Elissa Goss, a senior at The Evergreen State College and active member of the Mid-East Solidarity Project and TESC Divest, recently returned from a two-week Interfaith Peace-Builder delegation in the West Bank and Israel with fellow Greeners, Olympians, the Corrie family, and activists from around the country. This is a reflection piece in light of the heightened violence in the region.
As we near the day of Thanksgiving, with the escalation of attacks on Gaza, I can’t help but draw parallels between the experiences of the colonized here in the US and around the world—specifically in regards to the Palestinians.
The violence we are hearing about and seeing in photographs and videos is nothing new to our country. The land grabs, restrictions on movement, economic well-being, education, and culture coupled with horrific systemic physical violence and ethnic cleansing, are the same legs of colonization happening here and abroad. Colonization as we know it isn’t just in battles—it is the everyday suffocation of a peoples; touching on every aspect of their lives. Call it bureaucratic violence, structural violence, occupation, colonization, and understand that we cannot approach the attacks on Gaza with the mindset that these are two “equal peoples who just can’t get along”.
We must discuss this with the understanding that Israel is an occupier attacking the occupied—thus, they cannot claim the need for “self-defense” when they are stepping on the necks of the Palestinian people for generations. I argue that the current attacks from Gaza are a form of resistance that stem from the humanitarian crises Gazans have to live with everyday. This is not a “conflict”—that denotes equal footing. This is an occupation and we are witnessing Israel more deeply entrenching its false position as a “victim” in the Middle East when in reality, it is the dominant military power in the region and has the monetary support of the US, the dominant military force in the entire world.
To refer to the current violence as a disruption in the relative “calm” is also a false statement. There hasn’t been “calm” for Palestinians for centuries. Constantly having to adapt to various empires and occupiers, they are resisting against the modern nation-state of Israel that has utilized the same system of colonization that we have enacted here in the US.
While I was in the West Bank and Israel, I witnessed the inherent daily inequality between Israelis and Palestinians: loss of land with Palestinian farmers in Israeli courts for over 20 years, communities within Israel having to go to the high court just to get a school built, water tanks sitting patiently on top of roofs next to Israeli settlements with swimming pools, and check points, concrete walls, and road blocks everywhere you turn. It is a landscape of cages. A landscape of “no”. Without land, access to food, economic well-being, education, and security, Palestinians are told by Israel that they are not trustworthy, that they are terrorists. Who is the terrorist? Who is strangling children, families, communities on a daily, structural, and intentionally planned way. This is oppression. This is occupation. This is not an equal fight.
So how should we respond? I have been in many a conversation that is very uncomfortable when faced with pleading eyes of friends who have loved ones in Israel who are at risk. I think in common discourse around Israel/Palestinian we struggle to criticize Israel without also criticizing Palestine. However, this over-simplifies the issue falsely by reverted back to the idea that they have equal power and say in the matter and we need to refer to the above point I made that this is not a conflict between peoples with equal footing.
We need to learn to respond in a way that is grounded in the fact that this is a daily violent occupation—one that exhibits violence both physically and bureaucratically. Israel, as the occupier and dominant military, political and ideological force in the region, has the responsibility to stop the current attack on Gaza, end the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, and take steps toward the right of return for refugees. Israel is continuing colonization with the support of the US, and just as many Israelis do not have to experience the same level of suffering that their country’s policies inflict on Palestinians on a daily basis, neither do I have to experience the same amount of suffering that Native and marginalized peoples have had to experience for centuries, and continue to experience, right around me here in the United States.
Which leads me to my final point: A life is a life and in order to talk about peace we have to talk about justice. Just because people on both sides have died doesn’t mean that both sides are equally responsible for the current situation and thus have to respond in the same way. We have to look at the power dynamics at play and recognize that Israel commits human right abuses everyday and has always been the power player in the region with its colonial support from Britain and the US. It has been an occupier since day one of its “independence” just as much as we have here in the US.
Britain has left the world a tragic legacy for reflection at this time of Thanksgiving, hasn’t it?
Peace makes me think about people just getting along, learning to understand each other, and justice makes me think about power dynamics, who holds more power, and my role in being complicit with injustice. Anyone can call themselves a “peacemaker” and do nothing…but if we do not challenge our collective understanding of Israel’s occupation of Palestine while simultaneously challenging our own understanding of our complicity in oppression here in the US and abroad, then we are playing Whack-A-Mole.
I need to recognize my privilege as a white US citizen in passing any judgment on the current attacks on Gaza. I am writing this from a place of occupation, a third generation settler, as someone who benefits from oppressive policies here and abroad. It isn’t my place to judge the tactics of Palestinian resistance when I myself am an occupier and settler. However, I believe that I can pass judgment on the state of Israel because our tax money is funding the current outbreak of horrific violence and will continue to fund the bureaucratic violence on Palestinians even after the “cease-fire”. Targeting where I am complicit and working to change that as much as possible is the least I can do during this time of Thanksgiving, which is why I continue to do my work as part of the global Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement and urge others to do the same.
So what am I grateful for? I can’t be grateful for peace…there isn’t any. But I am grateful for justice. I am grateful for people here in Olympia, the United States, around the world and Palestinians and anti-Zionist Israelis that are working to make justice a reality. I am grateful for those that have taken the time to teach me about what justice could really look like and for the reader that takes a moment to question that themselves.
There are many points and aspects of history and experience that I have not touched on and I look forward to continued conversation and clarification on making the reality of justice a possibility at home and abroad.
Elissa is planning future articles and presentations about their experience and its connection to movements for justice and peace here and abroad and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org