Palestinian panel urges media to describe Israel’s actions as ‘settler-colonialism’

An illustration of a blind folded man wearing a red bandana, a white shirt and a black hoodie surrounded by police officers in helmets and vests. One of the officers' has a green sleeve. The bandana, white t-shirt, hoodie and green sleeves are the only coloured parts of the illustration and form the Palestinian flag.A webinar hosted by the activist group Labour4Palestine featured four panel speakers from Palestine. Photo from Labour4Palestine’s Twitter.

Education, Justice, Politics

Labour4Palestine, a pan-Canadian network of labour activists who work in solidarity with Palestine, hosted an online panel featuring four Palestinian speakers on May 22.

The panel was organized in response to the increasing violence in the Israel-Palestine region. The heightened violence lasted for 11 days before a cease-fire came into effect on May 21. Around 240 people died, most of whom were Palestinians in the territory of Gaza.

One of the main themes of the Labour4Palestine panel was the shifting narrative around the recent violence against Palestinians. 

Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer and activist from Jerusalem, said that mainstream media describing the situation as “settler-colonialism” and apartheid will help the international community better understand the Palestinian struggle. 

“I am very excited by all the international campaigns,” El-Kurd said. “We are finally in a moment, I believe, where the Palestinian struggle for liberation is mainstream. We go back and forth between the mainstream… we’re entering the mainstream as a liberationist movement. Our vocabulary of settler colonialism that we’ve always used is finally turning the tide.” 

Budour Hassan, a Palestinian writer, feminist and legal researcher repeated El-Kurd’s sentiment. She said that the youth who are using the language of colonialism and apartheid are bravely spreading the truth of the situation. 

“These young women and men, many of them teenagers, are doing things that my generation did not have the courage to do,” Hassan said. “They saw on their flesh and their skin and in their bruised bones that [the old] vocabulary has done nothing.”

“They are using the language of liberation and re-articulating their courage. They are not waiting for anyone’s permission to narrate their story,” Hassan continued. 

Although Palestinian activists are encouraged by the shifting narrative, pro-Israel sources disagree with characterizing the conflict as colonialism and apartheid. According to an article by the Times of Israel, Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that claims of apartheid are false because all citizens are equal before the law regardless of ethnicity. 

Canadian pro-Israel sources also said that the shifting narrative was false. Adir Krafman, from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Canadian advocacy group, said that using the language of apartheid and colonialism oversimplifies the situation. 

“It’s difficult to look at a conflict that is so complex and so longstanding,” Krafman said. “What this narrative does is it reduces the conflict to a wrong understanding of what it is. It looks at it through an oppressor and oppressed lens or a settler and colonial lens. But in reality, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is one in which two legitimate people are in dispute over a territory for which both people have a deep and indigenous connection to the land.” 

Riham Abu Aita, a Palestinian journalist and speaker at the Labour4Palestine event, said that Palestinians and Israelis are not equally powerful and therefore using the language of colonialism and apartheid is appropriate. 

“They can’t compare the force of one of the most powerful armies in the world with Palestinians,” Abu Aita said. 

Krafman said that the language of colonialism is especially problematic when describing the situation in Sheikh Jarrah. Krafman said the issue is a private land dispute. 

“It is not something that is being driven forward by any Israeli official,” Krafman said. “This is a private legal matter. The narrative that is being pushed forth is a false narrative that this is a coordinated attempt to push people out of their homes.”

Accounts from people in Sheikh Jarrah indicate that state force is being used. El-Kurd described the situation during the Sunday panel. He said that Palestinians, including medics and journalists, are not being allowed into the neighbourhood. 

“Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosm of Israeli settler-colonialism everywhere in historic Palestine,” El-Kurd said. “We see the manifestation of police brutality and excessive force by the Israeli state. We also see it in the apartheid system I described.”  

Abu Aita said she hopes people will not be confused about what is happening to Palestinians. She said it is not hard to describe what is happening. 

“It’s an occupation. We are occupied and we are victims,” Abu Aita said.

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