Tareq S. Hajjaj
Mondoweiss / August 31, 2023
Israel’s Diaspora Minister cried “blood libel” after a Princeton University course included a book that exposes Israel’s intentional maiming of Palestinians. But victims of this very policy in Gaza say Israel’s track record is clear.
Ghassan Sousi, 22, is taking advantage of the school season by standing on the main road amid the crowded marketplace, as pedestrians pass by and merchants sell school uniforms. In many respects, Ghassan is no different from the other hundreds of vendors at the entrance of Al-Shuja’iyya’s main market, standing in front of his stall for over 14 hours daily to make a living for his family. But the reason he stands out among all the other vendors is that he spends all these hours on one foot.
Ghassan’s other foot was amputated due to an injury he suffered during the Great March of Return, a series of protests between 2018 and 2019 when thousands of Palestinians sought to return to their original homes just a few miles beyond Gaza’s borders. After these iconic protests gripped the world, they were followed by scenes of young people in Gaza walking on crutches — the number of people shot in the feet by Israeli forces who had to later undergo amputation was alarmingly high.
Throughout my reporting during the past several years, I have met dozens of Return March protestors and listened to their stories. I’ve even told a few of them. What I noticed from the myriad encounters is that the injuries inflicted by Israeli snipers betrayed a sadistic pattern. The nature of the injuries showed an intentionality behind them that verged on the personal — like repeatedly shooting photographers in the eye, or shooting protesters in the feet with special bullets designed to cause permanent damage. The victims of this deadly pattern say that Israeli snipers deliberately caused damage that they would not be able to walk away from.
“Israel’s first priority is to maim us and leave us helpless. They want us to be unable to feed ourselves and our families,” Ghassan told me as he attended to a customer. “But I’m still standing in pride as I continue to earn my living.”
A year before the Return March took place, this intent to maim and debilitate was captured and theorized by Jasbir Puar in her 2017 book, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability. More recently, however, Princeton University added the book to a course syllabus on decolonizing trauma studies, which incited a maelstrom of abuse and Hasbara from Israeli officials and Zionist news platforms. The Israel lobby launched a war against the book and against Princeton.
What was so threatening about Puar’s book that its mere inclusion in a course syllabus would cause such an uproar? It is because the book reveals an aspect of Israel’s calculated brutality that it does not want to be made public.
When the survivors speak out
Puar links U.S. militarism with Israel’s aggression against Palestinians. In her first chapter, she writes, “Alongside the right to kill, I noted a complementary logic present in Israeli tactical calculations of settler colonial rule — that of creating injury and maintaining Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.”
To simply state this observation — which in my own reporting has been reflected in the lived experiences of my interlocutors — is considered antisemitic by Israel’s defenders. These delusional accusations are made even when the victims of this policy speak out.
Ghassan is one of the thousands of people in Gaza who have been affected in innumerable ways by Israel’s siege, but he’s also a firsthand witness of Israel’s systematic maiming of Palestinians. More importantly, however, he is also proof that the other component of the theory — that of Jewish settler colonial control and domination of Palestinians — will never truly be tenable.
“My wound means heroism and sacrifice. It’s a symbol that I lost a part of myself fighting for my rights,” Ghassan said. “It strengthens me and reminds me that I’m still able to fight and that I won’t surrender.”
He explained that Israel was able to maim his body, but not his spirit. “They can shoot us, bomb our homes, kill our families. They think this is enough to defeat us, that we’ll surrender. It’s pathetic,” Ghassan said between customers. “The wound made me stronger. I stand all day on one foot and bear it. My shooter would not have been able to do the same.”
Crying ‘blood libel’
This policy is the least of Israel’s crimes, yet merely invoking it has provoked hysteria. Israel’s Diaspora Minister signed onto an official letter lambasting Princeton’s so-called “delusional and false accusation” that Israel deliberately maims Palestinians, which the letter stated, “is nothing but a modern-day antisemitic blood libel.” The irony in using the well-worn “blood libel” charge is that the accusation is itself divorced from reality. The lack of originality in using the antisemitism smear shows the recent desperation in Israel’s Hasbara, which isn’t even making an effort to twist the facts and is just content to invent its own and peddle them as truth.
The Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza has stated that Puar’s book aligns with their documentation on the ground during the Return March. “The Palestinian experience with the occupation is clear,” Al-Mezan’s representative, Sameer Zaqout, tells Mondoweiss. “Israeli forces intentionally targeted Palestinian protesters in the Great March of Return either to kill or to maim, including women, children, and adults.”
“Israeli snipers intentionally targeted specific body parts,” Zaqout said. “Like the eyes, knees, or other parts of the body. They used ‘exploding bullets,’ which are designed to cause maximum damage to the bones and make healing nearly impossible,” Zaqout explains.
This “high-explosive incendiary” bullet — locally known as “the butterfly” — is designed to fragment and explode upon impact and lodge many shards of shrapnel inside the body, causing catastrophic wounds. When the wound is in the leg, the only viable treatment is most often amputation.
Zaqout asserts that when those bullets didn’t kill protestors, they caused permanent disability. He also emphasizes that the protestors who were targeted didn’t pose any clear danger to the Israeli soldiers. International human rights organizations already corroborated this — according to Amnesty International, protestors were often shot when they were merely holding a Palestinian flag or running away from the Gaza-Israel border fence.
“Any observer of what is happening in the Palestinian territories, whether before or after the Great March of Return, will notice the deliberate Israeli policy of maiming Palestinians,” Zaqout reiterates. “It’s an obvious policy. And it’s designed to render them disabled and unable to rejoin the labor market.”
These truths have been widely documented, but they’re up against a powerful Zionist lobby that conducts character assassinations against anyone who dares speak them, says Zaqout.
“The Zionist lobby conflates criticism of the occupation for its criminal behavior with antisemitism,” he asserts. “In this way, Zionism exploits Judaism.”
Jasbir Puar’s book simply reflects facts that continue to play out on the ground to this day, and that’s why it was included in a course at an American university. Whether Israel or the Israel lobby succeeds in pressuring Princeton to backpedal remains to be seen, but as these crimes become increasingly known to the world, it will become increasingly difficult for Israel to continue selling its delusions.
Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of the Palestinian Writers Union