Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Existing amidst colonialism

Mariam Abukwaik | 23-10-2021

An upraised fist surrounded by men holding it up

This is the name of the Instagram Live my husband, Khalid Abu Dawas, hosted on May 11. I wanted to use it as the title of my essay because violence is just one of many forms of oppression facing Palestinians. Others include settler colonialism, white supremacy and sexism. I cannot and refuse to mention Palestine without mentioning Black Lives Matter or movements that advocate for indigenous sovereignty and Land Back. I cannot ignore the fact that I am able to live comfortably in Long Island because the same injustice that is unfolding in Jerusalem, specifically in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods (as well as across Palestine) was inflicted on the multiple indigenous tribes in the state of New York. I cannot ignore the fact that I live freely on occupied land, in the United States, because of the transatlantic slave trade. Israelis live this same way as a result of ethnic cleansing and genocide. We are witnessing these events in real time, and it is important to know that they are not new.

What does it feel like to witness these injustices? How do Palestinians experience the result of settler colonialism? How does one exist amidst colonialism? In the words of lawyer Noura Erakat, “It’s not just being part of a Palestinian nation that drives me, but the guilt of sheer fortune that I was born in the U.S. and not Gaza or Sheikh Jarrah, where Israel could massacre and displace my family while the world looks on and insists we condemn ourselves for being targets." I wanted to mention this because as a writer for We Are Not Numbers (WANN), I see my fellow authors and poets in WANN enduring the occupation and recording it. They are doing the work I cannot do, and I am so inspired by them. My work as a writer in the diaspora is also driven by the guilt that Erakat describes. I am thinking specifically about privilege and have come to conclude that solidarity is what drives me. In the Qur’an, God says (and I am paraphrasing here) that He created us so we may know each other: Know each other’s struggles, not just those of Muslims, but all tribes, all peoples, all communities. Know each other so that we may learn, connect and stand next to each other against oppressors. Know each other so that we can stand up in the name of truth and justice.

Solidarity is the only path to freedom because what we are witnessing now is not unique to Palestine: It is an old technique to colonize land through ethnic cleansing and genocide. That is why we see signs at protests for Palestine that say, “Natives for Palestine,” and the same reason Black South Africans stand for Palestine: They have endured their own violent and oppressive system of apartheid. It is not because Palestine or Palestinians are “special.” That is why there are activists who carry signs saying “Black Lives for Palestine”—they have endured state-sponsored violence such as surveillance, lynchings/assassinations, police brutality and mass incarceration, all of which continue to this day. In addition, South Americans stand with Palestine because of their experiences with state violence and U.S. military intervention. The list of those living with such oppression, like the Palestinians, is endless.

Historian and scholar Dr. Bilal Ware writes, “Black folks don’t have a carceral state problem. Palestinians don’t have a Zionism problem. Mexicans don’t have an immigration problem. Muslims don’t have an Islamophobia problem. Natives and Aboriginal peoples don’t have a genocide problem. WE ALL HAVE A WHITE SUPREMACY PROBLEM.” Indeed, white supremacy is the root evil here. It is the common enemy against which we must unite to free ALL people, and not just Palestinians.

It is also important to note that Palestinians are not uniquely resilient; rather, we feel deeply the current and past resilience of our global brothers and sisters, and that inspires us. We know we are all confronting the same beast. Palestinians have learned guerrilla tactics from Algerians as well as nonviolent resistance from Martin Luther King Jr. Our boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) strategies are inspired by the tactics used to topple apartheid in South Africa. We are resilient because we know there was life before occupation and there is life beyond occupation. We know our grandmothers and grandfathers existed—and thrived—when Israel was not on the map, and we will continue to fight for a free and just future. Palestinians living under occupation are doing now what many communities have done to mobilize against their oppressors. Like Black and Brown activists all over the United States, they are standing up against a corrupt and oppressive government.

The majority of Palestinians are Muslim; therefore, people try to explain the conflict as solely a religious issue. But that is not the case. It is fundamentally a question of the right to self-determination, including culture and identity. To be sure, there are Muslims everywhere, yet we do not understand every issue in society through a religious lens. Individuals and communities use religion to inspire them and thus root their goals in spirituality. I personally am not seeking liberation for my country because a lot of Palestinians are Muslim; instead, I believe in a free Palestine because Islam teaches me to stand against injustice anywhere, including anyone who perpetrates it. Therefore, many practices of resistance are rooted in spirituality. This is a matter of human rights.

I also hope people see that the vigor, pain and anger in and about Palestine must also be about movements such as Black Lives Matter and Land Back, and about people in South America, Africa, Asia, and any place where people face oppression. It would be hypocritical to fight for Palestine alone. Palestinians—Muslim and Christian alike—stand for justice, not just for their religious communities, but also for humanity, for animals, for nature, for our souls. We must all be protectors and fighters for justice.

Posted: October 23, 2021

Mentor: Zeina Azzam


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