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Like so many of my political awakenings, I came to anti-Zionism through art.
In 2014, The Freedom Theatre spoke at my university as part of an Art as Resistance series. Located in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, The Freedom Theatre was established to use art as a tool to address fear, depression, and trauma among children. The representatives from the organization talked to us about their education programs, their theatre school, and their full-scale productions. They also spoke of the challenges they face doing this work in the West Bank.
The Freedom Theatre is not a radical organization, but as an American Jew taught to unequivocally support Israel, the talk was eye-opening. Afterward, I spoke to three Israeli classmates of mine who were studying abroad and they educated me further. They had served in the IDF but now denounced their service. They confirmed the talk we had just attended was not false propaganda, but a mild sample of the horrors they’d witnessed.
I signed up for The Freedom Theatre’s mailing list and made it a goal to learn more about the occupation. I’d been raised to study the Holocaust and say, “never again.” The realization that “never again” only meant “never again for Jewish people” was harrowing.
After nearly a decade, I’m still pursuing my goal to learn more about the occupation. I do not think it is uniquely complicated, but I do think our world is always complicated, and there’s always more to learn. During a fraught conversation with a family member this week, it became clear that I’m far more knowledgeable about the last two decades of the occupation than I am the early years of Zionism and the 20th century violence in Palestine. That is a gap I hope to fill in the coming months and years.
But a lack of expertise should not be an excuse to turn away; it should be an invitation to learn. The only thing I was taught in my childhood that wasn’t pro-Israel was that “the Israel/Palestine conflict” was just too complicated. If this is how you feel — as friends and family and voices you trust post conflicting statements — I’d encourage you to learn more, not less.
Rather than make any arguments of my own, I’d like to share with you what I’ve been reading this week as well as some other pieces I’ve read and watched over the years. Whether you feel completely ignorant on this topic or were raised to embrace Zionism, I hope you’ll read these words with an open mind. Even if you’re someone who will never agree with me, I know it’s important we try to understand each other — we must see the humanity in every person.
“We Cannot Cross Until We Carry Each Other” by Arielle Angel in Jewish Currents
“Most of our internal disagreements center on the correct container for our grief. Our staff is not unlike the rest of the Jewish world in that many of us are only a matter of degrees from someone who died or was taken hostage. How can we publicly grieve the death and suffering of Israelis without these feelings being politically metabolized against Palestinians?”
“Where the Palestinian Political Project Goes from Here” by Isaac Chotiner, interviewing Tareq Baconi, in The New Yorker
“If we want to think about Hamas and its political project, the group still doesn’t speak on behalf of all Palestinians. Palestinians are not all Islamists. The bigger issue here is that the Palestinian political project, which was the P.L.O., which was actually more in line with anti-colonial movements in the seventies and the eighties, was equally treated as a terrorist organization by the West until it was decimated both institutionally and through the assassination and imprisonment of Palestinian political leaders. This was the decimation of the political project of the anti-colonial movement. And, in the Palestinian case, it worked, or worked temporarily. But the political project right now is reconstituting itself, and so far Hamas is the loudest manifestation of that project.”
“Gaza’s shock attack has terrified Israelis. It should also reveal the context” by Haggai Matar in +972 Magazine
“The dread Israelis are feeling right now, myself included, is a sliver of what Palestinians have been feeling on a daily basis under the decades-long military regime in the West Bank, and under the siege and repeated assaults on Gaza. The responses we are hearing from many Israelis today — of people calling to ‘flatten Gaza,’ that ‘these are savages, not people you can negotiate with,’ ‘they are murdering whole families,’ ‘there’s no room to talk with these people’ — are exactly what I have heard occupied Palestinians say about Israelis countless times.”
“Jewish Grief Must Not Be Used As a Weapon of War” by Stefanie Fox in The Nation
“It is in our tradition to sit shiva for seven days—to pause to reflect and to mourn. But I cannot sit back while Jewish grief and trauma is weaponized by the Israeli government to destroy Gaza. As I write this, Israel just announced that the 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza—half of them children—will have 24 hours to flee, which the UN has already deemed impossible. The US government is beating the drums of war, rushing to send more weapons to the Israeli military to wreak utter devastation.”
“The Gaza Bombshell” by David Rose in Vanity Fair
Note: This article is from 2008. I’d been seeing people use the election of Hamas as a justification for the invasion of Gaza and wanted to better understand that election, as well as the ways American colonialism creates violence around the world. If it needs to be said: just like American citizens did not deserve to be murdered for the election of George W. Bush, Palestinian citizens do not deserve to be murdered for the election of Hamas, regardless of the circumstances.
“Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)
But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.”
“Where Is My Birthright?” by Suha Najjar in The Michigan Daily
Note: I’ve been trying to better understand my family and peers who support Israel and I kept thinking about Birthright. I never went on this trip because I came to my anti-Zionism pretty early into college, but I know how much it shaped people I know. This first article from 2014 is by a Palestinian writer, the article that follows is a New York Times piece from 2019 about the evolving responses to Birthright, and the Jewish Currents roundtable, also from 2019, includes five conflicting essays about how to have an ethical relationship to Birthright.
“I am Palestinian; I am from Huj, yet I am not allowed to visit Palestine. I am not allowed to leave the 136 square mile open-air prison densely populated by 1.7 million people. On the other hand, my Jewish peers in my American high school would come back every summer boasting about their birthright trips. Most of them were born here, and their parents and grandparents were also born in the United States. Many times they were of European descent. However, none of them were actually born in Israel. Until this day I don’t understand how it is their right to visit a country which they have never been to or have never known to be home, but I, who — like so many generations before me — was born in Palestine, am not even allowed to visit my own home. How is it that other kids are getting free trips to travel across the world, yet when I was in the Jabalia refugee camp, I was not allowed to drive a few miles to visit the place where my father’s history yearns to be affirmed? Another “holy” site of sorts, off limits. Where was my birthright?”
“Birthright Trips, a Rite of Passage for Many Jews, Are Now a Target of Protest” by Farah Stockman in The New York Times
“Ms. Nagel said the protests had prompted an important conversation that Jewish Americans needed to have. She said that she, too, had been attending more Jewish religious and social events since the trip.
‘I’ve been to more Shabbats and Havdalahs,” she said, referring to the Jewish Sabbath and a ritual marking its end. “What’s different is that at our Shabbats and Havdalahs, we talk about racism, sexism and the occupation.’”
“Roundtable: The Ethical Response to Birthright” in Jewish Currents
“In the aftermath, IfNotNow fielded questions from across the political spectrum as to why we supported participants in walking off Birthright trips. Israel’s liberal defenders would ask why we left the trips instead of staying and continuing to ask questions. In fact, I did attempt to ask questions in an effort to change the minds of the 40 other people on my trip. But my questions were dismissed and ignored as we regularly drove past the separation wall without any acknowledgment of what lies on the other side. By contrast, when we walked off, we were able to livestream the whole thing to Facebook and to alert international media. Videos and articles about our action (including in the New York Times) went viral, allowing us to reach millions and to challenge the widely accepted notion that Birthright is apolitical. By the end of the summer of 2018, if you were an American Jew between the ages of 18 and 26 googling ‘Birthright’ to sign up for a trip, you would see articles and videos about our actions. The media coverage generated by these actions did far more good than asking questions of our tour guides did.”
“My Child Asks, ‘Can Israel Destroy Our Building if the Power Is Out?’” by Refaat Alareer in The New York Times
Note: This article is from 2021.
“Then comes the intolerable indecision: I am caught between wanting to take the family outside, despite the missiles, shrapnel and falling debris, and staying at home, like sitting ducks for the American-made, Israeli-piloted planes. We stayed at home. At least we would die together, I thought.
The deafening strikes destroy Gaza’s infrastructure, cutting off roads leading to hospitals and water supplies, bringing down access to the internet. Many of the targets Israel hits have no strategic value. Israel knows this, and knows how it unnerves us. I wonder what those officers do in their command centers: Do they draw straws on which block to annihilate? Do they roll a dice?”
“Solidarity With Palestine Is Not a Crime” by Nima Shirazi in The Nation
“In our Israel/Palestine narrative, at best, only the most perfect Palestinian victims are allowed to be mourned, their murders blamed on the faceless, sinister entity known as Hamas, not the actual Israeli pilot who followed orders to flatten their home with a missile or fire white phosphorus at their ambulance. Peaceful resistance to occupation, apartheid, and colonization is met with false accusations of anti-Semitism and outlawed. When Palestinians in Gaza mobilized en masse for a year and a half against the siege and occupation with the symbolic Great March of Return toward the fence that separates the blockaded territory from southern Israel, IDF snipers shot and killed over 200 protesters and wounded more than 33,000.”
“Against the Pinkwashing of Israel” by Ashley Bohrer in Al Jazeera
Note: This article is from 2014.
“Israeli LGBT organisation Aguda estimates that around 2,000 Palestinian queers live in Tel-Aviv at any one time, most of them illegally. The dismantling of economic stability and opportunity inside Palestine forces LGBT Palestinians to leave their homes and to live as undocumented, precarious workers in Israel, where they have no protections against harassment, rape, intimidation, or job discrimination, and in which finding safe housing and steady employment are scarce.
The options presented to LGBTQ Palestinians are living as stateless, undocumented migrants or braving the constant violence and indignity of living in occupied territories. Neither of these sounds like LGBT liberation to me.”
“Imagining Myself in Palestine” by Randa Jarrar in Guernica Magazine
Note: This article is from 2012.
“Finally, they took me to a room in the corner of the baggage claim area. It was becoming clear to me that at Ben Gurion, unjust things happened in corners. The guards asked me to open my bags. I did as I was told. I noted that the room was filthy. The Israelis were concerned with showing a clean and gleaming exterior—the floors of the airport outside shone–but for suspected threats and people like myself, behind closed doors, tucked away in dirty corners, they hadn’t bothered. A very butch young woman asked me to follow her. She led me to yet another room, where the walls were faded and filthy, and the floor was covered in dirty carpet, littered with small bits of paper and hair clips. It reeked of intimidation, and of humiliation.”
“Why I believe the BDS movement has never been more important than now” by Omar Barghouti in The Guardian
“The anti-racist, nonviolent BDS movement, supported by labor and farmers unions, as well as racial, social, gender and climate justice movements that collectively represent tens of millions worldwide, is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle and the US civil rights movement. But it is rooted in a century-old, often unacknowledged heritage of indigenous Palestinian popular resistance to settler colonialism and apartheid. This nonviolent resistance has taken many forms, from mass workers’ strikes, to women-led marches, to public diplomacy, to building universities, to literature and art.”
“Explanations Are Not Excuses” by Sarah Schulman in New York Magazine
“There is always, of course, the choice to end the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank and end the second-class reality of Palestinians living in Israel. Make everyone equal citizens with the same rights to vote, passports, roads, universities. The reason this solution of just reconciliation, known as ‘One State,’ is not yet on the table is because of this selective reality: this panic that equalizing Palestinians in Israel would be allowing an enemy in, one that is fundamentally opposed to Israeli existence. But what this fear overlooks is that Palestine, like every society in the world, is a multidimensional society. Like Jews and Americans and Israelis, Palestinians contain multiple factions and religious perspectives — Muslim, Christian, Druse — and they hold a wide variety of political visions. The only thing they share is the desire to be free. They would never be able to act like a united block and all vote in the same way, for example, in the same way that we cannot. Because they are human, as we know ourselves to be. To fear unanimity is to imagine they are different from everyone else on earth.”
Some Other Things I’ve Watched and Read Over the Years:
- First, I recommend signing up for the Freedom Theatre’s mailing list and signing up for the Palestine Museum’s mailing list.. Over the years, I’ve learned so much about Palestinian art, culture, and experience.
- My second article ever written for Autostraddle was a review of Maysaloun Hamoud’s incredible film In Between. I appreciate how this movie shows the intersecting experiences of sexism, homophobia, and occupation. No point of oppression excuses the other — instead they compound upon the lives of these three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv. It is currently streaming for free on Kanopy.
- The response this week has been frighteningly reminiscent of post-9/11 sentiment. I was too young and sheltered to really understand the bigotry and jingoism at that time, but learned a lot from reading How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi.
- At TIFF 2022, one of the best films I saw was Firas Khoury’s Alam. It was supposed to screen last week at the Boston Palestinian Film Festival before that was canceled. It will next be screening at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York on November 1st. If you’re not in New York, keep an eye out for its streaming release next year. It’s such a powerful film that honors the youth of the teenage activists in its story.
- There are too many things to list, but I’d also like to add how much my anti-Zionism is born from being a student of the Holocaust. Understanding the circumstances that led to that genocide — rather than just writing off Nazis as evil — has led to a deeper understanding of cyclical violence. Humans are capable of horrific acts, but I cannot — I will not — believe humans are inherently horrifying.
Here Are Some Things I Still Want to Read and Watch:
- The Question of Palestine by Edward Said
- The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe
- Shell Shocked: On the Ground Under Israel’s Gaza Assault by Mohammed Omer
- Jake Witzenfeld’s Oriented, a documentary about three gay Palestinian friends living in Tel Aviv