The Department of Feminist Studies mourns the escalation of violence and war in Israel and
Who Is a Civilian?
The War on Palestine
By Academics for Justice in Palestine, UC Santa Barbara
The Santa Barbara Independent, Tue Oct 17, 2023 | 5:00pm
Academics for Justice in Palestine, UC Santa Barbara, is Walid Adel Afifi, Tamara Afifi, Ralph Armbruster, Felice Blake, Julie Carlson, Charmaine Chua, Bishnupriya Ghosh, Lisa Hajjar, Lisa Park, David Pellow, Laila Shereen Sakr, Sherene Seikaly, Jennifer Tyburczy, Elisabeth Weber
We write in grief as the full force of the world’s fifth-strongest army rains bombs down on the people of Palestine, that part of Palestine known to the world today as the Gaza Strip. We grieve as we witness unequivocal military, political, and diplomatic support of Western governments for an Israeli aggression unprecedented since 1948. We write in grief today, October 17, as the latest Israel air assault has targeted the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist Hospital in Gaza City. Thousands of civilians were seeking treatment and shelter from relentless bombardment; the assault has killed at least 500 people, including patients and medical staff. Today, too, Israel struck a United Nations school housing refugees.
Palestinian artist Heba Zagout was killed with her two young children in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza on Friday October 13.
We write in grief for the Palestinian and Israeli people who have lost loved ones to the ravages of military conflict. We were filled with dread witnessing Hamas’s gruesome operation on October 7. That operation and its aftermath has killed 1,300 Israelis and injured another 3,621, with a further estimated 199 or more Israeli hostages — both soldiers and civilians — and some foreign nationals taken by Hamas. There is no justification for the targeting of civilians in any context. We write in grief for all civilian life.
We witnessed message after message from universities and corporations that populated our inboxes and screens expressing empathy, outrage, and unconditional support for the state of Israel and its people. We witnessed as two battlefields merged in front of us: one, on the ground, where the besieged and enclosed people in the Gaza Strip face relentless and indiscriminate bombardment; and another, in language, where powerful public discourse coalesces around speaking of Palestinian people as “human animals.” U.S. politicians have called for the “eradication” of Palestinians and to “level” the Gaza Strip. The rising rhetoric of “barbarism” and “terrorism” speeded the message that Israeli and U.S. generals and politicians alike relayed: There are no innocent civilians in Gaza. Indeed, Gaza itself became the subject inflicting “atrocity,” severed from a people, unattached to a cause, floating somehow by itself outside of history.
But Gaza is not an island. And history did not begin on October 7. The Gaza Strip and the people living in it are Palestinian. They are part of a peoplehood. Seventy percent of the people in the Gaza Strip are refugees and their descendants. They are not refugees from another world. They are refugees from various parts and times of Palestine and Palestinian history. They carry the long legacy of the denial of their peoplehood, a denial that began in 1917, when British colonialism committed to envisioning a future for the land of Palestine, but without the people who lived on it. Since the Balfour Declaration and the British mandate that it established, Palestinian Muslims and Christians have been denied political rights in their homeland. Palestinian Muslims and Christians have been defined as “non-Jews.”
In 1948, the Zionist movement established the state of Israel on the lands of the Palestinian people. That year, 750,000 Palestinians became stateless refugees and 150,000 became internally displaced in the new state of Israel. British colonial partition of territories exacted a heavy price in Palestine, as in India, South Africa, and Ireland.
After the 1967 war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, Israeli forces occupied East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. More than 300,000 additional Palestinians became refugees. From 1967 to the present, Israel has overseen a military occupation of Palestinian land and life.
For the last 75 years, Palestinians have suffered under the violence of enclosure, dispossession, and fragmentation. They have been subject to denial of self-determination as individuals and as a people. Since the ostensible peace process that began in 1993, Israeli settlers in territories occupied in 1967 have increased exponentially. From 1967 to the present, there are more than 600,000 settlers in the West Bank. These settlements, alongside an elaborate system of bypass roads, checkpoints, and a wall, have split the West Bank into isolated cantons.
Gaza has been described as the world’s largest open-air prison. But brick-and-mortar prisons have defined Palestinian life since the occupation began. At least 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned, some charged and prosecuted in military courts and others held without trial as administrative detainees.
Palestinian civil society organizations have, since 2005, called for civil disobedience and non-violent struggle through divestment. This call opposes the Israeli regime of rule that renders Palestinians in Israel second-class citizens, and Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as colonized subjects, denied the basic, inalienable rights of self-determination, movement, expression, and assembly, as well as access to education, health, and economic well-being. Palestinians have named this regime apartheid.
The campaign’s demands are: full equality for Palestinians citizens in Israel; an end to the occupation and colonization of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem; and the implementation of the right of return of Palestinian refugees according to UN Resolution 194. In January 2021, the Israeli organization B’Tselemestablished that there is no separation between the Israeli state and its military occupation: The two constitute a single apartheid regime. In April 2021, Human Rights Watch also issued a report defining Israeli rule as apartheid. In 2022, Amnesty International released a report detailing Israel’s system of domination of the Palestinians as apartheid.
Today and in the aftermath of October 7, we witness the unleashing of the Israeli army on a land that is 141 square miles, home to 2.1 million people, of whom 50 percent are under the age of 18. Today, we ask, who counts as a civilian? Close to 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are registered refugees. Today they face a second forcible removal from their homes, in what risks becoming a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Since October 15, the Israeli bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza has resulted in 2,670 Palestinians killed, 9,600 more injured, and the displacement of at least 600,000 Palestinians. Israeli bombardment has struck at least 185 educational facilities, including 20 United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools and 165 Palestinian Authority schools, one of which was destroyed. The Islamic University of Gaza was attacked by Israeli airstrikes. The totality of Israel’s control over Gaza is evident in the state’s ability to turn off all water and electricity and prevent food from getting in. The hospitals are fast becoming morgues. Massive and ongoing death, displacement, and destruction are manifestations of the genocidal rhetoric of politicians and the media as unfolding realities on the ground.
Palestinian liberation is a crucial step in ending conflict, bloodshed, and the logic of racialization and apartheid. Critiquing this logic that dehumanizes and exposes Palestinians to potential annihilation is a moral responsibility for all of us. Whether by drawing an analogy to the South African experience of apartheid or to the Native American experience of dispossession in North America, the time is now to place Palestine in a broader historical struggle for social justice. We have learned from liberation struggles and traditions: No one is free until we are all free.