MALAIKA MAHLATSI | Israel-Palestine conflict: A tale of two narratives
Over the last two weeks, the world has had a front-row seat to an unfolding genocide taking place in Palestine.
Having emigrated to Germany a few months ago, I’ve had the misfortune of not only watching this genocide unfold but doing so from a country not only complicit in the ongoing genocide but one that set parameters for the occupation of Palestine by Israel in the first place.
To understand the ongoing genocide and the resistance efforts of the Palestinian people, it’s important to have an appreciation of the ways in which Nazi Germany facilitated the emigration of European Jews to Palestine and the destruction that followed.
This is important for situating the historical basis of the genocide, and for understanding how the Israel-Palestine conflict is not simply a religious war as many want to position it, but a colonial struggle between an occupying power and an occupied people.
The formation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine had been the goal of Zionists since as far back as the 19th century.
In 1917, the US government adopted the Balfour Declaration, which supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in historical Palestine.
The state of Israel was established in May 1948 following a proclamation by the head of the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion, with the support of the United States government of President Harry S. Truman, who gave official recognition to the new nation on its very first day of existence.
Until then, Britain had held a colonial mandate for Palestine, and was initially opposed to the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine for the purpose of preserving its own political and economic interests in historical Palestine (it is important to note that historical Palestine, though not officially established due to the British Mandate, was multi-cultural and diverse, with Muslims, Christians, Jews, and other people co-existing).
This opposition would change in 1946, following the establishment of a special cabinet committee established by Truman, in which the US and British governments (with the latter having established a similar parallel committee) negotiated the partitioning of Palestinian land to make allowance for the resettling of European Jews who had been displaced by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.
Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically murdered approximately six million Jews across German-occupied Europe and displaced many others. But even before then, by the early 1930s, anti-Jewish laws and a nationwide pogrom of the German Reich under the leadership of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler forced thousands of Jews to emigrate.
By the end of World War II in 1945, millions of European Jews had been scattered, re-igniting the debate around their resettlement to historic Palestine.
The resettlement of European Jews that ultimately led to the establishment of Israel three years after the end of the Nazi regime was a violent process. It was anchored on the Nakba, also known as the Palestinian catastrophe.
The Nakba describes the events of the 1948 (and ongoing) occupation that saw the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians. By 1949, almost a million Palestinians were violently uprooted from their homes. Today, there are over seven million Palestinian refugees – those displaced during the Nakba, and their descendants who have been rendered stateless by the Israeli state that has continued to violently annex parts of Palestine and claim them as Israeli territory.
This is despite the fact that since the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel in 1967, the international community has repeatedly upheld the need for the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories.
Furthermore, since 1993, the government of Israel has signed peace accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), representing the Palestinian people, aimed at ending the conflict through the implementation of the two-state solution.
The objective of this solution is not only to end the conflict but to affirm the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood that has been upheld by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This legitimacy of statehood was given further support by Security Council Resolution 1397 of 2002, which affirmed the international community’s vision of two states – Israel and Palestine – living side by side within secure and recognised borders.
But all these agreements have been disregarded by Israel, which enjoys the unwavering support of the USA, Germany, and other Western allies. In the last two decades, there has been intensification of the conflict marked by the blockade of Gaza since June 2007, and the tightening of the Israeli movement restrictions in the occupied Palestinian territories which violate all fundamental human rights of Palestinian people.
Furthermore, the Israeli government has continued to establish illegal settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine. Despite this being declared as a “flagrant violation of international law” by Security Council resolution 2334, illegal settlements have continued to be built, displacing scores of Palestinian people who have now been concentrated in the Gaza Strip, referred to Human Rights Watch as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.
It is against this backdrop that the events of the 7th of October 2023 occurred. On the said day, Hamas (officially the Islamic Resistance Movement), a political and military organisation governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories, launched an unprecedented attack in Israel, killing over a thousand people and capturing many others.
The attack came amid rising tensions between Israel and Palestine. This year has been the deadliest year on record for Palestinians. According to the UN, 2023 has seen the highest daily average of settler-related incidents affecting Palestinians since 2006, with more than a thousand displaced between January and August.
The displacement is the result of factors, including the systematic starvation of Palestinians by the Israeli government through the destruction of crops, the expansion of illegal settlements into grazing fields of Palestinians, prevention of access to land, physical attacks against residents in occupied Palestine, and the damage of their properties. Furthermore, thousands of Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons, where they endure torture and arbitrary detention.
The attack on Israel by Hamas precipitated the ongoing genocide that is now occurring, which has led to at least 4,500 deaths in Gaza and occupied West Bank, including over 1,500 children and at least 1,000 women.
More than 14,000 Palestinians have been injured, including 2,000 children.
The Israeli government has vowed to wipe Palestine off the face of the earth. The continuing raids and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the bombing of hospitals by the Israeli army, and the humanitarian crisis across much of occupied Palestine indicate the commitment to this promise.
Across the Western world, the narrative of an Israel whose right to exist must be supported is cemented.
Nowhere is this more pronounced than in Germany, where the government not only declared its support to the Israeli government, but also went on to institute bans on pro-Palestinian rallies and any form of support, while allowing for pro-Israel activities that have been happening across the country.
German institutions and companies have also come out in full support of Israel, to the complete disregard of the thousands of Palestinians who are on the receiving end of colonial occupation and settler violence. Even in higher learning institutions, the pro-Israeli sentiment is intense, suffocating and silencing any support for even the most basic of demands – the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow for much-needed humanitarian aid to Palestinians, who are being systematically starved, shut off from the world, and denied medical treatment.
The right to exist is supported only in the context of Israel, while the right to exist for Palestine is disregarded. By extension, while Israelis are being supported to protect their right to occupy, Palestinians are being punished, and labeled “terrorists” for maintaining their right to resist.
The double standards are not only appalling but are a reflection of the historical racist attitudes that persist in Germany and the West, rooted in the idea that the lives of people of the global majority (or people of colour) are insignificant.
In Germany particularly, the struggle against Zionism is intentionally made synonymous to anti-semitism due to the country’s own battle with its conscience.
German guilt over the Holocaust has not only made the country one of the greatest supporters of Zionism in all its violence, but it also emboldens Israel to continue the genocide that the world is witnessing today.
I flew back to South Africa a few days ago for personal reasons and was struck by how differently the genocide is being reported here. The support for Palestine is cemented, and has made it impossible for even the most regressive media houses to sustain the pro-Israel rhetoric that suffocates us in Germany. Traversing the geographies of the West and the global South makes it clear that “the Israel-Palestine conflict is being fought not only between militaries and fighters on the ground, but also between media narratives on the air”, to quote author and journalist Rami G. Khouri.
These narratives reflect the values of these different geographies, with Germany and the West revealing their deeply embedded racist attitudes and belief in the protection of the human rights of some, while South Africa and countries of the global South demonstrate their commitment to justice, solidarity with the oppressed people of the world, and a genuine belief in the need to protect the human rights of all people.
It is a reminder to all of us, particularly those of us who now live in the West, that economic development doesn’t go hand-in-hand with humanity.
With all that is wrong in South Africa and in developing countries across the global South, we have maintained our sense of humanity and commitment to justice.
It is a virtue we must never lose – and one that must continue to shape the progressive posture of most of our media, scholars and general public which sees the situation in Palestine for what it is: a genocide against an oppressed people by a colonial settler and an apartheid state.
Malaika is a geographer and researcher at the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.