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[Blog] Is it too much to ask people to view Palestinians as humans? Apparently so

Arwa Mahdawi, a writer, Guardian columnist, speaker, and business consultant based in New York but originally from London, wrote an article published in The Guardian on November 7th. In her article, she said "while nothing justifies the actions of Hamas on October 7th, it's essential to understand that this conflict didn't start on that date". We have reproduced her article as a blog post for you. 


As the last few weeks have made abundantly clear, Palestinian lives don’t count.

I do not want to ever hear western democracies lecture the rest of the world on human rights ever again.

As I write this, more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza – almost half of them children. One child is being killed every 10 minutes in Gaza. Those numbers, it should be noted, only count the kids who are dying as a direct result of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing. The kids who were “lucky” enough to die instantaneously in an airstrike. And the not-so-“lucky” ones: innocent children buried under rubble, dying painful and protracted deaths as they are suffocated by the eviscerated remains of their home.

Those numbers don’t count the kids slowly dying of hunger and thirst. The kids getting sick from drinking sewage and sea water. They don’t count the kids with cancer who will not be able to get any care now that the Israeli siege has forced the only cancer hospital in Gaza to suspend operations. They don’t count the kids who are going to die from entirely avoidable diseases because hospitals in Gaza are ceasing to function. They don’t count the kids who are so traumatized from being born in an open-air prison, so scarred from having their neighbourhoods and loved ones eradicated in an apocalyptic act of collective punishment, that their lives have changed for ever.

But also? Those numbers just don’t count, period. They’re Palestinians. And, as the last few weeks have made abundantly clear, Palestinian lives don’t count. They don’t count to many in the media, who steadfastly refuse to empathize with Palestinians. Who use the passive voice to describe Palestinian death. Who justify unjustifiable death tolls. Who are very keen on international law when it’s being violated by the likes of Russia, but not so keen to mention things like the Geneva conventions when Israel is the offender. Who immediately report anything that the Israeli government says, sending out every IDF statement as a push alert, while looking at Palestinian voices through a permanent lens of suspicion. Can’t trust those pesky Palestinians, you see. Every single person in Gaza is being used as a human shield by Hamas, don’t you know?! There are Hamas-owned weapons under every inch of Gaza! Every single person in Gaza is a terrorist, even if they’re still in utero! Better kill them all, just to be safe.

Those numbers certainly don’t count to the president of the United States. The empathizer-in-chief; the man who likes to make a big song and dance about what a decent guy he is. Joe Biden came right out and said: we don’t believe Palestinians about the death toll.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so fucking horrific, so fucking insulting. I’m sorry … what does Biden think is happening, exactly? Does he think that people in Gaza are holding some sort of underground rave while crisis actors, surreptitiously shipped in from elsewhere, ordered on crisis-actor-Amazon (two-day delivery!), cosplay a massacre? Does he think the pictures of entire neighborhoods being wiped out are some sort of AI deepfake?

It isn’t enough that Palestinians are dying and being displaced: we must be dehumanized and discredited too. We must verify our deaths as we die.
Of course not. Biden may be many things but he is not stupid. He knows very well that the numbers from the Gaza health ministry have been proven to be accurate time and time again. Which makes all this even worse. It isn’t enough that Palestinians are dying and being displaced: we must be dehumanized and discredited too. We must verify our deaths as we die.

Doing that, by the way, is getting increasingly difficult. One by one, journalists in Gaza are being slaughtered or threatened with death. And, rather than champion the importance of the press, the US is actively trying to suppress coverage of the living hell in Gaza. Two weeks ago, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, asked Qatar to moderate Al Jazeera’s coverage of Israel’s war against Hamas. Can’t have too much of the truth coming out; too much truth is a terrible thing.

But, Arwa, what about Hamas? You might be saying. Aren’t you going to condemn Hamas? Of course I will absolutely condemn Hamas massacring innocent Israeli civilians on 7 October and taking hostages. And let’s be very clear here: while nothing Hamas did on 7 October can be condoned, their actions did not take place in a vacuum. This conflict did not start on 7 October. Palestinians have been killed, displaced, humiliated, detained unlawfully, for decades; the media only sits up and pays attention, however, when an Israeli dies. Ask yourself this: do you know how many Palestinians were killed last year by Israeli forces and settlers? Do you know how many Palestinians are being forced out of their homes by settlers in the West Bank – where Hamas is not in charge? Do you know how many Palestinian children are being held by Israeli forces without trial or charge for “crimes” that can be as minor as waving a Palestinian flag?

I will absolutely condemn Hamas but I ask that the absolute condemnation goes both ways. And it doesn’t, does it? People demand that Palestinians denounce violence while screaming that Israel has the right to defend itself at the top of their lungs. Israel has the right to defend itself, you see, but Palestinians do not. Everything that the IDF does has some sort of justification, explanation; violence by a Palestinian is never justifiable.

As for non-violent resistance? That’s not allowed either. The US has long been trying to criminalize the peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Calls to boycott the 2019 Eurovision song contest, which was held in Tel Aviv, was described as an “weapon of division,” and demonized. Going on a pro-Palestinian march is smeared as antisemitic – the UK home secretary, Suella Braverman, branded them as “hate marches” – even if half the people marching are brave Jews in organisations like Jewish Voices for Peace. Not even children’s art is tolerated if those children are Palestinian. Earlier this year a London hospital took down artwork by Gaza schoolchildren after UK Lawyers for Israel said that “Jewish patients … feel vulnerable, harassed and victimised by this display.” Those children some people felt so harassed by? There is a good chance they are now all dead.

So what are we supposed to do, I ask you? What are Palestinians supposed to do? That’s a rhetorical question because the last three weeks have made the answer to this crystal clear: we are supposed to shut up and die.

Indeed, Israel is not even being coy about its intentions for Palestinians right now. Craig Mokhiber, a top United Nations human rights official who stepped down last week, wrote in his resignation letter that what is happening is “textbook genocide.” In an interview with Al Jazeera, Mokhiber noted: “Usually the most difficult part of proving genocide is intent, because there has to an intention to destroy in whole or in part a particular group. In this case, the intent by Israeli leaders has been so explicitly stated and publicly stated – by the prime minister, by the president, by senior cabinet ministers, by military leaders – that that is an easy case to make.”

Tell that to the US government. Tell that to the cowardly and hypocritical US press. Twenty years from now, when it is far too late for journalism to make any difference, someone will win a Pulitzer for telling the truth about this moment. They’ll be celebrated for unequivocally and unapologetically using the words that people are currently losing jobs or being targeted by hate campaigns for saying: occupation, genocide, ethnic cleansing. Only when every single Palestinian is dead or displaced will it be acceptable to treat us as human.

Arwa Mahdawi

About the author

Arwa Mahdawi is a London-born, New York-based writer, Guardian columnist, speaker, and business consultant. She is also the creator of the viral website Rent-A-Minority, which is an 'Uber for diversity.


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