‘We Are Fighting Human Animals’: Dehumanization of Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. (Design: Palestine Chronicle)

By Parth Sharma

“The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them.”

― Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism

“There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel, everything will be closed. We are fighting against human animals and will act accordingly.”, These were the words spoken by the Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as he announced a complete siege over the Gaza Strip seven months ago.

Since then, through violent assaults on healthcare systems, universities, humanitarian aid workers and residential areas, Israeli forces have killed over 35,000 unarmed civilians across Gaza with a majority consisting of women and children at a rate higher than any other armed conflict or war of the twenty-first century.

Language holds immense power in the context of consumption. In a post truth world where no absolute holds merit, narratives are shaped and exploited per the convenience of the neo-colonial and imperial powers.

Therefore what is used, is readily available for mass consumption. Left unchallenged, these narratives solidify as means for erasure of identities, cultures and people at large. What then remains is the ‘colonial/savage’ argument, where the savage ‘Other’ is looked at as a subhuman wild creature that needs to be controlled- through assault, violence, surveillance and siege.

Look at the past seven months of Israel’s violent assault on Gaza being represented in the media of the Global North. The semantics of colonialism come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the deep bias against the indigenous people of Palestine.

While the women and children in Ukraine were killed by Russian bombs just last year, the Palestinian image is one that cannot even afford to exist in the present; reducing the lives of over 35,000 people of Gaza to the passivity of death by war. Yet another Orientalist trope, we are all too familiar with.

Dehumanizing language is also reinforced contextually. Public mourning throughout the Global North for the journalists killed in Ukraine, was followed by the aggressor’s name in an attempt to levy International Humanitarian Law to sanction Russia.

However, since October 7, over a hundred journalists and media workers have ‘died in the Israel-Hamas war’. Even in their deaths the Palestinians are homogenized and not given their dues.

This dehumanization of Palestinians is additive to the attempt at dehistoricization of Palestine as a state itself. Dehumanizing language used towards Palestinians to justify high levels of violence against them and the destruction of their homes is a tactic of Settler Colonialism as employed by the state of Israel. It is the use of these tactics that show us how the deaths of Palestinians over the last seventy five years have gone unacknowledged by the Global North.

People were taught to not care about the Middle East; which was always depicted as a high risk, conflict zone incapable of harboring society therefore was not a topic for the general public. By framing Palestinians as less than human through official statements as made by the defense minister and their deaths as unimportant, their lives are shown to be disposable.

The overarching goal of colonialism is to ensure that the savage Other is feared enough to justify the need for violence against them. European colonialism is built on the foundations of civilization reaching the margins of a white center.

A brief history of Indigenous people of Canada, America and Australia and New Zealand will show you how the concept of “Noble Savages’ ‘ was used as a means to dehumanize the native population, the same thought which was then used to enslave Asian and African people. Propaganda fuels such dehumanization and Othering, often to mobilize the general public to act as extensions of colonialism through inciting hatred.

The Nazi’s did so through “The Eternal Jew” reducing European Jews to rat-like people and vermin. The notorious Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines in Rwanda exhorted Hutus to ‘kill the cockroaches’ during the Rwanda genocide in 1994.

Today you see that as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls the minority muslim population of India as “ghuspathiye” or intruders and as  Netanyahu evokes obscure Biblical references to call the Palestinians the ‘children of darkness’; aiming to play at the binary of good vs evil/ light vs dark. All towards the same goal of Other-ing.

With images documented by the Israeli soldiers pillaging homes, sporting inner wear of women and children and the images coming out of camps showing Palestinian men, stripped naked and restrained; the process of dehumanization goes beyond language to a deep rooted violation of the Palestinian identity.

What narratives rooted in such Othering do is reinforce the idea that certain people, their lives, cultures, and in extension their history do not embody Colonial and Imperial humanity, and therefore can be erased.

While popular narratives drawn around the assault on Gaza after October 7 exist, it is imperative to reflect on Edward Said’s work in Culture and Imperialism as we consume a humanitarian crisis; those who hold the power to block other narratives from emerging are often the ones connected to the imperial state themselves.

Since the Nakba in 1948, the Palestinian people have been stripped from their land only to be spatially, politically and culturally marginalized. Seventy Six years since, the formerly colonized people from across the world stand in solidarity with Palestinians urging for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of all parties complicit in the genocide and call for a permanent ceasefire and an end to the occupation of Palestine.

– Parth Sharma is a Decolonial writer, Social Justice Researcher and Trauma Therapist from India. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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1 Comment

  1. It took immersion into New Zealand’s post-colonial debate in 1988-89 to clear the cobwebs away from my mind in relation to Palestine. But I had to read the PLO’s Beirut history publications before I understood that I’d been lied to systematically. And the Al Aqsa Intifada before I understood that the media had trained me to subconsciously discount Palestinians. Or to put it more bluntly, the constant discounting of Arab lives teaches one to hate Arabs; much more subtle than the open ravings of antisemitic Nazis, but so much more deadly.

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