A Systematic Exclusion: How We’re Taught to Discount Palestinians

Managing News Editor Noor Rahman ’25, Editor-in-Chief Sam Spratford ’24, Contributing Writer Caden Stockwell ’25, and Staff Writer Cole Warren ’24 peel back the layers of silencing and dehumanization that have enabled Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.

“As I write this, I no longer believe we will get out of this alive … It feels as though the missiles are following us — getting closer with each strike — and we are running out of places to run to … But where do we go next? There is not a home in Gaza that is safe.”

These are the words of Palestinian journalist Maram Humaid, published in Al Jazeera on Oct. 11, detailing an existentially terrifying experience currently lived by over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza. As the conflict between Gaza and Israel continues into its second week, the disproportionality of the violence inflicted upon Palestinians by the Israeli government — in response to the recent attack by the governing entity of Gaza, Hamas — has become horrifyingly apparent. At the time of writing, health authorities in Gaza have stated that at least 3,000 people have been killed in Israel’s 11-day bombing campaign, with hundreds more fatalities expected after the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital bombing that occurred on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Furthermore, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), “nearly 1 million people have been displaced in a week alone” in the aftermath of the Israeli government’s order of the evacuation of the northern section of the strip. Facing an electricity blackout, a blockade of humanitarian supplies, and a severe limitation to safe drinking water, every life in the Gaza strip is at risk.

Although the violence and humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in Palestine today is unprecedented (excepting, perhaps, the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of nearly a million Palestinians after Israel’s declaration of independence, to which the current crisis has invited comparisons), the systematic oppression, deprivation, and dehumanization of Palestinians has been the status quo for several decades. The occupation of Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, the longest military occupation in modern history, have been repeatedly criticized by both international organizations like the United Nations and human rights groups for violating international legal standards. Organizations like Human Rights Watch have asserted that the “systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them … amount to the crime of apartheid” as specified under international law. The Israeli government is blatant about its intention to either eliminate or force out Palestinians: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in 2020 that Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people,” discounting the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories (not to mention non-Jews in Israel proper). Yet despite the obvious subjugation of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel, both the history of their struggle and the contemporary dangers they face have been repeatedly sidelined if not outright dismissed in mainstream analyses of the current crisis. We must critically examine this phenomenon.

We are writing to challenge the systematic silencing that continues to be inflicted upon advocates for Palestinian liberation both in the U.S and abroad. Students — Arab and Muslim students, in particular — have become the primary targets of this campaign, which is being carried out by a war-mongering set of pro-Israel actors, whose efforts to eliminate the Palestinian state benefit from the categorical exclusion of these voices. We hope to carve out a space for discourse that speaks forcefully and without restraint to Palestinians’ daily experiences of grief, degradation, and fear. This is not a radical thing to ask for: It is something that we already grant to Israelis. Insofar as we grant basic levels of humanity to Palestinians, it should not feel radical to listen, trust, and empathize with their experiences — regardless of one’s political allegiances.

Among the authors of this piece, only one is Muslim. Another is Jewish. The other two are non-Jewish and white. We self-consciously built a coalition that would be less likely to face retribution and used the relative privilege of our identities to protect those of us who are more vulnerable. We are not speaking of a fear of counter-arguments or challenges to our beliefs — we fear the personal condemnation that has befallen so many in our position, and the threat that our futures will be destroyed based on a strawman characterization of our values. This should be unacceptable in any society that calls itself free, and even more so as the erosion of free speech is falling along racial lines.

A prime example of the aforementioned retaliation against pro-Palestinian voices is the Canary Mission, which describes itself as an organization that “documents people and groups that promote hatred of the USA, Israel, and Jews,” and states, “It is your duty to ensure that today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees,” explicitly establishing itself as a blacklist against anti-Israel and pro-Palestine activists. Their mission statement blatantly admits to conflating critical speech towards Israel — in any form — with genuine antisemitism, placing student activists protesting apartheid and genocide right next to genuine white supremacists like Richard Spencer. There are nearly 2,000 individuals listed on the Canary Mission, the majority of whom are college students, and 80 percent of whom are people of color. The Canary Mission is run anonymously, with their blog stating, “Why is it so important who we are? Maybe you want to know so you can threaten us, discredit us, or punish us. Many of our detractors just want to know who we are so they can physically harm us.”

This is ironic, given that, in addition to losing employment opportunities, those listed in the Canary Project have reported being stalked and intimidated by grown men in masks, deported, facing death threats, being denied bank accounts, and more. The Canary Mission is not alone in these actions. Recent statements from Palestinian student groups at Harvard University got the attention of several major CEOs, who openly stated that they believed the students involved should be blacklisted. This is key to the mass propaganda machine that allows Israel to commit these crimes so brazenly and without consequence — the harassment and intimidation of those who speak out against it.

Of course, maintaining American support for Israel is at the center of the state’s propaganda, as it relies so heavily on American aid and political support. Comparisons of the Oct. 7 attacks to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center are not arbitrary — such comparisons are meant to evoke feelings of defensiveness, conjure up the anti-Muslim sentiment that prevailed at the time, and above all justify a visceral belief in the right to a limitless retaliation. Following the circulation of such propaganda by Western media outlets, Americans have reached deep into their collective racist and anti-Muslim memory to convince themselves that the vicious Israeli retaliation against innocent Gazans who are unaffiliated with Hamas is not only justified, but necessary.

All of this comes in the context of mass restrictions and bans on pro-Palestine activism across the world, especially in Europe. In France, all pro-Palestine rallies have been banned, with police officers breaking up these protests using tear gas and water cannons. The UK has faced calls from government to ban the waving of the Palestinian flag. Germany has forcefully broken up a number of pro-Palestine rallies in recent days.

Just as the current crisis in Gaza was not created ex nihilo by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, pro-Palestinian voices on social media have faced suppression for years. This is often done under the guise of stopping antisemitism. While we are not denying that antisemitism exists among advocates for Palestinian liberation (such a claim would be naive), antisemitism and criticism of Israel are often conflated in bad faith in order to vilify dissident voices. CUNY Law School graduate Fatima Mohammed criticized Israeli assaults on Muslim worshippers at Masjid Al-Aqsa and attacks on Palestinian funerals. She was subsequently the victim of personal harassment and a public smear campaign, all in the name of alleged antisemitism. The suppression of pro-Palestine sentiment is not a necessary means to stop antisemitism as the rhetoric would have us believe, but rather a mechanism to silence dissent and manufacture widespread support for an ongoing genocide.

In fact, it is this conflation of the Jewish faith and Israel that is itself brazenly antisemitic. To conflate Jewish people with the war crimes of the Israeli state is an affront to Judaism, especially when so many in the Jewish community stand in opposition to Israeli violence, not in spite of, but because of the values instilled in them by their faith. Large numbers of Jewish organizations, such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, have held protests at the White House and across the U.S. standing against the use of Jewish trauma to justify, in a bitter irony, another genocide.

It is also important to examine the rhetoric widely used in Western media that Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack was “unprovoked.” We would like to note, first, that this is an entirely separate conversation than whether the attack was justified — though many have tried to conflate the two. The notion of an “unprovoked” attack is part and parcel of a broader discourse that dehumanizes Muslim and Arab lives by casting them as the barbaric perpetrators of senseless, apolitical violence — a rhetorical complex characteristic of Islamophobia. Just as we can recognize that Israel’s usage of white phosphorus over civilian populations in Gaza and South Lebanon — just one of its many war crimes — has some sort of political motivation (however abhorrent), we should be able to understand that Hamas’ attacks had a political aim beyond the bare fact of killing. Put more simply, we treat Israeli violence as categorically different — as something worthy of more debate and critical thought — than Hamas’ violence. This exclusion of Hamas from the realm of politics is able to persist because of a deliberate erasure of the history of Palestinian oppression as well as its rich history of resistance — a topic we plan to explore more fully in future articles.

Palestinians, regardless of their actual affiliations with Hamas, are also subject to the grotesquely violent anti-Muslim sentiment that often underlies pro-Israel rhetoric. A recent tweet by Prime Minister Netanyahu describes the struggle between Israel and Palestine as a struggle between “the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.” There is a legitimate argument that Netanyahu does not represent everyone who is sympathetic to Israel. However, anyone who continues to insist upon the Israeli right to defend itself while watching videos of a burning Gazan hospital overflowing with patients clearly views the lives of those dying Palestinians as intrinsically less valuable than the Israelis that these acts supposedly defend.

The continued justification of Israel’s war crimes and extreme violence by the West has only exacerbated the problem of anti-Muslim racism and emboldened the Israeli government’s acts of genocide. The racially motivated murder of a Palestinian-American six-year-old in Illinois by his landlord is a result of the continued dehumanization of Palestinians and the international sanction of their mass murder. Muslim students from Amherst College were among those called “terrorists” by a bystander at a recent event organized by UMass’ chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. These acts of violence and aggression are sure to intensify in the coming weeks as the Israeli propaganda machine continues to justify their genocide of Palestinians in the name of self-defense.

We must push back. This begins with peeling back and giving voice to the layers of Islamophobia that define the parameters of our discourse on Palestine. We have attempted to initiate this project by critically examining the extent to which Palestinian voices and politics are systematically delegitimized by the suppression of free speech, the conflation of antisemitic with anti-Israel rhetoric, and the dehistoricization and depoliticization of Palestinian violence. We encourage readers on all sides of the issue to continue this practice in their daily lives — not just while consuming the news and engaging in conversation, but by seeking out and valuing the voices of their Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian peers. Only when this bare minimum of humanity is achieved may we begin working toward a truly liberatory future for the region.