Break the fear barrier and speak up for Palestine
Today (15th May, 2021) marks the 73rd anniversary of the Nabka (The Catastrophe) – the name given by Palestinians to the day that the state of Israel was established on their land. Even before that date the Israeli fascists, represented by the terrorist groups Irgun and the Stern Gang, had started a terror campaign and what has been become to be known worldwide as ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the civilian Palestinian population. One of the most notorious of those events was the massacre at the village of Deir Yassin on 9th April 1948 – when at least 107 men, women and children were murdered, with many more being injured.
But these attacks on the Palestinians didn’t stop with the (criminally) international recognition of the Zionist settler state. The intervening years have seen countless abuses perpetrated against the Palestinian people and even though there has been condemnation of such actions (and even resolutions in the United Nations) nothing has interrupted the aim of the Zionists to establish a greater Israel which stretches ‘from the Nile to the Euphrates’.
The reason Israel has been able to follow this aggressive, racist and fascist programme for three generations is due to the fact that Israel is merely a subservient, client state of imperialism (mainly the United States) and acts as the toady of capitalist interests in a economically and politically strategic part of the globe. Without such support the Zionists would not be able to act with such impunity as they have for so long.
It is only recently that the state of Israel has officially been recognised as an ‘apartheid’ state – although it has been following those norms established in racist South Africa for most of its existence. This was obvious in the years before the fall of the white supremacist regime in South Africa as the two countries were the closest of diplomatic and military allies – Israel being the biggest supplier of military equipment to the white dominated South African regime.
But Israel has not confined itself to the persecution of the Palestinian people on a daily basis – including the theft of their land. It is quite happy to act as the local gangster and carries out sabotage and murder at the behest of the American imperialists on the soil of those countries the US considers to be a threat to their dominance in the region. At the moment that is manifested in attacks upon individuals in and the infrastructure of Iran.
Neither has Israel forgotten the importance of propaganda – apart from the destruction of villages and the dehumanising of the indigenous population – which they learnt from the Nazis. Cynically using the murder of millions of Jews during the Second World War to establish sympathy for a people who were targetted by the Hitlerites (although only one of many groups that were singled out by the German fascists – which included Communists, Socialists, the Romany, disabled and homosexuals) they have succeeded in creating a climate where criticism of the actions of the state of Israel have been conflated into anti-Semitism.
However, the necessity to speak out against the fascist, apartheid regime in Israel is even more important as we arrive at the 73rd anniversary of the Nabka – when the Israeli ‘Defence’ Forces (IDF) are using hugely powerful bombs, guided missiles and artillery to attack targets within Gaza with a total disregard to the ‘collateral damage’ this is causing. To the Israelis this is common place, the death of one Israeli Jewish citizen (Arab-Israelis don’t count) has to be countered by a factor of at least 25 Palestinians – the statistic that came out of the last major shooting war in 2014.
The disproportionate response of the IDF, following years of provocation and increasing encroachment on the small amount of land still in the hands of Palestinians, gets the response from capitalist governments and the so-called ‘impartial’ media of the likes of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for ‘both sides’ to come to an agreement to cease hostilities. This attitude perpetuates the idea that there is equal responsibility in outbreaks of violence in Palestine.
Just to give a small example. On 13th May 2021, the BBC website had the following headline; Israel-Gaza: Rockets pound Israel after militants killed. Whatever else might follow, in the body of the text, the reader will always be left with the impression that it is Israel that is being attacked – an approach in the British mainstream media which has existed for decades. At the time of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War the impression being peddled in Britain was that it was plucky, alone Israel that was being attacked by the evil Arab nations – without a scintilla of analysis of the actual situation.
Below is reproduced an article that addresses this idea of ‘self-censorship’ by many throughout the world when it comes to criticising the activities of the Zionist state and the consequences that are becoming the norm in an effort to silence any and all criticism. It was published just as the present conflict in Palestine was starting to escalate but think it has enough points for consideration to be reproduced here.
In the present circumstances it is even more important for people to speak up in support of the Palestinians who are facing yet another attempt to expel them totally from their own land. Those who say they are fighting against oppression and exploitation cannot remain silent when it comes to Palestine for if Palestine is not free no other country be able to call itself a civilised state.
(This article first appeared on the Aljazeera website and this particular version on portside.org.)
Break the fear barrier and speak up for Palestine
by Mark Muhannad Ayyash
Scholars of social movements, civil disobedience, liberation struggles, and revolutions have long known that fear is one of the greatest barriers to overcome. For the oppressed to move from inaction to action, they must break this fear barrier.
In extreme cases, such as Palestinians living under Israeli settler colonialism, the fear is based on lived experiences of torture, imprisonment, maiming and killing, daily humiliations and dehumanisation, loss of income, livelihoods, homes, dignity, freedom, and rights.
These last few days, the Palestinian people across colonised Palestine have shown the world, not for the first time and not for the last, their deep and awe-inspiring courage in the face of this fear.
For decades, the Israeli garrison state, as Hamid Dabashi accurately describes it, with its massive apparatus of settler-colonial violence as well as its armed civilians have been creating and building this state of fear in the everyday lives of Palestinians.
I had a relatively privileged childhood in Palestine, but still, I am acquainted with this fear, which you learn, not just by witnessing or experiencing violence, but in the course of seemingly non-eventful and ordinary days.
As a child in the early 1990s, I attended the Freres School within the old city of al-Quds (Jerusalem). During recess, we would see armed soldiers patrol the top of the city walls, looking down on us the way that self-perceived superior beings look down upon a caged animal. And when we would leave school and walk down the roads of el-Balad el-Qadeemeh (the old city), we would regularly be confronted with armed Israeli civilians walking around with their guns out in the open, asserting their supremacy, reminding us that we ought not to look at them the wrong way or else.
On many of these walks, conversations between us children would turn to stories we heard about torture methods that the Israelis use, the beating a friend or relative took at the hands of Israeli soldiers, an armed Israeli civilian cursing and spitting on a Palestinian, the long imprisonment and suffering of relatives and friends. This is merely the background picture – and a relatively benign one at that, relative to Palestinian standards, and certainly things seem worse today than they were in those days.
Nevertheless, those days and stories pile up one on top of the other, along with experiences of violent acts and events, building and instilling in Palestinians a state of fear that we carry with us everywhere we go and move.
That fear barrier was instilled inside me from the moment I became conscious of the world as a child. And despite overcoming it now and again, it never disappears. Even after immigrating to Canada, after tasting some freedom, holding citizenship for the first time in my life, feeling somewhat protected by a state structure (very much a false sense of protection), that fear never leaves you. It did not take long for me to realise that in these Euro-American spaces, I had to be afraid of even speaking about Palestine.
The fear in Euro-America has a different basis though. Fear in those spaces is based on lived experiences of being censored, fired, disciplined, not hired or promoted, dragged through frivolous legal cases, defunded, harassed, intimidated, and silenced.
This fear has become so naturalised, so ubiquitous, that some people in Euro-American spaces seem to genuinely think now that they do not actually fear this fear!
Let me, first, be very clear: this fear is not the main barrier standing in the way of states like Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, etc, placing pressure on Israel. These states and their political, academic, economic, and media institutions are on the whole strategically aligned with the Israeli state. These states and their institutions are actively participating in and driving the colonisation, exploitation, oppression, and settler colonisation of much of the world, as they have been for centuries.
But I want to speak here to people working within these institutions who genuinely want to transform them, to decolonise them, but yet are always quick to evade the question of Palestine and true decolonial liberation. From privileged politicians to academics to journalists to civil society organisers to artists, a litany of excuses other than fear is often proclaimed as to why they will not touch Palestine. A main feature of these excuses is the claim that the issue is “complex and controversial”.
Of course, it is perfectly normal to not know enough about a particular topic, issue, or question. There is nothing wrong with wanting to learn more before commenting or taking a position. Asking questions is a healthy exercise when you do not know.
But every topic is complex and controversial. How your food ends up on your dinner table is complex. But that does not stop the majority of people from talking about food production, distribution, how they want to shop ethically, and so on. The economics of sports is also controversial. But that does not stop millions of people from spending countless hours talking about player salaries, advertisement money, revenue sharing among the clubs, and so on.
Palestine-Israel is not unique in its complexity or controversy. And while most topics and issues are framed as complex and controversial for the sake of commencing a deepened entry into the topic, exploring its many dimensions, the statement that the issue of Palestine and Israel “is complex and controversial” serves instead as an end to the conversation. When it comes to Palestine, this statement is almost never the beginning of a quest for more knowledge and better learning. Rather, this statement is the extent of the learning process. It puts a stop to it. It ends the conversation by declaring a non-position on the matter.
When politicians, executives, journalists, academics, etc, proclaim this statement, their intended goal is for the question of Palestine to go away, to be removed off their desk. Why? In many cases, because they are afraid of the consequences that I have outlined above. This is what everyone admits and knows in private conversations, but almost never openly acknowledges. Therefore, what actually drives this non-positionality is the very fear that most people deny having.
The non-positionality of the statement, “it is complex and controversial”, is far from neutral. This statement indeed maintains the status quo by ensuring the continued toxification of Palestine and Palestinians in Euro-American public discourse.
Israeli propagandists are the only beneficiaries of a statement that posits for itself a non-position. Because non-positions are always ultimately concealment of reality. When you declare that you will not take a position, when you end the conversation because something is controversial and complex, you are declaring that the reality of the situation is hopelessly and infinitely indecipherable. You are declaring that you do not know what position to take because nobody knows the reality of the situation.
This statement thus declares that the reality of Palestine-Israel is unknowable, which is precisely the conclusion that Israeli propaganda is entirely comfortable with. Only the oppressed and colonised Palestinians and their supporters are attempting to communicate the reality of settler colonialism and apartheid to the world. Only they are making it knowable.
Israeli and Zionist propaganda in Euro-America and elsewhere is designed to conceal and hide that reality because it does not serve the Zionist political project. Therefore, a declared non-position that clouds reality and conceals it is in fact a statement of support for Israeli propaganda.
This does not mean that Zionism does not understand its own reality. In fact, within some Zionist discursive spaces, a space where, for example, Zionist settlers speak freely, as we saw in the most recent viral video, you will find a basic description of the brutality of that settler colonial and apartheid reality: “If I don’t steal your home, someone else will steal it.” They know that they are stealing, that they are there to eliminate and replace the native Palestinians.
Palestinians have broken a fear barrier the likes of which the privileged in Euro-America will never know or experience. The lived experiences of fear in Palestine are far more violent and coercive than the lived experiences of fear in Euro-America. I am not discounting the burden of the Euro-American based experiences of job precarity, defunding, harassment and so on. These are real fears, and they are deeply consequential for their victims, especially for Palestinians and other racialised people, who face the most severe consequences.
But those consequences are already a reality for those who speak up for Palestinian rights. And for change to happen, there must be a collective will and action to break the fear barrier and to face the consequences for it together. And here is the good news: as we have seen in many other cases, when action is collectively undertaken, those consequences are neither strong nor do they last.
It is time to say, enough: enough of this imprisonment, occupation, colonisation; enough of evading the issue; enough of this fear. Palestinians continue to break their fear barrier. If you have not yet done so, then, my dear reader, if you genuinely want to transform the world, then you will have to.