Silence is the opposite of solidarity
It has been a week of mounting death tolls and right wing mobs, solidarity protests around the world with Palestine and Palestinians and the same tired media narrative trying and failing to manufacture a narrative of violence on both sides and palpable radio silence from others.
Perhaps the moment that sat with me the most was Palestinian journalist (and Sheikh Jarrah resident) Mohammed al-Kurd responding to a CNN journalist who asked whether or not he supported the violent actions of Palestinian protestors by asking the journalist if she supported his family’s violent eviction from their home.
It affected me because it is the epitome of why framing the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a conflict—the “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict, if you will—with two sides committing equally egregious acts of violence is so wrong, the bullshit that only Palestinians who perform non-violence have a hope of being seen as human, while all the while denying them the human instinct to fight back. It made me think of all of the elements of violence and occupation that are muted and whitewashed through this language, this prioritizing, this idea that if we are going to be listened to we must lock away our emotions and appear unbiased and unattached, as if we are robots.
It made me think of the way that those of us who care about Palestine—particularly those who share a culture, a religion or an understanding of the way that violence and displacement imprints itself on the human body and can be passed on like a gene for generations to come—are asked to police our language so as not to upset anyone. We are told that our views could cost us jobs and opportunities, as if wishing for the world to respect human rights was a sign of a deep undercurrent of dangerous radical politics. It makes people self-censor themselves into silence, a fundamentally selfish act and the polar opposite of solidarity.
It made me think of the way that Palestinians are asked to educate the world from scratch every few years when the international media cares to turn its gaze in its direction, are forced to simultaneously process the trauma of their shrinking homeland and the world’s apathy. As if this is not enough, it must also be done in a way that attends to the feelings of everyone except for themselves. It made me think of the ways that so many of us retreat to spaces where we feel that we can speak more freely, refuges that are both healing spaces of comfort as much as they are echo chambers, allowing us to detach from the world for our own sanity and survival.
What would it look like for the world to be more comfortable having some of these uncomfortable conversations? This weekend marks the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, the beginning of the battles that forced tens of thousands of Palestinians from their villages and towns, yet I have yet to see a mainstream newscaster make the connection between the way that violent mobs weaponized Zionist ideology to forcefully expel Palestinians from their land almost a quarter of a century ago and the way that armed Israeli settlers are violently harassing Palestinians and tearing through their towns today. History is as important as it is emotional, and these emotions—those of displacement, injustice, decades of being denied freedom of movement and seen as a second class citizen—are as much a part of the story as “violence on both sides.”
What would it mean to treat emotions with the same gravity as facts?
Perhaps here is the right moment to acknowledge another important emotional issue—the fear that advocating for Palestinian human rights can veer into antisemitic language and tropes. While I deeply appreciate the many Jewish individuals that I know who actively and deliberately condemn Israel’s actions against Palestinians—often cleverly evoking Jewish religious teachings—I know there are just as many who feel uneasy about some activists’ language and actions, which at its worst can conjure both painful historical memories of the way that Hitler weaponized conspiracy theories to carry out the Holocaust and more recent memories of how far right political movements breathed new life into dormant hatred, from Vicktor Orbán’s Hungary to Donald Trump’s America.
How do we sit with this, and acknowledge it in a way that serves this painful histories, and doesn’t put them at odds with advocating for Palestinian rights today? For me, this is part of why I see language is so crucial—that Judaism is a religion, separate from the Israeli state, that Zionism is an ideology that does not represent all Israelis. One of the tools of the architects of the occupation is to merge the three of these together, to conflate criticizing Israel’s policies with condemning Jews, boycotting Israeli goods for the sake of Palestinian rights with antisemitism. It is buoyed forwards by big tech companies that remove posts from Palestinian activists for violating “hate speech guidelines,” when they are criticizing policies and not people. But it is also propelled forward by activists who are lazy in their language, calling institutions like AIPAC a Jewish lobby instead of a pro-Israel lobby, and blaming all Israeli citizens for actions of the state without first listening to their views.
Sometimes it is those who mean best who fuck it up for everyone else.
Even after years of writing about this subject—and doing my best to report what I saw from the ground when I had the honor of working in Palestine—I was hesitant to write this particular newsletter. Am I downplaying or trivializing the horrific antisemitism that Jewish communities have faced—particularly in recent years? Some might argue that Israeli citizens are culpable in the occupation of Palestine, as many are required to undergo mandatory military service. But where does this leave US citizens, or citizens of any government in the world with blood on its hands? How do we recognize our role in a conflict over which, as citizens we have often have little say or control? Is it fair to Palestinians to air these grievances, when the violence on the ground right now is so obviously disproportionate, emotions so raw?
But in the spirit of sitting with uncomfortable conversations, I decided to write it—carefully selecting my words, doing my best not only report the facts but also honor the emotions that I’ve seen come up, and the fear I’ve witnessed around speaking out and showing solidarity. After all, it would be hypocritical of me at this point to self-censor my own thoughts, so I do hope you’ll take this as an invitation to let me know yours as well.