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“Palestine Is About Living in Spite of Everything”

“Hope is what the history of Palestine has taught me,” says Palestinian feminist Rana Barakat.

Part of the Series

“Belonging isn’t about a claim of ownership, it’s actually about this notion of love and longing. And so I’ve come to say, I don’t claim that Palestine belongs to me. I just know that I belong to Palestine,” says Palestinian author Rana Barakat. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” Barakat and host Kelly Hayes talk about Palestinian history, Indigenous solidarity, how colonial violence disrupts ancestral and familial relationships, and what resisting that disruption can look like.

Music by Son Monarcas, David Celeste, Raymond Grouse and Peter Sandberg

TRANSCRIPT

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 Palestinian feminist Rana Barakat. Rana is an assistant professor of history at Birzeit University in Palestine. Her areas of research include Palestinian history and the study of historical writing on colonialism, nationalism and cultures of resistance. Rana is currently working on a book monograph titled, “Lifta and Resisting the Museumification of Palestine: Indigenous History of the Nakba,” which advances an Indigenous understanding of time, space and memory in Palestine.

Since the so-called humanitarian pause of the Israeli bombardment came to an end last week, renewed attacks on Gaza have been merciless. While U.S. officials claim to be urging restraint, Israeli bombardments killed at least 700 Palestinians in Gaza on Saturday alone. Over 16,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its genocidal retaliation for the attacks waged by Hamas on October 7, during which 1,200 Israelis were killed.

Amid so much atrocity, I was so grateful to talk with Rana about Palestinian history, Indigenous solidarity, how colonial violence disrupts ancestral and familial relationships, and what resisting that disruption can look like. We also talked about Indigenous understandings of time and the museumification of Palestine. You will be hearing less from me than usual during this episode because I wanted to yield my time to Rana, as much as possible, as a gesture of solidarity during this difficult time.

I have been grateful for the opportunity to focus on Palestine, over the last couple of months. We are living in a media climate that routinely erases Palestinian history, Palestinian suffering and Palestinian joy. The popular dehumanization of victims of settler-colonial violence is a practice as old as colonialism itself. I am really grateful to Truthout for the opportunity to disrupt those narratives. We have always worked to make each episode of this podcast an educational resource, and I hope you have experienced the show that way this year. I have been talking a bit less lately about what you can do to support the show, because it’s tough to focus on things like fundraising and newsletters while discussing a genocide. But I do want those conversations to continue. So given that this is our last episode of the year, I do want to mention that Truthout is in the midst of a crucial fundraising push. We are a reader- and listener-powered organization and your support is the only reason we’re still here, while so many other great independent publications have been forced to shut down. So if you believe in what we are doing and want to support the show, you can help sustain our work by subscribing to Truthout’s newsletter or by making a donation at truthout.org. You can also support “Movement Memos” by subscribing to the podcast on Apple or Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, or by leaving a positive review on those platforms. Sharing episodes that you find useful with your friends and co-strugglers is also a big help, so if you are doing any of those things in support of the show, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And with that, I hope you enjoy the show.

(Musical interlude)

KH: Rana Barakat, welcome to the show, and thanks for making time to talk amid everything that’s happening.

Rana Barakat: Thank you for hosting me. This is an honor and a pleasure.

KH: Can you tell our audience a bit about yourself and your work, and what’s happening right now in the West Bank, where you live?

RB: My name is Rana Barakat. I teach history at Birzeit University in occupied Palestine, and I’m also the director of the Birzeit University Museum, which is on campus. Birzeit is a town right north of Ramallah, located in the West Bank, which I’m sure your audience would understand is the West Bank in occupied Palestine. That’s where I live now. It’s where I teach now. And given the heightened and intensified settler-colonial violence over the last 55 days, I have a feeling that your audience might know where I’m located geographically, but in case they don’t, Palestine is where I’m from. I am Palestinian. It is located in the Arab World or in the Eastern Mediterranean shore, and it has a long and illustrious history. For the last 75 years, Palestine has been occupied by a settler-colonial project called Zionism and the settler state named Israel.

That’s where I live. It’s difficult to summarize what’s happening here right now. I think the best way of going about describing that would be to give you this historical trajectory. History did not begin in October. This has been 75 years of settler-colonial occupation and a hundred years of imperialism. What you’re seeing now, what we’re all seeing and experiencing now is an intensification of what we call in Palestine and Palestinian studies, the Ongoing Nakba, which is the structural violence of settler colonialism on our land and on our bodies as a people. And the intensification has been horrific and raw from the eastern shore of occupied Palestine in the Gaza Strip through the hills, which is where I live in the West Bank.

Where I live in the West Bank, it is [like] trying to traverse a map of a settler army and armies of settlers. Where I teach, just to give you a small snippet because it’s really difficult to summarize violence as it were, but the university that I am teaching at Birzeit University has had 50 of our students arrested by the settler army over the last 50 days. The West Bank has over 200 martyrs over the course of this year. That means that these are the people that are being killed by settler-colonial violence. This is our daily life here, but over the last 55 days, it has, as I mentioned, been an intensification and I think we’ll talk about that intensification as we go through, as we move through our conversation.

KH: Yes, we definitely will. But first, can you talk about the language we use to describe Palestinian liberation efforts, in terms of calling those efforts an anti-colonial struggle or an Indigenous struggle?

RB: This is a really interesting question, and it speaks to the heart of my intellectual work in particular over the last five years. If I could share with you where my own personal trajectory was, and I’ll do this later on as well, is that my work can be categorized, if that’s the right word, as part of Palestine and Palestinian studies. And it’s an interesting field because it is what they call in academia interdisciplinary, but it’s actually across a political spectrum, and the reason that I moved along this political spectrum as I learned and grew more involved in different movement struggles across our globe. So the description of it as an anti-colonial struggle is actually the history of the movement. The PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, came about in the mid 1960s. So if I could give you a timeline really quickly, 1948 was the war of the Nakba that came in four phases.

I don’t need to describe to you those four phases, but the result of that war was the violent implementation of a settler plan of occupation and expulsion. So it was dispossession and displacement. By the end of 1949 and the end of the actual war itself, more than three-quarters of the Palestinian population that lived in our homeland were expelled violently by the Israeli army. So ours is a history from that moment forth of refugeeness, being displaced and being not considered present, being an absent presence on our land, either as second-class citizens or as people under occupation. That moment didn’t end in that moment, and this is what we call the Ongoing Nakba. As I was saying earlier, it is the ongoing settler-colonial violence in Palestine. By the mid-1960s, activists and people in the Arab world had come together, different parties and political parties came together under the umbrella of the PLO, Palestine Liberation Organization.

And by 1968, the PLO had a charter, had membership, and it was a movement. And for all intents and purposes, it represented the political plan and motivation of the Palestinian population, Palestinian people. The 1968 moment was and remains this Third World revolutionary moment of internationalism. So it was about solidarity with the Palestinian people and solidarity with the cause.

Now, as an Indigenous struggle, I don’t like to think of it as a category or a metric, but because of the nature of the condition in terms of what is settler colonialism, there’s a great deal to be shared with other Indigenous peoples across the globe who have survived and challenged and faced the eliminatory and genocidal nature of settler colonialism. There in Palestine, as we see in North America where you are, oftentimes people say that Zionism is an ideology and Israel is a state, is actually an extension of what the United States is, as it was formed as a country, as a nation, and as a republic, but also the methodology of violence by which it came about and which it sustains itself.

So in that way, Palestine is also part of the Fourth World. I think I hesitate sometimes in calling it Indigenous struggle, and the reason that I hesitate with that is because I don’t want it to become an identitarian issue. And within the Palestinian context, this notion of who is Indigenous to the land is actually quite interesting historically because Zionism as an ideology grasps this mythology where actually often people describe this as occupying the land of Palestine and occupying the religion of Judaism. So in this way it becomes, I think, a non-productive conversation of who claims “Indigenous” as if it were an identity. This notion of 2,000 years in a return from Jewish exile is deeply, deeply problematic. And who’s on the land is of the land and that history — be it the history of Judaism, Christianity, and later, Islam — is actually a history of the people on the land.

And I don’t think it’s productive. That’s my history, that’s my people’s history. So in this way, I think instead of having a useless discussion about who is Indigenous, I think it is much more useful to us to think about Indigeneity as a way of being and how we can create these and have these and nurture these kinds of solidarities with other Indigenous peoples. And basically, what that means is, those are the people who are surviving the violence of settler colonialism. And it’s not a claim about who owns the land, but rather it’s a claim about survival, if that makes sense.

KH: Absolutely, and as Indigenous people struggle to survive, and sustain our cultural relations to land, relationships are so important. In your work, you talk about the ways that settler colonialism disrupts relationships such as the familial connection between mothers and daughters. What should people understand about these disruptions, which are an under-discussed aspect of Palestinian struggle?

RB: Thank you for that question. It’s actually a really beautiful question and it’s an invitation for me to talk about my work. So I’d like to just bring up, this is such a rich question and I think we can have hours and months of discussion about it, and I would invite that. I hope that that is something that my work can help generate, can be a part of. So my most recent manuscript, which I should be finishing in terms of copy editing right now, began as a book about a village in the northwest corridor of Jerusalem named Lifta. Now this is my maternal line, that is my mother is from Lifta, but she was born after 1948, so she was born in central Jerusalem. Her mother was actually of the Nakba generation who were forcibly expelled from the village. So my connection to the village is a personal one, and I wanted to explore that as a historian.

I wanted to find a way to write about Lifta that didn’t rely on colonial archives because my grandmother’s voice and story and being were erased in those archives. She didn’t ever exist in them to be erased even, and in the same way that the settler violence attempted to erase her very being on the land. So this was a journey for me, and really what the book has ended up being is me seeking conversations, and these conversations that I sought out in talking to people from Lifta of my grandmother’s generation ended up being about mothers and daughters. It was not my intention, although I suppose that one could look back retrospectively and see, “Well, Rana, you were thinking about your grandmother. So of course that was embedded in it,” but it wasn’t a conscious intention on my part.

And in researching, taking the journey of this book and looking and searching for my grandmother’s voice, who I never knew — I was born in Chicago, so I never actually physically knew my grandmother or had a conversation with her — but I took the opportunity or seized it in this book of finding her, seeking her learning how to listen to her. And I found that the most interesting vehicle by which to do that was through my mother. I didn’t expect that. And so the book has ended up really being about mothers and daughters, and then it became a book that wasn’t about expulsion, didn’t center displacement, it didn’t (or I hope it doesn’t) only talk about settler violence, although it’s difficult not to talk about it. And I think it’s a book about a kind of love that I had to learn through this journey, which is the kind of unconditional love that women have for their daughters and daughters have for their mothers.

And that helped me understand how belonging works, and it’s how I’ve come to think about belonging. And this is where I do think I’ve learned a great deal from other Indigenous peoples because I’ve borrowed from this idea of instead of oral history, it’s about storytelling. And I learned how to try to embrace that, embrace the imaginative possibilities embedded in that. And that taught me that belonging isn’t about a claim of ownership, it’s actually about this notion of love and longing. And so I’ve come to say, and I say this often, I don’t claim that Palestine belongs to me. I just know that I belong to Palestine and that’s something that my grandmother’s voice taught me through my mother’s deeds. The other thing that I would like to mention here — and I do hope your audience has either seen this or can seek this out in alternative sources of media like yours and like what’s offered in the world outside of corporate media — which is over the last five days in the many phases of what is being called a war and what’s clearly genocide, there’s been a sort of pause.

And in this pause, one of the deals that have been made is a release of prisoners, hostages in Gaza for prisoners in the West Bank. It’s really difficult to talk about that because those words don’t hold what this violence is, but I’m not going to sit on those words. I’ll actually try to just describe the scenes to your listeners. Over the last four days, and tonight will be the last in this iteration, we’ve seen women prisoners and children prisoners be released by the Israeli prisoner services and army. These are people that were arrested often without being charged, children being arrested and held in captivity. Now, the scenes of women, these female prisoners when they’re released, are a reminder of everything that I sought out and I think, I hope that I found or began to find a way to describe, which is this love that actually describes our kind of belonging to Palestine.

So when these female prisoners are released and they run towards their mothers or when they run towards their children, because many of them themselves are mothers, that kind of indescribable longing, that beautiful kind of coming together and belonging, I think it is beyond words, but I think in a lot of ways it is how I think about belonging and how I think about Palestine as a place, Palestinians as a people and Palestine as a cause.

KH: It is, absolutely, beyond words.

In contrast to those moments of reunification, which so clearly embody Palestinian hope, joy and love, we have also seen how the violence inflicted on Palestinians has been buttressed by dehumanization. That dehumanization and the collective guilt that Israeli officials and media figures in the U.S. have ascribed to Palestinians has also led to anti-Palestinian violence in the United States. How should we respond to this dehumanization?

RB: That’s a tricky question, isn’t it? We definitely need to have an agenda and an action plan, and this is where I think we’re all in this together because the kind of violence, the anti-Palestinian violence in the U.S., it’s not new. The racism of it obviously is not something that’s new in the U.S. concept, but it’s really important for us to sort of 1) call it what it is; and 2) figure out how to be able to survive it. But the question of dehumanization is always a tricky one for me because how do you claim your own humanity in a system, in an ideology and in a state that is founded on you not being human? This is a question that a lot of anti-colonial and Indigenous theorists have thought about, have pondered, have spoken to.

I think it’s important to actually talk about what the violence of dehumanization is, but I think it’s also important to talk about it in the kind of ideology that exercises this as a kind of violence, what Edward Said called the theoretical foundation for Orientalism, or what [Frantz] Fanon has called exactly this, the dehumanization. I think it’s difficult to think about responding to it because you could easily fall into the politics of recognition and seek recognition of your own humanity from the powers that actually have not only worked to destroy humanity, but have given up on their own sense of humanity through that violence. All of that to say, I don’t have an answer to your question, but I do have another question for it, which is: Can we actually speak about humanity as a practice and praxis and do so in our own spaces and in our own languages and as the oppressed, as people who have been victimized by settler-colonial and racist policies? And I think the answer to that is yes, because it’s a part of our survival. But again, I think it’s all about understanding and how we can care for each other and protect each other, and scream as loud as our screams can be, either in real terms of screaming or in theoretical terms of movement building. Because this is gnarly and we have to be in this together because it almost feels like the world is broken.

But I think it’s time for us to think together about how our worlds have been breaking for centuries and we are the ones, that it’s incumbent upon us, or it’s the opportunity for us to actually think about practicing humanity through our sense of survival and solidarity. Now, I say that humbly because over the course of 48 days, an incessant bombing campaign on a small strip of land called the Gaza Strip, more than 15,000 people were killed. That is an enormous number. It is incomprehensible to me, and more than I think 5,000 of those people were children. It is really difficult to talk about humanity in that kind of political landscape. It’s difficult, but I think it’s about who we’re speaking with and who we’re speaking against.

KH: I think the connections between our struggles are also so vast that they are nearly incomprehensible to many of us. From the ubiquity of Israeli surveillance tech and weapons to the various techniques of containment and control that we experience on a global scale. One example that’s come up in my own life was realizing that GardaWorld, which is building a highly controversial encampment to house migrants here in Chicago also helps staff security at colleges and universities in the U.S. So we have students protesting the genocide in Gaza being policed and controlled by staff who are supplied by the same security company that will be containing and controlling migrants here in Chicago.

RB: I think what’s interesting about this moment – I am a historian, or at least that’s what it says on my letterhead, so I like to think in terms of a longer trajectory. So nothing is new, but a lot feels new. And I think what’s different about this particular moment is exactly what you just described, is that we once had to dig to expose these connections. And now there’s an audacity in the fact that police forces in the U.S. are being trained by the Israeli army and they drop propaganda videos about this. The gas bombs that we suffer in the West Bank are the same ones that were used in Ferguson. A very personal anecdote is that people often ask me, “How different did it feel to move from Chicago to the West Bank?”

And people, I think out of sincerity, talk about, “Well, you live in a war zone now,” and I don’t think I ever didn’t live in a war zone. I think Chicago properly prepared me for what I’m facing here, both in the best sense of how political solidarity works, how we learned how to talk to each other as different communities and work together and be in solidarity with each other and create movements together; and in the worst sense and the kind of violence, state violence, city violence and the tactics that are used. And so now these are things that are easier to expose, because they’re just so nefarious, obvious, and almost omnipresent. And so you can find where we once used to have to dig to make these connections theoretically and then explain them, now they’re just there and it’s incumbent upon us to figure out what to do next.

I think those are connections that we need to make and speak against and speak to, but I also think it’s really important for us to make the ideological connections as well. Israel being an exporter of these kinds of tools of violence is the same way that it’s an exporter-importer of the ideology that’s behind the use of the violence as well. So if we think of how we fight, we’re fighting against these tools, but we’re also fighting against the mindset that implements these tools and those connections are actually really important to make. So it’s not that difficult for us to figure out why the U.S. government has historically been so staunchly what is described in the U.S. press as “pro-Israel.” It’s because there’s so many connections between ideologies of governance between the two states that it’s not that difficult to see how the implementation and shared sense of technologies of violence are so almost organic to them.

KH: Yes, and right now, we are seeing the devastating consequences of that alliance on a historic scale. But even amid so much atrocity, Palestinian organizers, journalists, thinkers and communities are teaching us so much. So, I wanted to ask, what do Palestinians mean when they say Palestine teaches life? How is uplifting life-affirming narratives about Palestine part of the liberation struggle, and what have those efforts looked like historically and in recent weeks since October 7?

RB: Thank you for that question. It’s actually a really beautiful question and it’s an intervention on your part. Because I think it’s really necessary to talk about death and murder in the sense of elimination and genocide. I think those are important concepts for us to talk about in terms of the kind of violence that we’re surviving. But I think teaching life is actually — this is, again, to go back to what I was describing earlier about finding my way through the help of different Indigenous theorists and Indigenous writers and Indigenous movements about how to talk about and write about Palestine. I call that a shared Indigenous methodology. That’s what I call it. And I think that the heart of that and the soul of that is about life and survival.

Rafeef Ziadah is the poet who is famous for saying that Palestine teaches life, and I think it’s really important for us to always remember that and to honor that, to acknowledge that and to cherish that. Because life and ongoing living is a really important aspect of our voices being heard. And survival is about surviving all of these kinds of violences, but also thriving, as cheesy as that might sound. It’s about how I think that Palestine really is. It’s not a laboratory and it’s not a case study. It is something, we are people that can teach people the value of life, what living is and how living is an ongoing practice. And part of living is surviving all of these different forms of violence and how that’s a shared ethos between us and other peoples on the globe.

And if you look just anecdotally right now, if you look and search, and it’s not that difficult to search for the voices on the ground, as they say, either in Gaza or in the West Bank or in Jerusalem, you see incredible, incredible people speaking, as Said once described it, truth to power, but they’re speaking their own lives and they’re talking about survival. And those are the precious voices I think that we can learn from and acknowledge. And Palestine is about living in spite of everything, it is this ongoing. It’s really easy to fall into a trap in the daily violence so omnipresent and it’s so suffocating, but when I do allow myself to take two steps back, I realize that I have this honor of teaching Palestinian history in Palestine to Palestinian students, and I’ve been doing it for well over a decade now.

And there’s a kind of boldness and a beauty and the audacity of doing that in spite of, if you think about it, in spite of everything, it is the ongoing survival of Palestinians. There’s a lot to be learned from that.

KH: In your work, you talk about the “museumification” of Palestine. Why do you argue that we must challenge European ideas about time if we really want to grasp the meaning and practice of Palestinian liberation?

RB: I’m going to try not to be boring and academic about this because it is, I think, the best way of describing this is thinking about colonialism in the context not only of military occupation and invasion, but also in the epistemic violence of modernity. So Eurocentric is this notion, is this thread of that violence, and that means the best way that I think I have of describing this is the Columbus dictionary. And what I mean by a Columbus dictionary is that words can have all different kinds of meaning, but in invasion and in Eurocentric invasion of knowledge and knowledge production and knowledge systems, a word can only have one description or one definition, and that’s a definition that’s not our own. It’s one born out of our servitude.

And one of those words and concepts is time. And so a lot of theorists coin this or describe this as settler time. Settler time is a timeline of invasion. Settler time is describing what a beginning is in terms of settler invasion. So in the U.S. context, it’s really easy. When you and I were students in grade school, perhaps the beginning of time was what they described to us as the American Revolution. Everything else before that was before time. This is what I mean, and when I use the term “museumification” in my work, is that if Palestine exists in a settler European mentality, it’s something that’s pre-time. Jean O’Brien, who’s a Indigenous theorist and historian, describes this as firsting and lasting. It’s this notion of imposing a timeline on how we think about existence basically, and our own written out of it.

And that’s another kind of violence, and it’s actually really violent, because it goes back to the question of dehumanization that you were asking earlier, is that within that kind of structure of knowledge, we actually don’t have a place. It’s actually the very construction of that structure of knowledge is about our displacement and dispossession. And so I think that’s the best, I hope, coherent way of describing how those of us who work on different forms of colonialism, as ideologies and as invasion, sort of think about how it also invades the mind and our conceptual way of thinking.

KH: Thank you for that. I know I have learned a lot from my Menominee elders in my own community about how we should think about time, and I think those are important interventions.

On that note, I wanted to ask, what have you learned from Indigenous people and movements in the U.S. in your work for Palestinian freedom?

RB: A lot. I think one of the things to dovetail onto the previous question is that on October 7 and thereafter, every time … I’m not geographically based in the U.S. right now, so I haven’t had the same kind of experience with the political landscape there, but a lot of people were forced to explain to everybody that history didn’t begin on October 7. And that goes back to that previous question that you just asked, is that we’re always being put in a place of having to respond to the violence that’s enacted against our bodies and our beings and our peoplehood. And I think it’s really useful for me and for myself and in my teaching to work to de-exceptionalize Palestine in that way because we’re not the only people who struggle and survive that.

And there’s a power to be found in finding and nurturing connections with other peoples and their voices and their movements. And that’s how I think one path, one of the parts of the pathways towards freedom and being free is finding and nurturing connections with other peoples. So in the Land Back movement for example, it speaks directly to the Palestinian condition about return. There is a conversation within our own culture in Arabic, the title of my book is Ongoing Return for example, and it’s this notion of we share this. Land Back as a movement is something that I think as Palestinians we can be a part of and support with the knowledge that every peoples have a very specific context in which their movements work and are needed, what they need to do in this process of being and getting free.

But finding connections, Land Back and return, for example, are great ways of nurturing conversation amongst people. And one of the things I think I’ve learned from Indigenous struggles and the Black struggle in the U.S. is that solidarity is not a rhetoric. If it becomes that, it’s a problem, but it’s actually a political iteration of love and the love that I was talking about earlier and belonging is also a shared love. And I’ve come to learn that solidarity is about love and loving each other and finding ways to actually express that love through political connections.

KH: I love the idea of solidarity as love and “finding ways to express that love through political connections.” I also want to add that as a Menominee person, the connections between Palestine and my own people’s struggle have been a real path of learning for me. So I really appreciate your thoughts on that.

RB: That’s beautiful. And it’s almost organic, isn’t it? Because there’s something really shared.

KH: Absolutely.

RB: Yeah.

KH: In our last episode, I was talking to Morning Star Gali and Ashley Crystal Rojas about their work as Native organizers in solidarity with Palestine. Morning Star talked about the annual Sunrise Ceremony that she coordinates on Alcatraz Island each year to commemorate the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement’s occupation of the island, and she noted that Palestinians have had a longstanding presence in that ceremony. There is a mutual recognition of shared struggle among many Native people and Palestinians, and I think it’s important to help other people understand that, because there are a lot of lessons embedded in the relationality between our peoples.

RB: Exactly. And what’s shared amongst us — and this is something that I’ve tried to really work hard in my pedagogical practice — is that there is something shared in terms of enduring settler violence. And that is true, but there’s also something shared in our endurance in and of itself, and I don’t want to say regardless of settler violence, but I want to say that the relationality, the word that you just used, relationality is how we can nurture these not only conversations but movements. Because it is that spirit of “my oppression isn’t mine alone, my people’s oppression isn’t mine alone.” And that kind of shared refusal of oppression is the heart of that relationality. So you see a lot of Indigenous movements and Indigenous scholars speaking about this, and there’s something there. It’s almost like a learning curve. We’re always constantly learning from each other. And like I mentioned about Land Back, it helped me focus and think about return in more inclusive and wider and deeper ways. So it’s also really about learning about ourselves through learning with each other.

KH: In May, I had the opportunity to learn from two Palestinian organizers and a Palestinian journalist when we were recording an episode that marked the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. During that episode, Jalal Abukhater told me,

There is an intense chemistry between grief and hope. It’s a sad situation, but it’s good to be hopeful. It’s what we all need. Despair is the enemy. We cannot fall for this trap at all. Despair and desperation. That’s what they want us to live through. We want to be hopeful. We want to give love and we want to do all we can for our people and for our communities. That’s what drives most of us here in Palestine.

Do you have any thoughts on that chemistry between grief and hope and what it means to give love in this moment?

RB: You’re speaking to somebody who’s been thinking about love for some time now, as I mentioned earlier. And I’ll explain to you how I got to love. It was actually through anger and rage. I’m infuriated. I’m so full of rage because of the utter depravity of this oppression. But I think love is what holds both hope and gives space for grief. I’ve struggled over the last two months, three months, two years, hundred years, about learning how to actually hold grief and not be overwhelmed by it. And it’s difficult. It’s not a chemical equation or a simple math equation where one plus one equals two because it’s constantly changing and it’s constantly overwhelming. So I think hope will always float and hope is what is at the core of teaching life that we talked about earlier, and this notion of love and belonging that I tried to describe earlier. I think love is what holds all of these emotions, and it gives space for us to feel them without berating ourselves for them.

This notion that we were talking about earlier in Eurocentrism is that there’s a rational way of being and an emotional way of being is not ours. That was imposed on us. And so feelings and emotions and senses and sensuality are part of our intellectual process. There’s no need to divide the mind and the heart. And I think hope is what the history of Palestine has taught me. And I hope that hope is what the history of Palestine and the present of Palestine can teach everybody. And that doesn’t mean that there isn’t grief and there isn’t disappointment, because there’s a great deal of grief. There are days over the last two months where I’m in Ramallah and I couldn’t even see children walking down the street without seeing the bodies of children buried under rubble in Gaza.

I still don’t really know how to deal with that. That’s a kind of grief that’s almost without words, but it comes from a place of love. And I [want us to] remind ourselves that we’ll always have hope. And frankly, we’re still here. We’re breathing and moving and righteously so. And I think if anything, that not only gives me hope, I hope that that gives you and your listeners hope as well.

KH: Well, it certainly gives me hope, so thank you for that.

As we wrap up our conversation, is there anything else on your heart or mind that you would like to share with our audience at this moment?

RB: I’d just like to share gratitude. Thank you for reaching out. Thank you for giving me space to be in conversation with you. Thank you for seeking Palestinian stories in a time where they seem to be not only silenced, but not allowed. Thank you for thinking about Palestine as you think about your own movements. Thank you for thinking with Palestinians as we think about our movements. And I’d like to go back to two things, two really important concepts, which are love and hope, and we have them because we share them. And I’d just like to share that with your audience, and thank you again. I’m grateful for this moment, and I hope that perhaps the next time we do a podcast, it’ll be us sitting across the table in Palestine together.

KH: I hope for that too. And thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your wisdom with us. I know I’ve gotten a lot out of it, and I think that our listeners will too.

(Musical interlude)

KH: I am so grateful for that conversation and for all of Rana’s work. The Palestinian struggle is one that has galvanized so many of us, in recent days, and our solidarity gives me hope, even in the face of unthinkable violence. Palestinian communities have long shown us what it means to teach life amid the rubble, and I am sure those lessons will continue. I hope that we all continue to resist the normalization of genocide, and that we do everything in our power to disrupt the lives, business and profits of those responsible for these horrors. It is our duty to get in the way of this violence, however we can. That means protesting, including protests that disrupt the flow of capital. It means grieving together and grieving rebelliously. It means educating ourselves and those around us, and it means applying as much political pressure as possible to officials like President Biden, who have facilitated this genocide with financial support, weapons and propaganda. May we continue to act in solidarity until Palestine is free, and may we never lose sight of the kind of love that, as Rana says, “holds hope and gives space for grief.”

Like Rana, I hope that our next conversation happens across a table, in Palestine. I hope that when we meet in person, there are no settler lynch mobs for Palestinians in the West Bank to fear. I hope that Rana and I can break bread together, comforted by the knowledge that Palestinians are no longer being forcibly starved by an Israeli siege in Gaza. I hope that on that beautiful day, there are no children or families dying beneath the rubble of Israeli bombardments. I hope that when all of this happens, that all of our peoples are a bit closer to getting free. Hope is a daily practice for me, and it is grounded in action, so I hope you will continue to join me in whatever acts of love and defiance can bring us all closer to such days. I believe we can get there because I can see it, and in my heart, I can feel it.

From a place of solidarity, it has been important to me, over the last couple of months, to publish episodes that are either specifically about Palestinian struggle or that highlight the connections between Palestinian liberation and other liberation struggles, such as Native organizing or police and prison abolitionist movements here in the U.S. I want to thank our guests who have been patient and supportive as their episodes have been bumped forward in time, to accommodate discussions about Palestine. Our listeners will be hearing those conversations in the new year, along with some updated material.

In 2024, we will also continue circling back to Big Tech, and how our movements can challenge mass surveillance and data-driven forms of oppression. We will also be talking about municipalism, the commodification of care, the impact of popular science fiction on liberation movements, and so much more. I always learn a lot as we work to develop these episodes and I am eager to continue to think alongside you all.

I will be taking time off over the next few weeks to tend to my health and my family, and I hope that you are also getting the time and care you need amid so much struggle. It can feel selfish to think of ourselves and our own needs when others are being deprived of the very means of survival, but your well-being matters, too, and we are all needed on so many fronts of struggle. That means that the rest and care you need to be well are part of staying in the struggle. So for your sake, and for all of our sakes, please take care of yourselves and each other.

I am so grateful to all of our wonderful guests, who I believe have made this our best year yet on “Movement Memos.” I have learned so much from these folks and I look forward to learning more from them in the new year. I am also deeply grateful to our Truthout team, whose editing, artwork, sound work, and thought partnership make all of this possible. Truthout is a really special publication and I am so lucky to create and think alongside such great people.

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.

Show Notes

Resources

Further Reading

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