- The news that thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have been killed in recent weeks has deeply affected our team of clinicians, clients, and community members. Our hope with this statement is to shed some light on patterns we are noticing in community-wide discussions to support everyone to be able to access credible information and process their emotions around these events to the best of their ability.
- In hopes of more fruitful emotional processing and activism, we address and highlight themes of White supremacy culture, misinformation, the impact of language, and how virtue signaling can be harmful.
- There can be effective action taken to support those most vulnerable during this humanitarian crisis. Effective action may include reducing harm by being mindful of our language and practicing effective media literacy so as not to spread disinformation, and supporting those most affected through donations and volunteerism, as well as taking care of ourselves emotionally by allowing ourselves to have our own grief process.
- Links for donating to humanitarian aid as well as further education on media literacy are included at the end of the statement.
Over the last month, communities around the world have held so much pain and grief as thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have been killed. This has activated generations of ancestral trauma as people worry that the same violence enacted against their ancestors will be enacted against them and others like them.
White Supremacy Culture
In many of the articles and posts you see that are describing this issue, you will probably feel urged to take a side between Israel or Palestine. Binaries and either/or thinking exist as characteristics of White supremacy culture, forcing you to urgently condense nuance and complexity.
Right to comfort is another characteristic of White supremacy culture that may be applicable to this issue. We have an obligation to advocate for the basic human rights of others, to witness their suffering. We must also take time to process and rest in order to advocate effectively.
There have been disparate public responses to the loss of Israeli lives on October 7th compared to deaths of Palestinians in the following days. These responses have left many Jews feeling worried that they may witness a repeat of the Holocaust. Misinformation has been rampant on social media, with videos and photos being posted from previous events and captioned as currently occurring. The polarization regarding this conflict does not just affect those in Israel or Palestine, but contributes to rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia globally.
Much of this issue, at least on social media, seems to be a chance for White progressives and leftists to engage in virtue signaling. Defined as, “the act or practice of conspicuously displaying one’s awareness of and attentiveness to political issues, matters of social and racial justice, etc., especially instead of taking effective action” (Merriam Webster, n.d.).
The United States government sides with Israel as it is politically advantageous for them and their relationships to countries in the SWANA region, which has left many Palestinian people feeling dismissed and devalued.
It is important to recognize that our attention has been fixated on this specific set of atrocities, when so many others, many supported by the United States, are happening around the world. It seems possible that anti-semitism may play a role in this, considering how some known White supremacists have used freeing Palestine as a tactic for spreading anti-semitic conspiracy theories at protests and on social media.
If we oversimplify this into being about race, we fuel more racial hatred. Treating this as merely a political issue negates that this is a human rights issue as well. This is not as simple as the oppressed versus the oppressor.
According to this year’s statistics, 20% of Israel’s population is Arab. Additionally many, potentially a majority of, Israeli Jews have ancestry from Southwest Asia and North Africa (Mizrahi Jews). This ethnic group’s existence in Israel spiked after 1948 and seems to have experienced various social and political conflicts with Israeli Jews who have European ancestry (Ashkenazi Jews). This experience of immigration seems notably different from the experience of colonization within the Americas, as both groups involved in this conflict are indigenous to the area.
With that context, “apartheid” may not be a fitting word choice to describe the nature of Israel’s ties with Palestine, as apartheid refers to “the implementation and maintenance of a system of legalized racial segregation in which one racial group is deprived of political and civil rights” (Cornell Law School, 2022). The racial compositions of both Palestine and Israel have a significant amount of overlap.
That being said, the Israeli state’s actions toward Palestine hold similarities to the process of settler-colonialism, as can be seen in differences in death tolls between populations as well as displacement of Palestinian people over time. Through various bureaucratic and physical limitations, Israel has limited the Palestinian people’s freedom of movement in many areas of life. Israel claimed that this movement could pose a security risk due to Hamas’s threats toward them. This choice has greatly impacted the quality of life for many Palestinians even if it was not racially motivated. Palestinians have increased difficulty accessing education, employment, family reunification, food, healthcare, and other basic human rights due to these restrictions.
Democide may be an apt word to describe the atrocities perpetrated in Gaza currently. Democide is an umbrella term to refer to any acts of murder done by a government, including political violence. These acts do not have to be directly related to a person’s racial or ethnic identity, though genocide is a type of democide. It is clear that many Palestinian people are suffering, regardless of what words we use to describe their experiences.
Simultaneously, it feels necessary to highlight that the current rhetoric being used against Jews mirrors centuries of stereotypes and overgeneralizations used to justify violence against them. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazi regime started to solidify its narrative that Jews had to die for Germans to live, which could be compared to current narratives that Jews must die for Palestinians to live. Hamas has been explicit within their founding charter that they think Jewish deaths are imperative for their freedom.
It is important to examine how media characterizations impact how we think about Israel and Palestine, as well as the people within these countries. One area to be mindful of is the usage of passive and active voice within the context of death. Characterizing people as, “dying,” does not attach a perpetrator to this action; characterizing people as, “being killed,” connects the wrongdoer directly to this violence. This media tactic is something that has been used across time to exonerate murderers, particularly those with power, from their actions. Therefore, it is in our best interest to stay vigilant of how the language in media impacts our understanding of what is happening; media literacy is a valuable tool and practice that becomes even more imperative during times of rampant propaganda.
The use of respectability narratives seems to be playing a role in our responses to these deaths as well. This term comes from the politics of respectability, coined and studied by Professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, referring to how marginalized communities are uplifted for showing traits considered desirable to the groups in power. People may minimize their community experiences purposefully to gain favor from privileged groups, or may have their stories highlighted for their congruence with privileged narratives.
Our ability to humanize those caught within this conflict seems dependent on our ability to agree with their perspectives, but should this really be the case? We should not expect Palestinians to have to denounce Hamas in their suffering, as we should not expect Israelis to have to denounce their government as they grieve.
Violence for Liberation
Many social movements have engaged violence as a necessary tool for liberation, with the most successful examples of violence for liberation originating in self-defense. In differentiating types of violence, it feels important that the definition of “violence” ranges significantly from being defined as a violation of social norms to a deliberate act to infringe upon someone’s human rights. This highlights that violence is a subjective act in some regards, and that it may be unavoidable in certain situations. Some examples of successful use of violence for social change include the Cochabamba Water War in Bolivia in 2000, the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2014, the Yellow Vest protests in France in 2018, and the Black Panther Party’s open carry patrols in the mid to late 1960s. The most common examples of utilization of violence for even after this demand was met and later demonstrations appeared to be less successful in creating positive change. Ultimately, none of these movements originated in an intention toward violence however violence became necessary to continue the protests in the face of police violence. The most transformative use of violence for social change appears to initiate as defensive attempts to protect protestors and ordinary people against police and other armed government officials. Demonstrations often begin as peaceful protests and turn violent once police or government officials enter the scene armed and ready to suppress public speech. One might consider this type of violence as an attempt to keep protestors and ordinary people alive and protesting or politically engaged long enough to enact tangible political change. While it is true that some people may attend protests or become a part of social movements with motivations toward sadism and control of others, there is clearly an ethical difference between government-sanctioned violence against a mass of ordinary people, violence among and between ordinary people, and violence against one’s own government as a means of conveying a specific political message.
Government-sanctioned violence often follows a similar pattern to the abuse cycle known as DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. It is easy to get lost in dialogue of, “who started it” and fall into DARVO. Considering role power in these situations is one way to stay grounded in reality of who is most responsible or capable of greater harm. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that violence used within war harms the psyche of everyone enacting it, including those who feel like they are fighting for their freedom. It continues to divide all groups of people involved, strengthening hatred and fear. This continues the legacy of trauma in new ways and ultimately does not seem to be aligned with true liberation.
There are no easy solutions to this conflict, especially considering it has been happening for thousands of years in varied ways. Israeli Jews are not welcome to visit or live in many of Israel’s surrounding countries. Hamas has made it evident that they do not want Jews on land in the SWANA region, so it is unlikely that they would reach a compromise in which Israelis and Palestinians have equal civil rights if Hamas were to control the government of the entire area.
80% of Gaza’s population appears to rely on humanitarian aid, according to a recent report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. During this turbulent period, this aid is even more important. Organizations in Israel are also providing life-saving aid to those impacted by this violence. Below are links to donate to both types of organizations.
We additionally encourage you to sit with the feelings that arise from witnessing this situation, to acknowledge the suffering of the people in Israel and Palestine, and to take action in a truly meaningful way. We hope you are able to thoroughly examine what the media you consume is fueled by and avoid sharing information with undertones of violence. We encourage you to stay engaged and informed while also taking time to be gentle with yourself and engage in your own emotional process.
Palestinian-focused organizations requesting donations for support services:
Israeli-focused organizations requesting donations for support services:
Media Literacy Tools for Children and Adolescents:
Media Literacy Tools for Adults: