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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia University took over the campus, effectively shutting down the school until authorities broke up the days-long encampment and forced protesters out of a building they had seized.

PI Perspective: The fate of the Palestinians, not protesters, is what’s really important

Amid the protests and chaos on American campuses, the atrocities Palestinians suffer have been politicized and turned into a social-justice ornament for some misguided demonstrators.

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By Carmen Gentile


Holy moly, did I stir up a hornet’s nest! 

Last week, I wrote repeatedly in Postindustrial’s Daily Edition about my concerns regarding the intent of some campus protesters and whether their actions were, in fact, helping the Palestinian people. 

I also spoke about the sometimes-violent and antisemitic elements of the protests on Postindustrial’s YouTube Channel

I wondered aloud on numerous occasions why students across the country were suddenly so incensed by the genocidal destruction of Gaza when it’s been happening for months and other conflicts either perpetuated, funded, or fought by the United States did not garner similar student protests. 

Some folks took my questioning of the intent of the protesters as a sign of disrespect of the movement writ large. 

As one reader writes: 

You ask why they are outraged? What is the difference this time, as compared to other wars that the US has funded in recent years? 

The difference is that one country is committing the GENOCIDE of a people, wiping out entire families as well as all infrastructure. And they are using US funds and weapons to do so. The students have an ethos that I applaud. 

The reader went on to implore me to “be responsible” when commenting on this topic, which is what I thought I was doing by examining the events of the last couple of weeks with a critical eye that knows a thing or two about how poorly the Palestinians have been treated over the last seven-plus decades. 

So, along those lines, allow me to back up a moment with some quick, personal details: 

I started my professional reporting career in Cairo in the late 1990s and soon learned while covering Middle East politics that many times people only seemed to care about the plight of the Palestinians when it served their interests and rarely did any benefit those they claimed to care about. 

I remember asking a far more seasoned reporter why the world hadn’t done more to help the Palestinian people. He looked at me as if I’d  asked him the color of the sky. 

“Because no one really cares about them,” he said in a deadpan, piercing the veil of my naivete.  

I soon learned while covering Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics there was some bitter, unfortunate truth to that reporter’s cynical remark. 

Too often the Palestinians are used as a source of grievance, political pawn or social justice ornament by those with ulterior motives — from the streets, to the corridors of power.

Meanwhile, little is done to affect positive change for those innocent Palestinians caught in the middle of fighting, compounded by generational fear and insecurity that comes from living in a hellhole like Gaza that is effectively a prison state. 

This brief history of Gaza illustrates the impossible position in which the Gaza Strip’s estimated 1.8 million inhabitants find themselves.

So, yeah, my skepticism antennae went up when I saw the pro-Palestinian protests break out this spring across the country.

I repeat, IN THE SPRING, when the weather is nice, and finals are looming, not shortly after the Israeli counter offensive in the fall, not in the bitter months of winter when it was obvious that Israel was intending on turning Gaza into a parking lot while committing genocide. 

And while we’re at it, where was this outrage over the war in Iraq? When it became obvious there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction and that the entire conflict was based on a lie resulting in untold numbers of deaths (some estimate 200,000 or more)? 

Why didn’t protesters shut down campuses then? 

I don’t have an answer, but rather ask because, it seems to me, as someone who covered the Iraq War, been to too many refugee camps to count, and seen what damage American weaponry does, that there is some selective furor on display here. 

And then there’s this spokesperson for the protesters at Columbia demanding food and water be sent into a school building taken over by protesters.

“Do you want students to die of dehydration or starvation?” she asks the assembled news media without any recognition that the protesters had co-opted the very real needs of the Palestinians as their own just hours into the siege of a building where some of the demonstrators were getting a little snacky. 

So, when I see the historical mistreatment of the Palestinians being propped up by protesters, some of whom seem far more concerned about themselves than the people they are supposedly trying to help, I’m going to say something.

Every. Single. Time.

Carmen Gentile

Postindustrial founder Carmen Gentile has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets, including The New York Times, USA TODAY, CBS News, and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. Reach him at carmen@postindustrial.com.

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