Bridled resistance: when the dead gives life to the living

Collage of Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral procession which was attacked by Israeli Border Police officers (Sharif Mosa - Maya Levin)

Ghada al-Madbouh

Mondoweiss  /  June 6, 2022

The outpouring of grief for Shireen Abu Akleh served as an expression of our inevitable Palestinianism despite Israel’s intentional efforts to fragment the Palestinian people.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published by the Institute for Palestine Studies on May 24, 2022 and has been translated and republished with their permission.

For three consecutive days, we lived the pain of Shireen Abu Akleh’s martyrdom, and with every revelation from the scene of the assassination, and every discussion about it, the pain heightened and multiplied. Three days have passed since your murder, Shireen, but the pain persists. Days of wailing and mourning engulfed Palestine as I have never witnessed in my life! Your funeral procession continues as I write this eulogy. There has been much speculation on the causes for such deep, widespread grief that swamped every one after your death. Prior to your murder, there was a collective feeling that the Palestinian cause had reached a deadlock and that we had become numb and accustomed to loss, injustice and oppression in our daily lives. However, your death dispelled us of all this. It made us alive and lit the torch; and for the first time, we shared the same level of pain, in the same manner. 

All of us, regardless of our approaches, ideas, orientations or locations, went through the traumatic and severe, bitter loss of a family member. This is not to lessen the trauma and sadness for the Palestinians martyred before you, Shireen, rather, it intensifies this shock and pain, and allows us to take a long moment of silence for the entirety of all of whom we have lost. It was as if your departure has intensified the meaning of martyrdom and shattered what we thought had become normal. It reminded us once again that for those living under occupation “nothing is normal”, not even for an instant.

My sister, who lives in Germany, said something that made me pause: “We used to see Shireen on screen more than we saw our faces in the mirror”. This is what Shireen meant, particularly for the 1990s generation, when satellite channels infiltrated our lives, and when we first listened to media that conveyed the Palestinian message as we wanted it to be. I am part of the generation of the 1970s and 1980s, whose official news sources were Israeli and Jordanian radio stations, as well as the BBC, before modern technologies and the satellite revolution that brought with it many options and sources of news. For us, Shireen Abu Akleh, through Al-Jazeera’s screen, was the voice choking in our throats.  

At the same time, the Israeli media was covering your murder, Shireen, in a different way. There were several attempts to fabricate the story of the murder, creating scenarios that Palestinians were responsible for your death. I was caught by a statement from a friend of mine, an Israeli affairs analyst, who said he felt as if all Israelis joined the regular correspondents and broadcasters and were invited to spread the same false story about Shireen’s death over the networks and social media. It is as if the Israelis seemed to have an implicit agreement and unconscious societal complicity against the “al-Aghyar” (gentile) and against the real story, for it threatens their identity and the fabric of the tale Israelis tell themselves. It was as if they were flocking to support a specific narrative, regardless of its validity, in order to remain united.  

Several questions remain: How could we feel this much pain for Shireen? Where did this collective tragedy come from, which brought us all to the heart of one woman named Shireen? What is the role of symbols in the lives and liberation of peoples?

Two days before Shireen’s departure, I was teaching my students about the concepts of “bridled violence” and “explosive violence”– their meaning and their multiple uses in the Israeli colonial context. A checkpoint without soldiers or a watchtower with no cameras or soldiers are examples of “bridled violence”. It conveys real explosive violence even though no guns are used nor have we stopped at the checkpoint- albeit not knowing whether there is a watchman in the tower or not. The computer with our names and information filed with the Israeli security officer is also an example of bridled violence. Even though bridled violence does not result in immediate and direct physical and material abuse, its continued existence and the possibility that at any moment it might be transformed into explosive, direct violence against all the rules of probability and expectation makes it more threatening and more violent than explosive violence. Such violence may sometimes work more “effectively” than explosive violence, and direct war, in controlling people for a period of time. Even if suspended, the probable anticipation of this type of violence remains present. 

Two days later, the academic article I read with my students became reality as Israel’s bridled violence, which has targeted journalists on many occasions, was suddenly transformed into explosive violence when Shireen was killed. Her killing, without there having been any sort of clashes, armed or unarmed, was part of the Israel preparation to raid Jenin refugee camp, and eliminate the resistance there. Even though she was not the first Palestinian journalist killed by Israel, the shock was in that her murder exceeded all expectations, even for those who expect the occupation’s violence. 

Palestinians almost never feel that they have any elements of predictability in their daily life as we constantly face questions such as — which road to take, what time to cross through openings (holes in the separation wall), when not to, what time to cross the checkpoint, what time does the latter close, when does it open, who is Israel arresting, who are they not arresting, who are they killing, and who are they not killing? Every day we are surprised that there is no predictability under occupation, and no room for routine – the usual “known” and “normal” moments. Whatever you do, no matter how far you are from the general concern, you are not far from death. 

We are all targeted at every moment, every minute, in every way, everywhere, and under every pretext. The shock of distant bridled violence turning into certain explosive violence, without an explanation, without armed clashes, even though Shireen was very clearly wearing her PRESS uniform, rattled the entirety of Palestinians. It brought us face to face with our humiliation and complete exploitation. Yes, humiliation is the clearest expression of what Palestinians felt and have had to restrain within. It was an obvious assassination; the Israeli soldier, who had stood before Shireen on similar occasions before, fired this time! This bleeding wound lingers, while everyone is pinned in front of TV screens, at funerals; and now, days later, our veins are still frozen, and the shock is still deep. This martyrdom, after it occurred, turned into bridled violence again for Palestinians, where it was intended to violate and stifle the collective memory and emotional life of Palestinians.

But how can we resist this humiliation, this exploitation and this bridled and explosive violence to our Palestinian wholeness at home and abroad? How can we heal the wound and not forget it, but overcome it so as to be able to produce a thousand Shireens? How do we overcome the trauma of living as a corpse at every moment of our lives? How do we shape our lives without any clear expectations for our living or dying? How do we hold on with love and youthful expectation and grow up when bridled violence robs us, and explosive violence kills us? 

This has been a very honest moment, when the hearts of all Palestinians at home and in the diaspora have stood together with the hearts of Arabs and those in solidarity with us. And in it we have sounded a great message that has always been there but that we did not see: a message that our struggle over the past century has not gone to waste.

All the martyrs who left, all the prisoners who have languished in jails or in Israeli “freezers”, all the people who suffered, all the lands that were confiscated, all the voices that have cried out in the alleys of refugee camps, all the tears shed by our children, all the arts, writings, articles and creations we have produced, and all the sacrifices were gathered together and intensified in one moment. They collectively produced this clear manifestation of our unified identity despite all the fragmentation, groans, frustrations and destruction that Israel has surrounded us with. And despite the wilting of national parties and institutions, despite everything we have all risen to bid you farewell, Shireen, an icon and expression of our inevitable Palestinianism. Your departure has clarified to us, and embodied for us, in our souls and in our vision, and against the expectations of many, a compelling vision of our steadfast identity. In the intensification of our pain, we gave birth to you again, our beloved, and revived you after they had killed you. Congratulations to you and congratulations to us for who we are!

And yet that was only the first point. The second goes back to bridled violence again. It is not only the colonizer who uses bridled violence to drive us in defeat out of our place and to suppress the Palestinian resistance, a violence that they render explosive as they please. We Palestinians also have the tools to suspend the bridled violence they create to stop our life and our death as well. We have what I would like to call a bridled resistance that also upends the violence of bridled and explosive colonialism. It is the silent resistance, sometimes invisible and sometimes overtly visible, with which we respond to the violence of the colonizer every moment and every day. 

This bridled resistance sometimes seems non-existent, or insignificant, and we hear Palestinians expressing fears such as that we may forget the death of Shireen or that martyrdom may not lead to an outcome. But constant bridled resistance that accumulates and threatens to explode at any moment, unexpectedly, is our most essential instrument of actual and moral action.

Our tears shed, for the first time in front of each other, on the day you left, in the form of an open Palestinian epic of bridled resistance as a human response to exploitation. Carrying the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem and insisting on doing so is bridled resistance; taking all sorts of beatings with batons and sticks, and still holding on to your coffin, Shireen, preventing it from touching the ground is bridled resistance; insisting on gathering in massive numbers in Jerusalem, and the solemn march procession Shireen through Jaffa Gate to her burial place is bridled resistance, insisting that your coffin must pass through every Palestinian city from Jenin to Jerusalem is bridled resistance; the young man who jumped from the wall where Shireen’s body fell under Israeli bullets at the moment of her martyrdom is bridled resistance; Guevara al-Budairi’s persistence in covering the funeral as she and other Al-Jazeera crew members were bracing themselves while on air is bridled resistance; Elias Karram’s words and tears, his hands filled with dirt from Shireen’s tomb is bridled resistance; Walid al-Omari carrying Shireen’s PRESS vest that she wore at the time of her assassination, is bridled resistance; scholarships announced by universities and institutions under Shireen’s name is bridled resistance; the songs, signs, videos, caricature, posters, articles and reports about Shireen that came out minutes after her martyrdom are bridled resistance; our students who have returned to school benches and persist despite all the horrors, their presence is bridled resistance; and other examples abound. 

The millions of young women and men injured by this martyrdom, these are the minds and bodies of bridled resistance that one day, at one point, will intensify and be achieved in the face of the Israeli bridled and explosive violence. The living may be better than the dead, or so they say, yet sometimes the dead gives birth to the living, not just once, but many, many times. 

Ghada al-Madbouh is an assistant professor at Birzeit University