Reflections on my time in Palestine

Reflections on my time in Palestine

This short essay covers the realities of the nation state that Israel makes explicit as well as personal experience with the occupation.

I spent part of the last semester studying in Palestine. I had planned on staying for the entire semester but my time there was cut short because I was deported by Israel. The university I was attending, like all Palestinian universities, is unrecognized by the state of Israel, part of that nation’s broader war against Palestinian civil society. In the eyes of the apartheid state, anything that makes life better for Palestinians or simply makes their continued existence possible is seen as an existential threat. The campus, which of course is a site of struggle, is regularly raided by the IDF, firing teargas, rubber coated steel bullets, and brutalizing students.

In this context my ability to attend the university was always somewhat imperiled. The lack of recognition for the university denied the possibility for a student visa and instead a tourist visa, which did not last the length of the semester (and would not have been granted if I made my actual intentions known during interrogation). In the process of renewing the visa myself and the other exchange students were subject to nine and a half hours of interrogation and then deportation.

I preface my response with this story not because my experience is unique, in fact deportations and denials of entry into Israel for those in solidarity with Palestine is incredibly common and becoming more and more so, especially after the passage of the anti-BDS law this last spring. Instead this is an incredibly small part of the reign of violence, force, and intimidation that is the israeli apartheid state and the violence of states and borders writ large.

Nation state at its most brutally honest

A common refrain from zionists and their apologists is that Israel is held to a unique and higher standard than other nation states, often coupled with “whataboutery” centering on Syria, Iran, or DPRK. While it is doubtless true that these regimes are also authoritarian, this marks a deliberate obfuscation and ignores the relationship to broader systems of world power and imperialism. Israel has allied itself and serves as a key strategic ally with US imperialist endeavours in the Middle East and is itself a settler colonial project. So while these other regimes are worth challenging (not through western intervention but through social revolution) Israel is aligned with global hegemony in a fundamentally different way. This is not to say that these other regimes are inherently anti-imperialist, Syria for example relies on Russian imperialism and has been “internally” imperialist towards Kurdish, Assyrian, and Yazidi populations, but they largely are not active in global structures of exploitation and domination.

Israel is a sort of vanguard of western liberalism, coupling fascistic mIlitarism and domination of undesirable populations (Palestinians, but also African Jews, many of whom were sterilized by the Israeli state), and a supposed dedication to progressive values of diversity and inclusion. This contradiction is hardly unique to Israel, it is prominent throughout western liberal democracies, willing to massacre people of color and those who live in the global peripheries but trumpeting their dedication to freedom and democracy at the same time (at its most vicious in defense of those very massacres). It also dates back to the founding liberal political projects in which one could declare “all men are created equal” while at the same time owning slaves. However Israeli takes this logic to its brutal conclusions, positionIng itself as existing in a classically orientalist existential struggle for western values against the Arab hordes. Despite near constant expansion since its founding and near total military supremacy, facilitated largely by allegiance to the great imperial power that is the United States, Israel positions itself, and by proxy western civilization as under perpetual threat. In the processes they render Palestinians, especially any of those refusing to accept their conditions, as terrorists. In the post 9/11 era where the global war on terror serves as the primary justification for colonial projects Israel’s positioning plays perfectly into this broader logic.

Israel spends billions on propaganda, much of it focused on illustrating how progressive israeli society supposedly is. Quite a bit of this revolves around “pinkwashing” or the highlighting of LGBTQ rights, ignoring that some basic rights such as marriage are still denied and that far right Israeli terrorists regularly attack pride parades. Imperialist feminism is also rampant. They use the homophobia and patriarchy present in Palestinian society (although it is present in every society) as justification for their bombardments, as if their bombs don't also kill LGBTQ people and women or their blockades don't make their lives all the more difficult. Of course this logic also plays out in the US with reactionaries using the pulse nightclub shooting as a supposedly progressive justification for islamophobia, and on a larger scale in the supposedly humanitarian justifications for US interventions, which really serve as a shield for the true geopolitical and economic reasoning for perpetual war.

While this contradiction does not sound very honest the visibility of this contradiction is more apparent there, where the settler colonial project of land theft is ongoing and the indigenous population has not been all but decimated and relegated completely to the sidelines. The claims of inclusion ring hollow as concrete walls are erected to force Palestinians into smaller and smaller areas, separated more and more from the land which bears so much cultural significance in an historically agrarian society. The claims of diversity show themselves to be false as Palestinians are denied access to the most basic of services and even “Israeli Arabs” (the propaganda term for Palestinians still residing within the borders of Israel) are denied access to basic aspects social life. It remains illegal for Jews and non-Jews to marry for example. And any claim of freedom is a cruel joke as checkpoints, barriers, and bureaucracy deny Palestinians basic freedom of movement and demonstrations for basic liberties face severe repression at the hands of Israeli security and their pawns in the Palestinian Authority. The illusion, the sham, the veneer of progress covering the brutal reality of the state is stripped bare and the lie that sits at the core of the nation state made apparent.

None of these things are unique to Israel. Nation states around the world build walls to keep out those deemed outsiders, oppress and suppress undesirable populations in the name of security and homogeneity, and facilitate the theft of basic necessities from the commons for the benefit of a small elite. However in an active colonial project these foundational functions of the nation state cannot be hidden, pushed to peripheries, or subsumed into class truce welfarism. A well worked critique of Israel should not serve to obscure the broader realities of oppression but can rather serve as an introduction to the flagrant brutality of the nation state.

Palestinian society and Israeli self destruction

In the face of this it would be easy to understand surrendering, yet the Palestinians do not. Resistance flows through every aspect of society, besides the Palestinian Authority, which sits in the long tradition of utilizing a small elite of a colonized people to help aid the efforts of the colonists. Even without the framework of anarchism or libertarian- socialism being well known, critiques of borders, government, and exploitation are incredibly pervasive. They are a natural response to the conditions under which people live, facing the reality of massive oppression at the hands of the Israeli state and existing under an elite willing to cooperate with that same regime as long as they can fill their own pockets.

Resistance is illustrated not just through demonstrations and actions, such as the prisoner hunger strike this spring and the accompanying solidarity actions but also, through music, art both street/popular, which is ever present, and more institutional, poetry, food. Farmers, students, workers, prisoners, everyday Palestinians are the backbone of the resistance and each resist in ways appropriate to their sites of struggle. Farmers refuse to surrender their lands to the the incessant creep of settlements, students strike and demonstrate, regularly crashing with IDF and PA forces, workers conducted a general strike in solidarity with the prison strike, and nearly everyday people, especially youth regularly fill the streets in rebellion. International solidarity is both expressed and welcomed wholeheartedly.

This beautiful and persistent resistance stands in stark contrast to the militarization, increased isolation, and paranoia of Israeli society. While the perpetual visual presence of settlements and checkpoints certainly weighs heavily on people's psychology the Palestinian consciousness is far more liberated than the Israeli, for the Palestinian sees the walls for what they are while the Israelis see freedom in them. Afterall it is illegal for Israeli citizens to enter “Palestinian controlled” areas and as a piece of street art by the Kalandia checkpoint near Ramallah posits “one wall two jails” yet only one side seems able to recognize it as such.

This is not to say the occupation does not have its impacts in israel. In order to maintain it against increasing international pressure Israel is turning ever more inward, restricting entry ever more, and doubling down on paranoia and isolation. The shadow of their society, that they have tried to cover with the shell of progressive values is fundamentally undermining the functioning of the society and the more they continue down the road of fascism and militarism the more they will become a pariah on the international stage and incite more reactions of all types against them. Like US imperialists Israeli security births the very enemies it uses to justify its existence, both figuratively in the sense that it is the natural outcome of colonialism, and literally in that they funded Hamas to undermine the PLO.

In contrast to the revolutionary solidarity of palestinian society, Israeli society is reactionary and self isolating. Israel is the colonizer but Israeli society is mentally colonized, viewing the institutions that put them in most danger as providing them protection. Without revolution it will devolve even further, Israelis should join the Palestinians, for revolution is necessary on both sides of the wall and neither will be truly free without decolonization and the tearing down of the walls of apartheid.