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The end of an era: pro-Palestine language exposes Israel and Zionism

June 4, 2024 at 4:05 pm

A Pro-Palestinian student holds placard saying ”From river to the sea Palestine will be free” as Pro-Palestinians students, holding banners and Palestinian flags, gather to stage Pro-Palestinian demonstration to show solidarity with Palestinians and demand an immediate ceasefire for Gaza in front of the White House in Washington D.C., United States on May 24, 2024 [Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images]

If anyone was to argue that a top Spanish government official would one day declare that, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, it would have seemed ludicrous. But this is precisely how Yolanda Diaz, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, concluded a statement on 23 May, a few days before Spain officially recognised Palestine as a state.

The Spanish recognition of Palestine, along with that of Norway and Ireland, is important. Western Europe is finally catching up with the rest of the world regarding the significance of a strong international position in support of the Palestinian people and in rejection of Israel’s genocidal practices in occupied Palestine.

Equally important, though, is the changing political discourse regarding both Palestine and Israel in Europe and around the world.

Almost immediately after the start of the latest Israeli war on Gaza, some European countries imposed restrictions on pro-Palestinian protests; some even banned the Palestinian flag, which was perceived, through some twisted logic, as an “anti-Semitic” symbol.

The unprecedented solidarity with Israel at the start of the war, however, turned into an outright political, legal and moral liability for the pro-Israel western governments. Thus, a slow shift began, leading to a near-complete transformation in the position of some governments, and a partial but clear shift of the political discourse by others.

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The early ban on pro-Palestinian protests was impossible to maintain in the face of millions of angry European citizens who took to the streets and called on their governments to end their blind support for the occupation state. On 30 May, the mere fact that private French broadcaster TF1 hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led to large, spontaneous protests by French citizens, who called on their media to deny alleged war criminals the chance to address the public on air.

Failing to push back against the pro-Palestine narrative, on 31 May the French government decided to disinvite Israeli arms companies from participating in one of the world’s largest military expos, Eurosatory, scheduled for 17-21 June.

Even countries like Canada and Germany, which supported the Israeli genocide against Palestinians until very recently, also began to change their choice of language. Such a change is happening in Israel itself and among pro-Israel intellectuals and journalists in mainstream media. In a widely read column, New York Times writer Thomas Friedman attacked Netanyahu in March, accusing him of being the “worst leader in Jewish history, not just in Israeli history.”

Unpacking Friedman’s statement requires another column, for such language continues to feed on the persisting illusion, at least in his mind, that Israel serves as a representation, not simply of its own citizens, but also of all Jews, past and present.

As for the language used in Israel, it is coalescing into two major and competing discourses: one irrationally ruthless, represented by far-right Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, and, in fact, by Netanyahu himself; and another which is more pragmatic, albeit equally militant and anti-Palestinian. While the first group would like to see Palestinians slaughtered in large numbers or wiped out by a nuclear bomb, the other realises that the military option, at least for now, is no longer viable.

“The Israeli army does not have the ability to win this war against Hamas, and certainly not against Hezbollah,” Israeli Army Reserve Major General Yitzhak Brik told Maariv on 30 May. Brik, one of Israel’s most respected military men, is but one of many such individuals who are now essentially repeating the same wisdom.

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Strangely, when Israel’s Minister of Heritage Amihai Eliyahu suggested the “option” of dropping a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip, his words reeked of desperation, not confidence.

Prior to the war, the Israeli political discourse regarding Gaza revolved around specific terminology: “deterrence”, for example, represented in the occasional one-sided war, often referred to as “mowing the lawn”, “security” and “self-defence”.

Billions of dollars have been generated over the years by war profiteers in Israel, the US and Europe, all in the name of keeping Gaza besieged and subdued. Now the name of the game is all about existential wars, the future of the Jewish people, and the possible end of Israel, if not Zionism itself.

While it is true that Netanyahu fears that an end to the war will be a terrible conclusion to his supposedly triumphant legacy as the “protector” of Israel, there is more to the story. If the war ends without Israel restoring its so-called deterrence factor and security, it will be forced to contend with the fact that the Palestinian people cannot be relegated to the status of nonentities, and that their legitimate rights cannot be overlooked or otherwise violated.

For Israel, such a realisation would be an end to its settler-colonial project, which began more than a hundred years ago.

Moreover, the perceptions and language pertaining to Palestine and Israel are changing among ordinary people across the world. The misconception of the Palestinian “terrorist” is being replaced by the very accurate depiction of the Israeli as a war criminal, a categorisation that is now consistent with the views of the world’s main international legal institutions.

Israel now stands in near-complete isolation, due, in large part, to its genocide in Gaza, as well as the courage and steadfastness of the Palestinian people. To that must now be added global solidarity with the Palestinian cause. It really is the end of an era.

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