Ultimately, the responsibility for the war in Gaza lies with Western political leaders.
Like most engaged world citizens regardless of age, race, gender, religion, and political affiliation, I have been glued to social media and TV screens since Saturday October 7.
It was instantly clear that what we are witnessing is by far the biggest game changer for the whole region (and beyond) that we have witnessed within the past five decades. Even though no one can predict the outcome, it is certain to say that it will be grim.
Ever since I set foot in the region as a young teen, I got hooked.
I grew up with Zionist history. I believed in the narrative it perpetuated. I was never exposed to any other stories and conversations. It was only after staying in the region that my eyes opened to new narratives, and as a result I, as a young Dane, decided to major in Middle Eastern studies. I studied the language (although still broken), the culture, the politics, the economics, and the religion. I have dedicated the last 40-something- years of my life to work in and with the region.
Unabatedly, I am an old white privileged male. I was in academia for years focusing my research on Palestinian politics. For the past two decades I worked in civil society dealing with contemporary Middle Eastern arts and culture and ever since, I have been heavily engaged with supporting independent media in the region. Having done such work on the ground has been incredibly rewarding and inspirational.
Through these experiences, I have met some of the most inspirational and courageous people one can ever imagine. In many ways, I know the region better than my own society, and maybe that is why I constantly fail to understand what is going on in the North. Despite of studies, engagement, and age, I am simply bewildered about not only the Danish government and their position on the Palestine conflict (and the region more broadly), but rather bewildered by the whole Western world and their apparent lack of willingness and ability to take off the colonial glasses and reflect to change their old-school predictable discourse.
Israel celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier this year. It is a beloved nation in the West, and this is clearly evident during these times. World leaders from the West have lined up to express their unequivocal support for Israel’s right to respond to Hamas’ attacks – without consideration for the civilian population of Gaza, and to implement a “forced evacuation” of over one million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip – the world’s largest and most monitored open-air prison. The media, with few exceptions, provide one-sided and uncritical coverage.
We are only at the beginning of the war. More abuses and human rights violations await the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. The steadfast Western support for Israel is not new, but it has reached new heights in the aftermath of Hamas’ response to decades of confinement and hopelessness for millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. There is no doubt that Hamas crossed the line in terms of what legitimate means an occupied people can use against an occupying power. It is asymmetric warfare at its worst. Israel is shaken and will never be the same again. The first 48 hours were unprecedented. The military superpower was brought to its knees by a suppressed non-state actor. However difficult it is to understand here in the North, for a majority of ordinary secular Palestinians, it was a time of great smiles and uncomfortable joy rarely felt. Not because they sympathize with Hamas in any way, nor because they are bloodthirsty Arabs who loathe Israelis or Jews and wish them dead. The reason lies elsewhere. For more than 75 years, Israel, with impunity, has deprived the Palestinians of their fundamental rights. They have been humiliated, stripped of their humanity, their dignity, their land, and their hope. All they have left is their steadfast conviction that it is Palestinian land and will always be. But we, in the West, are blinded. We see nothing, and we hear nothing – and haven’t for decades. At least that’s the case at the center of power.
Although it is clear from global polls that about half of the Western world’s populations do not care – let alone know much about the conflict – it is still evident that there is a remarkable discrepancy between the public’s view of the conflict and the actions of elected officials. Support for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians is much more widespread today than in previous generations, but in contrast, most elected officials in the West unconditionally support Israel. In most matters, the elected officials in the West are very attentive to public opinion, but not when it comes to Israel. Special rules apply here, they always have, and the ongoing war is no exception. But can it really be true?
Can we accept the continuation of:
75 years of violations, where ethnic cleansing, annexation, occupation, settlements, killings, and imprisonments are part of daily reality?
An Israeli right-wing government where illegal settlers set the agenda?
A state that consistently violates international law and the legitimate rights of the Palestinians?
The dehumanization of an entire people led by Israeli political leaders?
The Israeli retaliation against a civilian population in Gaza, framed as self-defense?
The fact that civilian Palestinians are once again killed by the thousands?
Western states suppressing their own people’s right to distance themselves from the ongoing aggression, as is the case in, for example, Germany and France, suppressing those parts of the population that do not subscribe to Israel’s oppression?
Increasing tendencies towards McCarthyism, where critics withdraw from the debate for fear of consequences?
Can we live with the fact that:
75 years of Israeli military oppression does not matter and it’s all Hamas’ responsibility?
Unequivocal support for the Israeli occupying power leads to deeper rifts in our own society?
Faith in democratic states is declining – not only in the Middle East but also among larger segments of the population in the West?
We fundamentally bear the responsibility for this human catastrophe due to our (deliberate) blindness?
Support for Israel creates instability and division in our own backyard?
We have allowed Israel to expand settlements?
The escalation eventually does not benefit Israel as “normalization” with the Arab world and countries like Saudi Arabia will not materialize?
States we do not trust, Russia and China, gain increased influence in the southern hemisphere because they are now the only ones asking critical questions?
We are devoid of historical perspective?
We see the world in black and white?
All morality is set aside?
our public service media temporarily forgets what professional journalism is about?
When the dust settles, we are left with irreparable damage?
Can we live with it at all? And can we live with ourselves?
And all this because the center of power and the leaders of the Western world unreservedly support Israel’s oppression and continued occupation. War crimes are playing out in plain view, and Western leaders are implicitly guilty. This is only the beginning. There will be an aftermath, and the first steps towards lawsuits against Western politicians as accomplices are already underway. They still have a chance to reconsider their support for the ongoing Israeli war crimes and change the course of history after 75 years of oppression and impunity for systematic abuse and discrimination.
Michael Irving Jensen is a Danish scholar and civil society professional. He has written numerous articles and books focusing on Palestinian politics. He holds a PhD in Middle East History from the University of Copenhagen, and an MA in Development Studies from SOAS, London.