Skip to content Skip to footer

What Preceded This Bloodshed in Israel and Gaza Was Not “Peace” — It Was Apartheid

Israel’s plan to treat Palestinians in Gaza as “human animals” and starve them reflects the conditions of apartheid.

A view of debris of a municipality building after Israeli airstrikes in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on October 10, 2023.

Part of the Series

On Saturday, Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel, by land, air and sea. While the full death toll is not yet known, it appears at least 900 Israelis have been killed. Israel has since retaliated with relentless bombings, a ground invasion and a full-scale siege of Gaza aimed at preventing all the Palestinians living there from meeting their basic needs for food, water and electricity.

Palestinian authorities have confirmed that at least 830 Palestinians have been killed, and the Israel Defense Forces announced on the morning of October 10 that it just counted the dead bodies of 1,500 more Palestinians along the Israeli-Gaza border. Many more Palestinian lives will be lost if these bombings and acts of genocidal deprivation continue.

Amid so much devastation, we are reminded that some losses are weighted more heavily than others in the popular imagination and in geopolitical contexts. As Palestinian poet Remi Kanazi recently stated on social media, “What Israelis experienced for a few hours, Palestinians have been enduring for 75 years.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant made it clear that the Israeli military intends to treat Palestinian civilians as subhuman in its response, saying, “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.” Building on this logic, he announced: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.”

Life is precious, and bloodshed and killings are tragic for all. But for some, such losses have been an ongoing way of life. Worse, that perpetual state of loss is often characterized as “peace” by the world at large.

As Israeli journalist Haggai Matar acknowledged on October 7, “The dread Israelis are feeling right now, myself included, is a sliver of what Palestinians have been feeling on a daily basis under the decades-long military regime in the West Bank, and under the siege and repeated assaults on Gaza.”

What Preceded This Bloodshed Was Not “Peace” — It Was the Normalization of Acute Violence

As Native and Black activists and organizers, we know what it is like to be subject to a state of ongoing violence and precarity that is characterized as “peace.” As Mariame has written, Black women in the United States have been treated as though they have “no selves to defend” since the days of slavery. For Black people, taking any action to defend one’s life often comes at the expense of one’s freedom. And just as systemic violence against Black people is invisibilized into the norms of so-called peace, so too is the mass disappearance of Native and Black women, whose abductions and murders have rarely resulted in a national fixation, as was the case for Gabby Petito, a young white woman who suddenly went missing during a road trip in August 2021.

In stark contrast to the thousands of Native and Black women whose abduction and murder has failed to generate mass outrage or attention from corporate media and white-dominated social institutions, Petito’s sudden abduction sparked mass concern because — due to her whiteness — the preciousness of her life was never in question, in the eyes of society. Fear for her well-being and grief for her loss came naturally to our society, in a way that it didn’t following the disappearances of the thousands of Native and Black women who met similar fates.

We see parallels between this disparity and the manner in which Israeli losses have resulted in a global outpouring of grief and concern, while the murder, kidnapping, imprisonment, surveillance, torture and coercion of Palestinians throughout decades of apartheid have gone unmourned by so many who now demand justice in the wake of Israeli deaths.

Infographic: The Human Cost Of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict | Statista

That disparity in preciousness, as it is expressed and experienced by so many people, is tied to the root cause of the violence we are all witnessing. The violence of genocide and apartheid is at the root of what is presently unfolding in Israel and Palestine, and that violence is ongoing. We see it on display as Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant says the Israeli military is “fighting human animals” and we see it as the Israeli military cuts off Gaza’s water supply. We see it when the Israeli military announces that it is willing to kill Israeli captives in its bombardment of Gaza, as Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister agrees, “We have to be cruel now and not consider the captives overmuch.”

When the objective of killing as many Palestinians as possible means more to the Israeli government than saving the very people whose suffering Israel claims to avenge, it is clear we are talking about an endless cycle of murder and domination, the logic of which did not begin mere days ago, when Hamas took violent action.

Many who will acknowledge that Israeli apartheid is wrong have decried the actions of Hamas in recent days, saying, “Not like this.” We understand their anguish over the violence Israelis have experienced. We oppose all war crimes, regardless of who is perpetrating such acts. But we also recognize that Palestinian resistance, in all of its forms, no matter how peaceful or nonthreatening, has been met with deadly violence, deprivation, torture, imprisonment and oppression. The words “not like this” suggest that the Palestinian people have been granted the freedom or the means to effectively pursue their liberation in another manner, and have simply chosen violence. In reality, people living under apartheid conditions, whose suffering is invisibilized into the norms of “peace,” will eventually disrupt that so-called peace. As Jewish author Shane Burley stated this week, “The only lasting peace is a free Palestine.”

As a reflection on how we got here, we would like to share an excerpt from our book, Let This Radicalize You, which addresses how all forms of Palestinian resistance have been characterized as harmful and violent, and met with repression.

The Sweeping Criminalization of Palestinian Resistance

The following is an excerpt from Let This Radicalize You published by Haymarket Books.

On July 31, 2018, Palestinian poet, activist, and filmmaker Dareen Tatour was convicted in an Israeli court of “inciting violence” and “supporting a terrorist organization.” Tatour’s crime, as defined by the state of Israel, took the form of a poem. The poem, titled “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” was written in response to the extrajudicial execution of Palestinian student Hadil Hashlamoun and the burning of two Palestinian children, Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Ali Dawabsha. While the idea of a poem being criminalized may sound unthinkable to some, Israeli investigators argued, “The content, its exposure and the circumstances of its publication created a real possibility that acts of violence or terrorism will be committed.”

Arguing that her work had been mischaracterized, Tatour received support and expressions of solidarity from around the world. She had already been under house arrest for nearly three years at the time of her conviction. She would ultimately serve two months in prison before being released in September 2018.

In 2019, Tatour’s conviction for inciting terrorism via poetry was overturned, while other convictions regarding her social media posts remained intact. It’s important to note that Israel’s belated acknowledgment that Tatour’s poem was not a crime does nothing to address the violence the state of Israel inflicted on Tatour. Her arrest, house arrest, and imprisonment were not undone by the court’s eventual acknowledgment that Tatour had a right to artistic expression. State violence around the world is routinely dealt out in such a manner: the state reserves the right to overstep its own laws, and even when it subsequently acknowledges its mistakes, it has already subjected people to the indignity of arrest, deprived them of their liberty, or subjected them to other violence. Such abuse is intentionally crafted to discourage others from expressing themselves or taking action, because it sends a message: even if the government is in the wrong and is ultimately forced to acknowledge as much, it can make you suffer and ruin your life in the meantime.

In her poem, Tatour wrote,

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my

sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,” Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

There is a long history of the Israeli government seeking to suppress Palestinian art and cultural expression. The U.S. passed similar laws as it sought to stamp out Native cultures in the United States. In Israel, Palestinian activist Lea Kayali told us that, at one time, it was illegal for Palestinians to use the colors of the Palestinian flag—red, white, green, and black—in combination in any single piece of art. “I grew up on stories about [how if] you were stopped with red, white, green, and black paint that you would just claim you were painting watermelons instead. So then watermelons became a symbol of resistance.”

In 1981, Israel Shahak wrote about art being confiscated from Palestinian shops because it was illegal to use the colors white, black, green, and red “too closely” in any publicly displayed work. Other works of Palestinian art were also targeted. As Shahak wrote, “A horse wildly rearing on his hind legs was confiscated because, so the governor said, the name of the picture, which was ‘The Horse Refuses,’ is of course a ‘nationalistic incitement.’”

As Kayali told us, the Israeli government’s definition of violence “contorts itself to repress any and all forms of our resistance.” Kayali explained that even during periods when it was not officially illegal to raise the Palestinian flag, nonstate actors enforce its prohibition by removing or destroying flags that are displayed in public and targeting those who carry them. She noted that this kind of delegated violence, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore would call it, is also occurring in the United States, where nonstate actors have been rallied to enact violence against the same communities targeted by state violence. In Israel, nonstate actors participate in acts of ethnic cleansing, such as the mass theft of Palestinian homes, in which mobs of Israelis invade and move into the homes of Palestinian residents, forcing them from their communities en masse, in addition to other acts of violence.

Given the regular theft and demolition of Palestinian housing, the frequent murder of Palestinians at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces, and the overall violence of Israeli apartheid, one can easily understand why Tatour would write,

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation And deterred us from restoring justice.

Kayali points out that under international law, Palestinians have the right to violently resist Israel’s unlawful occupation of Gaza, but she also cautions against placing an overemphasis on “structures of law and legality.” As Kayali told Kelly on “Movement Memos” in May 2021, as Israeli bombs were raining down on Gaza, “What this comes down to, in my mind, is kind of the omnipresence of neoliberalism and its tight grip on our framing of justice.” Kayali explained, “After the Oslo Accords, which were the peace deals that happened in the 1990s, we saw a really detrimental shift in international discourse about Palestine that really framed everything in terms of the rights of the individual, everything centering the individual and the ascendance of the state as the ultimate goal of the Palestinian people.” Kayali says this shift ushered in an era of discourse about a “two-state solution” and protecting the “human rights” of Palestinian people. Discussions of human rights are inherently limited, she noted, be- cause rights are afforded to individuals by larger structures of power and can be revoked by those structures. “I want my existence and liberation to be valid, whether or not the UN agrees with me,” Kayali told us. “So I think what this framing can deprive us of is an understanding of collectivism and an understanding of liberation.”

Even though Israel blatantly and regularly violates international law, the United States and others routinely defend Israel as an important ally, insisting “Israel has the right to exist.” This language not only positions all Palestinian struggles for self-determination and survival as an existential threat, but it also confers upon a state a fundamental right that Israel does not extend to Palestinians, who are not treated as though they have an inherent right to exist.

In the United States, Israel’s many crimes are often glossed over or defended by those who insist the situation is “complicated.” With rare exception, the word “violence” is seldom invoked by U.S. officials to describe the executions, imprisonment, and torture Palestinians experience at the hands of the Israeli government or the apartheid conditions in which Palestinians are forced to live. As is the case in the U.S., institutionalized violence is normalized. When people in the United States do rally against Israeli violence, it is usually in response to an active bombing campaign being perpetrated by Israel against Gaza. During such times, marches and other protests may take place in the US, but once the bombs temporarily stop falling—when supposed “peace” is “achieved”—most Americans typically turn their attention elsewhere.

Yet, even within the U.S. itself, state violence against Palestinians continues. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), which “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law” has been criminalized in multiple countries, including many parts of the U.S. In June 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld an Arkansas law forbidding public contractors from participating in the BDS movement, arguing that boycotts are not a protected form of speech. Arkansas is just one of more than thirty states that have passed anti-BDS laws in the last several years. In the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, Palestinian activists—as well as Jewish activists working in solidarity with them—have been targeted and accused of antisemitism for condemning Israeli apartheid.

Kayali noted that, from Israel to the U.S. and beyond, Palestinians’ armed struggle and nonviolent struggle are both treated as “terrorism,” or as an attack on Israel, or even all Jewish people: “Student activism [in Palestine] is criminalized, nonviolent struggle in the diaspora is criminalized, international mutual aid or charitable supports, including purely humanitarian support, is illegal. Nonengagement through boycotts and diaspora is criminalized.”

The repression of Palestinian resistance offers a profound example of the elasticity of violence as a concept and shows how, while the powerful can wage war on particular communities with impunity and claim innocence, the oppressed can be deemed a violent threat simply for attempting to assert their rights or defend their humanity. As Tatour wrote,

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil, they sniped her in public, Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

The maintenance of global capitalism necessitates mass death, just as the maintenance of capitalism in the United States requires the violence of the carceral system. If these systems function without interruption, you will be told you are experiencing “peace.” After all, police are often cast as “peace officers,” and soldiers are called “peacekeepers.”

If you choose to disrupt these systems, passively, destructively, or by way of extending mutual aid, the concept of violence may be stretched and manipulated by the powerful to encompass your work. That is why we must not allow the frameworks of the powerful to define the bounds of morality in our politics and our action. The elastic concepts of criminality and violence, as controlled by the powerful, will always be bent against us.

Instead, we must expose and dismantle the supposed moral frameworks of the death-makers. We must craft our own narratives and uplift our own frameworks, which implicate the system itself. We must, as Tatour says, “resist the colonialist’s onslaught.”

Author’s note: Dareen Tatour’s poem, as quoted here, was translated by the poet Tariq al Haydar.

We have 2 days to raise $29,000 — we’re counting on your support!

For those who care about justice, liberation and even the very survival of our species, we must remember our power to take action.

We won’t pretend it’s the only thing you can or should do, but one small step is to pitch in to support Truthout — as one of the last remaining truly independent, nonprofit, reader-funded news platforms, your gift will help keep the facts flowing freely.