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The Perils of Victimhood: Rethinking the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

AI generated image courtesy of Catherine Perez-Shakdam 25 May 2024
AI generated image courtesy of Catherine Perez-Shakdam 25 May 2024

The discourse surrounding Israel and its actions in the Palestinian territories has veered dangerously into the realms of hyperbole and mendacity. Accusations of genocide against the Jewish state are not only alarmingly frequent but also profoundly misleading. These claims do not merely distort reality; they undermine the possibility of a just resolution. While it is imperative to denounce the loss of innocent lives, we must also resist the allure of a victimhood narrative that strips Palestinians of agency and accountability.

The hyperbolic claims of genocide are not just exaggerations but dangerous distortions of the truth. Genocide, with its specific historical and legal connotations, refers to the systematic extermination of an entire people. The situation in the Palestinian territories, however tragic, does not meet this definition. Such accusations are not only false but inflammatory, designed to evoke an emotional response rather than foster understanding. This rhetorical excess delegitimizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns and skews the discourse towards a binary of absolute good versus absolute evil, leaving no room for nuance or complexity.

Moreover, this narrative has provided a convenient cover for antisemitism. Cloaked under the guise of Palestinian advocacy, age-old prejudices and hostilities against Jews find new expression and justification. The defense of Palestinian rights is not inherently antisemitic, but when this cause is weaponized to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state entirely, it crosses into dangerous territory. This form of antisemitism, wrapped in the rhetoric of social justice, is particularly insidious because it masquerades as a moral high ground while perpetuating hate and division.

A closer examination of this victimhood narrative reveals a disturbing tendency to infantilize Palestinians, portraying them as passive victims devoid of agency. This reductionist view is not only patronizing but also bears the hallmarks of neo-colonialism. By stripping Palestinians of their agency, this discourse suggests they are incapable of making their own decisions or bearing responsibility for their actions. This profoundly dehumanizing perspective reduces an entire people to mere subjects of pity rather than acknowledging their capacity for autonomy and self-determination.

This neo-colonial mindset is evident in the way the international community often speaks about the Palestinian people. They are portrayed as eternal victims, forever at the mercy of external forces, without recognition of their own role in shaping their destiny. This narrative absolves them of accountability and denies them the dignity of being full actors in their history. It is a paradoxical form of racism, cloaked in the language of solidarity and compassion, that ultimately serves to maintain a status quo of dependency and victimhood.

True compassion lies in recognizing their full humanity, which includes their capacity for decision-making, responsibility, and change. By holding Palestinians accountable for their choices, including the decision to elect and support Hamas, we acknowledge their role in the conflict and their potential to be part of the solution.

Conversely, Israel is incessantly pressured to sacrifice its security and the future of its people to appease pro-Palestinian sentiments. This expectation is not just unjust—it is grotesque. It implies that Jews are to blame for existing, while Palestinians are forever absolved of any wrongdoing. Such a stance is dangerously naive, ignoring the existential threats that Israel faces daily. The Jewish state has endured decades of hostility and has every right to defend its citizens against real and imminent dangers.

Consider the events of 2005. Following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, the Palestinian people were not thrust into the arms of Hamas; they elected Hamas to rule over them. This was a conscious decision, made through the democratic process, bringing to power a group whose charter explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel. Since then, Hamas has governed with a sinister agenda, prioritizing its militaristic ambitions over the well-being of its citizens. The rockets launched into Israeli towns are not just futile gestures of resistance—they are acts of war, inviting a response that inevitably leads to more suffering.

The atrocity of October 7 is a case in point. On that day, the world witnessed Palestinians’ active participation in a pogrom against Israel. Complicity in hiding and holding Israeli civilians hostage cannot be dismissed or justified. To suggest that Palestinians were powerless to resist Hamas is to infantilize them, stripping them of moral agency and responsibility. This is a dangerous exercise in misplaced compassion, perpetuating a cycle of victimhood and violence.

The path to peace does not lie in perpetuating victimhood but in fostering accountability and agency. Palestinians must be recognized as full actors in their narrative, capable of making choices and bearing consequences. Israel must be allowed to defend its people without being vilified. Only by acknowledging the complexities and responsibilities on both sides can we hope to achieve a just and lasting peace.

It is high time we moved beyond simplistic narratives. We must recognize the shared humanity and agency of both Israelis and Palestinians. The future depends on our ability to see each other not as eternal victims or villains but as individuals capable of change, deserving of security and dignity. This is the only way forward, the only path to a peace that honors the lives and aspirations of all involved.

About the Author
Catherine Perez-Shakdam - Director Forward Strategy and Executive Director Forum of Foreign Relations (FFR) Catherine is a former Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and consultant for the UNSC on Yemen, as well an expert on Iran, Terror and Islamic radicalisation. A prominent political analyst and commentator, she has spoken at length on the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling on the UK to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Raised in a secular Jewish family in France, Catherine found herself at the very heart of the Islamic world following her marriage to a Muslim from Yemen. Her experience in the Middle East and subsequent work as a political analyst gave her a very particular, if not a rare viewpoint - especially in how one can lose one' sense of identity when confronted with systemic antisemitism. Determined to share her experience and perspective on those issues which unfortunately plague us -- Islamic radicalism, Terror and Antisemitism Catherine also will speak of a world, which often sits out of our reach for a lack of access.
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