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Political Education Is as Essential to Organizing as Direct Action

Broader historical understanding of Palestine is critical to our resistance, says Palestinian Youth Movement organizer.

Protesters gather downtown during a "Free Palestine" march on October 21, 2023, in Chicago, Illinois.

As the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues, the death toll in Gaza has topped 6,500, including 2,700 children. In the wake of surprise attacks waged by Hamas, in which 1,400 Israelis were killed on October 7, Israel has carried out genocidal acts of collective punishment against Palestinians in Gaza. Exercising its control over a blockaded Gaza, Israel has shut off access to water, electricity, and food within Gaza, while waging a relentless bombing campaign against Palestinians on the ground. The United Nations estimates that one million people in Gaza have been displaced, as 30% of all housing units in Gaza have been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.

Over a thousand people are missing in Gaza, while rescuers and families fear that many are dying slowly beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings. An unnamed hospital supervisor in Gaza told CNN, “What we noticed today is that many parents [are] writing the names of their children on their legs so they can get identified after airstrikes and if they get lost. This is a new phenomenon that just started in Gaza.”

While some have praised the Biden administration for helping to negotiate the transfer of aid to besieged residents of Gaza, Tamara Alrifai, spokesperson for the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency has stated, “The trucks that have come in so far are just a trickle in the face of the immense needs of people on the street.”

In the United States, thousands of people have continued to take to the streets in protest, demanding an immediate ceasefire, meaningful aid for the people of Gaza, safe paths of escape for those trapped in unlivable conditions, and freedom for Palestine. One organization that has been organizing in defense of Palestinian lives is the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM). PYM describes itself as “a transnational, independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians in Palestine and in exile worldwide as a result of the ongoing Zionist colonization and occupation of our homeland.” PYM’s work includes building connections between Palestinian youth across the U.S. and Canada, and helping young Palestinian activists hone their organizing skills. Those connections and skills could not be more relevant during the current crisis, as PYM members plan protests and develop resources for political education. I was recently able to speak with Miriam Osman, a New York City-based member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, about the struggle that young Palestinian organizers are currently engaged in.

Kelly Hayes: Can you tell us a bit about your work, your organization, and what the past few weeks have been like for you as a Palestinian youth organizer?

Miriam Osman: I’m with the Palestinian Youth Movement. We are a grassroots, transnational, independent organization of Palestinian and Arab youth who are committed to and fighting for the liberation of our homeland from Zionism and imperialism. How that looks in the diaspora, obviously, is different from how that looks in Palestine, but we understand it as no less important of a front of the struggle for Palestinian liberation because there are immediate and concrete tasks that we can take up here in the diaspora.

So what our work has looked like in the past few weeks, and in general, is really, one, responding to the need to have organized communities. So, historically after the effects of the Oslo Accords, what we saw was the depoliticization of a lot of organizing spaces in the diaspora, and our task right now is to re-politicize our base and bring Palestinian Arab youth into the struggle and make them understand that this struggle is part of their task and part of their duty. So we’ve been focusing lately on having mass mobilizations and actions to support Palestine and demand that our government ends all funding to Israel, demand that the siege on Gaza be lifted immediately, and also to raise a voice of support for Palestinian resistance, which so often is demonized or decontextualized completely. So as you can imagine, we’ve been pretty busy the last few weeks, and I’m sure we’ll continue to be.

I also want to get the word out about our March on Washington on November 4th. We’re hoping that it’ll be the biggest march ever for Palestine, and we hope that everyone can try to make it out there. Depending on where people are coming from, there’s probably going to be buses and things like that, too.

You mentioned that there was a depoliticization that occurred after the Oslo Accords. Can you say more about that?

So what happened with the Oslo Accords basically was the capitulation towards imperialist interests and Zionist interests. So what we saw happen in Palestine instead of a liberation project was this narrow, quasi-state building project, and it resulted in what we see today, which is the PA, the Palestinian Authority, which is actively working against the resistance in Palestine. They do security coordination with the occupation forces. Outside of Palestine, what happened is a lot of the movements and organizations that existed in the neoliberal turn became NGOs, or they became focused on humanitarian issues. And the funding sources for that also necessitated that the political content be downplayed or whitewashed. So what we end up having is not just a base of Palestinians and Arabs in the U.S. and other places in the far diaspora that are disengaged from the struggle, but where even the language people use to talk about it has been totally watered down. The understanding of the Palestinian struggle as a struggle against Zionism and imperialism and a struggle to liberate all of the Arab world from imperialism, that understanding was also diminished after the Oslo Accords.

So what we understand as our task, as we’re building our base, is to re-politicize the Palestinian and Arab youth, and to start having an understanding of, for example, the right to resist, as part of the popular discourse on Palestine and not something that’s fringe, or even worse, some people have been accusing us of antisemitism or these kinds of things, which is just absolutely ludicrous if you begin to have an understanding of what a liberation struggle means or what the context has been on the ground. So yeah, that’s what we mean by “re-politicize the youth,” and that’s what we try to do, not just through mobilizations and actions like we’ve been doing the last two weeks and prior to that, but also we do a lot of political education. And I think we have been successful in starting to move the language of how to talk about Palestine, and we are seeing things change. So I’m hopeful that that will continue.

KH: In a recent piece entitled, “The First Week: Dispatch from the Palestinian Youth Movement,” PYM wrote:

Palestinians and Arabs have long understood that Zionism and Western imperialism to be intimately intertwined. At their base, the two ideologies fundamentally seek the same things: the extraction of Arab land and labor, the elimination of a Palestinian population, and the blanket of an imperial military and economic system that subjugates the world’s oppressed. The violent colonial response we are witnessing is therefore neither surprising nor random. Rather, it is the “rational,” ordered response of a system governed by counterrevolutionary and anti-Communist logic.

Can you talk a bit about the shared agenda of Israel and the United States, and why we are seeing so much support for genocidal violence against Palestinians among U.S. politicians?

The short answer is that the U.S. and Israel have shared interests. What are those shared interests? What does it mean when we say that there’s a “blanket of imperial military and economic system”? So if we think about what the U.S. interests are in the region in the Middle East, it’s immediately clear. So much of it is about natural resources. So much of it is about maintaining military dominance, not just over the region, but really over the entire planet with the region as a base. Famously, Joe Biden has said that if Israel didn’t exist, the U.S. would have to invent it.

Basically what that means is that Israel is the crown jewel of the U.S. imperialist project. It is one of the most important bases of U.S. imperialism, and it is where the interests of the U.S. government and Western governments writ large are protected. And how are they protected in Israel? It’s through an ethno-fascist settler colony that functions as a military outpost in the region, receives billions of dollars in U.S. military funding, and without that funding wouldn’t be able to carry out the genocide that we’re witnessing right now. And that’s been ongoing since the Nakba, so it’s 1948.

For Israel, which is again a settler colony, it’s all about taking Palestinian land, and Palestinian lives at the expense of taking the land. So as Israel attempts to expand, what we see is just more violence. That’s what we’re seeing in Gaza right now, and we’ve seen that historically. The Nakba was this moment where, in the creation of the so-called state of Israel, Palestinian villages were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people were exiled, so many people were murdered, and all for the expansion of the Israeli settler colony. At the same time, what ended up happening when we talk about the labor question here is that you have a Palestinian population that is surrounded by fences and checkpoints, where all mobility is surveilled and monitored, and where Palestinian labor is a cheap source of labor for Israel, and a crucial one at that.

For example, when we think about the First Intifada, just to give an example of how important the labor aspect is in this and why Palestinians that have to be, from the Israeli logic, subjugated in such a way, there were massive boycotts. So Palestinians who worked in Israel during the First Intifada stopped going to work. There were massive strikes and boycotts, and we saw the Israeli economy totally fall apart. So these questions are really related, and at the same time, when we think about the broader Arab dimension of this, it’s not just Palestinians who have to suffer. This allows for the continuation of this imperialist agenda in the entire region, where we see the Arab world functioning as a place for the extraction of natural resources.

All to say that once again, if there wasn’t an Israel, the U.S. would create one, and that it is intimately tied to the viability of the U.S. empire, which is why, to get to the second part of this question, there’s so much support for genocidal violence against Palestinians, because it is directly in American interests. The Palestinian resistance is a massive threat not just to Israel, but to the United States and to U.S. imperial interests more broadly.

So it’s not surprising. It’s exactly what you would expect to see. The class component of U.S. imperialism is shining right now. You see politicians who maybe you’re surprised that they aren’t speaking out about this, but it doesn’t matter what side they’re on. At the end of the day, they’re going to be on the side of U.S. empire.

In the same piece, PYM describes some of the violence and repression that Palestinians and their supporters are experiencing, and states that, “The media gives cover to all this: they render us savage and killable.” Can you talk about how the media offers cover to the violence and repression that is currently being enacted, and how this has impacted you and your co-strugglers?”

What we’ve seen is that the mainstream media, and again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the mainstream media has been complicit in completely whitewashing the crimes of Zionism against the Palestinian people. So part of how they do this is by completely de-contextualizing everything that’s happening. So they would like us to believe that this so-called war started on October 7th, but really that couldn’t be farther from the truth. For the last 75 years, the media and Western governments have been totally committed to whitewashing the colonial crimes of Israel. They conveniently ignore that there has been brutal colonial violence for the last 75 years, and before, I might add, and they completely ignore that that has resulted in the mass dispossession of Palestinians from their land, the mass exile of Palestinians from their homeland, and mass murder of Palestinians.

So the media refuses to cover any of the massacres that have happened in Gaza and Palestine more broadly and are entirely selective about what kind of international outrage and condemnation we’re seeing. So we don’t see the media reporting on the fact that most of the people of the countries of this world are supportive of the Palestinian cause. We don’t see that. Instead, what we see is this rhetoric being pushed that completely dehumanizes Palestinians and is manufacturing consent for genocide and for the totally erasure of Gaza from the map. So we’ve been seeing this kind of propaganda, which is really fundamental to Zionist oppression.

If the average person saw a Palestinian as a human being, they would start to empathize with Palestinians due to the harsh conditions Palestinians face. If they started to understand the historical context of what the Palestinian people have been through, they would understand that the Palestinian resistance has been a just resistance since the very beginning. This can’t fly for the Zionist state of Israel. This can’t fly for the U.S. empire. And we’ve been seeing really horrific consequences of that here in the U.S. Recently, Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old boy was stabbed to death by his landlord, and it was a hate crime. It was an Islamophobic hate crime. So this has effects not just in Palestine, but here as well. It’s also related to the mass campaign of doxxing that we’ve all been targets of in the movement. And so we demand that local and national news outlets commit to actually honest reporting on Gaza. We demand that they do not include racist, anti-Arab, or anti-Muslim tropes that manufacture consent for genocide. This is the bare minimum of what these news outlets could be doing, and they’re completely failing to do so, and they should be completely ashamed of themselves.

For all the reasons you describe, political education is so important right now. PYM recently released a resource called “All the Walls Will Fall: 2023 Palestine Liberation Resource List.” Can you tell us a bit about this resource, who it’s for and why PYM created it?

This resource was created in particular to counter a lot of the narratives that we’ve been seeing coming out of the mainstream media, which again, like I said, are completely just removing any sort of context or history from the situation in Gaza. So it’s really this resource for everybody. I hope it’s shared broadly, and it will provide you with a much more thorough understanding of what’s happening in Gaza right now and also of Palestinian history more broadly. And one of the most important things about this resource is it’s contextualizing the Palestinian resistance. So Palestinians have been resisting genocidal colonial attacks, again, for 75 years, and it puts into context what’s happening in Gaza right now within that lineage of resistance. So again, we hope that people share this, we hope you find it useful, and we think that having that broader historical understanding is critical right now, and that once you take a look at this resource, hopefully it’s helpful. You can start popularizing the context that we talk about in the resource. So yes, it’s really for everybody, and yeah, I hope it’s helpful.

Is PYM hoping that people will form study groups around this kind of material right now?

Study groups are an excellent idea. Talking about it with your family, getting together groups of friends to talk about it, even just picking something off the list and reading it with a group of people. It’s a big list, so there’s a lot there for whatever it is you’re interested in. And that would be amazing to see a whole bunch of study groups come up out of this. That would be incredible. I think it’s so important to read this and discuss it with people. Studying on your own is great, but studying with a group of people and coming to collective understandings about these things is even better, I think. So, I would highly encourage doing this with other people.

What do you want people to understand about what Palestinians in and outside of Gaza are experiencing right now?

There is a genocide happening right now against the people of Gaza. And when I say that, I need people to understand why people in Gaza can’t leave Gaza. It has been described as “an open air prison.” There’s been a blockade on Gaza. Again, when I say “blockade,” I need people to understand people cannot enter or exit. There is a land, air, and sea blockade imposed by the Zionist occupation on Gaza.

Israel has just been bombing Gaza nonstop for two weeks. There’s nowhere for people to go. They’re destroying the infrastructure completely, and the death count is reaching 5,000 in two weeks. 5,000 people. The residents have been attacked in places of refuge, in hospitals. The Zionist entity does not care. In fact, it’s been explicit that they’re calling for a genocide. They’ve explicitly been calling for a genocide. This is what we need to understand. It’s not a conflict. There’s no two sides to this. This is attempted genocide.

The other thing we need to understand is that the Palestinian people in Gaza and in general refuse to die quietly. The resistance continues. And here in the U.S., we also have a very important role in demanding, first, that the siege on Gaza be lifted immediately, that aid is allowed to enter into Gaza, because so far aid has been blocked. Again, bombs raining in, no aid allowed in, hospitals destroyed, so nowhere for people to seek treatment. They just bombed a church, one of the oldest churches in Palestine, in Gaza, I think it was yesterday or the day before. It’s horrific. So this is really the moment for us here to stand up and demand that our government not be complicit in this genocide.

What has been helpful to you during this time?

What’s been helpful right now really is seeing people get organized. I think that is the most important thing that we can be doing here right now. Obviously, it’s a moment of crisis, but it’s also been a moment, I think, where a lot of people have been realizing the truth of the matter and coming to a much better understanding of what’s happening in Palestine. So there’s so much will right now, I think, for people to get organized. And it is not just about going to rallies and showing up and marching and coming out in numbers. I think that’s all really important, but it’s also about continuing this work beyond this moment. And the way to do that is by joining organizations, joining solidarity groups, and again, just getting organized and making sure that we can carry forward campaigns right now. That will be really important to forwarding Palestinian liberation, and we can do that from right here.

So just keep organizing. That’s what’s been helpful right now. I wish I could say that there’s been something to help with the rage and the grief and the pain, but there’s nothing that’s going to help that except the total liberation of Palestine. So, keep organizing and keep fighting. That is the most helpful thing to me, and to the PYM, and to all Palestinians and Arabs and all people living under Zionist and imperialist aggression right now.

Are there any other asks or invitations you would like to extend to people who are reading this interview?

We really hope you can all make it on November 4th to the National March on Washington. Again, this is hopefully going to be a historic march on Washington. I don’t care how you get there, fly, bus, train, ride your bike, walk there. We want to see you out in DC for this mobilization. We’re going to be in front of the White House, and we’re going to forward our main demands, which, again, are the end of all U.S. funding for Israel, lifting the siege on Gaza immediately, allowing aid into Gaza, and freeing Palestine. We’re going to say those demands in front of the White House, and I hope to see you there on November 4th.

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