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To my cherished white liberal friends and colleagues:
Allow me to explain why the “two-sides” narrative about Palestine and Israel is unequivocally untenable.
In the wake of the heart-wrenching events unfolding in Gaza, I’ve often been asked by well-meaning friends and colleagues: How I am coping with this dreadful situation? And I am very thankful for their genuine concern. But as I start to express my profound sorrow at the loss and displacement of thousands of children, women, and men in Gaza, along with my deep indignation at the deliberate lack of international action, I notice a propensity among this well-intentioned cohort to interject; an act seemingly driven by a sense of impartiality, being distressed about the situation, and their agony over the Israelis who died on October 7. As I am unquestionably desolate by the death and capture of hundreds of Israeli civilians, one can’t compare these two narratives, because it is not only unfair, but also senseless.
Let me explain why this “two-sides” narrative is simply invalid.
What Israelis endured on one day (on that October 7th), Palestinians have endured for 27,318 days (since the Israeli State was established on May 14, 1948). What happened on October 7th is the direct consequence of a long-standing oppressive colonial system inflicted by Israel’s apartheid regime, which has targeted for the last 75 years not only Palestinians in Gaza, but also Palestinians in the West Bank (in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinians dispersed across the global diaspora. These horrendous happenings are documented, archived, and therefore, unfalsifiable.
My dear friends and colleagues, let me remind you very briefly what Palestinians have been enduring over the past 75 years under Israeli Occupation, rendering the notion of “two sides” just pointless.
In the West Bank, Palestinians have faced unlawful killings, mass forced displacement, strict control over their movement through intricate checkpoints and roadblocks, and the separation wall spanning 700 kilometers. Additionally, Palestinians have been victims of massive confiscations of Palestinian land and property, demolitions, and prejudicial restrictions on home construction, while they have persistently witnessed the illegal proliferation of Israeli settlements. A systematic violation of human rights has been the norm, including forced and arbitrary detentions, torture, unjust arrests, and a lack of due process for Palestinian prisoners. And not to mention the daily harassment and terrorization, and frequent killing by Israeli settlers.
While Palestinian citizens of Israel have the same legal rights as Jewish citizens and can vote in Israeli elections, they have been facing various forms of discrimination and inequality, including disparities in education, employment, and infrastructure development, land and harsh housing policies. They have always been treated as second-class citizens, constantly facing an intricate system of apartheid that restricts freedom of expression, particularly for those engaging in political activism.
Even Palestinians in East Jerusalem hold a unique status. While Israel considers East Jerusalem part of its capital, the international community does not recognize this claim. Palestinians in East Jerusalem can apply for Israeli citizenship, but many choose not to do so, as they see it as an act of legitimizing Israeli control. They often face challenges related to residency status, home demolitions, and limited access to services.
As for Palestinians living in the diaspora, and who have been separated from their ancestral homelands since the Nakba of 1948, their lives have been marked by dispersion across the globe or confinement to refugee camps where they endure dismal living conditions. Palestinians in the Diaspora are denied their right to return, a right recognized by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. In stark contrast, Israel maintains the “Law of Return,” which allows Jews from around the world to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship.
Lastly, the ongoing blockade of Gaza by Israel since 2007 and the cataclysmic assault that started on October 7, with thousands of air bombardments have resulted in a staggering toll, with over 8,500 innocent Palestinians losing their lives, half of them children, and more than 20,000 injured, with the mass destruction of essential infrastructure, medical facilities, mosques, water and sanitation facilities, and refugee and displacement camps. 2.3 million Palestinians are deprived now of medicine, fuel, electricity, clean water, and internet access, leading to a horrendous humanitarian catastrophe.
So, I implore you, dear friends and colleagues, to please refrain from invoking the “two-sides” narrative each time we discuss Gaza or Palestine. The situation is inherently imbalanced; it defies reason and logic. Gaza is facing a dreadful butchery, that demands a resounding call for justice, an immediate ceasefire, and accountability for Israel’s crimes against humanity.
And …by the way: it’s not an Israel-Hamas conflict, it’s simply an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel’s colonial massive war machinery.
Nevine El Nossery is professor of Francophone Studies (Department of French and Italian) at University of Wisconsin-Madison.