Image: Edward Said in Southern Lebanon in the early 2000s.
Defending Sheikh Jarrah from within the Australian settler colony
To turn away, to obfuscate through deferring the issue to complexity, supposed religious animosity and orientalist narratives of Middle Eastern infighting, particularly in the contemporary climate of ethno-nationalism and far right populism would have us abdicate our role as critical intellectuals of the postcolonial and decolonial.
In April, Israel’s supreme court ruled that 36 Palestinian families must leave their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied al-Quds/Jerusalem. Though up to 1,000 Palestinians are at risk of being evicted. This ruling was made despite the fact that, under international law, Israeli courts—as those of a belligerent occupying force—have no jurisdiction in the area designated as “East Jerusalem”. This represents only the latest development in the continued ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians that has been ongoing since the Nakba.
Palestinians in this neighborhood and beyond it immediately began to protest this act of settler-colonial aggression—part of an ongoing effort spearheaded by settler organisations with the goal of further annexations of Palestinian land, a practice supported and legitimated by the Israeli judiciary. Predictably, Palestinian protests were met with swift and brutal repression by Israeli security forces. With Palestinian Muslims congregating at al-Aqsa for the holy month of Ramadan—despite several attempts by Israel to restrict access to the mosque—the compound quickly became a site of mass protest in solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah.
On May 7, Israeli forces escalated their repression, invading the al-Aqsa mosque and firing rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades on worshippers praying on the last Friday of the holy month, injuring hundreds. Over the following four days, they proceeded to raid al-Aqsa three more times as Palestinians refused the quashing of their uprising in support of Sheikh Jarrah.
The Israeli state has launched an offensive on Gaza as a form of collective punishment, flattening several high rise apartment buildings housing civilians in response to rocket attacks launched from Gaza. As of this morning, Israeli air strikes have killed 113 people, including 31 children. Israel is now amassing ground forces just outside Gaza threatening another full-blown invasion of the enclave. As they do so, armed Israeli civilians are lynching Palestinians in ‘48 Palestine (so-called Israel) and invading their homes, galvanised by the chant “death to Arabs” and aided by Israeli police.
And yet, unsurprisingly and shamefully, the Australian media and government remain unwilling to speak the truth of Israeli settler-colonial oppression and aggression, or what Randa Abdel-Fattah defines as ‘The Great Palestinian Silence’. As you read this, Palestinians in Palestine and in the diaspora across the world are fighting to counteract the harm inflicted by media accounts that use ambiguous terms such as “tensions” or appeal to an undifferentiated “violence” that actively evades speaking of the inherent power imbalances of a settler-colony, despite the Human Rights Watch report released just two weeks ago that identifies Israel as an apartheid state.
Yesterday, Palestinian Australian academic Lana Tatour provided a most necessary intervention against a newer trope of “civil war” between Israelis and Palestinians, correcting that “terrifying footage shows Israeli police joining the pogroms, storming into Palestinians homes, intimidating, beating, and arresting them just for being Palestinian”. As activists and academics committed to postcolonial studies we are concerned with the officialising of colonial myths which work to undermine Palestinian struggle for justice, liberation and decolonisation.
“I have been unable to live an uncommitted or suspended life. I have not hesitated to declare my affiliation with an extremely unpopular cause”. These words from Edward Said have a painful resonance at this moment. To turn away, to obfuscate through deferring the issue to complexity, supposed religious animosity and orientalist narratives of Middle Eastern infighting, particularly in the contemporary climate of ethno-nationalism and far right populism would have us abdicate our role as critical intellectuals of the postcolonial and decolonial.
We are leading a fierce, principled Palestine solidarity movement in defence of Sheikh Jarrah, in rage at the necropolitics of massacres. Our organisations have called for an urgent review of all trade cooperation with Israel and are petitioning media outlets to lift their silence on Palestine. We are rallying across the country, as are thousands across the Global South and the first world in support of this most inspiring Palestinian uprising. Be with us, speak with us, commit to tangible, radical support. Decolonisation cannot be a metaphor.
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