The image of Palestinians is one tainted by the misrepresentations rampant throughout the media. Palestinians have long been underrepresented and misunderstood, both in the media and in policy discussions. Despite their long history of struggle, they are still oftentimes portrayed in a negative light with their actions heavily scrutinized. This is a result of the misconceptions regarding their history and their movements. These misconceptions primarily stem from a lack of education on the history of the region and Orientalist biases. For instance, their forms of resistance and actions are quickly labeled a form of “terrorism” without analyzing their message or intention. An example of this is the term “intifada,” which has been unjustly branded as a terrorist phrase rather than recognized for what it truly represents – the Palestinian people’s decades-long uprising and resistance against generations of occupation. To combat these misconceptions, it is crucial for individuals to educate themselves on the historical events and context that have shaped the ongoing situation in the region.
The situation in Palestine and Israel is typically referred to as a highly “complex” conflict. Oftentimes, people will use this as an excuse to steer away from educating themselves about its history and the ongoing war. However, the struggle for land and liberation is both an important and simple tale of colonialism and its ongoing impact on the native population in Palestine. A history that can be traced back to the early 1900s, following the end of World War I and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. In a secret deal with the French, the Sykes-Picot Treaty, the British obtained control over the region of Palestine. Shortly afterwards, in 1917, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration, forever changing the lives of the native Palestinians already inhabiting the land. In the Declaration, the British called for the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people,” announcing its establishment in Palestine. It’s important to note that at this point, the “national home” was to be established in a country with a Jewish population of less than 10 percent. The Balfour Declaration, which offered inhabited land for settlement by another group of people two decades before the National Socialist regime pursued its “Final Solution,” marks the beginning of a century-long struggle of liberation for the Palestinian people.
From that point on, the Jewish population began to steadily increase. By around 1935, Jews made up approximately 27% of the population. The Balfour Declaration and increased migration into the region led to several small-scale conflicts involving the British, Zionist groups and the Palestinian Arabs. These conflicts were exacerbated by the United Nations Resolution 181 (November 29, 1947) which called for the partition of the region into two states: a Jewish State and a Palestinian State. While the Jewish-Zionist groups accepted the resolution, the Palestinians immediately rejected. The rejection occurred as a result of the partition offering the Zionists 55 percent of the land, including large cities which were already made up of an Arab-majority population. The 45 percent of the land offered to the Arabs was largely unfit for agricultural use and objectively less favorable.
The United Nations partition marked the beginning of the continuous expulsion and displacement of Palestinians from their homes. The year 1948, although celebrated by Israelis as the year of their independence, continues to be remembered by Palestinians around the world as the year their families and history were completely altered – their land and freedom stripped from them. Referred to as the “Nakba,” the Arabic term for catastrophe, the Arab-Israeli war led to the death of 15,000 Palestinians and the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians. This included several massacres on Palestinian villages such as Deir Yassin, in which soldiers have recounted brutal events such as bodies being piled up and burned. The news of Deir Yassin and other massacres spread fear throughout the nation, prompting thousands of Palestinians to flee for the safety of their families. For many Palestinians, 1948 marked the beginning of an ongoing occupation which continues to impact Palestinians until this day.
For most, this may be an event they have learned about in a highschool history course; or possibly briefly encountered through a social media post. However, for the millions of Palestinians around the world, including myself, it is the history of our fathers, mothers, grandparents and beyond – our own personal and tragic history. These are the events our parents struggled to inform us about when we began questioning our lineage and home country. These events are the reason why my parents, like many Palestinian parents, attempted to avoid any mention or explanation of Israel to their young daughter. The reason they avoided any conversation in which I questioned why I couldn’t pinpoint my country on the map during geography class. The reason they couldn’t explain why we were heavily questioned by armed security and soldiers for hours to simply enter our home country. And finally, a concept I particularly struggled to comprehend at a young age: the reason they couldn’t explain why my family history had to be traced back to two villages – one before 1948 and one after.
Despite being born in Palestine myself, and my family residing there for decades, my family and I were kicked out of our own land, forced to start anew in a new nation foreign to us. The forced displacement and murder of Palestinians did not end in 1948 nor did it end in the second Nakba of 1967. The Palestinians continue to be treated as second-class citizens in their own land. Since the end of the Arab-Israeli war, thousands of Palestinians have been murdered by Israeli forces. Thousands more have been removed from their homes, while the Israeli government continuously tries to limit the migration of Palestinian diaspora into their original homeland. The tragedy of Palestine is not simply a historical tale; it is the ongoing story of all Palestinians including those who remain displaced and barred from returning to their rightful homes and original land.
Far too often, debates or discussions about the current Israeli military operations proceed as though the conflict began when Hamas attacked across the border on October 7, 2023. The Hamas attacks in Israel did not instigate the murder of over 25,000 Palestinians in Gaza – the disregard of Palestinian lives, marked by the Balfour Declaration, enabled the current genocide. The dehumanization of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli regime, the occupation forces, Western leaders, and media is what has enabled the current genocide. To attribute the deaths of over 25,000 Palestinians to a single event, while disregarding the thousands of additional deaths that have occurred before, is only a continuation of this dehumanization and disregard. It is an attempt to both conceal a tragic history and the struggle of a group of people.
The leaders of the West and large media corporations continue to disappoint with their censorship and bias. Yet a large group of people have stepped out and marked a significant change: the general population of the world. The end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024 have demonstrated such unprecedented, wonderful support for the people of Palestine and a recognition of their struggle. Thousands of people around the world have come out in protest of Israel’s genocide in Gaza and the complicity of Western leaders. The resistance and the strength of the Palestinians have fueled these protests, humanizing a group of people who were once largely misunderstood or underrepresented. Despite the efforts of the Israeli government and military to conduct their operations in Gaza through a media blackout, the brave work of reporters in Palestine such as Motaz Azaiza and Bisan Owda, paired with solidaristic demonstrations by the tens of thousands of people in cities across the world, have marked a shift in the history and recognition of Palestine. To the extent that the Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom, former Prime Minister David Cameron, is publicly calling for the official recognition of the State of Palestine, something that would have seemed not just unlikely but actually unthinkable just months ago.
Only a few years ago, whenever I was asked where I come from and I would proudly respond that I am Palestinian, I would then be asked, “Pakistan”? Sometimes, the response was simply, “what”? Now, within my own lifetime, only a few years later I live to see a complete shift. In the last few months, the flag of Palestine has arguably become one of the most globally recognizable flags. Now, I can continue to inform people of my heritage and I will no longer be met with confusion. Most importantly, the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and freedom has become widespread and has gained support I could not have even imagined possible. Finally, after a century, the liberation of my people feels possible, no longer an unrealistic idea.
Ayat Odeh, a Palestinian-American college student at the College of Staten Island, majoring in International Studies on a pre-law track.