Background

Metal is time’s master, and nothing cuts one metal except another that carves a different history.

– Mahmoud Darwish

 

Background

When I made the decision to travel to Palestine with two of my closest friends and fellow organizers, Jeff and Andy, I did so with multiple intentions. Firstly, to deepen my knowledge of Israeli settler-colonialism, the associated system of apartheid, and the diverse forms of Palestinian resistance by way of first-hand experience, and to use this developing understanding to inform my participation in the Palestinian solidarity/liberation movement back in the United States. Both Andy and I have been involved in Palestinian solidarity work for several years (while Jeff and I have been involved in various forms of more general anti-capitalist/anti-authoritarian organizing), primarily in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement (for more information, see http://www.bdsmovement.net/ and http://www.olympiabds.org/), and are committed for the long haul to working towards the decolonization of Palestine. Secondly, to explore the ways in which the processes operating in Palestine are not only local and regional but also global – most obviously in the sense that global processes (e.g. neoliberalization, the projection of US power, the current crisis of capital accumulation) are major shapers of the history and geography of Palestine, but perhaps even more importantly in the sense that what is happening in Palestine is indicative of emergent global processes; in other words, practices or dynamics which are often regarded as peculiar or exceptional to Palestine by both the right and the left (such as territorial fragmentation, the coincidence of pockets of intensive exploitation and pervasive exclusion, or the intricate mechanisms for policing and controlling the movements of Palestinians) may in fact have something important to tell us about more general processes increasingly experienced by subordinated groups the world over. Thirdly, to make the connections – both intellectually and in practice – between the specific dynamics, conditions, and concerns of the movement(s) for Palestinian liberation and those of the more expansive and loosely networked multiplicity of movements often referred to in the singular as the alter-globalization or global justice movement, each of which Jeff, Andy, and I consider ourselves students of and participants in. In the US (and presumably elsewhere), the Palestinian solidarity/liberation movement has often been ghettoized, both by its participants and by other movement actors, and I wanted to develop first-hand knowledge that might help me to resist this dynamic, to situate the Palestinian liberation struggle within the more general global struggle against capitalism, colonialism, racism, heteropatriarchy, and ecological devastation to which I am committed, not only rhetorically but tangibly in practice. And, fourthly, to be moved and inspired. Privileged and problematical though it may be, I felt that witnessing both the violence of Israeli settler-colonialism and the resilience of Palestinian resistance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds would serve as an intellectual and emotional reminder of why I hold the political convictions that I do, and why embracing radical hope and imagination is something more than a fool’s errand.

This decision, however, was not without its ambiguities. To begin with, there is the tension that emerges in relation to the privilege of being able to enter and exit such a situation at will, to travel to Palestine (framed somewhat cynically) with the intention of mining it for knowledge and inspiration. This tension is compounded by my (white) Jewishness, which places me at the top of the racialized hierarchy upon which the Zionist state has been founded. While we planned to engage in on-the-ground solidarity work while in Palestine (primarily through participation in the International Solidarity Movement – for more information, see http://palsolidarity.org/), none of us had any illusions of making a significant material contribution to the Palestinian struggle during our time here. We would enter Palestine as transients, only briefly, and with little skills or knowledge that might be of any real use to Palestinians (none of us even speak Arabic). And with what contributions we might actually be able to make – say using our privileged position as white internationals to mitigate violence against Palestinians in certain circumstances – there would always be the danger of reproducing colonial relationships and consciousness – for instance, falling victim to the illusion that our perspectives and agency somehow have more to contribute to the Palestinian struggle than those of Palestinians themselves (i.e. the white/Western savior complex). All of us have been aware of these pitfalls, and recognize that in many ways we will be taking away far more than we will be contributing while we are here, but hope to make up for this imbalance by committing to bringing whatever insights garnered in Palestine to bear upon our organizing work in the US (and by committing to being engaged in this work substantively and consistently). Beyond that, we will simply have to be mindful of this tension and do away with any notions of moral purity, for we will almost certainly inadvertently reproduce certain oppressive relations during our time here.

Normally I abhor writing which is hurried – employing language which is flat and devoid of creativity, presenting analysis which is underdeveloped, communicating emotions which have yet to be fully processed. For these reasons, I nearly scrapped the idea of a blog altogether. Simply put, it’s not really my style. But I decided to force myself, because I think that, to the extent that communicating with others about our experiences in Palestine helps develop wider consciousness of the dynamics and moral weight of the Palestinian struggle, it is  in some sense an ethical imperative. That being said, all of the thoughts and observations communicated here will be incipient, and I welcome any feedback or critique that might help me or other readers to enrich our interpretative frameworks or political orientations. On a more mundane and practical note, while I would like to blog with some regularity, my on-the-ground commitments will often prove an obstacle to the frequency or consistency of posts; for now, I will aim for once a week. Finally, if anyone is interested in further resources on the history and dynamics of Israeli settler-colonialism and Palestinian resistance, or is curious about how they might themselves become involved in solidarity work, please write me and I will be happy to provide you with information or refer you to people more experienced and knowledgeable than myself. Thanks for reading.

 

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5 comments on “Background

  1. John Langstaff says:

    Excellent!

  2. fede says:

    First, my heart is there with you guys!
    Second, your analysis reminds me of my worries when I went to Palestine the first time. I think that being aware of your white Western Jewish male privileges is a great tool that will help you to keep your “antennas” alert. Yes, there will be chances to reproduce oppressive relationships during your time there, sometimes just because you’ll be too tired to be aware of everything around you, sometimes just because of who you are and represents. But feeling guilty will not help, and one thing that helped me get through and feeling less discouraged was the number of requests from Palestinians: please, tell the world what you witness! I really think that this blog and all the talks you will do once you’re back will be probably the best you can do. Use your privileges in a constructive way, travel, spread the word, organize! Thanks for writing.

  3. Hey Fede, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you that feeling guilty is an ineffective and self-serving/defeating response; the most productive response would be to figure out how to organize to transform these relations from one’s particular location within them. Organize I will! And thanks for reading!

  4. Ellen Brotsky says:

    I am a friend of your Aunt Ava, in Berkeley, and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She shared your blog with me. Thank you for your insightful writing and for taking such a firm stand against Israeli apartheid and for your bravery in participating in the demonstrations.

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