When Palestinian Lives Are So Dehumanized, Palestinian Suffering Is Normalized

14 October// DAWN

On Saturday morning, Oct. 7, my phone starting ringing non-stop. From the sheer quantity of calls from Western media outlets, and without seeing the news, I knew that Israeli lives must have been lost. Why? Because after living in Palestine for many years now, I have learned that Western media outlets rarely call with such urgency when Israel kills Palestinians.

Indeed, I was right, and it was at this awful moment that the routine dehumanization of Palestinians began. It immediately became apparent that the lives of Israelis had meaning, while the lives of Palestinians did not. Those who claimed that the Hamas attack was “unprovoked” conveniently chose to ignore the reality that Palestinians live under: 75 years of ethnic cleansing; 56 years of military occupation and, for Gaza, 17 years of a brutal siege.

In ignoring our reality, they ignored the hundreds of Palestinians that Israel killed in 2023 alone (one quarter of them children); they ignored the more than 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, 1,400 of them imprisoned without ever being charged with a crime. They ignore the nightly raids, the kidnappings by the Israeli army, the torching of Palestinian villages by Israeli settlers, and all of the ways in which Jewish supremacy is manifested against Palestinians. They ignore statements by Israeli politicians like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also effectively governs the West Bank, calling for Palestinian towns like Huwara to be “erased.” They ignore when Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s minister of national security, declares that his hero is Baruch Goldstein, a terrorist who massacred 29 Palestinians in a mosque in Hebron in 1994.

They forget that occupation is violent. It is a death by a thousand cuts—daily, painful, brutalizing.It is only in a world where Palestinian lives are so dehumanized that Palestinian suffering becomes normalized. And it is only when Palestinians are so dehumanized that the Hamas attack is seen as “unprovoked”—coming from nowhere. For we Palestinians are supposed to endure for decades what Israel suffered for a day. We are supposed to remain in our cages. It is in this dehumanized world that Israel underestimates, painfully, the desire and will of a people to break out from their cages.

But the dehumanization of Palestinians does not stop there. In the ensuing days, the Israeli military and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spread the claim that Hamas had beheaded babies. It made outraged headlines around the world, even though it was never verified (the Israeli government even admits that now). Yet President Joe Biden repeated it from a White House lectern earlier this week: “I never thought that I would see, have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.” The White House soon had to walk that back.