Western Insistence on the Perfect Palestinian Victim and the Condemnation of Resistance
October 23 2023
blog Series: 

Despite being oppressed and occupied for 75 years, Palestinians have tried everything to remedy their situation through international dialogue, demilitarization, and rescission of multiple demands for the sake of the so-called peace process, and yet, it seems they are not and nor will they ever be, the “perfect victim.” That is, a victim worthy of unwavering support from the international community; at this point, however, it seems they are not victims worthy enough of support in the face of real-time genocide. The international criticism and discussion about the offensive by the Palestinian resistance in illegal settlements surrounding the Gaza Strip have reinforced the idea that even the perfect victim will be vilified as politicians, journalists, pundits, and others demand Palestinians in Gaza — whom Israel is slaughtering by the thousands — to condemn Hamas. While Western states may have deemed Hamas a ‘terror group,’ they were democratically elected in 2006 to govern Gaza, before Israel imposed a complete blockade denying any prosperous future for the strip or a real chance at governance. 

Gaza, in particular, has been under Israeli siege by land, air, and sea for sixteen years; Palestinians there are denied their basic human needs, such as adequate health care, access to clean water and electricity, and the right to live in dignity. From victim blaming to character assassination of a collective resistance movement that does not only include Hamas responding to decades of oppression, the Palestinians are expected to publicly mourn the loss of Israeli civilians, while experiencing death and destruction every single day.

The Palestinians have endured numerous crimes against humanity due to the abject complacency (and occasional participation) of the international community since the inception of the Zionist settler-colonial project in the twentieth century in Palestine. On Oct. 7, Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, and the media, members of academia, and various Western governments and states in the region responded swiftly with condemnations. The narrative conflated Palestinian resistance with extremist Islamist terrorists, going as far as comparing Hamas to ISIS, a dangerous and inaccurate comparison. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated: “Hamas is ISIS, and we’ll defeat it just like the enlightened world defeated ISIS.” The Israeli military and government, along with its supporters, have resorted to blatant lies and disinformation to do so. Those making such claims did not have any verifiable evidence and were coming from so-called credible sources such as heads of state. From resistance fighters “beheading 40 babies,” to them raping Israeli women, the Israeli government has used these blatant — debunked — lies to gain support for their current retaliatory onslaught of the Gaza Strip.

Character Assassination

Lies, with the intention of delegitimizing a resistance against a decades-long expanding settler-colonial state and a sixteen-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, have been spread and repeated by Western media sources and have since been refuted. Furthermore, accusations of mass rape, which have not been verified by a credible source, were retracted by the LA Times, and have been deconstructed in an article by the Interim Revolutionary Feminist Committee (Southern California Chapter):

Even Zionist media sources, such as The Times of Israel, have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that even a single case of rape or sexual assault has occurred at the hands of the Palestinian freedom fighters, much less that it has occurred en masse. In an article posted on October 8, 2023, they reported that such cases are only “suspected.” They state that these “concerns of sexual assault” stem from two sources: (1) a video of a woman with blood on her shorts and (2) an image of a woman lying in a truck. While images coming from a war zone are shocking for mostly everyone, absolutely none of the videos released show any conclusive evidence of sexual assault and nor do they reasonably point to the likelihood of sexual assault occurring. Out of many possible explanations, the imperialist and Zionist media has chosen to speculate that these are evidence of sexual assault. Why? In order to organize masses of people into their narrative that Palestinian freedom fighters are evil, monstrous, terrorists. (Not entirely irrelevant, but still important to note, is that the first video actually appears to show the woman being passed off to an ambulance or medical vehicle.)

To this day, there has been no confirmation or evidence of rapes taking place by Palestinian fighters. Additionally, there are Israelis who have spoken of resistance fighters’ good treatment of them in Israeli media. One Israeli woman, along with her two children, were taken as hostages by fighters and then released a couple of days later, as reported by Al-Jazeera. She describes how she carried one child and the resistance fighter carried the other as they were led to safety.

The spreading of lies and disinformation, in addition to other tactics, such as categorizing all members of the collective resistance as “Hamas terrorists,” frames the situation in a certain, mainstream narrative that dehumanizes Palestinians. Even remarks by the President of the United States, who confirmed having seen (nonexistent) images of “beheaded babies,” were later withdrawn by the White House. This fearmongering allows Israel and its supporters to refer to the incursion as self-defense and a “religious war,” and ignores the context of Palestinians fighting for liberation from their oppressive and cruel conditions under an internationally supported illegal military occupation. This approach dismisses a national liberation movement by using xenophobic tropes and lies to distract from the complicity that Western governments, like the U.S. and other supporters of Israel, now have in the oppression of Palestinians. Beyond Palestine, a six-year-old Palestinian American boy was murdered in Illinois on October 15. His landlord stabbed him twenty-six times while saying, “You Muslims must die!” The boy’s mother was also critically injured. 

Victim Blaming and Collective Punishment

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said during a CNN interview with Jake Tapper that the United States needs to support Israel and Netanyahu. In another instance, Haley said: “I'm always going to come down hard on those who want to kill us. If people think that’s too much — they’ll have to get over it.”  She essentially equated Israelis and Americans as one people. After the attack on Oct. 7, American politicians on both sides came out in swift support of Israel and condemnation of Hamas. Another U.S. Republican presidential candidate and governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, said the U.S. should not take in any refugees from the Gaza Strip because they “are all antisemitic.” Israeli politicians are no different. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, “We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.” And went on to say, “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything will be closed.” The Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, has said, “There is no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. These are blatant calls for mass murder, and what is more shocking is that these calls target a majority refugee population that has experienced displacement and incursions numerous times over decades of settler colonialism. According to journalist Chris McGreal, “The language being used to describe Palestinians is genocidal,” and “I covered the Rwandan genocide as a reporter. The language spilling out of Israel is eerily familiar.” Once again, the media bias is evident not only in its portrayal of the situation but also in its very apparent and differing treatment of the respective parties involved. Its treatment and representation of the Palestinians illustrate classic victim blaming and essentially justify genocide.

At the time of publishing this piece, the death toll in Gaza from indiscriminate Israeli bombardment has surpassed 5,000, the vast majority of whom are civilians, including children, water and electricity have been cut off from the Strip by the Occupation Forces, and the majority of the infrastructure has been so badly damaged that emergency services cannot navigate their way through to save people that may have survived. More than a million people have been displaced with no safe place to go, and Israeli forces have destroyed or damaged 26 health facilities (as of Oct. 17), 25 ambulances, 34 places of worship, and more than 181,000 housing units. Furthermore, entire neighborhoods have been flattened, some areas literal dust and rubble, and while Netanyahu has warned Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate, they have nowhere safe to go. Israel and Egypt control the borders, and Egypt will not open the border (which Israel bombed four times) until Israel allows humanitarian aid into Gaza — 37 aid trucks were eventually allowed into Gaza this weekend, but they are nowhere near enough. 

Initially, the EU halted all aid to Palestine and condemned Hamas but has since retracted its decision, pledged triple the funding, and called on Israel to restrain itself in Gaza. In general, governments in Europe are responding with aggression and violence to pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Rallies in support of Palestine are being banned in places like Germany, France, and the UK. A teacher slapped a child in Germany for carrying a Palestinian flag, and others were arrested for wearing or raising Palestinian symbols. Protests and any physical sign of solidarity with Palestinians are banned in the country for a risk to public order (as did France with the same justification). It is becoming clear that to be Palestinian or sympathize with Palestinians means one will bear the oppression of state powers, and Palestinians will suffer collective punishment for simply existing.

Condemnation Paradigm

As highlighted by the experiences of Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian mission to the UK, in a series of recent interviews with various media outlets, Palestinians are expected to condemn Hamas before being given any space to discuss the genocide occurring against the Palestinians. In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Zomlot was asked: “First and foremost do you condemn what Hamas did inside Israel to Israeli civilians?” During three different interviews, he raised the important point that the media discussion always starts with a narrative that purposefully vilifies Palestinians. In response to a BBC report, Zomlot wrote: “There … right there: All you need to know about how Western mainstream media dehumanizes the Palestinian people. Palestinians ‘die.’ Israelis ‘are killed.’” During an interview with the BBC, he said: “How many times have you interviewed Israeli officials, Lewis? Hundreds of times. Hundreds of times. How many times Israel [has] committed war crimes live on your own cameras? Do you start by asking them to condemn themselves? … It is Palestinians that are always asked to condemn themselves.” Zomlot has criticized the media for equating Israelis (occupiers) and Palestinians (occupied). 

During one interview, he revealed that his cousin, her husband, and two of their children were killed instantly by Israeli bombardment while in their home in Gaza. Two other members of her husband's family were killed, and her two remaining children (two-year-old twins) are in intensive care. This atrocity highlights the power imbalance at play, not just currently but also historically. Palestinians are expected to endure the murder of their loved ones by Israelis calmly, while Israelis are justified in their bloodlust responses to attacks by Palestinians. In behaving as the perfect victim, Palestinians are expected to withstand the injustice of occupation without resisting. Palestinians are not and have never been supported by Western governments, despite their numerous demands for basic human dignity. Under international law, Palestinians have a right to defend themselves and reclaim what has been stolen from them.

About The Author: 

Nadine Sayegh is a multidisciplinary writer and researcher covering the Arab world. For over ten years, she has covered a variety of both social and geopolitical issues including gender in the region, human security, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She holds an MA in Media and the Middle East from SOAS and is a PhD candidate at the University of Toulouse. 

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