What Side of History Will You Be On?
I’ve got something to say.
And this time I won’t stand silent.
Ethan and I arrived in Ramallah two days ago to lead 2 video advocacy workshops: one for activists and non-profits and another for a group of 12 students at Bethlehem University.
I first came to the occupied Palestinian territories almost four years ago, to document the work of TYO, an incredible organization that offers kids from refugee camps a safe space to play and express themselves.
I felt paralyzed when it came to expressing what it was that I was experiencing. I posted this blog with pictures of the adorable children they serve. No words, just kids.
One of the comments in response was this:
“DO THE WORLD A FAVOR AND GAG YOUR TYPEWRITER AND THOUGHTS BEFORE ITS TOO LATE FOR YOU to escape hell.”
While this intimidation was extreme (and consistent), I also received criticism from many people in my networks.
Scared of the backlash, I focused only on individual stories (creating a photo exhibition about a family that I met), and avoided the structural injustices of occupation, which created the problems these individuals were facing.
This time around, I can’t do that.
Here’s the dominant story about Palestine: It is an entrenched conflict between 2 different, but equal sides that just can’t seem to see each others’ perspectives. Palestinians have an innate tendency towards violence, which means Israel, naturally, must protect their citizens however they need to. Israel is ready for peace, it’s just waiting for the Palestinians to get their act together.
It is unfathomable to me how the accepted story of the situation is so far from reality.
Palestine = colonialism, not conflict.
In 1948, Zionists embarked on an ethnic cleansing project to drive Palestinians away from their homes to establish the state of Israel. David Ben Gurion said, “I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it.”
531 villages were destroyed and 800,000 people were displaced. These experiences are just as true and unquestionable to Palestinians as true and unquestionable the holocaust is to the Israelis.
Since 1967 there has been an Israeli illegal occupation executing a strategy to acquire as much land as possible, forcing Palestinians to live under terror or leave. Israel is using the time allowed by delayed negotiations to confiscate more land, expand more settlements, and build more bypass roads, in an effort to make the occupation permanent.
While Israel says it will pursue a two state solution, if that time ever comes, Palestine as a state would simply be a series of disconnected urban ghettos.
Palestinians lack the most basic of rights: to work, to travel freely, to visit family, to live in their homes, even to possess a nationality.
- There are too many infuriating levels of injustice to explain, but here are some:
- Every Palestinian is assigned 1 of 4 ID cards which they must carry around with them. These restrict their travel to one region (East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza). This means that Palestinian enclaves are cut off from one another, so individuals are unable to travel to see family members that may have a different ID card.
- In order to travel throughout the West Bank and into Jerusalem, Palestinians must endure the humilitation of checkpoints where they are questioned, searched, detained and violently intimated.
- The separation wall has annexed 12% more of the West Bank, displacing thousands and separating 50 villages from their land. Building restrictions make it almost impossible for villages to build wells or families to build roofs over their heads.
- 40% of men have been jailed, most under the classification of “administrative detention” in which they need only be seen as a vague “risk” in order to be imprisoned indefinitely.
Since the beginning of occupation, the primary mode of resistance in Palestine has been nonviolent.
Dominant media representations, even those that mean well, like this story in the NY Times about Palestinians “finally” recognizing they need to embrace non-violent methods of resistance, ignore its long history.
They reinforce the the idea that Palestinians are “naturally” violent and hence “only understand violence,” which is a claim that has been a staple of every form of Western racism and colonialism of other people.
And this is just the beginning.
“It’s a bit like Europe after the Second World War. During the war only a few people resisted. After the war not a single supporter of the Nazis could be found and the vast majority claimed that they always supported the resistance to the Nazis. I am astonished at how ordinarily decent people whose hearts are otherwise “in the right place” beat about the bush when it comes to Israel and the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinians.”
- Farid Esack, in his open letter to Palestinians (which is written on the separation wall).
Esack’s words resonate deeply with me. I know too many people who work passionately to fight injustice elsewhere in the world, who ignore, are complacent with or justify the occupation here. This is especially important because it is American tax dollars which fund the occupation. We give Israel $8.3 million dollars A DAY, adding up to over $3 billion dollars per year.
Just last week one of our supporters said to us, ”Aren’t you worried that if you work with Palestinian activists, you will alienate potential clients?” Big NGOs are worried about the same thing. They do their work in secret, afraid that if they put their name out there, they will lose funding.
We need a new story.
Today we began our training with 12 students at Bethlehem University. Over the next month we’ll be teaching them how to plan, shoot and edit videos.
We asked them what kinds of stories they would want to tell. I was blown away by the clear visions they articulated.
Here are some quotes I jotted down while the students introduced themselves:
“People always say that we have problems in this region, but they don’t understand anything of what our lives are like.”
“I want to show real stories. The problem here exist because the media doesn’t show the real life. I want to show our point of view.”
“There are so many real stories that need to be told. And I think if I learn to edit, I can be the one to tell them.”
“We want to help people understand what occupation is really like. This isn’t a story I have to think about. I live it on a daily basis.”
“What was I put on this earth to do? To eat? To breathe? To sleep? If I don’t do what I can to make this world better, then I am empty space. I want to create change. Video is the new language. It is how I will do that.”
Here is our call:
We have to oppose injustice where ever it happens.
We hope that by bearing witness and helping Palestinians tell their stories, we can open peoples’ eyes to the profound injustice being funded with our tax dollars.
Even at the risk of intimidation, violence and deportation, we will speak out about the injustices we witness.
“Our cause must be one cause of justice for all humanity, not silent collaboration in one oppression to pay for an earlier oppression.” – Jean Zaru
Ask yourself: What side of history will you be on?
Will you join us?