One of the many reasons I care so much about Palestine is because I locate it within a struggle for liberation of all colonized or formerly colonized people. All of historic Palestine (the West Bank, Gaza and Israel) is colonized land. I cannot and will not side with a colonizing force or with people who support a colonizing force: that is the equivalent of condoning the genocide of indigenous Americans, enslavement of African Americans, apartheid against blacks in the US and South Africa, genocide of the aborigines in Australia or Herero and Nama people in Namibia.
Occupied and colonized people have every right to resist their occupation and move towards decolonization. All of our movements for liberation have been watered down and none of our groups yet knows what justice or self-determination feels like. Just look to the poverty of the reservations, to the millions of incarcerated black Americans, or the fact that the majority of South Africa’s black population is poorer than they were 20 years ago.
For those who hear the calls of the colonized for action and say, “well, there must be another side to this,” or “they’re being too unreasonable,” or “why can’t they just get along?” the answer is that settler colonialism is a system that seeks the total destruction or subjugation of the colonized population. The colonizer and colonized do not operate as equals, their violence is not the same, and there is no middle ground between genocide and co-existence—at least until the colonizer respects the rights of the colonized (i.e. decolonizes). If you are on the fence, it is time to pick a side and to pick the right side. It was not the minority of racists who upheld Jim Crow in the United States, but the majority of Americans, who, confronted with a system that was obviously wrong, chose to remain silent and in their own comfortable complicity.
Whenever the occupation ends (because it will end), I will find it very hard to console or forgive anyone who comes to me and says “How did we not see the inhumanity we visited upon the Palestinian people?” Please do not let that be you.
Israel’s Actions in Gaza Constitute Genocide
What is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza right now constitutes genocide. Genocide. An Israeli strike kills 18 members of one family at once. Another takes out a charity for the disabled, killing two handicapped patients. Water treatment facilities are targeted. The UN reported on July 14 that 80 percent of the dead were civilians. The world’s largest open-air prison is yet again under siege with nowhere to go. The population does not need to be killed off to name something as such, and it would be incredibly dangerous of us to only agree to this label after the fact. Much as the UN is completely useless in enforcing international human rights laws, its definition of genocide is in fact a very useful one:
The following acts can be considered genocide when (and only when) they are committed with the intent to destroy a group protected by the Convention: killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, July 11 that Israel has no intent of relinquishing control of the occupied territories. Ever.
“I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
And the reason for this? Beyond the fact that settler colonialism seeks all of indigenous land and settles for nothing less: Gaza. “We pulled out of Gaza and now look what they do? They fire rockets at us all day!” is the frequent claim from Israel apologists.
Any logical examination of the facts on the ground indicates that this claim is patently false. Israel removed all of its settlements from Gaza in 2005 and then proceeded to tighten its military siege and economic embargo on it by land, air and sea (Egypt completes the encircling of the prison by frequently closing off Gaza’s fourth border with the Arab state). “But Hamas is a terrorist organization!” So were the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela until 2008. The FBI declared the Black Panther Party the “greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.” These groups are no more terrorists than the thuggish colonial and apartheid regimes that oppress them. Armed struggle against occupation and colonization is a right enshrined under international law.
And Hamas, for all of its faults (many of the same faults of any government), was democratically elected by the people of Palestine. To target the infrastructure of “terrorist Hamas” is the equivalent of targeting the schools, hospitals and churches of the United States because they are maintained by the United States government, which reigns terror on people all across the world.
We in the United States did not like it when al-Qaeda attacked our people and infrastructure for the actions of our government; we should not tolerate Israel doing the same to Palestinians.
Contextualizing Gaza With the Rest of Palestine
That the Israeli government or society wonders why Gaza fires rockets upon them is also incredibly perplexing. Palestinians are not discrete, segmented people—they are a united collective. Removing soldiers and settlements from Gaza does nothing to address the injustices facing Palestinians under indefinite detainment, night raids, housing demolitions, land theft and occupation in the West Bank and Jerusalem; it does nothing to address the generations of Palestinians living in exile in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, holding the keys and deeds to their homes close to their hearts waiting to return home.
Removing settlements that were already illegal should not be a courtesy to the Palestinians—it is an obligation. And to expect that the government of the Gaza Strip would remain quiet while colonial Israel continues to strangle the enclave with an economic and military blockade and siege, occupy its family in the West Bank, relegate its sisters within Israel to second-class citizenship and ban its brothers in exile from their universally enshrined right to return home is beyond me.
Those of us in the West easily accept this fragmentation of Palestine, unable to understand why Palestinians in Israel, in the West Bank, in Gaza can’t simply be quiet and get along when things are more or less tolerable in their specific location. The Israeli government intentionally provoked Palestinians under occupation and colonization over the past month and should not expect Palestinians in Gaza to remain silent while their kin in the West Bank and Jerusalem are subject to night raids, curfews, university closures, home demolitions, and the arrest of over 600, including the indefinite detainment of more than 200. Calls of Israeli officials for revenge for the alleged kidnappings contributed to the anti-Palestinian hostility that led to the lynching of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The videotaping of Israeli police beating Mohammed’s 15-year-old American cousin Tariq unconscious must not have been taken lightly.
Violence is Always Present in Colonialism
Much of the mainstream media and general American public have expressed outrage and concern about the ‘recent outbursts of violence’ in the region. Well, there is a necessary intervention to make explicit: there is always violence under occupation and colonization. Much of it is not visible or related to bombs, bullets and bodies, but it exists nonetheless and it’s no less worthy of our outrage or concern. Much of the violence Palestinians experience is not physical or visible: it is emotional, psychological, economic, social, political and cultural.
There is the cultural violence of being called backward, inferior, and deserving of your oppression. There is the political violence of being denied sovereignty and self-determination. There is the infrastructural violence of having an outside force control how much food, water and electricity you consume—and even whether you can have 3G wireless (Israel has not approved this frequency for Palestinians). There is the economic violence of being blockaded, having land stolen, houses demolished and agriculture destroyed. There is the psychological and emotional violence of having your movement controlled, knowing soldiers can raid your house at any hour of the night, arrest you or your loved ones, detain them indefinitely, and even kill you with impunity.
And then, there’s the physical violence of being tear gassed, beat, tortured, bombed and shot. While the recent killings and military offensive has indeed been physically violent, we must understand that violence always exists against Palestinians. The recent bombings and bullets are only the tip of the iceberg of what Palestinians experience on a daily basis.
A Call From Gaza to Act
And to those for whom Palestinian resistance or solidarity is too uncomfortable—if it upsets you equally or more than the bombs being dropped on Gaza, something is seriously wrong. If you view Palestinian responses as ‘extremism’ that is a counterbalance to the Israeli army’s racist war, please return to Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”
The Palestinian people should not have to pay the price for the Roman Empire’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD or for the genocidal actions of Nazi Germany (which the West similarly enabled with its silence and denial). The Jewish people deserve a home, a place to feel safe just as much as any other historically persecuted people do. African Americans, who still to this day do not know safety in our own country, are not entitled to return to Africa, steal land and oppress the local population because we once lived there. The Jewish desire for a homeland cannot come at the expense of the rights of people already living in that land.
The global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel does not seek to eliminate the existence of a home for the Jewish people; rather it insists that Israel must respect the universally accepted rights of Palestinians not to live under occupation and colonization, of refugees to return to their homes or receive compensation, and of Israeli citizens to be treated the same as Jews. Gazan civil society, reiterating the 2005 call from over 170 Palestinian civil organizations, released a call last week to the rest of the world:
“We call for a final end to the crimes and oppression against us. We call for:
- Arms embargos on Israel, sanctions that would cut off the supply of weapons and military aid from Europe and the United States on which Israel depends to commit such war crimes;
- Suspension of all free trade and bilateral agreements with Israel such as the EU-Israel Association agreement;
- Boycott, divestment and sanctions, as called for by the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society in 2005…
“We insist on international action:
- Severance of diplomatic ties with Israel
- Trials for war crimes
- Immediate international protection of the civilians of Gaza.”
Wake up, Sleeping Beauty
These requests are not radical or extreme in the face of colonialism and the violence it brings. They are the least we can do for the people of Gaza and Palestine, whom we have woefully betrayed as fellow human beings. Frantz Fanon, our best theorist of colonialism, becomes useful for understanding our historical imperative:
“The Third World has no intention of organizing a vast hunger crusade against Europe. What it does expect from those who have kept it in slavery for centuries it to help it rehabilitate man, and ensure his triumph everywhere, once and for all… This colossal task, which consists of reintroducing man into the world, man in his totality, will be achieved with the crucial help of the European masses who would do well to confess that they have often rallied behind the position of the common masters on colonial issues. In order to do this, the European masses first of all decide to wake up, put on their thinking caps, and stop playing the irresponsible game of Sleeping Beauty.”
To the refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan – the people of conscious of this world (who in fact, are a majority of the people in this world), will not be quiet until you have returned to your homes in Palestine, until you are free of occupation. To the Palestinian people, our hearts bleed for you and the incredible and enduring injustices our government has forced upon you. It is your liberation that will set the world anew. It will not be the so-called democracies of the United States, Israel, or any colonial project; it necessarily has to be the people who have been most harshly affected by colonialism, most ignored and abandoned by the world, who will show us the way towards the humanity that we are ever in search of.