In light of the rapid growth in the Palestine activism community that is led, administered and predominated by non-Palestinians, the following is a letter of affirmations and requests made to address that community. This letter represents a Palestinian plea and critique that can henceforth improve the language used to address Palestine and Palestinian liberation movements and create better relationships between Palestinians and their allies. To create a friendly and direct tone, I use the pronoun “you” to address US-based pro-Palestine activists and organizations that are not nationally Palestinian. Though the letter takes the form of a list, it is meant to trigger a healthy conversation and a series of necessary confrontations— hopefully.
1. First and foremost, this letter asserts a collective appreciation and respect for your involvement in and support for the Palestinian cause. Over the past years, you have shown great perseverance and fortitude in your volunteerism and protest to advocate for Palestinian rights. For the most part, you have shown much understanding and cordiality, and in that spirit, I hope that you understand that the critiques listed here are meant to bolster our connections and build stronger bridges that affirm, rather than alienate, your openness to Palestinian voices and dedication to stand behind them.
2. It is more appropriate that you refrain from discursively coupling Palestine with Israel in your declarations and statements. “Israel/Palestine” is not an inviting term for most Palestinians. In fact, it connotes a relationship of power where Israel dominates the discourse. Additionally, it gives the impression that both Palestine and Israel should be spoken of mainly and solely as relating equally to one another, which completely undermines the historicity of Palestine as an age-old culture and place that is magnanimous in legacy and gravity in comparison to Israel, a sixty-eight-year-old novice and forced settler colonial creation.
3. It is more appropriate that you refrain from circulating the term “Middle East” in relationship to Israel or Palestine. The term itself was a geopolitical term that has been used historically to accommodate the global north and its orientalist perception of the region as homogenous in culture, language and religion, which cannot be farther from the truth. The term has been especially sanitized by US foreign policy that has continuously used it to mark the region as a hot zone. In similar ways, and upon its early foundation, Israel has used the term to undermine the pan-Arabic term that existed at the time, “the Arab world,” which included only Arabic speaking countries. “Arab World” or “Arab region” was compromised for the more religion-oriented “Middle East” where language, as a historical unifier, takes a backseat. Not only did the term “Middle East” accommodate the Hebrew-speaking nation in ways the “Arab World” did not, but it also found its way to the propagandas of multiple Israeli politicians who present Israel as the only “civilized nation” in a region that is infested with dangerous Islamic fundamentalists.
4. It is important to understand that most of the terms English-speaking activists use to refer to geographies related to Palestine are the products of multiple colonialisms in the history of the territory. Palestinians might not expect you to use the Arabic names, suffice it, however, that you realize how speaking about Palestinians or about Palestine can never truly reach a level of complete cultural resonance. It will never completely grasp the weight of cultural loss that has befallen our people for the past century, since the late Ottomans, the British and the Israelis all practiced language erasure policies, among other anti-cultural practices.
5. It is important that you reconsider your constant inclination to address “the Palestinian civil society” in your activist calls and social circles. There has never been a consensus among Palestinians themselves about what constitutes Palestine’s “civil society.” In fact, the term itself stands as a sharp contradiction to the history of Palestinian resistance that was mostly led by rebels who hailed from farming communities with little to no access to education and fortune. The educated and fortunate few in the early twentieth century were actually descendants of the feudalist elites who cemented an unhealthy classism in Palestinian culture that, unfortunately, remains to this day. One must reject the implication that Palestine’s elites are those who can be conversed with or invited to speak in your spaces. Palestine is a much more versatile community, and one would hope that you are able to engage with those of us who lack the privileges to travel and climb to first-world-status yet deeply and passionately, even if invisibly, fight for the liberation of Palestine on a daily basis.
6. It is more culturally respectful that you refrain from the constant idealization of Palestinian “non-violent resistance” at the expense of what some Palestinians have chosen instead of physical and armed means. Let it be clarified that Palestinians have never agreed on the best method of resistance. We have not come to an agreement partly because we realize that none of us has the authority to create a uniform way of how our dispossessed, tortured, injured, orphaned and traumatized populations should defend themselves towards their assailants. When non-Palestinian, Pro-Palestine organizations put those of us who choose the path of non-violence on a pedestal, they are setting a tone that we did not collectively choose for ourselves. In fact, they overstep a boundary and make a grave offense. Those organizations should be reminded that they cannot be selective in the type of people they support if they already promised to stand behind a whole nation and its strife for liberation. The way members of our nation choose to respond to Israeli colonialism is not subject to moralistic rationalization or dismissal. It needs to be confronted and, if not supported, those organizations need to reexamine their commitments and openly admit to their limitations.
7. It is pertinent that you do not conflate an advocacy for Israeli equal rights to your support of Palestinian liberation. Standing with non-white Jewish Israelis or Israeli LGTQ+ members in their fight against racist and homophobic/transphobic Israeli policies does not lead to the same objectives as that of a free Palestine. The goal of the Palestine liberation movement is not to create a better, friendlier Israel but to create a country independent from all forms of colonialism, including that of Israeli settler colonialism. Unquestionably, Palestinians should support the rights of colonized subjects and disenfranchised minorities and many are indeed doing so— by virtue of our own experiences with murder, injustice and land theft— but we rightfully demand that same recognition from other communities as well. In many ways, there lies great potential in Palestinians joining hands with Israeli Jews of color, to cite one eminent possibility for collaboration, but that can only happen if the latter choose to denounce Israeli citizenships and rights and embrace the call for Palestinian liberation not in the name of maintaining the Israeli nation-state, but in its complete opposite. Without doubt, Palestinians will always remain committed to full decolonization, and they should not be expected to compromise that right and goal for the sake of co-signing into liberal language and values of racial and ethnic inclusion that never included us to begin with, not in Israeli history nor the history of the modern world.
8. The present moment necessitates reaching a consensus on the global call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (ACBI). Though many US academic institutions have taken a side and voted either for or against these calls, some activist organizations remain undecided. It is pertinent that this ambiguity is resolved in the near future. It is highly problematic when a pro-Palestine activism organization has no decision on BDS and ACBI. It leaves its subjects of support confused about the limitations of these organizations and the truth of their dedication.
9. Recent discourse on Palestine in the US has connected it to domestic racial struggles and social justice matters. This has had the effect of raising Palestine to public consciousness in the country. It also has implicated the US as a settler colonial state in the oppression of Palestinians as a financial and political patron to Israel. However, one of the unintended downsides of these connections is that they entail a disregard of the specifity attached to Palestine as a place, culture, and history. In the process of making Palestine palatable and intelligible to an American audience, it became an accessory to discussion rather than a primary issue. It also remains, unfortunately, a “conflict” or a “controversy” provoked in association to another rather than the living being it truly is. US-based organizations that support Palestinians should consider it a subject matter that requires a teaching curriculum that supplements activists’ understanding of Palestine and its history. It is quite appropriate that Palestinians demand that people know the full history of their struggle before they jump into supporting it— especially considering how a support for Palestine is a life-long dedication that requires multiple energies and sites of knowledge.
10. This letter references Israel as a settler colonial state because we, Palestinians in all our languages, religions, and colors, perceive ourselves as Palestine’s native community. This is a non-negotiable matter. We do not compromise our status and heritage nor condone a truth-altering narrative for the sake of acquiescing to public misconceptions about Palestine being the “Jewish Promised Land.” It is important to assert, however, that our native status does not come with claims over national, ethnic or religious supremacy. We do not believe that the land was promised to us, nor do we perceive it as a real estate bid we want to monopolize. We care for the protection and maintenance of Palestine, and our struggle for liberation is unquestionably a fight for life in all its forms.
11. I end my list with this thought: Not all support is good support. There is so much work to do to aid Palestinians into achieving the full potential of a decolonial future. In order for that to happen, communication lines should always remain open. It is unfair for our supporters to assume that we cannot speak for ourselves, that we cannot speak, or that they can speak better for us. Many of us are going full lengths to making themselves legible and agreeable just so they can tell their stories. These stories are sacred. They are of pain, loss and suffrage, and they should be heard and dealt with the utmost care and respect.
My main hope is that you read through these statements, consider them carefully, and respond through future policy or, if I may ambitiously hope, opinion pieces. Palestinians such as myself understand the importance of hearing Palestinian voices and, for that, I lend mine to you for your reflection and, hopefully, change for the better.