The past few weeks have seen settler colonialism in action, as a Jerusalem District Court ruling demanded the expulsion of a number of Palestinian families from their homes in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. These same Palestinians, displaced from Yafa and Haifa in 1956 under a Jordanian mandate, were set to be forcefully removed from their homes by settlers with the enforcement of the Israeli police force, although the higher ruling on the expulsions has now been delayed. Naturally, this sparked outrage and led to many families and locals mobilizing to protest yet another step toward the annexation of East Jerusalem.
A stone’s throw away, in Al-Aqsa Mosque, worshippers attending night prayers in the holy month of Ramadan were met with sound bombs and tear gas deployed by armed soldiers. The violence has now escalated to rocket fire from Hamas and Israel’s air strikes. As of Tuesday, these incidents had resulted in the death of twenty-four Palestinians, including nine children, and hundreds injured, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.
Many mainstream news outlets have phrased these recent events as a “clash” or a “conflict” over “evictions,” headlining words that contribute to a linguistic environment known far too well. These words are successful in one thing: the whitewashing and downplaying of a neo-colonialist ethnostate, making the continued oppression of Palestinians and denial of their human rights an international normality.
The normalization of colonialism begins where it always has: in language. These language choices, be they irresponsible or just ignorant, reinforce the notion that this is a conflict in which both sides have the means to be equally violent toward each other. But the fact of the matter is that Israel is one of the most militarized occupying nations in the world, backed with billions of dollars and weapons from the United States. The power dynamic that Western society at large believes in simply does not exist, and the lack of understanding is a consequence of decades’ worth of conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism, which deflects the conversation away from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
The mainstream media is habitually attached to diverting almost every conversation about the death of Palestinians toward Hamas and its rockets. On the morning of May 11, the head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK, Husam Zomlot, was on BBC Newsnight, explaining that the reactionary measures of the group (which was initially financed by Israel in its desperation to counter the secularists in the Palestinian Liberation Organization) should not outweigh the human rights violations that occur on a daily basis and result in a growing death toll. Palestine does not find itself in a power vacuum suddenly governed by Hamas: it is an intentionally destabilized region, much of which functions as an open-air prison for Israel to control.
This repetitive line of questioning tends toward gaslighting, whether intentional or otherwise, and the widespread refusal to acknowledge Israel’s criminal actions are part of how the occupation has metastasized into a paradox: in one instance, these “clashes” are reported in a sensationalist frenzy; in another, the death of Palestinians is a regular and mundane occurrence.
In the UK, center-left politicians have refused to take a strong stance against the apartheid government. Days after Jeremy Corbyn implored President Joe Biden to apply “enormous pressure and influence on the Israeli government,” Keir Starmer, the current Labour leader, tweeted a lukewarm acknowledgment of the violence. Starmer’s request for the Israeli government to “work with Palestinian leaders to de-escalate tensions” conforms to the perception that the Israeli government wants to work with Palestinian leaders — but only a year ago, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed, “We are the ones dictating security rules . . . They will remain Palestinian subjects.”
The consequence of this linguistic wrangling is that Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land, which breaks international law, becomes palatable. Palestinians have attempted to combat this suppression via social media with videos and hashtags, such as #SaveSheikhJarrah, documenting the graphic brutality unfolding around them. But many have been met with censorship: some posts were hidden, and others were deleted. The silencing of dissent through the digital sphere is yet another dangerous form of systemic control, negating freedom of speech and limiting the freedom of the press.
Israel’s actions center around a dogma with which neo-colonialists can all align themselves. When it commits its crimes, the refusal to see illegality and inhumanity in its ongoing occupation of Palestine becomes the standard. The colonizer has been the protagonist in our media discourse for so long that the words write themselves. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is sinister in all its forms, but the manipulation of language to turn a people whose dignity and humanity has been stripped for over seventy years into villains is particularly abhorrent.