The Silencing of Palestinian Voices
With the war in Ukraine, the military occupation of the West Bank in Palestine by Israeli security forces, and their killings of civilians has faded from the news. Indeed, coverage of Israeli human rights abuses is certainly sparse in Western media, in large part because the governments of the UK and US are so overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Coverage tends to spring up during times of greater conflict such as in 2021 where Israel invaded Gaza and 260 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. The unbalanced nature of that statistic indicates where the balance of power lies. Israel has an overwhelming number of weapons and firepower compared to the Palestinians and are unafraid of committing human rights abuses while they retain Western support. The history of Israel-Palestine is less one of a conflict than one of a settler-colonialist state (Israel) dispossessing, displacing, and killing Palestinians from the formation of Israel until the present day. This is not to say that no Israeli civilians have been killed by militant Palestinian groups because they have. What I mean to argue is that the violence perpetrated against the people of Palestine by the Israeli state represents a systemic form of settler colonialism that dehumanizes and destroys Palestinian lives. This is in stark contrast to the occasional rocket strike from Gaza.
The murder of Shireen Abu Aqleh
The reason that Israel and Palestine have come into the news once again is because of the murder of the Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh by Israeli security forces. The immediate assertion after the killing by far-right Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett was that Palestinians were the ones who shot Abu Aqleh. This was despite reports from witnesses at the scene and by Al Jazeera that Israeli forces had deliberately shot Abu Aqleh even though she was wearing a vest clearly labelling her as a member of the press. As Al Jazeera has also reported, the coverage in Western media was obviously trying to remove blame from Israel for the journalist’s death, such as, for instance, the New York Times using language like “Dies at 51” to describe the killing of Abu Aqleh. As I wrote about in my last blogpost, no one is neutral, and the New York Times using this kind of language implicitly protects Israel from blame by not naming them as the killers of Abu Aqleh. This “neutral” language allows Western media to continue their uncritical and very positive coverage of Israel.
This targeting of Abu Aqleh is part of a wider pattern by Israeli security forces targeting journalists. 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded since 2018 in Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem from rubber bullets, tear gas, stun grenades etc. The huge number of journalists targeted is not a coincidence but part of a concerted effort to target those who would uncover Israeli human rights abuses. While the targeting of journalists in the Ukrainian war should be highlighted, the coverage of this by Western media is drastically different. In March of 2022, the Reuters Institute published a list of journalists killed during the war in Ukraine. The violence perpetrated by the Russian army against these civilian journalists is horrible and should be condemned. But it seems clear that in Western media, injuries and deaths of Palestinian journalists simply do not get the same coverage.
The erasure of Palestinian voices
The seeming impunity with which the Israeli security forces can treat Palestinian journalists and indeed even civilians embody the hypocrisy of Western governments and media sources that proclaim to highly value human rights. If the violence against journalists is condemned in Ukraine, then why not in Palestine? Especially as one might think journalists would be incentivized to oppose violence against journalists no matter where it occurs because authoritarian governments use the legitimization of violence in other countries to legitimize their own state-sponsored violence (thus threatening journalists reporting in authoritarian countries). The erasure of Palestinian voices from Western media and Western governments is quite stark. In the end, Israel has a tight grip on Western governments, and they refuse to criticize Israel’s human rights abuses. Indeed, I remember during the strike week, one of the lecturers in a teach-out mentioning that any event hosted at LSE about Palestine would be flagged by the UK’s terrorism Prevent program. What this means is that the UK government considers academic discussions of Israeli human rights abuses as tantamount to terrorism.
This hostile environment in the West of any mentions of Palestine or pro-Palestine activities helps legitimize both the erasure of Palestinian voices for change and violence perpetrated against Palestinian journalists and civilians. The recent declaration by Human Rights Watch in 2021 that the Israeli state is an apartheid state is a good start, but what is also needed is for leftists to stand in solidarity and uplift the voices of Palestinian journalists who can uncover and call out the human rights abuses of the Israeli state. This solidarity will also entail the continued calling out of Israel as a settler-colonial state and criticizing the occupations and their accompanying violence in Palestine. It is also important to center the voices of Palestinian journalists, activists, teachers, doctors, and other members of civil society who experience Israeli violence as a day-to-day experience. Their lived experiences and their bravery in standing up for human rights and the rights of Palestinians will be crucial to opposing continued Israeli violence in Palestine. Ultimately, they will ensure that the murder of Abu Aqleh is not forgotten and that the human rights abuses of the Israeli state are called out. Their voices must not be erased.