Abandoned Solidarities: Street-Level Politics in Israel-Palestine

"Our space to be Palestinian, to be political, and to be equal partners in building the new left in Israel, is crucial."

Transcribed from the 26 November 2023 episode of The Fire These Times podcast and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the whole interview:

What worries me currently is that the liberal center and left here is not even talking about us—the Palestinians in Israel who are enduring very heavy political and social persecution. It worries me that people who, up until a month and a half ago, went on the streets shouting Democracy! are not even reacting to our current situation.

Joey Ayoub: Hi everyone. I’m Joey Ayoub and I’ll be your host today alongside Dana El Kurd. We’re talking to Sally Abed, Orly Noy, and Amjad Iraqi about the state of Israel’s political landscape. We focused on its ongoing “Smotrichization,” as Orly called it—a normalization of far-right rhetoric in Israel-Palestine. We spoke about the political crackdown, and the normalization of genocidal rhetoric against Palestinians. But we also focused on the necessity to push for change in Israel-Palestine. This is at a time when Netanyahu and the Israeli far right have effectively taken over politics, not just at the electoral level but many would argue at the cultural level as well. They have normalized the powers that we are currently seeing in Gaza.

Many self-described liberals in Israel, and even many self-described leftists, have effectively joined in the calls for violence, ethnic cleansing, genocide, apartheid, and so on. Amidst this whole mess, principled leftwing voices seem all but gone in Israel. But that’s not actually the case, and that’s what we’ll be exploring together here.

We also used the opportunity to ask our three amazing guests to share their personal theory of change, offering a glimpse into their vision of the future. Thank you for listening everyone, and take care.

Dana El Kurd: Hello everybody, my name is Dana El Kurd; I am an assistant professor in political science and I write on Israel-Palestine, and I’m very glad to be here with our awesome guests.

Sally Abed: I’m Sally Abed. I’m a community organizer, an activist here in Israel, and I’m part of the national leadership of Standing Together (עומדים ביחד نقف معًا). We’re the largest Jewish-Arab grassroots movement in Israel. We link to anti-occupation and peace efforts as well as social and climate justice efforts in Israel.

Amjad Iraqi: Hey everyone, my name is Amjad Iraqi. I’m a senior editor at +972 Magazine and a policy member at the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka. I’m a Palestinian citizen of Israel, currently based in London.

Orly Noy: Hi everyone, I’m Orly Noy. I’m a journalist and editor at the Hebrew website Local Call and a contributor to +972 Mag. I am also a political activist, the chair of the human rights organization B’Tselem, and a translator of Farsi literature into Hebrew.

JA: The first question we have is a broad one: What are conditions like right now in the Israeli political landscape, for the left specifically, and also more broadly? How do things look for human rights activists and for folks like you? Paint us a picture.

SA: I describe myself as a chronic optimist, and I really am. But it’s a survival mechanism. I need to answer this question honestly: it’s very concerning. We are seeing an unprecedented alignment of much of the “left” and liberal center with the policies and government they were protesting against a month and a half ago. We are also seeing a not-small proportion of society supporting genocidal calls—and a very large portion that is condoning or overlooking these calls, and not protesting them.

Honestly, we understand this is a human response. People don’t see the humanity of the other side. It’s survival. It’s existential threats. The attitude is kill them all, they’re all a threat. I hope this will subside, and that we will be able to recover large portions of the public going forward. What worries me currently is that the liberal center and left here is not even talking about us—the Palestinians in Israel who are enduring very heavy political and social persecution. Honestly, that worries me even more in some way. 

We are always conditioned not to identify as Palestinian. We are always sanctioned. But now it’s like you’re either human or not human. It’s that kind of identification right now. It’s very heavy persecution, and it has very undemocratic consequences. It worries me that people who, up until a month and a half ago, went on the streets shouting Democracy! are not even reacting to our current situation.

DK: Orly, if I can ask you also to comment on your excellent piece in +972 Mag on the “Smotrichization” of the Israeli public, that would be great.

ON: To pick up on what Sally just said: one of the most devastating processes that the Israeli public is going through is this “awakening” among huge parts of the so-called liberal camp. As Sally mentioned, it’s amazing that the same public that just a few months ago was out in the streets in the hundreds of thousands shouting Democracy, democracy! and saw Smotrich as the public’s enemy is now fully embracing the Smotrich doctrine when it comes to Gaza.

Smotrich’s decisive plan regarding the West Bank basically presents three options for the so-called “solution” to Palestinians: One is to stay and give up any hope or aspirations for national liberation—stay as inferior residents, not even in the status of citizens, but as slaves, basically. Two is to leave: ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. And three, if they choose to stay but not to give up their national aspirations, then Israel will annihilate them. Total war, total elimination. Those are the three options.

Smotrich presented it, and until recently it wasn’t even discussed that much in Israeli discourse because it was considered such a crazy, radical, lunatic plan. But today these are exactly the three options that the Israeli public in general—including huge chunks of the liberal camp—sees as the only options for Palestinians in Gaza.

The one, to stay in an inferior status, is basically Israelis saying Why do they struggle? Why do they fight? And it doesn’t matter what kind of fighting. The Israelis said the same when there were peaceful marches to the border as well. As long as you can live in Gaza and we provide you with some food and some water, what is there to protest? You have it so good inside besieged Gaza. Why not just stay quietly?

The second option, ethnic cleansing, is also being discussed very clearly. It starts from the ethnic cleansing that Israel is doing right now in Gaza being completely acceptable—not only acceptable, but actually seen as a humanitarian act by Israel to evict the entire population of northern Gaza down to the south. It goes all the way to explicit calls, including from people like the minister of intelligence, for full ethnic cleansing of Gaza into the Sinai desert.

The third option, which Israel also is implementing right now—there’s no other way to call it but annihilation war. Already about two percent of Gaza’s population has been either killed or injured. This is also very much acceptable to the vast majority of the Israeli people. In that sense, Israelis really internalized the logic of Smotrich that seemed so far-fetched, lunatic and crazy until not so long ago. All of the sudden it’s completely acceptable when it comes to Gaza.

AI: In a lot of conversations among some segments of the Israeli left (leftists who try to see a “silver lining” in the horrors), there have been a lot of comparisons with the Yom Kippur war of 1973. People talk about these two streams that happened within Israeli society and Israeli politics. One was a galvanizing of an Israeli right, which had been building up since 1967 especially, and set a lot of the seeds for the rise of Likud in ’77 and the settler movement in the West Bank and more religious extremist elements. But the other stream was movements against the occupation like Peace Now that were also beginning to emerge over the years.

Segments of that left say that maybe, even if not immediately, what happened on October 7 (and what’s happened in the month-plus since) might help create this fork. Right now, what Sally and Orly have been describing is showing that only one stream is winning out. It is a total embrace of the most extreme ideas and policies. This has ripped apart even Israeli leftists and pro-democracy protesters. The polarization is skewed to one side, towards Smotrichization, towards a total embrace of the idea that Gaza just needs to be dealt with in the most brutal way—we can’t allow it to exist.

We also saw this before. The Second Intifada of the early 2000s had a very similar psychological effect on Israeli Jewish society. We can unpack more about it; obviously there’s a Palestinian side to this equation. But in Israeli society, the Second Intifada lurched everyone very much to the right. This also took years to develop and hone, but that was the real effect of what Israeli society saw as a violent, traumatic moment.

We’re seeing it now in full scale. It’s not just the response alone—it is the fact that the impunity that was given to Israelis and the Israeli state in the Second Intifada to do what they wanted to Palestinians is now being done in even more full force. Bizarrely, even with Biden’s Democratic government in the US, compared to the Bush “war on terror” years. It seems obscene to say it, but the fact is, we’re talking about full-scale ethnic cleansing; the idea of statehood is not even really in the equation; and just telling the state to go ahead is being internalized exactly as Orly was describing. There’s an understanding that they want to remake their immediate environment, and they have the power to do so.

There’s a lot more complexity in this, a lot of splintering, but this is one of the most alarming effects that we’re seeing in a society which has abandoned the old school Zionist left of a previous age, with all its imperfections. I think it’s a very alarming trend we’ve been seeing.

We understand as community organizers you want to meet people at their emotional state, and we’re trying to meet both the Palestinian and Jewish publics at their emotional state—which is mission impossible, but that’s what we’re trying to do every day.

SA: I want to add something—I’m a little bit more optimistic than you, Amjad, in terms of the fork. We are the second fork. I see ourselves as that. Obviously we are dealing with a much more difficult reality, I agree. However, we are building a new narrative that is much less conditional for Palestinians. I am personally experiencing a vast wave of Palestinian youth who are really joining us. In the thousands. It’s something that the Jewish left before wasn’t able to do. That’s something that could make the difference.

I also wanted to add something that we didn’t touch on yet. We need to acknowledge the fact that Bibi Netanyahu has lost his grip on the Israeli public. That’s an interesting thing. Obviously he’s incentivized to continue the war for many reasons, but also because everyone is like, Let him stay now, and he’s done after the war. There are a lot of voices coming out right now about the security failure, the social and economic failures, and the failures of this leadership to hold this moment.

There is an opportunity there to create a conflict: to take the post-traumatic state of the Israeli public and capitalize on it towards the second side of the fork. In such an impossible reality and situation, we need to look at every single opportunity and capitalize on it.

DK: Given the landscape that you all just laid out for us, I’m also interested in the nitty-gritty. How have you, as advocates and in your respective organizations, been spending your time in the aftermath of October 7? Sally just alluded to some of that, but break it down for listeners. There have been a number of Palestinian organizations within Israel that are just putting out fires. All of their time now is not even to advocate—it’s to support their constituencies and protect them in the political crackdown that is ensuing.

How have you guys been spending your time? Sally, I’d love to hear more about your US experience, because I know you just came back from there.

ON: I’ll talk briefly about both of my capacities, in B’Tselem and in Local Call. In B’Tselem, this is an incredibly challenging moment. B’Tselem is a big organization with a very unique staff. We have staff members in ’48, in east Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and of course in Gaza. We have Jewish staff members and Palestinian staff members. It’s a very emotional moment for everybody, and to keep the organization together and actually have a clear voice has been a challenge.

And much more so because for over a month and a half now I’ve been checking up three times a day with the manager of the field research department to see if our field researchers in Gaza are still alive. Three times a day we check to see. All of them lost many family members. Olfat al-Kurd lost more than twenty family members and just yesterday also her brother and his family. Just to contain that is beyond—it’s impossible to describe.

And through that, we keep working and bringing testimonies, the voice that nobody wants to hear right now: that these are actually war crimes and it’s not permitted to just slaughter civilians like that. The voice of international humanitarian law—nobody wants to hear it right now. It’s incredibly challenging, and of course with all the violence that continues in the West Bank under the pretense of the war, we have a lot of work there as well. We should not forget about the crimes of the army and the settlers in the West Bank. It’s a very challenging time.

For me, Local Call has been a sanctuary, in a way. It’s one of the only places that I actually find some sanity. We have a mission to publish what the Israeli media won’t show. Maybe we should discuss that later in more detail, the failure of the Israeli media and its full collaboration with the genocidal atmosphere in Israel. But the feedback that we’ve been receiving—people from around the world are thanking us for bringing that other voice from within Israel. It makes it worthwhile somehow.

AI: I actually moved to London about two weeks before the war started, by chance, so I’ve been able to do a lot of things in a safer position than when I was in Haifa, where I was living before. My work has been mostly focused on media; I’m getting a lot of requests from international media. Similarly to Orly, my team is working with journalists in Gaza, where every day we’re checking in. At times there are blackouts. We had some reporters in Gaza City during the army offensive there, and there would be days when we didn’t hear back from them. You’re editing and writing and helping to produce articles from people who you don’t know if they’ll be able to see it the next day, either because of electricity or because of something much worse.

This is in addition to what’s going on the West Bank, where I also have a lot of networks and communities, like Orly spoke about. There’s massive settler violence. But even in ’48, the total fear and paralysis that has taken over so many—it’s very different from 2021, when there was a lot of fear and horror but there was also a lot of ferocity, people were able to come out. But something about the way the state and Jewish society has leaped into this totalitarian turn, including for us Palestinian citizens, has been really paralyzing for everybody.

So I’m just trying to keep that media conversation going, using my position here to say what a lot of people back home don’t feel safe enough to say. If there are consequences later, we’ll find out the next time I fly into Ben Gurion airport.

But to come to the positive side, it’s been one of those moments: for all the flaws in international conversations and media, it’s been quite astonishing to see that here in London the demonstrations are actually having pretty incredible effects, not just in the Palestine discourse but even in local politics. The same thing is happening right now in the United States. It’s little fractures of course, but it’s been quite astounding to see, for its flaws. There is something shaping up.

We’re seeing progress, and an openness to want to hear from people on the ground, and a questioning of old narratives about the regime. At the same time, it’s not outpacing the destruction on the ground. It’s not outpacing the death. It’s a very conflicting position to be in.

SA: What Amjad said about paralysis…I have never felt this level of submission. It’s just the deepest level of fear that we are feeling here as Palestinians. 

I will say a little bit about what my days look like. Maybe I’ll talk a little bit about the US too. 

I am a community organizer, that’s what I do. At the very beginning, the first two or three weeks, we were putting out fires, as Dana said. We were just doing mutual aid; I led an operation to locate, map out, and clean bomb shelters here in Haifa. We had an eight-hundred person operation to do that. It was very depoliticized, purely just Let’s de-escalate. Because really, it felt like a room full of gas and the lightest spark would have exploded everything. We were just trying to open windows and vent out the explosives. It really felt like that.

It still feels like that for many Palestinians here. We are working with students; we are organizing students who are being attacked, who are being expelled. Attacked physically, to be clear. So we are working with a network of students, mostly Palestinian but also Jewish leftists who have been very expressive about the war, about the attacks, about the occupation. We’ve been working with them, organizing with them and training them to de-escalate and to understand how we’re going to do this with the academic year approaching.

We have a hotline; we’ve been supporting people who have been fired, persecuted. I am personally getting personal threats with my address. That’s happening, in the thousands. It’s very dangerous—we’re trying to understand how we can work with other human rights organizations and civil rights organizations to combat that persecution.

Most importantly, we have been doing rallies. Protests have been basically illegal, though they actually just approved one that was led by Hadash last week (the counterprotest was bigger). People don’t want to risk going to these things, so we’ve been renting private venues. We’ve been mobilizing hundreds of people. Every three days we’ve been hopping from from one city to another: mixed cities, Palestinian towns, Jewish towns. And we’ve been rallying unexpected numbers of people.

In the beginning, as I said, it was very soft and de-escalated. But we are becoming more political now. We are becoming more sharp. We understand as community organizers you want to meet people at their emotional state, and we’re trying to meet both the Palestinian and Jewish publics at their emotional state—which is mission impossible, but that’s what we’re trying to do every day. It’s very difficult. It’s creating a lot of tension in our leadership. Obviously nothing could prepare us for this moment, but we’ve got some practice and we’re trying to navigate it.

We need to re-instill more nuance into the way we’re conceiving our movements. In public discourse, we’re tempted and encouraged to make it as simple as possible, but the way we break that is by being honest about facts on the ground.

The US trip was difficult. It was draining. It felt like people really perceive things as if there’s nothing left of the left; there is nothing left of anti-occupation efforts. When humanity and peace become such a radical concept, you know you’re in trouble. Really, humanity is such a radical concept right now. Going with that to a very polarized US—it’s another war zone, the US. The UK as well. It’s so polarized, and it’s a war of narratives. It’s not constructive.

But I am overwhelmed by the popular protests everywhere for Palestinian liberation. I think that’s amazing. It’s a historic moment for the movement worldwide. For so many years it has been suppressed, and it hasn’t really acquired the right tools to navigate this properly and acknowledge the Israeli left. We’re going to emerge from the ashes at some point—otherwise, we’re doomed. And the Palestinians are doomed if the Israeli left is doomed, by the way. I think the Palestinian liberation movement doesn’t understand that.

You need to build the popular demand within Israeli society to end the occupation, recognizing (though not normalizing) that Israel has the hegemony, has the power. I felt overlooked, as a Palestinian trying to come and do that in the US, from the Palestinian liberation side. From the more Zionist Jewish progressive side, I felt support but also it felt unfair. That sounds childish to say, but it felt unfair that I had to contain so much of their complexity and their complexes with our homeland, as a Palestinian who is impacted directly.

For progressive Jewish communities, there’s a real connection they feel to our homeland and it’s very difficult to deal with. You can’t ignore it, it’s there. But it’s also people who are progressive and are trying to promote some kind of solution. And you either overlook it and relinquish any responsibility to impact it, or you actually try to impact it. And honestly, the Israeli left does not have the privilege to relinquish the responsibility to impact that community which has such a huge influence on what happens here.

It’s draining. It’s very difficult being there, and honestly, as a Palestinian who had to do that, I felt like I lost something of myself. I really felt like I gave up something. I gave up part of my experience and my pain and my trauma to be able to do that. It was very difficult. But I’m grateful I had the privilege to do it, in the sense that someone has to do it. I just found myself in a position to do it.

I think they are undergoing a process which needs to be done.

DK: I really appreciate you saying that. I totally feel your pain that you have to absorb other people’s connection and intensity about this, when you’re already suffering.

SA: And now I came back home, and I have zero space.

DK: And you’re having to mollify them! I don’t know what the term is. But you’re right that we can’t cede that ground. Maybe not emotionally, but intellectually we can understand, especially with rising antisemitism, why they feel this connection. That can be harmful sometimes, because they are projecting a lot. But also it can be turned on its head, and used to build bridges between everyone suffering.

JA: Along those lines, though it’s both depressing and enlightening at the same time, the historical precedent is already there: we already know what happens. We talked about this in the last episode, “Arab Jews for Palestinian Liberation.” Historically, there was a moment—I don’t quite know when the rift happened, in the fifties or sixties. The Israeli state was saying You cannot be Jewish and Arab, you have to pick. Obviously it was saying Pick being Jewish and let go of your Arab identity. But then the authoritarian Arab regimes were saying you only have those two options as well. They were saying, You can choose this or that. So there was a weird symbiosis between the Israeli state and the Arab states.

I have a specific vantage point: I grew up in Lebanon; I am of Palestinian heritage but grew up as a Lebanese and I was seen as that. In Lebanon there is a similar problem. Even using the term Israel, you can get shouted at. You have to put it in quotation marks and say “so-called,” or call it the “Zionist entity,” which sounds very weird in English. Stuff like that. There are comical situations: you cannot say Israel bombed Gaza. You have to say The occupation army bombed Gaza. Occupation of what? From where? And how? It creates this discursive impossibility in which we’re just preventing ourselves from doing anything about anything.

Fundamentally, the ground in Lebanon has already been ceded. There are exceptions—there are smaller groups of intersectional feminists trying to do things differently. But for the most part the ground of anything Palestine-related has already been ceded to Hezbollah and those groups, and their vision of things has nothing to do with progressive anything. It’s not even liberal, it’s not close to anything we might consider liberatory.

I’ve said this multiple times, but if you are an average Israeli-Jewish person in Israel, and maybe you’re not political, maybe you follow the news here and there, and the only thing you know about coming from up north is Hezbollah, why wouldn’t you conclude that It’s either us or them? By the same token,in Lebanon there is this confusion, or ignorance: not wanting to deal with Israel-Palestine as Israel-Palestine, or recognize that Palestinians of ’48, Palestinian citizens of Israel, have had a different reality for seven decades now. There are things that they have to deal with that I, as a Palestinian naturalized as Lebanese, will never have to deal with. Palestinians in the diaspora, in America or wherever, may also not have to deal with these specific realities on a day-to-day basis.

How do you deal with the difficulties of having to talk about oppression—Zionism, settler-colonialism, apartheid—while at the same time having to deal with people in “our” world who want to talk about Israel but not as a real place, a real entity, a real government, a real state, a real nationality? We have to contend with that reality, and challenge it having local allies where they exist, and stop pretending that they don’t exist.

Sally, you mentioned this: who do we think benefits if we pretend that there are no local allies? We are almost wishing them away, and hoping that any semblance of anything progressive or liberal related to Israel will disappear somehow, and this will expose Israel to the world, and the world will come in and stop Israel. Or whatever.

I don’t know where that comes from. There’s no historical precedent to suggest that this is ever going to happen. There’s no historical precedent, in any other struggles that I know of, where we didn’t have local allies. In apartheid South Africa, the African National Congress made it very clear from the beginning that the enemy is apartheid and not random white Afrikaners, and they wanted and had white Afrikaners in their ranks.

This is a frustration I’ve had way before October 7. And since then, it’s not a priority—there’s a more urgent thing happening right now on the ground. But in terms of moving forward and trying to think of what the next steps might be, how do you deal with that kind of complexity in spaces that don’t seem to want to recognize it?

The amazing and troubling shattering of the “left” camp in Israel is because of a long-lasting depoliticization of the Palestinian case by large portions of that camp. The construction of the Palestinian case, for such a long time, was a humanitarian one rather than a political one.

AI: This taps into the desire and tendency for binaries: binaries in the way that we look at everything, binaries in how you identify yourself. Sally and I are both Palestinian citizens of Israel, which is a community that defies a lot of the binaries. Hearing Sally speak about her US trip, or even her day-to-day work—and Orly represents this as well in her identity and positionality—there are these massive gray zones in between, whole spectrums.

Exactly as you said, Joey, so many struggles seem to understand decolonization, or any shifting of power asymmetry, as if it were entirely a binary process and it was all about one side here, one side there, a rallying of ethno-tribalisms. These weird concepts have taken hold in such a strange manner. Sally was saying this earlier, grappling with the need for Israeli Jews to see—willingly or not—the idea that they need to let go of the occupation, or to offer an alternative. It’s not because it’s a lovey-dovey coexistence type thing; sometimes it’s a language of power. How do we crack power that needs to be cracked and build it where it needs to be built?

This is not to say that one should always push for more radical politics; maybe sometimes binaries and principles is what is needed. Do you believe in equality for all or do you believe in the ethno-racial supremacy of one group? These things for sure need to be clear-cut. You’re either here or there. But in our methodology, the way that we think about movement building, we need to re-instill more nuance into the way we’re conceiving our movements. In public discourse, we’re tempted and encouraged to make it as simple as possible, but the way we break that is by being honest about facts on the ground.

In my reporting and writing, one of the scariest things I’m always having to do is to tell people that not everyone—even just among Palestinian citizens—is on the same page. There are Palestinian citizens who serve in the army. There are Palestinian citizens who contend with their Arab-Israeli-ness. A huge chunk of the community is shocked by what happened on October 7, but they still understand the context even though they don’t justify it. There are so many kaleidoscopic levels and ways to understand it—there is no black and white. Just being honest about that, putting that on the table, helps break the black-and-white paradigms that are being forced on us.

There’s a lot of complexity, and rather than having that used against us (as is often the case), how can we take and own that? And then say that even with that complexity, these are still the bottom lines, these are still the values we need to promote. This is something I’m trying to do in my media work and my writing. I want to make complexity my weapon. I want to bring it to my advantage.

SA: I really think Palestinians in Israel have a key role in deciphering that. At the very beginning when I spoke about the political persecution of Palestinians and how it’s really dangerous, it’s exactly because of this. Our space to be Palestinian, to be political, to be equal partners in building the new left in Israel, is crucial. I think they understand that, and that’s why they’re cracking down on us. But it’s absolutely crucial, and we’re trying to maintain it as much as possible on the ground.

ON: I completely appreciate and agree with the sentiment that reality is way more complex than black and white binaries, and that the recognition of the existence of allies on the “other side” is important if we want to change reality and not just complain about it.

Having said that, it’s also very legitimate that the Palestinians would demand that their Jewish partners grow up and become more political. The amazing and troubling shattering of the “left” camp in Israel is because of a long-lasting depoliticization of the Palestinian case by large portions of that camp. The construction of the Palestinian case, for such a long time, was a humanitarian one rather than a political one. As a humanitarian case, we the Jewish left are the good guys! We are the good guys who stand with the victims. And as long as they keep being the victims, we have it all figured out.

But when the Palestinians for one minute step out of the role of being the victims, our entire understanding of reality just collapses, because it’s not based on political analysis of the situation. So it’s completely fair for our Palestinian partners to demand from us to grow up and to become more politicized, and not have our whole world collapse when the equation changes for a minute. Because political understanding deals with power relations—and those didn’t change on October 7.

So while I absolutely agree that it’s important to recognize the existence of potential partners on both sides, at the same time it’s completely legitimate to expect your partners to have a deeper political understanding, and base their position on that understanding, not just on feel-good humanitarian prospects.

SA: Absolutely. Theoretically, it’s true. But how?

DK: That actually brings us to our last question. Let’s talk about the how. What is everybody’s theory of change here?

SA: I’ll tell you what it’s not for me: moral lecturing. It doesn’t work! I can’t go to an Ethiopian Jewish woman here right now and tell her to liberate me. Her son is experiencing the same incarceration rates as mine; she is probably statistically as poor as a Palestinian in Israel. I can’t tell her to liberate me. It won’t work. I keep saying this, and I say it angrily, because it’s one of the most difficult realizations for me. The Natives in New Zealand said, I don’t want you to save me, we’re going to do this together. It’s collective liberation.

Obviously there is a differential in power. Of course. That’s why the narratives and the historic record of the injustices and the power dynamic is there. It’s always going to be there. It cannot be dealt with unless we actually get to a point of understanding that Jewish safety equates with Palestinian liberation. The Jewish Israeli public needs to understand that, from a self-interested point of view.

That’s our theory of change as a movement. We’re socialists, by the way. We’re a progressive social movement reaching for deep changes, shifting the paradigm, understanding that Jewish safety necessitates Palestinian liberation. They need to understand that, and it’s absolutely a conscious political stream that needs to be built in Israeli society that is also deeply connected with equality and social justice.

We do that also through building a new political protagonist and idea, and organizing methodologically around it to build power. The fact that our movement was able to react the way it has—we have mobilized thousands of people; no one else mobilized as much as our movement—is because we are organizing and navigating the complexities of this moment. That’s our theory of change, very shortly.

Jewish safety is not going to come to fruition if you keep making people unsafe.

Obviously it’s very complex. I can add a lot about it. Speaking as a Palestinian in Israel: Palestinians also have to hold the responsibility of the collective. I feel deeply responsible to hold the narrative of you, Joey, and you, Dana, and the people of the West Bank and in Gaza. That’s a very collective responsibility that needs to be held while we are talking about building the left within Israel.

It’s not easy. But I don’t see any other way.

ON: Sally, it’s so admirable what you guys are doing. I understand what you are saying, that it’s not effective to lecture morally to people—but I actually do that. I think people need to be morally lectured! It’s not completely inefficient, people do respond to it.

I don’t know if I have a theory of change, but the way I try in my very small way to make a change is first through providing language, terminology, and information. As journalists, this is our task: to bring the information that the Israeli public doesn’t get anywhere else, in order to be able to make educated decisions and to better understand our own reality.

As a political activist, I completely agree with Sally and Amjad that the key is inside ’48. And I’ll say more than that: I think the key is Palestinian political leadership inside ’48. And this is why I am in Balad, in Tajammu’. The way to democratization and liberation from the chains of supremacy is in the hands of Palestinian citizens. The first item on my theory of change is not to repeat any of the things that we’ve been doing so far. To do it differently is to stand behind the Palestinian-led political leadership, behind the vision of full equality, full democracy, that we’ve never had before.

AI: For me the core thing is about recalibration of power. What Sally and Orly said is totally right. Everything I’m doing, in a broad sense, is about bringing down Israeli power and elevating Palestinian power. There are multiple fronts to this. It doesn’t mean military might. We’re talking about public discourse and narrative and organization in the way that Sally is doing, and being able to crack some of the narratives in the way that Orly does. This is fundamental.

No society in power, let alone at the helm of a powerful apartheid or colonial state, gives up that power willingly. Even inside Israel, Jewish Israelis—Sally and Orly know these people very well too—can see rights for Palestinians inside ’48 or in the occupied territories, but there are always those little zones where they say, But these we keep. Whether it’s demographic, whether it’s identity. This is being generous to the people in those camps. Sally’s experience in the United States is very indicative of that. The conditionality of what you’re allowed to say, what you’re allowed to do, how you’re allowed to act has always been asymmetrical in this way.

In the realm that I’m working in, how do I make people understand the apartheid of the mind? Not just the apartheid on the ground. How many of you are putting Jewish Israeli rights or security first, before you think of Palestinians? How much of the past century of conflict has been on that asymmetrical plane? If I can get you to recognize that and to question that, that already creates a recalibration of power, makes Israelis feel less certain they can get away with anything and everything, and helps Palestinians in turn to reorganize ourselves.

We know all the context, and the reasons why we have been so fractured, the history of oppression—but what is our role in being able to re-organize politically on the ground and create a wider movement that genuinely allows diversity of opinion among our people and among our movement, not creating silos and camps? I know Dana also sees and experiences this a lot: who gets silenced within our own community? How do we reinstill the values in a self-organizing way that allows that broad spectrum?

This is really what movements have to do. This is where we have to be smart and nuanced, to question the centers of power where they’re harmful, and elevate ourselves to create that Palestinian-led movement that Orly is speaking about. These are very broad, big concepts, but that needs to be the guiding mechanism for us.

DK: Thank you all for laying out that vision. I know we’re speaking at a high level of abstraction, but it really resonates with a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about. Every one of us does something different, and every one of us works in different spaces—and not just us, everybody who cares about Israel-Palestine. It just makes sense for me that people do different things, achieve different functions.

We need the person who can frame and re-frame things, and lecture about the morality of the situation. And we also need the organizing component and meeting people at their level and demonstrating to Jewish Israelis and to American Jews—any Jew that has an interest in Israel as a form of safety for the Jewish people—that this doesn’t come without that. Your democracy was ruined because of the Palestinian question! Your democracy never got off the ground because you couldn’t deal with this! And your economy is going to be in shambles, and you’re going to keep facing war, if you’re not going to deal with it.

It’s explaining this: Jewish safety is not going to come to fruition if you keep making people unsafe. Explaining it, re-framing it, using our positionalities as a tool in our different spaces also means that some people are responsible for taking a longer view and meeting people where they are because they have more privilege, and some people shouldn’t be expected to. As a Palestinian in the diaspora, I will take on some of this, and I can be more nuanced, and I can put my intellectual cap on and address Jewish safety concerns. A Palestinian in Gaza shouldn’t be expected to use that same discussion and framing.

Instead of seeing this as some sort of deficit in the discussion, that we’re not all on the same page, or that people who aren’t on the same page need to be silenced—I’ve been shouting until I’m hoarse for many years now: why don’t we use our different positionalities, keeping in mind our different responsibilities?

SA: I agree with everything that you said. It’s an ecosystem. I can’t operate as a social movement activist without having a foundation of human rights reporting and academic reporting, historic justice reporting. It’s a foundation that gives me the privilege not to deal with it, and meet people and organize people on the ground. It’s a necessary foundation for me.

We do need to sync on certain things that I don’t think we’re synced on yet, not all of us. For example that Jewish safety equals Palestinian liberation and vice-versa. That needs to be linked better. But I absolutely agree. I think we all hold different functions, different privileges, different positions, and that’s important. Not only acceptable—it’s important.

JA: I’m tasked with trying to wrap this up even though I don’t like doing it. Thank you, all three of you, for doing this, thank you Dana as well. This is just one of those conversations where there’s no actual end. I would not be able to find a natural end to this conversation because there are so many ways it could branch out—discussions of different tactics that we can use, and the different framings that need to be adapted.

I know I’m going to send this conversation to a number of Lebanese friends, because they are not used to this topic. They don’t know how to approach it, even though Israel is the southern neighbor of Lebanon. Talking about it from a pragmatic, ethical, progressive framework is something that can and must be done. We don’t have another option.

I really appreciate the three of you for doing what you do. I’m sure we’ll do more in the future. Take care of yourselves, especially of your mental health. These are not easy times.

DK: Thank you all for being with us today.

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