Ukraine versus Palestine. 

“The racism of the West and and the double standards of the media have been exposed through the coverage of the issue of the Ukrainian refugees, compared to the Palestinian case and other nations,” Sabreen Abu Libdeh, a college lecturer from Ramallah told Mondoweiss. 

Muhammad al-Badan, a community and youth activist from Bethlehem, expressed a similar sentiment. “The positive media coverage and sympathy that has been extended to Ukraine over the past few days is astounding,” he said. 

“It’s incomparable to the type of coverage the Palestinian people have suffered from over the past seven decades at the hands of the global media and world leaders.”

Racism and refugee rights

Many Palestinians noticed instantly the way the media, and also European and Western leaders, responded to the new wave of refugees fleeing Ukraine. 

After all, Palestinians refugees have struggled for recognition and their human rights for more than seventy years. 

For Atawneh, it was strange, almost surreal, to see the world embrace Ukrainian refugees, when refugees from the Middle East, including Palestine, have often been scorned by the West. 

“The US and the West immediately portrayed the displacement of Ukrainian people from their homes as a war crime,” he said. 

“But in Palestine, where Israel continues to displace Palestinians until today, this is apparently not a crime,” he said, noting that the US continues to support Israel’s military despite its laundry list of human rights violations. 

“The West should be stopping all forced displacement around the world, not just in Ukraine,” he said. 

Al-Badan said it was “striking” to see the way Ukrainian refugees were treated at the borders of European countries, where they were largely welcomed with open arms, and provided with refuge. 

“These are  the same countries that closed their borders to Syrian refugees, and discriminated against Arab and African refugees,” Al-Badan said. “These countries have shown their racism clearly now.”

“We sympathize with anyone who lives in a state of war, and with people who are forced to become refugees. But we wish that everyone would be treated like the Ukrainians.”

‘Their resistance is legitimized, ours is not‘

Many Palestinians on social media were quick to point out the difference in the way the Western media was treating the Ukrainian resistance, compared to the Palestinian resistance against the occupation –  which the media more often than not portrays as “terrorism.”

Images of Ukrainians making homemade bombs, Molotov cocktails, and taking up arms against Russian invaders were being celebrated in the media at the same time that Palestinian children were being killed for the same thing. 

“The Ukrainian resistance against Russia was instantaneously legitimized,” Atawneh said, adding that he was almost in disbelief when he first saw news reports praising Ukrainian citizens for taking up arms and practicing bomb-making. 

“Palestinian children are imprisoned for throwing stones, and our resistance fighters are deemed as terrorists by the entire world, even though we too are fighting an occupation,” he said. 

Al-Badan echoed similar sentiments, saying “Since the beginning of the war, Ukrainian civilians have been armed and given the green light to defend their rights and land.”

“All actions of the Ukrainian people have been legalized to defend their homeland, unlike the Palestinian people whose resistance to the occupation is treated as terrorism. Their resistance is legal, ours is forbidden.”

Abu Libdeh said that her frustrations came to the forefront when she saw people around the world sharing photos of a young Ahed Tamimi confronting an Israeli soldier, claiming she was a heroic Ukrainian girl standing up against a Russian soldier. 

“When I see double standards like this I feel that I as a Palestinian don’t exist on this planet, I feel that the world is racist and divided,” she said. “The world only celebrates people if their skin color and story fits with their interests.”

“The right of the Palestinians to resist the occupation and our right to self-determination is guaranteed in all international covenants,” she said.  “All nations and peoples struggling under occupation must be treated like the Ukrainians, in order to achieve justice and equality among peoples.”

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss

Mohammed Abu Srour contributed to this report from the West Bank