About a year ago, I watched the 2008 Palestinian film Salt of this Sea, about a Palestinian-American woman named Soraya and her quest to reclaim her family’s home in Jaffa. The film has quite a few agonizing moments: in one scene, Soraya and her Ramallah-born boyfriend Emad are squatting in what remains of his ancestral village, well west of the Green Line. The illusion that they might build a new life atop these ruins is interrupted by a stern Israeli tour guide, who becomes much friendlier when a panicked Soraya lies and tells him she is Jewish.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you’ve been to any of the #blacklivesmatter protests, you may have seen the slogan “Justice from Ferguson to Palestine” on a protest sign. You may have wondered: Really? How are these struggles really connected? This December, I was in Palestine, and I found out first hand.
The audience at A Hole in a Brick Wall conference standing to show solidarity with #blacklivesmatter. Credit: Active Stills
I was asked to give a brief keynote about New York’s People’s Climate March at a conference on feminism and nonviolence in Jaffa, the port city that was once the thriving center of commerce in Palestine, now the neglected south end of Tel Aviv, Israel. Why fly halfway around the world to talk about the climate to people who live in a land riddled with its own share of environmental destruction? I guess, sometimes, you have to burn carbon to stop carbon. As I was preparing my talk, the #blacklivesmatter movement was erupting across America. I couldn’t ignore it. My task: illustrate the interconnectedness of climate justice, racial justice, and ending state violence? In, um, under 15 minutes.
I was asked to write a review of the new benefit album for the people of Gaza. During the violence of last summer more than 2,000 Palestinian were killed, the vast majority civilians and the casualties included more than 500 children. Many more people were left permanently injured, physically, mentally or both, and thousands lost their homes.
I’d already downloaded all twenty-six tracks of 2 Unite All (126 minutes of music from more than thirty artists) before I realized that the task was impossible.
Writing about a project motivated by peace and love is a complete minefield. What’s the point of saying anything about the music when the real aim is not artistic but humanitarian. In such circumstances, is it ethical to be critical?
But then it occurred to me how much else there was to say about this particular endeavor, even before a single song is considered.
What should the relationship be between the artist and the recipient of the aid that they raise? Is it possible to separate out the humanitarian need from the causes that created it? Is it enough to just sing about peace and love?
As Israelis and Palestinians, it’s easy for us to become disillusioned and lose the vision for peace. This is especially true after this past year brought us a horrific war in Gaza, followed by a cycle of violence that some have termed a Third Intifada. Tensions have continued to simmer and it seems that even the optimists have lost the ability to hope or dream.
Because of this, we feel compelled to share two short dreams for 2015 and beyond — one written by an Israeli woman and the other a Palestinian. These are both a part of a blogging series by a group of Israeli and Palestinian women, featured on the blog Another Voice.
My dream really goes well beyond 2015, but I hope it begins there and that 2015 can be the year that sets a new course for all of us and, especially, my son’s generation.
It seems but a distant dream, one that a few keep trying to grasp but is so elusive. The majority in our societies keeps pushing it further and further away from our children’s reach, carelessly ready to leave them bankrupt and with an even bleaker future than we have.
But I see this dream written on my son’s peaceful face as he sleeps or in the innocent joy of his smile and it gives me renewed hope that it is perhaps possible. And then I can’t help but dream and think about how I want this place to be for him:
Zionism and Its Discontents: Radical Currents in Israel/Palestine
by Ran Greenstein
Pluto Press, 2014
Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba-zeh. This assertion, that “All Jews are responsible for each other,” has the crux of the situation. How are Jews to work out their relationship and “responsibility” to the “national home of the Jewish people”? To act decently, we must face what happened, face what the “return to Zion” led to.
Zionism and Its Discontents by Ran Greenstein reviews opposition to the Jewish nationalist state project in Mandate Palestine and after the State of Israel was proclaimed, May 14, 1948. Israeli-born Greenstein’s focus on Israel/Palestine is enriched by his study of South Africa’s liberation from Apartheid ideology.
Reading of pre-State opposition — from Arabs, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, and Zionists who rejected the “Jewish state” goal — reminds us that the consequences of making a Zionist state, consequences of perpetual conflict and injustice, were foreseen.
As I found, while researching a book on the American Jewish establishment and Zionism, the records of Jewish organizations are full of predictions of disaster that would come from taking possession of Palestine as a matter of right, over the interests of residents of that land.
by: Ayah Bashir and Esther Rappaport on December 16th, 2014 | 4 Comments »
Smoke rises after an Israel air strike in Gaza Strip on December 28, 2008. Credit: Creative Commons / Amir Farshad Ebrahimi
We met on social media during Israel’s assault on Gaza this summer. We were both grappling with the brutality of the siege, one of us amid the bombs on Gaza, the other child of a Leningrad siege survivor. Frustrated with the intolerable and continuing violence we decided to write together about siege and its lasting legacy.
What we found, was that a descendant of a city that the Nazis had tried to starve and a survivor of Israel’s endless siege on Gaza have a great deal to communicate to each other and to the world.
At the outset, we agreed this was not a “normalization” project; we believe in an end to the occupation, the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and equality for all. In seeking an end to siege and its legacies, we were both inspired by the haunting words of Mahmoud Darwish:
In the state of siege
Time becomes space transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege,
Space becomes time that has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow
Vassar College professor Hua Hsu wrote in the New Yorker recently that “There should be nothing controversial about everyday kindness; civility as a kind of individual moral compass should remain a virtue. But civility as a type of discourse – as a high road that nobody ever actually walks – is the opposite. It is bullshit.”
Open dialogue, very much like civility, exists as both a venerable ideal and a carrot-on-a-stick style tool of discipline. When it comes to critiquing Israel, particularly from a non-Zionist or anti-Zionist approach, open dialogue becomes a mechanism that avoids the acknowledgement of underlying power imbalances and the foundational inequality of our respective ideologies.
The idea of “open dialogue” sets up a framework that requires balancing ideologies of Zionism with anti-Zionism. However, anti-Zionist and Zionist ideologies are not on an even playing field. To be clear, anti-Zionism carries with it no semblance of the same amount of institutional power as Zionism. Particularly as articulated by Palestinians, whose voices ought to be considered with primacy, anti-Zionism has historically been (and remains) the target of political repression and disenfranchisement. Trying to gain a balanced view from both an anti-Zionist and a Zionist perspective would imply those two ways of seeing the world having the same kind of organizational backing; this is simply not the case.
Moreover, conversations between anti-Zionists and Zionists, even liberal Zionists, never play out on equal ground. The fact that Hillel International, the largest Jewish student organization in the world, states it “will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers” that have explicitly non-Zionist politics provides one very important instance in which an institution represses challenges to Zionism. Unsurprisingly, Hillel invokes Hsu’s concept of civility in prohibiting those that “foster an atmosphere of incivility” in campus Hillels. With such exclusive rules in place, an anti-Zionist student pursuing an open dialogue is only ever entering a Hillel house on the prescriptive terms of the institutional power. How open is that dialogue, then? Not at all. As soon as any one part of a conversation refuses to acknowledge the power differentials that exist between itself and the other parts, open dialogue becomes chimerical.
The union that represents 13,000 graduate student-workers in the University of California system has become the first major U.S. labor union to pass, by member vote, a resolution endorsing the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli occupation and in solidarity with Palestinian self-determination.
The teaching assistants, tutors, and other UC student workers who belong to United Auto Workers Local 2865 voted strongly in favor of a bill calling on the union’s umbrella organization, UAW International, and the University of California Regents to divest from companies complicit in Israeli occupation, and calling on the U.S. government to end all military aid to Israel. The results were released yesterday, following the counting of ballots cast on December 4, and the measure passed with 65 percent in favor and 35 percent opposed.
by: Melissa Weininger on December 10th, 2014 | Comments Off
One of the first acts of the 112th United States Congress was to stage a reading of the entire constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives. The reading was planned as a way of acknowledging the strength of the new Tea Party faction in the House and its ideological commitment to upholding its particular understanding of the Constitution. There was just one problem: the U.S. Constitution, despite having been modified since, still contains references to its own codification of the anti-democratic beginnings of American democracy. Namely, the Constitution makes distinctions between citizens and “other persons,” or slaves, in counting population numbers for the purposes of apportionment of representatives and taxation. Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution provides that population will be counted “by adding to the whole Number of free Persons…three fifths of all other Persons.” Not wanting to be reminded of the imperfections in our Constitution, or the contradictions encoded in our democracy, the House leadership decided to read a redacted version that eliminated all language later superseded by amendments.
Simply removing the language that codified the dehumanization and disenfranchisement of African-Americans, however, can’t make it disappear. This week brought further evidence that despite Constitutional amendments and other forms of political and judicial reform, the lingering effects of Article 1 remain. Last month’s decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict the white police officer who killed the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in August was a reminder that our country was founded on the principle that African-American lives are worth less (three-fifths, according to the Constitution) than white ones. That sentiment was everywhere evident at protests decrying the grand jury decision, on signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” The fact that we still need to be reminded that black lives have worth brings us back to the way the founding documents of our democracy have, in a sense, written some American citizens out of it from the start. As a line from the Ferguson tribute song “Don’t Shoot” puts it, “I’m a resident of a nation that don’t want me.”
We live in a culture based on images, none more powerful than those of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. In this age of the armchair activist, a voice of dissent is a click, a tweet or often just vitriol in a comment box. We can happily surf away to another distraction from the safety of our sofas. What if you took your solidarity and you turned up, in real time, to the trouble spot on the screen? This is exactly what activist Victor Paes did when he recently joined The International Solidarity movement (ISM) in Palestine for the annual olive harvest. Unsatisfied to merely click and share, many politically engaged citizens of the world are showing solidarity for issues in revolutionary new ways. Compassion is being translated into action because the passivity of social media often numbs feeling.