Asiya K. Kazi is a social sciences researcher with expertise in racial equity and the psychosocial determinants of mental health.


“22, 297 people killed since October 7 in Palestine, one-third were men.” This is not a headline you are likely to see in any major news outlet.

The silence around the genocide of Palestinian men is not accidental; it is deliberately designed and driven by centuries of gendered racialization of Black and brown men. By characterizing them as “bad hombres,” terrorists, and thugs, historical and present-day Western imperialism associates men of color to violence, terrorism, security threats, and civil unrest. The United States, for instance, has established policies that operate at the intersection of gender and race, to the grave detriment and dispossession of men of color. The U.S. Patriot Act which enabled the racial profiling of Muslim-appearing men, our criminal justice system which imprisons Black men at a rate six times more than white men, and xenophobic immigration and drug control laws resulting in mass deportations of Latino men are only some examples of American policies that enact gendered racism.

As world powers continue to delegitimize, justify, and glorify the maiming of tens of thousands of Palestinians, we must examine how lines of selective empathy cut across American policies, organizations, and culture.

We can turn to art to hear the voice of Palestinian ancestors who experienced antecedents to today’s violence–decades ago, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish lamented in his poem “He Embraces His Murderer”:

He embraces his murderer.
May he win his heart: Do you feel angrier if I survive?
Brother…My brother!
What did I do to make you destroy me?

To reiterate Darwish’s query: what have Palestinian men done to deserve thecollective brutality committed against them? Highlighting the deaths of “women and children” to wring droplets of empathy from indifferent administrations only plays into the vindication of Palestinian men. In fact, the unspoken assumption that Palestinian men might be violent, and therefore should be neutralized, is the anvil on which Western governments can justify the deaths of Palestinian women and girls (who might give birth to men) and Palestinian boys (who will grow up to become men).

When conceptualizing militarized conflicts, especially those with majority civilian casualties, it’s vital to recognize that violence is not an event; rather, it is an organic process. In this latest iteration of U.S.-sponsored violence devastating civilians in the Middle East, the long-brewed suspicion of Palestinian men operates as consent to destroy them, rhetorically and collaterally, without due process of law.

He was likely born into occupation. The Palestinian man has come of age under apartheid, with his food, healthcare, education, travel, and fuel closely controlled by the occupying power. He has experienced loss of life and limb and livelihood. Yet, political pundits ask questions like “Where is Palestine’s Mandela?” that blame him for his own oppression. Journalists automatically omit Palestinian men from the civilian death toll, implying that they are all armed militants. Media reports spectacularize images of Palestinian men vying for food, casting them as looting savages rather than systematically starved human beings striving to keep themselves and their families alive. Public statements from leaders and humanitarian organizations ignore him entirely.

Contorted into an impossible archetype—at once prey and predator, deceitful yet reliably savage, existent yet dispensable—he is positioned in constant defensive. Seen in contrast to the white man, who doesn’t have to condemn, condemn, condemn, who is given the benefit of the doubt that he believes in decency, peace, and freedom, the Palestinian man must prove his innocence as a condition of his existence.

It’s no surprise, then, that the West disregards Palestinian men’s right to its own democratic ideals—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With the symbol of the Palestinian man branded by the imagery of terrorism, Western societies expect his life to be defined by violence, whether enacted by him or against him. Too many individuals living in Western nations, who lack the lived experience of being bombed day and night, normalize the Palestinian man’s grief while he lives and deprive him of their own grief when he is killed.

Those who find it easier to grieve Palestinian children while espousing that “babies on all sides are innocent” and “all children are our children” ought to ask themselves why they find it so difficult to claim Palestinian men as human kin. Are they so guilty, so alien, so intimidating that you cannot summon the heart to name them and mourn them? Your empathy is woefully inadequate if it starts at infancy but expires at an imagined line of “innocence.”

In glaring contrast to those with selective empathy, behold the moral character of Palestinian men, on full display across social media. Their softness in the midst of the harshness of war sets a standard for indiscriminate compassion. As they contend with trauma and grief that no human should have to experience, they use their bare hands to remove bodies from the rubble, comfort neighbors’ orphan children, treat patients without medical supplies, and wipe tears from hurting friends’ faces. Rather than villainizing Arab masculinity, we might learn from Palestine’s men, who live with soul despite the soulless conditions imposed on them.

To humanize is such an inhumane ask. To say that Palestinian men are neither villains nor superheroes should not be radical. To assert that they are not more deserving of unimaginable pain than you or I should not be contestable.

A month into the war, Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza stood in the midst of a field of grey rubble – bombed remains of homes, neighbors turned first responders, and countless bodies trapped underneath slabs of cement – with his shoulders in a shrug and wrote:

“I just don’t know. What to do more, what to lose more, or what to show more?”

As world powers continue to delegitimize, justify, and glorify the maiming of tens of thousands of Palestinians, we must examine how lines of selective empathy cut across American policies, organizations, and culture. We must reckon with our nation’s history of gendered racism against black and brown men. And we must ask for more than the bare minimum for the Palestinian man:

For him to not just be worthy of grief but celebration, not just acknowledged but embraced, not just valid but sacred.

For him to not have to win hearts lest he be destroyed.


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