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As a Palestinian With Family in Gaza, I Don’t Want Sympathy. I Want Solidarity.

To engage in true solidarity, people in the West need to read up on the history and conditions that preceded October 7.

A Palestinian injured in Israeli air strikes arrives for treatment at Kuwait Hospital on March 1, 2024, in Rafah, Gaza.

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Amid the genocide in Gaza, some of my Western friends have expressed their sympathy for my family members in Gaza whose house was destroyed and who have endured repeated displacement. They have also expressed their empathy with Israelis and called for peace.

I am a Palestinian scholar currently based in the U.K. In 2014, I moved to London from Ramallah in the West Bank where I used to live, separated from my family in Gaza, my place of birth. I have been separated for years from my family due to the blockade of Gaza, and both my children and I were deprived of any connection to our family roots in Gaza. We were not granted permits by the Israeli Ministry of Interior to visit Gaza. Even in critical moments, such as when my father had surgery in a Jerusalem hospital, I faced challenges in obtaining a permit to be by his side.

This geographical segregation of our space has instilled a profound sense of captivity within us. My personal experience informed my research area, which focuses on captivity and resistance within the context of settler colonialism in Palestine. While I haven’t experienced incarceration, living under occupation is similar to existing in an open-air prison. Within a militarily colonized space, Palestinians find themselves confined to de facto prisons and cantons due to the constraints imposed by the absence of freedom of mobility. They are denied freedom of movement due to closure, checkpoints and a segregation apartheid wall.

In response to several discussions and conversations with the Western friends who have expressed their sympathy (mainly friends in Germany), I want to reflect on what the conditions for true solidarity are today, and how we can break with a colonial international discourse and liberal media that present the actions of October 7 in a vacuum without context, as if the current war began on that date. This dehistoricizing of Palestinians dehumanizes us and enables the current genocide.

I have a German friend who lived in Palestine and married a Palestinian. She conveyed to me that German schools focus on the Holocaust and that before moving to Palestine she only learned about Jewish history. Meanwhile Germany has politically embraced the Israeli state, including the current genocide it is inflicting on Palestinians. This support is often seen as an effort to cleanse Germany’s Nazi past. Several German politicians have claimed that ensuring Israel’s security is a fundamental national interest (“Staatsräson”) of Germany since October 7. As a result, the country has consistently taken a stringent stance against pro-Palestine voices.

In many Western nations — not only Germany — the Palestinian narrative is largely neglected, skewing the historical perspective. The issue here involves two distinct but interconnected topics — the horrific Holocaust for which Germany and its collaborators bear responsibility, and the creation of a Zionist colonial state at the expense of Palestinians resulting in their displacement and expropriation of their lands. The tragedy of the Holocaust has been misused to justify the colonization and dispossession of Palestinians. Zionism, not Judaism, is at the center of this issue. Palestinians have been subjugated to every form of torture and annihilation as part of Israel’s political project of domination and extraction. This is not a religious problem, and conflating Judaism with Zionism is a tool used by Israel to justify its genocidal violence and scare people from speaking up for fear of being considered antisemitic.

Can you imagine if you were subjected to colonization, your home destroyed, your family killed and forced into exile to become refugees? Many of my German friends emphasize the importance of envisioning a solution and discussing the future, but a comprehensive understanding of Palestinian history and Palestinian suffering of colonialism is also essential for reaching a resolution. A solution can’t be found if we don’t know the origin of the problem and the current reality on the ground. Palestinians sought a two-state solution through their acceptance of the Oslo process, but Israeli violence continued through the construction of illegal settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian lands and the refusal to release Palestinian political prisoners, which hindered any progress.

I understand my German friends’ desire to express sympathy with Jews and the Israeli hostages. However, I feel it is equally crucial to extend your sympathy and solidarity toward the thousands of Palestinian hostages who have been held in Israeli prisons for many long years. In January 2024, the number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails reached 8,800. Since October 7, Israeli authorities have escalated the detention campaigns against Palestinians. Two thousand nine hundred ninety detention cases have been being documented by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society in the West Bank and Jerusalem in October alone, and since that time at least six Palestinian prisoners have died in prison with evidence pointing to beatings from Israeli soldiers and medical neglect as the likely cause of their deaths. Political prisoners and their families were subjected to violent assaults and attacks by the Israeli authorities during detention operations including threats of killing, violent beatings, field interrogations, threats of rape and the use of prisoners as human shields.

I have been separated for years from my family due to the blockade of Gaza

The families of Palestinian prisoners are used as hostages too. I’ve documented in my book, Reclaiming Humanity in Palestinian Hunger Strikes, the policy of administrative detention used by the Israeli authorities whereby Palestinian detainees are held without charge or trial for unidentified reasons, as justified by “secret files.” The detention order is frequently renewed, and this process can be continued indefinitely. In response, Palestinian detainees have engaged in hunger strike to protest administrative detention in order to achieve freedom.

Currently there are negotiations underway to stop the genocide in Gaza, with a key focus on the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian political prisoners from Israeli prisons. But Israel is reluctant to release the Palestinian political prisoners. Is it not worth considering that the nearly 2.5 million residents of Gaza essentially have been hostages for the past 17 years, living under an inhumane and illegal blockade? So, the situation goes way beyond just the Israeli hostages.

Advocating for Palestinian liberation does not make a person antisemitic, and Palestinian armed struggle should not be equated with terrorism. The Palestinian subjects whom I interviewed while writing my book emphasised in their stories that they are engaged in a struggle against a settler-colonial regime that dehumanizes them, forcibly uproots them from their land and threatens their existence on their indigenous land. They argue that they have the right to resist and defend their existence, and that they are engaged in legitimate resistance to colonization.

The history of Israeli violence against Palestinians, predating the recent events, underscores the motives behind the ongoing genocide. Since the establishment of the colonial project in Palestine, resistance by Palestinians has been criminalized regardless of tactics (nonviolent resistance efforts have also been brutally repressed and criminalized) and regardless of the resistance group’s orientation. (Secular, leftist and Islamic political groups have all been criminalized.)

The Israeli actions and discourses show that this current war is not a response to Hamas’s action on October 7, but rather a war aimed at the annihilation of Palestinians as a people. In the West Bank, where Hamas is not in power, settlers and Israeli forces have killed more than 500 Palestinians in 2023, accelerating their project of ethnic cleansing and annexation.

The Israeli Zionist media discourse has been adopted by Western media and claims that Israel is the victim. Is it a victim when it pushes forth with this genocidal war against civilians and displaced Palestinians in Gaza who were already refugees? What defines the fascism that pervades our modern world is the fact that Western imperial governments and the Arab regimes in thrall with the United States are complicit in this genocide.

Why are the killings and injustices that Palestinians have been experiencing for seven decades at the hands of Zionist settler colonialism not recognized as acts of terrorism? The war in Ukraine concerned the Western world, but the dominant powers in that same world do not show any solidarity with the Palestinians. Is this because Ukrainians are perceived as civilized white victims while Palestinian are regarded as “human animals?” Western media and politicians have supported the genocide in Gaza by claiming that Israel has a right to defend itself. What about the right of Palestinians to fight oppression and the Zionist project? Palestinians are active victims and have always resisted their dehumanization since the establishment of the Zionist entity. In their struggle they have been displaced and killed, yet they continue to resist and stay steadfast.

The following passage from Ibrahim Nasrallah’s novel Gaza Weddings illuminates how Palestinians experience Israel’s attacks on them as a clear expression of a colonial desire to annihilate all Palestinian people, regardless of their political background:

If you were with Hamas, Israel kills you. If you were with Jihad, Israel kills you. If you were with Fatah (secular party) or Sha’biyah [the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] or Demoqratiyah [the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine] (leftists parties), Israel kills you. If you were with the resistance, Israel kills you. If you were with surrendering, Israel kills you. If you were with Abu Ammar, Israel kills you. If you were against him, Israel kills you. If you open the window to see what’s going on, Israel kills you. If you were walking down the street or sleeping in your bed or minding your own business, a rocket comes from the sky and kills you.

Given my family’s experience during the genocide and the suffering of all my loved ones in Gaza and the resulting trauma, it is challenging for me to envision peace with a settler-colonial state that consistently perpetuates violence against us on daily basis. Despite the Palestinian desire for peace with Israel, as evidenced by their acceptance of the Oslo process, peace efforts have been sabotaged by Israel’s continued killing of Palestinians and the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

I wish more people across the world would heed the Jewish advocates for Palestinian rights who are powerfully arguing that “Never Again” — a pledge to fight the sort of fascist ideologies that led to the Holocaust — means “Never Again for Anyone.”

These Jewish activists recognize that in the fight against fascist ideologies it is vital to support the Palestinian rights to freedom and self-determination. To gain a comprehensive perspective it is important to follow Palestinian news and what some Palestinian journalists on the ground publish and share on an everyday basis on Instagram and other platforms, and to follow the Jews for Palestine who are critical of Israel. I believe understanding the pre-October 7 history is important for grasping Palestinian suffering and assessing Israeli goals.

I appreciate that many of my Western friends have started to learn about Palestinian experience, and that they are showing solidarity with Palestinians. I thank them for their courage in exploring a new perspective on the situation in Palestine. I hope one day they all can visit Palestine to see the reality on the ground.

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