Hostilities are hopefully coming to an end, with both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict acquiescing to a 72-hour ceasefire. As the sand of despair in the Middle East slowly settles, I felt inclined to reflect on a trend I’ve seen online during this political divergence that I felt needed addressing.
Since July 8, 2014, when the conflict arose, making headlines around the globe, my social media feeds were jam-packed with people and public figures—most of them “millennials,” like myself—who felt the need to lash out and have an opinion about a conflict many of them were personally not affected by or don’t have much knowledge about.
Even more puzzling is that the outrage about the conflict, now in its fifth week, which is accompanied with taciturnity and utter silence about other horrific atrocities like the various incidents proceeding in Syria in regards to the 170,000 civilian casualties that have occurred. Or, the incident where a blockade has rendered 18,000 besieged Damascus-based Palestinians to starve in a Yarmouk refugee camp.
The same individuals that are incensed by the conflict are also hushed about the brutal decades-long Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet where upwards to 1.2 million Tibetans are estimated to have been killed in an act of unprovoked aggression; approximately 90% of Tibet’s monasteries have been destroyed, with the country constantly being ranked as one of the most oppressed regions in the world.
It should come to no surprise that there are bloody conflicts all over the world, but what gets more clicks?
Are people even outraged that the UN Security Council has sounded an orange alert for South Sudan, stating that the ravaged country faces perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis since the 2011 East Africa drought? Or that UNICEF has reported that over a third of the population could be in serious danger of famine due to a military skirmish between factions? Where is the hashtag revolution?
So, why is this conflict attracting so much attention from the African-American community? The comments posted throughout various social media feeds have often geared toward a staunch pro-Palestinian position, with many of these people relating what is happening in the Gaza Strip and West Bank to European colonialism and genocide. Terms such as these are tossed around too lightly and interchangeably. Platitudes are a dangerous thing in a time where social media is changing human interaction and generating a marketplace of philosophies that, without proper and factual research, could divide a civilization. Yes, in the U.S. there is such a thing as the First Amendment that grants citizens of the world the right to speak and voice their opinions and digressions, but it could become an opiate of the masses without citing sources and double-checking information.
Sure, recent polls like the Pew Research survey show that most black and Hispanic Americans still support the country of Israel by more than a 2:1 ratio, but if you take the elements of religious doctrine out of the equation, philosophies and standpoints change. What happened to the once prominent worldview of the most venerated black civil rights activists who advocated, with zeal, the importance of the Zionism movement? Taking a stance among the likes of Edward Wilmot Byden, W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. without contention, Malcolm X said in 1964, “Pan Africanism will do for the people of African descent all over the world, the same that Zionism has done for Jews all over the world.” Fifty years later, there seems to be less of an allied front.
There is a younger, Internet-savvy generation who has taken it upon themselves to produce extreme opinions about the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of race and much of the dialogue springs from the language of the autocrat and oppressor that says Israel is in fact a colonial state bent on ethnic cleansing. However, one can argue that there’s an unconscious regard to whiteness, which has been superimposed on and attached to Jewish identity that has found a way to be exploited as fodder by the masses that trivializes the rich histories of all involved. By doing so, from the younger black perspective, it may seem as if Israel is a colonial state.
While the occupation of the West Bank is internationally regarded as illegal, it must be reminded that Israel is a legal creation of the United Nations, just as many other nations such as South Sudan. Furthermore, border disputes are not that uncommon. While Palestinians do have the right to live freely and fully in an autonomous, unoccupied territory, it must be recapped that the struggle of African-American people and the Palestinians are not a shared experience. It is easy to identify with the Palestinian people from the perspective of the oppressed, however, they are apples and oranges.
The Palestinian civilians are displaced and caught in a riptide of a religious and geopolitical dissension between both sides of the conflict, being held as a ruse to further conflict.. But we should not forget history: The Palestinian civilians were not kidnapped or sold from their land to serve as slaves and treated as inhuman. It is true that many suffer from unwarranted arrests and their homes have been subject to police raids and home inspections by military forces, but they cannot be juxtaposed to what is currently happening in the West with the unmerited Stop & Frisk laws affecting New York City. That is too a dangerous assumption. There’s a difference between searching and seizing people you have conflict with for security reasons—such as the case in Gaza and the West Bank—and probing and penalizing black persons because of their ethnic and cultural heritage. This is an enduring conflict between two religious and political parties, both guilty of horrible atrocities against each other, with justifiable and licit concerns that should not be obscured and overshadowed by half-truths and propaganda.
Perhaps it’s human nature to attach ourselves to things, almost at whim, to what we distinguish as the oppressed. But we must have an understanding of both sides before throwing our opinions in the gauntlet. Scrolling through newsfeeds, I encountered some of the most explicit and sometimes hateful reactions for one side based on a meme or new story that buried lede with nebulous and questionable sentiment. I admit, I went blue in the face speaking about the conflict to people who immediately had an opinion without knowing the facts and was even chastised for clarifying false data with scoop based in legitimacy.
As black people and people of color, we have experienced how media is able to skew and distort fact from fiction. In an age where memes are being shared as rapidly as new germs, it is important to distinguish agenda and understand there are two sides of a story and reality is more complex than one picture can articulate. We’ve all seen the heartbreaking pictures and videos, and sympathize with the suffering of the Palestinian civilians in on Gaza, who are trapped in this tragic geopolitical conflict. Nevertheless, jumping on the bandwagon and sharing content that may not always be accurate does certainly elicit an emotional response, but it fuels antagonism and demonization of a whole country and people in the process.
This is a slippery slope that can surge and create an inimical atmosphere that can come to a boiling point of astronomical magnitudes like what is happening in Europe today. The proclivity to share without knowing the source could in fact be used as tool for violence, causing more hazard than its true intent ever imagined.