Ignoring Palestinian deaths is fuelling Islamophobia

Ignoring Palestinian deaths is fuelling Islamophobia
5 min read
09 Apr, 2019
Comment: Failing to report on the deaths of more than 250 unarmed Palestinian civilians deprives audiences of the actual contours of an unequal conflict, CJ Werleman.
The deaths of many Palestinian civilians go unreported by the mainstream media [Getty]
13-year-old Hussein Mohammed Adnan Madi was killed after being shot in the stomach by an Israeli sniper while standing in an open field east of Gaza city on 6 April 2018.

14-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Ayoub was killed after being shot in the head by an expanding bullet fired from an Israeli sniper east of Jabalia on 20 April 2018.

12-year-old Majdi Ramzi was killed after being shot in the head by an Israeli sniper east of Rafah on 27 July 2018.

On Saturday 30 March, Israeli snipers shot and killed four Palestinian youths, each under the age of 20, including three of whom were teens, alongside another 40 injured.

Each of the deceased is now buried in graves side-by-side to the more than 250 unarmed Palestinian protesters shot and killed by Israeli snipers since the Great Return March began in Gaza one year ago.

Allow me to emphasise this point: In the past year, Israeli snipers have gunned down more than 250 unarmed Palestinians, including journalists, medics, school teachers, and children, which the UN has said "may amount to war crimes."

Last month, UN investigators issued a statement claiming it had found "reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognisable as such."

Again, let this wash over you for just a moment: Unarmed Palestinians, who are permanently encaged in Gaza by a heavily fortified Israeli "security barrier," one reinforced by electric fences, spot-and-strike automatic machine gun posts, armoured vehicles, tanks, and dozens of the world's most lethal military marksmen, are being gunned down as they march, chant songs and fly flags in an open field, while posing no risk to Israel or its military whatsoever.

In the past year, Israeli snipers have gunned down more than 250 unarmed Palestinians

Worse, these war crimes and crimes against humanity are willingly whitewashed by western mainstream media outlets that choose to deny you information about the names and deaths of those whose lives are snuffed out by those who shoot and murder Palestinians for sport - Israeli snipers.

They are the invisible victims of Israel's brutal and illegal 51-year-long occupation of the Palestinian territories, and one-half decade long blockade and siege of Gaza.

But when Hamas militants, or even groups unaligned to Gaza's political leadership, fire homemade rockets into Israel, which typically hit nothing and injure nobody, then the media goes into overdrive with headlines proclaiming "Israel is under attack." And when Israel responds with drone strikes and shelling, western audiences are told, "Israel has a right to defend itself."

Reporting Israeli-Hamas tit-for-tat violence without contextualizing the disparity in military capability and lethality between the respective belligerents, while at the same time not uttering a single word about the deaths of more than 250 unarmed Palestinian civilians in the past year, not only deprives audiences of the actual contours of the conflict, but also helps fuel Islamophobia in the West, by painting Palestinian Muslims as violent terrorists that must be reckoned with.

For decades, the media has been complicit in furthering Islamophobic tropes by allowing pundits to conflate Muslims, Palestinians, and Islam with terrorism.

In fact, books and documentaries tying Islam to terrorism have become something of a cottage industry which has helped make "radical Islamic terrorism" a popular political talking point throughout the western hemisphere, a phenomena that can be traced back to a US neo-conservative and right-wing Israeli conference on international terrorism in 1979, according to Professor Deepa Kumar, author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire.

This conference, which included notable attendees such as former US President George H. Bush and Likud party founder Menachem Begin, had one specific goal: To reach an agreement whereby right wing parties in Israel and the United States would adopt rhetoric that paints the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and independence as "terrorism", in order to garner western sympathies for Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Five years later, however, at the Second International Conference on Terrorism held in Washington DC, the participants agreed to tie terrorism discourse not only to Palestinian liberation aspirations, but also Islamic and Arab radicalism, notes Kumar.

It was at this conference that Bernard Lewis became the first public intellectual to overtly and directly link terrorism to Islam, by arguing "Islam is a political religion," and thus because terrorism is an act of political violence, the term "Islamic terrorism" applies, while the descriptor Jewish terrorism or Christian terrorism does not.

Dr Remi Brulin, a research fellow at New York University, observes that the term "terrorism" was largely absent from American discourse until the Reagan administration began adopting a "very specific, narrow and ideologically driven understanding of 'terrorism'"  -  one adopted from those tied to the respective neoconservative and Zionist movements.

"The discourse on 'terrorism' is thus full of contradictions, and inconsistencies," notes Brulin. "It is, at heart, the result of a deeply political and ideological process of meaning production, one in which specific political actors, from American neoconservative political operatives to Israeli officials to… the mainstream media, played a central role," adding that its central aim is to "de-humanise, de-politicise and de-legitimise" Palestinian grievances, while at the same time legitimising Israel's violence against them.

They are the invisible victims of Israel's brutal and illegal 51-year-long occupation of the Palestinian territories, and one-half decade long blockade and siege of Gaza.

When the media ignores Israel's terrorism, while simultaneously de-contextualising Palestinian counter-violence, it reinforces the very kind of Islamophobic propaganda that was hatched by neoconservative and Israeli political entities four decades ago, which, in turn, ferments fears westerners have of Islam. We have just recently seen all too clearly how irrational anxieties about Muslim "invaders" helped produce the Christchurch mosque terrorist.

Thus the lesson is clear: Erasing and making invisible the lives of Palestinians not only helps prolong the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also leads to violence against Muslims on the streets of western cities. It's time this lesson was learnt. 

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.