There is a reason Susan Abulhawa has the reputation of a dragon slayer, and it is not just for any one time event or the fact that Mornings in Jenin just happens to be an international best seller translated into 26 languages. With the precision of a surgeon she unmasks and infuriates her adversaries, always with poise and dignity. Forever grounded in truth she lifts us up and fills us with courage and a will to carry on.
Helena wasn’t the only one saying it, Abulhawa’s opening presentation at PennBDS reverberated throughout the conference, all weekend sometimes in hushed tones and knowing glances as if in code “Did you hear her speech?”
PennBDS recently released this video of Abulhawa’s full speech. On request Susie has provided us with the text, we are publishing the last 17 minutes of her 43 minute presentation today. Here, the end is broken down into 3 segments for those of you who may not take the time to listen in full.
A warning, be prepared. By the time she voiced “We are counting on the America that fought and killed pieces of itself to free an enslaved race.”, I was in tears and I just listened to it again for the fifth time and it breaks me still.
Especially for students of the conflict this speech is a keeper (check the notes below). If you do not have time to listen today, save it. From start to finish..a keeper. We will be publishing further segments in the future for further discussion.
This process of destroying people to extricate them from their roots, does have an unfortunate precedent in history to which Israeli leaders have often eluded, betraying what I believe is their vision for a final outcome to this conflict.
I recalled one such statement from Benjamin Netanyahu – I couldn’t find it initially, but my friend Nima Shirazi helped me locate the actual quote. It was from a CNN interview in which Netanyahu described the United States affinity for Israel as “instinctive”, claiming that “America was the new promised land, we are the original Promised Land”.
I was struck by that when I first heard it because it confirmed what I’ve always suspected: that the project of stealing Palestine and getting rid of Palestinians is very much modeled after our own colonial past here in America, that all but obliterated the native American population. European settlers would sign agreements and treaties with native tribes.
Then, when it was convenient, settlers would break those agreements and take more territory, pushing Native Americans further off their land.
Settlers would systematically destroy their livelihoods and means of sustenance, like the mass extermination of the buffalo.
When Native Americans fought back, and sometimes they did so brutally, they were called savages. And for daring to resist the destruction of their societies, whole tribes were massacred, marched off their lands in death trails to prisons called reservations.
one agreement after another has been signed and broken by Israel, as they take more and more territory on a daily basis. Palestinian farms, trees and other means of livelihood are systematically destroyed. Palestinians are labeled terrorists as native Americans were “savages”.
For daring to resist or to vote the wrong way, Palestinians are met with wholesale slaughter, destruction and theft of their properties, and herded into open-air prisons called Gaza and Areas A,B and C, and refugee camps.
Even the earliest Zionists clearly had their eyes set on the plight of Native Americans as a model to follow.
Going back again to Ze’ev Jabotinsky: he recognized the indigenousness of Palestinians to the Holy Land when he stated in 1923 that “They [Palestinians] look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true favor the Aztecs looked upon Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. Palestine will remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence.” (Righteous Victims, p. 36)
But we are not living in the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries, and Palestinians are not outnumbered to exist as a small minority in their own country. There are too many of us to ignore, to break, ignorize, subjugate, or imprison.
And so the institutional racism and the apparatus of occupation, are today more similar to the conditions of Apartheid South Africa than that of the Native American plight.
Just like the Apartheid government considered and treated the native Black population as lesser beings, so does Israel consider Palestinians as such. Israeli leaders in the highest offices have referred to us as everything from grasshoppers, cockroaches, to beasts on two legs.
One of Israel’s leading historians, a so-called intellectual, Benny Morris, had this to say:
“Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another.”
Where have we heard or read about such things before?
There is something humiliating in perpetually having to prove that we are human. To prove that we exist. That our grandparents who died dreaming of their homes and olive groves in Lydda, Haifa, Ein Hod, Jerusalem, that they were real and so was their pain and anguish.
But I will say it nonetheless.
We are natives of that land. In every sense of that word. Historically, culturally, legally and even genetically.
But more importantly, We are not a lesser species that we should be treated thus. We are not children of a lesser God that we should be relegated to teeter and despair on the margins of humanity.
This monumental injustice, with all it’s cages, wholesale dehumanization of an entire people has not abated in well over 60 years. This dismissal, trivializing, and destruction of an entire ancient culture and heritage is not okay, even if it is nothing new in history.
And it is not, despite its many unique aspects. We’ve been here before in other times, in other places just in modern history.
We sang “We Shall Overcome”, and we refused to ride in the back of the bus.
We instituted boycotts and we marched in the streets with Martin Luther King.
We pumped our fists in the air to the anti-Apartheid slogan of “One Man One Vote” and when the camps were liberated, we vowed “Never Again.”
Never again will we sit idly by while one group of the people tries to annihilate another. Never again will we tolerate the ugly manifestations of notions of inherent racial, ethnic, or religious entitlement.
But here we are again. Again, a group of people is destroying another. Palestine and Palestinians are quite literally being wiped off the map. Take a look, the map – the land itself – provides irrefutable testimony to this fact.
Everything we have has been taken from us. We have lived the past six decades years going from one trauma to another.
One tragedy, one slaugher to another.
Our history, our heritage, our cemeteries, our mosques and churches, our lands and resources and ancient artifacts have been pillaged and appropriated. Even our story is being denied.
Again, it is all being done in the name of God. Again, the aggressors are claiming to possess divine favor. And again, the world has been sitting idly by. Or worse, cheering it on, as the President of this university has implied in her statements on this conferences.
World leaders have done little to stop it.
We have a very large collection of UN resolutions. Grand words about justice and international law, that are hallow, bereft of voice or force.
So now we, like so many before us in other times, are refusing to sit by and do nothing. BDS is our non-violent response to this violence. It is a movement to give a voice to justice. It is a movement of ordinary people from all over the world who understand that we are on this earth to lift each other up.
BDS is a minimal recognition of Palestinian humanity and our right to live with dignity in our own homeland.
Israel may be may be modeling it’s plan on America’s colonial past; But so are we modeling our struggle on America’s past.
Israel may be betting on the United State’s “instinctive” affinity for conquest; But we are betting on America’s “instinctive” affinity for fair play.
Israel is counting on the US that erased Native American presence and culture from the land. We are counting on the America that fought and killed pieces of itself to free an enslaved race.
Israel is counting on the American of Gingrich, Geller, Abrams, and their ilk who spew hatred and fear-mongering for political expediency and perpetual war. We are counting on the America that marched with Martin Luther King.
We’re counting on the America of Pulitzer prize author Alice Walker and Holocaust suvivor Hedy Epstein, and so many like them around the world – like Peace Nobel Laureate Miread McGuire of Ireland – who risk so much, including their lives to amplify the voice of justice for Palestinians
We are counting on a world that produced young men and women like Rachel Corrie, Vittorio Arrigoni, and Tom Hurndall, who paid the ultimate price trying to bring this horror to an end.
We are counting on Israelis of conscience, who refused to be oppressors, and who are breaking the silence on the crimes they witnessed or crimes they committed against Palestinians
We are counting on ourselves, on the indominable human will to wait and fight and struggle for freedom and justice no matter how long it takes
We are counting on the America in this room. Indeed, we are counting on a world filled with people like those in this room.
BDS is counting on people of the world who understand that God is not a vengeful deity who plays favorites with her children. We’re counting on people of the world who affirm, unequivocally, that it is not okay to measure the worthiness of a human being by his or her religion.
BDS is engaging this part of humanity, which I believe represents the greatest majority of people.
Because our greatest and most unstoppable power lies in our roots and the moral authority of a struggle for freedom and human rights. Because while the concepts of justice and fair play matter little to those in power, they resonate with masses.
As such, because justice and fair play are central demands of BDS, this movement is shifting power from the corrupt ruling elite to the masses by pulling back the veil so people can see what is happening before their eyes.
And that’s scary to Israel and Israeli apologists. Because Israel cannot sell notions of religious exclusivity and entitlement to informed masses. They can’t convince an informed people of the merits of walls, fences, sieges, checkpoints, theft, demolitions, destruction, and Jewish-only this or Jewish-only that.
That’s why they tried to shut this conference down. That is why they have gone into overdrive publishing lies to smear the speakers and participants in this conference.
But BDS is bigger than that because it affirms our common humanity no matter where or what we come from. While it is true that Palestinians don’t anywhere near Israel’s clout among the ruling elite of powerful nations, or major US universities, we are far from being powerless.
In fact, we are unrivaled in our power on the ground level internationally. The Palestinian struggle for freedom is the longest running and best known around the world.
Referring to the liberation of Black South Africans, Nelson Mandela once said “We know all too well, that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”
BDS will only grow and grow, because now is our time.
It is our time to say that only free people can negotiate. It is our time to say that “our freedom is non-negotiable and human rights are non-negotiable”. It’s our time to take our seat on the bus and refuse to get up at another’s command. It’s our time to boycott. To divest. To proudly link arms together as Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindu, Athiests, Buddisht, gay, straight, Black, White and everything in between, in solidarity and in a march to freedom.
And to remember the solidarity shown to us, as our beloved Edward Said once said.
The lines of this conflict do not fall along religious divides. The lines of this conflict are even laid between Palestinians and Israelis because we recognize the sector of Israeli society that stands with us. The lines of this struggle are drawn simply between those who adhere to notions of exclusivity and state-sanctioned entitlement for particular groups and those who believe in equality in the eyes of the law of the state
It is between those who believe in inherent superiority and those who believe in the universality of human dignity
And so, with that in mind, I call on Israelis to abandon the path of violence and terrorism that you have employed against us for over six decades now.
I invite you to abandon the notions of inherent superiority and entitlement. Because you will never find peace nor security by annihilating us.
Because you will never break us, and your only hope is to break bread with us equals. Because despite what you have done to us, to our society, to our children, we can accept you as our equals, but never as our masters in our own land.
BDS is an opportunity for our Jewish brothers and sisters to reclaim Judaism from the grips of a racist military and apartheid political regime. It is a chance to be guided by the noble traditions of Judaism that have historically pursued liberation and justice, instead of pursuing power and domination over others.
To the University of Pennsylvania and universities everywhere, I invite you to act on the principles of equality, human rights, and international law. To take a definitive stand now instead of waiting to be a “me too” university that joins BDS only after others had the courage to take a moral stand first, however inconvenient it might be; because taking a moral stand when it’s unpopular to do so is the time when it really counts.
BDS is firmly rooted on moral ground and its demands reflect the most basic tenets of international law and universal human rights.
Just as the anti-Apartheid boycott movement brought to its knees a system that judged human worth by skin color. And so will this movement bring to its knees another system that judges human worth by religion.
Our demands for freedom and basic human rights are NOT POLITICAL BARGAINING CHIPS. They are self-evident truths that we should pursue without apology, without negotiations, without compromise, and without fear.
We are a proud people indigenous to the Holy Land, who have the capacity to forgive should Israel choose to atone for the sins it has committed against us. But whether they do or not, we aren’t going anywhere. We will continue wait and continue to struggle until justice is restored. And we will continue to dream and imagine a more gentle and human place – one that is inclusive and pluralistic, as Palestine used to be. One where a person is judged by the content of his or her character, not religion.
Susie ended her email to me with this final paragraph:
“I think freedom for Palestine could be an incredible source of hope to people struggling all over the world. I think it could also be an incredible inspiration to Arab people in the Middle East, who are struggling under undemocratic regimes which the US supports….” Rachel Corrie’s last words to her mother.
• Section of 5 in the Law of Political Parties and section 7A of the Basic Law: Stipulates that any party platform that calls for full and complete equality between Jews and non-Jews, can be disqualified from any political post. The law demands that Palestinian Arab citizens may not challenge the state’s Zionist identity.
• Law of Return: “Every Jew has the right to become a citizen no matter where they come from” while the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants who were expelled in 1948 are expressly barred from returning to their homes
• Nakba Law: Penalizes any institution that commemorates or publicly mourns the expulsion of the native Palestinian population
• Anti-boycott law: Provides anyone calling for the boycott of Israel, or it’s illegal settlements, can be sued by the boycott’s targets without having to prove that they sustained damage. The court will then decide how much compensation is to be paid.
• Admission Committees Law formally allows neighborhood screening committees to prevent non-Jewish citizens from living in Jewish communities that control 81 percent of the territory in Israel. In March 2011 Israel passed a law to allow residents of Jewish towns to refuse non Jews from living in their communities.
• Amendment to the Citizenship Law: Stipulates that an Israeli citizen who marries a Palestinian cannot live as a couple in Israel with his or her spouse. A Palestinian spouse can neither gain citizenship nor residency.
• 93% of the land, the vast majority of which was confiscated from Palestinian owners after 1948, can only be owned by Jewish agencies for the benefit of Jews only. One of these agencies is the Jewish National Fund, which, in its charter forbids sale or lease to non-Jews.
• Specified Goods Tax and Luxury Tax Law [art 26, Laws of the State of Israel, vol. 6, p. 150 (1952)] Authorizes lower import taxes for Jewish citizens of Israel compared with non-Jewish citizens of Israel.
• National Planning and Building Law (1965) Through various zoning laws freezes the growth of existing Arab villages while providing for the expansion Jewish settlements and creation of new ones. The law also re-classifies a large portion of established Arab villages as “unrecognized” and therefore nonexistent, allowing the state to cut off water and electricity as well as to simply appropriate that property.
• Appropriations are carried out under The Requisitions Law which allows a “competent authority” to requisition the land – called “land requisition order” – so that only he may “use and exploit the land” as he sees fit. This applies to “home requisition orders” as well, whereby another “competent authority” who can “order the occupier of a house to surrender the house to the control of a person specified in the order, for residential purposes or for any other use, as may be prescribed in the order. “
• In the education sector within Israel, as an example, the state spends $192 per year per non-Jewish student compared to $1,100 per Jewish student.
• There is a planned Mosque Law that will prohibit the broadcasting of the Muslim call to prayer, which has been sounding over that land since the beginning of Islam.
• Non-Jews living in the West Bank are denied access to the holy places of Jerusalem, which are only a few kilometers away from them.
• ALSO, for the first time in the history of Islam and the history of Christianity, Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank and Gaza are denied access to their holy Places of Jerusalem, even on the high holy days of Eid, Christmas, and Easter Sunday.
• Since Israel took the West Bank, the Christian population has declined from 20,000 in 1967 to less than 7500 today.
• Military Order 1229: authorizes Israel to hold Palestinians in administrative detention for up to six months without charge or trial. Six-month detentions can be renewed indefinitely, without charge or trial.
• Military Order 329 and 1650 effectively prevents Palestinians from being anywhere in the West Bank without a specific permit to be there, making it a criminal offense to go from one Palestinian town to another.
• Military Oder #92 and #158: gives the Israeli military control of all water resources in the West Bank, which belongs to Palestinians.
• Israel then allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, while unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies creating a reality of green lawns and swimming pools for Jewish settlers and a parched life for Palestinians, whose access to water, according to the World Health Organization does not meet the minimum requirements for basic human water needs.
• Furthermore, that fraction of confiscated Palestinian water is sold to Palestinians at 300% more than what it costs Jewish settlers in the same area. ($1.20/cubic meter vs $.40/cubic meter).
• Military Orders #811 and #847: Allows Jews to purchase land from unwilling Palestinian sellers by using “power of attorney”.
• Military Order #25: forbids public inspection of land transactions.
• Militar Order #998: requires Palestinians to get Israeli military permission to make a withdrawal from their bank account.
• Military Order #128: gives the Israeli military the right to take over any Palestinian business which is not open during regular business hours.
• Military Order #138 & #134: forbids Palestinians from operating tractors or other heavy farm machinery on their land.
• Military Order #93: gives all Palestinian insurance businesses to the Israeli Insurance Syndicate.
• Military Order # 1015: requires Palestinians to get Israeli military permission to plant and grow fruit trees. This permit expires every year.
• Through various military orders, according to the WHO, Israel has uprooted 2.5 million trees belonging to Palestinians, and which often represent their only means of sustenance.
And here are the numbers that scare me and break my heart the most. These are the cold prose of statistics pertaining to Palestinian children, that reflect the systematic destruction of Palestinian society:
• (UNICEF): “Conditions have rarely been worse for Palestinian children.” One in 10 Palestinian children now suffer from stunted growth due to compromised health, poor diet and nutrition and 50% of Palestinian children are anemic, and 75% of those under 5 suffer from vitamin A deficiency.
• Palestinian children are routinely imprisoned for months and years for throwing stones at Israeli jeeps, tanks, and soldiers. Many of them, as young as 12 years old, are tortured and held in solitary confinement.
• Meanwhile, for bludgeoning a 10 year old Palestinian boy (Hilmi Shusha) to death with the butt of his riffle, an Israeli settler received community service and a fine.
• A Palestinian man was convicted of rape and sentenced to 1.5 years in prison for having consensual sex with a Jewish woman, because he did not disabuse her of her assumption that he was Jewish
* These are Abulhawa’s notes and they are not an exact transcript.