For years, even uttering the name “Palestine” in the United States was considered an act of political rebellion. This is, in large part, due to Israel’s outsized influence on the United States, and the exceptional security and political relationship between both countries that allows Israel to receive unconditional and unrestricted support. This support helps to perpetuate Israel’s war crimes and settler aggression against the indigenous Palestinians living under Israel’s apartheid state.
Today, “Palestine” is plastered across social media, cable news chyrons and Congressional bills. Seemingly overnight, Americans’ fear of supporting Palestine, and of saying the name, dissipated. The crack in Israel’s apartheid wall is splintering, traveling upward. What was once thought as an immovable object — America’s steadfast support of Israel — is being moved by the unstoppable force that is the Palestinian resistance.
Of course, for Palestinians, this didn’t happen overnight. Israel’s occupation of Palestine has faced resistance from Palestinians since it began. They’ve been shouting their experience and pain from the beginning — Americans are just now beginning to listen. And when one American speaks up in support of Palestine, more receive the courage to do so as well. Person by person, we can push toward what appears to be a tipping point.
Despite its challenges, 2020 succeeded in building solidarity across the country, across the world and across social and economic classes on international issues of human rights, including at home with the movement for Black Lives — at incredible cost. It showed, mostly to the white Americans who have had the privilege of ignoring this reality for centuries, that the US has significant work to do to adequately address and correct the mistakes and violent crimes of its past and its present.
What was once thought as an immovable object — America’s steadfast support of Israel— is being moved by the unstoppable force that is the Palestinian resistance.
Americans have become more aware of racial injustice and the use of brute force by militarized state entities. We’ve become less tolerant of blatant human rights violations and corruption. The American reaction to the events in Sheikh Jarrah, displayed through social media and amplified by multi-city demonstrations, exemplifies this progress. Western media outlets are even beginning to finally offer platforms for Palestinians to share their experience and opinions, though it is still common for Palestinians to be censored or subjected to Western biases either through editing of quotes or insensitive questions. The point at which the Western media can accept Palestinians’ truth without doubt or censorship is still distant, but we seem to be edging closer.
Society is clearly moving at a quicker pace than the US government in recognizing the rights and dignity of Palestinians, which means that it will be up to American citizens to nudge the US government forward. The Biden campaign pledged it would not “check its values at the door” when it comes to policy. But what do you call continual unconditional support of a state whose military occupation terrorizes, maims and murders the indigenous population of the territory it is occupying? I call it hypocrisy, plain and simple. President Biden has been mostly silent this week on Palestine, but we see his continued “stalwart” support of Israel displayed through State Department’s Spokesman Ned Price told refusal to condemn the murder of Palestinian children and his convoluted responses to the reporters’ questions concerning Israel’s war crimes. By choosing to center Israelis instead of Palestinians, the Biden administration has fallen into a classic tactic of our global colonial system. As politically torn as Biden may feel in this moment, he must not act in cowardice. He cannot shirk the responsibility this historic moment demands.
The biggest sign of political and legislative progress comes from Representative Betty McCollum’s new bill, introduced last month, which prohibits the use of US funds to enable violations of international and human rights law, such as annexation, land theft, and arrest and abuse of Palestinian minors. The bill has 18 cosponsors and is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee and will certainly be challenged by representatives from both sides of the House. Nevertheless, this bill is historic and demonstrates the power of shifting public opinion, providing a glimpse of optimism for human rights advocates and Palestinians about the future of the US’s relationship with Palestine.
Thanks to organizers, activists, and everyday Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, and Arab people in the United States and across the world, many white Americans are challenging and changing their default political and social outlook, including in so-called foreign affairs. While white people bear the heaviest weight of the responsibility for shifting the status quo — due to the disproportional power our privilege and history of acting as the oppressor has given us — all Americans must recognize the importance of Palestine and the dignity and value of Palestinian lives. We must not let cowardice, ignorance or apathy deter us from learning and sharing the past and present oppression of Palestine or from demanding justice and freedom for Palestinians. Our tax dollars fund these crimes. Our indifference allows these crimes. Our selfishness hinders us from recognizing these truths.
Americans shouldn’t have this power over the lives of Palestinians, but this is the system we’ve created and sustained. It is indeed our responsibility to join the Palestinian effort for freedom and justice. I trust that my fellow citizens will not continue to allow our government to support another apartheid state. A shift in public opinion does indeed have the ability to shift policy.
Lauren Billet is the Communications Associate at the Center for International Policy.