A zoomed lens focuses in on a young man with two fingers raised in the air in a peace sign. Around him, the youth is surrounded by fellow protesters, chanting, impassioned and waving colorful flags. They demand equal rights, an end to economic injustice and for the U.S. police-style assassinations of their young people to end.
But rather than taking a photo of these protesters, the lens trained on the young man is that of a military sniper. From thousands of yards away, up on a dune overlooking the fence that keeps protesters caged within a tiny strip of land called Gaza, it only takes an instant for the Israeli Defense Forces soldier to end this idealistic young Palestinian’s life.
This example of the shooting of a civilian protester in Gaza is not unique; on May 14, 2018 it happened thousands of times, resulting in 64 lives lost and more than 1,300 people injured by live ammunition. For that many protesters to be shot during a single day is mind-boggling and outrageous. It should be obvious to any person of conscience that these one-sided killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli military troops are wrong.
It is time to listen to the voices of the struggling people of Gaza, and hear what they have to say. Americans should be in an uproar over these human rights abuses, especially because the U.S. consistently vetoes attempts at the United Nations Security Council to investigate Israeli war crimes and because the U.S. provides billions of dollars of military aid to Israel every year. In fact, the weapons used to murder protestors were most likely paid for by our tax dollars.
On mainstream American cable news on the night of the massacre, however, I watched in disbelief as the “most trusted” names in news barely mentioned what had happened. This was a huge event of the modern era, a one-sided massacre that will go down in history as a day of catastrophe in the world’s human rights struggles. Watching cable news, however, you would think that the only thing that had happened on that day was an insignificant spat between the lawyer of Stormy Daniels and some public official in the U.S. When these outlets did cover the events in Gaza for extremely brief portions of their shows, they puppeted the talking points that the right-wing governments of Israel and the United States have been putting forward about Hamas organizing the marches and the civilian deaths being part of some larger terrorism-inspired plot.
Undoubtedly, the American government is on the wrong side of history when it goes out of its way to protect Israel from international scrutiny over crimes committed in this “conflict,” which should more accurately be described as what it is: the world’s longest lasting military occupation. American politicians, public figures and media organizations need to evolve on the issue of Palestine before we, the next generation of Americans, leave them behind.
At this point I do not expect anything from the Republican Party in the arena of human rights or dignity. Their track record of disdain for oppressed brown people around the world, unless it suits their own greedy interests, and their broad evangelical-based support for the fulfillment of end-times prophecies reveal that they cannot be reasoned with on this subject.
The nearly complete silence of the Democratic Party, on the other hand, is harder to square with the image that Democrats wish to portray of themselves and their party; for all their talk of standing up for human rights and the poor, and standing against bigotry and racism, the blue side of the aisle has been notably silent when it comes to Palestinian lives.
After this last massacre of unquestionably innocent Palestinian civilians, only a handful of Democratic politicians issued statements expressing concern about the killings. Most of the party, many of whose members have backed Israel’s unconstrained military actions in the past, simply ignored the gunning down of protesters who have yet to harm a single Israeli.
The few politicians, along with an increasing number of celebrities, who have listened to their consciences and made statements calling into question Israel’s right to kill civilians at will, have realized that the moral responsibility to speak up now is paramount.
American peoples’ views on Israel and the Palestinians are currently amid a monumental shift: public opinion polls have observed a marked rise in the number of Americans who sympathize with the Palestinian people and those who sympathize with neither/both sides relative to the number of people who support Israel. One recent poll found about a 50-50 split in public opinion on Israel among Democrats at large, (a rival poll refuted that number) and the rise of Trump and his close ties to Israel’s right wing leaders has coincided with a substantial decrease in support for Israel among young American Jews, who tend to be progressive.
In general, the split in opinions on the conflict has fallen on partisan lines; supporters of Israel have tended to be more conservative, older, and whiter. Supporters of Palestinian rights have tended to be more liberal, younger, and more diverse. This makes sense given the large American base of support for Israel among white evangelicals, who believe that the apocalypse and second-coming of Christ can only be achieved when the Jews retake the holy land and a conflict between them and their neighbors occurs.
Because the younger generations in this country are more liberal and less religious than their parents, the future of public opinion in this country will shift away from support for the Israeli government. Those public figures who are currently taking a stand recognize this trend, soon those in our government who claim to be on the Left but don’t shift their positions on Israel until all the other democratic politicians do it will look hypocritical and disingenuous, like Hillary Clinton did after sticking with her anti-gay marriage position up until only a few years before her presidential run. Blind support for Israel as it commits war crimes and human rights violations will not go down smoothly among voters of future generations.
The reason that even more Americans aren’t standing up and demanding that their politicians denounce Israeli crimes is due to Americans’ lack of knowledge about the occupation of Palestine, the whitewashed mainstream media portrayal and lack of coverage of it, and the current resurgence of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.
American politicians can continue to avoid speaking out on these human rights catastrophes because the Palestinian people have been so dehumanized that large numbers of Palestinian deaths mean nothing to the widespread American consciousness. After the terrible terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris, hashtags took off across the internet expressing solidarity with Parisians in their moments of suffering. When these same types of attacks occur in muslim-majority countries, killing even larger numbers of innocent people, or when an army that is allied with the U.S. massacres a comparable number of Palestinian civilians in cold blood, the world just does not react in the same way.
Part of it has to do with ongoing efforts among various individuals to portray muslims and Palestinians as being less-than-human. When they are seen as so radically different from the Western/American standard from which the media judges and portrays them, it becomes easy to say that these groups are too different, too “otherized” for us to see them in the same way.
It is time for Americans to more frequently view and share media, art, and movies that humanize the Palestinian people. The dehumanization of entire populations of people based on the label attached to them lays the groundwork for large-scale abuses and massacres like this most recent one. It also allows the thousands of everyday instances of abuse leveled against occupied people to continue on unchallenged.
Recognizing and honoring the humanity of Palestinian people begins with speaking up against every instance of unjust oppression we witness committed against them. It is the least we can do when our government provides such extensive support and cover for these crimes. If American politicians who claim to be progressive continue to fail to speak out against these abuses, they should be pressured or voted out for their hypocrisy on human rights.