Last week, I watched the Hadassah panel on “Feminism and Zionism,” and within a couple of hours, I published what is best described as a “rushed transcript” rather than a reflective OpEd. But I have not really stopped thinking about how these otherwise successful, powerful Zionists clearly felt beleaguered. The panel was defensive at best, as each woman felt the need to explain why she is a Zionist, how she felt isolated, alienated from today’s progressive coalitions, and how she would pitch her ideology to today’s youth.
Upon reflection, I think it important to point out the still-unquestioned sense of entitlement that made it possible for Hadassah to put on such a panel, with absolutely no Palestinian perspective, when Palestinians are always pressured to include a Zionist perspective–for “balance,” you know… We usually argue that this is “normalization,” that there is no balance between Palestinians and Zionists in real life, and that to seek to project such balance on a panel is misleading, and adds insult to the injury Zionists inflict upon Palestinians. But the pressure remains there, on panels with Palestinian speakers, to at least include one Jewish panelist, even if they are anti-Zionist, because no panel with only Palestinian speakers can be good enough, objective enough, convincing enough. Alternately, if a Palestinian speaker is invited alone, they must be followed by a Zionist. Evanston librarian Lesley Williams, for example, to list but one of many, may lose her job after inviting Ali Abunimah in 2014, and has been dealing with the political fallout of that event for three years.
But Hadassah did not include a Palestinian perspective, as if Zionism, or “Zionist feminism,” had nothing to do with Palestine even though the panelists’ conversation was a direct result of the questioning, by Palestinians and our allies, of the possibility of reconciling Zionism with feminism. If five men were to discuss reproductive justice without women’s participation, we would totally pan the “manel,” as all-male panels are derogatorily known. Indeed, a friend has suggested we start calling panels such as Hadassah’s a “Zionel.”
But more interestingly, in today’s context, with the visibility of many Palestinian feminists, the fact that they did not include a Palestinian perspective (or two, or three) is indicative of the defensiveness that some groups under attack feel. We (Palestinians, queers, people of color, and other disenfranchised minorities) have long held events where attendance was restricted, by invitation only. We are jealously protective of what little space and privacy we have, in a hostile larger society. We try and create safe spaces, knowing they don’t exist yet, so we settle for “safer spaces.”
Now, it is Hadassah doing so.
One image that came to my mind as I watched the “Zionel” was of these women “circling the wagons.” At first, I was uncomfortable with the image, because in the hegemonic discourse, it is about creating a protective circle when coming under attack. The image is one of “hordes of Indians,” attacking civilian families, from all directions. The travelers are “besieged.” And such has been our social training that our mind immediately conjures up the hardships of those families, exhausted, threatened, simply trying to eke out a new life in hostile circumstances. And coming under attack. Those circumstances are well documented, impressed into the national ethos of “opportunity” coming to those who seek it: extreme weather that makes the “old country” seem moderate, food scarcity, no concrete roof over their heads, an entire family in one wagon, always on the lookout for attackers.
A similar hegemonic narrative articulates the experience of Zionists, and what they have been doing in Palestine for over 70 years, starting with the massacres of the Nakba, up to today’s “outposts,” the trailers that will grow into villages, towns, cities which Israel plans to annex. They are projected as the brave pioneers who made the desert bloom, rather than the settlers who destroyed an existing society, ravaging its orchards as well as stealing its cultural heritage.
And of course, the reality in the North American context is that the “attackers” were Indigenous people defending themselves from the intrusions of colonizers, intent on killing and otherwise displacing them, so as to steal and settle their lands. In other words, or rather, in more correct words, the Indigenous were not attackers at all, they were protecting the land they had always lived on. Similarly, whatever the (waning) hegemonic discourse would project, the Palestinian people are not “attacking,” so much as responding to the attacks of the Zionist settlers.
Today, as white supremacy in the US, and relentless Zionist expansion in Palestine, seem to have the blessing of politicians, it is important to remember that we are many, and we are putting up the kind of resistance that makes racists “circle their wagons,” because we are indeed resisting from everywhere. Our coalitions, as Palestinians, African-Americans, Indigenous, Jews, atheists, queer, and other communities come together to challenge Israeli apartheid, are our strength. And these coalitions are coming together in expansive ways, forging co-resistance to various manifestations of institutionalized racism, from Zionism to Law Enforcement Violence to the White supremacist anti-Muslim hate rallies, which brought out people of all races and religions at the “counter-rally protests,” and which are estimated to have outnumbered the “anti-Sharia” protesters ten to one. Next week, on June 20th, World Refugee Day, we will once again call on anti-racists to make the connection with the struggle for justice in Palestine, as we state that “If you have an opinion about Trump’s Muslim ban, you have an opinion about Israel.”
The racists may have the conventional weapons, we have the numbers. They are few, we are many. We are reaching out, growing our communities, they are closing in, festering within, wondering how they can still appeal to today’s youth.
With that said, we cannot ignore the fact that the situation on the ground remains dire, and that the incremental genocide in the Gaza Strip is intensifying, with the latest further reduction in power supply threatening to snuff out yet more innocent lives. Now is the time to grow our coalitions even more, so that we can break the siege, because the residents of Gaza cannot do it alone. Palestinian intellectual and Gaza resident Haidar Eid recently called for support again, in a Facebook post, when he wrote: “let’s be clear, there isn’t much we, Gazans, can do against Israel and those who support its crimes against Gaza except calling on our conscientious supporters to intensify BDS, and make it absolutely clear that every victory made by the movement is dedicated to Gaza.”
As Mahmoud Darwish, poet of the Palestinian people, put it: “This siege will endure until the besiegers feel like/ the besieged/ that anger/ is an emotion like any other.” We are besieging the Zionists, and their circle is getting smaller by the day, while we keep growing. We are claiming our rights, justice for the dispossessed, food, light and breathing space for the refugees, while the racists are trying to hold on to their privileges. It is only fair that they should feel isolated, that they can only talk amongst themselves, while Palestinian resistance turns to co-resistance with anti-racists everywhere, and we finally turn the tables.