The Nation / May 14, 2021
Palestinians are showing enormous bravery during this moment of horror. Now we need the world to respond with corresponding acts of courage and support.
Yesterday, without prior warning, a close relative of mine, 84, experienced an eruption of long-suppressed memories of his traumatic childhood during the 1948 Nakba, and was overcome by mixed feelings of ominous fear and liberating hope. While unbearable, the images of Israel’s latest massacre in the besieged Gaza Strip, euphemistically coded as “Guardian of the Walls,” did not bring him to this emotional tipping point, nor the images of the brutal repression of worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound or the relentless forcible displacement in Sheikh Jarrah and around occupied East Jerusalem. What did was the view, from his little balcony in Akka (Acre), of young Palestinians struggling to fend off a mob of far-right Jewish Israelis roaming the streets chanting “Death to Arabs” and hunting for Palestinians to lynch. This scene was repeated against Indigenous Palestinian communities in Lydda, Jaffa, Ramleh, Haifa, Bat Yam, and elsewhere, triggering calls for international protection.
As my relative watched, memories of his beloved Haifa in 1948 gushed through his mind. Zionist militias, aided by British soldiers, literally chasing Palestinians at gunpoint to the sea. The makeshift raft his family had to board, instructed by the British to sail to Lebanon “for safety.” His father’s wise decision to disembark in Acre instead. Yet, even as these memories filled his mind—memories of existential fear and the trauma of vulnerability—they shared space with a new and inexplicable hope. “My generation lost Palestine,” he said. He then continued with a defiant inflection and a smile: “But this new generation is courageous, resilient, determined to resist and to overcome 73 years of our ongoing Nakba. All they… I mean all we need is some, just some, more courage from the world.”
It is not naïveté or fatalism that gives hope to my elder relative or to most Palestinians of all generations dispersed across the world. It is the fact that the dual walls that Israel has so systematically built over decades—the walls it is truly trying to “guard”—are showing some serious cracks, if not beginning to collapse. The first of these walls is Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s “iron wall” of despair that has colonized Palestinian minds. The second, just as inhibiting and debilitating, is the wall of intimidation that inhibits many people of influence worldwide from speaking out for Palestinian rights.
In 1923, Jabotinsky, a prominent Zionist leader, theorized the necessity of the first wall: “Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized…. Zionist colonization must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population.” He recommended an “iron wall” to overpower the native Arab Palestinian population, partly by colonizing our minds with hopelessness and the internalization of inferiority, as Frantz Fanon puts it. Decades later, and backed by the United States and the European Union, Israel has built concrete walls and employed its Dahiya Doctrine (a doctrine of extreme, “disproportionate” violence targeting Palestinian—and Lebanese—civilians and civilian infrastructure) precisely to sear into our collective consciousness the futility of resisting its colonial hegemony.
As for the other wall, Israel and its lobby groups have invested massive resources in building it in the minds of opinion shapers globally, especially in the West, making the price of dissent, of defending Palestinian rights, ruthlessly painful to one’s career, reputation, and even mental health. Analyzing this wall, Edward Said explained how “avoidance” and “fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history [Palestine] has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it.”
Cracks in both walls have started to widen under pressure from fearless Palestinian popular resistance across historic Palestine and the corresponding courage that Hollywood celebrities, prominent musicians, star athletes, and millions of activists worldwide are displaying. The bravery of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah defending their homes against forcible displacement is among the factors inspiring tens of thousands of other Palestinians who have participated in civil disobedience. The same Palestinian bravery was visible in the thousands who defended the occupied Old City of Jerusalem against a “pogrom” by Israeli “Jewish fascists”—a pogrom, moreover, encouraged by government officials expressing “racist, even genocidal animus towards Palestinians”—as the progressive Jewish American group If Not Now described it.
This bravery has inspired an outpouring of support across new and vital parts of the US landscape: Expressing a growing sentiment in the US Congress, and connecting military funding to Israel with social and justice struggles at home, representative Cori Bush said, “The fight for Black lives and the fight for Palestinian liberation are interconnected. We oppose our money going to fund militarized policing, occupation, and systems of violent oppression and trauma.… we are anti-apartheid. Period.” Susan Sarandon tweeted, “What’s happening in Palestine is settler-colonialism, military occupation, land theft and ethnic cleansing.” Halsey wrote, “It is not ‘too complicated to understand’ that brown children are being murdered + people are being displaced under the occupation of one of the most powerful armies in the world.” Viola Davis, Mark Ruffalo, Natalie Portman, and many others expressed solidarity with Palestinians.
These cracks, which shatter much of the silence that Palestinians have often heard, reflect the cumulative, creative, and strategic efforts exerted over years by Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and other Palestine solidarity campaigners around the world, including those by progressive Jewish groups. A 2018 US poll, for instance, shows that 40 percent of Americans (56 percent of Democrats) support imposing sanctions or more serious measures on Israel to stop its occupation.
A particularly important source of Palestinian hope is the growing impact of the Palestinian-led nonviolent BDS movement, which aims at ending Israel’s regime of military occupation, settler-colonialism, and apartheid and defending the right of Palestinian refugees to return home. Sovereign funds in Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and elsewhere have divested from Israeli or international companies and banks that are implicated in Israel’s occupation.
Mainstream churches in South Africa have endorsed BDS, while major churches in the United States, including the Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist Church, have divested from complicit US companies and/or Israeli banks. The city of Dublin in 2018 became the first European capital to adopt BDS, while tens of other cities and hundreds of cultural institutions and public spaces across Europe have declared themselves Israeli Apartheid Free Zones. BDS has won the endorsement of major international trade union federations in South Africa, Latin America, India, Europe, Canada, and the United States. Thousands of artists, academics, and hundreds of student governments, LGBTQI+ groups, and social justice movements across the world have also endorsed BDS accountability measures.
The main contribution of the BDS movement to Palestinian liberation, however, is its role in decolonizing Palestinian minds from deeply seated powerlessness, and in leading a radical praxis of globalized, intersectional resistance, transformation, and emancipation.
Today, more than ever, Palestinians are telling the world that true solidarity with our struggle for freedom, justice, and equality spells BDS. We are shattering our wall of fear every day, and we need not just “some more courage,” as my relative from Acre said, but an eruption of meaningful solidarity that ends all complicity in Israel’s oppression.
Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights defender and cofounder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights