Screenshot from Israeli news of Ratner being removed from the General Assembly.
There’s no getting around it: What we did during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was shockingly rude. We interrupted a head of state, repeatedly, shouting from the tops of chairs into a darkened hall of largely like-minded people, who most likely thought their space was safe from the ever-increasing disruptions of “Israel’s delegitimizers,” as some would call us. Worse still, we did this in my community. Neighbors, co-workers, professors, and fellow students were in attendance, or they’re otherwise finding out what we’ve done. My cheeks are still burning at the thought of what’s to come. And, of course, there’s family. Family. Family.
But each time I think about the hurt I’ve caused with my actions, I’m reminded of the hundreds upon hundreds of New Orleanian Palestinians who have marched this city’s streets, demanding justice in a nation that isn’t listening. I’m reminded of the dozens of Palestinians who stood outside of the Jewish Federations General Assembly on Sunday, braving the cameras of Israeli and US security, facing the very real possibility that because of their protest they’ll be permanently denied entry the next time they attempt to visit their homeland. Their demonstration was featured for fifteen seconds on a single local news channel, and those Palestinian protesters have far more to risk than I do. I am ashamed of the hurt I have caused people that I love, but I am overcome with the bravery of the millions of Palestinians who struggle daily to carve justice into a global structure that finds their very existence inconvenient and inappropriate. I am doubled over by the reality of more than sixty years of displacement, of the state-sanctioned murder of so many mothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers; of homes destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. Of checkpoints. Of landlessness. Of criminalized identity. Of siege. And I am pulled to my feet by the steadfastness of the people who are at the heart of this struggle. From the Palestinians who remain incarcerated for the crime of protest, who have found themselves barred from home forever for the truths they’ve spoken, who have been shot down by soldiers as they held a rock, a Palestinian flag, a child.
The five of us who jumped onto our chairs on Monday and the others who worked hard to realize this effort have received an incredible wave of support from so many people around the world. Young and older Jews alike have called, emailed, reposted, and in other ways embraced us for shouting truths that hurt their hearts daily. Some Palestinian friends and their allies have celebrated this momentary injection into a “dialogue” that silences and criminalizes an entire people. And while I’m proud of what we’ve done, our actions are a small, highly-documented moment in a long history of resistance, led by people who have risked and lost far more than we have, or will. As we celebrate the possibilities that some are seeing in this moment, it feels important to remember where we’ve come from, and to think about how our history informs a responsible future.
Certainly there is a long history of Jewish resistance to injustice, and a specific history of Jewish resistance to the crimes our people have perpetrated in Palestine. Many of us might not be willing to add our voices to the growing call for justice had we not, for example, read the diligently documented and painful histories of exiled Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe, or encountered the wisdom of elders like Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, who has been fearless in her demands for justice in Palestine. As Jews we take inspiration from Israelis who demonstrate against the apartheid wall and housing demolitions, and the shministim who have been incarcerated for refusing to serve in the IDF. We draw strength from the fearless actions of young people like Emily Henochowicz, the college student who lost her eye to a deliberately fired tear gas canister in the wake of Israeli attacks on the Freedom Flotilla. There is a proud and strong legacy of Jewish resistance that, while small, must inform our efforts as Jews who work for justice in Palestine.
There is also a beautiful and inspiring history of allies, and especially allies of color, who have been fearless in their demands for justice for the people of Palestine. We can take inspiration from organizations like Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, who lost $100,000 in Ford Foundation funding for publishing their Palestine Points of Unity, and were thus inspired to literally write the book on the non-profit industrial complex. Or the incredible members of COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has refused to unload Israeli ships and has shown the rest of the world what overcoming apartheid through true solidarity can mean. There are the brave activists who join the International Solidarity Movement, risking their physical safety and even their lives in efforts to prevent and document incidents of Israeli violence against Palestinians. Rachel Corrie, whose family is still struggling for justice from the Israeli government. Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old Turkish American who was killed along with eight others aboard the Mavi Marmara. There are the millions of people around the world who take to the streets to demand justice for Palestine every time the Israeli government’s criminal actions hit a new low.
But most of all, there are the Palestinian heroes who have shown their allies how to struggle for justice. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians continue to inspire the world with their nonviolent and creative civil disobedience and protests, a method they’ve been employing for over sixty years. The Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions National Committee (BNC) have offered a clear strategy for forcing the Israeli government to comply with international law, and we can see their strategy working within campuses, corporations, and governments around the world. Families in Bil’in protest the apartheid wall weekly, and are regularly shot at and arrested. Residents of Silwan in East Jerusalem continue to resist illegal housing demolitions and forced evictions. Scholars and professors like Dr. Haidar Eid teach traumatized students in Gaza while offering us a remarkable analysis from behind the walls of an awful siege. Edward Said and Ali Abunimah reframe the conversation about occupation, while poets like Mahmoud Darwish and Suheir Hammadlace words through the emotions occupation can make difficult to express. Filmmakers like Annemarie Jacirproject the crimes of the past and present, as well as stunning visions of possible futures. There are so many Palestinians who act and speak from a place of justice, patiently guiding us in solidarity efforts, but all too often their voices are distorted or completely lost in the haze of anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia and “Israel, right-or-wrong” lenses through which mainstream knowledge and experience are filtered.
Yes, what we’ve done is extremely rude. But what’s far worse is the erasing of the people at the center of this struggle. I understand why so many have called our actions inappropriate, but I don’t accept the idea that there is some better method available to us that we didn’t use. I don’t accept the suggestion that we are silencing free speech when we disrupt an Israeli Prime Minister with calls for justice as he beats the drum yet again for war with Iran, or confronting delegitimizers, or whatever might next emerge from the ever-expanding grab-bag of “Israel’s Greatest Threat.” But on one point I can agree with our detractors: This disruption never should have happened at all.
It shouldn’t take this kind of action to draw attention to these crimes. The media should have cared this much about the dozens of Palestinians who marched outside the GA the day before Netanyahu arrived. Palestinian voices should be heard, respected, and reflected in all coverage of Palestine. The myriad examples of Palestinian nonviolence should be better known than those far fewer examples of violence that dominate Israel’s security narrative. And Israel’s violence should be known fully, and properly contextualized. Most of all, Palestinians should guide us in understanding how best to address the atrocities perpetrated against them. Until that day comes, there will be no end to the “delegitimizing” of a country that seems determined to delegitimize itself.
Love and thanks to the folks who planned and executed this effort, and to Jewish Voice for Peace Some of you are risking far more than I have, and I have great respect for that. So much love and respect also for New Orleans Palestine Solidarity (NOLAPS)–I am so proud to know and work with you.
Emily Ratner is a student at the College of Law at Loyola University New Orleans. She is a member of New Orleans Palestine Solidarity (NOLAPS).