Battle Lines

AGAINST MY BETTER JUDGMENT, I opened Twitter on an evening walk. The first thing I saw was about a twenty-three-year-old Palestinian in Turkey who had died of a heart attack after being unable to reach her family in Gaza. I despaired, of course. There are many ways to kill a people without pulling the trigger. I thought of Etel Adnan’s words: “How not to die of rage?” When protests erupted globally as Israel escalated its bombardment of Gaza, comparisons to the Iraq war were everywhere; and so, as I witness unfathomable violence, and I ache, I remember Adnan’s In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country. It begins with a return: Adnan back in Lebanon after time in California; we must understand the pain of exile is not so simple as return—no matter what, there is a loss in the passage of time, in what cannot be recovered. This context is vital for the story that follows. I see footage of the rubble in Gaza and pray for what can be rebuilt. Adnan’s lyrical memoir is structured in vignettes, with subheadings identifying the topic of the stanza to follow—POLITICS, for example, describes the gusto the people of Sausalito have for the US invasion of Iraq; I think of the hostage posters plastered across the country. Some read WEATHER: she writes of California, she thinks of Lebanon; I feel rain in San Diego and think of rain in Gaza. Some read PEOPLE: she writes of her father after his death; I hug my parents and I think of the children from whom this simple right was stolen. Of course, these divisions were always arbitrary and eventually disappear, culminating in the final section, “To Be in a Time of War.” Adnan writes,

To do as if things mattered. To look calm, polite, when Gaza is under siege and when a blackish tide slowly engulfs the Palestinians. How not to die of rage? To project on the screen World War I, then World War II, while expecting the Third one. . . . To wake up, look through the window at green water, from the Bay to the mountain, and return to one’s self. To remember that war is devastating Iraq. To feel pain.

To ache for Iraq is to ache for Palestine is to ache for Sudan is to ache for Yemen is to ache for Lebanon; “To Be in a Time of War” is nonlinear at its core. It is everywhere, it is a devastating always. The genocide of Palestinians did not begin on October 7—did not even really begin in 1948. It is impossible to separate this violence from our privilege of leisurely gaze, from the responsibility of witness; for those who already understand this, In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country is a companion. For those who do not, it is a manifesto. —Summer Farah, author of I could die today and live again 

READING, GENOCIDE: the words feel like they belong to different languages. In the context of the latter, I struggled to indulge in the former, even as I sensed that it still had the capacity to produce meaning. The internet contained too much. In one tab, I listened to a phone interview with a doctor, Hammam Alloh, in which he explained that he had no choice but to remain with his patients in northern Gaza. “To think only of my life”: he made it sound like an absurdity, which of course it was. In another tab, John Berger read Ghassan Kanafani’s “Letter from Gaza,” written, unbelievably, when Kanafani was only nineteen or twenty, sixteen years before he was assassinated by Mossad. Two weeks later, Dr. Hammam Alloh was killed by the IDF, along with his father, father-in-law, and brother-in-law. Almost everyone I was reading or listening to was dead, or about to be; it felt like a personal and collective failure that their words should feel like a revelation. There are reading lists everywhere; none of these texts should strike anyone as new, though they often feel that way to me, which is why I keep turning to them: Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories by Ghassan Kanafani; Covering Islam by Edward Said; The PLO and Palestine by Abdallah Frangi; The Right to Maim by Jasbir K. Puar; the SNCC Newsletter, July 1967 (not a book); Basic Political Documents of the Armed Palestinian Resistance Movement edited and translated by Leila S. Kadi; and “Undefeated Despair” by John Berger, whose opening lines read like a nightmare: “How is it I am still alive? I’ll tell you I’m alive because there’s a temporary shortage of death.” —Maya Binyam, author of Hangman 

TUCKED AWAY in a forgotten corner of the vast expanse between God and chance, Jean Genet is on the verge of sleep. He’s dreaming of a memory—or perhaps remembering a dream—of the Palestinian revolution. In 1970, Genet was given Yasser Arafat’s blessing to float among the exiled Palestinian resistance and spent two years with them in Jordan as they battled the US–backed King Hussein and his Bedouin troops. A decade later, in 1982, he returned to the revolutionaries, now in Beirut, in time to witness the Israeli invasion of the city. Prisoner of Love is Genet’s elegiac homage to his time among the fedayeen, the militias of stateless Palestinian youth skating along the surface of reality toward premature and flamboyant death. In them he saw a brilliance refracted and impermanent:

You have to understand that the people you call terrorists know without needing to be told that they, their persons and their ideas, will only be brief flashes against a world wrapped up in its own smartness. Saint-Just was dazzling, and knew his own brightness. The Black Panthers knew their own brilliance, and that they would disappear. . . . And the fedayeen, too, are tracer bullets, knowing their traces vanish in the twinkling of an eye.

Half a century later, the Palestinian revolution continues, though its narrative shape is far more tragic than the romantic portrait in Prisoner. What memories will these years produce, and what dreams? It may be impossible to see from within the turbulence—and the horror—what nostalgia will do. —Dylan Saba, contributing editor at Jewish Currents

THE BOOK OF THE YEAR is Minor Detail by Adania Shibli. The novel crests in a mind-changing revelation of how the past and the present converge on Palestinian life, achieved through craft, character voice, and time travel expertly realized by the author. A formally inventive novel for writers and readers. A book that really matters and makes most published works pale in dramatic comparison.

Also, I am very excited about the upcoming Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom by Maya Wind. This is a paradigm-shifting book, with incredible insider reporting that provides riveting detail of how Israeli universities serve primarily as centers of military research, propaganda, and command. A must read. —Sarah Schulman, activist and author, most recently, of Let the Record Show: A Political History of the ACT UP New York, 1987–1993

BASED ON A DECADE of research, Tareq Baconi’s Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance is a lucid account of the first thirty years of the Islamic Resistance Movement from its formation in 1987 until the time of the book’s publication in 2018. Baconi clearly and intelligently situates Hamas and its various manifestations in a history of Palestinian resistance to Israeli oppression, confronting and analyzing the history of violence in occupied Palestine. The book argues that Israel has successfully “contained” militant resistance in Gaza, which exists in what he calls a “violent equilibrium” with the Israeli State project and war machine. Baconi suggests, however, that containment was likely to be temporary. This conclusion has been borne out by the events of the past two months, and as a basis for understanding the history and future of Hamas, this is a vital text. —Isabella Hammad, author of the novels The Parisian and Enter Ghost 

JIMMY CARTER, EHUD OLMERT, AND THOMAS FRIEDMAN have all used the word “apartheid” in reference to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, as have Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Yet the term remains controversial; defenders of Israel still insist that the Jewish State extends the full rights of citizenship to the Palestinian minority within its internationally recognized borders and that the occupation—now more than half a century old and marked by ever-expanding illegal settlements and increasingly routine pogroms—is a temporary state of affairs that in no way negates Israel’s claim to be a democracy. Even some critics of the occupation may instinctively resist comparing Israel to the infamous white supremacist regime that ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

But the comparison is more than an abstract rhetorical or legal argument; it’s rooted in a historical geopolitical alignment that has been largely forgotten. Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s 2010 book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, is a thorough, concise, and eye-opening account of Israel’s direct complicity in the apartheid government’s long, ultimately doomed struggle to survive in a decolonizing Africa. It was a discrete but extensive relationship that took on multiple dimensions—conventional arms exports, assistance in developing a nuclear weapons program, using the Anti-Defamation League to spy on American anti-apartheid groups, high-level discussions on global public relations campaigns, and more. Aharon Shamir, a leading Israeli magazine editor (and former Irgun member), advised South Africa’s chief director of foreign affairs to “Give the blacks the vote very slowly,” in 1985, as international boycotts choked the South African economy. Citing Israel’s management of the Palestinians as an alternative model, Shamir added, “Make the world believe you are sincere. You have to be hypocritical to survive.” Key figures in the struggle against apartheid, notably the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, understood Israel to be supporting their oppressors, and continued to denounce Israeli apartheid long after the South African version’s collapse.

Polakow-Suransky, the son of Jewish South African anti-apartheid activists who fled the country in 1973, also offers insights into the history of South Africa’s small but influential Jewish community and its evolving relationship to the Afrikaners who made up the majority of the white population. He traces how Afrikaner nationalist sympathy for Nazism and anti-Semitism in the 1930s gave way to a more inclusive definition of whiteness, justified in the language of Old Testament theology, after World War II. Grateful for this increase in status and safety, many South African Jews ultimately accepted a Faustian bargain with white supremacy. After the fall of apartheid, some of them would decamp to Israel—as a number of Afrikaners have more recently done as well, converting to Judaism in the process. But despite its many ongoing imperfections and injustices, The Unspoken Alliance suggests, post-apartheid South Africa still presents something of a best-case scenario for the ultimate resolution of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. —David Klion, writer and contributing editor at Jewish Currents

TO WRITE ABOUT GAZA is to write about all of Palestine, and to write about modern Palestine is to write about the anachronism of colonial Zionism. While most of the world has been formally decolonized, in Palestine, colonialism has intensified, and nineteenth-century forms of Eurocentric supremacy have been growing continually since 1917 despite the advent of discourses of self-determination, human rights, and global decolonization. In the late 1980s, a young Palestinian Christian pastor, Mitri Raheb, experienced this anachronism personally. He was invited to lecture in Jerusalem about Palestine and Christianity to a group of visiting German theology students. Among those attending was the well-known German socialist theologian Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt, who rebuked the young Palestinian for standing in “God’s way.” He told Raheb, “If I were you, I would pack my bag and emigrate, leaving this country to its rightful owners, the Jews.” The Arab pastor describes his shock at the hubris of a foreign scholar who was so fully convinced of his righteousness that he was able to deny the significance of Palestinian attachment to their native land. Since then, Raheb has devoted himself to a life of the mind and of activism that has sought to recenter Palestinians in their own living history. His 2023 book, Decolonizing Palestine: The Land, The People, The Bible, is the latest installment in this unyielding effort to humanize and historicize Palestine as a “real land with a real people.” Raheb presents a crucial ecumenical and emancipatory reading of the Bible, free from the epistemological ravages of colonial Zionism and from what he aptly describes as a “theopolitics”: an anti-Palestinian reading of the Bible and of Palestine’s land and people advocated by a variety of liberal and evangelical Christian Zionists from the nineteenth century to the present. Rather than serving justice, this theopolitics has encouraged a profoundly anachronistic and violent settler-colonial enterprise based on the erasure of Christian and Muslim Palestinian indigeneity to make way for a Jewish State forcibly established on a historically multireligious land. The tragedy is that so many academics still repeat the tenor of Marquardt’s words, and remain silent, or actively complicit, in the current US-backed Israeli genocide in Gaza. Raheb, however, reminds us of the need for clarity in the face of constant obfuscation: what is now happening in Palestine has been happening for more than a century. Settler colonialism is a process, not an event. And as Raheb acknowledges at the end of this important book, cracks are appearing in the wall of colonial Zionism. His imperative is ours as well: we all have a choice as to whether to become opponents of empire or its scribes, to strengthen and reinforce the oppressive wall of denial or contribute to tearing it down. —Ussama Makdisi, history professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Age of Coexistence

GERMANY IS HOME TO THE largest Palestinian community in Europe. During the current war in Gaza, Germany’s political parties, media class, and intelligentsia have supported Israel’s military campaign with a uniformity and a rhetorical fervor that has surpassed even that of the United States. The freedom of assembly for critics of Israel has been significantly curtailed, and the public expression of phrases such as “Stop Genocide” and “From the River to the Sea” have been effectively criminalized. The culture sector has been struck particularly hard by what Susan Neiman has called “philosemitic McCarthyism.” Not a day seems to go by without bringing some news of an artist, curator, academic, or writer who has had their public appearance canceled, their prize rescinded, or has been forced to resign from their position on the basis of spurious charges of anti-Semitism.

The case that has received the most attention was the cancellation of the prize ceremony at the Frankfurt Book Fair for Adania Shibli’s novel Minor Detail, which is based on the true story of the gang rape and murder of a Palestinian girl by Israeli soldiers in 1949. Less widely reported was the last-minute cancellation of a reading by the poet Ghayath Almadhoun at Berlin’s Haus für Poesie around the same time. Born in Damascus to a Palestinian refugee father and a Syrian mother, Almadhoun currently lives between Stockholm and Berlin. The experience of being diasporic twice over and seeing the atrocities committed in his homelands refracted through the distorting prism of Western media is one of the through lines of his 2017 collection Adrenalin, translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham for Action Books.

In “Massacre,” lines from which were projected by Jenny Holzer on the Aarhus Theater, the terror of the titular noun dulled by banalizing journalistic conventions is restored through personification: “Massacre is a dead metaphor that is eating my friends, eating them without salt.” Almadhoun employs a similar reversal in “WE.” Here Palestinian victims collectively apologize to the Europeans whose personal distress at seeing spectacles of violence outweighs their concern for the people actually undergoing it, as well as to the Israeli soldiers, “who took the trouble to press the buttons in their aircraft and tanks to blow us to pieces. . . . ” The concluding sequence is a pointed reminder that the “black milk” from Paul Celan’s poem “Todesfuge” is still being poured today, down different throats.

The sardonic ironies of Adrenalin hold up a mirror to all the faces in the West, in Germany, above all, who view the Middle East—and Palestine in particular—through a glass darkly, so they can see the grotesqueness of their own dehumanizing gaze. In a new poem, “I Have Brought You Syria,” published in The Nation shortly after the cancellation of his reading, Almadhoun lists the things he has brought its addressee.

Among them: “the Promised Land . . . the land of milk, honey, and bombs,” “a country occupied by others, so you are born in the diaspora” where “a green rain pours down on my murdered poems.” For a murdered person there is no resurrection except in poetry; for a murdered poem, there is no resurrection except in reading. —Ryan Ruby, writer and translator 

AFTER ISRAEL CONQUERED Gaza and the West Bank in June 1967, the country’s leaders faced a dilemma immortalized in a quip often repeated by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol: “We won the war and received a nice dowry of territory, but along with a bride whom we don’t like.” The place Israel felt this dilemma most acutely was Gaza. Israeli leaders were adamant about keeping it, but they could not figure out what to do with its unwanted inhabitants. Future prime minister Golda Meir said she was in favor of retaining Gaza and “getting rid of its Arabs.” Prime Minister Eshkol and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan hoped to resettle hundreds of thousands of Gazans in other countries or in refugee camps in the West Bank. Minister of Labor Yigal Allon rebuffed these proposals, stating that “I am for [their] emigration across the sea.” Over half a century later, Israel is once again debating what to do with the inhabitants of Gaza as the world looks on, or, in the case of the United States, abets the collective punishment and forced displacement of most of the territory’s 2.2 million inhabitants. There is no better guide to understanding how we got to this juncture, and to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians for the past fifty-six years, than Avi Raz’s masterly history, The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War. —Nathan Thrall, author of A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy

EDWARD SAID pointed to one way the West’s ability to see Palestine remains elusive: Palestinians are perceived—if they are at all—as the “victims of the victims,” the victims of the Holocaust survivors (never mind how the Israeli State actually treated those survivors—that’s for another time). And certainly, that is how the West largely deals with Palestine: by erasing Palestine or accepting Palestinian death and displacement as a consequence of a kind of atonement for its crimes in the Holocaust. An adjacent problem is presented by the very grammars of trauma and psyche: they’re run through the Holocaust. This relies on us not just ignoring the Nakba in 1948, but insisting that all the dominant discourses of trauma, our very ways of thinking about it, indeed erase the Nakba as a necessary morally sound answer to the extermination of the Jewry of Europe.

At Parapraxis magazine, given our psychoanalytic inheritance, we’ve been asking: What are the psychic consequences of the Holocaust and all the theories that come from it, funding the Nakba and then being used to deny it happening? What does it mean for psychoanalysis specifically, that the way we understand the human mind has been frequently routed through this particular Jewish mass suffering, the very event central to the many Jewish émigrés in part responsible for spreading psychoanalysis globally?

Two books hold the beginnings of an answer: The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History, edited by Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg (with an afterword by Jacqueline Rose), tries to hold the Holocaust and the Nakba as two events both intimately braided and utterly distinct. Understanding that tension may not be enough, as Nadia Abu-El Haj has written: we may need to jettison considerations of the Holocaust in thinking of the trauma of the Nakba so that “we can find a political language with which the question of Palestine can be fully addressed.” Alex Colston, the deputy editor at Parapraxis, worked to heed this call recently in The Nation, looking at just how difficult it has been for the West to begin to credence the intergenerational trauma of Palestinians due to the necessary limits of Western diagnostic logics. To see how this might operate in the clinic, read Lara and Stephen Sheehi’s generative Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Practicing Resistance in Palestine, which moves the clinical community beyond the trauma/resilience discourses that have been so limiting and instead puts Palestinians firmly at the center of psychoanalysis—or more precisely, the psychoanalysis we want and need now. —Hannah Zeavin, founder of Parapraxis magazine and the Psychosocial Foundation

I AM WRITING THIS in the middle of the night, which is morning in Gaza, on winter solstice, what we Iranians know as Yalda night. On the longest and darkest night of the year, we gather to welcome winter and say goodbye to autumn, to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. In the dead of night, families eat, drink, read poetry. The miracle of hope is highlighted against the inevitability of loss; the pomegranate is a symbol, so is the watermelon. Seeds, renewal, the promise of abundance—the metaphors feel apt and yet deadly obvious.

In the context of 2023, so many things mean something else.

In the spirit of Yalda, I want to talk poetry but so much of Palestinian prose also feels like poetry. Because I write prose, I can’t help but acknowledge the wealth of outstanding fiction: Randa Jarrar, Isabella Hammad, Zaina Arafat, and Susan Abulhawa are just a few whose work has blown me away. Then this past November, I had the honor of editing an excerpt of Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail (translated to English by Elisabeth Jaquette) for the Evergreen Review, where I am a contributing editor. Shibli tells the story of the 1949 rape and murder of a Palestinian Bedouin girl by Israeli soldiers—perhaps she told it too well, which is likely why her LiBeraturpreis award was “postponed” at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The power in the syntax and diction—the pulsing lyricism in its raw realities—reminded me how central poetry is to the prose of Palestinian storytellers.

Then there are those poets. Like so many, the first time I fell in love with Palestinian poetry was thanks to Mahmoud Darwish—but Palestine is rich in poets, and not unlike my homeland, rich in imperiled poets. I am still not over the passing of the great Refaat Alareer, whose stunning poem “If I Must Die” received a deserved virality that nonetheless felt so horrifically bittersweet in the context of his most untimely passing. And how can we get over the brilliant poet Mosab Abu Toha’s brutal detention and beating—and, of course, again, displacement—by the Israeli army? (Toha and Alareer were friends.) Who will ever forget all the many flowers and ghosts of Noor Hindi’s devastating “Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying”? (Her collection Dear God. Dear Bones. Dear Yellow is immaculate.) And Hala Alyan, Suheir Hammad, and I can go on and on. But one more for our future: Mejdulene B. Shomali, a poet and scholar I had the honor of having in my class. You can find this queer poet’s singularly stunning verse online in many journals, but I know she’s putting together a collection at the moment, and the sneak peek we got in that old class I think about all the time.

Finally, because Yalda and because poetry: song. I’ve been interested in Palestinian hip-hop long before visiting Palestine in the summer of 2016, when I was part of an international delegation of authors (Rachel Kushner, Dave Eggers, Colm Toíbín, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jacqueline Woodson, and more) contributing to the anthology Kingdom of Olives and Ash, in collaboration with Breaking the Silence (“an organization of veteran soldiers who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories”). I have been a student of my first musical love, hip-hop, for decades, but hanging with hip-hop luminaries in Palestine was a whole other education: I got to explore Lod and Jaffa with Tamer Nafar (a founding member of DAM, celebrated as the first Palestinian hip-hop group); I spent studio time with Muhammad Mughrabi in Shuafat Refugee Camp; Muzi Raps and I shared a meal in East Jerusalem; and the “first lady of Arabic hip hop” Shadia Mansour I met over email once home. All of these artist-activists are also poets of the highest caliber, and you can find their masterpieces online—but linger on the lyrics. It will remind you that protest art is the heart of the greatest hip-hop.

Light is coming, Yalda tells us, but when? Gaza has sadly once again become the teacher of a too-often hopeless world. A new generation is learning what we have learned for too many decades, a new generation in love with Palestinian resistance and resilience. A new generation is losing sleep, friends, any remaining confidence in the West, and even their minds at the endless variations of oppression and injustice. My nightmares are many and livid (a typo for “vivid,” but who could correct a slip like that)—I see not enough and too much color at once: the grays of bomb-ravaged buildings and corroded beaches, dust and debris; the red of rocket fire and blood; the black and brown of men and women who could be my relatives. “How many 9/11s?” someone asked the other day. Hell. The number of dead is now the size of my hometown when we came to America. We hashtag ceasefire in every way we can, we pray for the release of all hostages, we land on the final truth: the end to the occupation. May we center Palestinians, amplify their resistance, and trust in their liberation. When this is over, it will only be the start: generations of reckoning lie ahead for us all. May we be worthy of the lives they put to words again and again; may we get there—we will get there—in the first place. —Porochista Khakpour, novelist and essayist whose new book, Tehrangeles, will be published in June.