We must refuse to apologize for Palestinian humanity

Zubayr Alikhan

Mondoweiss  /  October 9, 2023

The media will demand that we condemn the Palestinian resistance. We must refuse.

 “Our bombs mark a decisive turning point in our liberation struggle. Bringing the war to Rue Michelet, to Rue d’Isly, and to the Air France agency in the Maurétania amounts to bringing the war to Paris, Lyon, or Marseille,” I said to Samia. “Your father was right, they must be going crazy. Their response will be terrible and ferocious, but we must continue, because our country’s liberation depends on bringing the war into ‘their’ territories. Now my father’s words—’win or die’—take on their full meaning for us.” – Zohra Drif, Inside the Battle of Algiers 

Early on Saturday, October 7, the Palestinian resistance launched an unprecedented decolonial operation, firing over 5,000 rockets, breaking the 16+ year siege, infiltrating several illegal Israeli settlements, taking back stolen Palestinian lands, and targeting and capturing countless colonial settlers, in uniform and plain-clothes. Coined “The Flood of Al-Aqsa,” the operation retaliates against repeated Zionist raids and violations of Al-Aqsa mosque, attacks on Palestinian women, and the killing of over 700 Palestinians so far this year. But Indigenous resistance is never purely reflexive. The operation aims for liberation, decolonization in its truest sense, and indigenous return. In the coming days, Palestinians will inevitably be hauled into press rooms and asked, ordered, to condemn. Echoing the colonial Requirimiento of 1513, imperial media shall command Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of colonial rule, to be content as colonial subjects, to accept that should they “not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict…the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this…[shall be their] fault.” Of course, the benevolent colonial rulers, “highnesses,” and “cavaliers,”—don’t forget the “liberal settlers—shall protest that such had to be the case, that the barbarous native Palestinian made them do it. Many will be drawn in. Many will fold. Resistance now, will be as difficult a task as ever, and is thus of paramount importance. 

Crucial to colonialism, the practice of Imperialism, is controlling narrative. Yet, where many have focused on exposing the contents of colonial narrative, analyzing terminology and dissecting claims, the structural frameworks of imperial ideology have been overlooked. Where imperial ideologies have largely been eroded—albeit internalized and ritually spewed—their power structures, their positioning of observer and subject have persisted and pervaded even well-meaning minds. In the context of the Zionist colonization of Palestine, these hierarchical power structures have meant it is the Palestinian who must explain himself, justify his actions, rationalize his presence, prove his humanity. The Palestinian bears the burden of proof.

In taking the first step toward dominating the narrative and showering upon both the Palestinian and the observer a fusillade of fallacy, smears, and accusations, Hasbara, injected with tens of millions of dollars, has succeeded in placing the Palestinians on the back foot. Thus, Palestinian voices and international advocates have largely been bogged down in dispelling myths, responding to Imperial rhetoric, and combatting colonial accusations. Even the most outspoken and radical have fallen prey to imperial control—revolutionary thought within the borders, inside the ghetto, between the checkpoints of colonial frameworks. The promulgation of an authentic, independent Palestinian narrative has taken a back seat. It is here that Imperial narrative power structures come into play: Who asks the questions? Who must answer? Who is scrutinized? Who gets to judge?

In pondering these crucial questions and challenging fundamental assumptions, I am drawn to Edward Said’s After the Last Sky:

“We are also looking at our observers. We Palestinians sometimes forget that — as in country after country, the surveillance, confinement, and study of Palestinians is part of the political process of reducing our status and preventing our national fulfillment except as the Other who is opposite and unequal, always on the defensive — we too are looking, we too are scrutinizing, assessing, judging. We are more than someone’s object. We do more than stand passively in front of whoever, for whatever reason, has wanted to look at us.”

Then, we must not lose ourselves in contesting claims of indigenous savagery, combatting charges of Palestinian terrorism, but rather contend with the principal assumption that the Palestinian must respond, that the observer has the right to question. We must enact an ethic of refusal. We must refuse “the settler’s unquestioned right to know.” As indigenous scholar Eve Tuck highlights in her work “Unbecoming Claims: Pedagogies of Refusal,” an ethic of refusal is not a negativist stance, not merely a “no,” but a generative position allowing for the birth and nourishment of independent indigenous perspectives, interpretations, analyses, and voices. The refusal to answer, the objection to being questioned, much like the initial refusal to be colonized, to be a colonial subject, strips the dominant of control, shatters the asymmetry of mainstream dialogues, dismantles positional hierarchies, and allows for alternative tellings — the presentation of indigenous narrative, afresh.

Operating from a position of superiority, mainstream media obliges the Palestinian — a guest on a news segment, that too after being carefully selected and thoroughly screened — to explain why, indeed how it is possible, that he, his family, and people, are not terrorists. In order to be recognized, the Palestinian must argue, in the most unequivocal terms, that he is not violent. That he is not Jew-hating. That he and his people, for better or worse, are not like everything the Western observer has seen on TV. That he is not a threat. Indeed, if at all possible, the Palestinian should declare loud and clear that he is not Palestinian. The “good” Palestinian, defanged and neutered, polished and articulate, embracing his colonizer, making peace, is identified by everything he is not. Still, the “good” Palestinian is not accepted but presented as a testimony against his people, that they are indeed the quintessence of evil, and he is not one of them.

Refusal, then, opens up for the indigenous exciting alternative paths. The refusal to combat allegations opens the door to presenting oneself as independent of them. The refusal to pre-emptively renounce oneself of guilt, to cushion every sentence critical of Zionist settler-colonialism with denunciations of antisemitism, to precede every mention of Palestinian resistance with condemnations of violence, frees oneself of its burdens. The refusal to identify by disassociation extends the scope of humanity to every Palestinian and unifies the Palestinian nation.

In an effort to be heard, many Palestinians and solidarity activists alike have succumbed to imperial structures and strategies of subdual. Forced to prove our colonizers’ criminality to Imperial audiences, we have cited our oppressors, given heft to their testimonies and narratives over our own. Thus, Israel, if criminal at all, is guilty only of racism and apartheid because, well, they said so. It is a grand revelation, exposed by principled colonizers and noble imperial minds. That Israel is a settler-colony, that it is an illegitimate entity predicated on perpetual genocide, that is has no right to exist, are topics never to be broached, evidenced by 100+ years of indigenous suffering and testimony or not.

We have overvalued Western ears and eyes, such that we have shrunk the ambit of empathy to a select few. There is, after all, a reason why the great, beloved late Shireen Abu Akleh received more international recognition than the 700+ Palestinians murdered this year combined. We have focused too much on the fact that Palestinians brutalized or killed were “unarmed,” were “civilians,” that they were “Christian” or better still, “Jewish,” that they were “journalists,” that they had “American passports,” and spoke with “American accents,” that they had “dogs” that missed them, that they were “women and children.” We have been mistaken in emphasizing the unique qualities that make them exceptional in Western eyes, instead of emphasizing that they were Palestinian, on Palestinian land, that their lives were precious and the taking of them atrocious, regardless of whether they smiled or reached for a gun. We have allowed the West, the mainstream, to capture its perfect victims, if only to the exclusion of the rest.

Indeed, even those who have asserted a Palestinian right to armed resistance, have largely done so cautiously, toeing the line, within imperial bounds. Caving to Western orders to justify themselves, they have pointed to UN resolutions, analogized Western conflicts, argued that the resistance only strikes “military targets,” underscored the targets’ “military ranks,” clung onto the fact that “they fired first.” By tending to Western sensitivities, bowing to the commands barked at them—even if only a little—they have abandoned an authentic decolonial narrative, imperiled a narrative of liberation. They have failed to mention that those targeted were, are, colonizers, settlers, the primary agents, actors, impellers of the colonization and genocide of Palestine. They have failed to mention that the resistance targets colonial settlements, established atop ethnically cleansed and razed Palestinian villages; it targets colonial settlers that live in stolen Palestinian houses, on stolen Palestinian land, urinate on our corpses and dance on our graves. They have failed to highlight that the term “Settler-Colonialism” is not without reason, and that a colonizer is a colonizer, in uniform or out. 

Our fight is not for their cameras, nor subject to their screens. Our battle is not for “two states” and capitulation, nor the restoration of our rights under colonial rule—we refuse any conversation between sword and neck. Our war, our efforts, indeed our lives, are for the reclamation, decolonization, and restoration of our land. 

In this great decolonial struggle, we must champion an independent Palestinian narrative. As 100,000 colonial troops gather around Gaza, we must remain steadfast. We must unify our ranks. We must shout our support for the resistance from our rooftops. We must rally behind Gaza. We must break free from intellectual siege, look past the horizon, venture beyond the apartheid wall. We must celebrate every indigenous resistor, those who fight with pens, and especially, those who fire rifles. We must mourn every martyr, the civilian, and the freedom fighter. We must raise the banner of “searing bullets and blood-stained knives.” We must utilize every tool towards collective liberation, from Haifa to Al-Naqab, from the river to the sea.

Zubayr Alikhan is a student, activist, and writer whose primary focus is on the pursuit of justice with a particular emphasis on international human rights, anti-colonial resistance, and legal accountability. He writes on issues highlighting oppression and tyranny around the world