Commentary Magazine


The Sound of Silence

The West is host to many organizations—the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Solidarity Movement, and countless others—dedicated to supporting the Palestinian cause. Given mounting casualties among Palestinian civilians under fire in Lebanon and Gaza this week, one would expect these organizations to voice their shock, outrage, or simple concern at these events. Take the plight of Palestinians in the northern Lebanese camp of Nahr el Bared: according to recent news reports, more than 130 people have died during the past three weeks of fighting there. The escalating violence in Gaza has claimed the lives of more than 70.

Surprisingly, none of these groups—always dutifully prompt to denounce Palestinian deaths at Israeli hands—has much to say about Palestinian deaths at the hands of Lebanese soldiers, or of fellow Palestinians. From France’s Campagne Civile Internationale pour la Protection des Palestiniens, from the Alternative News Center, from the new Free Gaza organization: not a word. This is puzzling, given the particularly brutal nature of the violence. Hamas gunmen threw a Fatah official from the 15th floor of an apartment building; Fatah later avenged his death by throwing a Hamas man off the 12th floor of another building. Fatah gunmen taken prisoner were shot in the head, execution-style, in the streets. (To its credit, Human Rights Watch quickly condemned these actions as war crimes, even in the face of this silence.)

At least these organizations have an implicit rationale for their selectiveness in pointing out human-rights violations—their mission, more or less explicitly, is to aid the Palestinians in their struggle against the state of Israel. Criticizing others who inflict suffering on Palestinians would only be a distraction. Their calling is narrow—particularly when compared to organizations such as Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), whose mission statement defines human rights as being “universal and indivisible,” and demands that they be “upheld without exception” in “Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.” Yet, with all of IJV’s hand-wringing over the 40th anniversary of the “occupation,” they have found not a word to spare about these current cases of Palestinian suffering.

Surprised? Don’t be. After all, IJV has also been silent about the boycott against Israeli academia, despite its proclamation that “there is no justification for any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism, or Islamophobia, in any circumstance.” Well said, indeed. But like so many other paladins of universalist values—John Pilger, for example, who habitually invokes human rights to bash Israel for its behavior while reliably supporting dictators the world over—IJV has so far shown fastidious care in executing its mission.

The group’s technique is eerily similar to the approach of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), as noted by UN Watch director Hillel Neuer. Like the HRC, IJV has made sure that its commitment to universal human rights never interferes with making political hay of Palestinian suffering—an activity requiring silence when that suffering comes at the hands of Arabs.

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