Why were people angry about a Philadelphia city council vote that failed to address Palestinian humanity?
note: the Philadelphia Inquirer refused to publish this article
By Jonathan Kuttab
The City of Philadelphia decided to pass a Resolution, October 20th condemning the actions of Hamas on October 7, and proclaiming it stands with Israel.
As speaker after speaker repeated Israeli talking points, pro-Palestinian groups, particularly youth, were outraged. They angrily interrupted many speakers finally some of them were ejected. Instead of allowing the full discussion, the presiding officer cut off the debate and the resolution was voted on and passed unanimously. I attended that event and was even asked to give a talk but the quick end of the discussion meant that members of the Philadelphia city council only had heard one point of view.
Since then I have been asking myself, why the youth were so angry and failed to engage in a civilized debate?
The answer was clear: They felt powerless to withstand the onslaught of organized sympathy for the other side, while their own community was being slaughtered and facing genocide — nothing less.
Had the resolution criticized Hamas’ actions in attacking and murdering civilians and issued a qualified statement of support for Israel’s right to defend itself while also showing some understanding for the Palestinian right to resist as well, and decrying actions on both sides that target civilians, perhaps most of them would have supported the resolution.
This asymmetry applies to all media and organizations that are falling all over themselves expressing blind solidarity with Israel while ignoring the onslaught on Palestinians. Just yesterday a church building was shelled by Israel and Palestinian Christians who had come to the Church for refuge and were slaughtered. We have some relatives among those killed.
Palestinians are being asked, in fact, demanded, to join the chorus demonizing Hamas, and acknowledging Israel’s right to defend itself by whatever means it thought necessary, as a precondition to even being heard on the issue of Palestinian rights or Palestinian suffering.
I am no apologist for Hamas, nor do I like their ideology, but I refuse to join the demonization of Hamas, which is being used these days to justify the most atrocious attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. Hamas is portrayed as pure and absolute evil, and any actions to destroy it are legitimized no matter who is hurt in the process. Americans are even told that Hamas is our enemy and that Israel is conducting this war to save us, as well as itself from this evil trying to save us from its evil.
I am a pacifist, but to those who are not, I ask “ Do Palestinians have a right to defend themselves??” and if we expect them to follow moral and legal principles of avoiding civilian casualties to minimize harm to civilian targets, and to refrain from attacking noncombatants and their residential communities, should we not be asking the vastly superior Israeli army to do the same? And when Israel cuts off water electricity and food to the population of Gaza, where is the outrage?
I share with all the anguish of mothers and children who were attacked, murdered, and taken hostage, but what about our children and prisoners? We have over 5,000 political prisoners, 1300 of them held with no charges or trial whose release is being sought by the hostage takers.
Half the population of Gaza is children, including, the sick, those on dialysis as well as those who are cancer patients, including children and even ordinary illnesses, pregnancies, and other needs for medical care. Who is to take up their cause while the fighting rages?
Israeli propagandists even blame the victims claiming they are being used as “human shields” and that therefore Hamas and its fighters are to blame when Israel bombs and kills them. As a human rights lawyer, I have seen human shields when Israeli soldiers force Palestinians to walk ahead of them as they enter Palestinian homes to yank their children out of bed to arrest them. The language accusing Palestinians of using civilians as human shields is laced with racism that implies Palestinian fighters care nothing for their children or their civilians.
It is an attempt to deflect moral responsibility and is only matched by ignorance of Palestinian culture, society, and family ties., What I saw in Philadelphia today was also anger at the power of the organized Jewish community to influence the narrative, and to coopt even our friends in the African-American community to line up behind this position and this narrative.
The Presiding council member fed into this fear when he stated, as he cut off debate, that the members were going to vote as they had decided to vote anyway, and that anyone who wished to speak could send in his/her comments to go into the record. He said the Council had no jurisdiction over the issue anyway.
To the Arab and Muslim communities, this was a clear admission that the narrative they heard from the corporate media and affirmed by President Biden, was all-powerful and dominant. In that narrative, there is no room for sympathy with Palestinian suffering, much less with Palestinian struggle or yearning for freedom.
To their credit, members of the Jewish community, after the vote said they wanted to talk to me saying that that we should not let the fighting overseas disrupt the relationships between our two communities here in the US. We will see how that dialogue goes.
More importantly, we went outside and saw a colorful demonstration of Jewish Voices for Peace, with banners declaring “Jews against Genocide” and calling for a ceasefire and an end to the bombing. They sang and chanted, and it was a beautiful sight. There is still hope.
Jonathan Kuttab a Pennsylvania resident is a member of the NY, Israel, and Palestinian Bar. He is a co-founder of Al Haq Human Rights organization and is the executive director of Friends of Sabeel North America, a Christian NGO supporting Palestinians. Kuttab is actively promoting the nonviolence philosophy.