War on Gaza: Why Palestinian slogans are condemned more than Israel's genocide
As Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip enters its fourth month - with death marches, bombings of hospitals and schools sheltering displaced people, and massacres of hundreds of Palestinians becoming routine - the media landscape in the West is mired in the abstract intricacies of whether a genocide of words exists in pro-Palestinian rhetoric.
It appears that Israel’s actual genocide is secondary in importance to the imagined one conjured from between the lines of Palestinian speech. Why else have we been inundated with articles obsessing over the meaning of slogans and phrases, while thousands of Palestinian children are being bombed and starved to death?
Under “ordinary” circumstances, Palestinians must use their words with surgical precision, inserting disclaimers and covering all their bases in a futile attempt to avoid being accused of racism towards their occupiers, as even the most basic resistance methods - such as boycotts or protests - are regularly compared to Nazi-like behaviour.
But the level of censorship of Palestinian voices and perspectives reached a new dystopian zenith after 7 October, with mere displays of Palestinian identity and solidarity becoming grounds for persecution.
It seems that no matter what Palestinians say, or how they say it, it is always construed as a call for genocide or violence. This is not a case of miscommunication, but rather of wilful misinterpretation; there is no magical combination of words or slogans affirming Palestinian dignity or liberation that will ever be deemed acceptable.
This is merely another brazen attempt to silence Palestinians - one that becomes exceedingly clear when considering the lopsided scrutiny on Palestinian speech.
When it comes to genocidal rhetoric from Israelis, one needn’t twist any language or read between the lines. As unaccustomed as they are to even a fraction of the scrutiny Palestinians regularly receive, Israeli politicians use clear, unambiguous language, and proudly chart plans to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dehumanised and incited against Palestinians by calling them the “people of darkness” and “Amalek”, a reference to the first Book of Samuel, where God commands King Saul to slaughter every Amalekite, down to the last man, woman and infant.
Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, has called for the destruction of the Gaza Strip, down to “every school, every mosque”. Knesset member Moshe Saada approvingly cited Israelis saying that “all the Gazans need to be destroyed”.
Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defence minister, declared that his country was fighting “human animals”, and promised there would be no food, electricity or water allowed into the blockaded and besieged Gaza Strip.
This deluge of genocidal rhetoric has been met with a resounding shrug from most world leaders
Knesset member Tally Gotliv has justified using hunger and thirst as a weapon of war to be “able to recruit collaborators” in Gaza, and said that those who refuse to leave their homes “deserve death”. Pro-Israel cartoonists have depicted Palestinians as cockroaches and rats to be crushed, drawing painful historical parallels to multiple genocides where the victims were likened to vermin.
Beyond statements, proposals have been put forward suggesting that the Palestinians of Gaza should be ethnically cleansed and pushed into the Sinai. More than a fringe idea, it was reported that Netanyahu has conducted talks with multiple countries about the possibility of absorbing Palestinians after their expulsion from Gaza.
Although such schemes are all presented under the guise of a “voluntary” relocation, there is nothing voluntary about these plans if Israel continues its deliberate efforts to make Gaza uninhabitable.
And this kind of genocidal rhetoric is not restricted to government and military officials: “Harbu Darbu”, a pro-war song, has topped the charts in Israel. The lyrics compare Palestinians to rats and utilise the same genocidal Amalek comparison invoked by Netanyahu. Videos of dancing and singing to the song became a viral trend among Israelis.
According to polls released in November, more than half of the Israeli public believed that their army was using too little firepower in Gaza, despite reports of thousands of innocents being slaughtered, starved and killed through indiscriminate bombing and shooting. Polling has also shown overwhelming support for the concept of ethnically cleansing Gaza of its Palestinian population.
Israel’s allies have reluctantly criticised this type of speech, daring to do so more when it comes from leaders such as Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, while minimising their extremist threats as “unhelpful”.
This performative rhetorical condemnation means little when western states continue to offer material support for Israel. The strategy seems to be to pretend that such voices are radical, and unrepresentative of the Israeli people - as if we are unable to see or hear the highest echelons in the Israeli government supporting such ideas, and receiving thunderous applause from the public.
Indeed, this deluge of genocidal rhetoric has been met with a resounding shrug from most world leaders. No groups are sanctioned. There is no wall-to-wall coverage for weeks on end analysing the dehumanisation of Palestinians, and their comparison to vermin or biblical foes to be wiped out. Yet, somehow, there is still time and space to twist logic and language to its breaking point to explain how calls for a ceasefire are tantamount to incitement to mass murder.
This type of gaslighting was always logically absurd, but now more than ever it is also deadly, trapping Palestinians and those in solidarity with them into rhetorical mazes from which they’re never meant to escape - all to buy more time for Israel to continue its rampage.
The very least we can do in this horrendous historical moment is utterly reject these unjust and nonsensical premises. No, you do not get to claim that Israel is a democracy, but also that the government and opinion polls don’t represent the people. No, the real genocide is not the chants you hear at a protest, which will be your only reminder that day that something terrible is being done in your name and with your tax dollars.
No, for Palestinians in Gaza, genocide is not a thought experiment or something in the abstract. To them, there are tangible consequences for the genocidal incitement so rampant in Israeli society.
To equivocate on this point, and to draw a false equivalence between coloniser and colonised, between those carrying out a genocide and the targets of their brutal violence, is to refuse to live in reality - and it paves the way for the further slaughter of Palestinians.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.