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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.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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16 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on May 18, 2018, 8:05 pm

    RE: “Protesting is not enough”

    Tell Your Senators: Stand against settlements to stand for peace

    While billed as the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” S. 720 would be more appropriately titled “The Settlement Anti-Boycott Act,” because it attempts to shelter Israeli settlements from international accountability measures as well as domestic political criticism. This bill legitimizes settlements, which are illegal under international law.

    This legislation would impose penalties against people, businesses, and international governmental bodies that challenge illegal Israeli settlement policies, by conflating the boycott of Israeli settlement products with the movement for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS),instituting new penalties for those who boycott settlement goods. Settlements obstruct prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, because building settlements requires the seizure of Palestinian land. The United States should actively oppose settlements, as has been official U.S. policy for nearly half a century, rather than criminalize efforts to do just that.

    Please show your senators that their constituents stand for peace and against settlement policies


  2. RoHa on May 18, 2018, 10:59 pm

    “…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.”

    This is a point that needs to be pushed more and more.

    Bedouin villages are destroyed.
    Palestinians are forced from their homes in Jerusalem.
    “Settlers” drive Palestinian farmers off the land.

    The ethnic cleansing hasn’t stopped.

  3. Maghlawatan on May 19, 2018, 9:30 am

    Hamas needs to think strategically. The siege is 11 years old. Mental health problems are off the scale in Gaza- Israel uses Hamas as a bogeyman to silence dissent both Inside and outside Israel.

    Hamas wants the best for the Palestinian people . It has strong networks and integrity.
    Hamas should step aside and say it no longer wants to rule Gaza. It should invite the international community in. Only then can the true horror of Israeli policy towards Gaza be understood in languages other than arabic.

    We need a game changer.

    • Keith on May 19, 2018, 11:27 am

      MAGHLAWATAN- “Hamas should step aside and say it no longer wants to rule Gaza.”

      Hamas is a creation of Israel which is used as a pretext. If you remove the pretext, another pretext will be created. Hamas notwithstanding, Israel could normalize relations with Gaza if it wanted to. Without Hamas, Israel would likely continue its policy towards Gaza, a new bogeyman invented. When you more-or-less control the Western media, you are able to create the perceived reality which suits your agenda.

      Prior to the Great March of Return, Norman Finkelstein had recommended a non-violent march to the fence knowing that Israel would kill dozens and maim hundreds. He thought that the image would so shock the conscience of the Western World that Israel would have have to capitulate. The Gazans did what he long recommended. The actual results speak for themselves.

      • Maghlawatan on May 19, 2018, 1:04 pm

        I’m not so sure, Keith. If Gaza were stable maybe Israel could continue to pull psychological strings but the cruelty has gone beyond the point of reason and the Strip is slowly suffocating.
        Gaza is 2 million people now. If it collapses it won’t be possible for the junta to Hebrewsplain it away. Israel’s weakness is what it is doing 24/7 to actual people. The palestinians need to leverage that. Take Hamas out of the equation. Hamas can still organise resistance.

        I really admire Norman Finkelstein but what is happening now to Israel is not in the data he has studied so carefully. Israel is in a state of national psychosis.

      • annie on May 19, 2018, 1:17 pm

        Finkelstein but what is happening now to Israel is not in the data he has studied so carefully. Israel is in a state of national psychosis.

        norm’s fairly articulate with his wording, at least that’s my impression. he’s not a careless speaker. when he (rather famously) called israel a lunatic state, what do you think he meant?

        Psychotic is a synonym of lunatic.
        As adjectives the difference between psychotic and lunatic is that psychotic is of, related to, or suffering from psychosis while lunatic is crazed, mad, insane, demented.
        As nouns the difference between psychotic and lunatic is that psychotic is a person affected by psychosis while lunatic is an insane person.

        or maybe i should ask what else do you think he meant?

      • echinococcus on May 19, 2018, 2:10 pm


        Gaza is 2 million people now. If it collapses

        didn’t collapse enough for you yet?

        it won’t be possible for the junta to Hebrewsplain it away.

        because he haven’t had the the same “impossible” prophecy re the murder of Lebanon, the breakbone intifada, the bombing of neighborhoods, the ship to Gaza, the “knifebearer” murders…

        Israel’s weakness is what it is doing 24/7 to actual people.

        We all wish it were a weakness, but that doesn’t show anywhere. The beast is keeping pretty well alive thanks to what it is doing to actual people.

        The palestinians need to leverage that.

        What would that mean to people who don’t master management gobbledygook?

      • Maghlawatan on May 19, 2018, 2:55 pm

        Finkelstein did call Israel lunatic but has he followed through on what that means ? 1948 is back in play or will be soon. Israel is not stable. That means the status quo is unlikely to hold. What counts is not what is feasible now under international law given power dynamics. It is where Israel is going. So his view on 2SS v IP1V which is rooted in pragmatism will be overtaken by developments .

      • MHughes976 on May 19, 2018, 3:40 pm

        Hamas as terrorist organisation is a very important part of Israeli propaganda. Just to mention an article in the Washington Post ‘Stop Demonising Israel’ by the odious Ron Dermer. It is receiving lots of pushback. For a euphoric moment I let myself believe that public opinion is changing.

      • Keith on May 19, 2018, 4:06 pm

        MAGHLAWATAN- “If Gaza were stable….”

        US/Israel doesn’t want Gaza stable any more than the empire wants Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc. stable. Gaza has been made an example of what happens when an occuppied population gets uppity. The empire is on a killing spree, barely bothering with pretexts or public opinion. They don’t care. One goal may well be to reduce the global population through warfare and starvation. We are at the end of the hydrocarbon era and facing global environmental collapse. The global 1% won’t compromise nor take prisoners. This is why I keep quoting neocon Richard Perle.

        “If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” (Richard Perle)

      • Keith on May 19, 2018, 4:30 pm

        MAGHLAWATAN- “Israel is in a state of national psychosis.”

        Finkelstein is quite aware of this. Below I link to a 15 minute interview with him in which he discusses this beginning at 9:15. The only chance for the Great March of Return to succeed was if it inspired an outpouring of solidarity in the West. It didn’t, hence failed to achieve any objectives save martyrdom. Israel has even rejected Hamas plea for an end to the blockade and permitting the reconstruction of Gaza, two essential steps toward making Gaza “stable,” which they don’t want. My best guess is that they want Gaza to be permanently separate from the West Bank, perhaps by having Egypt take it.

      • echinococcus on May 19, 2018, 5:25 pm

        his view on 2SS v IP1V which is rooted in pragmatism will be overtaken by developments

        Both of the 2ss + 1x1w etc. and all their nicely engineered variants will be “overtaken by developments”, just as those neat Palestinian-imagined peace plans, too. One obvious reason: we have to do with obvious lunatics, who are clearly suicidal fools of God, too (of the OT god or the Blut und Boden god, makes no diff.) NOT rational humans like the SA colonizers. Cue the good intentions when Algeria started and what it necessarily ended with.

        All these plans are empty as this looks like a sprint to the bottom, with the very survival of a Palestinian people from genocide necessarily depending on the obliteration of the Zionist entity. The uncertainty now is more closely comparable to that at the apogee of Nazi might during WWII.

      • Maghlawatan on May 20, 2018, 5:28 am


        Neoliberalism only has a few years left. There is too much debt in the system. The time value of money is suspended. The velocity of money is atrocious.
        Here is another sign flashing red

        After the next crash Central Banks will have no choice other than inflation. Israel donors like Singer won’t like it.
        We are close to a tipping point. At a similar juncture in history Tammany Hall collapsed. Zionism is not ready for what is coming.

      • Keith on May 20, 2018, 3:18 pm

        MAGHLAWATAN- “Neoliberalism only has a few years left.”

        The intended consequence of neoliberalism is steady state neo-feudalism. That is, corporate/financial control through universal debt servitude. Lord Gates, Great Lord Microsoft, Lord Blankfein, Great Lord Goldman Sachs, etc. In other words, corporare/financial control in a low/zero growth economy. Currently, there are a lot of superfluous people which need to be eliminated along with potential rivals to also be eliminated. When they talk of permanent war, they MEAN permanent war.

        MAGHLAWATAN- “After the next crash Central Banks will have no choice other than inflation.”

        After the likely financial collapse, the elites will reconstruct the financial system in accordance with elite objectives. Money is power and the elites know how to obtain power. The game is rigged. Most capitalist economic theory is quasi religious in nature. Theoretically, it would be relatively simple to restructure the financial system to achieve social objectives, however, politically that is next to impossible. Much chaos ahead. Who will survive?

  4. ejran on May 20, 2018, 1:53 am

    While the point of this article cannot be made strongly enough, I just want to throw in the side comment that shouting your solidarity on the streets is not that easy and risk-free everywhere in the world.

    In certain parts of the world, you can be arrested for “inciting violence” by singing a palestinian song on the street, or you can peacefully fly a kite in solidarity and suddenly have an official run towards you and cut the thread off with a knife.
    Meanwhile, images of mass protests for Palestine in Chicago, London, and Latin America fill the local newspaper.

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