Changing views on Palestine

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 5 Mar 2024

The world may finally have realised what the Palestinians have been enduring at the hands of Israel over the past 75 years.


In protest against the war on Gaza, a US Air Force soldier, Aaron Bushnell, set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington last month.

Wearing military fatigues, he doused himself with petrol and then set himself on fire as, ignoring his pain, he continued to shout, “Free Palestine!”

In a video posted on Facebook, Bushnell explained his intentions. “My name is Aaron Bushnell. I am an active duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal,” he said.

Bushnell’s action will reverberate far and wide and not only with Americans. How could a white US Air Force soldier sacrifice his life in solidarity with the Palestinians? Whatever the answer to this question might be, his action exemplifies the empathy now experienced by millions across the world, and especially the Western world, among those who may earlier never have considered the Palestinians worthy of solace or affinity.

Has the world turned over a new page regarding the Palestinians? Has the equation as it was formerly changed? Has the world finally understood what Israel has been doing all along in Palestine?

A common thread has always been to undermine the Palestinians and to hail the Israelis. After 7 October, many in the West believed that the war had occurred in a vacuum and that Hamas, identified as a terrorist group, had intentionally instigated an attack on innocent Israeli civilians with no prior cause.

However, as Israel then began viciously to bomb Gaza, flattening the enclave and not only disregarding civilians but also intentionally bombing hospitals and schools jam-packed with human beings, the world began to see Israel’s real intentions: to expand its territory as it thins out the Gazan population. As Israelis went on television and social media to call for the “annihilation” of the Palestinians, and as Israeli soldiers proudly paraded their massacres, world views changed.

Since then, data shared on many Western media outlets has shown that support for Israel around the world has dropped significantly since the start of the war. According to the US Time Magazine, the percentage of people viewing Israel negatively has increased 18 per cent in 42 of 53 countries, the US being one.

Furthermore, dozens of countries have altered their perspective on Israel, and they are now in sympathy with Palestine. These include Spain, China, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Brazil, and many others. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza and compared its actions to the Nazi campaign to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe. Even the perspective on Israel in the US has changed, as many Americans are now calling for a ceasefire in the war and are criticising US President Joe Biden vehemently for giving the Israelis the green light to continue their bombardment.

The keffiyeh, a scarf with a distinctive woven pattern worn by many Palestinian men, represents Palestinian nationalism due to its adoption by Palestinian leaders such as former Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat. Today, it has become an emblem of solidarity with the Palestinians and resistance against the Israeli occupation across the world. Many more people have been wearing keffiyehs in solidarity with the Palestinians, and many Western celebrities-turned-activists have made bold statements by wearing it to protests, premiers, and shows.

The film industry in the West is heavily aligned with Israel. Yet, many celebrities in the industry have been speaking up against Israel and shedding light on the plight of the Palestinians despite how it might affect them professionally.

John Cusack, a US actor, said on X that “Palestinian civilians didn’t ask for a massacre.” He also said he did not fear for his future in the film industry because of his position on what is happening in Gaza. Mark Ruffalo, another famous US actor, said that “I’m grief-stricken for the unspeakable suffering and loss of life and loved ones.”

Famous US actress Susan Sarandon has joined protesters on Capitol Hill in Washington calling for a Gaza ceasefire. Cynthia Nixon, another famous US actress, became emotional on The View, a daily TV show in the US, when explaining why she had gone on a hunger strike to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“Never again means never again for anyone,” she said.

These celebrities, whether we like it or not, influence society and the public at large. Their attitude and words can shape societies, and their followers tend to emulate their behaviour and may ultimately endorse their causes.

Due to the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza, tens of thousands of non-Arabs and non-Muslims have joined pro-Palestinian protests across the world including in the US. Thousands of demonstrations in major US cities have taken place, and as Israel has intensified its bombing, more and more protests have occurred. This current wave of pro-Palestinian protests is unheard of.

According to the US TV channel PBS, by December 2023 there were “more than 1,869 Palestinian solidarity protests in the US… involving hundreds of thousands of people.” These protests have demanded a ceasefire in the Gaza war, have accused Israel of committing genocide, and have considered Biden complicit in the conflict. Finally, the world had begun to understand the Palestinian ordeal.

What is perhaps more surprising is the number of Jews who are against Israel’s actions in Gaza. Across Europe and the US, thousands of Jews have been protesting against Israel’s committing genocide against the Palestinians.

“Not in my name” has become a common phrase. Some Jews want to grieve for Jews and Palestinians alike, while others go further. According to the UK newspaper the Guardian, “more than half [of American Jews] disapprove of the country’s right-wing government… a quarter of American Jews agree Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ and one-fifth of those under 40 do not think the Jewish state has a right to exist.”

The tide is changing, and global opinion is not in Israel’s favour.


The writer is a former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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