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Middle East

The cyclical discourse of humanitarian aid for Palestinians

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Middle East

The cyclical discourse of humanitarian aid for Palestinians

More than 70 years after the Nakba, US politicians are rendering the Nakba irrelevant, even as the Holocaust narrative, by no means solely a Jewish narrative, is being exploited to support Israel’s colonial presence in Palestine. 

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More than 70 years after the Nakba, US politicians are rendering the Nakba irrelevant, even as the Holocaust narrative, by no means solely a Jewish narrative, is being exploited to support Israel’s colonial presence in Palestine. 

During the Democratic presidential primary debate on Wednesday the 20th of November, US Senator and presidential contender Bernie Sanders appeared to have, at face value, distinguished himself from other candidates by speaking, unprompted, about Palestine and Israel. Yet his comments were framed against the prevailing Zionist narrative in the US. 

“It is no longer good enough for us simply to be pro-Israel. I am pro-Israel, but we must treat the Palestinian people as well with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” he stated. To put it succinctly, Sanders is asserting that any concessions to the Palestinian people – respect and dignity is not tantamount to political rights – must not overstep the boundaries of being pro-Israel, which he asserts yet again as a prelude to the rest of his statement. 

During Israel’s latest assault on Gaza this month, following the killing of Islamic Jihad Leader Bahaa Abu Al-Ata, Sanders tweeted a false equivalence between the coloniser and the colonised, also stating: “The US must lead the effort to end the crisis in Gaza and the persistent violence that threatens everyone.” On what grounds should the US be leading is left unspecified. 

Rival Democratic contender Pete Buttigieg unequivocally supported Israel’s “right to defend itself against acts of terror”, with reference to the rocket fire from Gaza in retaliation to Israel’s resumption of targeted assassinations of resistance leaders. 

Is there a choice to be made when Palestinians will ultimately have to deal with yet another US presidency which, at best, will maintain the status quo of US diplomacy and its preferential treatment for Israel? 

At the J Street conference last October, Sanders suggested a fragment of the $3.8 billion allocated to Israel annually for military aid “should go right now into humanitarian aid in Gaza.” J Street describes itself as an entity that “organises and mobilises pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people.” For this aim, Nakba narratives are, of course, irrelevant to J Street.

Yet, despite the divergence in rhetoric, Sanders is not moving away from the Zionist narrative. More than 70 years after the Nakba, US politicians are rendering the Nakba irrelevant, even as the Holocaust narrative, by no means solely a Jewish narrative, is being exploited to support Israel’s colonial presence in Palestine. 

In addition, the refusal to acknowledge the Nakba sets the foundations for eliminating the necessary discussion about Palestinian political rights. There is political affirmation in Sanders stating he is pro-Israel. To offer a fragment of Israel’s US-allocated billions in military aid to Palestinians in Gaza for humanitarian reasons is a departure point in US politics, yet it can also be read as inadequate compensation for colluding in thwarting Palestinian rights. Furthermore, within the context of the Trump administration’s withholding of financial aid for Palestinians, Sanders’ suggestion stands in greater contrast, while still offering little in terms of altering Israel’s colonial violence. 

Since US President Donald Trump took office, the US has become increasingly overt in expressing its collusion with Israel. The withholding of humanitarian aid, its unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as the recent statement regarding Israeli settlements, have set the US apart from the international community in terms of what has long been deemed international consensus regarding the two-state paradigm. Would Sanders revoke these US decisions, or would the possible allocation of humanitarian aid to Gaza have to contend with an increasing backdrop and lenience for Israel to retain the violations it has committed?

In the end, the narrative is not really about humanitarian aid for Gaza, but rather seeking the means to justify US military aid for Israel. The humanitarian narrative has already been set by the international community – Sanders’ return to this paradigm, albeit from the military budget allocated to Israel by the US, does not speak much in terms of Palestinian rights. The bottom line is that politicians worldwide speak about Palestinians as an afterthought, in reaction to committed violations and always through elimination of the Palestinian narrative. So far, Sanders has failed to prove otherwise. 

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