Updated: Nov 17
Like most of us, I sat horrified on October 7th as news trickled in about Hamas' murderous violence - my heart was breaking for my Jewish dear ones - but equally terrified for what I knew would come next. Deep, far reaching and disproportionate consequences for the people of Gaza and eventually the wider occupied Palestinian territories, the perpetuation of Islamaphobic systemic violence and anti-Semitic violence in retaliation - gaslighting, fear, wilful ignorance - a new cycle of that all but familiar hatred and dehumanisation.
Growing up in Coventry, and having lived in Barnet, London for many years now - both homes to large Muslim and Jewish populations respectively, I've spent my life surrounded by, embedded in, and sharing life, love, grief and joy with both Muslim and Jewish people who are truly, incredibly dear to me. My deep love for people on both sides, and those in-between has often made it feel like an absolute minefield to navigate understanding the conflict - after 20 years though, my biggest learning is this:
Learning about the occupation with the intention of justifying the actions of one side against innocent people on the other doesn’t just compromise the human dignity of those on the receiving end of that violence - it compromises our collective humanity. There is no justification, on either side, to ever harm even one innocent person. Whether an action is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in this situation cannot be contingent on the events that led to that harm. Let me repeat - when victims of violence are reduced to symbols of partisan political struggle - it is our collective humanity that is at stake.
At times like this when our political leaders, mainstream media and social media algorithms thrive on sowing division - it is up to those of us who have made a life of building community, to hold space for aching hearts, to find anchors that root us in collective survival, to refuse binary thinking and honour the pain of each and every victim of this bloody occupation a way that calls for an end to yet more division and devastation. And there is devastation everywhere we look. Primarily, crucially, overwhelmingly in Gaza; but also in Israeli and/or Jewish homes as people continue to mourn their dead and the violation of their safe spaces; and on our streets and in our communities as Islamaphobic and Anti-Semitic hate crime rise at an alarming rate.
Every act of the minimisation of pain experienced by those impacted , no matter how small, contributes to the culture of de-humanisation in which this conflict took root. I think an important tension for us all to hold, is how we work to challenge violence and inequality in a way that builds community and interrupts the cycle of hatred that landed us here in the first place? I don't have a definitive answer - just some provocations from Avery Gordon in the form of some extracts from her book, Ghostly Matters to help us think. She says what we're seeing is:
"the profound human costs of a system that is utterly dependent on the repression of a knowledge of social injustice”…So how can we practice seeing or knowing in new ways?
I take her provocation and have been trying to practice seeing and knowing in a way that resists the repression of a knowledge of social injustice - to hold moral clarity, but also to practice a deep sense of compassion and generosity for the importance of each and every human beings' fundamental right to dignity. In Healing Justice London's words - this post is a rehearsal in liberation. I have no idea how it'll land.
Below is one of the quotes that I return to often in my work - it's the one that made me fall in love with Gordon's work:
'That life is complicated may seem a banal statement of the obvious, but it is nonetheless a profound statement - perhaps the most important statement of our time. Yet despite...[our] best intentions, this statement has not been grasped in its widest significance....The power relations that characterise any historically embedded society are never as transparently clear as the names we give them imply.'
One thing that makes talking about the occupation so hard, is that we might not feel like we know enough to take a view. While the history matters, understanding how civilians are caught up in the politics of this conflict matters, understanding how state propaganda mobilises hate, or how systematic ‘othering’ enables atrocities of the kind we're seeing - to do so in a way without naming power leaves us lost.
To name power, is to name the conflict an Israeli occupation of land that according to international law, belongs to Palestine (referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip) - as Joey Ayoub tells us - there is no equality in this conflict. For me, naming power isn’t about passing judgement, but about calling for accountability. There is a big difference in my view between the two.
Naming Deep Inequality
I googled 'what it's like to live in Israel' and here's a cross-section of posts you can read from different people pre-October 7th: Meno Kalisher 1991, David Rosehill 2020, Josh Jackman 2022. On the whole, the vibe is that people trusted the resources of their government to keep them safe, even though they are aware of the 'security situation'.
Still though, I have to imagine that for the average Israeli citizen, living under constant threat of Hamas' rocket-fire even with a state-of-the-art rocket intercepter system must, on some level, be terrifying. On October 7th, we saw exactly the sort of horror that Hamas were capable of unleashing on Israeli citizens. To live under this level of threat - whatever the reason - is unimaginable to most of us. This truth exists in parallel with the next set of truths.
In stark contrast, the Israeli Government (not to be conflated with the Israeli people, or Jewish people) has been illegally occupying Palestinian Territories for decades - read more from Amnesty International here. The Israeli government and army reign terror over Palestinians daily - and have been doing so for decades; there is systematic evidence of Israeli authorities persecuting Palestinian citizens creating an Apartheid state (Read more on pre October conditions from Human Rights Watch, Dazed, UNOCHA, Vanity Fair, ReliefWeb, ) In those articles, you'll read about the lack of access to food, water, fuel, freedom of movement and basic human rights. Children and young people unsure if they'll survive one day to the next, 90% of people dependent on aid in one of the worlds most populous places.
In 2014, Gabor Maté an infant survivor of the Holocaust writes:
"And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing"
He has also recently released a video interview that he does with his daughter which you can watch here.
Naming Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide
On October 10th, Amira Haas, an Israeli journalist writes:
‘In a few days Israelis went through what Palestinians have experienced as a matter of routine for decades, and are still experiencing – military incursions, death, cruelty, slain children, bodies piled up in the road, siege, fear, anxiety over loved ones, captivity, being targets of vengeance, indiscriminate lethal fire at both those involved in the fighting (soldiers) and the uninvolved (civilians), a position of inferiority, destruction of buildings, ruined holidays or celebrations, weakness and helplessness in the face of all-powerful armed men, and searing humiliation.
This spoken word post entitled "When It Was Us" has been on my mind for weeks - it's also worth a listen.
Most of us will know the facts, will have seen the violent, heart-breaking images of utter devastation. The violations of international law, the use of white phosphorus - the failure of the international political institution to condemn collective punishment. I won’t recount them here…it is enough to say, to name, what is happening in Gaza is Genocide - and that the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has been happening for decades.
Naming Fascist Politics
In 2018, I read an article in the Irish Times written by Fintan O'Toole. It starts:
To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism.
‘Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate.
There is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.’
It feels impossible.
We may not even have the capacity to reckon with it at the moment (which is also OK).
But, for those of us committed to collective liberation, social justice and intersectional equity - especially those of us who work directly with communities at the grass-roots, we must take our responsibility to grapple with, understand, and anticipate the continued impact of the Israel/Palestine conflict on our local, national, and international communities seriously.
If we are truly committed - this is the work of liberation.
If you're new to the conflict, there's a danger in falling prey to disinformation, propaganda and rhetoric. I'm not a historian, or political scientist but you can read some helpful summaries from Reuters, Al Jazeera, and The Guardian for more info. Just remember that the sources that you read will present the story based on their values and investments - so take care when dealing in 'facts' - read from multiple and varied sources.