Protesting is not enough

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This year’s commemoration of Al Nakba was especially tragic.  As Israeli occupation soldiers and military snipers killed over sixty Palestinian protestors in Gaza, Zionists were beaming outside the new US embassy in Jerusalem, the crowning moment of President Trump’s imperial hubris.  Social media  buzzed with photos of the smiling colonizers’ faces next to the newly-minted US embassy plaque, juxtaposed with pictures of bloodied Palestinian refugees in Gaza still demanding their human rights.  Ivanka Trump, described by the New York Daily News as “Daddy’s little ghoul,” stood gleefully next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while less than one hundred miles south, mothers, sisters, fathers, lovers, were mourning yet more Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip.  

Yet horrific as the violence was, most of us fully expected it.  Indeed, as I scanned the day’s headlines, words like “unprecedented,” traumatic,” even “bloodbath,” paled for me when compared to that sober but most truthful one:  “predictable.”

The seemingly unending injustice of occupation and a siege that has been described as “incremental genocide,” punctuated by episodes of hypermilitarized violence, is what Palestinians mean by “Al Nakba is ongoing today.” Our catastrophe is not a historical moment that happened in 1948, and can be relegated to the past.  Palestinians today are not only commemorating a wrong committed last century, we are protesting the fact that there has been no justice since, only an increase in our dispossession.

And as I sat feverishly consuming reports on my computer, I got a group text from a friend, saying “peel yourselves away from your screens, today we take to the streets.”  

Joining a protest was easy, as these erupted globally, denouncing what will now go down in history as “Nakba Day massacre,” or the “Great Return March Massacre,” joining a seventy-year old list of massacres, from Deir Yassin to Jenin to Gaza, again and again and again.  But the protests didn’t really “erupt,” they had been planned weeks ahead, because the massacre was indeed predictable, fully in keeping with Israel’s bloody record, as old as its existence, of dealing with Palestinians demanding their basic human rights. This was the sixth and final weekly rally in the Great Return March, and Israeli snipers had shot at the unarmed Palestinian civilians at every one of those marches, killing a total of 111, and injuring over 13,000.  

Protests, planned and spontaneous, play a major role in that they show popular support for the plight of the Palestinians.  The visibility of grassroots dissent with government-sanctioned violence is also important for all of us protestors who can then look around, and see we are not alone.  And the visibility of dissent is important for our politicians, who can gauge the popularity of a certain cause by the numbers of constituents who take to the streets. But we cannot just protest, then go home.  Just as Al Nakba is ongoing, so our outrage must be sustained, long-term. While our pain right now is such that we have the urge to scream it out loud, literally, on street corners and in public squares, we must do more.  We must go beyond the anger of the moment, the chants and slogans and pumping fists in the air, to focus on the slow, less immediately gratifying, more tedious work of strengthening the foundation of our better future.

Protests, even sustained rebellions, are spontaneous uprisings against injustice.  They are a response to wrongs, but do not necessarily point in the direction of a solution.  And even today, at the global rallies against the US embassy move to Jerusalem, too many protestors are flying the Palestinian flag, with little thought to what a liberated Palestine can and should look like, and how to make that happen.   Yet we must seize this moment, the small window when we have both a media platform and the opportunity to mobilize, because popular feelings are still raw. And there are many ways we can do more than protest. For US-based people, these include:

  • Endorsing BDS.  Anyone can learn more about BDS by checking out its website, and can then join a campaign by connecting with a local group through the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights website.  
  • If you already endorse BDS, launch a campaign that mobilizes the energy of people newly-enraged by Israel’s atrocities.  
  • Asking your representative to hold Israel accountable for its extrajudicial killing of non-violent protestors.
  • Asking your representative to endorse  Betty McCollum‘s bill HR 4391, No Way to Treat a Child targeting Israel’s detention of Palestinian children. 
  • Organizing a letter-writing campaign.  Politicians are more impacted by a dozen personal letters than they are by a petition with 1000 electronic signatures.
  • Challenging the media distortion of the news.  Write letters to the editors. Your letter may not be published, but editors do read letters before they reject them, and get a sense of the politics of their readers from the letters these send in.   If they see enough interest in a topic, editors will cover it. Challenge the use of the passive voice that invisibilizes Israeli guilt. If their headlines read “10 Palestinians killed,” ask “How? In a car crash?”  
  • Attending lectures, panels, webinars, by local grassroots activists organizations that challenge the Zionist lobby.  We need to speak from an empowered position that analyzes Israel’s war on the Palestinian as settler-colonialism, and views Palestinian resistance as a liberation struggle, not “infiltration,” “violence,” or “terrorism.”

And as we push our representatives, because civil rights are achieved from the grassroots up, let us also familiarize ourselves with various initiatives for a better future, such Together We Rise, and the One Democratic State .  Let’s use the momentum to bring about real change.  If we do not mobilize effectively, now, we must resign ourselves to awaiting the next “predictable” massacre.  Because protests alone are not enough.

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