The Silenced Voices of the Palestinian Narrative

Cape Town 150416 Amaarah Arendse holding a Palestinian flag at the match. Grand West Casino Security unlawfully detained and assaulted three spectators at an ice hockey tournament between Israel and South Africa for shouting pro Palestinian chants. Photographer: Armand Hough

November, 29th is recognised by the UN as the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”. Amidst this call for solidarity, the voices of the oppressed are simultaneously being silenced. Over recent years we have seen an increase in Zionist attempts to dismiss resistance in the Israeli Apartheid struggle, silencing the voices of Palestinians and disregarding legitimate grievances.

As articles and media campaigns about the Israeli Occupation flood our newsfeeds, it is critical to take a step back and scrutinise the way in which certain narratives are dismissed. Fighting for the right of Palestinians to exist and be recognized is often conflated with anti-Semitism. When people openly criticise the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), or speak out against the violations committed by the IDF, these acts are simply reduced as being anti-Semitic. This rhetoric is often used to dismiss the plight of the Palestinian people. In this vein, we see how the notion of anti-Semitism is misappropriated by nationalists and Zionists to further certain political agendas. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, how can a group of people, who hold so much power and privilege within Israeli society, be subjected to this supposed level of prejudice and discrimination? We need to address how this “anti-Semitic” rebuttal only serves to silence the voices of Palestinians and those in support of a pro-Palestine cause.

Throughout the 69 years of occupation, the Palestinians have been stripped of the fundamental human right to self-determination; their political views and interests stifled. Depictions within the media, highlighting current-day occurrences, are reduced to undignified images of the oppressed thus emphasising their suffering. It is these images that we have become desensitised to. We have normalised the suffering of the oppressed which is telling as to why the Palestinian narrative is rejected within various global conversations. The unequal playing field has ensured that many forms of Palestinian resistance is suppressed; even when resistance takes the form of dialogue. The mere utterance of pro-Palestinian sentiments are often regarded as a personal attack against Israeli identity and it is this kind of thinking that needs to be challenged.

Inherent to any discourse, public opinion is shaped by what the media chooses to highlight and in many cases, the narrative is controlled by those who hold power. It is along this type of trajectory that counter-narratives are called into question and lived realities are disputed. It is this everyday experience of holding a marginalised identity where the lived reality of oppression is immediately called into question by virtue of who you are. It is in light of this that those who actively speak out against the injustices of the Israeli Occupation, find that their concerns are dismissed as invalid. This also points to how the discourse is moulded to create a narrative that is skewed in favour of the oppressors. This “anti-Semitic” rebuttal encapsulates the notion that when one’s existence comes under siege, arguments that aim at invalidating the opposition surface.

At some stage or another, this conversation is going to have to centralise the violation of Palestinian human rights under the repressive Israeli regime and that time is now. How long will this crime against humanity be side-lined within the international agenda? For how long will we continue to ignore the historical context of Israeli colonisation and the continued Occupation, and exploitation of resources and labour? When will the voices of the Palestinian people be prioritised within this discourse? The ongoing denial of Palestinian political expression has contributed to this skewed narrative that dominates media platforms and public opinion worldwide. It is this dominant and skewed narrative that needs to be reshaped to centre the voices of the marginalised.

While the BDS (Boycott Divestment & Sanctions) campaign is growing in solidarity and its message seems to be permeating through numerous spheres of society, one has to question whether or not this is enough. Injustice of this magnitude requires bold and deliberate action; and perhaps a starting point would be to create a space where these marginalised voices are heard.

Jodi Williams and Nargis Motala are Cape town-based activists