Letters between Palestine and the West
I encourage you to dig deep within yourself and ask why you seem so uncomfortable with Palestinian right to armed resistance. Is it because we’re Arab? In a post-9/11 world, you should critically examine and dismantle some of the biases and phobias that the media has fed you.
Help! My friends keep talking about this ‘Free Palestine’ thing. I don’t really know what that means. I understand that Israeli occupation isn’t exactly great, but why do Palestinians keep resisting? I’m sure things will be better for them if they stop resisting. I just want to see peace in the region.
The progressive West
Dear progressive West,
Palestinians resist because Palestinians, like all human beings, have a right to resist settler-colonialism, occupation and theft of land. You wouldn’t ask a Ukrainian person to surrender when their town is invaded by Russian forces. In fact, the Western world sent massive resources to Ukrainian militia groups to help them defend themselves against occupation. Similarly, you wouldn’t ask Nelson Mandela to stop resisting apartheid, or tell Martin Luther King Jr. to stop dreaming for equality, freedom, and justice.
I encourage you to dig deep within yourself and ask why you seem so uncomfortable with Palestinian right to armed resistance. Is it because we’re Arab? In a post-9/11 world, you should critically examine and dismantle some of the biases and phobias that the media has fed you. The West has meddled in the Middle East and gotten away scot free. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the civil wars which ensued in Syria and Lebanon, well, all of these issues are either directly perpetrated by or are the remnants of colonial and imperial structures imposed by the US, the British and the French.
The same goes for Palestine. Our land was ‘given away’ by the British through the signing of the Balfour Declaration during World War I. This is part of the Zionist settler-colonial project (founded in Europe) which Palestinians resist until this day. Palestinians resist because it is the only thing we can do. Where else should we go? Who else will fight this fight for us?
You talk of peace, but peace does not happen (or last long) without justice, liberation and equality for all. You cannot jump to the destination without embarking on the journey first. We all hope to get there one day. Peace. Salam. The mode of transport to get us there is truth-telling and action. The West must stand in solidarity with Palestinians for the sake of justice, liberation, and equality for all. Then we will find peace.
Jewish people have a deep connection with the lands of ancient Judea. Evidence shows that they are indigenous to the land. Arabs have many countries they can call a homeland; however, Israel is the only Jewish state so why can’t Palestinians just give up this land and settle in any other Arab state? There are so many neighbouring Arab countries they could live in! The Jewish people should have a homeland and the Arabs should find another place to call home. That is the only rational solution!
Please consider the environment before printing this email.
The progressive West
Dear progressive West,
Conflating historical connection to land and indigeneity is a grave misunderstanding. Although Jewish people may have a connection to the lands of historic Palestine, so too do many religious and ethnic groups in (and outside) the region. Jerusalem alone has been conquered, taken, and re-conquered hundreds of times throughout history. All kinds of tribes, ethno-cultural and religious groups have lived in these lands! This, however, is not a valid claim to neither sovereignty nor a state. Should Italians and Greeks be allowed to violently and strategically colonise the current population (demolishing entire towns in the process) in Istanbul because, well, the Ancient Byzantine Empire had Constantinople as its capital city? Should the world stand by while Turkish people ethnically cleanse Cyprus and create a system of apartheid which subjugates the local population, because the Ottoman Empire once extended this far?
Let’s examine indigeneity. According to the United Nations, Indigenous peoples “are the descendants – according to a common definition – of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means.” Whether or not Jewish people fit this category according to ancient texts, one peoples certainly do: Palestinians.
Palestinians were there in 1948. Palestinians had a language (Arabic), a culture and an identity. When the settler-colonial project invaded Palestine in ‘48, entire villages were massacred, over 750,000 people were violently expelled from their homes, over 500 villages and towns were destroyed, and native flora and fauna were devastated in what the Arab world would later call ‘al Nakba’ – The Catastrophe. Palestinians fit this definition of indigeneity. We were there, we inhabited the land and then we were occupied and colonised by Israel. That makes us indigenous.
The invasion of Palestine was justified and emboldened by the Balfour Declaration – a British document (during the time of British mandate after the fall of the Ottoman Empire) which claimed that the land would be given to the Jewish people, neglecting to mention what would be done with its indigenous (Palestinian) inhabitants. A high-profile Zionist British author named Zangwill stated, “Palestine has but a small population of Arabs and fellahin and wandering, lawless, blackmailing Bedouin tribes… Restore the country without a people to the people without a country.”
You should be familiar with this. You in the West call it terra nullius.
But let us not get too caught up in the history. The importance lies in today. The state of Israel, in its current form, has set up a system which continues to oppress Palestinian people. It has created a state, “for the Jewish people and the Jewish people alone,” and has achieved this by population control – simultaneously by not allowing the right of millions of Palestinians to return home (a right under UN resolution 194) while encouraging Jewish people all over the world to take a ‘birthright trip’, migrate to Israel, live in illegal settlements and reward them with full Israeli citizenship and (often) subsidies. Moreso, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza strip are not granted the right to vote in Israeli elections or participate in Israeli civil society. And yet – they do not have their own state either. They are completely at the mercy of what Israel allows into their territory (or more often – doesn’t allow). It is inhumane to treat any population in this way, particularly the indigenous population.
Palestinians, especially the fellahin, have a connection with the land which can be traced back for generations. You see, our ancestors’ flesh helped fertilise the soil which nourishes the olive groves which grow today. Our relationship with the land is reminiscent of custodianship; we took only what we needed and never more. That is indigeneity. That is indigenous wisdom. Not the pervasive, intrusive green-washing monster which extracts and exploits, planting non-native forests over remnants of demolished towns.
Indigenous peoples are comfortable in their indigeneity. We know we have sovereignty and a right to our lands. We just wish the progressive West knew it too.
I saw a recent article which claimed that Israel is the embodiment of self-determination of Jewish people and that if we are to criticise Israel we are being antisemitic and denying Jewish people their right to a homeland. I’m a supporter of the Palestinian struggle, but I can’t seem to reconcile these two ideas. While Palestinians are certainly oppressed by the Israeli military, and this oppression should end, I wonder if that is the lesser of two evils to prevent the crimes of history to be repeated against the Jewish people. Furthermore, I think the criticisms of Israel, while sometimes justified, make Jewish people feel unsafe in certain spaces.
Help me reconcile this and find a solution.
The progressive West
Sent from my iPad.
Dear progressive West,
I want to start by stating a controversial opinion: we should move away from liberal notions of ‘safe spaces’ and toward courageous and justice-oriented notions some academics are calling ‘brave spaces’. Sometimes, it is not enough to make everyone feel included and safe, particularly when that means watering down the truth to suit the liberal agenda of politeness and avoiding interpersonal conflict.
I reject your claim that criticism of Israel makes all Jewish people feel unsafe on the basis that no ethnic, racial or religious group should have such strong, unwavering nationalistic relations to any state. All states should be subject to interrogation, particularly states accused of the crimes of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and settler-colonialism. Any self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ entity should demand Israel’s interrogation. Furthermore, it is imperative that these Jewish people who may feel uncomfortable with criticisms against Israel dig deep, because, after all, Israel does what it does in the name of the Jewish people. Many Jewish people have rejected Zionism as a racist ideology, and if they are committed to anti-racism, it is imperative that they do so.
The notion that speaking the truth about Israel and Palestine makes people feel unsafe is an accusation against Palestinians and pro-Palestinian voices — it is a distraction tactic, a last-ditch-effort strategy used to rally the troops back to their side through weaponising the trauma of the past and appealing to white guilt. Do not fall for this trap. Whether used intentionally or not, it removes Palestinian agency and returns and reframes the conversation back to the feelings of the oppressors as they continue to oppress, when there are far more pressing issues to discuss, such as the end to a military occupation, the end of a 15-year long siege, the tearing down of an apartheid regime and the right of return for millions in the diaspora. Furthermore, it distracts the conversation away from addressing Imperial complicity in the ongoing violence. Countries like Australia and the US have been not only guilty bystanders, but have been directly encouraging and strengthening the state of Israel. It’s no surprise that settler colonies look after settler colonies, but at the same time that this nation pretends to promote Indigenous sovereignty, or publicly apologise for some of the crimes of the past — we see Australia intervening in International Criminal Court proceedings (among only seven other countries) to claim that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over Palestine and should therefore not investigate for war crimes and crimes against humanity. I don’t know about you, but I think that a ‘progressive’ nation should not be one of only a handful of countries which oppose an International human rights investigation of crimes against humanity.
I also want to point out that the ‘lesser of two evils’ principle is fallacious. Firstly, we have here a false dilemma that claims that either the Palestinian people or the Jewish people will be oppressed, as though there is no alternative whereby both parties can exist free of settler-colonialism and fascism. It is racist to assume that Palestinians hate Jewish people. Palestinians resist the foundations of Israel’s establishment because it is a settler colony which oppresses the Palestinian people – once that oppression is lifted, and justice has been realised, then yes, we can start to talk about a peaceful solution. The second fallacy here is that you’ve based this false dilemma on an assumption that the Jewish people will be oppressed so long as they don’t have a nation-state. While I can understand how this common trope has come about, it is a post-Holocaust paranoia and does not justify the creation of a fascist state on a land which already has indigenous inhabitants. This doesn’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – a zero sum game. Jews and Palestinians don’t need to be seen as enemies with eternally conflicting interests. In fact, many Jews all over the world oppose Zionism.
If you are truly progressive and are committed to anti-racism, then it should flow logically that you oppose the apartheid regime and settler-colonial projects founded in the supremacy of one group over another. As a result, you must take sides. You must stand firmly in solidarity with Palestinians and oppose the foundations of the state of Israel. Do not be distracted, and do not let your values be compromised.
Sent from the ruins of Al-Araqib.