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Letter to the Editor: The Gaza narrative, dissecting the humanitarian crisis in Palestine 

People are left without basic human needs. Hospitals, refugee camps, and neighbourhoods all flattened, leaving thousands among thousands dead. All in broad daylight, yet many people turn a blind eye. 

When discussing the Israeli agenda and the voices of Jewish people, it is vital to discern the differences between Zionism and anti-semitism. With the terms “anti-semitic” and “anti-zionist” being thrown around so loosely, the distinction between them begins to blur, but let it be clear: the disdain felt towards Israel has no roots in anti-semitism. Zionism, by definition, is a political movement that was initially begun to establish an independent state for only Jewish people, and now supports the development and protection of Israel. Anti-semitism, on the other hand, concerns prejudice, hostility, or discrimination towards Jewish people on religious, cultural, or ethnic grounds. Challenging Israel’s disregard for Palestinian life and international law does not equate to anti-semitism. In actuality, the state and practices of Israel stand in stark opposition to that of Judaism, thus challenging the ideology does not equate to an attack on Jewish people. Many Jews rightfully decry the state of Israel and its merciless actions toward Palestinians and are actively engaged in the Palestinian movement.  

An essay published by Edward W. Said, titled “Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims” carefully distinguishes between Zionism as a political movement, and Judaism as a religion. Said, a Harvard and Princeton-trained literary critic of the 20th century, particularly recognized that Zionism’s implementation in Palestine is a political and settler-colonialist project. Further, Said emphasized that this is not to be conflated with the religious and ethical traditions of Judaism. His work echoes that anti-zionism, focusing on opposition to the political ideology and workings of the state of Israel, fundamentally differs from anti-semitism, a form of bigotry and prejudice against Jews. The essay’s publication date? 1979, long surpassing this year’s Oct. 7th attack. 

Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 this year did not kickstart Israel’s disproportionate response and utter lack of human life. Rather this has been going on for more than 75 years since Israel’s creation in 1948. Shortly after Israel’s creation, events known as the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) took place, where over 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their land. Since then, Israel has continued to push further into indigenous Palestinian land, with 85 per cent of the land now being occupied and under Israeli military control, violating the Fourth Geneva Convention

According to international law, Israel can not simultaneously exercise control and occupation over a territory and then claim “self-defence”; an oppressor is, by default, on offence rather than defence. Evidence has shown Israel’s indiscriminate use of white phosphorus, an incendiary weapon that has burned civilians to the bone, fired at civilian infrastructure and schools- a direct violation of international humanitarian law. More than 15,000 civilians have been reported dead as of Nov. 27, with Gaza’s population facing starvation and life-threatening illnesses due to the limited food, water, and medical aid. This series of events highlights that Israel’s agenda stretches far beyond its claims of targeting Hamas. IDF spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, stated that Israel dropping the equivalence of two nuclear bombs on the Gaza strip was done with an emphasis “on damage and not on accuracy”, directly exposing that their mission is not to eradicate Hamas, but innocent Palestinian lives. 

There is a stark difference in experience between the oppressed and the oppressors. There is a stark difference between living in a besieged strip of a densely populated 2.3 million and those who are able to move freely. There is a stark difference between those living between checkpoints and segregated roads and those who do not. 

International humanitarian groups, including Amnesty International, have described Israel to be an apartheid state. The term “apartheid” originated from the South African government’s systematic oppression of Black residents, and is a violation of public international law and a crime against humanity. South Africa’s apartheid government-sanctioned racial segregation, along with political and economic discrimination against nonwhites. Amnesty International, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian organization, released a 280-page report detailing Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians, with the information compiled over a four-year investigation. The report goes on to explain Israel’s crimes against humanity under both the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute, including forcible transfers, administrative torture, and denial of basic rights and freedoms. Section 4 thoroughly explains apartheid political systems, and the three international treaties that prohibit and criminalize apartheid: the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (Apartheid Convention) and the Rome State of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute). 

Recently, Hamas and Israel have struck a deal: a four-day pause in exchange for the release of hostages on both sides. However, it must be noted that the Palestinians released by Israel were held long before Oct. 7th; United Nations expert, Francesca Albanese, states that Israeli occupation forces detain an average of 500 to 700 Palestinian children annually. In a Special Rapporteur detailing the situation of human rights in Palestine since 1967, the severe physical and psychological torture faced by Palestinian children due to Israel’s occupation is explained. Today, around 8,300 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jail cells. Put quantitatively, Hamas would release just over 20 per cent of the hostages taken (50 out of 240 total hostages), whereas Israel would release 1.8 per cent (150 out of the total 8,300 hostages). It did not take long for Israel to violate the short-term truce deal: Israeli snipers shot at and killed Palestinians in Gaza, including children, and aid trucks were prevented from reaching areas in northern Gaza.

As students who are a part of an academic institution, we should call out genocide for what it is, rather than give out empty statements that attempt to recognize the truth and reconcile, after the fact. We study colonization within our classrooms, learning about the policies that allowed for subjugation, and the propaganda that allowed them to take place, and yet our institutions will refuse to call the situation for what it is: genocide. It’s imperative for us to reflect on lessons from our Canadian past so that we can prevent or at least acknowledge further ethnic cleansing that’s happening today.

Acknowledgement and educating the public about the Palestinian cause is essential in cultivating sincere empathy and creating sustainable solutions. Our responsibility as humans, before anything else, is to educate ourselves further. For those wishing to do exactly that, more resources are available. 

By Sajida Alkadri in collaboration with the Muslim Student’s Association (MSA) and the Palestine Advocacy Club

Letters to the Editor published in the Gauntlet do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board. The Gauntlet retains the right to edit submissions for brevity and clarity.

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