The ongoing explosion in public activism in the United States and the world for a ceasefire in Gaza and equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians is a battleground as important as the military face-off over Gaza in this century-old conflict.
It reveals the eroding efficacy of traditional pro-Israel propaganda in the face of more visible and explicitly apartheid policies by Israel and widespread, technically proficient mobilisations by pro-Palestine and pro-justice movements. It also signals how people across the globe recognise the Palestinians’ suffering and their battle for national rights as among the last anti-colonial struggles in the world.
Signs of this trend were visible even before the October 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and about 240 taken captive. But the unprecedented and brutal Israeli counterrampage against civilians and all institutions of life in Gaza that followed — killing 15,000 people and displacing almost 80 percent of the population — has clarified Israeli policies and their long colonial vintage and turned global sentiment against Israel’s aggressions.
That public pressure in turn forced even backers of the war in the West to reluctantly push for a week’s truce and negotiated exchanges of detainees by Israel and Hamas before the fighting resumed on Friday.
Perhaps the most compelling of the political developments that are now in flux and will shape the world’s view of the war and the configuration of the region has been the steady stream of students and young professionals in the United States and beyond standing up for equal rights for both Palestinians and Israelis. They have done this through global mass actions like demonstrations, legal suits, strikes, media campaigns, and public expressions of support by athletes, artists and others in society.
Not surprisingly, this has sparked countercampaigns by pro-Israel groups in the US and globally to shut down the voices of pro-Palestine activists and to criminalise elements of Palestinian identity itself — like displaying the Palestinian flag or wearing the keffiyeh headdress.
Many public discussions and meetings on the issue have been barred, and people who express any kind of sympathy for Palestine – even if in old social media posts – have been dismissed from their jobs. The ultimate cruelty was Israel banning public shows of joy by families and communities for young Palestinian prisoners freed from Israeli jails during the truce — a ban which, unsurprisingly, most Palestinians ignored.
Many reasons explain why public sentiment in the US and globally has been shifting away from a traditional, heavily pro-Israel stance to a more even-handed position that seeks to end Israel’s occupation and military savagery against Palestinians and demand accountability and redress for the past century of Zionist settler-colonial excesses in all of historic Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. These include notably Palestinian ethnic cleansing and forced exile, refugeehood, occupation, statelessness and fragmented nationhood.
Rising public support for Palestinian rights reflects Israel’s harsh, often criminal policies, which are now visible for the whole world to see every day – including the brutality in Gaza that jurists and scholars increasingly evaluate in the context of genocide.
Partnerships stitched together by Palestinian activists with progressive groups across the world have also amplified the calls for justice.
This expanded rapidly after the Black Lives Matter movement heightened people’s awareness and focus on social justice demands that persist among subjugated and colonised people in many countries. People across the world have made the connection between history, Zionism, Israel, the Palestinians and the consequences of how the US and United Kingdom totally and enthusiastically support Israel’s actions. Most of the world that suffered and remembers the pain and ignominy of Western colonialism instinctively recognised the Palestinians’ ongoing resistance to Israel as the world’s last anti-colonial struggle and seek to support it in any way they can.
Young people and university students lead this new wave of activism for social justice because on their cell phones and computer screens they see the damage being done to people’s lives everywhere by 19th century-type colonial policies, whether against African Americans in Missouri, Palestinians in Gaza or Jenin, or ethnic minorities in other countries.
When credible reports by international groups like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch describe Israel’s policies to control Palestinians as apartheid, the world’s conscience – led by its youth and students – kicks into action to rid us of this scourge. Equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians is their goal, as happened in South Africa after decades of nonviolent and occasional military struggle.
Not surprisingly, this global wave of activism for Palestine has elicited some wild accusations that the protests – especially in US universities — are motivated by anti-Semitism or support for Hamas. This reflects more than anything else the desperation of Zionist and pro-Israel groups who recognise and worry that their traditional propaganda in the West is flailing.
Other arguments are being made about why the global wave of action for universal social justice and ending settler-colonial occupations is not sincere. Some say that activists unfairly pick on Israel but ignore other governments that treat people harshly. Others argue that Israel treats its Palestinian citizens well because a few of them are in parliament or that Israel is a good place because it respects LGBTQ rights.
Diversionary propaganda like this will mount, but it will fail as it has been failing in recent years – because the pain, cruelty and criminality of settler-colonial apartheid grab the attention and drive the activism of all decent human beings everywhere who want to work for a better world.
Israel does have many impressive qualities in science, education, agriculture and other fields, but they are drowned out by its soul-grinding settler-colonial apartheid reality we see on television daily.
So we march in the streets for social justice and liberty for all as good people have always done to fix their world’s weaknesses and right its wrongs.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.