When the colonial era started in the world’s four corners, the colonial powers did not only seize natural resources and manpower; they also sought to occupy time, space, and mindsets. The other side of the coin is that the colonised soon learned to resist the daily oppression, and from the second half of the 20th century onward, a snowball effect led to resistance becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Today’s situation in the occupied Palestinian territories follows a similar pattern. Gaza, the most densely populated place in the world, is surrounded on three sides by walls and on one side by a naval siege, squeezed into a surface area of 365 square kilometres. This largest open-air prison in history is home to more than 2 million people.
And as for any prison, no matter how impregnable, prisoners always try to escape. Hence, on 7 October 2023, a daring prison break occurred, and so, on a rare occasion, the news cycle was turned upside down: This was not an Israeli attack on Gaza but the other way around.
When people see aggression, they direct their empathy towards the oppressed. But this time, the oppressor is eager to play the victim. Playing the victim has been a winning ticket for so long, especially when accompanied by Western largess and generous subsidies.
Unfortunately, there is also another despicable truth: Western media apparatus, while preaching human rights and other values, has, more often than not, sided with the occupiers, especially when they are part of the Western bloc. Then, all principles are turned upside down: the right to self-defence is obfuscated, and there are “worthy” and “unworthy” victims. Meanwhile, international law has become a stack of paper not worth its ink.
Israel has systematically expanded its occupation in defiance of international law and in violation of the agreements it signed. It has continued its colonisation policies without respecting neither the 1967 borders nor the Oslo agreements. It has done so by killing Palestinian civilians daily through direct force of arms and obscuring the meaning of “civilian”,one of the most fundamental elements of the law of war. It has done so by arming its settlers and enabling them to attack Palestinian civilians. People were condemned to be crushed by state-sponsored violence coming directly from their neighbours. The UN also recognised Israel’s violation of international law in a resolution, but no sanctioning action followed suit.
The images of an Israeli settler seizing his Palestinian neighbour’s house blatantly stating, “If I don’t steal your home, someone else will steal it”. Footage of other settlers attacking a church or burning Palestinian olive groves has been in the news almost every day, albeit hidden at the bottom of the news cycle. In the meantime, Israel has built an apartheid regime in which Palestinians are imprisoned in ghettos. “Human rights” was not seen as befitting for Palestinians, who were killed daily and imprisoned without knowing what they were accused of. This year alone, 257 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, including many children. That was before 7 October 2023, when there was no war.
Gaza has been under blockade since 2007. The city’s electricity and water are under Israeli control, and the people arebeing brought to their knees with the basic necessities of life. Since 2007, Israel has carried out four major attacks on Gaza. Thousands of civilians have lost their lives in large and small Israeli attacks. Israel’s indiscriminate and terror-spreading aggression has increasingly squeezed the Palestinians, especially in the open-air prison of Gaza.
The right to self-defence from the Gazan resistance was muddied by characterisations of ‘jihadism’ and terrorism. However, these resistance fighters targeted primarily military objectives. Still, Western media always applied the terrorist label to them. Mustafa Barghouti, a left-leaning Palestinian activist who serves as General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, told CNN’s Farid Zakariya: “So, of course, Palestinians turn to resistance because they see that this is the only way for them to get their rights. The question here is not about dehumanising Palestinians and calling them terrorists. It also about the question why the US supports Ukraine in fighting what they call occupation, while here they are supporting the occupier who continues to occupy us.”
If we are talking about terrorism, there have already been many more civilians killed in Gaza in the last few days than Israelis. Every morning, scores of Palestinians are being pulled from the rubble.
While official buildings in Western capitals raised Israeli flags, Israel began demolishing civilian residences in Gaza using disproportionate force and massacring civilians. However, Western decision-makers have no interest in long-term peace and stability. They prefer to concentrate on the current round of hostilities, looking neither before nor afterwards. This episodic approach is the Achilles heel of Western politicians and media: They fail to contextualise issues and aim only at manipulating situations.
Of course, the outcry for the Israelis casualties in the recent attacks is not insincere. But again, human values should not be selective. Caring about the sacrality of human life is indivisible, and the bottom line is that there are no lives worthy and others unworthy.
Lastly, putting people in a cage and expecting them not to react or resist is ridiculous. Thus, it is time to tear down the watchtowers built to control the open prison of Gaza, but it is also time to tear down the towers policing the minds of freedom-loving people worldwide and work for a fairer and just world, starting from Palestine.
This article originally appeared in the opinion section of the website Middle East Monitor.