“Whenever there is grief, there is unity, and in unity, there is strength, and we feel it,” says Jalal Abukhater. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” host Kelly Hayes talks with Abukhater, a Palestinian writer living in Jerusalem, and Palestinian activists Jeanine Hourani and Lea Kayali, about the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, resistance in the face of Israeli aggression and how hope sustains their work.
Music by Son Monarcas, Peter Sandberg, Raymond Grouse and David Celeste
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 are talking about Palestine, Israeli apartheid and war-making, and the organizing that has sustained the struggle of the Palestinian people. This episode is part of our four-episode arc marking the release of Let This Radicalize You, my new book with Mariame Kaba — which was released this week by Haymarket Books. In these episodes, we have been delving into some of the topics Mariame and I explored in our book. While writing Let This Radicalize You, Mariame and I spoke with a lot of experienced organizers who shared their wisdom, strength and hope, in order to offer newer organizers a bit of guidance and accompaniment on their journeys. One of the organizers we spoke with was Lea Kayali, a Palestinian writer and activist, and Truthout contributor, who has also been a guest on “Movement Memos.” In talking to Lea about how we might craft an episode that could serve as a resource, in this moment, we decided that the most meaningful thing we could do, right now, would be to uplift Palestinian voices. This episode was created with that intention.
For Palestinians, this is a moment of grief, struggle, solidarity and remembrance. This week marks the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, when Zionist militias expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. May 11 marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper. On May 2, Palestinian activist Khader Adnan died in an Israeli prison after an 87-day hunger strike, and the denial of emergency medical care. At least 37 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s most recent offensive on Gaza, in which Israel has sought to assassinate leaders of the resistance group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Two Israelis have reportedly been killed by Palestinian rocket fire. According to the UN, seven Palestinian children have been killed during the recent Israeli assault in Gaza. Maurice Hirsch, a former prosecutor with the Israel Defense Force, recently tweeted, “Considering the military advantage gained by eliminating these senior terrorists, it is irrelevant to ask how many children were incidentally killed.”
To say Hirsch’s attitude reflects the overall position of Zionists would be too generous, given that many Zionists in Israel do not simply regard the deaths of Palestinian children as irrelevant, but rather, actively celebrate the bombardment of Gaza, at times treating the attacks as a spectator sport. Under the protection of the IDF, Israeli settlers steal Palestinian homes en masse, and commit acts of violence against Palestinians, including children, with impunity. As my colleague Mike Ludwig recently wrote in Truthout:
Many Palestinian children living in the occupied West Bank cannot walk to school without a military escort, assuming their classrooms have not been demolished or confiscated by Israelis in the first place. Palestinian kids face constant attacks and harassment from violent Israeli “settlers” pushing to colonize the West Bank with illegal settlements, if not wipe Palestine off the map altogether.
Meanwhile, Palestinians can be arrested under a so-called “anti-terrorism” law, passed in 2016, that allows the occupying military and its courts to criminalize any activity perceived as a threat to Israeli state interests. Palestinians can be imprisoned for nonviolent activism, cultural expression, and often, for no discernable reason at all. The IDF and settlers continue to attack and kill Palestinians with impunity.
Israeli settlers also routinely destroy Palestinian crops and kill Palestinian livestock, in an effort to destroy livelihoods and communities. As Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, recently stated:
Apartheid is a symptom and a consequence of the territorial ambitions Israel has for the land of what remains of an encircled Palestine.… The cause is the colonies. Israel is a colonial power maintaining the occupation in order to get as much land as possible for Jewish-only people. And this is what leads to the numerous violations of international law.
We will not be delving deeply into the history of Israeli violence in Palestine in this episode. If you would like to learn more about that history, I recommend checking out my previous episode with Lea entitled, “What the Mainstream Media Never Told You About Palestine.” Over the next hour, you will be hearing from Jalal Abukhater, a Palestinian writer living in Jerusalem, and Jeanine Hourani and Lea Kayali, who are both Palestinian activists living in the diaspora, as they discuss what they are experiencing in this moment of crisis, what you should know about what’s happening in Palestine, and how they are holding both hope and grief. It was an honor to talk with them in this moment of loss, struggle and commemoration, and I hope you all will receive their words with love and solidarity.
Jalal Abukhater: My name is Jalal Abukhater. I’m a 28 year-old Palestinian writer. Writer, and activist based here in Jerusalem. I work as a freelancer.
Jeanine Hourani: My name is Jeanine. I am a Palestinian organizer currently based in Britain. And I’m a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement Britain chapter.
Lea Kayali: My name is Lea Kayali. I’m a 26-year-old Palestinian organizer in the U.S. based out of Boston. I also organize with the Palestinian Youth Movement.
JA: So this has been a very difficult month. We are just entering May and we are already coming in to this month thinking of how we’re going to mark Shireen Abu Akleh first anniversary, the first anniversary of her loss when she was killed in Jenin. That happens to be the 11 of May. On the 15 of May, we were marking the memory of Nakba, which is the catastrophe, the event that began in 1948 and led to the expulsion of Palestinians from their homelands and the theft of their land.
It’s already been an intense month, like months beforehand. Coming into May, things could always get worse. The fact that we lost Khader Adnan after 86 days of hunger strike, it was a very crushing feeling. But at the same time, people need to understand who Khader Adnan is. This is a man who gave his life. He went on a hunger strike several times and wanted the whole world to look at the deep injustice that is being committed here in Palestine.
The fact that he chose the administrative detention — to protest admin detention. Basically, he wanted to tell the word, “Look at us Palestinians. We are fighting with whatever we have.” This man himself chose his empty stomach to show that we are being imprisoned in such an unjust and cruel system. The fact that Israel pretends to be a nation that practices by the law, it’s false when it’s imprisoning, right now, there are over a thousand Palestinians in administrative detention, meaning they have no idea what charges have been put forward. They’re held with secret evidence and they’re imprisoned.
There is a lot of injustices. The fact that we lost Khader Adnan, the hero of this fight of shedding a light on this injustice in the prison system, the fact that we are marking Shireen’s death, a journalist, a beloved person who we’re still grieving over, and the fact that the deaths of Palestinians have been happening almost on a daily basis.
Currently, I’m watching the news and Israel is bombarding Gaza. I’m seeing pictures of children who are affected, children who are being killed in Gaza. It’s a very intense period. People need to understand that they can’t keep getting away with this, when we, the world community, does not do everything that’s possible to put pressure on this Israeli regime to boycott, to call for diplomatic action against Israel, to delegitimize this Zionist apartheid regime that’s basically persecuting Palestinians as a matter of ideology and matter of policy.
There needs to be action and there needs to be accountability. We cannot lose another Shireen, we cannot lose another Khader Adnan. People are giving way too much. People are giving their lives to highlight the injustice that we’re living through. It’s a very difficult month coming into. It’s just… I don’t know. It’s hard, it’s tough, but we have to keep going.
JH: We have seen 2023 be an increasingly deadly for Palestinians, and the number of deaths we’ve seen have been the highest since the second Intifada, but I also think it’s important within that context to recognize the ongoing nature of the violence, the ongoing nature of what’s been happening, the fact that the Nakba been ongoing for 75 years. And even though we do see these ebbs and flows of violence, and the news headlines and the mobilizations, as Jalal mentioned, are coming up to one year of Shireen Abu Akleh’s martyrdom, we are coming up to 75 years of the Nakba and marking that.
It’s also important that between these monumental dates and these mobilizations, we’re also kind of organizing in between, doing the invisible work, building power in our communities in between these kinds of moments of mass mobilizations.
On the flip side of that, I also think it’s important for us to think about what we’ve gained and the gains that resistance has made, especially over the last few years we’ve seen with the unity Intifada, or the unity uprisings, in 2021. And increasingly since then, the unity of all fronts. We’ve seen significant gains to the Palestinian resistance and significant unification across factional and geographical boundaries. And so I think it’s also important for us in the context of thinking about loss to also think about the games we’re winning to maintain that revolutionary optimism and keep the struggle alive and moving forward.
LK: Yeah, I’ll just jump off of what Jeanine was saying in that I… I resonate a lot with both of what Jalal and Jeanine said. And I think for me, when I see… What I would want people to think about when they see Palestinine, the news, when they see escalations in the news, is two things. The first is that all violence against Palestinians by the occupation is part of, as Jeanine said, a decades-long colonial project to eliminate Palestinians. The second thing is that Palestinians will never give up their right, their inherent moral right to determine their own destiny.
What this means is that when we’re thinking through 75 years of Nakba, that means Palestinians are birthing like the fourth, and in some cases, fifth generation of people living either under colonialism or in exile. On May 15, Palestinians around the world commemorate the Nakba, which is, as others have alluded to, the Arabic word for catastrophe. It refers both to the wave of terror and ethnic cleansing in 1947 and in 1948, that displaced three quarters of a million of our people, including, personally, my grandparents. But it also refers to the colonial structure of occupation elimination and apartheid, which has been oppressing our people for the last 75 years.
So when we reflect on the intensity of the last year and these escalations, as compared to the last few decades, at the same time, we understand that it’s completely compatible with our understanding of what Zionism is. That’s not to say that the intensity of the violence and the grief that we’re experiencing this month and this last year is not really heavy because it is really, really heavy.
On May 9, 15 people were massacred in Gaza, including many children. As Jalal said, some resistance leaders and the director of a major hospital, among many people who were killed. That’s heartbreaking, and it’s real, and it’s painful. At the same time, the Palestinian people have 75 years of experience resisting this violence. And our resistance is only becoming more unified, more creative, and more successful and more popular around the world.
On that note, I guess I would just say that when we see Palestinians speaking out for our rights to defend our land, our right to exist, it’s a practice of survival, of dignity, and of defense. To take the example of Khader Adnan and his hunger strike. Khader Adnan’s empty stomach, as Jalal said, it nourished millions of people in the form of our movement. The prisoners struggle, in general, it brings us closer to freedom as a people, despite them being behind bars. Similarly, every martyr, every Palestinian that we lose lives on in some way in the collective struggle and march towards liberation.
And so, that’s, for me, what I think of when I reflect on this moment as part of 75 years of Nakba, and the legacy that we’re standing in and walking as a part of and the responsibility that comes with that. For me as a Palestinian and diaspora, I take that responsibility very seriously. It’s something that I think all of us carry with us every day at the same time that we’re reading the news, grieving, just trying to move forward as well.
KH: I recently started reading The Palestine Laboratory by Antony Loewenstein, and I wanted to share some words from the book’s introduction. Loewenstein writes:
Palestine is Israel’s workshop, where an occupied nation on its doorstep provides millions of subjugated people as a laboratory for the most precise and successful methods of domination.
Israel as the ideal ethnonationalist model is reliant on being able to commercialize this message.
Loewenstein also warns that “despotism has never been so easily shareable with compact technology,” adding that, “Ethnonationalist ideology grows when accountable democracy withers. Israel is the ultimate model and goal.”
I’m interested in your thoughts on Palestine as a frontline in global struggle, given that Israel has so successfully commercialized and exported its tools of occupation.
JA: Indeed, it’s very tough, or it’s weird sometimes to be living in this place, to be living in Jerusalem and to know that my existence in this place and my whole life, it’s like I’m always being, for example, watched. My movement is being controlled. I’ve learned about all the complicated systems that, architecture-wise and roads and infrastructure, how our lives as Palestinians are controlled in Jerusalem and elsewhere, especially under occupation. But also, people, Palestinians who live in ’48, what’s now Israel, communities which are now deprived of their land and their natural sources of income in the past, which were either fishing or agriculture, those communities in ’48, the siege on Gaza, the very specific control and domination that we experience in the occupied West Bank, the city of Hebron, Nablus, and in Jerusalem, whether it’s surveillance systems, whether it’s how the public space is designed, how they construct and change the features of our cities and our streets, they transform everything in every way to control and dominate our existence in this place to make it easier to go on violating our most basic rights and ensure the benefit that a colonial regime would benefit off of our backs.
They would get their labor, for example, their cheap labor. They would get their natural resources, of course stolen from where we live. They would get their settlers to enjoy… They would have commercial interest in facilitating life for settlers in the West Bank to ensure there’s trade and commerce happening between, for example, Tel Aviv and the settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. The University of Ariel will have students from everywhere.
All this infrastructure and development is meant to make Israel, as a colonial regime, profit off our backs. That’s on the local level. On the international level, it’s much, much scarier when we realize that the systems of control and domination that Israel employs on us here, in Palestine, it’s very well designed systems of course, and they’re now being promoted as tools by certain companies that are all, or most of them, are based in Israel. They’re selling technology that is targeting states where there’s interest by either despotic regime or by commercial or business or corporate interest to infiltrate and manipulate the democratic process in that country, for example, or ensure one party gets domination over another in some other country.
We’ve seen technologies that have been sold to countries in Africa, in Latin America, even been used in the States, in the United States. I think it was a technology that is hacking systems to give out a false message, false messaging to affect a democratic process. It happened somewhere in the States as well.
Whatever methods of manipulation and control and domination and surveillance they use here, they are promoting and making profit. They’re the best at selling weapons. They’re the best at selling methods of controlling crowds. Other regimes are looking at Israel feeling like we want to do what they’re doing. It seems to be working. They’re keeping the Palestinians at bay. Of course, Israel resorts always to the killing and slaughter of Palestinians, but they always devise more and more intrinsic and more complex and more cynical and weird methods of domination that keep us under control.
This is how they maintain a system of apartheid domination. It’s a very complex system. There’s certainly a lot for them to benefit of. And they’re selling it. They’re selling it to the whole world. If people do not call this out for what it is, it could be anyone else next that’s the victim for this system of domination and oppression.
LK: Yeah, I can just jump off of that because I feel Jalal ended where I’d love to pick up, in talking about the ways in which these systems of oppressions and machineries of oppressions are connected globally. It’s a really helpful framework. I want to use it to get super concrete, because one example of the way that Palestinians have become a laboratory for global oppression is the weapons industry and the surveillance technology industry. Just one example of this is Elbit Systems, which is the largest Israeli weapons manufacturer and develops its weapons and its software to make possible the colonization of Palestine and the subjugation of the Palestinian people.
It then sells those weapons to fascist leaders, for example, Duterte in the Philippines, to use in his war against the Filipino people. Elbit also sells to the U.S. border patrol to have these dystopian surveillance towers that can spot migrants from miles away, alert them to Customs and Border Patrol to send asylum seekers back to certain death.
So Israel may be in some ways the model of oppression, warfare and colonialism, but it’s exporting that model around the world. And those conveyor belts of this war machine also bind the people around the world who are the test subjects of these weaponries. And this is something that, I think, as Jalal was saying, Palestinians are very acutely aware of. Every time I talk to folks, every time I go back and visit Palestine, every time I talk to folks living under occupation, we’re reminded together that our struggle is not the only struggle and that the connections between our oppressors are… They necessitate connections between our struggles as well.
This is something that we’ve learned historically. Recently, I was watching a documentary where Leila Khaled was interviewed and shared this quote that I really thought was relevant here, which is essentially that: “In the past, our general awareness was that the world was against us. This gives a very dark image. The hope that there’s a possibility of changing it is very low because the world is cruel. It allowed the Israelis to do this to us, to take our land and all that is foreign against us. But afterwards, we realized that there are enemy forces and there are friendly forces. There are people who are not Palestinian, but friends of our cause. And from this point, we had a new outlook to the world.”
And I just wanted to share that because I felt it was very relevant to your question, Kelly, because when we see these connections, it’s not something we can look away from, we can shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, the world is cruel.” No, this is an organizing imperative. I think especially in diaspora and in solidarity around the world, efforts to confront these nexus of global oppression are organizing imperatives. That’s why efforts like Palestine Action’s campaign to shut down Elbit factories throughout Britain is so inspiring.
In diaspora, in solidarity, people are tearing down the outcroppings of these colonial factories. Here in Boston where I live and organize, some organizers recently had a protest against an Elbit facility in our neighborhood, and teamed up with a Filipino human rights group who was raising consciousness around the hyper-militarization of the Philippines on the backs of the Filipino people and drawing parallels with how that’s very similar to the way the Zionist system of domination profits off the backs of the Palestinian people while also subjugating them with the same technologies.
So I think this understanding and this outlook on the world, to reference that quote, really goes both ways, that once we see it, we can’t unsee it and it allows us to be better connected and better equipped to build a different future as well, and to organize for it.
JH: To build on that Leila Khaled quote that Lea just mentioned, it’s also really important for us to remember that the Zionist entity in itself was constructed as an experimentation ground. That was the whole… One of the key purposes of the construction of the Zionist entity was to create an imperial outpost for, at the time, Britain, but now even more broadly like Western imperial powers. And so, this is the foundation upon which the Zionist entity was built was this idea of an experimentation ground. And as Lea alluded to, there have always been, or the Palestinian cause has always been a third world internationalist, anti-imperialist struggle, and they are friends of the Palestinian cause. It’s important for us to remind ourselves of that and not go into, as Lea mentioned, this dark hole of defeatism.
I also just wanted to build on what Lea was mentioning about Elbit. I’m based in Britain. And Palestine Action is leading kind of the frontline action against Elbit Systems here. They’ve shut down multiple factories since May 1. There’s actually been an occupation in Leicester, a couple hours north of London, of UAV Tactical Systems, which is an Elbit factory. Yeah, they’ve been camping out there and refusing to leave until the factory gets shut down.
And so we do have a really important role to play in the imperial core as these global institutions and these global corporations are festering in our regions for us to be working towards tearing them down and confronting them wherever we are.
I also just wanted to talk briefly, some of the things that Jalal mentioned about this idea of spying is a really interesting and also pertinent point, because we do see as well, in diaspora organizing so much repression around the Palestinian cause. We have IRL or the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that is increasingly being taken up and is stifling activists and organizer’s ability to legitimately criticize the Zionist entity.
We also see CVE [Countering Violent Extremism] programs in the U.S. I don’t know, Lea, if you want to talk about them, but in Britain we have the PREVENT Program. The PREVENT Program is also kind of painted as this, you can’t see my air quotes, but “counterterrorism program” and calls on health workers and teachers and university lecturers to essentially spy on everyday citizens and report “signs of radicalization”. One of those signs is actually support for Palestine. So we’re seeing this increasing surveillance and spying on Palestinians and pro-Palestinian organizers and anyone who is in support of the Palestinian cause across the globe.
KH: One of the themes in my book with Mariame Kaba, Let This Radicalize You, is holding hope and grief simultaneously. Could you speak to the idea of holding hope and grief at the same time, and how hope and grief manifest themselves in your lives and organizing?
JA: Just today, actually, I attended the report release by the Committee to Protect Journalists. They’ve released a report that speaks about the cases of 20 killings of journalists by Israeli occupation forces, 20 killings and zero accountability in any of the cases over the past 20 years. At this event, a lot was said and spoken about Shireen Abu Akleh by her family, by her close friends. We’re still grieving. I don’t think… Some people have… It’s hard to just bypass the fact that we lost Shireen. It’s very difficult, but at the same time it’s made me realize, and I’ve realized over the past period, that the passing of Shireen brought with it such an immense energy that is being felt. I feel it among people, among those who Shireen had inspired.
Today, there was a girl. She’s at university now studying media and journalism. She spoke very eloquently and well at the very end. She brought me hope and optimism because this girl basically met Shireen when she was in seventh grade in school. She went to the same school Shireen went to. Shireen went to speak as a journalist. This girl was a young girl in school who felt inspired by Shireen. Her loss only pushed her and motivated her to be even more outspoken and more dedicated to her passion in organizing and reporting and telling the story of Palestine.
And I felt this was inspiring. Of course, they were also the families of other journalists who have been killed at this event. It was very encouraging to see that Shireen Abu Akleh’s brother, was speaking about how Shireen is a moment. Shireen’s loss was a moment that brought us all together to perhaps seek justice in every way possible and be super persistent about it and not hold back at all in any way. This family, Abu Akleh family, are doing so much and others are joining them and doing so much on their own as well, because they believe that pursuing justice in every capacity will hopefully stop this injustice from ever occurring again.
The fact that we have to speak after 20 or more journalists are killed is quite scary, but one loss, the loss of our beloved Shireen, brought so many people together to shed the light on the fact that there is no accountability and the fact that unless we hold those people accountable, and specifically the soldiers, and be more specific with the legal cases in Europe, in the U.S., wherever it’s possible, to seek justice for Shireen. It means that at some point they will be affected, the Israelis, they will feel this kind of… I don’t know. I hope that it’ll affect them in a way that we can stop this injustice from occurring again.
Our energies, for grief, are transformed into energies that seek action, seek meaningful action and are very optimistic and hopeful. They are driven by optimism in a way that we do imagine a liberated Palestine. We do imagine our free people. We always speak about it. We encourage each other.
Whenever there is grief, there is unity, and in unity, there is strength, and we feel it. Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral was one of the most incredible events I’ve attended in my entire life. It happened right there in Jerusalem. It was an incredible moment. Those moments are not stopping. They keep continuing.
Every person grieves when there is a martyr. In Jenin, in Nablus, the martyr, Ibrahim Nabulsi, for example, he was unknown to people perhaps a few months before he was killed by the Israeli occupation forces, but his charisma and his character and the fact that he sent out a few messages and the fact that he left a will where he called on people to keep going, don’t stop resisting. He sent a love message to his mother. The fact that he spoke to his friends in such a friendly and lovely and charming way.
Those people are doing all they are doing because of their love for their communities and their families. They are choosing this path to become resistance fighters because of the love they owe to the people around them and the love they show. This energy is reflected. When this person becomes an icon, Israel goes in once and twice and three times in attempting to assassinate him. They wanted to kill Ibrahim Nabulsi. Three times, they failed to assassinate him. On the fourth time, they unfortunately succeeded in killing Ibrahim. But Ibrahim’s face is not missing. It’s probably on a keychain or the necklace of almost every kid you’ll see in Nablus today, same in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.
With those people who choose to speak for us and choose to connect with the people and in such a beautiful way, when we lose those people, the Israelis know that those people are… They want to kill them. That’s the only solution they know. They kill those people. But when we lose them, the grief that we feel, we transform into energy that seeks change. We want to become more active and we want to become more inspirational. We want to do something that will lead to hopefully the liberation of our lands one day.
On a personal level, everyone feels differently when they grieve, but they feel something collective. As for us Palestinians, we grieve a lot, a lot. I can’t even begin to tell you. There’s a lot to grieve about. In the morning, and at noon, in the evening, it’s very hard being Palestinian sometimes, but at the same time, we all know that holding onto hope does allow us to survive those stages. And honestly, over the past two years, I’ve seen this on the ground. I’ve seen that hope does bring people together and it does bring power, especially here on the street where it’s most meaningful. And the waves we create here in Jerusalem or elsewhere in Palestine, they’re felt and they spread across the globe.
I do feel that 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 to our people and to our communities. That’s what drives most of us here in Palestine.
LK: That was so… I’m just taking a moment, Jalal, because I’m really moved by your words. And I think it’s evident, from everything Jalal was just saying, that Palestinians are really no strangers to holding hope and grief at the same time. In fact, culturally I think many of our practices help us to hold and move through grief while continuing to resist and continuing to cultivate hope. For example, our killed loved ones are not… Are dead. They are our martyrs. They’ve not abandoned us, they’ve ascended.
Even woven into our language is a commitment to respect the losses that are forced upon us in the fight for our homeland. Our losses also confer responsibility on us to continue the struggle. To me, that is deeply rooted in a practice of hope.
My family was expelled from Jaffa and Lydd. I was thinking about, as Jalal was recalling, the story of Shireen Abu Akleh, that I visited Lydd for the first time this last year. The children in Lydd actually… There’s a street… On one side of the street, there’s a wall that Israelis have imposed so that the Palestinian neighborhood won’t be looking onto the Israeli neighborhood.
On that wall, the children’s spray painted and they renamed the street, Shireen Abu Akleh, the street of Shireen Abu Akleh. They named the playground on that street after her as well. And so, children are literally playing amongst this constant reminder of the loss of a great Palestinian icon. But at the same time, I think there’s something so profoundly hopeful and revolutionary in that. There’s nothing more hopeful than the sound of children’s laughter and the thought that children are carrying with them this legacy every day in just the practice and the play of being a child, I think for me is so symbolic of the Palestinian experience in a way.
Another example of this idea of holding both hope and grief, resistance and grief that I wanted to share was the story of the Rimawi family. For those who, listeners who might not know, in late November of 2022, two brothers, Jawad and Dhafer, from the same family, were killed by the occupation forces in one afternoon. So this family lost two sons, two brothers, two grandchildren in but a couple of moments. In the wake of this enormous loss, Ru’a, the sister of the two martyred brothers, said at their funeral, she gave an impromptu speech that ended up going viral. I wanted to just share a piece of that because I think it’s something that I have returned to very often when I’m reflecting on this question of holding hope and grief. What she said was, “Do not allow their blood or the blood of any martyr of this homeland to be for nothing. Do not allow the tears of my mother to be lost. Every person that is able to resist with stones, with a gun, with education, with weapons, should resist. I am a doctor and I want to heal people, and today I buried my brothers. Every one of us resists in their own way, but keep resistance alive and keep the struggle alive. Don’t stop for anything until this land is liberated.”
Those were her words in that moment of just unfathomable grief. It reminds me that as Palestinians, we honor our grief by practicing hope. This is not to ignore death, but to acknowledge that in fact our movement itself is what is alive.
For me as a child of diaspora, I reflect on this as a responsibility to reclaim our role in the struggle. This idea of holding grief and hope and carving a role for oneself in the struggle and participating and contributing to something that is bigger than any of us has been profoundly liberatory for me at a personal and a spiritual level. It has been an antidote to despair, which as Jalal said, is the poison pill of any movement is despair. It’s exactly what our enemies want. To be able to hold on to something, to pull out of despair or out of a feeling of helplessness, is essential. It also, I will say, is something that requires us to get our hands dirty in the work of planting something and building something in our lives. It requires us to, in diaspora at least, to study and identify the ways that Zionism manifests in our communities and to understand that we can and we must confront those things.
It’s an imperative to start campaigns, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow and to strengthen the muscles of the movement. And while our martyrs may be the lifeblood of our movement, and Palestine is obviously the heart of our struggle, here in the U.S., we are perhaps one arm of the struggle, and Britain maybe is another. The camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria are another. If we aren’t practicing building a liberated world in the small ways we can from the places that we are, if we get comfortable with simply reposting or critiquing from afar, then we’re letting those limbs, our limb of the struggle atrophy. And that’s something that we have a responsibility never to let happen in the same way that we have a responsibility never to forget the Nakba and never to forget our martyrs and the people that we’ve lost.
For me, I think it’s about upholding the dignity of the people that we’ve lost by building a movement in their legacy. That is one of the things that being a part of this movement has given me, is an ability to muddle my way through grief by building something else and by contributing to something bigger than myself. And I think that process of building something is the only way out really.
JH: I completely agree. For me also as a diaspora organizer, I think the way that I connect hope and grief is through a linking of the past, present, and future. I know that sounds fluffy, but what I mean by that is when it comes to the past, the importance of us studying and understanding our history when it comes to the present organizing and our present moment and ensuring that, as Lea mentioned, we’re upholding the legacy of our martyrs and being led by our prisoners who are the compass of our struggle.
And then, moving forward, or always remembering that what we’re working towards is the total liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea. In terms of history specifically, it’s important for us to remember that in the immediate aftermath of the Nakba, Palestine youth activism played a really important role in educating, training Palestinians to assume responsibility for the implementation of political, economic, social, civic and legal rights. Youth mobilization has often functioned as the lifeblood of Palestinian resistance and provided the political framework and the strategies for our movement.
This was particularly the case with the general unit of Palestinian students in the 1950s and the legacy that youth held in the PLO during that time. But during Oslo, during the Oslo processes, we really saw the fragmentation of Palestine and also the dissolution of Palestinian institutions and the removal of youth from these leadership roles. And so it’s important for us to remember the historical legacy that youth have played and how we got to this moment where youth have been stripped of their leadership roles.
What we’re organizing for in this present moment is reclaiming our role, reclaiming that historic role in our liberation movement. We’re organizing in this post-Oslo moment to revitalize the role of Palestinian and Arab youth and reclaim our role in the liberation struggle. A central part of that is joining organizations like the Palestinian Youth Movement, or your local PalSoc if you’re in Britain, or your SJP if you’re in the U.S., and actively organizing towards liberation of Palestine.
In doing so, in actually being involved in making change in our locales and fighting liberation of our locales, we are working towards liberation of Palestine. We’re working towards challenging the disillusionment that we’re seeing in our communities that has also been increasingly prevalent since the Oslo processes. We have a really important role to play as youth in reinstating the promise of liberation in our communities.
KH: Is there anything else on your hearts and minds that you would like to share with or ask of the audience today?
LK: I will just say super quickly that I would hope that folks continue to ground themselves in what’s happening in Palestine by following and staying abreast of Palestinian news, voices from a Palestinian perspective, following journalists like Jalal, staying up to date with what’s happening and then using that as fuel to do something about it, as Jeanine was saying, and particularly speaking to those who are listening to this in hoping to join a solidarity movement or who are maybe part of the diaspora themselves. I think we really have a responsibility to reject a feeling of helplessness and to turn that into actively doing something about what’s happening, about turning overwhelm into action.
It’s not that it’s not okay to feel all of those things, but to use them as fuel and fodder for joining a movement. If you’re in the U.S., Canada, or Britain, there’s a Palestinian Youth Movement chapter probably near you. Or if you’re in a university, if you’re not Palestinian or Arab, I promise there are still solidarity groups for you to plug into. We really need folks to reject helplessness and to understand the Palestinian cause is not hopeless. And I think, rejecting those things, the only place that leaves you is joining the movement yourself and being part of the building.
JH: The only other thing that I’ll add is a bit of a plug. One of the recent projects that the PYM, the Palestine Youth Movement, has been working on is a book translation of Wisam Rafeedie, is The Trinity of Fundamentals. We launched the book in early May, but it’s actually not going to be released until November. But even though the book was published in 1993, we still saw it as really important and relevant to today’s context. That’s why the PYM took up the work to translate the novel and to make it accessible to Palestinians and Arabs and others who might not read Arabic or who are in the diaspora.
The theme of the book is, two central themes within the book are this idea of revolutionary optimism and the importance of self-sacrifice. When we talk about history and the importance of knowing our history and of using our history as the fuel to drive us forward in the struggle, this book is such a prominent example.
Yeah, I just wanted to tell everyone to keep an eye out for it when it’s… You can pre-order it now, and when it’s out in November, get your hands on it. There’ll be multiple launch events across different locations, reading groups and things like that. So yeah, get involved. It’s a really good entry point into this idea of linking past, present in the future that I was talking about.
JA: Lastly, I just wanted to talk after you guys because I want to thank you all as well for your wonderful contributions. There is always something I think about here in Palestine, whenever I document something or I report on a certain matter, and others do the same, we report sometimes with the raw information of what’s happening on the ground. But again, for the entire movement that is in Palestine and in diaspora, Palestinians need to be supportive in a way that we need to create content and make it easier for it to each others. When we report and make our stories, fiction novels, cinema, speeches, whatever kind of reporting that we all do, where we create resources for easier access to information when we amplify certain voices that are really lacking in audience, there’s a lot of mutual… We can support each other in many ways by just amplifying the messages.
I don’t know. I was thinking of Visualizing Palestine just now because I saw their email. Visualizing Palestine, for example, is a project that’s wonderful. They do collect incredible information and they create beautiful visualizations. But I’m always struggling to find more and more of this interactive data that’s being disseminated abroad and people are understanding better of what’s happening in Palestine and that despair is not an option, not at this time. We have a lot of momentum. We are on the streets and the sacrifice is daily. Palestinians are being killed because they refuse to bow down, they refuse to stop resisting. This is the only reason that this grinding machine keeps going and we’re still resilient and surviving is because of the support of the community that’s supporting us and around us, our community, the Palestinians.
We are the strength that will liberate Palestine, eventually, Palestinians. Our friends will be there with us, our allies, but Palestinians, us, we need to be doing all we can to support each other and amplify each other’s voices. I hope for the best honestly, because this darkness cannot last for too long. It can’t be this bad forever. It has to get better at some point.
KH: I could not be more grateful to Lea, Jeanine and Jalal for their words and insights. I especially appreciate their reminder that, while the struggle for Palestinian liberation is marked by loss, tragedy, and grief, it is also a movement powered by hope, love and solidarity. As Jalal recently tweeted, “Shireen lives. Palestine lives. evil will perish and we shall be free.”
Thanks to decades of organizing, support for the Palestinian struggle has been growing in the United States, with a record number of Americans voicing support for the Palestinian cause. A group of congressional progressives recently wrote an open letter to President Joe Biden, calling for an end to U.S. support for Israel’s violent apartheid policies. As well they should, given that Israeli violence against Palestinians thrives on U.S. support. As Lea wrote in Truthout in May of 2021:
Many of the groups fueling the Israeli extremist settler movement are headquartered in the U.S. and registered as American nonprofits. The funders of Palestinian dispossession get a tax break for every check they write. The average American pays about as much to Israel’s murder machine as they do toward the public library system. All of this money should be going into our communities instead. If you aren’t already, it’s time to start paying attention to what Israeli beneficiaries are doing with U.S. dollars.
As with many struggles, the more you pay attention, the more plentiful frontlines become. And as with nearly all struggles, there is a role for just about anyone who gives a damn. Most of us still have a lot to learn about this struggle, and we should pursue those lessons, for the sake of supporting Palestinian liberation, and for our own sakes, because our fates are connected — as are the injustices that we experience. When apartheid and ethno-nationalist violence prevails, anywhere in the world, we are all harmed. Here in the United States, we must rage against our own government’s support of Israeli atrocities, and we must continue to support and uplift the voices of the Palestinian people. We have so much to learn from their experiences, and from their struggle, and I am grateful for those lessons.
I would like to close today with some words from the poem “Silence for Gaza,” by the acclaimed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:
Gaza has no throat. Its pores are the ones that speak in sweat, blood, and fires. Hence the enemy hates it to death and fears it to criminality, and tries to sink it into the sea, the desert, or blood. And hence its relatives and friends love it with a coyness that amounts to jealousy and fear at times, because Gaza is the brutal lesson and the shining example for enemies and friends alike.
Gaza is not the most beautiful city.
Its shore is not bluer than the shores of Arab cities.
Its oranges are not the most beautiful in the Mediterranean basin.
Gaza is not the richest city.
It is not the most elegant or the biggest, but it equals the history of an entire homeland, because it is more ugly, impoverished, miserable, and vicious in the eyes of enemies. Because it is the most capable, among us, of disturbing the enemy’s mood and his comfort. Because it is his nightmare. Because it is mined oranges, children without a childhood, old men without old age and women without desires. Because of all this it is the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us and the one most worthy of love.
I want to thank Lea, Jeanine and Jalal for talking with me for this episode. It’s a conversation I will carry with me as we all move forward in solidarity and in struggle. 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.
- Don’t forget to check out Let This Radicalize You by Kelly Hayes and Mariame Kaba.
- If you missed the virtual book launch for Let This Radicalize You, you can still catch the event on Haymarket’s youtube channel.
- The Palestinian Youth Movement (“PYM”) is 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 their homeland.
- Visualizing Palestine (VP) was established in 2012, and is dedicated to using data and research to visually communicate Palestinian experiences to provoke narrative change. VP envisions a liberated future for Palestinians in a world free from oppression.
- Nakba 75: Reclamation and Resistance: The Palestinian Youth Movement’s Post Project
- The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World by Antony Loewenstein
- The Trinity of Fundamentals by Wisam Rafeedie
- My Grandparents Lived Through the Nakba. Now It’s Happening Again by Lea Kayali
- Media coverage of CPJ ‘Deadly Pattern’ report on journalists killed by Israeli military
- Sanders, Bowman to Biden: Israel’s Apartheid Must Not Be Funded by US Taxpayers by Sharon Zhang
- Israel treats Palestinian territories like colonies, says UN rapporteur by Patrick Wintour
- Democrats’ Sympathies in Middle East Shift to Palestinians by Lydia Saad
- Settlers Get Away With Terrorizing Palestinian Children Under Israeli Apartheid by Mike Ludwig
- Mahmoud Darwish: ‘Silence for Gaza’
- Biden administration quietly backs Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza by Mitchell Plitnick
- Israel stares failure in the face, again by Maureen Clare Murphy and Ali Abunimah
- Israel views children’s lives as irrelevant by Haidar Eid