Julia Salazar: Palestinians Deserve Liberation Because They Are Human

New York state senator Julia Salazar writes in Jacobin that the only way to stop the horrific violence in Gaza and Palestine is clear: an immediate cease-fire and the end of Israel’s occupation.

State Senator Julia Salazar at a press conference in New York. (Andy Katz / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

We do not need to wonder what the Israeli military’s next move will be. Israel’s government has made its intentions clear: as Israeli minister of defense Yoav Gallant promised this week, “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel.” Attempting to justify such cruelty against Gaza’s civilian population, Gallant added, “We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly.” Dr Raz Segal, an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University, says of the Israeli government’s threats and ongoing military assault, “Indeed, Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza is quite explicit, open, and unashamed.”

As of this moment, in the week and a half that’s passed since Hamas’s shockingly brutal attacks killed 1,400 Israeli civilians in southern Israel and took approximately 199 Israelis hostage, the Israeli military has already killed over 2,800 Palestinians in Gaza. Thousands more Palestinians are on the brink of death as a result of the siege, which is depriving Gaza’s hospitals of fuel and critical supplies to operate. Horror is expected to unfold imminently as Israel is poised to initiate a ground invasion in Gaza at any moment. When Israeli troops last launched a summer 2014 ground assault in Gaza, a war that lasted for over a month, it became what was then Israel’s deadliest war in Gaza yet. The bloodshed of this past week alone has already far surpassed the civilian casualties of the 2014 war.

Until there is a complete cease-fire, we can only expect that even more civilians will be killed. As Americans who are aware of the atrocities being committed with our own government’s enormous resources against Palestinians, we have a responsibility to immediately demand a cease-fire, including the safe release of all hostages, an end to the deadly blockade of Gaza, and an end to Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestinian territory. Anything less than urgently working to achieve each of these goals amounts to a failure, among many, of US foreign policy that condemns millions of people of all ethnicities in the Levant to continuing to live in perpetual danger.

While a cease-fire is immediately necessary for the sake of saving lives, it is only a first step toward a resolution. Several decades of history have demonstrated again and again what Israeli and Palestinian peace activists know: that Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza jeopardizes the safety of every person in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The systematic subjugation of Palestinians is the ultimate source of the existential dread that defines daily life for Israelis and Palestinians.

Here in New York, advocates organizing with Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice have amplified calls for a cease-fire and the safe return of hostages. Among them are Israeli Americans and Palestinian Americans still mourning their loved ones who were killed by Hamas or by Israeli weapons. Together with members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), they have taken the streets, leading direct actions and holding daily phone banks to Congress.

Last week, over a thousand people showed up to Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza to demand a cease-fire and “refuse to let our grief be weaponized to justify a genocide in Gaza.” This has all been in the face of aggressive opposition, smears, and threats against us from Republicans and many mainstream Democrats who are zealously rallying behind the Israeli military — including New York City mayor Eric Adams, who earlier this week shockingly told MSNBC the blatant lie that NYC-DSA has engaged in open acts of antisemitism, including brandishing swastikas, on the streets of New York. NYC-DSA has called on the mayor to apologize.

There is a persistent and deranged idea that civilians must first prove their humanity before we can take these actions to prevent state-sponsored violence against them. In the United States and abroad, observers implicitly insist that Palestinians become perfect victims. This manifests as the constant, irrational insistence from Israel’s staunchest defenders that all Palestinian civilians must condemn Hamas in their every breath. It’s this mindset that leads some on the Left to wrongly minimize or willfully ignore Hamas militants’ horrific crimes against Israeli civilians, the result of trying to maintain an impossible image of Palestinians as incapable of ever committing unjustified violence.

But the reason Palestinians deserve liberation is not because they are perfect victims. There is no such thing as a perfect victim. Instead, Palestinians deserve liberation because they are human. Internationalist solidarity means understanding that our collective liberation, as human beings and as working people across the globe, is incomplete as long as any of our neighbors are struggling for their own liberation. Acting on that solidarity means calling for our own government to stop fueling oppression and instability through military aid and hawkish diplomacy, and instead affirming the full and equal rights of Palestinians and Israelis.