On Saturday morning
On Saturday morning I wake up to a dozen text messages. “Are you seeing this??” “Oh my god, open the news!” “It’s happening, they’re doing it!”
I launched the app that lets me listen to Israeli army radio from Canada. My body shrinks into itself, my stomach sinks. I started calling everyone I can think of but no one is answering. I start to panic.
Dread takes over my body. Grade 5. The teacher asks us to be quiet so she can tells us which classmates got killed in the latest terror attack. The bus. Black smoke and metal. Losing my hearing for a day from the explosion. My boyfriend. The strange colour of blood as it mixes with soil. My encounters with this war flood my memories in chaotic order.
I pace around the apartment and call. Eventually I confirm that everyone I love is alive but the panic remains. As the day goes on, the news ticker tape updates with the number of casualties. 400. 500. 700. Incomprehensible numbers. In a few hours Israel will start bombing Gaza and the numbers on the Palestinian side will start climbing too. It’s just a matter of hours before our numbers will be matched and surpassed by theirs. As one Israeli arms dealer put it in the 2013 documentary The Lab, “the goal is 100 dead Arabs for every dead Jew.”
Right now I don’t want to think about them. I don’t want to think about justifications and reasons and faults. I think “Screw them. How dare they? How can they go and murder people in their homes and call that liberation??? Don’t they know that we’re going to retaliate? Don’t they care about their own people? Why would they do something so horrific? Murder is not liberation! Fuck them! Until we make them feel what this feels like, we’ll never stop.”
I go on Instagram. My feed is full of “free Palestine” and “This is what Decolonization Looks Like.” People with whom I have been organizing for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine for almost twenty years are now posting messages that sink my heart. Messages that feel unbearable. As though all they’re focused on is controlling the narrative. As though Israeli life, just because it’s Israeli, is worthless. As though they’re trying to fit the unfolding reality into the logic of the past. But we now live in a different reality, I think to myself. We now live in a different world. I want to tell them that I understand the desire to contextualize but writing the words they’re writing while Hamas’ fighters are still machine gunning people in their homes is simply cruel. I want to tell them that revenge is not justice.
I check the social media of the journalists I trust. I check The Guardian, I check the BBC. I check Ha’aretz, Yediot Ahronot, 972 Magazine, Al Jazeera, Kan, Channel 12. Their pages are filling with images of pixelated bodies lying on streets in unnatural poses.
I go back to instagram. This time my feed fills with footage of friends crouched outside their cars as machine gun fire goes on in the distance. I remember crouching outside the car by the border with Gaza in the 2014 war, filming people crying, screaming, panicking.
This time, even the journalists are in shock. I feel paralyzed. If I was there, I would grab my camera and run but out here, thousands of kilometres away, there’s nothing I can do. Instead of crouching, I crawl under my blanket and spend the day scrolling the news. The Israeli press is already calling for revenge. Revenge on revenge on revenge on revenge. Celebrities are posting the flag of Israel on their profiles. As though they don’t know that posting the flag of Israel at a time like this is simply cruel. Hamas fighters are children who grew up in prison, who grew up with a dozen wars, never stood a chance, who never had an option. I feel alone. I sink into what feels like a bottomless, dark, inverse world. My cat sits on my feet and stays with me the whole day.
On Sunday I realize that I’m not the only one who feels like this. I start calling all my Israeli and Palestinian friends abroad. Everyone is going through the same thing. My Brazilian neighbour throws a party and the sound of laughter through the walls feels obscene. Dread is replaced with anger. I rage like I might kill somebody. My body hurts. I want to sleep forever.
On Monday Palestinian friends start calling me. My old best friend checks in. Stuck between worlds as a Palestinian citizen of Israel, she tells me what it’s like to watch the news on her phone from inside a bomb shelter in Haifa.
A friend texts to see if I’m going to go to the Pro-Palestinian protest at City Hall and it’s the first time in years that I am clear that this time I’m not going. Not because of timing or distance but for purely political reasons. Going to a protest now, while friends are volunteering in the search for bodies would mean choosing nationalism over principles. Suppressing empathy in favour of sloganism is not my idea of decolonization. I was never in solidarity with Palestinians simply because they’re Palestinians. My activism is based in principles, which include the understanding that the violence of the oppressed is not comparable with the violence of the oppressor.
I was and am in solidarity with an anti-colonial struggle for peace and justice so I have no interest in taking up one nationalism after denouncing another. If Palestinian liberation this time means Hamas, I want nothing to do with it. Hamas is a government whose vision of the world is antithetical to my beliefs. Its attempt to realign the balance of forces from the United States to Russia is not my idea of decolonization. Replacing one empire with another and massacring civilians to do it is not my idea of liberation. Supporting this attack would mean that instead of decolonization we are flipping the table but staying sitting at the same table. Arguing that because Palestinians have suffered they’re allowed to perpetrate atrocities is essentially supporting the Zionist claim for the existence of the state of Israel.
No, decolonization to me means breaking the binaries; it means thinking beyond the mental traps that colonialism establishes. That is what I’m fighting for, so no, I’m not going to the protest at City Hall. And I’m not posting the flag of Israel either. It’s one thing to chant יהודים וערבים מסרבים להיות אויבים (Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies) and it’s another thing to reach out to each other, and to hold each other at a time like this. To create space in ourselves to see each other at a time like this. I am proud of my community.
Back home my Israeli friends get Order 8, the reserve army duty enlistment order. I think about my ex putting on his military boots. All the kids I grew up with, now slinging an M-16 over their shoulder as they kiss their spouses goodbye. People who would only a month ago, in the mass anti-government protests in Israel, would have chosen jail over ever returning to serve are now getting on army jeeps heading south.
On Thursday Hamas announces that Friday will be an international day of attacks in solidarity with theirs. I wonder if any of my students at the film school where I teach support Hamas. I wonder if I should be more discreet about being Israeli. Maybe the thousands of kilometres won’t keep the war at a distance after all.
On Friday the Israeli airforce bombs Palestinian civilians running for safety. There is nowhere to seek safety in Gaza. I know that. In 2014 my friend Nalan called me while running for her life. She called me from the Rafah crossing, begging I call the embassy, the IDF spokesperson, anyone, and let them know that hundreds of people are stuck at the checkpoint. That Egypt isn’t letting them in. I try to remember how long you can go without water before you die of dehydration. I wonder, as I get to campus and head to class where I would hide if this building was bombed. Who I would call. Who could save me.
On Sunday, for the first time since the Tree of Life shooting, I had to guide the teachers of the secular Jewish Sunday school I run about where to run and how to protect the children in case of an incident. Half the parents didn’t send the kids to school, some for COVID reasons and others for security. I sat down with the ex older class and let them ask me anything they wanted. They don’t understand how they’re being asked to be kind to each other and share their toys but adults are allowed to do this to each other.
Everything feels like there’s no choice, like there’s no path forward, like we are at the end of the road.
It feels like that, but that doesn’t make it reality. If there’s one thing I know from the years I spent unlearning and undoing the colonial violent ways of thinking I grew up in, in the settlements, it’s that you have to see with your eyes open. You have to see what is happening, even when everything inside urges you to look away. I read the emails from friends in Gaza describing fleeing from endless bombardments. The footage looks apocalyptic. I don’t know what the right thing to do is, but I know we have to support each other as we figure it out.
I remind myself that we are the ones who create the world. I remind myself that we are the ones who can create a different one.