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Shifting Perspectives: How 'I Saw Ramallah' Illuminates the Complexity of the Hamas-Israel Conflict

By Maia Sapp & Gabryella Duerson


Protestors in America clash over the current Israel-Palestine Conflict. Source: Ted Eytan, CC License

I Saw Ramallah is an autobiography centered around the life of Mourid Barghouti, a Palestinian poet and writer from the city of Ramallah. He traveled to Cairo, Egypt for university when The Six Day War in 1967 occurred. In the aftermath of the conflict, he was denied reentrance into his homeland of Palestine, and consequently, denied access to his family and his life. In his book, Barghouti discusses the dehumanizing narrative of the Palestinian people that allowed the US to justify their support of Israel to their citizens. This type of narrative exists today with the Israel and Palestinian conflict that began with the Hamas attack on October 7th 2023. The purpose of this article is to enlighten the US public to the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict; the US government pushes a narrative in order to further their political agenda, consequently manipulating the public's perception of the war.

In order to fully understand the current conflict it is necessary to understand the history between Israel and Palestine. Palestine was a part of the former Ottoman territories and in 1922 the League of Nations placed it under the UK’s administration. Other Ottoman territories given to the UK eventually became sovereign states, except Palestine. With the Balfour Declaration of 1917 the British established a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine (“Question of Palestine”). This declaration brought large-scale immigration to Palestine, mostly from Eastern Europe. The Nazi persecution that occurred at this time exacerbated Jewish movement. In response to the British taking away their land, Arab demands for independence as well as resistance to Jewish immigration led to a rebellion in 1937, the violence only escalated from both sides thereafter. In 1947, the United Nations proposed dissolving the British Mandate and dividing Palestine into two independent states, this is known as the two-state solution. Palestinians refused this arrangement as they believed it favored the Jewish people. The resolution sparked conflict, and led to the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, where five neighboring Arab nations joined the fight. Fighting ended in 1949, the warring nations agreed to formal armistice lines. Israel gained some territory from this conflict, but will prove to be unsatisfied. In the years to follow, Israelis will continuously encroach on Palestinian land forcing them into extremely cramped spaces or exile (“Question of Palestine”). The Six Day War in 1967 expelled 300,000 Palestinians from their homes, and 130,000 were displaced in 1948 (Tahhan). 

As is evident from the history books, Israel and Palestine have both committed egregious acts of violence against one another. This tradition has carried on into contemporary times, though most Americans are only aware of what Hamas has done, as that is the main coverage on the news. In I Saw Ramallah, Barghouti discusses the impact of media representations on the Palestinian narrative. While living in occupation, the Palestinians during Barghouti’s time were severely oppressed and unable to publish their point of view. Instead, the only option available to them was the domestic distribution of illegal pamphlets (Barghouti 39). These pamphlets provided a sense of unity amongst the Palestinian people, as well as a way to connect to their Arab neighbors. The absence of the Palestinian perspective in American media is directly responsible for the lack of empathy from the US’ public and legislation.

The aforementioned narrative that the US government is spreading is that Hamas are terrorists who have attacked the Israeli people unprovoked. Evidence of the effect of this narrative can be seen in a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center. According to the survey, 49% of Americans believe Hamas’ reason for fighting Israel is not valid, 24% believe that it is and 28% are not sure. Conversely, 58% of Americans believe Israel’s reason for fighting is valid, with 15% claiming that it is not and 26% are not sure (Silver). These results further illustrate the current perceptions of the conflict, with a majority of the American population in favor of Israel’s actions. In Biden’s statement on October 10, 2023 regarding the Hamas attacks, he calls the organization “pure, unadulterated evil” (Biden). This is a dehumanizing strategy, as the Hamas members are now viewed by the US government as the manifestation of evil, instead of as people with their own traumatic history. He does not mention the similar atrocities that the Israeli government have committed on the Palestinian people throughout history. In his book Barghouti discusses the fallacy of this strategy. He says, “Start your story with ‘Secondly,’ and the world will be turned upside-down. Start your story with ‘Secondly,’ and the arrows of the Red Indians are the original criminals and the guns of the white men are entirely the victims. It is enough to start with ‘Secondly,’ for the anger of the black man against the white to be barbarous. Start with ‘Secondly,’ and Gandhi becomes responsible for the tragedies of the British” (Barghouti 178). In this quote, the interest is not in the word “secondly” but the absence of “firstly”, insinuating that by omitting the first event of any story, the entire narration becomes mutated and wrong. Essentially, this excerpt shows that by not educating the American people about the history of this conflict, the US government is able to manipulate the story and, consequently, public opinion. 

The citizens of America must understand both sides of the story, Israel’s and Palestine’s, in order to think critically about the biased narrative pushed by the US government and the media. In I Saw Ramallah, Barghouti discussed the techniques utilized by Israel and the US during his lifetime, in order to provide a narrative that dehumanized the Palestinian people. Today, a version of these strategies are attempting to accomplish the same end. A lack of media coverage from both perspectives of the conflict, has resulted in a biased American public opinion. This phenomenon has granted the US government the public support necessary to pursue their political agenda. Without knowing and understanding the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the cycle of violence will persist indefinitely, to the detriment of them both.



Works Cited

Barghouti, Mourid. I Saw Ramallah. W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library, 2008. 

Biden, Joe. “Remarks by President Biden on the United States’ Response to Hamas’s Terrorist Attacks against Israel and Russia’s Ongoing Brutal War against Ukraine.” The White House, The United States Government, 20 Oct. 2023, www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/10/20/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-unites-states-response-to-hamass-terrorist-attacks-against-israel-and-russias-ongoing-brutal-war-against-ukraine/#:~:text=More%20than%201%2C300%20people%20slaughtered,bring%20their%20loved%20ones%20home

“History of the Question of Palestine - Question of Palestine.” United Nations, United Nations, 2023, www.un.org/unispal/history/

Silver, Laura. “Majority in U.S. Say Israel Has Valid Reasons for Fighting; Fewer Say the Same about Hamas.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 21 Mar. 2024, www.pewresearch.org/2024/03/21/majority-in-u-s-say-israel-has-valid-reasons-for-fighting-fewer-say-the-same-about-hamas/

Tahhan, Zena Al. “51 Years on: How Israel Devoured the Rest of Palestine.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 4 June 2018, www.aljazeera.com/features/2018/6/4/the-naksa-how-israel-occupied-the-whole-of-palestine-in-1967#:~:text=In%201967%2C%20Israel%20absorbed%20the,a%20half%20times%20its%20size.




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