Time for Palestinian narrative to take centre stage – Wan Roslili Abd Majid

“THERE were villages. There were cities. There was Palestinian society before 1948. We do exist,” said Edward Said, a Palestinian American intellectual, thinker, political activist and literary critic born in Jerusalem.

As one of the few who properly framed the Palestine-Israel issue, Said used his writings to fight for Palestinians’ rights throughout his life. The article “Permission to Narrate”, which he wrote in February 1984, described what he felt was most denied to Palestinians.

It is the right to narrate about Palestinians that has constantly been denied by the international media. Consequently, Palestianians were not able to communicate their history and stories to a world controlled by a Zionist narrative of Palestine, aiming at creating the conviction that it is a homeland only for Jews.

Apart from analysis of the MacBride Commission report regarding Israel’s acts of aggression in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and stereotypic perceptions and attitudes towards Palestinians as terrorists and rejectionists while Israel as peace and security seekers, Said also highlighted the campaign by pro-Zionist publications to prevent the international media from reporting the truth.

Thus, images showing Israeli troops bombing civilian targets were characterised as anti-Semitic. The greatest betrayal was by the British through the Balfour Declaration in 1915, affirming British support for the creation of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine to gain their support for its war. After the war, the League of Nations divided the defeated Ottoman Empire into “mandated territories” and Palestine became mandated British territory.

The League of Nations embodied the previous policy of the British in creating a national home for Jews in outlining the mandate for Palestine, handing Palestine over to the Zionists, which caused massive immigration of Jews from Europe and elsewhere under British auspices from 1918 to 1947. In addition, more Palestinians were forced to flee.

Although the right to return to the origin country is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Israelis prevented Palestinian refugees from returning by enforcing its Citizenship Law of 1951. There were many reports of Israeli atrocities, including brutal killings of Palestinians and merciless detainment of Palestinian children and women, since the establishment of the illegal state of Israel in 1948.

A Human Rights Watch report, entitled “A Threshold Crossed — Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution”, published in April 2021 stated that Israeli authorities had deprived millions of people of their basic rights by virtue of their identity as Palestinians.

In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip particularly, movement restrictions, land expropriation — such as the case of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood — forcible transfer, denial of residency and nationality, and the mass suspension of civil rights constitute inhumane acts. In other words, apartheid, a crime against humanity.

Though such reports are more than enough to represent the sufferings of Palestinians, they continue to be drowned by the mainstream media in the West. Three decades after the publication of Said’s landmark essay, media narratives in the West have remained unchanged.

This was proven from Maha Nassar’s research mentioned by Omar Zahzah in his article, “Digital apartheid: Palestinians being silenced on social media”. In 2020, Nassar, analysed opinion articles published in The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as weekly news magazines, The New Republic and The Nation, from 1970 to 2019, over a 50-year period.

Nassar discovered that the editorial boards and columnists had been discussing the Palestinians, repeatedly in a condescending and racist manner, without listening to the Palestinians.

However, the unprecedented event of publishing a front-page collage of children of Gaza killed in the recent Israeli bombardment by The New York Times and Haaretz has sent a new and meaningful message, which should be applauded.

Undeniably, many turn to social media to raise awareness about struggles ignored or undermined by mainstream media channels. The full use of social media has proven to be effective in the recent 11 days of the Saif al-Quds War and the following events, including the recent campaign to free Sheikh Jarrah activists, Muna and Mohammed al-Kurd.

Unfortunately, social media companies immediately took the action to suppress free speech and distort narratives about Palestine by halting the dissemination of fair comments and/or closing accounts by arbitrary means without due justification.

So, it is timely that the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations for the UPR Process (MACSA) calls for Malaysia to be the first country in the world to enact the “Palestinian Struggle Anti-Censorship Act/Ordinance”. While MACSA recognises the rights of these companies to suppress hate speech, the clarification of what constitutes hate speech must be made.

Support for Palestinian freedom and liberation must be strengthened. The hope and cry of the oppressed must be duly fulfilled.

This is in line with verse 75, Surah an-Nisa’ in the Quran which states, “And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect, and raise for us from thee one who will help!'”.

Wan Roslili Abd Majid
Fellow, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM)

*First published in New Straits Times.

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