As Israel’s war on Gaza continues to rage, there has been a global spike in violent speech online and violence in the streets, including increasing antisemitism, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. Within mainstream political discourse in Europe and North America, the dehumanization of Palestinian men, in particular, has been normalized, both intentionally and subconsciously.
Take, for example, the recent interview between British journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer and Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti. Hartley-Brewer, known for her pattern of pro-Israeli bias on air, repeatedly shouted at Barghouti. At one point in the interview she asserted, “Maybe you’re not used to women talking, I don’t know,” and then ended the segment abruptly by stating, “Sorry to have been a woman speaking to you.” Video of this exchange has gone viral.
It is clear from the video that Hartley-Brewer’s attacks are a non sequitur based on her own racist assumptions about the presumed sexism of all Arab men, rather than a response to any specific dynamics in her conversation with Barghouti.
This follows a series of videos in which Stuart Seldowitz, former deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs and former National Security Council official under the Obama administration, is seen harassing a halal food vendor in New York City on several occasions. In one video, Seldowitz, after learning that the vendor is Egyptian, then asked him, “Do you rape your daughter, like Mohammed did?” In another video, Seldowitz, referring to the ongoing Israeli violence in Gaza, asserted to the vendor, “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It wasn’t enough.”
Seldowitz has since apologized for his remarks, denied being Islamophobic and has attempted to rationalize his treatment of the vendor. On November 22, New York police arrested Seldowitz and he was later released without bail and faces “two counts of fourth-degree hate crime/stalking and one count of second-degree aggravated harassment,” according to CNN.
Meanwhile, Julia Hartley-Brewer has not yet issued an apology to Mustafa Barghouti for her breakdown of journalistic ethics. Like Seldowitz, Hartley-Brewer espouses a rhetoric — with an ideology undergirding it — that blames Palestinian and Arab men for the mistreatment of the women and children in their midst while simultaneously supporting Israel’s violence against those women and children. Barghouti’s class position compared to the street vendor does not shield him from the routinized and public pathologization of Arab men.
Barghouti is a physician and politician who is tremendously well-respected in Palestinian society. His wife, Rita Giacaman, founded the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University for many years and is a formidable Palestinian civil society leader. Together, they raised a remarkable daughter, Dia Barghouti, who is now a doctoral candidate at the University of London. For all of his life, Barghouti has been surrounded by strong Arab women. One can assume that Hartley-Brewer is unaware of this.
Hartley-Brewer’s comments instrumentalized tropes regarding Arab male mistreatment of women to advance her anti-Palestinian racism, just as Seldowitz’s comments deployed tropes regarding Arab male mistreatment of children to advance his anti-Palestinian racism. Surely, there are plenty of Arab men who are patriarchal and misogynist, and there are plenty who aren’t, yet many Western political and media elites cannot imagine the existence of the latter, let alone the existence of empowered Arab women. The elision of Palestinian men’s humanity becomes a deliberate choice in service of violence against all Palestinians — whether they are armed or unarmed and man, woman or child.
Hartley-Brewer’s outburst on air reflects a pattern of contempt for all Palestinian lives — not just men — and is shared by other figures in Western centers of power and influence like Seldowitz. While Seldowitz’s actions reflect a pulse among those who wield policy leverages over the fates of Palestinians, Hartley-Brewer’s actions reflect a pulse among those who wield leverage in shaping representations of Palestinians in the mainstream. These discourses have direct consequences as they constitute forces of dehumanization of and violence against Palestinian communities.
When figures such as French President Emmanuel Macron ostensibly have positive intentions in urging Israel to stop “killing babies and women” in Gaza in an interview with BBC, the erasure of men, whether intentionally or unintentionally, subsequently establishes an assumption that all Palestinian men are legitimate targets of Israeli violence. With Israel’s genocidal violence continuing in Gaza, statistics of Palestinian casualties espoused by Western states, the press and even humanitarian organizations often disaggregate the data to cite numbers of women and children killed or injured. Subsequently, the lack of specification of male victims then often conjures images of Hamas militants. The possibility of a Palestinian male civilian becomes increasingly incomprehensible — and the humanity of Palestinian men writ large is therefore called into question. This ultimately inflicts more harm against Palestinian women and children; caring for them necessitates caring for the men in their lives. After all, women and children care for the well-being of their fathers, sons, husbands, uncles, nephews, cousins and neighbors. And as the track records of Hartley-Brewer and Seldowitz demonstrate, complicity with violence against Palestinians includes the targeting of not just men but also women and children. In fact, 70 percent of deaths in Gaza as a result of Israeli bombardment are now women and children.
Many Palestinians cherish our feminist commitments alongside our commitment to the Palestinian national struggle for freedom and dignity. We know that despite the harshness of the realities in Palestine, countless Palestinian men hold onto tenderness each and every day, as they care for the wounded and traumatized, as they document atrocities, as they attend to the ruins in their midst, and even as they attend to their pets. In another viral video circulating among Palestinians since the beginning of this most recent horror in Gaza, a girl is rescued from underneath the rubble of her home. As she’s being transported on a stretcher, she asks the young man carrying her in Arabic, “Uncle, are you taking me to the cemetery?” He then gently responds, “Cemetery, what cemetery! Look at you, you are alive and beautiful like the moon.”
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