American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. He believed this would be the case for Black people and their fight for equal rights in the United States. And he was right.
Palestinians who have struggled for their rights over a full century may doubt that this arc bends towards justice for them, too – especially in the shadow of Israel’s latest assault on the Jenin refugee camp this week, which killed 12 Palestinians and damaged water, power and health facilities and almost 80 percent of homes.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The invasion of Jenin perfectly mirrors and perpetuates this century of Zionist-Israeli aggression that has killed, injured, detained, traumatised, and driven Palestinians into exile – to make room for a Jewish state in an Arab-majority Palestine.
Since the start of the year, Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 170 people, including nearly 30 children. Jewish settlers, Zionism’s latest shock troops, have carried out 570 attacks against Palestinian villages and towns in the past six months, an average of three attacks per day, according to new United Nations data.
The situation in Palestine is indeed grim, but numerous other developments across countries and sectors indicate that the Palestinian cause is gaining ground in two particular domains. Diplomacy at the UN and global civic activism both show that the Palestinians are enjoying growing support against Zionist and Western colonial interests, which had prevailed virtually unopposed and stifled Palestinians and their rights for decades.
A deeply symbolic sign of change and hope occurred in May this year, when the UN General Assembly (UNGA) for the first time ever officially commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe). Palestinians use the word Nakba to describe Israel’s ethnic cleansing and forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-1948, to make way for the Jewish state of Israel that Zionism sought.
The UNGA’s bland reference to “the Question of Palestine” in 1947, when it passed a resolution to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, gave way this year to a lively commemoration of the Nakba. Many Palestinians saw this as the UNGA tacitly acknowledging the Palestinians’ suffering and national trauma that its own decision had initiated 75 years ago. This is especially significant given that Palestinians see the Nakba as ongoing; this week, Jenin’s Palestinian refugees experienced it yet again, as the Israeli army forced thousands out of their homes in the camp.
Zionists and the US had lobbied hard for the partition resolution in 1947, and they won. They again lobbied hard 75 years later to prevent the Nakba commemoration, but they lost – badly.
When the delegates at the commemoration, representing a majority of humankind, condemned Israeli settler-colonial policies and demanded protection and statehood for the Palestinians, they echoed the unprecedented international mobilisation in support of the Palestinian cause – especially in law, diplomacy, politics, media, and education.
Across the world, especially in the Global North where Israel focuses its lobbying and intimidation, Palestinians and their progressive allies now routinely challenge, and increasingly defeat, Zionists in this conflict’s new battleground: Palestinians’ right to make their case in public. Israel and its surrogates frantically try to stop advocacy for Palestine around the world, or to silence criticism of Israeli policies that respected human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and B’Tselem, classify as apartheid.
At the heart of this confrontation is the Palestinian right to engage in legitimate, non-violent political action through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for international pressure on Israel for its denial of Palestinian human rights. BDS echoes the global boycotts decades ago that helped end South Africa’s racist apartheid system. Zionists dislike the comparison; but they cannot stop it, hard as they try to do so through their preferred method – branding as an anti-Semite anyone who speaks for Palestinian rights or criticises Israeli policies.
In its attempts to block pro-Palestinian activism, Israel has pressured public and private institutions to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which wrongfully equates hate against Jewish people with criticism of Israel.
But the IHRA definition campaign has also stumbled. There has been resistance not only from scholarly communities across the world, but also – surprisingly – from the Biden administration. In late May, it released a national strategy to counter anti-Semitism that did not embrace the IHRA definition, but only mentioned it as one among other definitions people could consult.
Never before in the past century have Zionist-Israeli actions been so widely – and successfully – challenged by legal action and public information campaigns that expose Zionism’s settler-colonial nature, apartheid in Palestine, and threats to free speech around the world.
Palestinians and their progressive allies like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights have challenged in US courts anti-BDS legislation and have won in an increasing number of cases.
Universities, media organisations and other institutions in the US, Europe and elsewhere have also had to judge if peaceful boycotts or criticism of Israeli apartheid policies constitute anti-Semitism; their answers have been more often “no”, affirming that political advocacy and criticism are protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression.
Hundreds of groups across the world now monitor, document, and challenge pro-Israel intimidation, notably NGOs like Palestine Legal and Adalah Justice Project in the US, Makan in the United Kingdom and the European Legal Support Center in the Netherlands. Their litigation and public mobilisation have responded to thousands of attempts to dismiss pro-Palestinian speakers or employees. Palestine Legal has reported that some 70 percent of the cases it has worked on involved attempts to target students and scholars.
Israeli efforts to erase Palestinian history and the memory of the Nakba have also been challenged with initiatives like one by the research organisation Forensic Architecture, which documented the 1948 massacre at Tantura village by Zionist forces.
The Palestinian cause is also gaining more and more exposure on platforms and outlets where it used to be denied access. Palestinian voices now regularly challenge the Israeli government and pro-Israeli advocacy, propaganda and distortions on US, Canadian, and European TV channels.
When Israeli occupation forces assassinated Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin a year ago, leading outlets that were long accused of pro-Israeli biases conducted their own thorough investigations of her killing; these included the New York Times and the Washington Post, which concluded that Israeli snipers shot her.
Even individual acts of resistance to anti-Palestinian pressure now gain attention. Earlier this year, Dr Steve Feldman, a Jewish American dermatologist, refused to sign an anti-BDS pledge in order to receive an honorarium for a lecture he gave at a state university in the US; after going public with his challenge, he won and was paid the fee he was owed, which he decided to donate to Jewish Voice for Peace, an organisation that supports BDS.
Palestinians in the US are further buoyed by the election of young, progressive politicians at the state and federal levels, like members of Congress Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who openly criticise US complicity in Israel’s apartheid system. They are few, to be sure; but their numbers keep increasing, and their public voices accelerate the slow but steady change in American public sentiment on Israel-Palestine since 1948 – from overwhelming support for Israel, towards more even-handed sentiments.
A recent Gallup poll showed that US Democrats now sympathise more with the Palestinians than the Israelis (49 vs 38 percent). This trend will persist because younger Americans, including Jewish Americans, now favour a more balanced approach to the conflict.
These continuing shifts in global support for Palestinian justice – in diplomacy, civil society activism, and public opinion – should eventually generate enough pressure to force Israel to reverse its apartheid occupation policies, and enter genuine peace negotiations that give Israelis and Palestinians equal national rights and security.
This will take time, as it did in South Africa – and as happens with all moral arcs that bend towards justice.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.