It was always easier to meet with Palestinians abroad rather than meeting them in Palestine. From New York City to Istanbul and Copenhagen, we gathered together in houses and coffee shops as we spoke of our different experiences, linked by the Israeli state’s systematic attempt to erase our voices, narratives, and identities.
Our voices are, of course, scattered out of necessity. Because Israel has de facto control over exit and entry points for Palestine – and is the sole authority for issuing visas – many Palestinians are often unable to return home.
This leads to a sense of déjà vu for those of us in the diaspora: we often feel like spectators on the sidelines of our people’s experiences, particularly during the violence of recent weeks. Israeli settlers screaming “Death to Arabs”; the carpet-bombing of the Gaza Strip; the violent expulsion of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank; the savage crackdown on Palestinians with Israeli citizenship… even now, Israeli military forces are executing “Operation Law and Order,” invading the homes of Palestinian citizens of Israel in order to arrest 500 young people within 48 hours, mere days after a ceasefire agreement.
We see all this knowing that it is against us, but also that we are not there.
It also leads to a sense of tragic irony. Palestinians and activists in the US, in particular, feel the hurt of residing in a country that contributes to preventing us from having one of our own. In Western democracy, Arabs often feel vilified and excluded. In Western foreign policy, lots of countries talk limply about mediating “peace,” all without addressing the root causes of the Palestinian struggle.
This isn’t just a nebulous bias. It has real effects that are felt on the ground in Palestine – and beyond – every day. Consider the tools of digital surveillance that are deployed against Palestinian people: Israel has an entire armoury of biometric databases, facial recognition software, and automated decision-making systems to bolster its military state. It is currently impossible to cross a border or checkpoint in the country and simultaneously “opt-out” of sharing biometric data.
More recently, at protests in Palestine, Palestinians commonly find that they can receive messages and updates from social media platforms, but cannot send them – symbolic of the isolation that discriminatory Israeli policies impose on us. In the course of two weeks, Palestinian organisations documented more than 500 digital rights violations against Palestinians, preventing posts and information from being shared internationally. This serves to silo our resistance against the occupation.
Meanwhile, others do not seem to be subject to similar controls. During the latest round of hostilities, Whatsapp groups calling for “Death to Arabs” have gained in popularity, with over 100 digitally organised groups coordinating extreme violence against Palestinians. One man was pulled from his car and beaten unconscious.
But there is a way forward. The strength of Palestinian unity right now resides not in our protests nor our posts on social media. It resides in the very real connections being established – or re-established – across continents and geographical boundaries.
In the US, solidarity with Palestinians during the most recent violence has been more visible than ever. Over the course of the past two weeks, there has been a series of “firsts”. In California, the United Educators of San Francisco became the first teachers union in the US to call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Additionally, Democrat members of Congress have put forward resolutions to effectively end the US government’s agreement to provide Israel with billions of dollars in military aid each year.
This US movement for Palestinian liberation stands on the shoulders of Black and Indigenous activists who have been working towards freedom for centuries. In a nation built on stolen land and stolen people, they understand that justifying settler colonialism can never be a passive act.
One year ago today, America was unable to look away for nine minutes and 29 seconds as Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck. In the subsequent demonstrations, activists took cues from and shared information with protestors in Hong Kong, Palestine and beyond.
The BLM movement works to break down systems of structural violence – and the Israeli occupation of Palestine is an example of precisely that. In fact, knowledge-sharing between the Palestinian solidarity movement and BLM has been going on for almost as long as BLM has been an organisation. When no one was yet listening, we found each other.
At a time when humanity is faced with three pandemics – coronavirus, racism, and poverty – we are all reckoning with an undignified truth: that systems perform the labour of supremacists and other oppressive actors. It is this very labour that must be challenged. And you are not choiceless in the matter: anyone can decide to stand against the persecution of Palestinians, in ways big or small.
Mariam Barghouti and Bissan Barghouti are Palestinians and cousins. Mariam is a writer and researcher living in Palestine, and Bissan is a communications strategist and civil rights advocate in the USA.