“Surviving settler colonialism isn’t just about surviving its material realities, it’s also about surviving how settler colonialism requires destroying cultures, and languages, and sensibilities, and values, and ways of being in the world,” says scholar and activist Nadine Naber. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” Naber and host Kelly Hayes discuss the connections between the struggle for Palestinian liberation and U.S. movements against police and prisons, the history of Palestinian and Arab organizing in the U.S., and why attacks on the analytical framework of settler colonialism are about undermining solidarity.
Music by Son Monarcas & Isobel O’Connor
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.
Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today, we will be hearing from scholar and activist Nadine Naber. Nadine organizes with INCITE! Palestine Force, Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition & Solidarity, and the Palestinian Feminist Collective. She is a board member of the Arab American Action Network; Al-Shabaka; the National Council of Arab Americans; and the Journal of Palestine Studies. Nadine is the founder of Liberate Your Research Workshops, and a professor in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She has authored and co-edited multiple books, including Arab America; Arab and Arab American Feminisms; and Color of Violence. Nadine is also a Truthout contributor, and her most recent piece, When Abolitionists Say “Free Them All,” We Mean Palestine Too is an essential intervention that I hope everyone will check out.
During the last few months, as many of us have done our best to take action where we can in opposition to Israel’s genocidal assaults on Gaza, Nadine has been an inspiration to me on a personal level. She is a caring co-struggler, a tenacious organizer and a generous educator. Her experience and analysis are invaluable to our movements, and I am so grateful that she was able to join me for this conversation. I hope that Nadine’s insights about the history of Palestinian and Arab organizing in the U.S., the intersections between policing and militarism, and the connections between Palestine and prison and police abolition will help fuel your organizing work. We will also discuss some of the obnoxious arguments we have been hearing of late regarding settler colonialism, given that some critics have decided that the most effective way to undermine movements against settler colonialism and genocide is to attack the very existence of those concepts, or to treat them as the stuff of trendy discourse. We are going to explain why those takes are trash, but first, we are going to delve into some histories and connections that are often missed in popular conversations about Palestine.
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KH: Nadine Naber, welcome to “Movement Memos.”
Nadine Naber: It’s great to be on the show. Thank you for having me.
KH: I want to thank you so much for making the time for this conversation. We’re in some of the same organizing group chats, so I know how busy you are right now and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to learn from you and think alongside you a bit today.
NN: Thank you so much. I’m so grateful for all your great work.
KH: Well, the feeling is mutual. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
NN: Yeah, sure. Well, I’m affiliated with the organization Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition & Solidarity in Chicago, and we primarily work with mothers and caregivers of Chicago’s police torture survivors. We strive to connect these struggles to struggles of Palestinian mothers and caregivers, undocumented mothers and caregivers, and Indigenous folks in Chicago who are striving to mother and care give in the face of state violence.
I also work with the Arab American Action Network and the national INCITE! Palestine Force, and I’m a professor at UIC. And I wanted to share about myself that my parents are migrants from the city of Salt, which is in Jordan, and some of our extended family members live in Palestine and Jordan. I wanted to share that it’s rare to hear people who are originally from Jordan speak in the United States because we are quite small in number, the people who are Indigenous to Jordan. Many people in the U.S. don’t realize that historically Palestinians and Jordanians are one people and that Europeans carved up the Arab region and, when they did so, they divided Palestine from Jordan — that was in the early 1900s.
But my ancestors and my anti-imperialist Arab community, we all consider Palestinians and Jordanians to be one people, even though now and all along the Jordanian regime that was put in place by Europeans and all of their corrupt and violent collaboration with Europe and the U.S. and all of their betrayals of our Palestinian siblings have divided us and also allowed Jordanians to live with many privileges that Palestinians don’t have, like living free from the threat, at least until now, of a genocide and colonization.
I began organizing with my Arab community in the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up, and I was really fortunate because I was mentored by leftist Palestinian and Arab activists who are just a bit older than me. I was born in 1969. These were folks who were active in the Bay Area during the first Palestinian Intifada or the uprising of the late 1980s in the Bay Area.
It’s helpful historically to reflect on how when Palestinian organizing was underway in the ’80s in the U.S., it was really different than what we see now, and that’s because it was connected to Palestinian resistance on the ground in Palestine, unlike today. The reason for that is because of the U.S.-backed so-called peace process that happened in the ’90s or what many of us call the normalization of Israeli colonization.
So what I’m talking about is that during the period that dominant world language calls “the peace process,” it was actually a process that had the goal of … That was in the ’90s. It had the goal of quelling and destroying Palestinian resistance, which was the Palestinian uprising of the late ’80s. What happened then is that it was called the peace process, but it was really about forcing Palestinians into ending their uprising with all these false promises.
But what it did was it enabled more and more Israeli land confiscation and Israeli expansion under the guise of peace. The reason I’m saying this in introducing myself is that I came up as an organizer right in the context of that moment. So later in the ’90s, the U.S. created this list of foreign terrorist organizations, and they put many Palestinian resistance movements on that list.
So what that meant is that the U.S. and Israel were trying to cut off Palestinian homeland resistance movements from Palestinian and Arab resistance movements that were in the diaspora, like the movement that I was part of in the Bay Area. So what that meant is that the U.S. was criminalizing movements in the U.S. for being connected to movements on the ground in Palestine, even if those movements were nonviolent and even if those movements were calling for a democratic state in Palestine.
So that was basically the Bay Area in the ’90s, and I was part of this leftist Arab movement that, in many ways, you could say was the precursor to what some of your listeners might know of as AROC, the Arab Resource & Organizing Center. We were trying in the ’90s to expose that Israel is a settler-colonialist state at a time when many progressive and people of color movements hadn’t really integrated this analysis or understanding into their work.
Even when people were talking about Palestine on Democracy Now! or KPFA, the progressive public radio there, it was mostly anti-Zionist white Jewish voices. So there wasn’t really an Arab narrative or a Palestinian narrative that had a place or position in U.S. leftist spaces, you could say, or people of color movement spaces in the ’90s. So we were trying to integrate more Palestinian Arab narratives and, you could say, leadership analysis strategies into those spaces.
We were also part of launching divestment, divest from Israel, which was launched in 2000 and 2001. A lot of us were part of that 2001 moment in Durban, South Africa, when an international movement came together to launch international divestment from Israel in connection to the World Conference Against Racism [World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance] in Durban at that time.
Also, about my organizing history, a bit central was connecting Palestinian liberation to ending the U.S. war on Iraq. So we were working to end the U.S. sanctions on Iraq and working to grow a boycott movement in the U.S., and it was also connected to a feminist counterpart to this leftist Arab movement called the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association. We were just growing feminist and queer perspectives on all of this, and we were connected. And I was part of the Women of Color Resource Center that worked with the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association. We put together a paper that some of your listeners might have read before that’s been published in a few different books, like the INCITE! book, the Color of Violence, called “The Forgotten ‘-Ism’,” and it was about Zionism and Arab American feminism.
And that was 20 years ago, and it also was part of the INCITE! movement and feminists of color movement against state violence. And then throughout all these years, I’m now in Chicago working on similar fronts with local Palestinian and Arab organizing and feminists of color organizing, at a different moment here in Chicago, with USPCN, AAAN, MAMAS, and INCITE! again with INCITE!’s Palestine Force. So that’s a bit about me and how it relates to our conversation.
KH: Thank you so much for that history and background. You recently wrote a piece called, “When Abolitionists Say ‘Free Them All,’ We Mean Palestine Too.” I would love to talk about some of the themes in that piece. You wrote that, “It would be a mistake to forge solidarity from Ferguson to Gaza based only upon the idea that our struggles are ‘similar’ … because our struggles are also interconnected.” Can you say more about the distinction between similarity and interconnection? How are our struggles here in the U.S. interconnected with the struggle in Palestine?
NN: Thank you so much for that, Kelly. Well, I first started thinking about this idea of forging solidarity based on interconnection with the INCITE! movement. Before September 11, you could say, INCITE! had been doing a lot of crucial feminist abolitionist work, growing in connection with Critical Resistance and forging alternatives to calling the police in cases of gender violence and forging these ideas of community accountability as alternatives to policing, especially when it came to understanding that cops could enact sexual violence on the bodies of people of color if they were to show up.
So when we started working to end the War on Terror, we understood that we needed alternatives to militarism to keep our communities safe, especially since militarism by nature is based in hetero-patriarchy and always entails sexualized violence and rape. But we kept bumping up against a limitation in our own organizing where we started building these anti-militarist campaigns around the war on Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine.
But unintentionally, we kept finding ourselves in a situation where it would be Arab, South Asian, and Iranian feminists working in the anti-war campaign. And then there would be Black, Latinx, and Indigenous feminists and APIA feminists working on other campaigns, like prisons, policing, migration, land struggles.
So we knew something was wrong, and we were, in a way, setting ourselves up to divide ourselves. We were reflecting on how we were organizing through an imperialist framework, like the U.S. and the rest of the world or the idea that what’s happening in the U.S. is separate from what the US is doing, quote-unquote, “abroad.”
What I mean by imperialist is it sort of reinforces hierarchy between struggles inside the U.S. and outside and creates oppression Olympics among activists, like activists fighting over which struggles are more important than others. But it also covered up how U.S. empire-building across the world was actually rippling into our lives here, like taking funding out of schools and putting it into the war machine.
So we reflected a lot about that and how can we think about ending militarism as a people of color struggle here. So because we were working around gender violence, we started talking about how when the U.S. intensifies its war machine and its sexual assaults and invasions in places like Iraq, that also intensifies rape culture here in the U.S. or it increases the recruitment of people of color who are going to be used as fodder for wars.
The U.S. is making false promises to our communities here. The military recruiters saying that you’re going to get all these things when you go to war, and those end up being false promises, and how especially low-income folks and people of color or migrants getting promised citizenship in exchange for putting your life on the line in the military and facing the threat of sexualized violence in the military.
So we started talking about how military violence ripples into our lives here, and we launched instead of just an anti-war campaign, we started launching, for example, anti-military recruitment campaigns. And then we connected that with the impact of these wars on women and queer and trans people in places like Iraq.
My thinking around how talking about struggles as interconnected is different than talking about them as similar deepened around 2014 when Israel was involved in this invasion of Gaza, massacre of Gaza in the summer of 2014, at the exact same time as the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. And what was really profound during this unprecedented moment is that the world over was shouting out loud, especially activists, about the connections between police violence in the U.S. and Israeli settler-colonialism, especially because of social media and progressive news media images, because they were showing images from Ferguson and Gaza that really looked similar or the same.
I mean you saw military-grade weapons of four city and state police departments with tear gas, smoke bombs, stun grenades, and tanks targeting mostly Black folks in Ferguson. And then you also saw these images in Gaza with Israel’s heavy artillery shelling, use of cannons and missiles and weapons targeting Gazans. So what happened is that more and more people were realizing that those weapons in both places were U.S.-made.
So what we saw with movements is that folks in Ferguson and Palestine started forging this really powerful solidarity with each other, and they also started sharing strategies on how to deal with the same types of tear gas they were both facing. In a way, it was like this revival of the 1970s solidarity from the Black Power period with Palestine.
But there was this way that movements were talking about that solidarity, and it focused a lot on the similarity of the images. So it was like saying both places look the same, and so that’s why we need to unite because our struggles are similar. We’re both going through the same thing. There was a video called In … It used the language, not this exact words but, “In them, I see us.” It was really powerful and important. That similarity approach is crucial. It is important. One of the powerful things about it is that it inspires solidarity based on empathy, right, so I feel your pain.
But it was also kind of limiting because it didn’t uplift that it wasn’t only the struggles are similar, it was that the struggles are interconnected. Because it’s not just that the oppression is similar, it’s that the communities actually have a common oppressor, even if the oppression is different because, obviously, it’s not the same. The struggles of Black folks in Ferguson and Palestinians are entangled in each other.
Some of the ways now that we continue to see our struggles as interconnected is in, say, the militarization of police, like we saw in Ferguson where we have federal programs that provide military equipment to police departments.
It’s not only the equipment, but it also has led to a change in the attitude of cops where they see themselves at war with communities of color. And then we have the trainings of U.S. police in Israel. So the oppressors are already working together. So if we’re not working together and seeing these as interconnected, then it’s almost like the empire is ahead of us or ahead of the game if we’re only thinking about similarity versus interconnection. I hope that makes sense.
KH: It does, and I want to talk more about that entanglement, particularly as it applies to policing and militarism. In your piece, you also talked about the “import/export” approach to surveillance, in which the U.S. tests and refines new modes of repression through warfare, and then brings those technologies and strategies home, to infiltrate and suppress movements for justice. I would love to talk more about that feedback loop of tactics and technologies. I often think about the fact that the professionalization of policing in the last century was largely modeled around tactics that the U.S. honed in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The U.S. used occupied people as test subjects for modes of control that were then brought back to the United States, and now, Israel trains U.S. police in tactics that were developed to repress and contain Palestinians. Can you talk about the relationship between policing and militarism and why, as you write, “If we are going to strive for prison abolition, we must also strive for the abolition of the military”?”
NN: Thank you so much. That’s such a great question. There’s so much evidence and research on how U.S. cops train in Israel, and then they bring back strategies that Israel uses to repress resistance movements in Palestine here to the U.S., testing their strategies of repression on Palestinians. So I’ll just mention a few examples of U.S. cops, say, learning how to repress and infiltrate demonstrations from the Israeli military. Also, one thing I don’t think we talk about enough is the state and these military colonial imperial systems also training U.S. cops how to coordinate with the media over media coverage. That’s another one that training in Israel provides.
Training in Israel provides crowd control weapons that are exchanged between the two governments, like U.S.-made tear gas canisters that we see used against protesters here. So these examples I think a lot of people know about. I was going to mention a couple that are maybe a little less discussed.
There was this case with the New York Police Department where this CIA officer, they came up with these informants called “mosque crawlers” to spy on Muslim communities. Like, undercover agents who would spy on people in mosques in New York, and they drew inspiration from Israeli practices.
I can also talk a little bit about the technologies of surveillance that Israeli military companies test on Palestinians. With every Israeli invasion of Palestinians, we see Israeli and U.S. companies testing weapons on Palestinians. And then we also see a surge in orders from these companies, meaning that these companies get richer with every Israeli invasion.
There’s this book I haven’t finished reading. It’s called The Palestine Laboratory by Antony Loewenstein. I do recommend it. The book talks about this topic, Israeli drones, surveillance technology, like spyware, facial recognition software, biometric gathering, infrastructures, smart fences, experimental bombs, AI-controlled machine guns that are all tried out on the population in Gaza with lethal results.
Chris Hedges talks about this in an interview with Loewenstein, and he talks about these weapons and technologies that are then certified as battle-tested and then sold around the world. In a minute, I’ll bring it to the U.S. But there are so many companies like Israeli Aerospace in Israel — its unmanned aerial vehicle, “Eitan” Drone was brought into service in 2007.
But what’s important is that it was first used in Gaza in 2008, 2009 in Operation Cast Lead for attacks against civilians. That was when we saw the killing of hundreds and hundreds of children dying from missiles launched by drones. But after that, there was a surge in orders of these drones from at least 10 different countries right after that. So that was just in the next three years after that attack in Gaza.
Now we can bring it to the United States to think about how Obama played a key role in implementing some of these Israeli-based surveillance technologies at the U.S.-Mexico border, and that Trump deepened that strategy. Biden has continued that strategy of implementing Israeli surveillance technologies at the U.S. borders. One company I suggest that people might look into if they’re interested is this Elbit. It’s Israel’s biggest military and arms company, and they helped build the apartheid wall in Palestine.
What I’m sharing now comes from the Stop the Wall movement. They have a website, and they talk about how Elbit Systems helped build the apartheid wall, especially with the surveillance technology that’s integrated into the wall, these detection systems. If you were to look at the wall, especially around Jerusalem, there are these surveillance technologies in the wall created by Elbit, and Elbit does so much more than that.
They played a role in surveillance systems in the occupied Golan Heights, which is to cut off certain parts of Syria. They have created biometric surveillance at borders and checkpoints in Palestine. The list goes on and on, which I won’t have time to get into all that they create. But I think what might be interesting for your listeners is that Elbit’s technology of walls is being used by the U.S. against migrants. Its drones are used at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The U.S. uses Elbit technology to militarize the northern and southern border of Mexico, and so do many other countries, European Union, India uses it to repress people in Kashmir. So why are these countries interested in this technology? Because it has been tested and tried on Palestinians.
So you have, again, at the U.S.-Mexico border, what’s especially attractive to the U.S. are using it to build these massive surveillance towers that surveil potential migrants crossing the border, but also Indigenous people living at that border and increasing their lack of safety on their own land. So I’ll leave it at that for you, Kelly.
KH: Thank you so much for that. I would agree that The Palestine Laboratory is very much worth reading. I want to be sensitive to the fact that some people do not appreciate the book’s title, given that Palestine is not a laboratory. But I do think the book is an incredibly valuable compilation of research on how Palestine has been exploited as a test site, and as a means of marketing surveillance and death-making technologies. And as you say, one of the more crucial interconnections here is the violence of borders, and we can see how Israel’s violence of containment and exclusion, in an era of crisis and collapse, is not happening in isolation, but flowing outward, around the world. If people want to learn more about that, I highly recommend checking out my conversation with Antony Loewenstein, on “Movement Memos,” which aired back in October – and we’ll be sure to link that in the show notes.
Now, I wondered if we could take a moment to discuss the history of Palestinian and Arab organizing in the U.S. because I think there’s a lot of coalitional work across the course of decades that tends to get erased in popular discussions. Could you speak to some of those histories that are presently under-discussed?
NN: Thank you so much, Kelly. Yeah, I think one of my beefs was with… and you know, I probably developed this beef after September 11, and maybe the beef is a twofold beef. One part of it is where, all of a sudden, people become interested in Arab and Muslim struggles only when the U.S. decides that these struggles matter. So it’s as if anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab, anti-Muslim racism started after September 11. And then when other organizers become interested in these communities and topics, it also sometimes, not always, entails an erasure of either those communities or their history of organizing in the U.S. So it’s as if Arabs and Muslims landed on the scene of activism after September 11.
And it’s still a struggle, so, I do often insist on talking about the histories of Palestinian and Arab organizing in the U.S. A related issue, which I won’t get into now, is even in progressive conversations, leftist conversations, there’s this conflation between Arabs and Muslims as if … just because the Trump administration started using the word Muslim, to talk about everybody from every part of the world that might potentially be perceived to be Muslim, then our movements started just calling everything Muslim.
Of course, there’s anti-Muslim racism. Of course, Muslims are the disproportionate targets of so much, the War on Terror and so much violence. But it really covers up regional analyses of the different regions and countries and people and all their specific struggles, like Arab histories, Southwest Asia/North African-specific struggles with U.S. imperialism.
So given all that, I won’t have time to give a history of Arab organizing, but I’ll just say a couple words to say that the U.S. consolidated their alliance with Israel and sort of grew their empire-building in the region in a post-Cold War moment, which was in the late 1960s. That was also when the U.S. media and U.S. government policies started targeting Arabs and Muslims and constructing us as terrorists and criminalizing us as terrorists long before September 11.
Two examples would be Operation Boulder, which was in 1972 when President Nixon started spying on especially students of Arab descent in the United States — the FBI was harassing people who spoke Arabic with phone calls and visits — and then you had the LA Eight case, which was in 1987, when seven Palestinians and one Kenyan were put into deportation proceedings for their constitutionally-protected leftist activism in connection to Palestinian liberation.
Their case went on for 20 years and made it to the Supreme Court. And in 2007, an immigration judge, that was when it was ruled to have violated those defendants’ constitutional rights. But during the court proceedings, a Justice Department contingency plan was revealed for providing a blueprint for the mass arrest of 10,000, quote-unquote, “alien terrorists and undesirable Arabs” within the United States.
So what this means is that long before September 11, the U.S. already had a contingency plan to basically place Arab Americans into concentration camps. President Clinton participated in legislation that racially profiled Arab and Muslim men as terrorists with terrorist charges, bringing back the use of secret evidence from the McCarthy era to be used against them.
So this list goes on and on of targeting of Arab and Muslim communities and Palestinians in the United States before September 11. So what that means also is that our people in our communities have been mobilizing and engaging in resistance, especially but not only since the ’60s.
We’ve had long histories of Palestinian liberation organizing. We have organization of Arab students, all kinds of leftist groups that worked with Yemenis, who worked with Cesar Chavez during the grape workers’ strike, Lebanese Communist parties, Arab labor socialist parties, Yemeni socialist party, Arab labor socialist parties, all kinds of movements that in the ’60s and ’70s worked in connection with movements against the Vietnam War.
There were Palestinian feminist groups from the 1980s called General Union of Palestinian Women, all kinds of organizing, like I mentioned earlier, the leftist Arab movements of the ’90s that worked against the war on Iraq and launched divestment from Israel. And I think some histories that I feel especially inspired by are feminists of color coalitions between Palestinian Arab and Black and Indigenous and migrant, what, at the time, people called Third World Women’s organizing, the Third World Women’s Alliance from the ’70s that came out of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
There were alliances there. I’ve actually spoken to folks who were active, and I’ve interviewed them and they’ve taught me how some Black and APIA feminists during that period learned about Palestine from workshops that Palestinian feminists led. And there’s this amazing story from San Francisco where there was a women’s contingent that was part of a protest around solidarity with Central America. This group called the Alliance Against Women’s Oppression bursted out in song saying, “Palestinian women gonna win, gonna win their liberation,” in the ’70s. They connected that to Nicaraguan women are gonna win. Guinea-Bissau women are gonna win. And they actually got targeted, they got targeted for anti-Semitism because of that. So all these struggles we’re facing today have this long history, as well as coalitions between Palestinian, Arab and people of color movements have a long history in the United States. So thanks for asking about that. I really appreciate it.
KH: Thank you for that history, and I think the story of those women connecting their struggles through song really brings us back to what we were talking about at the start of the show around interconnection. Someone told me, recently, that they were really concerned about all of the struggles that are getting less attention right now because organizers are so focused on Palestine. They weren’t suggesting that we should shift our focus away from Palestine, but rather expressing a deep concern about our capacity to fight on multiple fronts and to confront more than one evil at the same time.
Drawing on our discussion, it seems like one of the answers to that concern is to connect the dots between our struggles so that we’re not simply talking about Palestine, policing borders, or eugenics, but addressing the forces we are up against with a broader analysis. Do you think that kind of interconnected understanding of struggle could help us organize more effectively on all fronts?
NN: I really appreciate that question so much. Another beef that I’ve had all along that I share with my comrades in the INCITE! and other coalitional movements that I’ve been part of and that I prioritize is trying to challenge this oppression Olympics that we often find ourselves in. One of the strategies, like you said, is thinking about our struggles as interconnected.
Maybe to make that more concrete, I could share that the INCITE! Palestine Force right now, we’ll be creating a toolkit that we hope to put out maybe in the next month or so that would actually provide some guidelines for how to do Palestine work in ways that is not asking movements to drop everything they’re doing to focus on Palestine, but instead to think about how movements, say, prison abolition movements or migrant justice movements or environmental justice movements or movements around disability justice, how can these movements continue to grow in the most powerful ways, the work they’re already doing while integrating Palestine into what they’re already doing.
For example, if we think about Palestine as a disability justice issue, clearly, we can all imagine how that’s the case with all the injuries. Of course, it’s much more than injuries, but that it just becomes part of the way people talk about disability justice rather than a distraction from it.
So that’s the hope.
KH: When it comes to the struggle to free Palestine and stop the genocide, what kind of organizing interventions do we need right now?
NN: I think what’s challenging, what I think about is how, despite how when the U.S. launched the war on Iraq after September 11 and Afghanistan, we saw some of the largest mobilizations in history. But we also know now that those mobilizations did not stop the United States from bombing Iraq to the Stone Ages, for example. So then the question becomes then what do we do? What else is needed?
That’s why I think these calls to boycott, the calls on institutions to divest from Israel, targeting the banks, targeting the corporations, to actually disrupt and interrupt the finances behind a lot of these systems that we’re talking about.
Working on sanctioning Israel, ending the billions of military aid, we could look to groups like the Dissenters or the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, Palestinian Feminist Collective, and there are many more who are giving us guidelines for this kind of work.
We all need to uplift more and more the ideas and work that aligns with the crucial work you, Kelly, have done, which is how do we keep each other safe? As we know, the attacks on organizers are intensifying, and they’re scary. They’re dangerous.
People in our communities all around us are targeting people who speak about Palestine in ways that I have been saying are not only targeting free speech, but they’re putting people who speak about Palestine in harm’s way. They’re enabling and calling for our criminalization.
So I think we need to be exposing those strategies as dangerous and harmful and just as violent as the attacks on abortion and the right-wing attacks that are repressing through violence, rather than just saying that they are targeting free speech, and then supporting organizations like Palestine Legal and National Lawyers Guild and everyone out there who is just so overwhelmed trying to put out these fires.
It’s happening in every corner of our society, every school, every workplace, every social media outlet, every neighborhood. So that needs to be central, but also not a distraction from the work to end the genocide, which is what they want it to be.
KH: Well, I am really looking forward to that toolkit.
So before we wrap up our conversation, I also want to talk about some of the terrible takes we’ve been seeing around the use of the term settler colonialism. Michael Powell recently wrote in The Atlantic, “The passage of time and much violence and cohabitation speaks only to the poverty of using loaded terms such as ‘settler colonialism’ and ‘Indigenous’ to locate moral certainty in the Israeli-Palestine dispute.”
In this piece, Powell argues that the settler-colonial framework has conjured connections between Native people and Palestinians that reduce political and historical realities to a morality tale. This argument feels especially absurd when made in defense of Israel, a nation that’s entire existence is based on a morality tale. I also find it interesting that Powell refers to settler colonialism as “academic jargon,” as though the words settler and colony were not used for centuries by people participating in settler projects. In Israel, there is a proud settler movement of Israelis even today who are very clear about their desire to ethnically cleanse Palestinian lands to allow for settler expansion. That doesn’t come up in Powell’s piece, of course. But what we do hear is that when these words are analyzed by marginalized people as a means of critiquing or understanding our oppression, they become problematic. What are your thoughts on this?
NN: Well, if Palestinian history is not an example of settler colonialism, I don’t know what is. And I’d like to talk about settler colonialism, drawing on Rana Barakat, who you had on your earlier show, who talks about Palestinians as those surviving the violence of settler colonialism.
When we think about the people who have been surviving the erasure and disappearance that was brought about by the formation of the Israeli state and its ongoing expansion, we are talking about people who have been surviving erasure and disappearance. Palestinians have been surviving Israel’s ultimate aim, to alter who the people are who are related to the land of Palestine. Their attempt to replace the population of people, Palestinians, who have lived for centuries on that land, with an entirely new group of people, has meant that Palestinians have survived the theft of 78 percent of their land, and they have survived Israeli military kicking them out of their homes with weapons and raids, and then building Jewish villages on and in their villages.
Palestinians have survived literally the bulldozering of their homes and agriculture like olive trees, and they have survived Israel building Jewish-only settlements, surrounded by Jewish-only roads, on their land. And they have survived the Israeli strategy of making life unlivable in order to push them off their land. And they have survived that through the survival of Israel’s carving up of Palestinian land, separating Palestinians from each other, forcing them to stand at checkpoints just to get from their home to school or from their home to work, or from their home to a hospital. And they have survived the imposition of an apartheid wall that has cut up their communities and separated them from each other.
But the thing about surviving settler colonialism isn’t just about surviving its material realities, it’s also about surviving how settler colonialism requires destroying cultures, and languages, and the sensibilities, and values, and ways of being in the world, of those people, Palestinians, the way that they forge relationships, the way that they share food, their memories of their histories and their ancestors. All of these aspects of culture affirm a people’s belonging to their land, so Palestinians have also had to survive Israel’s attempt to disappear their cultures and their languages, which are essential in affirming Palestinian identity, which also means the identity of that land and territory.
And that’s why, when you go to the grocery store or a restaurant in the US, you will see a box of pita bread that says “Israeli bread” or tabbouleh – one of the main Palestinian and Arab dishes, called “Israeli Tabbouleh.” Falafel, hummus, all of these are Palestinian, but the settler-colonial project must not only replace the people with an Israeli population, but also change the nature and name of the culture and the ties that hold people together. Surviving Israeli settler colonialism also means surviving the destruction and erasure of identity, so you have a place that the people who belong to that land historically are Arabs, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, but now if you were to go to Israel, the majority of people would be Israeli, speaking Hebrew rather than Arabic.
So you have this pressure on, say, the Palestinians who continue to live inside present day Israel, those Palestinians, as well as Arab Jews who live inside Israel, have been pressured to speak Hebrew to assimilate into the language and the culture of the colonizer. And Palestinians have had to survive the imposition of the stories that are told about them, because the stories that are told are also part of a settler-colonialist project, which is why Israel has always said that Palestine is a land without a people for a people without a land. But surviving that has meant, for Palestinians, affirming that our existence is resistance.
So I’ll wrap this up here by maybe also turning us to a piece by Maya Mikdashi, who wrote over 10 years ago on the website Jadaliyya, where she talks about settler colonialism as a logic of superiority, primacy, and genocide, and she talks about colonization of land and memory and events that come to be known as History with a capital H. So I think we could just wrap this up with affirming Indigenous Palestinian histories as those that uplift the struggle of surviving and persevering beyond Israel’s attempt to erase and replace Palestinians.
KH: I really appreciate you bringing up Rana’s work, and the idea of Indigenity as a claim about survival. That also makes me think about Patty Krawec’s work, and how Indigenous identity is about kinship and responsibilities. In Patty’s book, Becoming Kin, she writes:
We have begun to think about challenging the things that we hear … And now, we turn to the process of rebuilding. We turn to the work of becoming kin to the land and each other, understanding our responsibilities, because for Indigenous people, kinship means responsibilities.
That is part of what I see as being very much under attack with these assaults on the framework of settler colonialism. I think that our oppressors are extremely threatened by the fact that we can connect the stories and the lies that were told about the wide open frontier in the United States – those myths that erase Native genocide – with stories about “a land without people for a people without a land.” I think they are threatened by the fact that we can draw connections between containment and annihilation, across continents, and that we can recognize our relationship to each other across time and space. They can see our kinship, and the sense of responsibility that it entails, and they want to quash that.
They are threatened by the fact that people in South Africa see Israeli apartheid, and can relate to that experience. They are threatened by the fact that Native people and Black people here in the U.S. can relate to Palestinian displacement and the elimination of families. They don’t want us to recognize shared struggle where it exists. There was a recent report about the climate consequences of this genocide, and how destructive it is for us all on the Earth. The land and the water – those are living relatives to all of us that none of us can survive without. They don’t want us to recognize our kinship, and they don’t want us to feel the sense of responsibility that our kinship engenders.
So, I really see these attacks on the settler-colonial framework as an effort to foster alienation, because alienation is at the heart of how they would contain us, and how they would prevent us from defending ourselves and each other in this era of collapse and forced catastrophe.
NN: Kelly, what you said was incredibly inspiring. It helps me think about connections between Indigenous struggles here on Turtle Island and in Palestine, because if you take a look, you notice the power of not only fighting against state violence, but also the significance of love, care, connection, relationships, storytelling about our histories and our ancestors, dance, as not only how white racial capitalist culture tries to separate culture from politics, but here, in these lives and communities, from Turtle Island to Palestine, our cultural sensibilities are deeply part of the struggle for persevering beyond attempts at erasing our communities.
And so, I think what you said is incredibly important, and it can be a guide for all social movements, to remember and affirm that resistance, that persevering, that surviving state violence, requires that we uplift our capacity to care for each other, and to make sure that we continue expressing our ways of knowing, and our historical and ancestral ways of being and relating to land and to each other, that those are just as much part of decolonizing Palestine as are our protests and our fight for Palestinian futures. So thanks so much for saying that.
KH: Nadine, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. This has been so meaningful and I’m just so deeply appreciative of your time and your thoughts and all that you do.
NN: Thank you, Kelly.
KH: I am so grateful for Nadine’s insights, for her organizing, and for the opportunity to share some of her thoughts with you all today. One thing I am taking away from this conversation is that our oppressors are anxious. The facts on the ground do not serve them, the realities of history do not serve them, and their real-time propaganda is prone to collapse. So now, they want to trivialize the framework of settler colonialism, dismissing an analysis of how we have been killed, contained, and displaced from our lands as mere “academic jargon.” I am not an academic, but I read, and I understand enough about history to know that’s the part that really worries them. The creation of an “educated proletariat” was viewed as a threat for a reason. Groups that were determined to develop meaningful Black studies curriculums were targeted by the FBI. People died over that work. Why? Because our oppressors don’t want us to understand our histories. They don’t want us to understand how our oppression functions, or how it interconnects with the violence other marginalized groups are experiencing. They don’t want us to look at Gaza and see ourselves, our ancestors, or what could become of our future. They don’t want us to have conversations about how our movements have evolved or changed, or to evaluate what we can learn from the past, because it’s better for our enemies if we are forever starting from scratch, reinventing wheels, and reenacting failed tactics. But I see us defying those who would rob us of language, knowledge, and any sense of relation to one another. I see us rejecting the alienation they would impose upon us. I see us taking action, even though we might be tired or discouraged, and I am grateful for that.
I want to encourage everyone to keep talking about Palestine. If your words didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be trying to rip those words out from under you. So keep talking, and keep learning, and keep sharing what you learn. As Nadine suggested, we can look to groups like the Palestinian Feminist Collective, Dissenters, and the Palestinian Youth Movement for guidance about how to take collective action. There are some great toolkits out there, if you need ideas, and we’ll be sure to include some of those in the show notes of this episode.
I know these are painful times, but I believe in our capacity to rage against genocide, even as our hearts break. I believe that we can all keep finding ways to disrupt, and I believe that our refusal to abandon one another will define any meaningful politics of survival in the years to come. All of our hope lies in each other, and that means we must never give up on one another.
I want to thank my friend Nadine Naber for joining me today. It was wonderful to connect and I’m sure we’ll cross paths soon, wherever we gather to protest and declare that Palestine will be free.
I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
- To learn more from Nadine, you can check out her website. You can also watch this webinar about abolition and the liberation of Palestine or read Nadine’s most recent piece, “When Abolitionists Say “Free Them All,” We Mean Palestine Too.”
- To hear more from Kelly, between episodes, you can sign up for her newsletter.
- All Out for Palestine – Digital Action Toolkit (Palestinian Feminist Collective)
- Gaza Under Attack Toolkit (Jewish Voice for Peace)
- Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition & Solidarity has a new website in the works. You can contact the group here.
- The Palestinian Feminist Collective is a body of Palestinian and Arab feminists committed to Palestinian social and political liberation by confronting systemic gendered, sexual, and colonial violence, oppression, and dispossession. You can learn more about their work here.
- INCITE! is a network of radical feminists of color organizing to end state violence and violence in our homes and communities. You can learn more about their work here.
- The Arab American Action Network (AAAN) strives to strengthen the Arab community in the Chicago area by building its capacity to be an active agent for positive social change. Their strategies include community organizing, advocacy, education, providing social services, leadership development, cultural outreach and forging productive relationships with other communities. You can learn more about their work here.
- The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World by Antony Loewenstein
- Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future by Patty Krawec
- Israel’s Tools of Occupation Are Tested on Palestine and Exported Globally (Kelly Hayes in conversation with Antony Loewenstein)
- The Extreme Ambitions of West Bank Settlers by Isaac Chotiner
- How the US and Israel exchange tactics in violence and control by Mersiha Gadzo
- Dirty secret of Israel’s weapons exports: They’re tested on Palestinians Paddy Dowling
- Israel’s Occupation Inspired the Brutal Security Regime at the US-Mexico Border by Todd Miller
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