Across the Western world, public opinion on Palestine is finally shifting

The brutality of Israel’s war on Gaza has put an end to the apathy towards the suffering of the Palestinian people in the West.

Protesters hold up flags and placards during a demonstration in support of Palestinian people in Gaza
Protesters hold up flags and placards during a demonstration in support of Palestinian people in Gaza, in London, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024 [AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali]

For a very long time, many in the Western world have not engaged at all with the issues stemming from the occupation of Palestine. The occupation was in the news, every year or so, for a day or two, and then it would go again. It was too “complicated”, those who knew about the context – on either side – were too passionate. So many opted to remain neutral. Many more believed the smears against the Palestinian people.

However, the scale and severity of brutality that has defined the past six months of conflict has put an end to the widespread apathy towards the suffering of the Palestinian people. The wall-to-wall media coverage, thanks to fearless reporting from organisations like Al Jazeera and Palestinian journalists on the ground, has opened people’s eyes to the reality people in Gaza, and the rest of Palestine, have had to endure for generations.

At Action For Humanity, one of the leading NGOs working in Gaza and influencing policymakers in the United Kingdom, we have commissioned polling by YouGov and found that 56 percent of the UK are now in favour of halting arms exports to Israel. Only 17 percent are against and the rest are unsure.

This is huge. We have been polling the public on conflicts like Syria and Yemen for years and never have the UK public not just been so aware of a conflict, but also feel so passionately about it.

Furthermore, when asked, 59 percent of the respondents said they felt Israel was committing human rights abuses in Gaza – almost three in five people and just 12 percent felt this was not the case.

And it’s worth noting this survey was conducted before the April 1 killing of World Central Kitchen aid workers – an atrocity which has horrified the world, even the UK and US governments. We now anticipate, due to the widespread condemnation of this event, that the number of people who realise what horrors are being committed and want no part of it, is higher.

Other polling by YouGov has shown that, the longer this war on Gaza goes on, the more people are likely to support a ceasefire (from 59 percent in November to 66 percent in February), are more likely to think the attack on Gaza is not justified (from 44 percent in November to 45 percent in February) and are more likely to want peace talks (61 percent in November to 66 percent in February).

And this is a pattern we are seeing all across the Western world. In the United States, the biggest backer of Israel on the global stage, it is not just the administration in the White House that is struggling to attempt to justify the accelerating civilian death toll, the public too are showing disapproval. A CBS/YouGov poll found that in October 47 percent – almost half- of the US supported sending weapons to Israel, this month the number has plummeted to just 32 percent – less than a third, and that support for a ceasefire is growing.

We believe that this is the case across the West and now that the overwhelming majority of the Western public are becoming more and more aware of the crimes against humanity that are being committed in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, the more people are completely appalled. And even those who once felt the huge civilian death toll in Gaza were justified and realising in increasing numbers that nothing on this earth can justify what is happening.

However, sadly, the politicians of Western governments are completely out of step with their public’s mood. Not only is this morally reprehensible, but it is politically shortsighted.

The year 2024 has been called “the year of elections”, with at least 49 percent of the world voting at some point this year, politicians who do not realise their publics want them to stop facilitating and supporting human rights abuses in Gaza, face electoral defeat – even if they refuse to face their conscience.

Here in the UK, the Labour Party, which many believe will form the next government, have also been behind the public’s growing demand to stop arming Israel – even though our polling found that a huge 71 percent of those who intended to vote Labour at the next election believe the UK government should stop funding Israel.

For decades, Western states were able to support abuses against Palestinians with impunity due to public ignorance on the issue – due to people not paying attention to what’s happening, and buying into lies. This is now over, and the horrific way Israel conducted its war on Gaza is the reason why. Humanity, in all its forms, everywhere, is fundamentally good. Most humans, at their core, believe in peace and justice. They know that murdering innocents is wrong. Now the world is paying attention to Gaza, everyone can see what an unnatural, horrendous reality Palestinians are forced to endure, and they want no more of it.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.