Western condescension and the silencing of Gazan anti-Hamas voices

According to a recent article in the New York Times, it will soon become clear which of two competing claims is true: whether Israel’s assertion that Hamas has built its main command center under a major Gazan hospital (a claim which is also backed up by American officials who spoke anonymously to the NYT) or the claims of Hamas that Israel is targeting innocent civilians and making it impossible for the hospital to operate. The New York Times sees no problem in raising allegations made by Hamas to the same level of credibility as the IDF and the United States. Evidence offered by the IDF and backed up by American officials is presented as “just as uncertain” as the allegations of a terrorist organization.  

What will happen if it is confirmed that Hamas has indeed built its base under the Al Shifa hospital? Will international public opinion finally shift against Hamas? Will Hamas finally be held accountable by international media and the international community for using Gazans as human shields and lying to manipulate public opinion? Or will the Western public, who live free from the yoke of a terrorist and authoritarian organization, continue to rationalize its actions and legitimize its antisemitic agenda? Unfortunately, the latter is the more likely scenario. The bothsidesism of international media such as the New York Times continues to promote the pro-Hamas attitudes that fuelled worldwide protests against Israel and increasing hostility against Jews and Jewish communities outside of Israel. 

In another article by the New York Times, the keffiyeh, the palestinian scarf that was the trademark of Yasser Arafat, is presented as the epitome of solidarity with Palestinians. The worry that wearing it could qualify as “cultural appropriation,” the article reassures its culturally conscious readership, can be dispelled by the fact that some Palestians actually are encouraging non-Arab supporters to wear it. The article shows pictures of youths wearing the scarf in the manner of a fashion magazine. It immediately reminded me of my first day back to university campus after the terrorist attack of October 7th. On my way to teaching, I saw several students wearing keffiyeh. I told myself that these students were not aware that soon after the largest massacre of Jews since the Shoah, wearing the symbol associated with the terrorists who perpetrated that attack could make Jewish persons feel threatened or intimidated on campus. I kept telling myself that these young people meant no harm. But I still felt a knot in my stomach. On that day, I taught my class trying not to break in tears in front of my students. 

In the imagination of Western Hamas supporters, Hamas embodies the heroic struggle of the oppressed Palestinians against colonialism and white supremacy which they identify with Israel. The underlying assumption is that North American racial dynamics is a “one size fits all model” that can explain conflicts in the rest of the world in such a way that does not require understanding much more about them. It is sufficient to identify the oppressed and oppressor and adopt the adequate moral attitude towards each. These Western Hamas supporters are unable or unwilling to conceptually distinguish Hamas from the Palestinian people, combatants from civilians, terrorism from the actions of democratic states, and military actions from genocide. As a result, oppressed Hamas-Palestinians have no other means to “decolonize” Palestine than to resort to violence, and October 7th is celebrated as a milestone in Humanity’s struggle for emancipation. In contrast, actions by the IDF targeting Hamas are decried as genocide of innocent civilians. Ultimately, the lack of differentiation between Hamas leadership and Palestinian civilians is effectively exploited by Hamas, which has every incentive to continue to instrumentalize its own people as shields and weaponize images of their suffering against Israel.

Paradoxically, the more Western anti-racists decry the colonization of Palestians by Israeli “white supremacists”, the more they unwittingly project a Western ideology over those they defend. In order to fit Hamas into their racial and gender justice narrative, they must close their eyes to the reality of the Palestinians who have to live under an authoritarian, misogynist and homophobic organization. Consider, for instance, the absurd identification of Hamas terrorism with “queer resistance.” What could be further away from the reality of Palestinians under Hamas than the LGBT+ utopia they believe Hamas would be implementing? 

The condescending Western defense of Palestinians and their conflation with Hamas ultimately silences dissenting Gazan voices against Hamas. Where are these dissenting voices in the international media? Why are we not also hearing the Gazans who beg to differ from the Western supporters of Hamas?

In the famous comedy sketch by Eretz Nehederet, a Hamas terrorist is interviewed by two American pro-Hamas college students. Everything the terrorist says to them is understood by the students as something nice and inclusive. When the terrorist insults them directly to their faces, the students are unable to recognise the slight. I suspect the satire will be lost on many Western Hamas supporters.

About the Author
Alice Pinheiro Walla is Associate Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University, Canada. She was born in Brazil. She is a Kant scholar by training and held academic positions in Germany, Austria and Ireland before moving to Canada. She is an active member of her synagogue, where she helps as gabbait, leads religious services and reads torah.
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