Waging Nonviolence – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 04 May 2024 04:19:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.9 Columbia Students are Sick at Heart, just as we were in ’68 https://www.juancole.com/2024/05/columbia-students-heart.html Sat, 04 May 2024 04:02:27 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218385

An organizer of the 1968 Columbia University protests on why the message against war, then and now, is the same.

( Waging Nonviolence ) – What is the ethical response to witnessing a great moral crime? Turn away and allow oneself to be distracted? Pretend it doesn’t exist? Or acknowledge the crime for what it is, and take some sort of action to try to stop it?

Students at Columbia in 1968 understood that our own government — with the complicity of our university — had invaded Vietnam in order to wage a war of occupation against a civilian population, committing mass murder with tactics like carpet bombing of whole provinces, spraying chemical poisons on rice fields and forcing entire rural populations into concentration camps. What’s more, we knew that the mostly white university, against community opposition, was expanding into one of the few parks in neighboring Harlem. Black Columbia students in particular — having grown up during the postwar civil rights era — felt the imperative to act. 

As the chairman of the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, I helped organize campus-wide protests that spring, during which hundreds of students occupied five buildings — a traditional nonviolent tactic. The occupation was followed by a mass strike that closed Columbia for more than a month.  

Now, over half a century later, Columbia students are once again engaging in consciously nonviolent tactics to protest the university’s complicity in a war — this time Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which has caused the deaths of more than 34,000 human beings, mostly women and children, and displaced 2.3 million. 

After setting up tents on a patch of lawn and facing severe scrutiny in the media as well as arrests and suspensions, another group began occupying one of the same halls we occupied in 1968. Just as we were, the students are sick at heart and feel compelled to stop a moral obscenity. 

All the rest is commentary.

Then and now

What the protesters are telling the country, then and now, is that it’s not morally acceptable for a university to conduct secret research in support of the war against Vietnam or to invest in Israeli military industries. Defending the status quo, the leadership of the institution and their funders naturally try to shut the students up. 

Back in 1968, Columbia’s administration called on New York City cops to empty the buildings, badly beating and arresting almost 700 students. Fifty-six years to the day later, the NYPD were again called in to break up a student occupation, arresting around a hundred students as they cleared the occupied hall and encampment last night. It was the second time in the last month — since her trip to Washington, D.C., where she pledged loyalty and obeisance to far-right politicians in a bid to save her job — that Columbia’s president brought police on campus to make arrests. 

Despite the similarities between then and now, there are differences.

Most of the leadership of the Columbia strike in 1968 was young men like myself. That no longer appears to be the case — either at Columbia or the other university protests around the country. 

In 1968 we made the mistake of answering the police violence with anger, fighting them and calling them pigs. We blurred the line between nonviolence (the occupation of buildings) and violence (our slogans and rhetoric), thereby undercutting our moral position.

On the left, students occupying the Mathematics Hall in April 1968. On the right, a tent from the 2024 student encampment.

The students protesting the slaughter in Gaza, with their diverse leadership are making no such mistakes. They are thoroughly nonviolent. There may be individuals or provocateurs who defy the strategy, but at least the protesters are trying to make their intention clear. In a little-reported Instagram post last week entitled “Columbia’s Gaza Student Protest Community Values,” they wrote “At universities across the nation our movement is united in valuing every human life” and “We firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry.” Setting up tents and praying for the souls of the dead, all the dead, is not violence.

The charge of antisemitism

Having myself been raised, like most American Jews, to believe that my Jewish identity is entwined with Israel, I understand why criticism of Israel feels threatening. Generational trauma is bred into us. 

Yet, having moved to an anti-Zionist position because of Israel’s brutality and racism toward the Palestinian people, I have been labeled a “self-hating Jew,” a “traitor” and worse. Now a new epithet has appeared, the “unJew.”

No matter: Those of us who reject hatred, violence and denial of human and civil rights — and view that as intrinsic to Jewish identity — still remain Jews. Concerned for the well-being and future of the seven million Jews living in Israel, we advocate for (as do many nonviolent Palestinians) a future democratic Israel/Palestine, where all citizens are equal, close to the ideal of a truly democratic United States so many of us are struggling for. The longer this war continues, the further off this solution or any other becomes — and the more dangerous the situation gets for Jews in Israel. Is this war against Gaza good for the Jews? 

Pretending to defend Jews who feel threatened by criticism of Israel, the far right (which harbors true antisemites in their ranks) — Nazis, Proud Boys and even a deranged person who murdered 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh — have been quick on the attack. Speaker of the House and MAGA acolyte Mike Johnson last week shed crocodile tears at Columbia, working himself up about the supposed antisemitism on campus. 

If he were serious about suppressing such hatred, he would disavow and suppress the lie at the heart of both his white Christian nationalist movement and the anti-immigration movement: that “the Jews” are conspiring to create the flood of non-white immigration in order to “replace” white people. 

The fascist media, of course, have jumped to attack the protesters. The liberal media, always worried about the rise of antisemitism, follows.

It’s very hard to find reports anywhere of the constant attacks at Columbia on Muslim students, including one by IDF veterans who used chemical eye spray, sending victims to the hospital with severe injuries. It is also rare to see media that highlight the many Jewish supporters of the Gaza protest.

Buried in this blizzard of accusations is the protesters’ original point, that mass slaughter is happening right now in Gaza. 

Despite threats of violence, expulsion, arrest, doxxing and being barred from future employment by the antisemitic label, the Gaza protesters aren’t backing down. Their ranks are increasing, with more than 40 campuses across the country holding protests, and more than 1,200 students arrested. Let’s hope that this incipient movement grows to stop American support for the war against Gaza — and to eventually rectify one-sided American policy toward Israel.

No matter how hard we Americans are fed the lie that war is peace, many young people can see through it. They should be cherished and respected for their moral clarity and courage. 

Mark Rudd was chairman of the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society in April, 1968. Subsequently he became a “National Traveler” for SDS and was elected the last National Secretary of SDS in June, 1969. Because of his delusions about revolution in this country he and his clique, “Weatherman,” closed down SDS, the largest radical student organization, at the height of the war, to his eternal shame. He was one of the founders of the ill-conceived and ill-fated Weather Underground in 1970. A federal fugitive until 1977, he suffered no consequences due to the government’s illegalities. Since then he has been a full-time organizer and community college instructor in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The author of the memoir “Underground, My Life in SDS and Weatherman.” He is also a student of organizing, especially nonviolent strategy.

Via Waging Nonviolence

Gun Culture, Israeli Style https://www.juancole.com/2024/04/culture-israeli-style.html Mon, 15 Apr 2024 04:04:13 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218047

A more permissive attitude toward guns in Israel following Oct. 7 will only lead to greater Israeli violence and impunity.

This story was produced by Fellowship Magazine

Against genocide: A conversation with Ofer Cassif https://www.juancole.com/2024/04/against-genocide-conversation.html Sun, 07 Apr 2024 04:06:41 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=217893

Ofer Cassif, a voice for peace and nonviolence within the Israeli parliament, speaks with Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Ela Gandhi, Michael Nagler and Mubarak Awad.

Nonviolence in the Holy Land: Fear, Love and Palestine with Sami Awad https://www.juancole.com/2024/03/nonviolence-holy-palestine.html Sat, 16 Mar 2024 04:06:49 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=217583  
Former Holy Land Trust Executive Director Sami Awad. (Facebook/Sami Awad)

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( Waging Nonviolence) – As a Palestinian, Sami and his family have suffered directly under the long Israeli occupation and more acutely now, from the current war. Sami speaks candidly about the ways in which politicians and media harness fear and exploit unhealed traumas so that violence seems to be the only response to conflict. This, he insists, is a distortion – and one that must be actively resisted. Instead of accepting the simplistic binary categories of victim and victimizer, Palestinians can envision and then work collectively through nonviolent means to realize a just future, one which they themselves have chosen. Such a path calls for broad education in nonviolence, it calls for deliberate organization, it calls for genuine leadership and crucially, it calls for love to be our primary motivation. The situation in Palestine is horrific, there is no quick fix, but when we reject fear as our driver and turn to love instead, possibilities for real change emerge

I think part of loving is to deeply understand who the other is and where they’re coming from and what motivates them to behave the way they behave and do the things they do. And in that love and care and compassion, creates space for transformation and healing. And I think that is definitely much more powerful than fear, and is key. But it’s a journey.

Stephanie: Greetings and welcome dear listeners to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m here with my cohost and news anchor of the Nonviolence report, Michael Nagler. And we’re from the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, California.

On this episode we speak with a truly remarkable guest, Sami Awad. He’s the former executive director of the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem. With the world’s eyes on this region at this time in the conflict, especially, escalated since October 7, our discussion with Sami explores a new level of activism and understanding of nonviolence in the region, one of the most tumultuous regions in the world.

What I liked the most about this interview with Sami was the depth of his understanding of the dynamics of nonviolence, not only politically, but also what happens in the human heart and mind, and this kind of tension between fear and love.

Sami is a thoughtful, inspiring, and noble human being. And we hope that you gain as much understanding and inspiration and support from this interview as we did. Let’s turn to Sami Awad.

Sami: My name is Sami Awad. I am living in Bethlehem. I am a Palestinian. Both of my parents are Palestinians. My father is a refugee from Jerusalem and my mother is from Gaza, from the Gaza Strip.

Until last week, my mother’s family was in Gaza. We were able to take them out to Cairo a day before the Israeli army started bombing Rafah. And they were in Rafah, actually. So very, very lucky. My uncle, aunt, cousin’s, in-laws – there are still family members that are still in Gaza. We’re still very worried about them. But at least the immediate family, we were able to take out last week.

I grew up in a family that has always been committed to peace work and very deeply influenced at a young age by an uncle, Mubarak Awad. Who was heading the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence before he was arrested and deported by the Israeli army for his work in nonviolence.

And so, my life journey, my mission, has been to engage in nonviolent resistance and activism towards the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people and to bring a just peace to this land. Which has not been an easy task for all of us, I think, for all who have been involved in this.

Part of that was in 1998, I started an organization called Holy Land Trust, which I ran for 25 years, until last year, when I decided to step away from the organization. To continue working with them, but stepping into more freelancing and doing more work on a global scale with nonviolent activism.

Stephanie: What does that look like for you today?

Sami: Well, today, I mean, this was all the idea before this war on Gaza took place before October 7. So, it’s been completely taken over by just the reality that we live in now, and then trying to advocate for at least a ceasefire to happen. Trying to advocate for nonviolence, trying to advocate also for people not to be afraid to expose the injustices that are happening, the genocide that is taking place, the growing levels of racism that are happening also in this land, that need to be addressed. So, I haven’t been able to engage at the international level as planned.

But for me, the three tiers of the work that I work in and want to continue working, as I mentioned, the first and maybe the cornerstone is nonviolent activism. The second tier, which I have been doing more and more work in the field also, maybe even at the same level of need, is to address collective trauma, inherited trauma, and how this is an important component actually, of activism that we need to – we need to be motivated not by our fear nor by our trauma as we move forward.

Many, many peace activists are activists for peace because they’re afraid of the other side, not because they honor the other side, respect the other side, or even acknowledge the atrocities that have been done to the other side. “We are afraid of you, therefore, we want to make peace with you,” and that, for me, doesn’t work. And so inherited narratives of trauma, which are key. Key, when it comes to the Palestinian Israeli situation, are some aspects of work that we have been doing.

The third level of work is leadership development. So, for me, we can’t also talk about nonviolence without having clear, visionary, trusted leaders that are motivating their community, that carry the vision, that are leading their people in the struggles of liberation and not just sitting in, you know, five-star hotels and mansions and talking about liberation.

And so, leadership development, nonviolence, and healing are the work that I’ve been engaged in and want to continue to engage in, as I said, locally and globally as well.

Michael: So, in that brief talk, Sami, three things have come up for me of different character. One is, are you working with Combatants for Peace?

Sami: Yes. Yeah, you know, when we look at what’s happening now, as – I don’t even know what the word is to describe it. As sorrowful, as painful as confusing as it is, as dark as it is, there are some beacons of light that are happening. And I think one major one is that there is a level of awakening within the Palestinian activist community.

I’ve been having many of these discussions, many of these discussions happen in my home, including key leaders on the Palestinian side of Combatants for Peace, that we come, and we meet together. And then really ask the questions of, who we are, where are we, what is our mission? What is our goal? What have we done that has worked? What have we done that has not worked as well in the past?

I think October 7, let me say on a positive side, was maybe a wake-up call for many of us to say that, yes, we have been doing work as activists for 25 years and more now since the Oslo peace process began, at least if not before.

And then, did we fall into a routine? Did we fall into a certain pattern of what we did and how we did things that we need to address? And so, I think we’re having really very powerful discussions that talk about, again, who are we? What are we doing? What is the language we want to speak now? How much have we been in a space where we were appeasing the other side, even in our nonviolent activism? To try to bring them into, you know, accepting us or engaging with us?

How much did we downplay our language in a way that makes them want to join? Now we’re saying, “No, we want to label things as they are. We want to speak truth to power.” We want to make it very clear we’re not looking – yes, we enjoy the friendships, but this is not the main part, the part of what we’re doing.

It’ll be amazing friendships when this occupation ends. These are the friendships we want to have. Not before, and then having these friendships become so personal that they interfere with our ability to engage in work because we are worried about upsetting them or not making them – or making them triggered by us.

So, there’s been an awakening, I think, within the activist community since October 7. And these discussions have been very, very strong, and profound. I think.

Michael: Wow, thank you, Sami. Okay. I’ll just move on to my second question, since we had such a great time with the first one. The second one was more like a comment, but I’d like to get your response to it.

You know, in this field, as you know, we talk about negative peace and positive peace. And you just gave a really devastating definition of negative peace when you said, “Some people go into nonviolence because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of the opponent.” And Gandhi would say, acting out of fear is a form of violence.

Sami: Exactly.

Michael: So that, in a way, negative peace is not nonviolence.

Sami: Yes, I fully agree with that statement. And this is why it became very important for us to address the fear. Because we know that fear is part of the collective psyche, for example, of the Jewish community in particular. They grow up in a narrative that says to them, as Jews, we have trusted so many in the past and look what they did to us. As Jews, everybody hates us. Everybody wants to destroy us. And antisemitism is alive and well. There is no denial of that. But there is also, in my opinion, an abuse of that by certain leaders to gain political clout.

One quote that also is as strong for me is, it says, “Fear is the greatest motivator of human behavior.” And then leaders know that if you use fear, people will listen to you. And then we see this politically everywhere in the US, in Europe, growing fascism. To be honest, Michael, even the left in the US is now using fear as a motivation to rally people around them. And so, this has also been negative, negative peace as well.

So, we need to definitely address fear and its history, and the way to deal with it is healing. So, we are very much engaged in creating spaces for Palestinians and Israelis collectively, where they come with very specific programs that we have created to become aware. At least become aware that many of the decisions that they’re making are motivated by fear, and that we can now create a different space where we could put that fear behind us and become motivated by something else.

Become motivated by justice. Become motivated by compassion, by understanding the other, by acknowledging the atrocities that are being committed against the other. Take responsibility. Because fear also just puts you more in the victim’s mindset. And then we need people to understand that they have responsibility in terms of what’s happening here.

Michael: You made a statement, which is of really great significance in the nonviolence field. Because there is always this specter raised because of the tremendous power of Gandhi and King and a few others, there is, of course, a school that wants to not have charismatic leaders, which I don’t agree with that school very much.

And it sounds like you agreed with me, which is quite thrilling. That you said that a leader has to at least emerge, someone who can rally, who can refocus people, has to emerge.

Sami: Yes. Yeah. I think for us as Palestinians, this has been a question for me that I’ve been in for a long time. This is why I actually started doing the leadership training programs in the Palestinian community, because in a way, I could say we have too many leaders, but we don’t have leadership.

We don’t have clear leadership that is really able to unite the community. Our sad reality is we have leaders that are tribal leaders representing political parties. They’re trying to gain politically for their party based on, you know, putting others down or even struggling or having conflict with others, as we see between – for many, many years and until now between groups like Hamas and Fatah, each one trying to gain power in a situation where we have nothing, absolutely nothing.

Sometimes I compare this like people fighting over who’s going to be standing on top of the trash dump instead of asking, how can we all come together and clean this mess that we have been put in? So, for me, leadership is key, is important. We have leadership that are, again, ready to not just speak a vision and inspire people but are ready to be on the ground.

This is what Gandhi did. This is what King did. They were on the front lines of demonstrations. I’ve been in so many demonstrations here that we organized, Michael, where Palestinian leaders come to join us. And as soon as it reaches that hot zone where, you know, where it’s ready to have that tension between us and the army, they’re the first ones to leave, many of them, not all of them, but many of them will just turn around and go back.

They got their photo op, they got on the camera. You know, they got the interview on TV, and that was it. This is not the leadership that we want. And then I will even add to this and say that part of our work is to also build up the capacity of young leaders, which are very important for us.

This is key motivation. And, as important, women leaders in the Palestinian community, which were very, very strong, and very, very powerful until the Oslo peace process began, and the Palestinian Authority was created. And this absolute male masculine energy took over and women were sidelined for all the work that they did. And now we see, like all – most of the leaders in the Palestinian community are men.

Even somebody like Hanan Ashrawi, who was a woman leader for many years, you know well. She’s been sidelined. You know, given sort of like a spokesperson position at best. And so, for us, bringing young leaders and women leaders in full force in the Palestinian community is key as well.

Stephanie: Sami, as you’re speaking, first of all, I just want to pause and see if, you know, you’ve covered a lot of ground – has anything struck you as you’ve been speaking, that you want to go into a little bit further before we guide into another place? How are you feeling?

Sami: No, I’m feeling good. We’ll see where we go. I mean, I think it’s important at some point to talk about what – I don’t even know the answer to it, but what is nonviolence in the midst of all what’s happening now?

Stephanie: I do have a lot of questions about the various aspects and angles of nonviolence. One is that fear is the greatest motivator for politicians in particular, I think is what you mean.

Sami: It’s what the politicians use to motivate. So, fear is the greatest motivator of human behavior. And politicians know how to play that game very well. That’s – yeah.

Stephanie: Do you think love could be the greatest motivator?

Sami: Yeah, yeah. No, for me, I mean, I think a big part of the work we’re all doing is to conquer fear with love, for sure. And that’s what we want. But I think to really make that happen, I think we also need to understand how deeply fear has also been embedded in love itself. And how many people, you know – fear has, there is a certain understanding of love that I think is really missing.

I think most people who engage in love, if it’s at the personal or the collective level, still have this component of fear in them. Fear of losing a loved one, fear of being alone, fear of separation, fear of judgment. A lot of fear comes in love relationships. And so, this is something very important for me that we work on, which is how to also free love from fear itself.

And for me, there is a love that I think is very powerful and can be motivational. And that is when we talk about love that is unconditional, for example. Like, how can we love somebody despite the triggers, despite how, you know, their behavior that makes us feel insecure or something? And then how can we be part of that healing journey for them?

To love somebody, in my opinion, means to unconditionally love them. And then for me, you know, my history connected to this has been – I always say how I began to discover Jesus when I let go of Christianity. And then I started studying Jesus independent of Christianity. And then one key statement, a commandment, actually, not just a statement that he told his followers in the midst of a very brutal occupation that they were living in under the Roman occupation, which is, love your enemy.

And then I went on, it was my spiritual journey to understand what does it mean to love somebody? What does it mean when he is telling Jews who lived under a very violent, brutal occupation to love their enemy? He didn’t say, “Make peace with your enemy.” He didn’t say, “Resolve a conflict with your enemy.” He didn’t say, “Reach a peace treaty with your enemy.” He said, “Love your enemy.”

And then I think part of loving is to deeply understand who the other is and where they’re coming from and what motivates them to behave the way they behave and do the things they do. And in that love and care and compassion, creates space for transformation and healing. And I think that is definitely much more powerful than fear, and is key. But it’s a journey.

I want to say that it’s been one of my biggest disappointments since October 7 was in seeing how many Israeli peace activists that I’ve worked with, connected with, been in spaces with, engaged in nonviolent resistance with, immediately, immediately on October 7 itself fell into the trap of absolute fear from the other and even calling for violence towards the other.

And this is why I say it’s the greatest motivator. Because if you’re not really embedded and stable and have deep roots in love, then that tree can fall very quickly and then fear takes over. And so, yes, love is ultimately the greater motivator. But my fear, my problem at this time is that, sadly, in the world we live in, fear and separation are the motivations.

Stephanie: I was just reading in Thérèse of Lisieux, a Catholic mystic, who said on this topic of loving your enemy, that it’s not enough to love your enemy, you have to prove it.

Sami: Yes, I love that. I jokingly say sometimes, when I was in that question of what Jesus meant by loving the enemy, you know, I would say like, should I go to checkpoints and open my arms out to Israeli soldiers and say, “I love you, Come and – now give me a hug?”

And so, love, there is a proof to it, component as well. It’s not just words. It’s actions. It’s deeds. It’s energy that you bring into the space. It’s an opening, an invitation. So, there is action for sure when it comes to love as well.

Stephanie: And I think in that same context, it was something like the greatest – that before Jesus was crucified, that he gave another commandment which was even greater than loving your enemy, which was love one another the way that I’ve loved you.

Sami: Yeah. And yeah, for sure. And his story, his journey of his life is one where it was expressing love and living love and teaching love and being unconditional in love. And not separating between different tribes and different people and different groups when it comes to love. And even being challenged by himself, like when he showed love to the enemy, and he showed love to the – I think it was, there was a woman who was from a different identity group that even challenged him to heal her because he didn’t want to heal her initially.

And then she challenged him, and he did heal her. And for him to be in the humbleness of it, and accepting that he also has his learning to do when it comes to this from the enemy, from others. So, yeah, for me, everything that Jesus did was an embodiment of love and transformation and healing.

And then this is why, for me, it’s very important then to talk about him and to talk about his teachings in that way.

Stephanie: And on that topic again, of fear, and as you said, you know, love is sort of hiding behind fear in a way. That in the work of the trauma work and of, you know, getting to this place of nonviolence from this place of unconditional, fierce love, detached love, even, I wonder what you think that fear is doing there.

Why is fear so intertwined with love?

Sami: Yeah, yeah. It’s a big question. I mean, I think part of it is, we grow up in communities and in identities that promote separation and promote division. Starting with family, you know, now it’s about the nucleus family. It’s not about the bigger community that we are part of. It’s my father and my mother and my siblings.

And then there is the other. It’s my school, and then there is the other. Everything is polarized, everything is dualistic, everything is divided. And in that, because of these narratives we grow up in, there is this illusion of security that we have to create around my identity, my narrative, my people, my tribe.

And the illusion is that this identity creates a sense of security for me to be part, to belong to something. And then the moment that is challenged by something else or by a new narrative that comes into play, then immediately fear of losing comes up. And I think fear of losing is the biggest fear that we have, not just losing life but losing, losing connection, losing community, losing identity.

And to be honest, this is what I see a lot within the Israeli community. That for so many years now, decades, it’s been embedded in them that the state of Israel, this state is the only safe place for you. This state is the only place that you could come to that will protect you when the rest of the world begins to attack you. This is why you have to –

So, the love for the state of Israel is coming completely from an ideology of promoting fear of the other. That if you don’t love Israel and you don’t give everything to Israel, your commitment, your vows, your money, your vote, then you are with the other, you are with the enemy. You are allowing. So fear – this is why I keep saying fear is a great motivator.

And then many, many Israelis and talking to them, especially when it comes to trauma healing work, there is this fear of who are we, even now, without the state? And yes, the state has problems. And yes, the state has issues. And yes, the state is not doing good things. But, you know, there’s always this, but we go back to it. And we need to fix it. We need to make it better.

But it’s still this whole nation that is completely embedded and motivated by fear. And again, I’m not denying the past that created this, but to say that there is an abuse of this at this time that is taking place, that’s making people completely lost in it.

So, yes, separation and division and dualism is key in promoting fear and dismantling love in spaces. When we talk about love, it’s about community. It’s about oneness. When you love somebody, you are creating something new with them. It’s not just the I and the they. It’s the we that comes out, that emerges. It’s the new creation that comes out of love.

And for me, this is like – this is my dream for this place and this land. What is the new that we can create? When we look into the peace treaties that have been offered, the Oslo peace process. A peace process. Even leaders won Nobel Peace Prizes on it. Like the greatest honor of peace. If we look deeply on it from that lens, it wasn’t a peace process. At best, we could say it was a security process to put like a positive note on it. It was negotiating security, and security means there is fear. And so, when there is fear, we need to negotiate the best security mechanism for us.

Israelis were negotiating from a place of, how do we maintain a Jewish nation, a Jewish state? Because, again, of how the world has treated us, how the world has seen us, the fear and the trauma that we have experienced. And then we have to deal with those Palestinians that are in this land. We wish they were not there, but because they’re there, we have to find a certain arrangement for them.

And the Oslo peace process failed because that arrangement was only about how can we control the Palestinians in order to maintain security. How can we create a Palestinian Authority to help us suppress the Palestinians in a way to maintain security for Israel and the Jews?

And that failed. The Palestinians’ leadership on the other side was also motivated by fear. The PLO at that time had lost its legitimacy in the global community when Yasser Arafat stood with Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. You know, the faucet of financial support from the Gulf state was cut, diplomatic negotiations with the US and Europe that were secret were ended.

He was motivated by fear of losing everything. So, he jumped into the Oslo peace process again from a place of fear. Both sides were motivated by fear. And for me, yeah, when we talk, imagine if they were motivated by love in that way, like by a deep understanding, compassion, care, a desire to reconcile the grievances that were created by both sides, a desire to even apologize and mend what we have done to you. We would definitely not be in this situation. But sadly, that’s not the motivation that was there.

Stephanie: You’re here at Nonviolence Radio. I’m Stephanie Van Hook. I’m with Michael Nagler. And we are speaking with Sami Awad from Israel-Palestine about the work of nonviolence in the region.

A while ago, we had interviewed Ali Abu Awwad from Taghyeer, and he said something that ties into something that you said earlier about the victim mentality. He said, “When we stop seeing ourselves as victim or victimizer, that’s really the basis for being able to move forward together.”

Can you speak to the – again, that kind of tension between love and fear within this identity of a victim or victimizer when, clearly, we can be both victim and victimizer at the same time? So, how do we release ourselves from that space? How do you do that in your work?

Sami: Yeah, so again, for me, it comes down to motivation. And what is that motivation for action that it creates? At first, we cannot deny the reality that we live in. On that scale, there is a victim and there is a victimizer, there is an oppressor and oppressed, there is an occupier and an occupied.

The question is, being the victim, what do I do? What do I engage in? How do I behave? Do I allow myself to completely surrender to victimization, which means my action is about blaming, complaining, seeking entitlement, not taking responsibility, not taking action, labeling everything as impossible because of what they’re doing to us? And so, there is a consciousness of victimization that I can choose to be in.

And there’s another consciousness of victimization, which is, yes, I am a victim, but I have power. Yes, I am a victim, but I can unite my people around the call. Yes, I am a victim, but I can have a vision for the future. And I can engage in action to bring a better day for me and my people, and for the victimizer themselves as well.

I think it’s not about denying the reality, but it’s about saying that I make a choice. Everything in life is a choice. And then again, we see this on a personal and then the collective. This is why, for me, always, the personal and the collective are intertwined. We learn from each other. A person who is abused in a relationship and is a victim has a choice.

And sometimes we think we don’t have a choice because fear takes over. But we always have a choice. Then what is that choice that we make in the midst of the oppression, of being victimized? It’s not about denying it. I think that’s very important.

And then I fully agree with you. Yes, I can be a victim in the context of an occupation, but I can be a victimizer in the context of how I connect to my neighbor, or how I connect to my family or my children.

And so, we all have that, we all have that component in us to be both at the same time. I don’t want to belittle the reality that we live in and to say no, that at that mega political level, that is the reality, and we need to address it from that point about how do we empower the victim, and how do we – and this is a key part of nonviolence, is how do we pull power away from the victimizer?

I think many people just completely ignore the component of nonviolence, which is the need of nonviolence to pull power away. Michael, Mubarak, Gene Sharp, talk about this. That we need to – yeah, so, when it comes to the power dynamics, it’s where the shift needs to happen.

Stephanie: Yeah, Michael and I were listening to a practitioner of restorative justice from Northern Ireland the other day, and he was working with victims of sexual assault, I think at one point.

And he said that one of the stories was that this woman had the opportunity to be in the room with the person who had raped her, but he wasn’t going to apologize for what he did. And so, the guy was like, “Well, we could call off the session because you’re not going to get what you want.”

She said, “No, we’re going to go through with it because he’s never going to have that power over me again. It’s not that I want his apology. I don’t want him to ever have that power over me again.”

Michael: She showed that she wasn’t destroyed by what he did. That was her triumph in that situation.

Sami: Yeah. And not make him decide what the discourse of the conversation would be. But he decides he wants to apologize or not, that’s not, that’s not important to her. Yeah, that’s beautiful. I love that.

Michael: You know, at the end of Man’s Search for Meaning, which is Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who was in Auschwitz for two and a half years. At the very end, when the camp is liberated, he’s walking out of the camp with a fellow prisoner, and they walk past a wheat field. And the other prisoner runs into the wheat field and starts trampling the wheat. And so, Frankl says, “What are you doing?” And the guy says, “They did this to me, so I’m going to do this to them.”

And there’s just like such a stark allegory of this man let himself be destroyed by his victimization. And Frankl, for some, you know, God’s grace descended on him or something and he didn’t let himself be destroyed. So, I’m guessing that when you do a lot of trauma work with both camps, actually, that this is something that you emphasized, not to let yourself be, not to adopt what your enemy tells you you are.

Sami: Of course. Of course. And then we see this fully in history, where unhealed trauma creates a cycle of, a new cycle of victim and victimizer, of oppressor and oppressed. And we all know this is a big part of this reality that we live in. The fact that there was no real deep healing work for the Jewish community after the Second World War when it comes to trauma healing, it was never addressed at that level.

It was just, in a way, coming out from guilt and shame that the international community had to make up for the Jewish community. But until today, there hasn’t been a real reconciliation process. And we see this, and then we see that that lack of healing has created this system that we have lived in for many, many years that has completely now exposed itself.

And then it’s violence. And then it’s sad. It’s really sad. Like, it’s not easy for me to create a comparison between how they were treated and how they’re treating us. This is not the point. But to say that the lack of healing of the Jewish community has created a community where they are committing atrocities against another people.

And to say that in the future that the lack of healing for Palestinians from the traumas that they are facing will result in them creating violence and atrocities against others. If it’s another group of people, if it’s different identity groups within the Palestinian community, if it’s gender-based, religious-based, to say that the Palestinians are excluded from that cycle, it’s not going to happen if we don’t engage in trauma healing as soon as we are able to move in that space for the Palestinians.

So, peace, any peace that comes in the future, in my opinion, needs to be deeply embedded in truth and reconciliation and trauma work for both communities.

Michael: We recently interviewed Ofer Cassif, and he had a very interesting image for this. He talked about Israelis and Palestinians living side by side, but not looking each other in the eye. That they are really not seeing one another on a human level.

In other words, they’re trying to coexist rather than live together. And that kind of thing has never lasted.

Sami: Yeah, I fully agree. And not just that, I will add to it. We’re living next to each other, coexisting – and I think that’s what he was also meaning, with completely different narratives of who we are and who the other is.

We’re not even listening to each other’s stories. We’re not even listening to each other’s pain and narratives. So, the Israelis are living their own complete narrative. And actually, it’s interesting because part of the conversations we’re having is how media is being presented on both sides. And the absolute contrast with what the Israeli media’s presenting, what Palestinian media’s presenting.

And it’s not about truth or not like it’s that’s, you know, the media is media. But it’s just the stories, the narratives that are being presented by one, and how the same experiences presented by the other is a completely different story. And then people, this is what they’re listening to. That’s what they’re hearing, and that’s then what they’re sharing as their experience.

We need to find that space where – and it’s not even about creating one story. I mean, it’s about just beginning to really listen to the other and then seeing the other eye to eye, and honoring and respecting the other, trusting the other for their experience and what can be built with them.

Stephanie: We have a good friend, Amery, who is an artist. In his art, he tries just to bring people together to build relationship with each other, whether it’s like rolling a ball back and forth in a park. That is his art in a way. And so, I’d love to move into this question of what nonviolence looks like in this situation right now. And yeah, let’s just open that up.

Sami: Yeah. So, I’ll begin by saying that nonviolence in the midst of war and violence is not something very easy to engage in. It’s sad to say this, but when the emotions are so high, when the arms are so powerful and strong, and the use of weapons is so easily done, all of us, all of us, we’re all in a place where we are in the question of what can we do?

You know, we’re seeing demonstrations happening around the world. Millions and millions of people. We’re seeing politicians that are probably going to lose elections because of their stance, and they’re still advocating for violence and for this war to continue and for more weapons.

So, on one level, I would say, we – I can’t be always optimistic and say, yeah there is a nonviolent solution at this time. At this time, I think it’s very difficult. And I think it’s very important for us to honor that within us as activists. To actually acknowledge despair as it exists within the community and not to play around it. And in that place, to create conversations of how do we move, and where do we move, and what are we creating for any future work we want to do?

We definitely know that at the end of this war, there isn’t any political agenda out there that is going to promote a just peace to this situation. We’re going to fall back into a reality of fear, and victimization, and victimhood, and oppressor, and oppressed, and power dynamics the same way. Yeah, maybe a different political map of it, but that same energy is still going to be present.

And that, I think, is where we will have an opportunity to engage. And so, in a way, when the dust settles from this atrocity that we’re facing, it’s going to be our time to take charge, to move forward in work. And these are the conversations we’re having with activists.

It’s not to say that we cannot engage. We do the best that we can, which is creating advocacy. Many, many of us are on webinars and Zoom calls around the world talking about nonviolence, talking about the Palestinians, talking about the rights of the Palestinians, creating more international support, the momentum for a just peace in this land. Because that is an opportunity that we have to work with.

But none of us are able to go now and stop a tank from shelling a house in Gaza. Even though there are many conversations – I’ve been in conversations with women leaders from around the world that are talking, let’s bring 100,000, 200,000 women to come and stand. And even with their willingness to understand that some of them might even lose their life in this.

And then there’s conversations happening around that, for sure. But to understand even that is going to be difficult to do. And we’re still engaging in the conversations at this level of activism and action. But there is a time that will come that I think many people will look back and say, “Violence has not worked. What we did in 2023 and ‘24, with so much death and destruction, did not achieve anything for both people. And we need a different route.”

The power dynamics will still stay there. And I think that will be the door opening for us to say there is a way, which is nonviolence, which is a more powerful force, which is also a force that will have the negative and violent response from the oppressor towards it. And this is something we need to engage in.

You know, I think, as I said, we’re having all these conversations now, and I think part of the conversations is to actually present nonviolence as a powerful force that many people lost touch with. Nonviolence became, again, like the negative peace, the negative nonviolence that Michael talked about, which is let’s get together, let’s do a sit-in somewhere.

To be very honest, in many nonviolent actions that are joint Palestinian/Israelis, there was pre-negotiations with the army that we will be there for an hour – or you’ll be there for an hour. After an hour, we’ll start shooting. And the demonstrators would leave before the hour ended because they did not want to engage in the clash. And now what we’re saying is, “No, if we want to engage in nonviolence in the future, we have to be ready for that clash. We have to be ready for the response, the violent response from the other side.” To reclaim nonviolence for its core and its power, I think is the opportunity that we have ahead of us.

Stephanie: Yeah, I’ve heard comments that this conversation is extremely difficult to have because people have said Palestinians have tried nonviolence with the specific emphasis on the Great March of Return and that you had so many people joining that and that the soldiers just shot people down. So, how do you respond to that?

Sami: Yeah, I mean, I always say the March of Return was an example. I also say that the March of Return was and could have been much stronger if it was much more organized and much more embedded in a unified Palestinian cause of resistance. That it’s the West Bank and Gaza coming together, it’s leadership that was missing.

And then sadly, like in the First Intifada, where that was a very strong example of nonviolence that actually achieved great results for us, it’s, one, honestly, I would say corrupted leadership wanted to ride the wave and took it over, that it began to collapse. And many people who were organizing the March of Return were not committed – were not part – or supporters of Hamas.

And then, sadly, I would say at one point, again, leaders saw an opportunity for them to gain power and they rode that wave. And of course, you know, once – nonviolence and this is something that we always learn in nonviolent resistance and activism, even Gandhi talked about the army of nonviolence. You have to be trained in it.

This is not just about, you know, let’s go out and do it. Then we’re missing this: we’re missing the schools, the education, the training of nonviolence, as if you are trained to join an army. The only thing different is the weapons that you use are different. And so, there’s a sense of discipline, there’s a sense of camaraderie, there’s a sense of steadfastness, of willing to sacrifice, understanding this, that is missing, I think, I would say at this level, in most of the global, nonviolent movement, not just here.

So, yeah, it was an example. And then we could definitely build on it more. And to say, yes, the other side will engage in violence. And by the other side actually engaging in violence, it actually is a proof of the success of nonviolence, as we know, it’s not that it failed. It actually showed success. When the other side uses violence as a response.

Stephanie: So there were two intifadas, right?

Michael: Yeah.

Sami: Yes.

Stephanie: Where this – where the Second Intifada was more grounded in nonviolent action. Or the first one was?

Sami: The first one.

Stephanie: The first one. Okay, so Third Intifada? Is that a conversation that’s taking place, or what would be your vision of a Third Intifada?

Sami: I think what we need to – it’s probably coming, the Third Intifada. It’ll probably eventually come. But I think there are certain things that need to be in place for that intifada to happen.

It cannot just be another sporadic, you know, movement or resistance that – because even between the intifadas, we had many of these things that have happened where it could have launched the second or could have launched the Third Intifada, but then it quickly died out. And so, I go back to the issue of leadership and vision.

You know, the sort of the three circles that I use in our training work is you need nonviolent resistance as a strategy. You need leadership and a vision. You cannot have two only of the other. You have leadership and you have nonviolence. Without a vision, you’re going nowhere. You have leadership and a vision without a community that is committed and engaged in violence, you go nowhere. You have nonviolence and a vision, without leadership, you’re going nowhere.

And so, for me, if we want to engage in achieving that, that level of the Third Intifada or intifada that has a great potential of succeeding, we need to start doing the groundwork for it and preparing for it.

And I think this is part of the conversations that we are having within the Palestinian community and leadership within the Palestinian community. What is the leadership that we need? What is the vision? What are we struggling for? What is it that we want and that we need to come to an agreement on this? And again, sadly, within the Palestinian community, we don’t have a clear vision.

You know, the two-state solution was imposed on us. Most people do not support the two-state solution, at least in the way that it was presented. And most people have seen on the ground the reality that with the expansion and building of new settlements of the apartheid wall and the confiscation of land and water, that that solution wasn’t a working solution to start with.

Then again, I even mentioned that they show fear. How it was motivated by fear. And so, we need to come together, and I would say, as Palestinians first and ask what is the vision we want? And then invite Israeli partners and activists to join us in these discussions. But again, I think one of the big challenges is that since Oslo, everything had to be done jointly.

And I would say this is probably in my memory, and you could correct me, the only liberation movement where members of the oppressor had a voice as equal to the oppressed in what is the strategy and what is the vision and what is the tactic. Like, you know, the civil rights movement wasn’t bringing white people and black people to talk about what is the vision, what to create.

No, it’s the black community saying this is what we want to achieve. In South Africa, this is – the LGBTQ community, this is what we want. And we invite solidarity. We invite people to join us in this. The Black Lives Matter wasn’t, you know, some, you know, like a 20-year-old white person from Seattle coming in and saying, “Yeah, I like your movement, but I think you need to do this and that.”

This is what we get as Palestinians from our Israeli friends. And we need to say, “No, this is what we want to achieve, and you need to trust us and not be afraid of us. And join us at some point and help us achieve this, this vision and the goal and create a new future for all of us. But you don’t have a veto or a say in deciding it.”

So yeah. So, it starts by the Palestinians coming for a vision and start training and the strategies of nonviolence that we will use, start building momentum around it, creating a movement around it, bring in more people. Nonviolence is, it means mass popular movement. It’s not just the 20 of us going into a demonstration or tying ourselves to trees as nonviolence. These are actions that are happening.

A movement of nonviolence means that the greatest majority of the Palestinian community are committed at one level or another to it.

Stephanie: Well, that’s our show today. You’ve been here at Nonviolence Radio where we explore nonviolence all over the world. And today our guest was Sami Awad from Israel-Palestine speaking about nonviolence in the region. We want to give a shoutout to our mother station, KWMR, to all of the people who help make this show possible including Matt and Robin Watrous, Sophia Pechaty, Francesca Po helping out on social media. To Bryan Farrell and the friends over at Waging Nonviolence who help syndicate the show, as well as friends on the Pacifica Network, thank you for sharing Nonviolence Radio with a much wider audience.

If you want to learn more about nonviolence, visit us at www.MettaCenter.org. And you can also found the show at www.NonviolenceRadio.org.

Until the next time, please continue to study nonviolence, practice nonviolence and take care of one another. The world needs you. Until the next time.

The leading ‘Day After’ Plans for Palestine-Israel are doomed: Progressives can Do Better https://www.juancole.com/2024/02/leading-palestine-progressives.html Sun, 18 Feb 2024 05:08:56 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=217153

A Land for All offers an imaginative, reality-based vision to end the cycle of violence — and it’s gaining traction with both Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestine solidarity movement has been an important voice for justice in recent months. It has mobilized millions behind the call for a desperately needed ceasefire, and has successfully pressured some key politicians, like Bernie Sanders, to take a stronger stand against Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza. 

That said, the Palestine solidarity movement, and the American left more broadly, don’t seem to have a practical, pragmatic or achievable long-term vision for the future of Palestine-Israel. 

That’s unfortunate, because the two options topping the news — maintaining the status quo and a carceral two-state solution — are both bad. 

Not having a workable vision could be one reason pressuring Biden to demand a ceasefire in Gaza has been less successful than, for example, pressuring him into meaningful action on climate issues. Unlike with Palestine-Israel, activists working on the climate have long had informed, reality-based and entirely practical visions for a fossil-free future (such as the Green New Deal). 

The only vision that’s united the American left on Israel-Palestine is the “one-state solution,” in which Jews and Palestinians magically form one secular, democratic state like all the ones that we already know — as if with a ginormous copy-and-paste.

Unfortunately, neither Palestinians nor Jewish Israelis actually want that.

Support among Palestinians for a one-state solution has hovered around 10 percent since 2020. For one thing, they understandably seem to fear that discrimination against Palestinian citizens would continue. Also, could it be that after 750 years of occupation by various non-Arab powers, from Mamluks to Jews, Palestinians have some longing for real self-determination?

As for Jewish Israelis, a recent poll by the conservative Jewish People Policy Institute shows that 97 percent — whether left or right, secular or religious — want Israel to remain “a Jewish state.” Even allowing for a generous margin of error, it’s clear that very few Jewish Israelis are ready to give up their political self-determination. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Europe are pressuring Israel to accept a carceral “two-state solution” in which Jews and Palestinians are restricted to their own bunkered territories by an increasingly reinforced border wall — like today, in other words, but with “autonomy” for the Palestinians. That could be better than nothing, but it won’t lead to any lasting peace, either, since both peoples will continue to consider the land beyond the wall theirs. 

In 2017, Banksy painted these angels breaking open the West Bank separation wall using a crowbar. (Facebook/A Land for All)

Neither violence nor separation will bring freedom to either people, as Oct. 7 and what’s followed have amply demonstrated.  Luckily, Netanyahu is extremely unpopular for his immense failures before, on and after Oct. 7 — like propping up Hamas in order to divide Palestinians. (He was already deeply unpopular for his attempts to cripple the Israeli Supreme Court, which generated nine months of huge protests.) 

While the trauma from Oct. 7 has blinded much of the Israeli public to the carnage in Gaza, there’s recently been a renewed surge of direct action and protest against Netanyahu. If the American left can help pressure Biden to obtain a real ceasefire, Netanyahu’s career will be over, along with the war — and the momentum that ousts him could well sweep away those with similar views.

It would be a pity to squander such an opportunity by pushing for a hugely unpopular one-state or a deeply flawed two-state solution. 

Fortunately, the American left doesn’t have to come up with their own great plan, because there’s already a homegrown left vision in Israel-Palestine, that’s supported by a large and increasing number of Arabs and Jews. It’s utopian but also deeply pragmatic, and I believe it has the strongest chance of working of any “day after” plan.

A Land for All, formerly known as “Two States, One Homeland,” is a group advocating for two completely autonomous states, each with its own institutions and citizenship, with clear but open borders between them. Citizens of Israel and Palestine will have full access to live, work, travel and worship anywhere in their mutual homeland, with non-discrimination in housing enforced by a mutual judicial institution. 

This vision of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation is the same, with only slight differences, as what worked to bring relative peace to many formerly violent places on earth — like Northern Ireland, or for that matter Europe, where countries that warred for centuries would now never consider fighting each other. It can work in Israel-Palestine too: Two million Palestinians are currently living with Jews within Israel, as Israeli citizens, obviously with no walls to keep the two peoples apart.

Eight years ago, I met one of the founders of A Land For All, Meron Rapaport, and was instantly captivated by the simplicity, obviousness and justice of the idea. Rapaport didn’t think it had much chance of success at that time, but he thought the day might come when the status quo would be widely seen as untenable, and a pragmatic but beautiful vision might fill the gap. 

Now is such a time. 

Composed of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians, with an equal number of each in leadership positions, A Land For All’s annual conferences, public and academic events, and publications have already resulted in the option of confederation entering the vocabulary of activists, experts and opinion makers. 

And a poll by Palestinian-Israeli Pulse showed support for confederation growing among the general public as well — from 24 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2023 — and surging dramatically among the Israeli left — from 35 percent in 2016 to 66 percent in 2023. (The same poll shows support for the “classical” two-state solution declining among both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, from 53 percent in 2016 to 34 percent in 2023.) The group has begun a more grassroots campaign as well, to further influence public opinion in Israel-Palestine — and abroad, since international help and pressure are needed.

The group’s Palestinian and Jewish directors, Rula Hardal and May Pundak, recently toured the U.S., speaking with audiences and meeting with leaders of several progressive Jewish and Palestinian groups, who reacted warmly to the Land For All vision. 

A Land For All is continuing to work with progressive groups in the U.S. to help make this vision more visible to movement grassroots. (On Feb. 20, I am co-hosting a public Zoom session, together with the Center for Artistic Activism and members of A Land For All, to start brainstorming ways to spread a much-needed vision of justice and freedom into our movements.) 

When the war ends — if Netanyahu goes to jail for massive corruption and Hamas loses its murderous hold on Gaza — the vision of A Land For All will still face huge challenges from extremists. The support and pressure of the American left will be critical to ensuring that, despite the opposition, this deeply pragmatic (yet utopian) vision can gain traction and win — an outcome the whole world needs.

Andy Bichlbaum is a co-founder of the Yes Men, an ever-expanding, increasingly diverse group who, these days, mainly partner with activist groups on creative tactics to further campaigns. The Yes Men have made three feature films about their stunts, which give mainstream journalists humorous fodder for covering important issues.

Why ending military Control over Palestinians is a Necessity for Israel https://www.juancole.com/2024/01/military-palestinians-necessity.html Sun, 21 Jan 2024 05:06:35 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=216678

If Israel does not see its stake in addressing the core issues of Palestinian freedom, it will find itself in a situation similar to South Africa before the fall of the apartheid regime.

We can end Mass Atrocities in Gaza and Beyond https://www.juancole.com/2024/01/mass-atrocities-beyond.html Mon, 08 Jan 2024 05:06:44 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=216440

Ordinary people can fix the broken postwar international system and deliver global justice to Palestinians and oppressed people worldwide.

( Waging Nonviolence ) – In the past few weeks, the number of innocent Palestinian civilians killed in attacks by the Israeli government has reached unprecedented levels. Both a majority of people around the world and a majority of governments oppose the mass atrocities against civilians in Gaza. Why is this common-sense view not translated into action that stops these international crimes? And what can normal people do to end atrocities in Gaza and elsewhere?

Before answering these questions, I would like to start from my personal experience on the day this last round of violence started.

Like a scene in a horror movie, my Oct. 7 started the way many other Saturday mornings do — my 3-year-old daughter woke me up with a cry: “Aba, Aba!” (Hebrew for dad). But the normal morning shattered into pieces as I saw the news from Gaza.

My heart pounding, I immediately opened my family and friends WhatsApp chat groups. Living in Ann Arbor, where I lead a research project on global governance, wars and civil resistance at the University of Michigan, I am seven hours behind most of my family in Israel. While I was relieved to learn that they were all fine, I soon discovered some friends had lost family members in the Hamas attack or had them taken hostage. Palestinian friends in Gaza and the West Bank were posting on social media that the Israeli army had started attacking and that civilians were being killed. The Israeli government soon declared war.

Like many millions around the world, I was scrolling through pictures in my news feed in shock. I couldn’t stop thinking of the question I am often asked by my students when we talk of wars and mass atrocities in class: “How can this be stopped?” As I tell my students, my inconvenient answer starts not with a “they” but with a “we” — the atrocities against civilians in the Israeli kibbutzes and in the Palestinian city of Gaza are a symptom of a system we have built, a system that requires our active or passive consent daily. We can re-build that system if we choose to. We have the power, and therefore the responsibility, to change the system that allows the atrocities in Gaza.

Resisting war, occupation and apartheid

Hamas’s attack that day killed more than 1,200 Israelis, including more than 40 children. Even before we knew this, it was clear the attack was serious enough to register as a societal shock in Israel — something comparable to what Sept. 11 was to Americans.

Within a few hours, the Israeli army started attacking the Gaza Strip. Since then, those attacks have killed over 22,500 Palestinians, with the majority of them being children and women, who do not usually participate in fighting. To give some perspective: The United States killed fewer civilians in Afghanistan during its 20 years of occupation — and Afghanistan’s population is about 20 times larger than Gaza’s. More specifically, in Afghanistan, one in 3,225 civilians were killed by the U.S. government in over 20 years. In Gaza, Israeli government attacks are estimated to have killed one in 128 civilians in under three months.

Serving as a volunteer on the board of Refuser Solidarity Network, a global network of 8,000 people who function as an international base of support for war resisters and peace activists in Israel, I have spent many nights and weekends since Oct. 7 working to amplify the voices of Israeli war resisters, trying to help in any way possible.

This was and is a difficult period for war resistance, anti-occupation and anti-apartheid groups in Israel. (Again, this is perhaps comparable to U.S. antiwar organizing challenges in the post 9/11 period). Binational groups of Jews and Palestinians working for peace together have faced significant strains, dealing with two national narratives of the events that were at least initially largely unreconcilable. At one point, the national head of the police, Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai, threatened to send antiwar protesters to Gaza. “Whoever wants to become an Israeli citizen, welcome,” Shabtai said. “Anyone who wants to identify with Gaza is welcome. I will put him on the buses heading there now.”

Hindustan Times: “‘Bloody Blinken’ Slogans Echo Outside Biden Official’s Residence; ‘Blood’ Spilled On Car | Watch”

The police have also refused to authorize antiwar demonstrations and conferences since the beginning of the war, particularly in Arab towns in Israel. A small invitation-only demonstration organized by a few former parliament members was met with arrests, despite being under the 50-person limit for which police authorization is required. Four former parliament members — all Palestinian citizens of Israel — were arrested by police, sparking demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, only to be met with more arrests. When Hadash, a socialist Arab-Jewish parliamentary front, organized an antiwar conference, police threatened the venue owner to retaliate if he did not cancel the event.

The network I volunteer with has been documenting and amplifying these antiwar voices — along with the police attacks against them — on social media and in our newsletters, while also coordinating international solidarity to help them. While it has taken up nearly every free moment, it is inspiring to see the Israeli antiwar movement find a way to focus on empathy and stopping the endless cycle of violence, even in this time of extreme hurt.

For 15 years Israeli war resisters have been telling Israelis that the status quo in Gaza in unsustainable — that we cannot continue to keep millions of Palestinians in a large open-air prison and expect this to go on forever, or to end well. No amount of F-16 planes, billion dollar walls and high-tech weaponry funded annually by billions of American taxpayer dollars can change that reality. Even before the Israel-Hamas war, a majority of citizens in global north countries opposed the status quo in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and supported an end to the Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Citizens in poor countries are unfortunately not often surveyed on their views on global politics, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but the governments in the Global South publicly state that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians territories was the root cause of the conflict. At the same time, a majority of governments in various international organizations repeatedly vote for resolutions against the Israeli rule over the Palestinian Territories. And yet — because our international system is broken — this worldwide consensus does not (and will not) translate into action to stop Israeli apartheid and Israeli occupation.

A single garment of destiny

My students often challenge me with a justified request: “So what is the solution to Palestinian-Israeli conflict? How do we fix this?” Often those asking want some kind of a quick fix. But after 10 years of research on conflicts and global governance, it is my difficult role to say that the Israel-Hamas war is a symptom of a far graver problem: the fact that our world system is broken. The good news is that we, normal people around the world, can repair it.

In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a text called “The Greatest Hope For World Peace,” which was only published recently. King argued there that the ultimate answer to war is the creation of a democratic supranational authority. Echoing language from his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he wrote that it would “lessen many tensions that exist today, and it would also enable everybody to understand that we are clothed in a single garment of destiny, and whatever affects one nation directly in the world, indirectly affects all.”

In advocating such a form of international democracy, King was following in the footsteps of the likes of Albert Einstein, Mohandas Gandhi and suffragist Rosika Schwimmer, who two decades earlier, in opposition to the creation of the postwar system, the One World movement and vadvocated for international democracy. Today, it is perhaps best understood as advocacy for a kind of worldwide European Union, or worldwide African Union. Einstein told a friend that he would devote his life to that vision, and indeed did so in his final years. Gandhi said in a speech: “I believe in One World…I would not like to live in this world if it was not to be One World.”

My research on the One World movement led to the conclusion that their struggle against the remaking of the postwar order failed because they did not escalate their campaign to the point of using methods from the civil resistance toolbox (which I will get to in a moment). Nevertheless, while their theory of change failed, history has proved their analysis of the problems in the postwar system to be correct. Taking in the horrors of the Gaza massacre of Oct. 7 — like the intractable war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, the rise of artificial intelligence, recurring financial crises, and the rise of ultra-nationalism and extremism — we cannot ignore what is staring us right in the face: Like Gandhi, Einstein, Schwimmer and King warned, the international system built in 1945 is simply not equipped for the challenges of the 21st century.

In the face of our broken world, I possess the same bitter optimism that a realistic observer might have felt in 1944 about the future of Europe. The end of the war was in sight, and the majority of people on the continent then understood that the status quo was unsustainable. At the same time, a small but growing number of people realized that normal people have the power to change Europe’s political structure. And because normal people had the power to change Europe, they also had the responsibility to try. Still, in the midst of a world war and the Holocaust, a few realistic observers nevertheless saw fertile ground for change. It was that limberness and vision that would give rise to a European Union emerging out of the ashes of the war.

Now, to address the challenges we are facing in the 21st century, we must draw on that same limberness and vision. We must strengthen and radically democratize the international system, remaking the failing mechanisms we built to confront global crises.


Fixing a broken world

The failing international mechanisms we built to confront global crises suffer from one core problem: The lack of popular control and democratic legitimacy leads to injustice and gridlock, in Gaza and beyond. A few examples of how this broken system works include:

  • The U.N. Security Council and the veto power that allows the United States to authorize war crimes against Palestinians, Russia to authorize war crimes against Syrians and China to authorize crimes against Tibetans.
  • The secretive Basel Committee on Bank Supervision, where decisions on the levels of risk allowed in the global economy are decided in meetings between government officials from a handful of rich governments and a handful of bank lobbyists (who later give the first ones jobs).
  • The U.N. sponsored climate change negotiations, where inaction by governments and corporations is hidden by a smoke screen of inter-governmental “summits” and “conferences of the parties” (COP 1 – COP 28) for over 30 years. Similar to the U.N. Security Council, a veto power over climate negotiations gives the most polluting superpower governments a tool to force non-binding “targets.”

In my forthcoming book “The World Is Broken,” I look at these organizations and the international postwar system as a whole, and suggest three minimum components of any real international democracy.

1. End the dictatorship of funding. Rich governments often control international organizations using a funding model that is based on voluntary and conditional contribution. This gives governments, and especially the rich governments total control. To be democratic, these institutions need to have independent public funding.

2. End the dictatorship of veto. In the postwar era, the U.N. Security Council was tasked with maintaining international peace. It, and it alone, can authorize the legal use of force internationally, as well as financial sanctions against threats to international peace (that is, for example, how the sanctions on Iran and North Korea were established, and how individuals related to financing terrorism are blacklisted). But in the council, five superpower governments — the U.K., France, Russia the U.S., China and Russia — can veto or block any decision. This veto power was used by the United States to protect Israeli governments at least 53 times. The U.S. used its veto again and again to protect the Israeli government against an international community that rightly sees actions of the Israeli government — including the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands — as war crimes according to international law. Other international organizations have similar mechanisms of formal or informal veto powers. We need to take this veto power away from the superpowers and move to rule by majority, where powerful governments can no longer force their will on the rest of the world.

3. End the dictatorship of the executive. Only governments have real power in international organizations. The democratic idea of the “separation of powers” — such as judicial, executive and parliamentary — is about breaking political power to protect citizens and create checks and balances. But in the postwar international system, governments (the executive power) are unchecked; nothing can hold them accountable or balance them.

Civil resistance offers a strategic path forward

Two important proposals on ending these three dictatorships have gained momentum in recent years. There’s the campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly modeled after the European Parliament and the Pan-African Parliament, but involving parliamentarians from all countries around the world. The other initiative aims to create a permanent sortition-based Global Citizens’ Assembly similar to the bodies that helped Ireland legalize abortion and the state of Michigan to redistrict itself in a democratic non-partisan way.

Citizens assemblies — at all levels, including the global — are advocated by the visionary international climate movement Extinction Rebellion, as well as many experts and civil society organizations around the world. Citizens’ assemblies are composed of normal people that are selected by lottery (like a jury) but through a process that makes them representative of the general population demographically (such as by gender, income, education level, political views, etc). In 2022, a global citizens assembly was piloted for the first time, involving 100 normal citizens who represented the global population and were selected by lottery.

While it may seem like a radical idea to govern the international system democratically, it actually makes common-sense in a very real way: In the rare cases when normal people are asked how they want the world to be governed, they overwhelmingly favor this option. For example, a 2005 poll in 17 countries including the United States, China and Russia found 58 percent support for eliminating the veto in the Security Council (with a majority favoring in every country except Russia). Meanwhile, 74 percent (and a majority in each country polled) favored “having your country’s official representative to the United Nations General Assembly be elected by the people of your country.” And 63 percent (also a majority in every country polled) supported “creating a new United Nations Parliament, made up of representatives directly elected by citizens, having powers equal to the current U.N. General Assembly (that is controlled by national governments).”

“Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

As Dr. Farsan Ghassim of Oxford University shows by reviewing polls done in multiple countries over the past few decades — as well as by conducting new polls himself — support for international democracy is generally consistent across countries and nationalities. Ghassim’s own survey in 2020 found strong support for international democracy in all five countries polled: Brazil, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and U.S.

Many will question whether normal people have the power we need to fix the world. My bitter optimism is fueled by the conclusion that history shows repeatedly that we do have the power to fix our world. Civil resistance, a social change methodology, offers a path to achieve that necessary change and fix our broken system of global governance.

Civil resistance has led movements of normal people around the world to victory,especially in campaigns to democratize political structures and especially against powerful opponents. Examples abound, such as the crusade that won voting rights for women, the campaign that won India’s independence from British colonialism, the U.S. civil rights movement that expanded equality, freedom and voting rights, and the present-day global climate movement that is increasingly succeeding in making the climate crisis a central political issue in societies around the world.

The WTO protests as a model

One particularly apt example showing how civil resistance can successfully challenge the rules of global governance is the series of mass protests against the World Trade Organization in the 1990s. With its roots in the Indigenous Zapatista uprising in Mexico against the North American Free Trade Agreement, the WTO protests were aimed at stopping global trade agreements benefiting rich countries and damaging workers everywhere, particularly in poorer countries.

Mass direct actions were organized around WTO summits worldwide, with the most well-known taking place in Seattle in 1999. A brilliantly organized walkout by Global South governments inside the summit was coupled with a brilliantly organized action of mass civil resistance outside the summit. This led to cancellation of the summit’s first day and later the collapse of trade agreement that had been negotiated. These protests ultimately helped usher in a wider understanding of “free trade” as anti-democratic and prevented the WTO from ever completing another new trade agreement.

Looking at the number of deaths in Gaza and the U.S. veto blocking action in the Security Council, it’s hard to understand why the brilliant organizers in Jewish peace groups and many other antiwar groups are blockading Wall Street and shutting down Grand Central Station while not also targeting the U.N. Security Council. After all, the Security Council and the veto is what shields the Israeli government from the enforcement of international law. The undemocratic structure of the United Nations is what prevents the deployment of peacekeeping troops to protect civilians, economic sanctions and an arms embargo on the Israeli government. It prevents an International Criminal Court referral by the council and economic sanctions against individual Israelis who are the perpetrators of international crimes.

What would a 1999 Seattle shut down moment look like in the United Nations Security Council? Could a coalition led by Global South governments inside the United Nations be joined by social movements outside to disrupt what is both the central pillar and one of the weakest pillars on which the Israeli occupation depends? Could the protests demand a global citizens’ assembly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to make decisions on economic sanctions and an arms embargo instead of the Security Council? The United States and other superpowers need a functioning U.N. Security Council for various reasons — so if the Security Council were shut down like the World Trade Organization in 1999, “business as usual” could not continue.

One key to the success of the 1999 protest in Seattle was the way it brought trade unions and environmentalists together in action. A diverse coalition could potentially be formed here too, as the victims of the Security Council veto are not just Palestinians but also Syrians, Ukrainians, Tibetans and other victims of mass atrocities. What’s more, environmental groups could also get involved. After all, the council has adopted over 70 resolutions that involved climate, but avoids taking real action on the subject. With the climate crisis already fueling wars and conflict and posing a threat to peace worldwide, we could really use a Security Council — a democratic one that is run by majority rule instead of a dictatorship of veto — to sanction corporations and individuals responsible for endangering the planet.

Another way of challenging the Security Council using tactics from the civil resistance toolbox is to go after its finances. It’s a little known fact that the Security Council is funded by taxpayer money from each country around the world. Because of the way the United Nations is structured, no real enforcement mechanism was ever set up, which is a weakness often used by the superpowers to dominate, but rarely used by citizens. That funding includes payments collected by many governments who openly oppose the atrocities in Gaza, and taxes from each of us. Why are these governments and us, their citizens, funding an institution that, by design, allows for the atrocities in Gaza to continue?

Why is there no national, regional or global campaign demanding that governments defund the Security Council unless it democratize? Why are we funding an institution that shields the war criminals who kill civilians, in Gaza and worldwide?

Toward international democracy

Civil resistance has been used for thousands of years — with the first documented act being a strike of tomb builders in ancient Egypt. It’s only until quite recently, however, that systematic research into the methods of civil resistance has occurred. For the most part, that research has focused on national democratic transitions, leaving a huge gap in the literature when it comes to understanding how civil resistance can challenge international injustice and democratize international organizations.

Nevertheless, the success of civil resistance movements leaves much room for optimism. The two best-known examples — the U.S. civil rights movement and the Indian independence movement — were led by organizers who saw themselves as part of an anti-colonial transnational movement aimed at altering the international power structure and ending direct colonialism in most of the world. But old forms of domination, such as colonialism, ended up being re-created. The Security Council and its veto power are prime examples of this new system — which some called neo-colonialism and Albert Camus referred to as the international dictatorship. Building on that language, the alternative to this system could perhaps be best described as international democracy.

I believe that an international civil rights movement using nonviolent struggle to fight for international democracy is not only possible but necessary. Repairing the world is possible — it has been done many times before. History shows us it is something normal people can do and have done many times in the past, by organizing and winning, even against the most powerful opponents.

In the days since Oct. 7, when I look at my daughter, I can’t help but think how illusory our sense of security is. Invading Afghanistan, we now understand, did not create real and lasting safety, any more than blockading and then re-occupying Gaza is going to create real and lasting safety. Until we develop an international system of global governance enabling us to deliver accountability to war criminals (regardless of their nationality) and protect children ( regardless of their citizenship), none of our children will be safe. We are clothed in a single garment of destiny.

Shimri Zameret spent 21 months in prison as a war resister to the Israeli military draft. While later working for a Palestinian member of the Israeli Parliament, he was the victim of a near-deadly knife attack by a likely Hamas or Jewish extremist. He is currently a board member of Refuser Solidarity Network and a researcher and lecturer at the University of Michigan. He is the author of the forthcoming book “The World Is Broken.

Waging Nonviolence

From BLM to Gaza: Inside the Youth-led fight for a Demilitarized Future https://www.juancole.com/2023/12/inside-demilitarized-future.html Mon, 25 Dec 2023 05:06:47 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=216158

A UMass Dissenters organizer discusses the growing youth-led antiwar movement and how they are organizing against weapons manufacturers and the war in Gaza.

By Alessandra Bergamin | –

( Waging Nonviolence ) – In January 2020, Dissenters — a grassroots, youth-led antiwar movement — began with the mission to connect violence against Black and brown communities in the U.S. to the systems of oppression that fund, arm and enable global militarism. While born from the legacy of the U.S. antiwar movement, Dissenters takes an intersectional approach that connects global wars with corporate elites, local police, border walls, surveillance and prisons. Operating across the country through campus chapters, training fellowships and a strong social media presence, Dissenters has been organizing for college divestment from weapons manufacturers, ending campus recruitment from military-affiliated companies and disbanding campus police departments.

Since Oct. 7, in the aftermath of the Hamas attack and the subsequent siege of Gaza, Dissenters chapters have doubled down on antiwar organizing, holding local and national rallies, sit-ins, student walkouts and training events both on and offline. One campus chapter — at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst — has organized protests, disruptions to sports games, and a sit-in at the chancellor’s office to pressure its university to cut ties with the weapons manufacturer Raytheon, now known as RTX. 

UMass Students gathered for a Palestine solidarity protest on Oct. 12. (UMass Dissenters)

Over the past two months, Raytheon/RTX — which develops and sells weapons systems used by the Israeli Defense Forces — has seen stock prices skyrocket and company executives discuss the rise in violence as a financial opportunity. According to UMass Dissenters organizers, the company is deeply entrenched at the college through recruitment practices and the Isenberg School of Management, which has a close educational and financial partnership with the weapons manufacturer

I spoke with Bre Joseph, a UMass Amherst senior and organizer with the campus chapter of Dissenters. We discussed organizing college students against weapons manufacturers, the radicalizing impact of activist arrests, and the lessons learned from successes and setbacks.  

In relation to the siege on Gaza, what are the main goals or demands of the UMass Dissenters chapter?

Number one is that the school must divest and cut ties with weapons manufacturers like Raytheon, but also Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and so on. Our second demand is that the administration must call for an immediate end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and end U.S. funding. A third demand is that the administration must replace weapons manufacturers with jobs working toward a demilitarized future. 

I think that third one acknowledges that — while moving away from Raytheon as a campus partner would technically decrease opportunities afforded to UMass students — the onus is on the campus to replace jobs that increase death and violence with jobs that are sustainable and help the earth. We’ve heard students express this on an app called Yik Yak where you can post anonymously. It’s usually unserious, but every now and then I’ll open it and see people say, “I’m an engineering major, and I’m tired of having Raytheon pushed down my throat as an employment option. I don’t want to build bombs. I don’t want to make money for this company that’s killing people. I want better options.” That’s really been our goal from the beginning — get those jobs out and center a demilitarized future instead of militarizing it further. 

Dissenters demands
UMass students hold signs listing their demands. (UMass Dissenters)

How does intersectionality both inform and impact Dissenters’ organizing? 

Today I was listening to a quote from Martin Luther King’s daughter who was speaking about the three evil points in society — poverty, militarization and racism. These things are inextricably linked in a way where they cannot be pulled apart from one another. I think that’s really the power and the driving force behind our movement. 

Every day we learn about how the Israeli Defense Force is connected to something like Cop City or was connected to something like apartheid in South Africa. So I feel like we’d be doing our movement a disservice — and we’d be doing Palestinians here and abroad a disservice — by not acknowledging how militarization is directly linked to their identities. 

At Dissenters, one of our principles is that the people who suffer under oppression have the tools and ideas to fix it. In order to allow them to use these tools, we have to be willing to give them the space and the platform, and we have to acknowledge their pain and suffering as part of a larger system of militarization and criminalization. 

How has UMass Dissenters organized to inform and mobilize students on the connections between the campus and weapons manufacturers? 

In terms of education, we have a document that we’ve made public via our Instagram and emails we’ve sent out to interested students really detailing UMass’s connection to Raytheon — and detailing Raytheon’s connection to the IDF and the war on Palestinians. At our weekly meetings, we’ve also had things like teach-ins for interested students. We’ve also crashed Raytheon information sessions to do this thing we call “being the common sense,” where we ask recruiters: “What exactly would students be building? What exactly is making the company money?” We ask the questions they don’t really want to answer but that they need to to be held accountable.

UMass Dissenter with sign
(UMass Dissenters)

In terms of actions, we regularly flyer as much of the school as possible. We canvas, we hand out papers and speak with people, and we really try to make people aware on an individual basis in one-on-one conversations. Those are our foolproof methods of just reaching the school generally. But then we have more targeted approaches to make sure we’re getting all the little communities that haven’t had the opportunity to join yet and are maybe curious but still on the sidelines. 

Within our outreach, we have seven subgroups who are in charge of mobilizing grad students, alumni, parents and others. For example, we’ve sent out emails to parents that they can then send to the school or to the chancellor, expressing their support for the students, for the movement and calling for an end to UMass’s ties to Raytheon. I mainly work with student organizations, reaching out to them via email and on social media — and trying to get them to come to meetings so they can plug in their members. When it comes to mobilization, I would say picture an octopus with a million arms doing a million things. 

Since Oct. 7, UMass Dissenters has organized several campus actions from disrupting a hockey game to a sit-in in the Chancellor’s office. What does it take to organize these kinds of actions in a college environment?

There are some actions that are more meticulously planned than others. If actions require a lot of people, those will be discussed at least a week or two in advance so we have time to properly mobilize. Things are rarely off the fly, though, especially when you’re interacting with other campus populations, and we’re not sure how they will react. For example, at hockey games crowds are known to be rather boisterous and people are kind of amped up. So something like that has to be planned a little further in advance for the safety of our members and to make sure we know how to conduct ourselves in any scenario. 

Similarly, we hold something that you could call a teach-in at our meetings, where we teach people the basics of canvassing, flyering, one-on-one conversation, and how to operate as part of a protest space, among other topics. Ahead of two big actions we recently organized, we held workshops around topics like how to navigate being approached by someone aggressive. The advice is — don’t talk back, don’t entertain it, remain safe and respectful at all times. Then when we actually got to the protest and everyone was there, we disseminated that information once again. We’re trying to give everybody the best information possible and keep everybody informed.   

We also have a research team within Dissenters that is tasked with looking up rules and regulations and making sure that whatever we do, we remain inside of those. Because some hockey games are televised, we researched campus policy around disrupting an event like that to make sure our students wouldn’t get into trouble. From that, we found a regulation about flags, so we couldn’t bring a flag on a pole or a crazy big banner. That was one thing for safety. Then at bigger rallies or sit-ins, we’ve had to be really careful about the possible consequences of our actions so that students who might have been previously arrested, don’t get into more trouble.  

At the sit-in, 57 activists were arrested on trespassing charges. How does the UMass Dissenters chapter plan and organize around student arrests?

Arrests are not something that we leave up to chance. To prepare, we hold workshops and have a lawyer present who explains what being arrested means, possible consequences and also “know-your-rights” type stuff. Basically, we want people to be informed so they can give their informed consent if they want to participate. After that, we have everybody sign documents listing their important information, and we collect and hold onto those.

When people are arrested, we have systems in place for knowing where they are going to be held, posting bail, getting them in contact with lawyers or possibly their parents, and picking them up from jail or taking them to the arraignment. We also help people get food, water, whatever they need, in case this process takes longer than expected. These things are well planned in advance.

What kind of impact have the arrests had on the campus and on activists?

It makes it a lot more real and a lot less abstract when you see it happening — even if it’s not to you — just seeing the reality on your campus. But I also think it’s pretty radicalizing to see how nonviolent protesters can be met with state violence for simply exercising their constitutional right to assemble and to free speech. That makes it a lot more concrete, and it makes it a lot more real. Seeing something on a screen versus seeing it in real life — it’s completely different. I think that it had an impact on this campus, the way that people view activism and even the way people view the administration. It has also made our school’s connection to weapons manufacturers like Raytheon a lot more concrete and real in the minds of students. We have seen the lengths UMass will go to protect that connection. 

After a big action, such as the sit-in in Chancellor Reyes’ office and the arrests that followed, how does the UMass Dissenters chapter make space for feedback, reflection and organizing future actions?

Something we really treasure as part of our principles is reflection. In the wake of something so heavy, letting everybody go off and do their own thing without addressing it is not the most responsible thing to do. So we take these big risks, we experiment. But then we reflect to make sure that what we’re doing is effective, conducive to our goals and that our community is being taken care of. That’s why that reflection and community building piece is so important to us. 

The next day, following the sit-in, we congregated once again outside the office of the chancellor. He had agreed to negotiations so we had a team go in and ask him to make a statement while we congregated outside to support them. There were poems, there was singing, it was like a time of appreciation and thanking people for putting themselves on the line whether they got arrested or not. We also gave people space to not only talk about the things that the campus has been doing that was bothering them around this issue, but also space to grieve what’s been going on, and just really be a community supporting one another. 

The chancellor said he would think about it and get back to us in a week — and less than three hours later he dropped a statement that was nothing like what we asked. In the wake of that, the mood was a little bit disappointed but in no way discouraged. We held space towards the end of that community building day for people to openly discuss their ideas in small groups. We discussed questions like: What’s your reaction to what happened? How do you feel about what the chancellor said? What do you think we should do going forward? 

Recently, the chancellor refused to meet with students in a public forum organized by UMass Dissenters and others. What are some of the lessons learned from such setbacks? 

In the aftermath of a disappointment like that, I think the question is how do we anticipate things like this happening and how do we make sure our next steps are getting us closer to our goals.

The sit-in in the chancellor’s office and the canceled public forum showed us that the only thing that will seriously get his attention is something big, something that affects him personally and something that’s very direct. Asking him to speak in good faith has not been working. So we’ve come to the conclusion that while we’ve been taking our time organizing, it’s time to start mobilizing again and show the chancellor that we haven’t forgotten and we’re not backing down from holding the school accountable for connecting students to genocide. So a lesson learned, I think, is how to organize and mobilize on the fly, and how to adjust to altering circumstances. We’re still living and learning.

What do you feel UMass Dissenters has accomplished so far?

I think one victory is showing solidarity with the people of Gaza, the West Bank and Palestinian and Arab students who are here in the U.S. To show them that there’s a large community that not only empathizes with them, their cause and their people, but is also willing to mobilize to help them gain their liberation and end our campus’ role in their suffering. Even the chancellor willing to meet with us the day after the sit-in or entertaining the idea of the public forum — even if it didn’t happen — are smaller victories I think should be celebrated. Given that people are losing their jobs or having their education threatened, offering people a safe space to organize, mobilize, or even lead a mobilization is, I think, a victory. 

How do you think Dissenters, as a movement, fits into the bigger picture of organizing for a ceasefire?

If this movement were a body, then we’re just one organ functioning as part of it. I think that’s a really beautiful thing. We are successors in a long legacy of antiwar movements in America and abroad. This is just our iteration, this is just us carrying on that legacy of striving for peace in a world that is predisposed to violence.

Alessandra Bergamin is a freelance investigative journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work focuses on the intersection of environmental conflict and human rights around the world. She has written for The Baffler, In These Times, Harper’s Magazine, National Geographic, TheNewYorker.com, The Lily, and DAME Magazine among others. She is currently reporting on the overlap of military violence and environmental activism for The Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.

Via Waging Nonviolence

How I express my diasporic Palestinian Grief through Art https://www.juancole.com/2023/11/express-diasporic-palestinian.html Sat, 25 Nov 2023 05:02:43 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=215596

As the war on Gaza began being described as a “genocide,” the years of pain that I buried finally burst and led to the creation of this art.

( Waging Nonviolence ) – I woke up on Oct. 7 to a Facebook timeline full of friends posting about how the world is just so cruel. Confused, I scrolled a bit further, and read what Western newspapers were saying: Israel and Hamas were targeting each other again.

The heaviness that lives in my chest laughed. Of course, here we go again. I’m a diasporic Palestinian American, so I’m used to these news cycles. Horrors and atrocities enacted on my people by Israel for generations, and we Palestinians struggle to get one article about it in the back pages of major, or even small town newspapers. Israel bulldozes our houses, detains children without trial. Kills nonviolent Gazan protesters and declares six human rights groups supporting Palestinians to be terrorist organizations. Forces Gazans to live in a region that the U.N. said would be unlivable in 2020 without escape.

But the minute Hamas does anything, Western news blares again about conflict, complexity, how “both sides” are equally bad. Turn on almost any news channel and they’ll say that’s why Israel has a right to its security, it’s all Hamas’ fault. Israel has a right to defend themselves, so let’s once again use U.S. tax dollars that could be funding health care and housing to kill more Gazan children.

However, something different clicked through the digital screens before me. The word “genocide” was popping up everywhere, from advocacy emails to Instagram infographics. Social media graphics educating on the “Nakba” were filling my feeds. I was amazed, remembering how even a few years ago throwing out the word “occupation” was controversial. With that, the heaviness in my chest suddenly did something it had never done before: it burst. Years of pain I’ve had to bury, swallow like knives came pouring out of me. The silence stitched into every Palestinian tongue broke loose, and we all screamed.

And for me, for the first time, I truly felt like the world was watching. For the first time, I fully realized it was my right and duty to express the grief and rage living inside of me.

From that, came this art.

1. To be Palestinian (Oct. 12)

A heaviness built in my gut as I drew this piece. I feel torn — I want to touch on universal Palestinian experiences, but I know I only taste a shade of the larger knot of pain. I know that Palestine is not defined by grief and trauma, and carries with it a rich, delicious (seriously, Palestinian fruit is top fucking notch) and vibrant culture I have the privilege of being a part of, even if from a diasporic distance.

I also know our lives are defined by persistent othering. Dehumanization. I’ve lost track of the times I have had to explain what’s really happening in Palestine, dealing with irreverent questions, being told as I beg advocacy spaces to listen to Palestinians that our needs call for an impossible “moral purity.”

This is a norm for U.S. Palestinians even in progressive spaces. Today I watched as the U.S. agreed yet again to send military aid to Israel at the same time Israel said they’re cutting off electricity in Gaza. One Gazan doctor said soon the hospital will be a mass grave as they run out of fuel.

I watch with a nonstop knot in my chest as progressive politicians try to equate Hamas (which yes, is fucked for targeting civilians, but I shouldn’t even have to add that addendum) with a nuclear state with a multibillion-dollar military budget that’s been killing my people for 75 years. That has been abducting children, raiding villages, all while the media was silent.

I watch as celebrities usually vocal on social issues stay silent. As I read the horrible news every day and know that no one in my circles, or most circles, knows what’s going on.

It’s not just the horrors Israel perpetuates that forces us to swallow stones. It’s the silence, the normalization, the knowing of just how much of the world sees us as a nuisance, does not care if we live or die.

So I desperately do what I can. I make art piece after art piece after art piece hoping more people feel the pain that always lives in my gut, that lives in every Palestinian gut. That the norm changes, that Palestinians will get some God damn apologies. Reparations. Freedom. That I can use the word “genocide” without stirring controversy. That I’m just heard.

2. Palestine is bleeding (Oct. 8)

The Arabic word you see on the left says “Gaza.” I wanted to write “we love you Gaza” but my Arabic isn’t that great sadly.

Of the two regions legally declared “Palestine” right now, the West Bank is considered the part of Palestine that has it “easiest,” especially major cities. What is one thing you’ll see all over West Bank houses, especially major cities? Massive black water tanks.

Why the massive black water tanks? Israel only gives Palestinians water, at best, three days of the week, at worst twice a month. Most Palestinians can’t even wash their hair or flush when they pee. Because yes, Israel controls Palestine’s water flow, as well as their trade and airwaves. Palestinians still are only allowed access to 3G at best. Want to send your Palestinian friend a package? Forget it. Oh, and Palestinians, especially Palestinian refugees, can be shot and killed by the Israeli military for walking on the wrong sidewalk or driving on the wrong road. Or for no reason at all.

And Israel won’t even give 66 percent of the West Bank access to water. They’re forced to poop in trash cans and go to local towns for bottled water. I know, because when I visited this part of Palestine (called “Area C”) I had to do both.

And no, the water tanks are not due to water shortages. Israeli settlements, which sit right next to Palestinian towns, regularly have pools in the backyard.

And Gaza has it worse. People in Gaza can’t leave, even for medical emergencies. They’re denied access to electricity. There is no clean drinking water. It was declared unlivable in 2020 and is unlivable because of Israel’s blockade. This sudden uptick in violence and horrendous bombings by Israel is a small grain of sand in a sea of violence against Palestinians by Israel. Yet the effects are treacherous.

That’s why we call it apartheid, colonization, genocide.

3. We just want to be free (Oct. 10)

This piece speaks from my perspective as a Palestinian of the diaspora. I cannot fully speak to the horrors beyond human language taking part in the Gaza Strip. I only watch it from afar, do all I can to support my people, but feel mostly powerless. I speak as someone where getting to visit my own homeland is becoming harder as each year goes by, even with recent political actions by the U.S. government for Palestinian-Americans that are supposed to ease our transit.

I want to go home. I want to not sit with knots in my stomach praying my relatives are safe. I want to be able to call for the freedom of my people without getting the automatic racist response of, “but what about Hamas? Does Israel not have a right to its security?” To be allowed to speak about the horrors of what Palestinians are going through without fear it will hurt my career and future.

I want Israel to stop bulldozing Palestinian homes. I want all Palestinians to have full access to water and electricity, to not have to drive on separate highways and walk on separate sidewalks from Israelis. For Israel’s detention of Palestinian children to end. I want people in Area C to be able to build beautiful homes, to not have to live in caves because Israel won’t let them build anything. I want the people of Gaza to be able to go to bed at night with their only concern being whether or not it will rain tomorrow. I want Israel to stop killing our culture. I want everyone in the West Bank to be able to go to the beach.

I want apartheid to end. I want this genocide to end. I don’t want my tax dollars funding this anymore. I want to scream my truth loud and clear without harassment. To not have to swallow myself over and over and over and over again. I want, simply put, for Palestine to be free.

The people of Palestine are steadfast, and wake up every day refusing to leave their home, their identity. But they shouldn’t have to. They should be able to live their lives with ease, joy, peace.

4. Grief beyond language (Oct. 14)

I have grieved the loss of many loved ones in my lifetime. But the grief over watching the people in Gaza, my people, my ancestry, die in droves under Israel’s horror, is beyond anything I can explain.

I’ve spent half this past week starting at the wall feeling helpless. Genocide feels like too kind, too formal, too soft of a word.

We let Gaza down. We saw them suffer for decades and did nothing. Gaza, you deserved love and a fight for your freedom. The world should’ve stopped just to save you. I’m sorry will never be enough. You were failed. Let us now carry you in our hearts. We will not allow the world to forget your fight for freedom.

5. What is left (Oct. 16)

The grief of a genocide happening to your people while being told it’s your fault and watching the world support it wreaks havoc on the soul in ways I could not comprehend before. My body refuses to eat. This is a pain no one should know or carry.

6. Children should never be ancestors (Nov. 6)

Almost 4,000 children in Gaza dead, killed by Israel, this number not including children who died from lack of access to medical care, dehydration and hunger from Israel cutting off electricity, water and food.

I can’t even comprehend that number. I can’t comprehend one.

We just passed Samhain, a holiday meant to celebrate our relationship to the dead, since the veil between the living and the dead is thin. When I hear the word “ancestor,” I think of the elderly who lived long, hearty lives, people who have had enough life experiences to give guidance to the living.

Children should never be ancestors. Children never had the chance to grow, develop into full beings who know themselves, their quirks, their flaws and strengths. To even learn how to walk, talk, in the cases of many who Israel has killed.

To accept what Israel is doing in Gaza as necessary for their security is to intentionally dehumanize us. To look at us Palestinians as a people and say “yeah, they’re allowed to die.” Do not fall for the genocidal myth. What Israel is doing is unacceptable, unconscionable. Targeting hospitals, schools, mosques and densely populated refugee camps is an atrocity beyond human language.

Call for a ceasefire. Call your government officials every day and demand a ceasefire. Especially if you’re in the U.S. Call for a ceasefire, call for an end to all military support to Israel, call for an end to Israel’s occupation and apartheid. Call for a free Palestine.

7. The world will remember (Oct. 18)

Now is not the time for complicity. The world is watching. Free Palestine. End all U.S. military support to Israel. Demand an end to Israeli apartheid. Call for a ceasefire. Hold Israel accountable, name what they are doing as ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Call your government officials. Post on social media. Educate friends on disinformation. Donate to Palestinian mutual aid funds. Go to a protest. Do not shut down. We need action if we are to survive as a people.

This story was produced by IPRA Peace Search

Liz Bajjalieh (she/they/he) is a queer Palestinian of the diaspora, artist, poet, and staff member with Peace Action National. All views displayed here are their own.

Via Waging Nonviolence