The Politics of Violence
Social media has been flooded these past few weeks in response to the events unfolding in Gaza and Israel. I have always expressed my Pro-Palestine stance publicly and among my peers; as I’ve seen the current conversations snowball into trauma-porn, misinformation, islamophobia, and anti-semitism, I wanted to take some time to collect my thoughts.
In this time I have been consuming content from my Palestinian friends, Muslim friends, Jewish friends, Israeli people I have met, and more. I value consuming content from people I do not agree with. I don’t mean the people who’ve released a vague ‘neutral’ statement about Palestine and Israel, I mean people who are pro-Israeli, Zionist, and anti-Palestinian. It has helped me gauge which parts of this I’m moved to speak on.
What you are about to read is an essay I wrote which touches on topics I see arising when we talk about Israel and Palestine. This is by no means a comprehensive essay on the history of Palestine, Israel, Jewish people, Christians, Muslims, Hamas, or any other facet of a history which long predates October 7th 2023.
I hope this helps you understand some things a little better that could be getting lost in the sea of reposts and continuous news cycle.
The politics of violence
There is an undeniable dissonance when white people and the West talk about violence. The rhetoric of ‘violence is never the answer’ seems to conveniently pop up in the mainstream when those on the receiving end of violence resemble the West at large. This sentiment of ‘violence is never the answer’ I have only ever seen used by the West when those on the receiving end of the violence look like them.
I think people who have never given much thought to Israeli occupation in Palestine are now finding themselves in this strange spot where they feel social pressure to ‘pick a side’. This in and of itself is a marker of privilege and is indicative of how we view violence, who can perpetrate it without repercussion, for how long, and where we draw the line.
If in the last decade you have never thought to voice your concerns about the violence that Palestinians have faced every day for the last 75 years but only this week have come forward with a ‘violence is never the answer’ adjacent statement, the chances are that your views on violence are fundamentally shaped by colonialism. The most insidious aspect of colonialism is the way it brands itself as non-violent and passive – desensitising while also destroying – in this boiling-frog-syndrome way.
‘Violence is never the answer’ means you are accepting of the violence you are used to seeing, to the people you are used to seeing experience this violence, because this has been fed over and over to you. In other words, violence is only acceptable when it's systemically undetectable.
The tone-policing of condemnation
I have been trying to understand why the push for Palestinian condemnation of Hamas has a grip on the West. It goes without saying, the brute force and militancy Hamas has unleashed onto Israelis is jarring and horrific – we should not sweep that under the rug. We must also acknowledge that the very existence of Hamas began as an aggressive resistance to Israeli occupation.
Palestinians, for the last 75 years, have been protesting peacefully to no avail and continue to lose their lives despite their peaceful approaches. I think there is room to hold multiple truths in that: yes, Hamas’s attacks have been terrifying and hard to watch, while also understanding that they are essentially holding a mirror to Israel and their treatment of Palestinians from the Nakba in ‘48 until today. Unpacking Hamas in totality is an incredibly dense feat that I won’t attempt here; instead I want to focus on the call for Palestinian people, specifically, to condemn Hamas.
I view condemnation, the verb, as a means to bridge a gap in understanding and conflict. It’s finding common ground in divisive territory - the ‘agree to agree’ before we ‘agree to disagree’. I think it can have the power to do just that when there is a levelled ‘playing field’. In an ideal world everything would be a levelled playing field; but it’s not. The onus of condemnation always falls onto oppressed groups in order to placate dominant and oppressive groups, who are never expected to respond in kind. This leads to the straw-manning, derailing and delegitimising of issues.
We have seen this with every Palestinian commentator, activist, and diaspora being bombarded with ‘Do you condemn Hamas?’ before they can even get a word out. Israelis are never put in the same position. To view this from a lens that may be more accessible, we could think about women, when speaking about their experiences of abuse at the hands of men, being met with ‘But men get abused too!’. This example is in no way to conflate two very different issues but I think it does a good job in highlighting how utterly frustrating it is when people hold condemnation over the heads of oppressed groups as a bar to reach before they can engage in conversation with them, let alone listen to their experiences. Palestinians have every right to reject the premise of this question.
Semantics in reporting
Convoluted reporting has always worked against the plight of Palestinians. It has made this topic so inaccessible by implying there is a prerequisite of context and history you should already know about before engaging. Of course, this in turn has deterred people from wanting to learn about it altogether.
I have been trying to gauge the biases of news outlets when reporting on Israel and Palestine. They might not be echoing extreme Pro-Israeli sentiments but the semantics involved in tip-toeing around concepts of apartheid and genocide, while decontextualising the current events in Gaza lends to misinformation and reinforces the dynamic of Israel and Palestine as one that is an equal fight.
There is a style of reporting, often used by Instagram news outlets, that delivers news in digestible bites. I know many young Australians, myself included, follow and consume this type of content as a way to understand news ‘at a glance’. Though this makes engaging in news and politics more accessible, the problem arises when these news outlets refuse to provide context and history surrounding larger issues.
The events that have unfolded in the last month have shifted my perspective on ‘independent and unbiased news’. With a topic as contentious as Israel/Palestine - I have seen many news outlets shy away from reporting too heavily toward either ‘side’. Though, biased reporting looks a little different to how we are used to seeing it. It doesn’t look like Murdoch Media anymore, where one perspective is heavily drilled into mainstream news sources, it’s more subtle than that. With this topic in particular, the omission of detail and context in regards to the Palestinian perspective does all the work to showcase which perspective news outlets are favouring. The facade of unbiased reporting lies within remaining factual, but when all the facts are not being reported, it makes it difficult to believe news outlets are prioritising an accurate representation of events.
Decolonising at home
We can’t have conversations about colonisation in Palestine without addressing the parallels to colonisation in this country. I can be certain that a significant number of people I know would have voted Yes to the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum. However, I’m not so sure that every single one of these people would also align themselves with Palestine in their fight to decolonise and reclaim their land.
We talk about the concept of ‘Land Back’ when we refer to ways we can repair the damage that has been inflicted on Indigenous communities for decades. ‘Land Back’ is not a pretty idea that can exist as an abstract theory in show of support to Indigenous people - it is something that must be constitutionalised and weaved into core Australian values. The Indigenous Voice to Parliament Vote aimed to draw pathways to do this. ‘Yes’ was supposed to be the beginning. Indigenous people all over the world have the right to self-determination. This includes their right to decolonise in the ways they feel appropriate.
Similarly, in Palestine, the fight for liberation has been decades long and continues today. This year has been the deadliest for both Israelis and Palestinians. The disproportionate violence by the Israeli government unleashed onto Palestinians, the majority of those killed being children, has rallied millions of people across the globe to call for a ceasefire. This is imperative to end the carnage in Gaza. However, this should not be a vehicle for complacency in the struggle to free Palestine from Israeli occupation. We cannot be comfortable with Palestinians returning to a state of subjugation. ‘Ceasefire’ is just the beginning - not a solution to absolve the rest of the world from advocating for Palestinian decolonisation.
I won’t spend too much time echoing things I have already seen floating around; you can be Pro-Palestine without being anti-semitic. You can speak out against the crimes of Israel without lumping Jewish people into the category. We know all of this.
I want to focus more on the anti-semitism I have seen arise from all of this. There are pockets in every resistance movement that lean alt-right. I have heard people fighting for Palestine tip over into anti-semitic rhetoric – one example being at Pro-Palestine protests.
A protest initially planned in response to the Australian government lighting up this nation's landmark in blues and whites in solidarity with Israel, was co-opted by anti-semitic chants. These expressions are violent and unacceptable through any lens. Many Jewish people are putting their complex feelings aside to advocate for Palestine – we cannot make this space unsafe for them. They are also a historically oppressed group and they should not have to answer for the crimes of the Israeli government.
I have seen the issue of anti-Semitism being glossed over by some people aligning with Palestine. It is our responsibility to call out anti-semitism when we see and hear it – not because it hurts the Palestinian cause (it does), but because it’s the right thing to do.
It is okay to have complex feelings about the most divisive issue of the 21st century. It’s okay to not know what to say about something you might have only learned about recently. It’s okay to be changing your perspective in real time as you are exposed to new information and context. You are allowed to hold multiple complex feelings about one thing.
However the bottom line is, we should not conflate these complex feelings with what is actually happening in the Middle East. Israel’s occupation of Palestine is not complex. It is apartheid. Feelings are complex, facts are not.
One of the difficult parts about learning about injustices at large is the feeling of helplessness - of not being able to do anything while you watch atrocities unfold through your screen.
This can at times be debilitating, but it’s important to remember that Palestinians do not have the choice to opt out of their own ethnic cleansing so neither should we. Our voices are the single most powerful tool in tipping the scales that have been in the favour of Israeli occupation for the last 75 years. The Israeli government is threatened by those who speak up against their apartheid and genocidal regime. For the first time in Palestine’s history I have seen an exponential growth in people who have educated themselves on Israeli occupation in Palestine and this has been a direct result of our collective voices bringing attention to an issue that can no longer be ignored.
I urge you to stay engaged, raise your voice, show up to the protests, write to your MP’s, share resources and information to your socials, and most importantly; don’t look away.