Don’t stop talking about Palestine

We must hold our leaders accountable for the decades of oppression in Palestine.

(Nina Tomasevic / Daily Trojan)

Under mounting domestic pressure to secure the return of hostages held by Hamas, Israel agreed to a temporary truce Friday to exchange hostages and prisoners. President Joe Biden has touted this momentary peace as a great achievement, citing his diplomatic efforts and expressing hope that the truce might be extended.

Yet just last month, Biden threw his unwavering support behind Israel, visiting and hugging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, promising an “unprecedented support package for Israel’s defense” and making statement after statement endorsing a full-fledged military response by Israel.

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This is a stance that, besides facilitating genocide and other war crimes, is wildly out of touch with what Americans want. In recent polling by Reuters/Ipsos, 68% of respondents agreed Israel should implement a ceasefire.

The horror inflicted onto the Gaza Strip by the Israel Defense Forces is so catastrophic, the Palestinian Ministry of Health says it can no longer accurately count the number of deaths. But by conservative assessments, at least 14,000 people in Palestine have been killed by Israel’s siege on Gaza since Oct. 7, including at least 5,500 children. 

You have likely heard this mass death called a genocide, and by the United Nations’ definition, it is: “The intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” undeniably describes the violence committed against Palestinians. 

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across the nation — and hundreds of thousands more across the world — in support of Palestine, demanding a ceasefire and expressing outrage over the raw carnage exacted on Gaza. Biden’s attempts to qualify his support, such as “encouraging” Netanyahu to exercise restraint and limit civilian deaths, are a late recognition of this opposition.

Do not be deceived by this short-term agreement, or by Biden’s weak attempts to soften his approach. Israel is hell-bent on destroying Gaza, and Biden’s support of Israel has not materially changed. Netanyahu has promised that after the truce “Gaza will not go back to being what it was.” 

Biden repeatedly brings up the need for humanitarian aid in Gaza — yet he has pledged at least $14.3 billion in military aid and embassy security to Israel, which already has one of the most highly developed and technologically advanced militaries in the world due to United States funding. By comparison, only $100 million in humanitarian aid has been appropriated for Gaza. 

Our government’s support of Israel is rooted in our extensive military and economic interests. Since Israel’s founding, our military and security aid has amounted to $130 billion, not adjusted for inflation. We have spent decades developing military technology, side-by-side with Israel, and fostered a strategic ally in a region that we have time and time again exploited for economic gain. In 2013, Biden spoke about the U.S.’ strategic investment in Israel, stating “if there were no Israel, we’d have to invent one.”

So what does such meager aid change when Israel’s Minister of Defense claims “we are fighting human animals” and “there will be no electricity, no food, no fuel [in Gaza]”? What do such soft, cautionary words truly signify when it is not just U.S. dollars, but U.S. missiles, U.S. fighter jets, U.S. equipment that will continue to kill Palestinians?

Biden’s enthusiastic support of Israel is accompanied by complacency on Capitol Hill. Congressional staffers report constant phone calls, emails and letters every day from constituents demanding their elected officials support a ceasefire, but the response from their bosses has largely been silence. The disregard and disconnect from members of Congress to their constituents is so unprecedented that congressional staffers have spoken out against their bosses by walking out in support of a ceasefire. 

Despite the majority of constituents supporting a ceasefire, only 49 of 535 members of Congress do, and most are in agreement to send the billions in military aid Biden has been seeking. This disconnect represents a real fear by members of Congress who are not already fervently pro-Israel to preserve their political careers. 

The powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which was the largest single-issue outside spender in Democratic primaries in the 2022 midterms, has kept many Democratic members of Congress from criticizing Israel. In the past, AIPAC has successfully thrown its monetary weight around in primary elections to defeat candidates who dared to speak up for Palestinian rights and has increasingly begun supporting far-right extremist candidates.

Oppression thrives in this silence. 

You do not need to be a historian, academic, policymaker or journalist to educate yourself and see plainly the injustice that is happening. Genocide and ethnic cleansing — the systemic removal of an ethnic group — of Palestinians dates back to the Nakba, the catastrophe of 1948 when more than half of the Palestinian population was violently displaced from their homeland during the creation of the State of Israel. Today, 5.9 million Palestinians are registered refugees.

Since its founding, Israel has inflicted abuse after abuse on the Palestinian people —  discriminating against Palestinians by enforcing separate legal rights for Israelis and Palestinians, a system that constitutes apartheid; forcibly removing Palestinians from their homes beyond Israel’s borders to establish illegal Israeli settlements; and jailing thousands of Palestinians, many through “administrative detention,” which means they have no charge nor legal process.

The Gaza Strip, a narrow piece of land only 25 miles long and densely packed with 2.2 million civilians, has been blockaded and illegally occupied by Israel for the last 16 years. Many have long labeled it the largest open-air prison in the world. Continuing to fund Israel — and continuing this violence — cannot be the answer.

Now that 1.8 million Gazans are displaced and half the buildings in the Gaza Strip have been completely destroyed, a permanent ceasefire — which we must urgently establish to prevent more innocent deaths — will not be the end of the conversation. At best, we have a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale, as the majority of Gazans have no home to return to and public health infrastructure has collapsed under Israel’s bombardment.

It is the U.S. that has facilitated Israel’s lengthy occupation and oppression of Palestine and has continuously turned a blind eye to its humanitarian crimes despite widespread international criticism. As people around the world protest, the American people have an obligation to hold our political leaders accountable. 

In the face of this human tragedy, thousands of miles away from Palestine, we are not helpless: You are not helpless. Now is not the time to claim inconvenience or ignorance. 

Activists have spent decades organizing for Palestinian liberation. Spend 30 minutes seeking out and interacting with the wealth of media available to you by both news and activists. Think critically about who is saying what; question where and how their information has come about. But even if you cannot grasp every aspect of this situation and its history, it should be overwhelmingly evident who holds power and who has been oppressed by it. 

Vague calls for peace and an end to violence, which I have seen too many public figures fall back on, are cowardly and insufficient. Be specific about what you support. We want a permanent ceasefire. We want humanitarian aid and assistance sent to Gaza. We want an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. We want our government to stop providing billions of unconditional funding to an abusive and violent Israeli government and military. We want to secure the right of Palestinians to live freely in their homeland. 

We enact more harm than good when we state, “I do not know enough about this conflict to speak on it.” It is this very lack of courage to assert the truth, accompanied by what should already be redundant assertions about the value of peace and humanity, that allows colonizers to weaponize your words. 

I cannot deny that speaking up carries risks. On college campuses around the country, fear of censorship and retribution for speaking out on behalf of Palestinians is widespread. Faculty and students alike fear administrative punishment; activists fear for everything from their careers to their immediate safety. Some have lost jobs, others have been doxxed. 

Yet, just as we must be compassionate with ourselves about the risks of speaking out, we must be realistic about the cost of not using our voices when it matters the most. The battle against the colonizing force of a U.S. government that can so easily aid and abet the massacre of a people — amid widespread international outcry and against the wishes of its own people — is one that ties together the plight of Palestinians with our collective struggle for liberation.

Sustainable movements for justice require us to be strategic. It is not practical or helpful for us to upend our lives, but we need to be realistic with ourselves about what amount of risk we actually have the privilege to take on. If you cannot protest, and you have already called your representative, find each and every opportunity in your life to keep this issue alive: Speak up in your classes, challenge your peers, start conversations with friends and family members, keep yourself up to date, post on social media — then post again. 

Be critical of what you consume and what you perpetuate, but remember now is not the time to limit discourse, least of all your own voice. Small actions matter more than you think. While you alone cannot stop a genocide, you can ensure our political leaders know that everyone is watching their every move. Do not stop talking about Palestine.

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