Opinion | Americans’ silence on apartheid can’t continue


Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

A supporter holds up a flag while atop a stoplight as protesters walk below during a rally and march in support of Palestinians in Chicago in response to an ongoing assault between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East on Sunday, May 16, 2021.

By Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger, Staff Columnist

This week marked 29 years since the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, where an Israeli settler opened fire in Hebron, killing 29 and wounding more than 100. Nearly three decades after this tragedy, even memory is punished under occupation, as Palestinians are brutalized for commemorating the lives lost in the massacre. 

The first two months of 2023 are the deadliest first two months for any year since 2000. Israeli security forces have killed 65 Palestinians since the start of the new year — 13 of them children and many were elderly community members. While the Israeli state’s apartheid tactics make violence a daily occurrence for Palestinians, these staggering death tolls are due to the Israeli far right’s electoral victory last year. This government is the most conservative government in Israel’s history, and they entered the new year by strengthening illegal settlements in the West Bank and making it easier for settlers to get firearms

Biased media is so dominant in regard to Palestine that many people can move through their lives reading the papers of their choice and never come across a glimpse of life under occupation. This problem isn’t limited to the media or older generations that rely on print news more. One of the most jarring elements of my experience in an American university is the frequency with which conversations about racial justice, Islamophobia and state-sanctioned violence exclude Palestine entirely. 

The complete unwillingness by the majority of self-described “progressives” in the U.S. to accurately describe the situation in Palestine is not a harmless, natural consequence of uncertainty surrounding the subject. It’s a direct byproduct of biased and deeply Islamophobic education that ignores both the history of the invasion and occupation of Palestine and the current military and economic benefits to the enduring hegemony. 

To put it plainly, the U.S. does not support Israel because it cares about the Jewish faith and cultural preservation of any sort. The American government doesn’t value the safety of Jewish people, and its support for the Israeli state is not an attempt to prioritize their safety in any way. In fact, a significant part of the American public’s backing for Israel comes from the white evangelical community, where the professed support for the Israeli settlement is often given alongside significant amounts of antisemitic vitriol.

It’s always shocking to meet people in the U.S. who claim that they are invested in the betterment of the material conditions of marginalized people but don’t condemn the occupation. However, the absolute lack of context surrounding the teaching of Palestinian history makes the frequency of these experiences a little easier to understand. It’s extremely rare to find an American high school that includes the U.S.’ imperial interests in the Middle East in any part of its curriculum. Even at the university stage, an accurate, factual history of the occupation isn’t something I’ve come across, even in classes that should have focused on it or, at the very least, included it. 

The U.S. has always known of the atrocities inflicted on Palestinians since the U.N.’s forced arbitrary partition in 1948. They were well informed about the first “Nakba,” or catastrophe, in which around 75% of Palestinians were displaced from their land between 1947 and 1949. During these years, at least 15,000 were killed and around 530 villages were destroyed. Today, the narratives in Israel vary from an insistence that nearly one million Palestinians “willingly” left their homes and gave up 77% of their territory to outright threats that the Palestinians will “receive [another] Nakba.” 

The U.S. has long been a financial supporter and beneficiary of Israel’s security forces, particularly the Israel Defense Force. The U.S. purchases and employs Israeli military technology, and credible allegations that the U.S. directly arms the IDF have circulated for years with little response from the American public. A survey conducted by “In These Times” found that between 2009 and 2019 revealed that Israeli forces killed at least 272 Palestinians with U.S.-made weapons. 

Aside from their direct arms dealing with Israel, the U.S. provides an annual $3.3 billion in “Foreign Military Financing,” with an extra $500 million that goes directly into funding missiles used on Palestinians, Syrians, Iranians and Lebanese people, to name a few. 

There are a multitude of claims and narratives that take up what little time is allotted to this conflict. Particularly in the wake of the Israeli far right’s victory, and their increasing dominance over young Israelis, historicity is more important than ever. Independent of faith or allegiance to a particular party, the facts speak for themselves and louder than any narrative, which is why they have been so deliberately obscured. 

Painting this as a “conflict” with equally guilty or evenly matched aggressors is an appalling act of revisionism. I often find myself wondering if those pictures of children throwing stones at tanks are really all that well hidden. It does sometimes feel as though the cognitive dissonance of liberalism makes them impossible to interpret, almost illegible to an apathetic audience. The enormity of evidence of the extreme inequality of this conflict is plain to see with minimal effort.

We don’t have a way to know exactly how many Palestinians have been killed since the British government and the U.N. began this violence in 1947, but reasonable estimates put the figure for the last 75 years at more than 100,000

While data is still developing, and studies are severely underfunded, the fact that by 2014, Palestinians were 15 times more likely to be killed than Israelis in the conflict paints a stark picture for the future.

Despite the constant portrayal of the occupation as too fraught or confusing to effectively criticize, one can grasp the reality of this conflict at first glance only by looking at the forced displacements, destruction of homes, constant brutality and surveillance. It’s high time the complexity of this situation stops being referenced as justification for inaction or ignorance. 

We saw this in real-time after the murder of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, of which there was clear footage. Israel and the U.S. “investigated” her death — a point-blank shooting while in a visible press vest — for months. The idea that the occupation is inherently too complex to criticize is a deliberate manipulation, an outright denial of facts and a stalling tactic — and we can’t let it take hold in our generation. 

The last time the death tolls were this high, we did not have the same access to communication methods and modes of disseminating information as we do now. If there is one tiny bit of optimism to draw from the unignorable disparity of the last few years, it’s just that — it’s become unignorable, even for those unaffected. 

Every day, conversations with so much nuance, care and hope for the potential of a better world occur on a wider scale each time. We have more access to the truth and more ability to engage with it and share it than any other generation before us. It is absolutely crucial that we do away with propaganda surrounding this conflict, that we amplify Palestinian voices without imposing narratives or qualifiers on their words, that we listen to criticisms of the Israeli state that come from those close to it and within it and that we refuse to accept a future where the U.S. continues to prop up and profit off of apartheid. 

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger writes about politics and international and domestic social movements. Write to her at [email protected]