A narrative shift on Palestinian experiences is disrupting the status quo

The final scene of the Oscar-nominated short film, “The Present,” is a simple depiction of an Israeli occupation that is being more widely described as “apartheid” than ever before, including from the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress, long the bastion of pro-Israeli sentiment.

The film fictionalizes the fraught effort of a father and his daughter crossing into a neighbouring town to purchase a fridge. It ends with the little girl pushing the fridge onto the road reserved for settlers, rather than turn back because the checkpoint’s turnstiles are too narrow to fit the appliance through.

“The Present” is just one more example of how the experiences of Palestinians are no longer hidden from view, long held hostage by the Israel government’s broad narrative depicting Palestinians as terrorists, and unreliable partners for peace, and unworthy of the rights conferred unto them under international law.

A recent scathing report by Human Rights Watch is only the latest indictment of Israeli policy.

“Authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity [ . . .] these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” wrote the report’s authors.

Similar conclusions were arrived at by an analysis released earlier this year from B’Tselem — The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. “Israeli apartheid [ . . .] is a process that has gradually grown more institutionalized and explicit, with mechanisms introduced over time in law and practice to promote Jewish supremacy.”

During a special session in the U.S. Congress last Thursday, several Congressmen and women questioned America’s unequivocal support for Israel, which has included $146 billion dollars in bilateral assistance and military funding to date. “Government dollars always come with conditions. The question at hand is should our taxpayer dollars create conditions for justice, healing, and repair, or should those dollars create conditions for oppression and apartheid,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez countered President Joe Biden’s one-sided support of Israel’s right to self-defence. “But do Palestinians have a right to survive?” she asked.

The experiences and views of Palestinian activists, academics, journalists, even supermodels, are propelling significant worldwide opposition to the discriminatory treatment of Palestinians.

Tens of thousands of people participated in pro-Palestinian rallies over the weekend around the world and in major Canadian cities, including Toronto, despite mainstream media coverage that has sometimes fallen short.

“I have watched, read, and listened to Canadian media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict since the Sheikh Jarrah incident, and it has, for the most part, been embarrassingly uncritical of Israel’s actions,” tweeted Andray Domise, a contributing editor at Macleans, referencing the Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem in which 27 Palestinian families are at risk of being dispossessed of their homes.

Domise is one of over 2,000 journalists and allies who have signed an open letter calling for “fair and balanced coverage should include historical and social context, reporters with knowledge of the region and, crucially, Palestinian voices.”

This narrative shift is galvanizing Canadian grassroots and advocacy organizations and ratcheting pressure on political parties, now expected to call out Israel’s actions, not only Hamas’s rockets.

While Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said nary a word against Israel’s government for the violence committed against Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa compound earlier this month or the ongoing forced removal of Palestinians from their land, the Liberal’s foreign minister Marc Garneau took several days to condemn the attacks against worshippers.

The Bloc Québécois introduced a motion in the House of Commons, urging “Israel to end the colonization and annexation of the Palestinian territories,” while calling on the “Palestinian Authority to denounce the rocket attacks by Hamas against the Israeli civilian populations.” (The motion failed.)

And the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh is calling for a halt on arms sales to Israel; his party is also calling for a ban on trade with illegal Israeli settlements.

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Perhaps it is the recent statement issued by JSpaceCanada, a progressive Jewish organization, which best captures the moment: “We refuse to accept the status quo.”

Clearly, they aren’t the only ones who feel that way.