In contrast to Ukrainians, who are acknowledged as being a part of the European “self,” stigmatizing representations of Palestinians continue despite the suffering they endure at the hands of the Israeli occupation.
In recent months, particularly since the start of 2023, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the occupied territories has been returning to a new cycle of increased tension and violence.
What is striking is the increasingly unbalanced attitude of Western states, especially the typically more “equidistant” Europeans, even though most observers are not surprised by this development. Recent events provide numerous examples, but one stands out as being especially representative of this pattern.
Nine Palestinians were killed and 20 more were hurt as a result of an Israeli military operation in the Jenin refugee camp on January 26. A Palestinian attacked Jewish Israelis leaving a synagogue the following evening, killing seven people and injuring many more. The European Union (EU) quickly responded on January 28 to this second incident. The EU expressed its “horror” at these “terrifying terrorist attacks” and vehemently condemned these “senseless acts of violence and hatred” through the voice of its high representative (HR).
A few minutes later, or more than 48 hours after the initial event, came the European response. The high representative mentioned how many Palestinians were killed and hurt “during an operation conducted by the Israeli Defence Forces” in his statement.
The high representative acknowledged that 30 Palestinians had died since the year 2023 began, but emphasized that the EU “fully recognises Israel’s legitimate security concerns, as evidenced by the latest terrorist attacks,” only urging the use of lethal force as a last resort.
These two statements reveal the extent of the “Orientalist” gaze (in reference to the concept developed by Edward Said) that European nations continue to have on the Middle East, its conflicts, and its deaths, which is fairly typical of the responses of European diplomats and “mainstream” media to Israeli-Palestinian affairs. This contrast is made even more clear by the fact that these very same nations are simultaneously putting more and more resources into helping another population, the Ukrainians, who are facing Russian military aggression.
A Persistent Bias
Instead of questioning the legitimacy of the Ukrainian struggle or the significance of the assistance given to this besieged nation, European attitudes toward the Palestinians are in question. Both Ukraine and Palestine are characterized by a de facto occupation and the illegal use of military force by a state to establish control over another territory and population, according to international law.
However, what are the cognitive biases that have led European diplomacy and opinion to interpret these two conflicts almost in opposition to one another?
There is a lot of evidence to support the negative impasse in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinians have not been able to advance toward self-determination as a result of the three-decade-old Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which began in Oslo in September 1993.
In contrast, the “land for peace” strategy’s optimism appears to be more illusory than ever. The Israeli colonization of Palestinian lands has increased significantly in direct violation of international law, particularly the Geneva Conventions. According to Peace Now statistics, the number of Israeli settlements reached 132 “legal” and 147 “illegal” at the beginning of 2023.