Palestinian writer Mohammed el-Kurd spoke to Jacobin about Israel’s vicious war on Gaza and the daily humiliations and frequent killing that Israel has long inflicted on Palestinians. “We are told time and time again that our death is business as usual.”
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators shut down DuSable Lake Shore Drive, blocking both lanes of traffic in front of US senator Dick Durbin’s residence on January 6, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (Jacek Boczarski / Anadolu via Getty Images)
Israel’s brutal war on the people of Gaza has thus far had two main consequences. It has revealed to the world the violence and cruelty that underlies the ongoing siege of Gaza and occupation of the West Bank, and it has brought into existence the biggest global antiwar movement in a generation.
Mohammed el-Kurd, the Palestine correspondent for the Nation, spoke to Daniel Denvir for Jacobin’s the Dig podcast about these developments. In a wide-ranging discussion, he outlined the problems with Western narratives about the war, the centrality of Zionism to the settler-colonial project, and the paths forward for a global left committed to ending Israel’s bloody occupation.
The Devaluation of Palestinian Life
Let’s start just with the basics of what’s happening right now: what’s happening right now on the ground in Gaza among Palestinians, how they’re experiencing this assault, and what is Israel’s goal. As you can see it, as Israel’s F-16s pound the Gaza Strip and its tanks roll into Gaza City.
This is this is a very important question, because if we’re watching the news, if we’re consuming television channels, we would be hearing about an “Israel-Hamas war.” But that’s not necessarily an accurate framing of what’s happening on the ground, not because there is asymmetry in the powers at play here, but because it ignores a lot of the history of what is happening on the ground, what has happened since before October 7.
And I say this not as just contextual footnotes that can or can’t be disregarded, but as the very genesis of everything that is happening right now and everything that happened on October 7. So I just want to take one or two minutes to talk about the framing. As I’m sure a lot of you know, the Gaza Strip is now besieged, but it has been besieged also for sixteen years.
This is an Egyptian- and Israeli-imposed siege blockade that is largely controlled by Israel. It’s a siege of land, air, and water. We often hear this narrative that Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, that there are not any settlements left since 2005. But this ignores the fact that Israel continues to control every aspect of life in the Gaza Strip, including pharmaceuticals, including food, including water, including travel, including freedom of movement, and so on and so forth.
This cannot be understated, and every few years, people in the Gaza Strip have their calendars marked by bombardments. And outside of the Gaza Strip in the occupied West Bank, for example, you have people who live under occupation.
And again, we can talk a little bit about how we can throw words like “occupation” around, but we don’t necessarily understand the significance of the meanings of those words. How does it manifest materially to be living under occupation? Not only does it mean that you carry a different-colored ID, that your freedom of movement is restricted, that your land is constantly at risk of theft, but it also means that you live a life that is devalued every few years.
A few months ago, an Israeli minister called Itamar Ben-Gvir said something about how he was talking to an Arab TV reporter. And he said, you know, I’m sorry, Muhammad, but my family’s life is more important than your freedom. And his remarks garnered a lot of outrage around the world, even from American politicians who said, “How dare he say this?”
But when I heard these remarks that are absolutely racist, I did not raise an eyebrow because these remarks happen to be very factual. According to Israeli legislation and living under Israeli rule, the lives of my family are absolutely worth less than Israeli families just by how things are governed. This is the absolutely most important departure point we must use to understand the situation on the ground. And as I said, it’s not just marginal context. It is the very answer to everything. Now, in the past thirty-something days [as of November 14, 2023], we have seen the Israelis engage in a genocidal campaign of bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
And I don’t say just genocidal out of my own speculation or as hyperbole, but based on the analysis of many experts in genocide studies and based on the remarks made by Israeli politicians themselves that have expressed genocidal intent over and over again, and also by looking at the death toll.
Between 1947 and 1948, when the Israeli state was established, fifteen thousand Palestinians were killed by Zionist militias that later created the Israeli military, and about 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes, where now-Israeli settlements are erected. In the past thirty-something days, over eleven thousand Palestinians have been killed in Israeli bombardments [the current death toll is approaching 23,000], and about one million Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes, have been forced to become displaced and homeless.
This is the magnitude. I’ll share with you just one anecdote of something that I saw and I’m sure some of your listeners saw, during the Israeli bombardment of the Jabalya refugee camp. A father is seen as carrying two plastic bags, and he declares to the onlookers, he declares to the press, “This is my son. I have gathered his remains in two separate plastic bags.” So when we are talking about eleven-thousand-plus Palestinians, we are not just talking about a number, we are talking about a population of people that has endured the most agonizing types of death, whose families will continue to wrestle with the most agonizing grief for the rest of their lives. That is what’s happening on the ground in the Gaza Strip.
You’ve been speaking and organizing for Palestine for a long time. Why has October 7 and the month that’s followed been such a turning point? Why has it been so hard to make the basic value of Palestinian lives legible to people? This began not on October 7, but in 1948 or even before in 1917. Yet for many Americans, it seems so sudden. How has this entire set of discourses and framings emerged that allows the overwhelming majority of the American political class, for example, to depict Rashida Tlaib as an antisemite spouting hate speech for saying “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a slogan that prima facie is a call for justice and freedom, or for her denouncing the Israeli genocide currently taking place in Gaza, for that to be framed as somehow hateful?
The reason why October 7 has received so much attention is the same reason why plane hijackings, for example, have received so much attention, or suicide bombings have received so much attention. It’s because they’re seen as people. And I’m not talking about just Israelis. I’m talking about Europeans and Israelis and superpowers. They have had to pay a certain price throughout the past seven decades, eight decades, nine decades; Palestinians have been engaging in all kinds of resistance.
We’ve been producing literature, poetry. We have been protesting all over the world. We have been trying diplomatic efforts. We have been negotiating. We have been doing everything under the sun to bring attention to our plight and to bring justice to our plight. But we are told time and time again that if we decide to create a nonviolent movement of boycott, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) that seeks to impose economic pressure on the Israeli government to end its crime of apartheid, we’re not going to receive media attention. Media is going to turn a blind eye to this, and that movement is going to be penalized.
BDS itself is portrayed as antisemitic or even terroristic, even though it is a classic tactic of nonviolent resistance.
Absolutely. And even another stark example is the 2018 Great March of Return, where hundreds and thousands of Palestinians were targeted and shot at by Israeli snipers, who created a population of amputees that walked around the Gaza Strip limbless. And they did so in broad daylight, and they offered confession after confession. And none of this, none of this nonviolent protesting in the Gaza Strip against the siege, against the blockade, none of that received media attention.
So we are told as a people time and time again that our death is quotidian. Our death is business as usual. It can be, at best, mentioned in the end of year reports. It is mentioned in sums. We are told that the year 2020 was the most fatal year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since the United Nations started keeping count, and then we are told 2023 was the most fatal year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since the UN started keeping count, where they were killed by Israeli settlers and Israeli soldiers. And yet none of that warrants any media attention. And we are told the only time we can bring attention to our plight is when they have to pay a certain price.
There is literally a settler from Long Island who is of European descent, who emigrated to Israel, got Israeli citizenship, and then squatted in my house, claiming it under his own by divine decree and under the protection of the Israeli army and the judiciary.
That says a lot about the devaluing of Palestinian life. And obviously, we’ll talk about this a little bit more. Probably toward the end. But when we’re talking about a solution and a way forward, we’re not just demanding the end of the occupation and the breaking of the siege and full human rights for Palestinians. But there needs to be a global reckoning with how the world has demonized and continues to dehumanize the Palestinian people on television screens, in newspapers, on university campuses. Those of us who have been victims of Zionism, when we speak out against our experiences, we are at worst hateful and antisemitic. And at best we are angry and passionate and driven by emotion. But in truth, we are just reliable narrators. Yet people speak over us all the time, and our intentions get misconstrued, and we get pushed into a corner, accused of all kinds of baseless accusations. And we have to defend ourselves while the bombs fall on our people. That is something that needs to be dealt with. Absolutely.
Hamas, Zionism, and Israel’s War Aims
Before October 7, it seems as though Israel and the United States’ goal was to pacify and contain and kind of permanently compartmentalize the Palestinian issue. And we saw that with, of course, the process of normalization, diplomatic normalization between Israel and Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. What do you see to be Israel’s goal?
Now, its official stated goal is that it wants to wipe Hamas off of the face of the Earth, and this is what your tax dollars are funding. And this is why Israel just received another $14 billion from the US government, because it says its goal is to eradicate Hamas. Now we know, and history has told us, that they are unable to wipe out Hamas. And also, from an Israeli political perspective, some have held the view that it’s not even in Israel’s political interests to wipe out Hamas, because Hamas continues to be this delegitimized boogeyman in the Western imagination that it can hang all of its excuses on.
And we also know that Israel cannot take out Hamas militarily, because the Israeli military has been a military that engages in the murder and slaughter of people from the sky. It seldom engages in ground battles. It just can’t. It continue to drop two-thousand-pound bombs on residential buildings, flattening them and killing thousands and thousands of civilians in the process. And I mean, by Israeli estimates, it has killed less than one hundred Hamas fighters. That’s by its own estimates, and it has killed over eleven thousand Palestinian civilians.
And that is somehow okay in the global landscape. But also, not only can Israel not take out Hamas militarily — it is going to create more animosity and more desire for armed resistance, because we know that violence begets violence. And if the Palestinian people are told that your nonviolent resistance is going to be penalized and criminalized, and that if you try to go to the International Criminal Court (ICC), we’re going to impose sanctions on the ICC, and if you’re going to speak up, we’re going to tarnish you as an antisemite: What else will people turn to but the rifle? That is not a minor detail. And I know this is uncomfortable for many people listening here, but it is something that needs to be reckoned with. Otherwise, we are naive to think that anything that’s going to come out of this Israeli campaign is anything but more death and destruction. Now, another thing that the Israelis have been hoping to achieve in this campaign is to delegitimize the Palestinian resistance as a whole. Hamas, regardless of what I think of it, regardless of what you all think of it, Hamas is a political Islamist movement that has both a political wing and a military wing.
It has been classified by many Western governments as a terrorist organization. But we also know that the Western governments have classified many people and organizations as terrorist organizations. Hamas may not represent my own beliefs or my own political views, but to depoliticize it by constantly synonymizing it and conflating it with Taliban and ISIS and al-Qaeda as some kind of rabid, agenda-less group that is just bloodthirsty and eager to kill as many people as possible is disingenuous.
Regardless of what you think of the means that Hamas has been using, of the methods — we can have all kinds of discussions about morality, about viability, about tactics, about the law. But regardless of all of this, Hamas has political aspirations. It wants to end the siege. It wants to free Palestinian political prisoners, it wants to end the system of apartheid. And those are the questions that we as the world need to be dealing with. We cannot ignore this. And by depoliticizing Hamas or delegitimizing it, we are turning a blind eye to the very circumstances that created Hamas.
Israel has time and time again chosen to keep Hamas in power in Gaza. And it seems as though it’s pretty clear that this goal of depoliticizing the Palestinian cause in its history is to make it appear as though there is no political solution, and thus only a military solution, even though it is obvious that the military “solution” that Israel is currently pursuing in the Gaza Strip is just a doubling down and intensification of the very same sort of politics that led to October 7 in the first place.
It’s a solution of even more occupation and more conquering and more land theft. It’s quite bizarre that a slogan like “from the river to the sea” can garner so many headlines and provoke so much discussion.
The fact that Israeli politicians can talk on podiums with maps of Greater Israel, the fact that Netanyahu can go to the United Nations and show a map that shows a Greater Israel that includes parts of Syria, the West Bank, Gaza Strip — all of this flies under the radar.
We are often caught in discursive battles where what we say is interrogated and put in a corner, and we have to apologize for our language, and meanwhile their language, their very actions — their very systemic, institutionalized, and legalized actions — can run without scrutiny. The very fact that Netanyahu and the Israeli government and Israeli soldiers and people, and Israeli media and public figures, are already talking about a reality in which they control not only the lives of people in the Gaza Strip, but they control the land in the Gaza Strip. They build settlements, they conquer it. They talk. They’re talking about building a Disneyland in the Gaza Strip and a water park and blah, blah, blah — that flies under the radar.
The fact that Israeli politicians can talk on podiums with maps of Greater Israel, the fact that Netanyahu can go to the United Nations and show a map that shows a Greater Israel that includes parts of Syria, the West Bank, Gaza Strip — all of this flies under the radar, but the intent is clear. It’s more and more land theft, and this is the very defining factor for their project. I think we must also understand what Zionism means. A lot of people will tell you that Zionism means that the Jewish people deserve a Jewish homeland. And it emerged as a response to the to the problem of antisemitism in Europe.
I have no problem with this notion. I’m very much against ethnostates in general, but if the Jewish people unanimously want to build a homeland of their own, I have no problem with it. I just have a problem with it being in my backyard. And I say in my backyard, not as an exaggeration, but as a fact that there is literally a settler from Long Island who is of European descent, who emigrated to Israel, got Israeli citizenship, and then squatted in my house, claiming it under his own by divine decree and under the protection of the Israeli army and the judiciary.
So this is what Zionism means in practice. It means it is an exclusive, exclusionary ideology, and it’s an expansionist ideology that is seeking to take as much land and have as little possible Palestinians remain on that land. And this is explicit. It looks us in the face. And if you do not believe me because I’m Palestinian and my testimony is worthless, you can look up the very statements of the pioneers of Zionism, who have described their movement as a colonialist movement, as a settler movement. And you can look up what the Zionist leaders today are saying about their very movement, and you can look where their bulldozers are building their settlements, and you can get your answer there.
International Palestinian Solidarity and the American Left
As we discussed earlier, the nearly the entirety of the American political class has, in a truly dystopian and Orwellian manner, been lined up lockstep behind Israel, even as the Palestinian body count clears ten thousand — many, many, many of them children, and many, many of them young, young children. It’s been just incredibly disturbing to watch. But on the other hand, we’re witnessing a mass movement in solidarity with Palestine in the United States, unlike anything that’s existed in this country. It’s a true, I think, generational shift underway, and I think it’s the most internationalist moment that we’ve seen on the American left in my conscious lifetime. What do you make of this movement exploding the way that it has right now? And then where do you see it potentially heading? What possible directions do you see the movement and the politics that it’s unleashed going from here? How will it transform not only American politics as a whole, but this project that we have as the American left?
I mean, it’s not surprising to see this many American politicians be bipartisan, staunch supporters of the Zionist regime. It is not surprising considering lots of them are inept, and they get their orders from their donors. And many of them also support what Israel is doing. Many of them are inherently racist. Many of them do see Palestinian lives as worth less and, even by their own admission, as lives that need to be eradicated — lives that need to be leveled. It wasn’t shocking to me — it was heartwarming, but it wasn’t shocking — to see the hundreds of thousands of people protesting across the world in Sanaa, in Baghdad, in Amman, but also in in London, in Los Angeles, in Washington, DC, in New York City.
It’s not surprising, because I think the narrative has not only shifted, but it has completely changed since 2021, when we had the Sheikh Jarrah moment. I think people, young people at large, are standing on the right side of history, the because the asymmetry is so stark. It is very hard for you to just merely look at what’s happening and not recognize the oppressor and the oppressed, not recognize who’s right and who’s wrong.
The reason why Palestine is such a hub for internationalism is that the resistance that exists in Palestine, and the crimes that happen on Palestinian soil, are a concentrated illustration of the ways Western superpowers come together to exert violence against indigenous people and against brown people.
Who’s the colonizer and who’s the colonized? It’s quite an easy dilemma now to translate this into politics. These politicians, these senators, these congresspeople have to pay really steep political prices. I don’t think there’s enough Palestinian blood to make Chuck Schumer reconsider his position. I don’t think there is a massacre big enough for Joe Biden to say “enough.” It has to come at their own expense, and we do so by targeting their political futures. And targeting all they are invested in. And if we’re not talking just about politicians, we’re talking about corporations by targeting them economically, which is why something like BDS is so important. But I think the narrative shift, the cultural sentiment that is being born in this moment is that I think the American people, or a sizable chunk of the American people, are saying that the “Palestinian issue” issue is not something that they are willing to overlook. It is actually a compass that they look to when choosing their representatives. And their representatives need to heed these calls.
It seems to me that an important thing about this movement is not only its scale, and not only the fact that we’re seeing this huge generational shift toward solidarity with Palestine. I think specifically because so many young people had the experience of the George Floyd uprisings in 2020 and now do not buy the propaganda. They can see for themselves, as you say, the obviousness of who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed, and who is the colonizer and who is the colonized. I think that’s all very key. And I think maybe another thing that’s very distinct now from before is that Zionism itself is having a legitimacy crisis. It’s not just about the occupation — it’s about the Zionist project. What do you think the significance of that is?
I think it’s about time. I think it’s about time that we start looking beyond just one of the ways through which Zionism manifests, which is the military occupation. But looking at Zionism as a whole, as an ideology that must be rejected outright. Again, not the notion that Jewish people need to have a home. Although that is not a hill I would like to die on. It’s the notion that anybody should have a home at the expense of another people. I think we cannot just let this moment pass us by without taking a staunch public stance against Zionism, because it is the root of all of this. And its material manifestations continue to prove so.
What do you make of the role that Palestine solidarity appears to be playing in reviving internationalism on the American left? For a long time, so many of us on the American left, not only looking at Palestine, but just looking at the entire US-dominated capitalist world system and the nefarious deeds it has performed, have really yearned for a more internationalist American left (though there are plenty of obvious reasons why we haven’t had one as well). But now it’s Palestine that seems to be reviving this internationalism. Why is that? Why does the struggle against Zionism and for Palestinian liberation seem to carry this sort of special, universal significance? Why do you think Palestinian activism has ignited this more global and international perspective?
Yeah, I mean, I think this is a very excellent and very important question. It could take me hours to answer it because I don’t want to romanticize Palestinian activists, right? Palestinian communities in Palestine and in the diaspora still have, particularly in the diaspora, a long way to reckon with a lot of things that are a bit anti-internationalist within our own communities. We have to reckon with our capitalist approach within our own communities, to reckon with the anti-blackness that exists within our own communities. Those are things that must not be disregarded when we talk about Palestinians.
But I think the reason why Palestine is such a hub for internationalism is that the resistance that exists in Palestine, and the crimes that happen on Palestinian soil and happen against Palestinian bodies in Palestine and in the diaspora, they are a concentrated illustration of the ways Western superpowers come together to exert violence against indigenous people and against brown people. A simple example is, you know, we have a movement called the BDS movement, which is a nonviolent movement that has been largely delegitimized in the United States and has been targeted with threats of criminalization.
This very playbook that has targeted BDS has then been taken and replicated to target and criminalize efforts made by climate activists in the United States, and has been replicated and used to criminalize efforts made by black activists in the United States. So there is a repression policy that is tested and used against Palestinians that is then exported globally. Another thing is that a lot of the Israeli police repression tactics that are used against us are used also against black and brown people in the United States, because American police sends its troops to be trained by Israeli troops in mass surveillance tactics and militarization tactics and racial-profiling tactics.
Actually, the officer who killed George Floyd was trained by Israeli officers. There are programs all over Minneapolis, New York City, Atlanta, all over. Another thing is the very weapons, the drones that are used against us in the Gaza Strip are then exported and used against people in Kashmir. The cybersecurity efforts that are used against us are then exported to authoritarian regimes and used against their own citizens.
There are Palestinians between the river and the sea, and they are subjected to various forms of colonial violence.
And I can go on and on. I could talk about how the Israeli government and the Israeli military played a role in uplifting and supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa, the role it played in the Rwandan genocide. And I don’t say all these examples to say that Israel is, you know, the root of all evil and that it controls the world. That’s not what I’m saying.
I’m trying to say that the superpowers of the world have mutual interests, that the occupation is an internationalized enterprise where the United Arab Emirates and India and Israel and the United States all can benefit and profit from the occupation of the Palestinian people and then use the very violence used against us, against their own people at home. That is what I’m trying to say. And this is how Palestine can become a litmus test for internationalism, because we understand through the liberation of Palestinians and through the liberation of Palestine, we can then liberate or aid in the liberation of oppressed people everywhere, because our oppressors are one and the same and they work together. They are eager to maintain a status quo in which they rule and in which we are subjugated.
Toward a Liberated Palestine
What does a free Palestine look like? What path do you see to find a peaceful solution? Is there opposition in Israel that could be allied with Palestine? If not, why do you think this is the case? Can you articulate for us a political vision for life in Israel-Palestine? Do you envision the goal of your activism to lead to a two-state solution, one-nation federated state, or something else altogether? If Palestine is to be established from the river to the sea, what happens to the Jews living there? Would they be allowed equal rights in Palestinian citizenship?
So to start off, I think like a lot of this is a bit of a distraction to talk about. You know, this talk about two-state, one-state, uh, what happens to the settlers? You know, there’s this idea that we’re going to throw them all into the sea, etc., all of these hypotheticals, I can engage them from today until tomorrow. But I think what’s important is to look at the facts on the ground.
There are Palestinians between the river and the sea, and they are subjected to various forms of colonial violence. And there are Israeli settlements all over the West Bank. Actually, George W Bush. hilariously, many years ago described the West Bank as looking like Swiss cheese because it’s just little islands encircled by colonies and military outposts. These are the facts on the ground. And again, you know, I always hesitate. Sometimes I even ridicule the question about what happens to the settlers in a liberated Palestine, because so often the people asking these questions, I don’t think they wake up and go wash their face and look in the mirror and think, “I wonder what’s happening to the six million Palestinian refugees now living, forced to live in refugee camps? Lingering in refugee camps or who can only go to Palestine through the photographs that their parents and grandparents have.”
There is kind of an elevation of the lives and the feelings and the sentiments and the desires and the sovereignty and the location of the settlers over the lives of the natives. However, I can say this. I don’t have a desire to cause genocide against any people. And for people to hear a phrase like “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and consider it a call to genocide — that is much more a reflection of their own tendencies and impulses than it is a reflection of mine. Now a decolonized Palestine can mean various things, and we can have discussions also about what is an ethnostate and a nation-state and borders and all of these things. But that’s a discussion for another time. I have a few things that I think are more pressing.
I think Palestinian prisoners, Palestinian political prisoners, need to be released, many of which are held indefinitely in Israeli jails without charge or trial. In many cases, the prosecution will tell the judge that “we have damning evidence, we just can’t show it to you,” and they’ll be held indefinitely. I want them all released. I want the walls to come down. I want the six million Palestinian refugees to come home. And I want land back, and I want land back everywhere. Not just in Palestine. And I want redistribution of resources. And I want, obviously, freedom and dignity for all.
I can’t believe that’s even a question. So that’s how I think liberated Palestine can look like. And it’s very achievable. I refuse to live in a reality in which the subjugation and the statelessness of millions and millions of people can just be business as usual. I refuse that giving people their full rights can be considered inconvenient or an inconvenience. I refuse to live in a reality like that. I think granting all those rights is an absolute necessity, and it’s absolutely possible and doable.
Hamas in Context
When you speak of legitimizing Hamas, how do you take into account its use of civilians as human shields and disregard for human life? Could you speak more about Hamas’s goal/charter — do its objectives come at the expense of Palestinian people? Do you think that Hamas is antisemitic?
I want to preface by saying that there are laws in this country that limit the scope of my answer, and there are laws within the Israeli government that could land me in jail, for talking about Hamas or doing anything that could be interpreted as offering “support for Hamas.” And in fact, the Israeli government has just added an amendment to its 2012 counterterrorism law in which it ruled that if you do as much as consume what they call “terrorist media,” which is so broad and so vague, you can go to jail for a year. Right. So I want to just take into consideration the fact that there is only one right answer in this country for this question, and that I do not have the freedom of speech to say everything that I want to say.
The idea that you can legitimize the bombing of a hospital because seemingly there’s a Hamas tunnel underneath it, and you can legitimize killing babies in there in incubators, is absolutely horrific and disgusting.
However, I will say this very basic fact, and I think it’s quite crazy that that most people don’t know Hamas’s charter. I think it’s crazy that we don’t, regardless of whether you agree with it or disagree with it. You know, Hamas has been classified as a terrorist organization by both the United States government and the Israeli government. But the Israeli government and the United States government have engaged with Hamas politically and legitimized it politically for decades, and continue to do so and have negotiated with it. But this classification is to limit Hamas’s popular reach, limit its reach in the media. But I think it’s important, even if you are completely in opposition of Hamas, both as a pacifist who doesn’t believe in armed struggle, which I can respect, or as a person who has political disagreements with Hamas or as a person who’s very pro-Israel, very staunchly anti-Palestinian.
I think that regardless it’s just important for you to engage and understand what you’re against. That is a very long preface, but I think it’s necessary. Now, I’ll answer this way. Hamas is a political movement. It is, by its own admission — I don’t know what lingers in people’s hearts — not antisemitic. It says in its charter, which was updated in 2017, that its problem is with Zionism and not with the Jewish people. Now, whether there are certain Hamas members who are antisemitic, that is not for me to decide, but the organization, it says itself, is not.
And, you know, whenever there is a claim made by the Israeli government, it is a headline plastered all over the New York Times and the Washington Post. If we’re calling this an Israel-Hamas war, then both parties should receive equal representation. But this is further proof that it’s not an Israel-Hamas war. That’s one thing. Another thing that is in the Hamas charter is that it wants a state within 1967 borders. So actually Hamas, despite popular belief, does not want a state from the river to the sea. It wants a state that ends the occupation, the internationally recognized occupation. This is in its charter.
Now, whether I have disagreements with Hamas, whether I think I am secular, I don’t believe in political Islam or blah, blah, blah. I think all of these things are irrelevant. I’m answering just solely based on the question of what its charter is.
Another thing is the use of human shields. You must understand that the Gaza Strip is the second-most densely populated place on Earth, and the idea that Hamas uses human shields has been debunked over and over and over again. But I just want to engage this critically a little bit. Let’s say that it does. Let’s say that there’s a Hamas member here on stage encircled by seventy thousand children. And to get to get to him, you have to kill those seventy thousand children. This is not the trolley dilemma. This is not hypotheticals. You do not disregard the lives of thousands and thousands of people to get to one so-called terrorist. And the responsibility, even if terrorists hid behind civilians, the responsibility for killing civilians always falls on those doing the act of killing civilians. Plain and simple. The fact that this is even debatable is astonishing to me.
Again, regardless of what anyone thinks of Hamas, regardless of if you want to wipe it off the face of the Earth, the idea that you can legitimize the bombing of a hospital because seemingly there’s a Hamas tunnel underneath it, and you can legitimize killing babies in there in incubators, is absolutely horrific and disgusting.
I think one thing I would add to that is that I think it’s important context that people lack — and I encourage people to check out a book called Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance by Tareq Baconi — is why Hamas was founded in the first place, what the context was of the legitimacy crisis that the secular nationalists of Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) were entering into at the time, as they were forced to, as a condition of entering negotiations with Israel and the United States, renounce the armed struggle and a priori concede 78 percent of historic Palestine by “recognizing Israel’s right to exist.” This is not in my pile of questions here, but could you maybe talk a little bit about the context in the Palestinian national struggle that led to Hamas coming about in the first place?
I think the secular movement has had its own failures throughout the years. And Hamas, again, in the Western imagination is a nonstarter. So uplifting it and supporting it financially and giving it more and more room to exist and grow has always been in the best interests of the Israelis, and I don’t think the Israelis recognized that there might come a day where Hamas can achieve the military capabilities that it has today. What Hamas is facing today, this kind of depoliticization attempt, is what the PLO faced back in the day. There’s lots of corruption. There continues to be lots of corruption in the PLO.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas emerged as an answer during the first intifada, if I’m not mistaken. People were profoundly frustrated with the large compromises that gave away swaths of their lands to an Israeli power that still did not warrant them any right or any access to the resources. And Hamas emerged as an answer to this. But if I’m allowed to be a little bit more anecdotal and just engage some hypothetical situation — Tareq talked about the uncle who pulled out his niece from the rubble and said, “You are beautiful like the moon.”
Yesterday I talked to my friend about their cousin, who was killed under the rubble. I told you about the man who carried his son in two separate plastic bags. I watched a video of a Palestinian photojournalist named Ali Jadallah who was talking to us, his viewers, then he pans his camera to the back seat, where his lifeless father lay in the back seat wrapped in white cloth. And he says, “There are no ambulances. There is no one to help me bury him. I’m going to go bury him by myself.” And he gave us this kind of impromptu eulogy and he said, “Please pray for my father.” And then two hours later, he was on television talking to a reporter about what happened to his family and about the fact that his sister is still under the rubble and that they are still looking for her, but because there’s not enough foreign correspondents, he is having to do this labor, to pause this grief, to do this labor. Think about all of those people, think about all of those conditions.
In contrast to all of those who are writing their articles across the political spectrum, all of those who are writing their articles about Hamas, about Gaza, about the Palestinians, think about the expensive couches they’re sitting on and think about the view outside of their window where there is no white phosphorus, and think about the fact that they’ve never had to write an obituary that contains the names of thirty-five members of their family, and think about the fact that they’ve never had to go on a television screen to debate their humanity right after their entire family was bombed. These things are not minor details. This is not just context that is marginal. It is, again, the very reason why people rebel, why people resist, why people engage in these acts that we might think are completely inexplicable.
I think it’s inexplicable to be a nurse at a hospital and have your shift interrupted by your husband’s body on a stretcher. That’s inexplicable. That’s unjustifiable. I think it’s unjustifiable. To be a Palestinian child with no surviving members of your family. But we are told time and time again that our lives are worth less than the lives of our oppressor, and only when they die will the newsrooms start reporting on it.
Jewish Anti-Zionists and Christian Zionists
What can American Jews do to help efforts for Palestinian liberation? And I’ll add to this question that I think one of the most notable parts of this explosive, unprecedented Palestinian solidarity movement in the United States is that a very lead role has been taken by anti-Zionist Jews, specifically Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow. As someone whose wife is Jewish and is in a social and political left-wing universe that is substantially Jewish, one of the most surreal parts of this moment has been not only the demonization of Palestine solidarity movements as antisemitic, but the attempt that necessarily follows from that to almost disavow and excommunicate an entire generation of left-wing Jews who are saying, not in our name.
Yeah, I want to also just make sure I emphasize that what you’re saying is not hyperbole. The Jerusalem Post (which, hilariously, was once called the Palestine Post) released an editorial saying “no longer one of us” in reference to anti-Zionist Jews, saying that they can no longer consider anti-Zionist Jews or Jews who are in opposition to the State of Israel to be Jewish. It is some of the most absurd and bizarre things to be seeing Columbia University, a once-hailed beacon of free speech, suspend not only Students for Justice in Palestine, but also the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter on campus that is seeking to speak out against occupation, to speak out against the unfolding genocide in the Gaza Strip. But this should teach us something. This very absurdity is not a bug, but a feature in the system. It tells us that not only does opposition to violence, and opposition to violations of human rights and international law apply to non-Israelis, but also that the accusation of antisemitism will always only apply to non-Israelis and those not allied with Israelis. And I know, again, this might sound like an exaggeration.
Is anyone in this room familiar with Pastor John Hagee? So Pastor John Hagee is a televangelist. He’s one of the most prominent televangelists in America. He is a creator of an organization called Christians United for Israel. This is one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s best buddies. Netanyahu could walk across the stage and shake his hand firmly. He could do Zoom webinars with him. John Hagee has said on multiple occasions, has expressed on multiple occasions his praise of Adolf Hitler. He has said, and you can look it up, that “Hitler was a hunter sent from God to help the Jews.” You can look it up.
Theodor Herzl, one of the pioneers of the Zionist movement, said in his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) that the antisemitic nations of the world will be our most effective allies. So we understand that the charge of antisemitism has been politicized and used as a muzzle to stifle anti-Palestinian advocacy. And this is something that we must be aware of, because not only does this come at the expense of Palestinians (and I think it most importantly comes at the expense of the Palestinians who, you know, whose homes are under constant bombardment). But it comes at the expense of the Jewish community globally. What does it say when you reduce the crime of antisemitism to opposition and criticism of Israel? What does that make of that charge?
Following up on your comment about the far-right fundamentalist pastor, we have a number of questions here, one of which is: What ties do you see between the Israeli state and US fundamentalist Christianity?
Thank you. I want to begin the answer by saying that I’m not an expert on the matter, so take it with a grain of salt. It’s quite a bizarre alliance. The alliance between the Christian Zionists and the Israeli Zionists exists because the Israeli Zionists’ goal is to extract as much money from the Christian Zionist communities as possible, and to also encourage as many American Jews to emigrate and settle in Palestine. But the very crazy aspiration is the aspiration of the Christian Zionists who believe — and I, even I, feel embarrassed to say this out loud because it’s so ridiculous — that if they could get all of the Jews into Israel, then Armageddon would come. Not joking.
There are more Christian Zionists in the United States than there are Jewish Zionists — by far.
And if you don’t believe the testimony of a Palestinian because of your own racial bias, you can look up an Israeli film about this called ’Til Kingdom Come that talks about this. So it’s a deeply and profoundly antisemitic aspiration to depopulate all of the Jewish people from the world and have them immigrate so that you could have the end of times happen and blah, blah, blah.
But to the Israeli government, to the Zionist government, these are just a gullible coalition of idiots who are willing to give them money and who are willing to advance their enterprise, their settler-colonial enterprise in Palestine. And they are correct. There are more Christian Zionists in the United States than there are Jewish Zionists — by far. You read their testimonies and they really believe in those things, so much so that they take food and money out of their own pockets to give to the Zionist state. And obviously, this is kind of a feature of all of evangelicalism that exploits the poor, but it’s very starkly evident in here. So I don’t know if it’s mutual interest, but it’s a very bizarre alliance of interests.
Publicly Standing for the Palestinian Cause
I’m going to close with one final question, which is: What can non-Palestinians do to support Palestinian freedom in this current moment? Can you talk about how student movements can concretely impact situations on the ground in Palestine? What actions are most helpful impactful?
Well, first of all, we must we must recognize that there is so much fear. And this fear is not born out of the blue. There is so much hostility against Palestinians and against any pro-Palestinian sentiment. And this hostility is being transformed into legislation, into FBI investigations, into the Anti-Defamation League whispering in the in the ear of Joe Biden and Joe Biden and the Senate trying to criminalize Palestinian advocacy. It translates into spineless university leaders who go after and target students and their freedom of speech. And it goes after horrific, disgusting law firms who come together to say that if you are pro-Palestinian, we are not going to hire you. So there is legitimate fear over people’s academic prospects as well as career prospects. But I want to remind all of us in this room that these fears and these consequences will never compare to the consequences of living under occupation.
Being socially ostracized or losing your job is never going to compare to losing your home or losing your entire family. The fear of suspension is never going to compare to the moments you live before you die under rubble. So I want to encourage everybody to be brave. And I want to remind everyone of the absolute importance of taking a public stance, denouncing apartheid, denouncing genocide, denouncing Zionism, denouncing the siege on Gaza, denouncing the occupation.
It is of utmost crucial importance. This rabid repression, totalitarian response to Palestinian advocacy is scary, but it’s also revealing that they are proportionately responding to the way that the tide is shifting. And when they come for us, we do not shrink, we do not give them an inch. We become brave and we become courageous. And we don’t think of ourselves as casualties. We don’t think of the prices we pay as personal, individualistic prices. But we remember that we are members of a collective movement and that struggles necessitate sacrifice. That is the most important thing. So absolutely, it’s important for you to continue to acquire political education and to have difficult conversations around the dinner table. It’s important to put things into perspective, and it’s important to remember that the news cycle, the news cycle should not be what calls us to protest in the street, or what calls us to send statements, or what calls us to push for our institutions to adopt BDS. It should be us. We should not be reacting. We should be all calling for a cease-fire. Absolutely. But the only status quo that we should accept is a status quo of freedom and dignity for all.Original post