Dispatch
The view from the ground.

The View From Ramallah

Palestinians see a double standard in Western support for Ukraine’s fight against occupation.

Palestinians gather in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Oct. 10, 2023, to express their support for the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians gather in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Oct. 10, 2023, to express their support for the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians gather in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Oct. 10, 2023, to express their support for the Gaza Strip. Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel-Hamas War

RAMALLAH, West Bank—Five days after the militant group Hamas staged an unprecedented attack that saw more than 1,000 of its fighters infiltrate Israel, at least 1,200 Israelis and 1,400 Palestinians—most of them civilians—are dead.

RAMALLAH, West Bank—Five days after the militant group Hamas staged an unprecedented attack that saw more than 1,000 of its fighters infiltrate Israel, at least 1,200 Israelis and 1,400 Palestinians—most of them civilians—are dead.

The Gaza Strip is being pummeled by Israeli airstrikes, with entire families being wiped out. Israelis are still counting their dead and seeking answers about family members who were taken captive.

The attack was unparalleled in scope and consequence: Hamas gunmen broke through the fence that separated the besieged Gaza Strip from Israel, took out Israeli military communications towers, then proceeded to attack towns in the coastal enclave’s environs. Hundreds of Israelis were killed inside their homes, at bus stations, and at a music festival that went on to Saturday’s early hours. Images of Israelis being taken hostage, among them children and grandmothers, went viral on social media platforms.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, took at least three hours to issue a statement about the incident. Almost immediately, Gaza was being beaten to a pulp. Rubble from previous Israeli wars started getting stacked against new debris. Residential buildings, hospitals, and mosques were shelled and flattened. So far, an estimated 400 children in Gaza have been killed, according to Guardian reports. Israeli airstrikes have taken out at least seven journalists, including one whose entire family was killed when her home was struck.

The West Bank, meanwhile, has been fighting its own battle. At least 27 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, with one man stabbed to death according to the PA Ministry of Health, and five others shot dead by Israeli security forces and armed Israeli settlers near Nablus. Palestinians from Ramallah to Hebron have witnessed an exponential swell in settler attacks, with homes and cars being torched and fears of more assaults rising.

For two days, the West Bank shut down entirely. A commercial strike was announced and schools reverted to online learning. The streets here were eerily silent, save for the occasional wail of rocket sirens from nearby settlements, and even from Jerusalem, followed by the thuds of the Iron Dome missile system deflecting incoming rockets from Gaza.

Zelensky’s comment left a bitter taste for many Palestinians considering that almost half of them back Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

So far, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has issued only pro forma statements on the attack, urging the international community to stop the Israeli assault. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the PA is unable to directly condemn Hamas but also fears that any scathing criticism of Israel would land it in hot water. As is usually the case during any of the conflicts between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups, be they in the West Bank or Gaza, the PA looks largely irrelevant—this time, however, it appears even more useless than usual.

Its raison d’être of keeping a lid on any violent resistance aimed at Israel becomes all the more absurd as groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas gain popularity. These groups’ messaging hinges on restoring a sense of dignity and honor, seemingly lost when the Palestinians began coordinating security measures with Israel, as the PA does.

With one eye on the destruction and death of their compatriots in Gaza, Palestinians in the West Bank have also witnessed an unprecedented turn of events—one that’s not surprising, per se, but its depth has laid bare the international community’s lack of empathy for their cause.


Waves of support for Israel have been forthcoming from around the world. While sweeping condemnations of Palestinians for Saturday’s attack flooded in from capitals across Europe, there was one that struck a particular nerve among Palestinians: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who took to Twitter to announce that “Israel’s right to self-defense is unquestionable.”

Zelensky also urged countries to rally around Israel, as they have for Ukraine. According to Axios, which cited Israeli and Ukrainian officials, Zelensky’s office even sent Netanyahu’s office a request to visit Israel.

Despite Zelensky having little political influence in this particular case, his comment left a bitter taste for many Palestinians for several reasons, one of them being the fact that almost half back Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion. Palestinians also say that his support for his people’s own right to fight Russians and defend themselves doesn’t extend to them, exposing his hypocrisy.

Fighting from afar, Israel is able to blame civilian casualties on “collateral damage.”

“Palestine is under occupation, so you cannot support the occupation of another nation,” said Hani al-Masri, director of Masarat, the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies. “This is a matter of principle. And this is despite the fact that Zelensky has staunchly been pro-Israel and many Ukrainians have fled to live in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.”

For many Palestinians, the double standard to which Palestinians and Ukrainians are held is clear. Ukraine’s right to defend itself is accepted, even supported, by many international leaders, but the same cannot be said about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“For two years, Palestinians have watched as Europe, the U.S., and the entire world mobilized to defend Ukraine, to support it, to reject Russian occupation, to reject Russia’s acquisition of territory by force,” said Nour Odeh, a political analyst and former PA spokesperson.

“It’s impossible not to see the stomach-churning hypocrisy of all of it when you contrast that with how the world is dealing with Israel. You deal with one occupation in one way and you deal with another in a completely different way. You defend the occupier when it’s Israel; you oppose it when it’s Russia,” she added.

While Ukrainians and their supporters have used boycotts and sanctions as a tool to fight Russia’s invasion, the Palestinian boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement has been labeled antisemitic and fought against through numerous legal and political means from Europe to the United States.

Since Russia’s invasion began some 20 months ago, Ukrainians and their allies have managed to isolate Moscow through many avenues. Ukrainian soccer teams have boycotted competitions featuring Russian sides, while some have called for the cultural boycott of Russia, including, perhaps questionably, the music of the long-dead composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Palestinians, similarly, have called for the cultural and academic boycott of Israel until it ends its occupation of Palestinian territories, but those calls have been met with international backlash instead.

“The Ukrainians and their supporters have used the Palestinian playbook. They boycotted and divested and imposed sanctions. I’m not saying that’s the wrong thing to do. It’s definitely the right thing to do,” Odeh said.

Other Palestinians took to mainstream media to point out the double standard. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian political leader, asked CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday: “Why does the United States support Ukraine in fighting what they call an occupation, while here they are supporting the occupier, who continues to occupy us?”

While Zakaria disputed Barghouti’s comparison by asserting that Hamas targeted civilians and Ukrainians ostensibly haven’t, Barghouti pointed out that Israel has targeted civilians as well and has repeatedly carried out what have been clearly determined by international organizations as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Western media consensus that Hamas basically has a problem with its optics because its fighters killed and captured noncombatants, rather than soldiers, is correct to a certain extent—but it leaves out the fact that previous operations, which focused on killings and kidnappings of military personnel by the group, (like Gilad Shalit, who was held for years in Gaza) were met with similar outrage by the international community.

It’s safe to say that while Hamas would likely not see the same level of horrified condemnations for carrying out operations solely against Israeli military targets, it would also not see support on the level Ukraine has received for targeting the Russian military and taking Russian prisoners.

But Hamas has never really been concerned with appearances in the Western media. While Hamas doesn’t have the luxury of hiding behind the world’s most advanced military technology, Israel has been carrying out atrocities against civilians in Gaza for many years, usually with guided missiles. It’s possible this physical disconnect from its actions gives it a layer of deniability, as Israel is able to blame civilian casualties on “collateral damage.”

This is not the first time the West has been accused of double standards in its stance on the Ukraine war. Earlier this year, Amnesty International published a report highlighting the West’s “double standards” on global human rights.

“The West’s robust response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine contrasts sharply with a deplorable lack of meaningful action on grave violations by some of their allies including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” the report said.

In 2022, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan said he was opening an investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine. The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes in Ukraine. Many Palestinian rights groups supported that move.

“To keep the Palestinian question alive, I have to be principled with all the causes I’m supporting, because my own case is a just one,” said Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization in the West Bank.

“The ICC move for Ukraine is the right one, but some of the countries that supported [it] didn’t back an ICC move against Israel, and herein lies the duality and double standards with dealing with various international causes.”

While Palestine joined the ICC in January 2015, Israel has refused to do the same for fear of being prosecuted. Human Rights Watch recently laid out the basics of what is allowed and prohibited under international law. It’s clear that there is “a duty on warring parties at all times to distinguish between combatants and civilians” and that “members of a country’s armed forces and commanders and full-time fighters in non-state armed groups … are subject to attack at all times during hostilities.” However, “the laws of war prohibit indiscriminate attacks,” such as the ones carried out by both Hamas and the Israeli military.

Though the ICC could be a venue for some type of accountability in the future, under current circumstances it’s unrealistic to expect either side to cooperate with an investigation.

Dalia Hatuqa is a multimedia journalist based in the United States and the West Bank. Twitter: @daliahatuqa

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