Responding to the campaign to ban me from Adelaide Writers Week

Susan Abulhawa

Mondoweiss  /  March 6, 2023

Ukraine was the first purported reason that I should be disinvited or canceled. Although I know the real reason is that Zionists fear our voices, as all colonizers fear native agency.

Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of a message that author Susan Abulhawa published on Twitter on March 4, 2023. The statement comes in response to efforts to ban Abulhawa and poet Muhammed El-Kurd from appearing at the 2023 Adelaide Writers’ Week festival. The criticisms of Abulhawa specifically focused on her criticisms of  Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and her views on the ongoing war in Ukraine.

I am grateful to finally be on my way to Adelaide. I’m currently at my connecting destination.  I wasn’t sure I was going to make it because the campaign to keep me, Mohammad El-Kurd, and other Palestinian writers from taking part in the Adelaide Writers Week was quite intense. 

Much has been said about me in the Australian press, but none except a single online publication called Pearls and Irritations actually invited me to comment or respond. In fact, I wrote an op-ed, which was submitted to multiple media outlets, but all of them rejected it. I understand that several corrective submissions by others were likewise rejected. 

Silencing or perverting Palestinian voices is endemic, and I’m used to it—we all are—which is why I’m so grateful to Louise Adler and the Board of the Adelaide Festival for bravely ensuring that we do and will have space to speak and interact with readers on a cultural landscape.

However, a distorted view remains. I would like to take this opportunity to address the accusations that have been leveled against me in the hope that they will not distract from the brilliant work of my co-panelists during our sessions together. 

I will start with my political views on Ukraine since this was the first purported reason that I should be disinvited or canceled. Although I know the real reason is that Zionists fear our voices, as all colonizers fear native agency.

On the assertions that my stand on Ukraine is abhorrent, I’d like first to point out that my views of this war are shared by huge swaths of humanity, stretching from East to West Asia, to Southeast Asia, South America, and throughout Africa. In essence, most of the Global South, who, in fact, make up the majority of humanity. 

I have indeed been harshly critical of Volodymyr Zelensky, and I remain so. This is what the press and detractors first latched onto, using their own extrapolations to declare that I am “basically a shill for Putin.” Another claimed that “anti-war can mean pro-genocide.” These assertions are false, absurd, and libelous. There is good reason to be critical of Zelensky. One can begin with revelations about him in the Panama Papers, or in his immediately broken campaign promises of rapprochement with Russia, or the brutal silencing of dissent. But that is not the subject here.  

I am also on record expressing solidarity with the people of Ukraine, who are being used as fodder in a war that came as no surprise to those of us who have been watching and reading events over the past decade. This isn’t the place to get into the history, but I’ll direct you to the writings and speeches of Professor John Mearsheimer, who, since at least eleven years ago, has been warning that the United States was engineering a confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, which he claimed the US would see “to the last drop of Ukrainian blood.” It is also a fact that Israel has been arming and training avowed Nazis in Ukraine for at least nine years.

A leader’s first responsibility is to protect his or her people. Zelensky failed this most basic task by taking actions and provocations that would lead to foreseeable, even predictable, war, which has not only wrecked Ukraine and her people, but led to global food insecurity and fuel shortages, affecting the most vulnerable among us.  Not to mention the trillions of dollars siphoned away from the health of our planet and human needs, to be used instead for military junk and for the profiteers of death and demise. None of this absolves Putin of Russia’s crimes, nor have I ever made such a claim. I have in the past been harshly critical of Mahmoud Abbas and before him Yasser Arafat for similar reasons and with equally harsh language. No one would accuse me of being a shill for Ariel Sharon or Netanyahu. 

The war in Ukraine is not an isolated regional conflict, but a global proxy war, the outcome of which may well determine world order for many generations to come. It is the right and duty of thinkers and intellectuals and citizens the world over to examine wars critically. This is especially true for those of us who are US citizens, since the US is so deeply invested in this war—financially, politically, and militarily. Of course, this investment has nothing to do with freedom or democracy. How many times do we need to hear that broken record? 

I do not need a good vs. evil framework to make sense of the world. I further do not idolize politicians. I do not follow them. And I do not love them.  

I do not want to continue living in a unipolar world where the west continues with a free hand to wage endless wars on weaker nations, fueling unfettered corporate looting, extraction, exploitation, and poisoning of our planet. Nothing Putin has done approaches the horrors wrought by western wars, whether in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya or beyond. 

A peaceful, even if difficult, end to the madness in Ukraine was negotiated to the satisfaction of both Putin and Zelensky until the US and NATO allies swooped in to ensure the killing would continue, lest Russia be anything less than completely crushed. 

At the same time, I understand why Ukrainians may want this outcome. What they have endured for one year now, we Palestinians have lived for seventy-five years and counting.  A major difference is that we do not have a military or weapons with which to defend ourselves.  The more painful difference is that although Israel has and continues to commit war crimes against us — in fact, Putin hasn’t committed a fraction of what Israel has done to us — our anguish is dismissed, ignored, even disparaged. We are not allowed to hate the colonizers who kill, maim, oppress, dispossess, expel, and rob us. We are allowed neither outrage nor rage in the public sphere. While Israel’s military and its rabid paramilitary settlers set our lives aflame—literally and figuratively—we are tone policed, expected to engage in respectability politics, even sympathize with those who leave their privileged lives in their own countries to serve in a foreign colonial military with one of the worst human rights records in the world—all so that every Jewish person in the world can have an extra country if they want. 

I come from an ancient people who have lived in Palestine for millennia. My family’s documented and verifiable lineage in the land is something that 99% of Jewish Israelis cannot claim. All Palestinians have such lineage, some deeper than others, but all of us have roots there that curl deeply into the layers of her soil, where our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on are buried. For that indigeneity, we are exiled or forced to live under Israel’s brutal military occupation, as they slowly wipe us off the map, as if the last few thousand years never happened.  They terrorize Palestinians daily, such that a whopping 97% of our children display symptoms of PTSD. A terrifying percentage of children under the age of five in Gaza have lost the will to live. Israel is killing us, destroying us, and stealing our homes and heritage bit by bit, as they import more foreign Jews to replace us.

I am angry and enraged by Israel’s unrelenting criminality and impunity, and I despair at the depth of my people’s suffering. No amount of threats, trolling, doxing, name-calling, harassment, smearing, or tone-policing can compel me to betray my ancestors or my people who suffer or die daily at Israel’s colonial hands. I cannot stop those who weaponize antisemitism to silence us, but I do take heart in the growing number of Jews throughout the western world, especially young Jews, who identify as anti-Zionist, fighting to reclaim their religion from the clutches of a violent colonial ideology. Most of all, I take heart in our own young people, who against all odds, are surviving and still fighting to live free in the pluralistic, multi-religious, multi-ethnic land of our forefathers and foremothers. 

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist. She is the author of Mornings in JeninThe Blue Between Sky and Water, and Against the Loveless World