The Eurovision boycott row confirms it: Palestinian lives don’t matter

Eurovision has always been an exercise in bad taste, but this year’s event takes things to an extreme. If you want to enjoy the kitschy song contest, which will take place from 12 to 14 May in Tel Aviv, Israel, then you have got to ignore the bloody political context that surrounds it. Indeed, Israel is so intent on keeping Eurovision politics-free that anyone it says might disrupt the event will be blocked from entering the country.

One of the most frustrating things about being Palestinian (I’m half-Palestinian myself) is that there seems to be no acceptable way to defend your humanity or protest agains your oppression. Calls to boycott Eurovision, for example, have been decried as divisive. Last month, celebrities including Stephen Fry, Sharon Osbourne and Marina Abramović signed a letter stating that Eurovision’s “spirit of togetherness” is “under attack by those calling to boycott [the competition] because it is being held in Israel, subverting the spirit of the contest and turning it from a tool of unity into a weapon of division”.

Look at that language. A peaceful form of protest is described as an “attack” and a “weapon”. Palestinians and their supporters are cast as unreasonable, violent aggressors. Meanwhile, the larger context is ignored. The fact that most Palestinians, even those just a few miles from Tel Aviv, have no hope of attending Eurovision thanks to the severe travel restrictions imposed on them, is ignored. The fact that there is an entire infrastructure – from a concrete border wall to segregated roads – that is designed to separate Palestinians and Israelis is ignored.

Unless you have been to Palestine, it is hard to understand the daily violence of the occupation. It is hard to wrap your head around the fact that someone such as my father, who was born in the West Bank, could have no right to return there. It is hard to imagine what it is like to see your homes and history demolished. It is hard to understand the humiliation involved in traversing Israeli checkpoints to go to visit a relative in the next village. It is hard to imagine what it is like to be constantly told that you do not exist.

Palestinians aren’t just dehumanised in life, they are dehumanised in death. Just look, for example, at some of the coverage of the recent violence in Gaza. According to the Washington Post on 6 May, “four Israeli civilians were killed … and 23 Palestinians died”. CNN similarly reported that 23 people “have died in Gaza” while “in Israel, four people have been killed”. Palestinian lives don’t matter. The American media makes that clear every time it talks about Palestinian deaths, which are routinely described with a passive voice that casts them as random accidents. Weird how Palestinians keep walking into bullets; can’t say who is to blame, really.

Actually, scratch that. Palestinians are always to blame, according to some news organisations. Israeli violence, we are repeatedly told, is simply self-defence. “Gaza militants fire 250 rockets, and Israel responds with airstrikes,” the New York Times proclaimed on Sunday; this ubiquitous framing would have you believe that Gaza was peaceful until Hamas started firing rockets. What isn’t mentioned is the fact that Israeli forces shot dozens of unarmed Palestinian protesters on Friday, before any rockets were fired; two of these protesters, one just 19 years old, died.

Palestinian deaths such as the ones on Friday don’t get much coverage because violence in the region only seems to matter when Israelis die. The Washington Post and the New York Times as much as said so themselves when, on Monday, they stated that this recent violence was the “deadliest fighting since the 2014 war”. More than 50 Palestinians in Gaza were killed and more than 2,400 injured on 14 May last year, during protests sparked by the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. The past few days were not, by any means, the “deadliest fighting” since 2014 for Palestinians.

Life in Gaza, under an Israeli blockade for 12 years, is unbearable. Unemployment is above 50%; there is little electricity; less than 4% of the water is drinkable. It is also practically impossible to enter or leave; the place is an open-air prison. The situation in Gaza is blamed on the people electing an extremist government in the form of Hamas, but even the Israeli military has conceded that Israel needs to improve living conditions in the Gaza strip if it wants to avoid more violence.

It is hard to imagine what it is like to be told that there is no right way you can protest against this treatment. Violent resistance is obviously out of the question. But so, apparently, are non-violent forms of resistance, such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which the US is trying to make illegal. The only acceptable thing you can do as a Palestinian, it would seem, is just shut up and die. And, for God’s sake, do not protest against Eurovision!