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What Lies Beyond

I have always been irritated by the cliché solidarity statement “we are all [fill in the blank with the latest victim to receive media coverage.”] I recall the first time I became aware of the statement was after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, when suddenly, banners, Tshirts, and bumper stickers started appearing across the United States, proclaiming “We are All New Yorkers.” I lived in Boston at the time, and despite the long-standing rivalry between the two cities, and despite the fact that one of the hijacked planes had originated in Boston, thus giving that city its own reason to grieve, Bostonians claimed to be New Yorkers, to express their sympathy with the city that bore the brunt of the attacks. And I remember wondering about the source of that identification with New York, which seemed to go beyond sympathy, possibly into appropriation. I did not understand why being “American” seemed insufficient grounds to grieve the attacks, one apparently had to be a New Yorker.
The sentiment was nationwide, and I could not help but wonder how people in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Idaho, who had never been in the Empire State, and generally dismissed New York City as a “zoo,” now claimed it as their identity. What imagined community suddenly materialized, for someone in North Dakota, who did not feel that being “American” was sufficient to be hurt by the attack, and now wished to transform into a New Yorker? Was it, possibly, because they knew this was the one attack on US soil, ever, and they wanted some greater proximity to the crime?  Was this the self-centered, self-serving  “I know someone who knew someone,” that brings you a step or two closer to the action?
Over the years, “We are All New Yorkers” morphed into many more victims, individual and collective, and more recently, some of us discovered that “We are All Trayvon Martin, and even, sometimes “We Are All Palestinians.”
As a middle aged Palestinian woman, I knew I was not Trayvon. I wear a hoodie almost every day, and it does not endanger me. I was, and remain, utterly disgusted with the pervasive anti-Black racism that I detect in so many aspects of everyday life in the US, I speak out and write about it, but my outrage does not make me a young Black man. And I knew that, no matter how deeply outraged I was and remain at the murder of Trayvon Martin, nobody would mistake me for a young African American male. I am not Trayvon Martin.
At the risk of seeming uncaring (at least, to people who barely know me), I did not wear a “We are All Trayvon Martin” Tshirt, and I did not change my Facebook profile picture to that of the young man.
I stand in solidarity with the African American community in my city, and elsewhere in this country, but standing in solidarity is standing with someone, as an ally, to help them fight their struggle. I do not feel the need to claim it as my own struggle. When the slogan came out of Ferguson that “Black Lives Matter,” I did not feel the need to claim blackness, and I certainly did not feel the need to modify that to “All Lives Matter.”  That dilution, whether intentional or not, is selfish and extremely offensive.  It is one more expression of anti-Black racism.  Let a community cry out in pain, for goodness’ sake!  Stand aside, listen, don’t appropriate the pain.  It is not yours.  Black lives matter, black families suffer, black communities are devastated.  Because they are black, not because they have “lives.”  Claiming “All Lives Matter” at a Ferguson verdict protest puts you on the side of those who raised money to defend the killer cop.  Keep doing it, and the KKK will welcome you in their ranks.
What lies beyond solidarity is joint struggle, the understanding that criminalized communities are fighting the same oppressor, the same system, though we may do it differently. And it is important to respect the differences, even as we learn from each other, about each other.
The riots in Ferguson that followed the murder of Michael Brown in August 2014 finally tore open the veil that had concealed the fact that we, Palestinians and African American, are fighting the same oppressor. Statements like “Occupation is a crime, from Ferguson to Palestine” do not ring hollow to Palestinians, nor do they seem far-fetched to African Americans. The hyper-militarization of the police in St Louis County, a police force trained by Israeli military experts, is but one indication of the one-ness of our struggle. The fact that every 28 hours, an African American individual is killed by law enforcement violence in the US parallels the killing with impunity of innocent Palestinians by Israel, its soldiers and armed settlers/vigilante.  The same tear gas is used to poison us, from Ferguson to Palestine.
Between the murders of Trayvon Martin in February 2012, and Michael Brown in August 2014, many more African Americans were killed. Ranisha McBride, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice…

Yet the murder of Michael Brown Jr by St Louis Police officer Darren Wilson on August 9 marked a turning point in the identification with individual victims of Law Enforcement Violence in the US. As the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogan caught around the country, protesters did not feel the need to claim Michael Brown’s identity as their own. They knew that merely being black or brown was sufficient to be killed with impunity by the forces of “law and order” in this country, and in Israel.

Was Michel Brown’s killing very different from the many others? Or was the organizing behind the Ferguson protests a factor behind the change? What triggers that moment when a victim of abuse finally says “I’m not gonna take it anymore,” and fights back, or walks out? Either way, the global response to the impunity surrrounding Brown’s killing signals a growing, also global, consciousness of the pervasiveness of racism in the fabric of the state.  There is no need to be Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ranisha McBride. One only needs to be brown, black, poor, and the state becomes your enemy.
At the same time as the criminal justice system was exhonerating the white killers of African Americans, that same system was incriminating and imprisoning black and brown women for refusing abuse. Marissa Alexander was sentenced to a possible 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her estranged abusive husband, and Rasmeah Odeh is awaiting sentencing in a Detroit jail for having allegedly knowingly given false answes on her naturalization forms. Rasmeah had already served 10 years in an Israeli prison for a crime she “confessed” to, after 45 days of physical, sexual, and psychological torture.
What lies beyond the slogans, the clichéd expressions of solidarity, is an understanding that we are in joint struggle. I am not Michael Brown. But I am one who fights a system that was never meant to protect me, to view me as fully human, worthy of life, dignity, equal rights, just as that system did not view Michael Brown as fully human. The system is not broken. It is working as it was designed to work. It is a corrupt system, and we need to change it. We need to enact the alternative, stand together, understand each other’s struggles, understand how we are impacted differently by the same oppressive system, because racism and sexism do not affect me, a Palestinian woman, as they do an African American, male or female, even though we are both victimized by racism and sexism.


Palestine Awareness Week: Number Crunching, and “Meen Irhabi”

I’m teaching my “Palestine-Israel Conflict” course again, and again a few of my students are doing their final research project on suicide bombers, mostly because all they knew about Palestine before taking my class is that Palestinians are suicide bombers. By the time they start their research for the final project, my students are “understanding,” sympathetic. So they present to the class that suicide-bombers are made, not born. Only yesterday, one of my students shared with the class that about 70% of the suicide bombers have had their homes demolished by Israel, and that 100% of suicide bombers had seen a family member or loved one injured, humiliated, or killed by Israeli troops. This student was explaining that trauma leads to suicide bombing.
But I had to interject, and explain to her, and to the whole class, that there have been a total of 163 Palestinian suicide bombings, ever. And that’s an official Israeli figure, which includes attacks which only killed the bomber. So you know that if anything, the number is inflated, rather than reduced. And that’s the number since Israel first started dispossessing the Palestinians, even before 1948 (I guess that means it wasn’t Israel then, it was the Zionist terrorist gangs), destroying 450 villages, and ethnically cleansing 80% of the Palestinian people.
Now I’m not a number cruncher, but when you think of the millions—-literally, over 10 million Palestinians today– whose ancestral villages have been erased, whose human rights are violated daily, and yes, the millions who have seen loved ones injured and killed, the millions who have had to smuggle food in tunnels to survive a genocidal siege, and the millions of children who have seen their fathers and brothers arrested, and the hundreds of thousands who are seeing their homes demolished today, and their land and livelihoods stolen, then what we must emphasize is not that trauma leads to suicide bombings. My calculator does not have enough digits to show what a minuscule percentage of the millions of traumatized Palestinians have become suicide bombers. No calculator has enough digits for such a tiny fraction. Instead, what we must emphasize is that despite all that trauma, over decades and decades, we are an overwhelmingly peaceful people, a people that still laughs, loves, reaches out, rebuilds, educates, and engages in unarmed popular resistance, in sumoud, in proud and dignified defiance of the terrifying Zionist juggernaut..
Next week is Palestine Awareness Week, and this, the beautiful sumoud of my people, is the Palestine Americans must become aware of. Ours is a legacy of resistance that would make any people proud.

Stand Off with StandWithUS

This is an old post I had written for INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, which I just realized I had never posted here. So, there

Just came across this

“Whiteousness:” the unshakable belief that one knows what’s best for others, especially those of other races or lower income brackets.

My offering to the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacres

Two thousands? Three thousands? Why are Palestinian lives so cheap, that we don’t know, will never know, the number of besieged refugees massacred 30 years ago in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps? And what about their names? Why do the words Sabra and Shatila simply line up alongside other names of locations: Deir Yassin, Tell el-Zaatar, Qana, Jenin, Gaza, a chain of massacres punctuating the miserable lives of the Palestinian people, ever since the Zionist colonial vision of turning Palestine into a Jewish homeland first took shape? We do not have to pledge “never forget.” We do not need to make that pledge, because we cannot forget, we do not have that luxury, not with the daily reminders, the scars, the longing, and the ongoing slow genocide in Gaza. What we must pledge is to have the vision and determination to put an end to this dehumanization. We must pledge to be the people who make “Never Again” come true. And not just for the Palestinian people.

I write about Palestine because I am Palestinian, and I know the experience of displacement and dispossession in my gut. I grew up in Beirut, mostly passing, fearful of the few tenacious Palestinian-inflected words that would give me away as a Palestinian. A purse for me was always “Juzdahn,” I could not form my mouth around the Lebanese pronunciation, “Juzdane,” so I did not use the word. Blanket was “Hrahm,” not the Lebanese “Hrame,” so I chose the safer “ghata” (cover), which would not give me away. There are words I simply dropped from my vocabulary, one of them being the Palestinian word for “slippers,” which I cannot even remember now. I knew as a kid not to say it, and now, it’s gone…

In 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which culminated in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, I wanted to stay in West Beirut, where I felt safest (never quite safe, but safer), but my mother insisted on us all leaving and going to Broummana, in the “Christian side” of the divided country. We did, and I spent many days with my long-time Christian friends, whom I trusted. I met their friends. One guy had trained his two ferocious guard dogs—-truly killer beasts–to attack trespassers. His command for “attack” was “Get the Palestinians.” Another of my friends was very good friends with the granddaughter of Suleiman Franjieh, the former president, and I visited Zghorta with her. There are some days I will never forget in my life, days when I felt sure I was going to die, it was just a matter of minutes, the next rocket, the next checkpoint, the next militiaman or soldier to ask me another question… That day in Zghorta was one of these days. I did not speak a word, for fear of sounding Palestinian. My Lebanese ID would not have protected me, it was well-known that some Palestinians had obtained Lebanese papers, many long years ago. In restrospect, I cannot but wonder why I agreed to go to Zghorta. All I can say is, when you’re young, and nowhere is safe, and you feel your life is worthless, you take greater risks than if you think you matter. And a part of me thought that by hanging out with Maronite Christian friends, I would pass better than if I were with my usual Muslim and Palestinian crowd.

How many died in the Sabra and Shatila massacres 30 years ago today, while I passed for Lebanese Christian that summer? Why do we not know their names? Why are Sabra and Shatila merely names of locations, that line up alongside the names of other locations, all memories of massacres punctuating the miserable lives of a people who existed, and did not pass?

I do not think the circumstances of the Palestinian people are unique. I believe our history is merely one manifestation of the many faces of racism, imperialism, colonialism, intolerance, heterosexism, that have culminated in massacres against other people, other peoples, around the globe: Native Americans, enslaved Africans (sixty million, or more), gays, European Jews, Roma, Vietnamese, Filipino, Japanese… No list I draw could be exhaustive, because we do not have the names of entire communities who were massacred for being who they were.

Shortly after the Sabra and Shatila massacres, I pledged never to pass again. I knew passing was a privilege I had, which most did not, and I did not want to live a privileged life, I committed myself instead to working so that those without privilege could live. When my Lebanese passport expired, a few years later, I did not renew it. This time, my mother’s pleas went unheeded, because I had determined that I was going to devote myself to making sure that we do not need a fake passport to secure survival. We were not going to erase ourselves, forget our words.

I did not witness the Sabra and Shatila massacres. But what I experienced that summer, in the knot of fear that gripped my gut as I passed, is what prompts me to work, until my very last breath, to ensure that “Never Again” comes true in my lifetime, not just for my people, but for all the people who are deemed “undesirable” by the evil forces of hatred disguised as self-preservation.

Because the Palestinians who were massacred in Sabra and Shatila 30 years ago today, the thousands whose names we do not know, matter.

Why I call it Apartheid

I often speak, and write, about the Palestinian call for solidarity in the form of a global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, until Israel abide by international law.   It is the strategy that helped end apartheid in South Africa, and I am convinced it is what will end apartheid in Israel.  When I say that, I get an array of responses.  The negative ones range from the sometimes surprised, but mostly supposedly outraged “Israel is the only democracy in the region” to “Apartheid is a strong word, it’s not quite accurate, and it will alienate too many people.”

I am not interested in addressing the absurd, “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.”  Or let me just get this off my chest:  “Zionism–a political ideology whose vision is to create a state for people of a certain perceived ethnicity–is racism.  When the very foundational ideology of a country is racism, it cannot be a democracy. Now go away.”

However, I do want to address the variations of “not quite apartheid” opinions.  Most of these argue that, because there are differences between South Africa’s legal system of discrimination against its brown and black people, and Israel’s legal and extra-legal system of discrimination against the Palestinians, the term “apartheid” does not apply.

Such distinctions are not generally, if ever, used to negate the fact that two other historical manifestations of a known phenomenon are one and the same, despite apparent differences.  Sadly, there have been multiple genocides throughout history.  Focusing on the differences, despite the acknowledged similarities in scope, vision, desired goal, etc, strikes me as something on the continuum between self-serving evasive hair-splitting and an act of bad faith.

Yes, Israel in 2012 is not South Africa in 1989.  So what? There have been many episodes of genocide in the history of the world, and I’ll bet my last penny no two were identical. Does it mean only one was a genocide, and all the others “almost but not quite genocides”? Does it take rape as a weapon of war? Not all genocides used that. Does it take gas chambers? Only one did. Does it take biological warfare?..  One can always look for differences. My approach is, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck. lays eggs like a duck that will hatch little ducklings, then I might as well call it a duck, even if its feathers are not the same pattern as the Original Duck.

South Africans who lived under apartheid rule have visited Palestine, and  described it as “worse than apartheid.”  Desmond Tutu should know, whose visit to the West Bank reminded him of South Africa’s worst days.

Similarly, South African minister Ronnie Kasril, upon visiting Israel, described it as “infinitely worse than apartheid.”

British journalist and author Ben White has written two books on Israeli Apartheid, one  named simply Israeli Apartheid:  a Beginner’s Guide, the more recent one Palestinians in Israel:  Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy.Image

As early as 1989, Israeli writer Uri Davis published Israel: An Apartheid State, and in 2004, he published another book on Israeli apartheid, entitled Apartheid Israel;  Possibilities for the Struggle Within.  .

To cut a long list short, let me add one more, the Facebook note made by Ran Greenstein, an Israeli professor currently teaching in South Africa. In that note, Greenstein tackles and responds to the Zionist arguments that Israel is not an apartheid state, because {fill in the hasbaroid drivel] :

Interestingly, Greenstein himself, who has written the arguments to counter anyone who would claim that Israel is not an apartheid state, nevertheless insists elsewhere that it is “a special type of apartheid.”  Yes, and when you know it is apartheid, and persist in splitting hairs, your sophistry is complicit in the crime you have identified, named, labeled…

It reminds me of Bill Clinton’s “it depends on what the definition of  ‘is’ is.”

It is apartheid.  It stretches from the River to the Sea.  Let’s abolish it, from the River to the Sea.

USACBI Open Letter

An Open Letter from the

U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)

On April 24, 2012, the New York Times transcended its usual subservience to Israel’s apartheid policies by publishing an ad from the “David Horowitz Center,” whose Orwellian logic and tone could serve the aims of a lynch mob.  The half-page Horowitz ad charged supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement focused on Israel of inciting hatred which leads to calls for a “new Holocaust.” It also charged that  BDS rhetoric was responsible for  “modern day massacres” and collusion with the “murders of Jews,” including those of a rabbi and three Jewish children in Toulouse, France. The ad, published in the Op-Ed pages, went on to list the names of 13 academics (one of whom is a graduate student), called on citizens, alumni, and students to condemn faculty participation in the “Boycott of Hate,” and asked that these scholars be “publicly shamed and condemned.” The ad concluded with a link to a list of “BDS supporters of hate and anti-Semitism” at the Horowitz Freedom Center’s website.  By agreeing to publish this ad, the New York Times engaged in a troubling breach of ethical conduct and publishing standards, enabling a right-wing campaign that has targeted hundreds of scholars, and sent shock waves throughout the U.S. academy.

What many do not know about this hateful and slanderous ad is that the list of BDS supporters at the web link–which includes over 600 US academics, more than 200 cultural workers, 100 international colleagues, and about 50 organizations–is actually the list of all the scholars and cultural workers  who have endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), and it is lifted directly from the USACBI website. This advertisement is clearly a campaign of intimidation of those who dare to criticize or oppose the policies of the Israeli state, including not just Arab, Arab American, and  Jewish American, but also South Asian, Iranian, and Latina/o scholars and graduate students. Given the xenophobic, misogynistic, and racist record of the Freedom Center, it is not surprising that the ad specifically targets immigrant, Muslim, Indigenous scholars, and scholars of color.

USACBI condemns this vicious attack on the courageous individuals and groups who have taken a principled stand by endorsing USACBI–a campaign based on recognizing the international rights for the Palestinian people, and holding Israeli institutions accountable for complicity in violations of international law. We stand in solidarity with our endorsers and those singled out in the libelous ad, and with Palestinians—including students and scholars—who daily face occupation, violence, restrictions on movement, racial segregation, displacement, dispossession, and humiliation. Academics and individuals of conscience around the globe have joined the expanding non-violent campaign of boycott and divestment that is rapidly spreading across U.S. college campuses, modeled on the campaign opposing apartheid in South Africa, which was seen as a just struggle on U.S. campuses.

Horowitz’ ad, and its fallacious accusations and invocations of anti-Semitism, equates with racism the supporters of a campaign to end occupation and racism. This is a tactic of silencing, an attempt to suppress a growing movement that threatens the dominant narrative about Palestine, and one with which the New York Times is complicit. Using the label “BDS supporters of hate and anti-Semitism” is itself hateful, and it defames the professional credibility of all those listed in and linked to the ad. Moreover, the New York Times has demonstrated that it is willing to participate in the attack on a movement that is trying to break the exceptional silence around the issue of Palestine and to challenge biased propaganda in the mainstream media and also academy on this issue.

USACBI encourages open and honest discussion of the impact of the Israeli state’s occupation and apartheid system on Palestinian civil society, including students and educators, and its ongoing racist policies against, and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. It was founded in 2009 during the Israeli massacre in Gaza, and it continues  to promote critical analysis of U.S. support for these violations of human rights, and to oppose the collusion of U.S. scholars and academic institutions with Israeli institutions and programs that, directly or indirectly, support and legitimize occupation and apartheid.

We uphold the academic freedom of U.S. scholars and students to discuss and debate the Palestine issue freely without threat of censure or reprisals. We also vigorously defend the right to education of Palestinian students and scholars in the face of daily assaults on their academic freedom, not to mention their freedom to live without occupation, violence, racial segregation, displacement, and humiliation.

USACBI encourages all faculty members of conscience to endorse its Mission Statement [] and to exercise their academic freedom to call upon their colleagues, associations, and universities to support the academic boycott of Israeli institutions..  Doing so demonstrates that we will not be silenced and bullied into self-censorship, and that we support struggles for freedom, racial equality, and self-determination.

Sunaina Maira, University of California, Davis*

Nada Elia, Antioch University, Seattle*

David Klein, California State University, Northridge*

on behalf of the Organizing Collective of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel


* Institutional affiliation for identification purposes only