The Townhall

Palestine’s Darkest Hour

Palestine’s Darkest Hour 

By Kasturi Chakraborty 

For months, the cries for Palestinian freedom have echoed louder than ever. From powerful protests to artistic defiance, a wave of solidarity is washing over the globe. Massive pro-Palestinian protests have erupted on university campuses and in major cities across the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Students are demanding their universities divest from Israel and are calling for an end to the war. 

The protests at Columbia University have been particularly notable, both for their intensity and their backing from influential figures like George Soros and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.  The student-led protests at Columbia are part of a broader movement demanding an end to US support for Israeli military actions and greater humanitarian aid for Gaza. These protests have seen large turnouts, with students and faculty members alike joining the cause. “It’s being presented as a peace movement, that there are Jews involved, that it’s not antisemitic. But when people chant ‘globalize the intifada,’ it’s very clear,” said Charles Small, director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP). The encampments, which serve as both protest sites and information hubs, have become a focal point for the university community, drawing widespread attention to the issue.

The demonstrations represent a broad coalition of activists tying the Palestinian struggle to other social justice causes like women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, and Indigenous rights. In solidarity, delegates from many countries staged a walkout during Israeli speeches at the International Labor Conference in Geneva. Dozens of diplomats left the room when the Israeli government and employer representatives took the podium, leaving the room half empty in protest of Israel’s actions in Gaza. 

Israel Blacklisted for Violations Against Children

One of the most significant developments in this movement is the United Nations’ decision to add Israel to its blacklist of countries and organizations that have committed grave violations against children in conflict zones. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informed Israel’s Defense Attache in the US, Major General Hidai Zilberman, that Israel will be included in the annual report on children in armed conflict, set to be presented to the UN Security Council on June 14 and officially published a few days later. 

The report, authored by UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, will cover all of 2023 and note an increase in attacks due to the war on Gaza that began in October. It will list Israel alongside other offenders such as Russia, Afghanistan, Congo, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS/Daesh, Al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram. 

Israel’s inclusion is based on data from UN organizations and field sources, citing the use of large-scale bombs in occupied areas, severe blockades on Gaza, attacks on critical infrastructure, attempts to recruit minors as informants, and using children as human shields. Being blacklisted could significantly damage Israel’s reputation and may lead to countries imposing an arms embargo on Israel. 

The report will be cited across various UN bodies, including the General Assembly, Security Council, International Court of Justice (ICJ), and International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. This move comes after Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized Guterres last year for omitting Israel from the list despite its violations.

Israel’s international standing has collapsed to unprecedented lows. Favorable opinions of Israel have plummeted to just 16% in the UK, down from 21% last year. In the US, positive views of Israel fell to 58% overall and a dismal 38% among young adults. Several countries are taking concrete actions against Israel. The Republic of Maldives banned entry for Israeli passport holders and launched a national fundraising campaign for Palestine. President Mohamed Muizzu announced a ban on entry for individuals carrying Israeli passports and launched a national fundraising campaign named “Maldivians in Solidarity with Palestine.” 

In India, left-wing organizations and political leaders condemned Israel’s offensive in Gaza as genocide and demanded an immediate ceasefire. Communist and left-wing parties staged large protests in New Delhi, where participants called for an end to the violence and the supply of arms to Israel.

Palestine Support and Awareness Spreads on Social Media

Activists increasingly turn to social media to bypass traditional media filters and directly reach a global audience. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok have become essential tools for spreading information, organizing events, and mobilizing support. Hashtags such as #FreePalestine and #GazaUnderAttack have trended worldwide, helping to keep the issue in the public eye. 

Social media, alternative news outlets, and citizen journalism have played a pivotal role in exposing Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians and shaping the narrative, especially among digitally-native young people. The reach of social media has made it possible to galvanize support quickly, organizing protests and boycotts that put pressure on corporations and governments to reconsider their policies and allegiances. But it has never been this easy. 

An AI-generated “All Eyes on Rafah” image went viral, shared over 44 million times on Instagram. Pro-Palestine content proliferated on TikTok despite the app’s efforts to restrict it. Raw, uncensored footage of Israeli strikes and soldier abuses spread rapidly, sparking global outrage. Jewish groups realize their efforts to control the narrative are now mainly limited to influencing politicians, not the public. The discourse on Palestine has fundamentally shifted – Israel now stands in near-complete isolation due to its actions in Gaza and the courage of Palestinians in resisting.

Grassroots movements are also playing a crucial role in the pro-Palestinian protests. Boycotts, divestment campaigns, and economic sanctions have been organized to pressure companies and institutions that are seen as complicit in the conflict. As Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement co-founder Barghouti said,

The fact that many spontaneous boycott activists are now reaching out to the BDS movement for guidance on building strategic and sustainable campaigns gives us hope.

The BDS movement, in particular, has gained significant traction, with activists urging consumers to avoid products and companies linked to Israel. This form of economic activism seeks to hold corporations accountable and use financial leverage to enact change. 

The Biden Administration’s Palestine Problem

The Biden administration has faced increasing criticism for its stance on Israel and Gaza. Activists accuse the US of complicity in the humanitarian crisis, citing continued military aid and diplomatic support for Israel. This backlash has manifested in significant demonstrations and public denouncements, indicating a shift in public opinion and greater scrutiny of US foreign policy regarding the conflict.

High-profile protests and vocal opposition from within the Democratic Party have highlighted growing divisions over US policy in the Middle East. Lawmakers and activists alike are calling for a reevaluation of US aid to Israel and a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Senator Bernie Sanders has been a prominent voice in this debate. He has criticized Benjamin Netanyahu for using accusations of antisemitism to deflect attention from the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Sanders has argued that the majority of campus protesters are not antisemitic but are motivated by opposition to Israeli military policy and concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza. He has also called on Congress to reject President Biden’s proposed $10.1 billion in unconditional aid to Israel, condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza as “grossly disproportionate, immoral,” and in violation of international law. Sanders has emphasized that American taxpayers should not be implicated in the destruction of innocent lives in Gaza and has urged for conditions to be attached to any Israeli aid to ensure the protection of Palestinian civilians.

A Generational Shift in Opinion

The discourse on Palestine has fundamentally shifted. Israel now stands in near-complete isolation due to its actions in Gaza and the courage of Palestinians to resist. Opinion polls reveal a sharp generational divide on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with younger people, especially in the US and UK, growing increasingly critical of Israel and sympathetic to Palestinians compared to older generations. A stunning UnHerd survey found that a majority (54%) of Britons aged 18-24 do not believe Israel should exist as a state, while only 21% disagree. Half blame the Israeli government for the war, with only a quarter holding Hamas responsible. Young Britons are also far more interested in the Gaza war than other global conflicts. Among US Democrats, young voters are much more likely to sympathize with Palestinians over Israel than older voters and Democratic politicians. The pro-Israel lobby is facing a backlash as public opinion shifts, with efforts to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism becoming less effective among youth.

Nasir Firoz Khan, a Finance Associate who participated in a recent protest in London, shared his experience and insights on the event, which saw a significant turnout of nearly 180,000 people from Russell Square to Parliament Street. 

This was the 15th such protest in London, and what I really love about these protests is how diverse and passionate the crowd always is. People assume it’s mostly Muslims joining, but I am always amazed at how all races come together. The crowd includes people from different age groups, including the elderly, young students, ex-army personnel, teachers, and doctors.

Nasir highlighted the presence of counter-protestors, noting, “While we do get around 50 to 100 counter-protestors who sometimes use vile and nasty language, we also have thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters joining the march. They denounce Israel’s actions and work to ensure the protests are never labeled as anti-Semitic.”

He emphasized the protest’s core message, which reflects the voice of the British people:

We want a permanent ceasefire and will hold our government accountable for any support it provides to the genocidal regime of Israel.

He also praised the organization of the protest, which had police clearance, a special route for people with special needs, and a focus on steward safety. “Despite the emotional nature of the protest, we ensure no one uses any form of hate language,” he added.

Nasir pointed out the political implications of the protests. “The protest puts pressure on sitting MPs. Any complicity will be punished in the upcoming general elections on July 4.”

A Night to Remember

Last year in November, a group of activists turned the BBC building in London into a canvas, projecting harrowing scenes from war-torn Gaza. It was a bold critique of the BBC’s coverage, a message against “sanitizing genocide” splashed across the very symbol of news reporting. Raw footage from Palestinian journalists flickered beside BBC reports, a side-by-side comparison that challenged the network’s portrayal of events. The activists accused the BBC, funded by public money, of downplaying Palestinian suffering while swallowing Israeli narratives whole.

Staff leaving the building and Londoners on their evening commutes were forced to confront a reality often glossed over by mainstream media. This wasn’t some sanitized news report; it was the grim truth writ large. The activists argued that the BBC had a responsibility — an ethical duty — to present an unbiased view. Their act of defiance was a call to arms, urging the BBC to end its perceived complicity in the occupation.

This wasn’t an isolated event. The next day, crowds thronged outside the UK Parliament, demanding an immediate ceasefire. It followed a massive rally in London, where over a million voices united in solidarity. The message was clear: stop the arms sales to Israel and help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Omar Karim’s Story

While Palestinians have fled violence and oppression in their homeland, many continue to face marginalization, discrimination, and denial of basic rights in their host countries. Their voices are actively suppressed, their legal status is precarious, and the trauma of displacement persists.  Omar Karim, a 41-year-old Palestinian activist, went on a hunger strike in Belgium, consuming only water and salt. He recounted being “treated like a potential terrorist” and made to feel “as if I was from another planet”.  

Even in Belgium, Omar felt like a ghost. Palestine, unrecognized as a state, offered no legal footing. “It wasn’t just the airport,” he explained. “For months, I was homeless, even though I deserved asylum.” Thankfully, his application was approved, but the scars remained. The fight wasn’t over, not even in a so-called bastion of democracy. During a parliamentary discussion on the Palestinian genocide, Omar was silenced. When he dared to speak, an MP cut him off and called security. He was thrown out. 

The war, the separation from his family — it all weighed heavily on Omar. Living across Palestine, and witnessing the devastation firsthand, the stories were permanently imprinted in his memory.

My family is scattered, hadn’t heard from them in a week. Three cousins, teenagers, all gone.

Catastrophic Damage in Gaza

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has reached catastrophic levels. According to the UN Human Rights Office, recent airstrikes have caused significant casualties and damage. For instance, on June 4, eight Palestinian police officers were killed in an airstrike in northern Deir al Balah. The following day, another airstrike in Al Maghazi Refugee Camp resulted in eight more deaths. On June 6, six Palestinians were killed in An Nuseirat. These incidents are part of a broader pattern of intense bombardment across Gaza, particularly in central areas like Al Bureij, Al Maghazi, and An Nuseirat refugee camps, as well as eastern Deir Al Balah. Ground incursions and heavy fighting continue, especially in Rafah, leading to massive displacement and further destabilizing humanitarian aid flows. Over one million people have been displaced in Rafah alone, with less than 100,000 estimated to remain in the governorate. 

The images haunting us from Gaza are a brutal wake-up call – children with distended bellies and hollow eyes, their tiny bodies ravaged by malnutrition. Nine out of ten kids in the besieged territory are experiencing severe food poverty, scraping by on just a couple of food groups per day. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) reported that the Israeli military operation in Rafah has disrupted food distribution channels, leading to extremely high malnutrition rates among children. Many children, especially those under two, require urgent care due to the lack of food, which is affecting their development and making them more vulnerable to infections. 

“A significant proportion of Gaza’s population is now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions,” WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food.

It is a living nightmare that medical professionals are sounding the alarm over. Dr. Rana Shami, a pediatrician at al-Shifa Hospital said that they are seeing infants come in weighing a third of what they should at their age. “Their growth is stunted, they are lethargic and vulnerable to every infection.”

According to the WHO, 8,000 children under five were diagnosed with acute malnutrition in just the last few months. Imagine the anguish of a mother helplessly watching her child waste away. International Criminal Court prosecutor, Karim Khan, has even requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on charges of alleged war crimes, including using “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.”

After eight months of Israeli aggression, Gaza is in ruins. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed, with the death toll reaching 36,731 and injuries surpassing 83,530, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The offensive, which began on October 7, 2023, has displaced around 1.7 million people — 85% of Gaza’s population — decimating communities and livelihoods. 

Critical infrastructure is obliterated. The WHO reported in April 2024 that Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, was left completely non-functional after a two-week siege by Israeli forces. Only 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals remain minimally operational as of January 2024, with severe shortages forcing doctors to perform surgeries without anesthetics.

A UNOSAT analysis from May 2024 identified 137,297 damaged structures, including 36,591 completely destroyed and over 60% of homes either destroyed or damaged. This accounts for 72% of the estimated $18.5 billion in damage to critical infrastructure.

Despite this unimaginable suffering, hope persists. The horrific scale of death and destruction in Gaza, the blatant violations of international law, and the global outcry can no longer be ignored. Change is coming, carried forward by a generation who believes in equality, human rights, and the fundamental dignity of all people. The Palestinian struggle for liberation is at a tipping point, and the arc of history bends toward justice. It is time for meaningful action to end the blockade of Gaza, hold Israel accountable for its crimes, and support the Palestinian people in their quest for freedom and self-determination. Only then can healing begin.

Photos courtesy of Daniaal Khalid

Todd Davis

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