Palestinian Resistance: 73 Years since the Nakba; A discussion about Sheikh Jarrah, the Nakba, and Ongoing Palestinian Resistance
On the 73rd Anniversary of the Nakba Day, May 15th, 2021, Binish Ahmed interviewed Emilio Dabed, Nayrouz Abu Hatoum, and Mark Ayyash for Azaadi Now! Together, they discussed the recent events in Sheikh Jarrah and the ongoing Palestinian occupation 73 years since the Nakba.
Emilio Dabed is a Palestinian Chilean lawyer and a political scientist with a specialization in constitutional matters, international law, and human rights. He’s currently living in Toronto and writing a book on law and politics in Palestine. He served as a researcher and visiting professor at An-najah National University law school in Nablus, Palestine from 2017-2018. Previously he was a Palestine and law fellow and an adjunct assistant professor of law at Columbia University law school for Palestinian studies. He’s a former director of the international law and human rights program at Al-Quds bar college, Jerusalem, where he taught from 2011 to 2015. He has also taught in Diego Portel’s University in Santiago, Chile. His latest research and publications look at the relations between law and political and social changes, subjectivity and identity formation, with a particular focus on the disciplinary powers of law and the discourse of human rights.
Mark Muhammad Ayyash is an associate professor of sociology at Mount Royal University. He’s the author of Hermeneutics of Violence (2019) and has published several academic articles on the Palestinian struggles. Among other things, he’s currently writing a book on settler colonial sovereignty in Palestine Israel and writes regularly for Al Jazeera.
Nayrouz Abu Hatoum is a Palestinian scholar based in Montréal. She was the Ibrahim Abu Lughod fellow at Columbia University for 2018-2019. Her research explores the visual politics in Palestine and the Israeli state and focuses on people’s place making and dwelling practices in the context of settler colonialism and military occupation. She has published several academic articles in journals such as Environment and Planning, City & Society, Visual Anthropology Review, and American Quarterly. She’s a co-founding member of Insaniyyat Society of Palestinian Anthropologists and a co-founding member of Dalala, an Arabic English translation collective.
Binish: Today, May 15th 2021, marks the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, also called the Nakba Day by Palestinians. Tell us what this Arabic word means and what significance it holds for you and the Palestinian people historically.
Nayrouz: Thank you Binish for inviting us and having this stage to talk about what’s happening currently in Palestine, more specifically on Nakba Day. I’m joining from the unceded territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation who are the custodians of the lands and waters of Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. It’s important to make these links between multiple central colonialisms that are happening at the same time in different contexts. The Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic and it signifies the moment in 1948 when Palestinians got displaced and dispossessed from their land, villages, towns, and cities. It resulted in almost one million Palestinian refugees who got scattered all over the neighboring countries, the destruction of hundreds of villages, and the eviction or erasure of their cities. It’s a very important moment in Palestinian history. Palestinians always refer to the Nakba in any recurring events so it’s not surprising to see Palestinians refer to what’s happening today in Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank, inside 1948 villages and cities, as the ongoing Nakba.
Emilio: To highlight some background to the concept of Nakba, I would say that it was not only applied to the Palestinian Nakba. The word has a history in the Arab world. The concept of Nakba for the Palestinian case was coined by a Syrian intellectual, Constantin Zurich, in 1948 but it was already used in 1920s when Arabs referred to the Battle of Mezallum in 1920s between the French army and the army of the Arab revolt. Arabs were defeated and that opened the road for the French army to Damascus in Syria. Therefore, The Nakba has historically been connected to the colonial history of the Arab world. That is the first precision that I wanted to make and the second is to reinforce the previous point. We cannot understand the Nakba as a historical event that would be part of our past, that we commemorate every 15th of May, but rather as an ongoing process. This is what the Nakba is: an ongoing process of displacement, dispossession, and violence.
Binish: Tell us about the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Where it is, what its significance is geopolitically, and what led to the escalations of tensions in the current moment that we’re witnessing unfold?
Mark: It’s in Jerusalem. It’s in a neighborhood that was, prior to 1948 and the emergence of the Zionist settler colonial project, in the land of historic Palestine. From my understanding, it was a predominantly Palestinian Jewish neighborhood because we can’t forget that Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Palestinian communities all identified as Palestinian prior to Zionism. During 1948, some of those Jewish residents were removed from that part of Jerusalem that came under Jordanian rule into West Jerusalem and other places that became part of the state of Israel. Israel has used both Ottoman and British colonial laws to claim that those lands belong to the Jewish state and they’re using apartheid and colonial laws to displace for the second time Palestinians that were displaced from their homes in what became Israel in 1948. Of course, there’s no ability for Palestinians to use any Israeli law to claim the homes and the property that they lost when they were expelled in 1948. These are not laws that are based in justice. These are laws that are based in the old adage of might makes right. What’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosm of that larger experience of the Nakba. It is a reaffirmation of the ongoing process of displacement of Palestinians from the land of historic Palestine. This is why it became such a focal point for this latest moment in Palestinian resistance.
Emilio: The current crisis and violence did not start in Sheikh Jarrah yesterday or last week. We are talking about a century of history. This is a state policy, one of erasure of Palestinians that started a long time ago. At first, Zionists would say from the very beginning of the Zionist movement that Palestinians did not exist, that it was a land without a people for a people without a land. Then this erasure was institutionalized for the first time in the Balfour Declaration in 1917 when the British government declared its support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The declaration referred to Palestinians, who were 90 percent or more of the population of Palestine at the time, only negatively, as other “non-Jewish communities” living in Palestine. Ninety percent or more of the population was mentioned in the Balfour Declaration as other non-Jewish communities. The myth was repeated by Zionist leaders like Golda Meir, among others, saying that Palestinians do not exist. It was again replicated, when Palestinians were invited to the Madrid negotiation at the beginning of the 1990s. Palestinians could participate in the Madrid negotiations not as Palestinians—they had to go there under a Jordanian delegation. Palestinians were denied a presence in the land, existence, and they have also been denied the capacity to produce a reliable historiography. So, Palestinians do not exist and Palestinians cannot represent themselves. The proof of this is that conclusions like the one reached by the Human Rights Watch report declaring that Israel was an apartheid state, is something that Palestinians have been saying for decades and is only heard when international institutions of human rights, or NGOs in the West, say it. What is going on in Sheikh Jarrah is nothing but the latest, and one among other expressions of a state policy which is the total erasure of Palestinians.
Nayrouz: Of course I agree that not only historically Palestinians have been making these links and only recently it’s becoming more visible to Western media. The language of settler colonialism is important. You have Palestinian and other Arab intellectuals who were writing in the 1950s and 1960s about the characterization of the Israeli state as a settler colonial state. Jerusalem has been in the news in the past few years with the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. It’s important to look at the structure of the policies that the municipality and the Israeli state have put in Jerusalem that produce so much of these injustices that we see and it’s one of these expressions. You have other areas like Silwan and Kufr Aqab that are experiencing so much discrimination. I want to bring four or five examples for the “center of life” policy in which Palestinians in Jerusalem were given identity documents that don’t give them any political, travel, or tribal rights. It’s simply a way for the Israeli state to count Palestinians in Jerusalem, to surveil Palestinians, but they can lose this identity and access to Jerusalem if they move out of Jerusalem. This is one way in which the Israeli state, through the Jerusalem municipality, is enforcing ethnic cleansing on a smaller scale through revoking Jerusalem identity cards. We also have the policy of house demolition that happens hand-in-hand with a lack of infrastructure, planning, and building in Palestinian neighborhoods. So, when Palestinians end up building a house, waiting forever for the permit to arrive from the city, by that time the city forces them to demolish their own home. Since 2020 alone, 175 Palestinian homes were demolished in Jerusalem. Another example is the separation wall, or the apartheid wall, that was built in Jerusalem. It cut Jerusalem from all the neighboring cities of Abu Dis, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and others. Jerusalem was the intellectual hub of many Palestinians. Many NGOs and international offices were located there. Now, Jerusalem is really cut off and isolated.
Binish: We witnessed visuals and footage of Israeli settlers walking into Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah community, asking them to vacate their ancestral homes for Israeli settlers in the last week. We’ve heard them say statements like, ‘’sooner or later you’ll have to leave for another Israeli.’’ What is your analysis of Israeli Jewish citizens forcibly trying to displace Palestinians from their homes? What gives them the confidence to be able to do so, so brazenly?
Mark: There is this narrative that you hear within Israeli society and outside of it that there is this big distinction between the right wing extremist settlers and the liberal Zionist Israelis. It’s a false distinction. The Israeli settlers in Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah, the West Bank, in all parts across historic Palestine are all acting in the same way. They all believe in this vision of “Greater Israel” where Israel would have exclusive Jewish sovereignty over the entire land of historic Palestine. There are differences in lifestyles and world views between the right wing and left wing spectrum. On a foundational level, they all agree on one thing that they are there to displace Palestinians, that the idea of an exclusive Jewish sovereignty over the entire land of historic Palestine can only exist by ethnically cleansing the land from Palestinians and taking it from them. When, for example, those liberal Zionists critique the Israeli Jewish settlers, the Israeli Jewish settlers respond by saying, “well how do you think you got your home in Tel Aviv?” And they’re actually right. They got it exactly the same way—by ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. The settler movement is so brazen because the state, state structures, and politicians agree with them. Scholars, including Israeli scholars, have shown this. When you take the whole picture and put it together, it is very clear that the state is actively participating in those settler movements. They’re providing cover through security, diplomacy, propaganda, and legal support. This idea that the settlers are a nuisance to the Israeli state is nonsense. The Israeli settlers are the foundation of the Israeli state. Not only is that supported within Israel, it’s also supported by many organizations in the US and other countries. There is international involvement in this as well as international money that comes in to support these settlements. Whenever you hear the words “settlements were built,” that means more Palestinians lost land, homes, places demolished and farmlands lost. That’s really critical to keep in mind.
Binish: Can you describe the political landscape of Palestine today and who represents the Palestinian people politically? What has the Palestinian leadership’s response been to the most recent Israeli aggression, and what is the leadership demanding?
Emilio: This is a great question because the Palestinian condition seems to be very often simplified in a way that I think is politically dangerous, presented as a sort of a binary relation of Palestinians against Israel. Of course Israel remains the main obstacle for Palestinian liberation and is at the center of the Palestinian struggle. However, the Oslo Accords brought into Palestine new realities including the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leadership that has dominated the Palestinian national movement since 1994. The authority in the West Bank, which is the one officially recognized by the so-called international community, is part of the colonial powers we are fighting against. The Palestinian authority became an element of colonial administration and that was very clear from the beginning. When Isaac Rabin went to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in 1994 to explain why he was signing the Oslo Accords, he did not refer to aspirations of peace or justice or anything like that. He said he signed it because they, Palestinians, would do our job better than us (the Israeli army). That was Rabin’s explanation for the signature of the Oslo Accords.
What did that mean? Well, basically, that they conceived the Palestinian Authority as an instrument of colonialism, not as a nationalistic Palestinian expression and this is what has transpired since Oslo. Arafat signed it, but the Oslo frame has evolved to the point that nobody has ever had the kind of political and security control on the West Bank that Abu Mazen has today, and he has declared security coordination with Israel sacred even if that means the crushing of Palestinian national aspirations. The Palestinian Authority today in the West Bank is repressing Palestinian demonstrations as brutally as Israelis are doing it, and they are using similar tactics because they have been trained together. They are using similar technologies and tactics, they are using the same kind of stun grenades and tear gas, and so on. The intertwined relationship between the colonial power and the Palestinian leadership of the Palestinian Authority is not only political, it’s also economic, technological, etc. I know that this is very contentious, but I would call on people to realize that the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle includes the Palestinian Authority.
Mark: I agree with Emilio. There’s so much talk about this reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, as if that is the only way to unify the Palestinian people and what we’ve seen on the streets in the last week is that the Palestinian people are actually unified. It’s not that they need to reconcile for the sake of uniting the Palestinian people. They need to get out of the way of the already existing unification of the Palestinian people. Palestinian scholars have been extremely critical of the Palestinian Authority and of Oslo. Leading Palestinian scholars have called the PA subcontractors of the settler colonial power and that’s exactly what Rabin wanted and he got it. It is critical to keep the focus on the authority of the collective, we the people, not the established Palestinian Authority that was created through these settler colonial mechanisms to ensure the continuation of colonial domination.
Nayrouz: I agree particularly with the final point. Now, what we see at the border with Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, and in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, “the street” is united despite this mechanism of divisions through colonial orders or military checkpoints or other means of censorship of information between these areas. People are communicating and are united. We see that in the role of social media in transgressing colonial borders, enabling people from 48 and 67 to broadcast live what is happening inside their geographies to neighbouring countries. The presence of Palestinian refugees in the Arab world and beyond was crucial in carrying the message of liberation and return.
Binish: What does the term “48 Palestine” refer to and what makes this moment stand out among other uprisings in cities and towns in 48 Palestine?
Nayrouz: Palestine 48 or 48 Palestine or Palestinian refer the Palestinians who remained in historic Palestine after the Nakba. After 1948, Palestinians who didn’t become refugees outside the border either in the West Bank, Gaza, or outside the border, either in the neighboring countries Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, became internally displaced and they also lost land. It refers to Palestinians who are technically citizens of Israel. This moment is, for many Palestinians inside 48, a reminder of Al-Aqsa Intifada (also known as the Second Intifada) in October 2000 where we saw similar kinds of tactics. During the attacks on Al-Aqsa, people went to the streets and then the Israeli police entered all these towns and villages and tried to suppress these demonstrations, resulting in 13 deaths. What we see today is a unification of the voice we want. We refuse to be disconnected from what’s happening to Jerusalem and to Palestinians elsewhere in Gaza and in exile now. The reason the Palestinians inside 48 sparked this demonstration—and Palestinian students who study in Jerusalem who have been demonstrating for the past 15 years—is because of the attack on Al-Aqsa during Ramadan with buses from the north coming from Palestinian 48 villages and towns going to pray in Al-Aqsa. These buses were stopped at the doors of Jerusalem. They weren’t able to access Al-Aqsa plus the Israeli army invaded Al-Aqsa and used tear gas at the moment of the prayer. That’s part of the anger among Palestinians in Israel who believe that they have the right to worship and the right to access the mosque. Every village and city is seeing this kind of protest, even in so-called mixed cities, or Palestinian cities in 48 in which the Palestinian population was displaced and the cities became majority Jewish, like Yafa, we see their settler and police violence and we see protests of Palestinians in this area.
Mark: Nayrouz captured it very well and spoke to that unification of Palestinians across all of their differences. The Israeli state has always developed and enacted a policy of fragmenting the Palestinians. That process of fragmentation has in fact created different experiences for those different Palestinian communities and I was mistaken in the past to see those divisions as fragmentation. This isn’t to say that there aren’t divisions and different experiences within Palestinian societies, such as different political views, etc. Of course that exists in every community. However, the foundational unity is still based on that story of displacement, of being told that we, the native inhabitants of the land, do not belong on the land and should not be allowed to live on the land freely. This is what unites us all and this is shared amongst us all regardless of our positionality within the landscape of the Palestinian struggle.
Emilio: 48 evokes in me a very real imaginary that the colonial power has tried to steal from us. Going to Palestine 48 when I was living there, I would always remember the words of Mourid Barghouti who, in his book “I Saw Ramallah”, speaks of 48 saying this place where with our old stones you built your new houses and this is exactly what you can observe. In Palestine 48, Israel built on top of Palestinian ruins. In reference to this area, Mahmoud Darwish titled one of his books of poetry, “Unfortunately, It Was Paradise”. They have tried to steal these memories and this imaginary from us. The second thing that 48 evokes is the continuation of the Nakba. Let’s not forget that Palestinians in 48 are subjected to the same kind of expropriation of land, separation of families, and the horrors of scientifically articulated crimes, studied in terms of demography and topologies of domination. Palestinians in 48 live in a state that hates them. You see it in the examples of Israeli settlers entering Palestinian houses and beating up people and attacking them in a country where, when you call the police, the first thing that the police asks you is whether you are Jewish or Arab and their response will depend on that. Palestinians in 48 today are alone.
Binish: What are some myths in the mainstream media about the current crisis? For example, how can we understand the myth of eviction and land ownership in Palestine?
Nayrouz: The problem with the language of eviction is that it neutralizes and normalizes what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah. For example, ‘it’s a real estate dispute’, not actually ethnic cleansing and displacement even though that is the framing of ethnic cleansing, displacement, and dispossession. It’s happening all over historic Palestine. In so-called Area C there are mass evictions of particularly small Bedouin communities in the Naqab, so-called unrecognized villages in Al-Araqeeb, Umm al-Hiran, and others inside Israel that are being displaced and demolished continuously for dozens of times. For example, in Yafa, Akka, Haifa, you have Palestinians who still have the deeds to their homes, but they’re unable to reclaim their property as Israeli law defines these properties as Absentees’ Property, even though the owners of these buildings are actually present, not absent. There are different mechanisms that are taking place concurrently, simultaneously, in different ways to Judaize the Galilee, the Naqab, to evict Palestinians as much as possible, to push them to immigrate. Since 2000 in particular, there have been different policies and laws pushed by the ever growing fascist right parties in the Israeli parliament which furthered the discrimination and allientation of Palestinians citizens of Israel, for example banning or criminalizing family reunification between Palestinians in 48 and in the occupied Palestinian territory. If you want to live with your partner, go to the West Bank, don’t bring them to 48. There are different ways in which Palestinians are being pushed out of their homes and this is not just a case of an eviction or a dispute that the media depicts. It has to be framed and conceptualized within a larger context of settler colonialism.
Mark: A quick example of the kind of language that conceals what is actually happening is the idea of clashes, flare-ups, cycles of violence. It gives the impression that there is a fixed status quo and then every once in a while they just get into a fight and then things will calm down and we’ll go back to what it used to be, but that is entirely misleading because the process of displacement and ethnic cleansing is actually actively ongoing and these moments sometimes actually just make those things faster. What was happening before was not static. These moments are not static and what’s going to come after is not static. Look at those graphics of how much land Palestinians have lost. That graphic hasn’t stopped. If things continue on this path you’re not going to see any colors for Palestinian territories.
Binish: Can you describe the legal position of Israel in relation to Occupied Palestinian Territories under international law? How do Israel’s policing and militarized actions against Palestinians exist in relation to international law, governing relations between nation-state actors?
Emilio: The position of Israel regarding the Palestinian Territories, or the West Bank and Gaza, has gone through changes. Today, Israel does not recognize the Palestinian Territories as occupied territories, but this has not always been the case. Immediately after the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, one of the first Israeli military declarations was to recognize the application of international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions, over the territories that the state of Israel had just conquered. Very soon after that, they realized the consequences of this first military declaration and Israel revoked it in 1967, and since then Israel has maintained the position that this is not really an occupation because an occupation in international law means that you are occupying the territory of another sovereign power, and they do not recognize Palestine as another sovereign power. They did not recognize the sovereignty of Jordan over the West Bank or Egypt over Gaza, and therefore, their claim is that they did not take this territory from any sovereign power. Lately, they have changed the discourse and said that the territories were never occupied, instead they were ‘liberated’, which is an amazing shift in the discourse, very coherent with the latest Israeli ambition, which is the aspiration and the ambition of many colonial powers: to transform their settlers into natives. So they did not conquer. They ‘liberated’ the occupied Palestinian territories. Of course, this is absolutely preposterous. In terms of international law, it has served to justify the Israeli argument that they have the right to defend themselves, which is another preposterous claim because under international law the occupying power does not have a right to defend itself. It has an obligation to protect the civilian and occupied population. The current position of Israel regarding the territories is not recognized by anyone except the US and some islands in the Pacific. Within the international community there is a relative consensus on the status of the Palestinian territories as occupied and therefore international humanitarian law should be applied.
Binish: How does Israel get away with violating Palestinian sovereignty and jurisdiction? Could you expand on why the UN and the nation-state actors have not intervened in the Israeli government’s violation of international law? What will it take to stop this pattern?
Emilio: Why international law and international institutions have been unable to advance any kind of solution is because they are not interested in a just solution and they have never been. They are not trying to resolve the conflict. They are trying to administer the conflict. We should be clear about all the limitations of international law. We should be careful when resorting to international law because international law has its own traps. But let’s not blame the international law text alone because here there are relations of power and dynamics of power at play that can also explain why the international community has not been able to do so. They support the Israeli colonial project and they pay lip service to their obligations to uphold international law, this has been the framework imposed by the Oslo Accords, not to apply international law but to negotiate it to accommodate the Israeli colonial project. Now, how do you explain that in international forums like the UN, these things cannot be overcome or the unwillingness of super powers to advance any meaningful solution? We need to remember that international law has a very colonial background and history and that in international law, these colonial power dynamics are reflected in the very functioning of the international legal system, the UN, etc. The main example and easiest to understand is the system of voting in the United Nations security council where one of the five permanent members can exercise the right to veto any resolution and this is exactly what the US has done for the last five decades or more: to oppose any critical resolution regarding Israel. The explanation for this inability is the lack of willingness and a legal international system that lends to that because it is itself the expression of colonial and power dynamics.
Mark: Looking at the legal scholarship from the outside, the only redeemable parts about international law are the interventions that the so-called third world made into international law which were a result of their experience of the decolonization movements after World War 2, that international law was set up for the purpose of entrenching colonialism. There are differences between different cases of settler colonialism but they—Israel, US, Canada, Australia—all cannot tolerate Indigenous or native sovereignty. As long as it is a Zionist Israeli nation-state that is built to establish exclusive Jewish sovereignty, Israel can never tolerate the idea of Palestinian sovereignty. They’ve never recognized its existence and they never will, and as Rashid Khalidi put it in his last book, whenever the no-no of sovereignty comes up, Israel walks away. They’ll tolerate self-administration that is geared to help the settler colonial state maintain its dominant position and what we see through Oslo, but they will never accept Palestinian sovereignty. On the international landscape Israel continuously denies the existence of any kind of Palestinian sovereignty and for the most part, the US, Canada, and all of these international institutions participate in the erasure of Palestinian sovereignty and they are actively complicit in that process.
Nayrouz: I want to bring attention to recent grassroots organizing in Palestine. There are many other examples that are calling the world to change the framing and the Palestinian narrative as it is. We see that on social media and different platforms, more and more Palestinians are making the links between their oppression and policing Black people in the US or Canada. They’re making the links between settler colonialism in the Canadian and US context and other contexts and between settler colonialism and Palestine. They are calling for understanding Palestine as a deep, colonial, feminist, anti-capitalist issue. I want to bring into attention to a recent call that was made by the Palestinian Feminist Collective which made a very clear call and framing in very coherent language to try to understand Palestine as a feminist issue because of a set of colonial and oppressive ways in which women and Palestinian women are subjected to by the Israeli state. They are collaborating or joining forces with the Black Lives Matter movement and with Indigenous movements.
Binish: We keep hearing about what Israel is doing in Palestine being regarded as genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Legally speaking, under international law, what are the factors or evidence people point to in order to make this case and why hasn’t Israel been prosecuted for these crimes?
Emilio: Even though I’m a legal scholar, I would call people to precaution with the obsession of translating the Palestinian condition into legal language. Legal language can be very useful in terms of denouncing or portraying a particular situation, but at the same time, legal language narrows the kind of debates that we can have about it. My fear is that when people try to translate this terrible injustice in legal terms, we end up discussing whether the actions of Israel in Palestine amount to this crime or not, and we enter a logic of legal exegesis that alienates a great deal of the audience from the debate. It gives the forefront of the struggle to technicians, such as me or lawyers that discuss technical issues that somehow veil a wider debate on power, politics, and justice. Having said that, there is no doubt that one can interpret and read the actions of the Israeli army and the Israeli government as constituting crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other kinds of international crimes. For example, genocide that was defined not for the first time but lately in the Rome statute, as any act of killing or serious bodily or mental damage, or deliberately imposing or inflicting on a group conditions of life that are calculated to bring about the destruction of the other group. A genocide is any of these acts carried out with the intention of destroying in whole or in part another national or ethnic group. We are witnessing this today in Palestine. There is no doubt that the crime of genocide, maybe not in the spectacular forms that people may imagine, is taking place. The Rome Institute also defines apartheid as any inhumane act, similiar to any crime against humanity that’s commited in the context of an insitutionalized regime of oppression and domination with the intention of maintaining this regime. This is also happening in Palestine, but the international community’s support for the Israeli colonial project has shielded Israel from any attempt to hold it accountable for the crimes that they are committing. The last episode in this saga was the opening of an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding Israel-Palestine. The reaction of the international community, European countries, and in North America was threatening the ICC with sanctions, and later, Trump materialized sanctions against the ICC. This is actually perplexing because for so many decades, the international community required Palestinians to renounce armed struggle, promising that international law was going to fulfill their aspirations. Now, when Palestinians effectively resort to international law and international institutions, they are denounced as legal “terrorists.” Now the very resort to international law is denounced as a form of “terrorism” that deserves sanctions and punishment. This is really perplexing.
Binish: What are some common ways the Israeli state has maligned the Palestinian liberation movement and how can the Palestinian people and their allies fight such defamation?
Nayrouz: I was living in Jerusalem in 2000 and we were fighting and protesting house demolitions and police brutality, and taxing old women selling mint in the old city. That was one of the things I was preoccupied with and then the wall was constructed in 2003 and all of a sudden we are now fighting the wall and then something else happened. It’s almost like we can’t keep up with the different fronts that we are trying to fight. This prolonged exhaustion is one way to fragment Palestinian unity by hitting them in different ways. Gaza with the settlements, this other village with the wall, access to roads that lead to hospitals. These are all these ways which can fragment an imagination of a larger liberation or a future generation to come through.
Mark: I want to focus on the alignment of Palestinian resistance in Euro-American spaces because in places like Canada and the US, they’ll never accept any kind of Palestinian resistance, violent or nonviolent. BDS is unacceptable. Going through legal avenues is unacceptable. They don’t want Palestinians to resist, they want Palestinians to be ethnically cleansed and go away. That’s in the interest of these imperial, colonial/neocolonial, and settler colonial projects in which the American empire is at the center. All of the arguments that you hear in public discourse on Palestinian resistance are meant to dismiss and delegitimize Palestinian resistance. The two main tropes that are used to do that is by calling us anti-Semites and terrorists. Whether we critique Israel using anti-racist, feminist, anarchist, anti-colonial, or legal language, at some point or another someone is going to call you an anti-Semite and a terrorist. Those are terms that are used to delegitimize Palestinian resistance and the only counter argument that you need is a quote from Edward Said in 1979: Palestinian resistance was never launched “because the [Palestinian] natives thought that Jews were evil, but because no natives take kindly to having their territory settled by foreigners” (Said, 1979, p. 29). That’s the core foundation of Palestinian resistance to Israeli settler colonialism. It wouldn’t have mattered if this was a Christian settler colonial project. We would be as opposed to it, fighting it in the same way as we do today against Israel’s project for Jewish exclusive sovereignty.
Binish: Can you describe what those on the front lines of the Palestinian resistance movement are up against and what justice means at this point in time for the Palestinian people? What will it take to get justice and dignity? What will it take to win?
Nayrouz: The just solution or a just reality is that in which Palestinians are able to return to Palestine, to live in Palestine in one state in which that state respects refugee rights, immigration, and respects everybody without discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, and so on. If you ask me what justice looks like, it’s a formation of a place in which all these realities that we live in today—discrimination, oppression, police violence and brutality, and militarization—don’t exist. I’m more hesitant to propose a state distribution. It’s a bit cynical to say that especially because the Palestinian movement is really fighting towards sovereignty, but I think we need to imagine sovereignty outside of the framework of nation-state. For example, we have refugees from different parts of Africa who cross the Sinai border into the Naqab area and they are now locked in mass detention by the Israeli state. In my future imagination of Palestine, I don’t want these detention centers to exist. I don’t want borders to exist.
Mark: I agree with Nayrouz and this is a complex debate. The nation-state is a relatively new invention in human history and sovereignty has existed in different forms beyond the nation-state so we can certainly imagine sovereignty in different ways. Putting that aside, let me use the one-state language just because that’s more communicable, but with the caveat that this state has a very different foundation and structure than your conventional modern nation-states. This is why I always emphasize the idea that Zionism is exclusive. In this future world that we hope to see one day, there are Jewish people living there. It would be their homeland too. There would be shared and layered sovereignties. When you take the grand view of human history, there’s been more shared layered sovereignties than these exclusivist modern ones that we see today. It’s only when the Palestinian people get their freedom and liberty that Israelis and Jewish people can get their true freedom and liberty on that land as well and this is also critical to underscore. I argued a few months ago in a piece in Al Jazeera that there are two paths. We either go the path that me and Nayrouz just laid out or we stay on the current path. The current path is heading towards massive ethnic cleansing where the entire land of historical Palestine would be under the idea of a greater Israel and it would be more or less 80 percent Jewish, 20 percent non-Jewish (as is the number now within 48 Palestine). That’s not hyperbole. Only pressure on Israel—that’s the only way to get them off that path and that pressure cannot be just placed on them by the Palestinians. This is the interconnected nature of the struggle that is really critical to highlight. This is not just a Palestinian struggle. This is a de-colonial struggle. This is a struggle against the colonial and settler colonial foundations of this world that we live in. Of course the details are never going to be the exact same, but there are so many connections that the Palestinian struggle for liberation shares with the Kashmiri struggle for freedom, with the Black liberation struggles across the entire world, with Indigenous struggles in Canada, the US, Bolivia, and Chile. It is connected to struggles for freedom and democracy in post-colonial authoritarian states in places like Guinea, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates. It is connected to global struggles with working-class movements in France and England. We are interconnected as ordinary people who are being crushed by the weight of this unequal colonial world that has been built over the last five hundred years. The Palestinian story for liberation is the story of all of these people’s liberation from their respective systems of domination and so we do need a global collective effort and pressure. We all need to put pressure in our respective spaces on those in power to make them change and that is the only way that change will come about. Change will never come from the powerful. It never has and it never will.
Binish: What actions can people or organizations take to support the Palestinian people during this moment? What can they be doing in the long term?
Mark: Pressure. Speak up. Don’t be silent about this. Don’t be scared. I know people in Canada and the US are always worried about consequences, like, “How am I going to get hired?” or “Am I going to get this job?” or “Am I going to lose some friends?” Lose them! They weren’t worth having in the first place. You can’t stay silent. Put pressure on your politicians. When the horrific mainstream media in Canada, such as the CBC, airs genocidal statements and frames them as a legitimate justified anger of Israelis saying wipe Gaza off the face of the earth, drop one bomb on them and end it all (assuming this means nuke them)—when they’re airing that kind of genocidal hatred and an incitement to violence and not calling it in those names, write to the CBC, demand they get disciplined as they should be. People power is all we have.
Emilio: To insist on Mark’s words, what people in other places can do is to speak up, organize, resist. Remember that our struggle is also your struggle and this is not a metaphor. We are exploited by the same neoliberal system. We are killed by the same arms. We are repressed with the same technologies. Palestinian resistance does have something to teach. When I see people in Palestine, I feel so proud because as the Palestinian poet, Rafeef Ziadah, says we are constantly teaching people how to live with dignity and this is a great lesson.
Nayrouz: Reframing is important, not as a reactionary tactic. We need to understand Palestine as a de-colonial, feminist, and anti-racist issue exactly because all these things are globally and historically connected. We cannot see it as exceptional. It’s connected to all these other issues that are happening globally. As educators, as academics, we need to make sure that these framings are clear and are taught to our students, the community, and to those who are asking us what Palestine is about.
Binish: What is the role of internationalism at this time, and what are some inspiring examples? How do we build on global solidarity?
Emilio: We are not only involved in military wars but we are also involved in media and language warfare. How do we build global solidarity? By upholding, insisting, and legitimizing internationalism because this is the way we have been doing emancipatory politics for centuries and this is the way forward. But lately, in the war of words, internationalism has been absolutely criminalized. People going to other places to fight or who are fighting from their own places for other causes are being called criminals, rioters, illegitimate, or just troublemakers, and told that they are fighting for something that they don’t even know. However, historically, internationalism was celebrated, and all the same powers that are telling us to mind our own business and to not get involved in this or that other struggle were and are today all over the world fighting their own battles. Remember the Spanish Civil War, for example, where the entire world was involved in a civil war and each side called their fighters heroes. But today, the same people, the same powers that are telling us not to do so, and criminalizing international solidarity have embraced internationalism in their own struggles. Again, the importance of international solidarity cannot be overestimated.
Mark: The Palestinian struggle is not new and it has international connections. The Palestinian struggle was very much connected with the decolonial struggles in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Algerians still fly the Palestinian flags at their rallies and there’s a huge connection in their anti-colonial struggle with the Palestinian struggle. There are many connections with Black liberation struggles in the US going back into the 1970s. We need to reinvigorate and reimagine these connections. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the grassroots level in terms of connecting these solidarities. In part, that’s what BDS, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is trying to do: to create that international solidarity, to give people ways that they can participate in the Palestinian struggle, in that process of putting pressure. In the history of social movements, the most effective way for change is when people on the ground engage in economic pressure on power and powerful elites. People cite South Africa for many good reasons, but I find a lot more connections with the Bolivian case where Indigenous movements took down that colonial government and created an Indigenous government. They did it through a massive boycott. They brought the economy to a halt. When you stop the economy, the powerful are not that far off from losing their power and losing their grip. These kinds of actions, the workers in Livorno, Italy are refusing to unload Israeli goods from the ships. Not surprising coming from that beautiful place in Italy with a long history of working class struggle and solidarity among many people across the world in their struggles against powerful elites and oppression. There is a history here that we can draw lessons from. Moving forward, we can improve and reinvigorate our movement by learning the history of international solidarities.
Binish: Thank you so much for spending time with us and sharing your knowledge. You can follow #Nakba73, #SaveSheikhJarrah, #PalestineUnderAttack, #JerusalemUprising, and #FreePalestine to continue to follow the discussion and events unfolding at the moment. Please amplify Palestinian voices and grassroot journalists.