‘Gaza in context. The duty of solidarity in the West’: BDS group forum at Sydney University, 20 October 2023

I was born in Haifa, British-occupied Palestine, and grew up in occupied Palestine, a.k.a. the state of Israel. Throughout my childhood and youth, I have been indoctrinated by the Zionist regime and told to de-humanise Palestinians and regard their country as ‘ours.’ This was done through the education system, everyday discourses, popular songs, literature, youth movement activities, cultural activities, family talk, in short – everything.

A few weeks after the 1967 war, having met a group of members of Matzpen, the Socialist Organisation in Israel – I learnt the truth about Zionist colonisation, imperialism, and racial capitalism, though these were terms I got to know many years later.

Two years after the war I moved to Ireland; I was a late comer to academia and my interest in race and racism led me to understand racism, according to African American abolition scholar Ruthie Wilson Gilmore as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” This, and my work on race and racism in Ireland and elsewhere led me to put race front and centre in thinking and writing about Zionism.

Zionism constructed ‘the Jews’ as racially superior in contrast to the supposed racial inferiority of ‘the Arabs’ (Palestinian is a concept employed by Israelis only much later) – see Zionist leaders such as Theodor HerzlMax NordauArthur Ruppin, David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin and members of Netanyahu’s cabinet among others… even though ‘the Jews’ is a construct based on biblical myths and stories, as argued by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, and Israeli biblical scholar Yigal Bin Nun. Once you see race you cannot unsee it – it is everywhere in Israel’s citizenship and migration regimes, in unequal resource allocations to Israeli Jews and Palestinians (in the fields of education, health, municipal funds, labour market, judicial systems and incarceration, media representation, among other things). Crucially, Zionism is the child of Europe – European (Ashkenazi) Jews racialized not only Palestinians but also Oriental, black and Arab Jews, and non-Jewish, non-white labour migrants and asylum seekers. We see the continued racialisation of the Palestinians by Israel and also by western politicians and media that speak of the Gaza based organisation Hamas as ‘terrorists’, of Palestinian resistance as acts of cruelty and terrorism, and of Israel as victims of ‘Arab violence.’ 

Wilson Gilmore said in a webinar in Western Sydney University in October, ‘I am not a nice person’ and she continues to do abolitionist work both as a scholar and an activist. I too am ‘not a nice person’ and I intend to continue to criticise Israeli colonialism and race regime not as a ‘self-hating’ but rather as a ‘self-loving’ Jew. Because criticising Israel is definitely not antisemitism.

As for the assault on Gaza, it is clear now that Israel knew about Hamas’s plans of attack and I, like many others, believe Israel wanted this to happen so it can complete settler colonialism’s mission, which, as Patrick Wolfe argues, is about eliminating the natives. I am convinced that Israel wants to demolish Gaza and transfer what’s left of its population elsewhere, and to eliminate the Palestinian people in their entirety. Hamas supplied it with a casus belli, enabling Israel to continue to market itself as the eternal, and only, victim. There is also no doubt in my mind that it was Israel which bombed the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City, but as usual, it blamed the Palestinians for all the killing and destruction – in fact centrist Knesset member Merav Ben Ari actually said in a Knesset debate about protecting civilians in the Gaza Strip, that ‘The children in Gaza brought it upon themselves,’ even though close to 5,000 Gaza people have been killed by Israel in two weeks, nearly 40 per cent of them children, while in the West bank some 90 people were murdered by settlers and the security forces in the first two weeks after the Hamas assault.

Finally, the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions campaign is more important now than ever before. It may not end Israel or replace it with one equal regime from the river to the sea as many of us wish, but, following the lead of our Palestinian comrades, it is what civil societies can and must do. The academic boycott is particularly crucial due to Israeli universities’ and academics’ active participation in the colonisation of Palestine. This includes supporting the occupation of Palestine through statistics and population control, political science, labour market and education analyses and policies, curricula construction, student support (and the lack of support for Palestinian students many of whom are ejected from Israeli universities, while the universities provide on campus courses for the security services, turning campuses into army camps), municipal planning, and migration and citizenship regimes. Above all Israeli academics have developed weapon and security systems, tested in real time on Palestine and particularly on Gaza, and marketed successfully throughout the world. Israeli academics – with very few exceptions – are central to the colonisation of Palestine and it is our duty as academics and students  to boycott Israeli third level institutions (though, as per the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycottguidelines, not individuals) – it is the least we can do!!