Western views on Palestine conflict show old biases live on

Western media and political discourse continue to frame the Palestinian struggle through a biased lens, echoing colonial-era thinking.

Published : Jul 02, 2024 15:00 IST - 6 MINS READ

People hold up signs and Palestinian flags outside the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, Britain, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas on July 1.

People hold up signs and Palestinian flags outside the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, Britain, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas on July 1. | Photo Credit: ISABEL INFANTES/REUTERS

There is power in forming knowledge by selecting words, assigning meaning to them, and imposing that on those who use those words. This is the power exercised by the political elite and media in the West when it comes to representing Palestinians and the genocide in their homeland.

The epistemic representation and justification of the killings, starvation, and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their own land and the destruction of their homes by the state of Israel proves that the colonial project remains very well operational.

Supporters of the Israeli state have often invoked language that presents Israel as facing an existential threat and of its right to defend itself. History and reality may be in stark contrast to this, but this representation of the issue has set the discourse rolling among the cheerleaders of the genocide.

Also Read | Gaza war at tenuous crossroads as Israel spurns ceasefire efforts, risking regional escalation

The United Nations Human Rights Council stated in its report that “There is no safe place in Gaza” but the world watches on. There is extensive documentation of the atrocities committed by the Israeli state, but that country’s supporters in the West and other parts of the world remain unmoved. They refuse to accept that the colonial state is doing anything wrong and claim that the blame lies with the Palestinians, who, in their representation, have been reduced to Hamas, and the latter to its October 7 attacks on Israel.

Exposing the myths

Though there have been times when the hypocrisy of the ruling elite in the West and elsewhere has been called out, right from the time when the United States of America dropped nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945, in no case has the double standard been so brazen about a genocide as in the case of Palestine.

Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born British scholar of racism, underlined the fact that it is language that makes it possible to produce meaning, including things that do not belong to one’s culture. “It is by our use of things, and what we say, think and feel about them—how we represent them—that we give them a meaning”, argued Hall. Accordingly one can argue that the words used by the political elite and Western media have been so loaded against Palestinians that it is not difficult to figure out why the ongoing genocide of the Palestinians has not made any impact on much of the world.

It is a simple but important question: why is the world not condemning a colonial state that has displaced millions of Palestinians, killed thousands, made them second-class citizens on their own land, put them under siege and thus controlling their life? On what basis does categorisation become acceptable and justifiable?

“Though there have been times when the hypocrisy of the ruling elite in the West and elsewhere has been called out, in no case has the double standard been so brazen about a genocide as in the case of Palestine.”

The essence of this discourse lies in the epistemic origin of these terms and their syntax. The epistemological focus from the centres of power shifts the focus on the imagery from the perspective of the powerful. No matter how grievous and gross crimes they commit, the representation of those crimes as committed against what the Israeli officials label as the “children of dark”, “human animal”, “terrorists” makes them justifiable.

This discourse does not remain a practice of the ruling elite. It is echoed by the intellectual class of the West as well. When the sociologist Jürgen Habermas supported the claim that “the standards of judgement slip completely when genocidal intentions are attributed to Israel’s actions”, he implied that the Israeli state has been on a mission to secure itself against a threat (the Palestinian people).

Thus, inflammatory statements and actions by Israeli officials for the last several decades, thus, do not amount to a genocide, but an attack, by a thousand times weaker group operating from under siege in Gaza amounts to genocide. This is in line with the larger agenda of othering the easterners. Slavoj Zizek, the philosopher, while condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine claimed that the former were “no less than Arabs”. Both these towering figures, like many in the West, were making the point that the Western mission to civilise the world is on; there may be some corrections required but those debates are within the West and beyond the comprehension or any possible contribution from the East.

Controlling the thought of the East?

Many in the East have become victims of this intellectual endeavour, which sees that the Palestine conflict started on October 7 when Hamas attacked apparent peace-loving Israelis. The list is long, including literary figures like Salman Rushdie. There is little other reason for someone like Rushdie to say that if Palestine was to be free, it would be a state like the Taliban have. It raises an important issue: Do these people write as scholars or to please the controllers of the epistemology of the knowledge about the East and the Easterners?

It is not to argue that the Taliban are upholders of “human rights”. But then, neither are Westerners. More importantly, neither Hamas nor the Taliban went inside the homes of Westerners to kill, maim, and torture them. It has been the West for centuries that has been committing grievous crimes against people across the world.

Also Read | Palestinian Authority’s declining influence portends more trouble for Gaza

It is a reality that no country in the East has been able to provide an alternative to the existing epistemology of rights, justice, and freedom rolled out by the West. On a philosophical level, there has been no challenger either. The potential challengers have been domesticated in the same epistemic understanding of the issues that the West has designed for its domination or the ones that remain to be explored and discussed at par in comparison with the existing knowledge structures.

The only way is to question the ontology of this epistemic violence. For example, who are the Palestinians and why do they fight? If they are the original inhabitants of the Palestinian land, how come they become terrorists for demanding their land and home back, while the foreign settlers became victims of such demands?

One surprise that the genocide of the Palestinians has thrown up is the political awakening of university students in the West who have been protesting against the genocide. Thus, we have two categories of people living at the moment: one, the ruling political elite that remains indifferent to the killing of Palestinians, including men, women, old, young, children, and even fetuses. The other category is the young students of various universities in the West who have been leading from the front to protest against their own ruling elite against the latter’s support for the genocide, questioning the existing epistemology of violence.

Nazir Ahmad Mir, PhD, and Muneeb Yousuf, PhD, are researchers based in New Delhi.

+ SEE all Stories
Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment