On October 7th, the Al-Qassam Brigades (military wing of Hamas) carried out a military operation known as the Al-Aqsa Flood. In an unprecedented move, Hamas fighters crossed the Gaza border into occupied Israeli territory, targeting closeby settlements. The international community has responded with outrage and reaffirmed unconditional support for Israel.

In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel was officially at war. The reality is, however, that this war has already been taking place for decades. But with one of the strongest militaries in the world, Israel has always been the dominant oppressor with little to fear. And now, it seems that Hamas (the Palestinian political and militant organization governing Gaza) is fighting back.

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False narratives

When it comes to the situation in Palestine and Israel, a common false narrative is typically distributed. ‘Palestinian terrorists’ are attacking ‘innocent Israelis’, in a war over land between religion or race. This is a dangerous and inaccurate representation, which reduces the war to a conflict of right and wrong. Violent events such as the operation of last weekend are then placed into a vacuum, where historical context is lost. Effectively, this helps to justify the Israeli response as ‘self-defense’. Or rather, it positions Israel in a fragile and innocent corner, submissive to the ‘enemy’. In this dark vicious circle, the oppressors are always held to different standards than the oppressed.

But these individual events cannot be understood as isolated conflicts, when decades of subjugation by Israel preceded them. This thinking of ‘innocent Israel’ being under attack by the dangerous enemy that is supposed to be Hamas, Palestine, or Arabs, reiterates a distorted representation of reality. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that from 2008 up to August of this year, Israel has suffered 308 casualties. Whereas over 6,000 Palestinian lives were lost during the same period. There simply is no comparing, nor can any symmetries be drawn during moments of escalation.

Palestinians are not attacking Israel; they never have. Palestinians are defending their land and people in a fight for freedom. This is a fight against a bloody apartheid regime, against oppression and colonization, against ethnic cleansing. The people of Palestine have every right to defend themselves, just like any other country. But as a global community, when we fail to recognize those rights, we dehumanize the oppressed and support a destructive system of colonization.

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Western hypocrisy 

This selective outrage from the international community is a testament to the hypocrisy that runs through the political veins of most Western countries. Whereas Ukraine could count on unconditional support in the war with Russia, Palestinian lives seem to be easily dismissed. We applauded Ukraine for fighting back, but we now punish Palestine for doing the same.

This is not something new, but rather a pattern that can be observed across different places in the world, all throughout history. When it comes to self-determination and decolonization for people who do not align with the political agenda of dominant Western powers, it seems as if their freedom and emancipation are conditional. The language of the oppressed is policed, voices of the uprising are silenced, and who has the right to exercise violence gets dictated.

Similar things happen to people in places such as the Moluccan Islands, West Papoea, Rakhine Myanmar, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and Nargorno-Karabakh. Those who have been subjected to decades of violent oppression, colonization, and ethnic cleansing, are somehow always condemned for their violence when fighting back. And they can count on little to no support from the international community.

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Imbalance of power

What is happening in Palestine between Hamas and Israel is not about a conflict between two sides. It’s about an imbalance of power. In the West Bank, Palestinians face daily harassment, military control, checkpoints, home invasions, patrols, digital surveillance, unjust incarceration, and segregation. The conflict has never been about two sides, and claiming that it is, is a dangerous rhetoric.

In violation of international law, and with the support of the military, Israel allows illegal outposts in the West Bank. And under Netanyahu’s rule, even some illegal outposts have been redesignated into authorized settlements and attached neighborhoods, all on Palestinian land. These people have been pushed out of their land for decades. Their homes have been stolen, and the world turns a blind eye. If there really are two sides, then both parties should be held accountable for their actions. And that is not the case. Israelis are never asked to condemn their own actions or those of the military. But Palestinians are always expected to condemn the actions of Hamas.

In the last fifteen years, OCHA reports that Israeli forces and settlers have killed over 5,000 people, of which more than a thousand were children. The international community has not questioned these Israeli war crimes, nor has it pushed Israel to stop the illegal settlements on the West Bank. But whenever Palestine defends itself from these atrocities, the world is shocked and outraged. And they justify their outrage and support for Israel through narratives like ‘Palestinian terrorism’, or ‘antisemitism’.

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For 17 years already, the people of Gaza have been imprisoned in an open-air prison, purposely created by Israel to control every aspect of Palestinian life inside. The 41-kilometer strip of land with its 2 million inhabitants is completely locked from land, air, or sea access. It is estimated that half of the Gaza population are children. Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced a total blockade on Gaza, including a ban on food, electricity, water, and fuel. The U.S. and European Union also consider a stop to the aid for Palestinian people living in Gaza and the West Bank.

The violent resistance of Hamas is therefore a logical movement for freedom and a natural response to oppression. It represents a demand for a dignified way of life for the Palestinian people. A life where access to water, electricity, building materials, and medicine is not regulated by Israel like a token of punishment or reward. Because effectively, if these blockades continue, many more innocent Palestinian lives will be lost.

The people of Gaza cannot be expected to comply with this Israeli regime of brutal colonialism. And the only way to break out of this cycle of violence is to end the occupation of Palestine. No lives should be lost, on either side of the fence. But the uncomfortable truth that many of us need to face is that decolonization is not merely an abstract theoretical concept. It is in fact a real act, involving real people, fighting for a real cause. And in this case, it has sadly resulted in too many lives lost.