Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrating in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 21, 2023. Photographs by Christopher Lee for Hammer & Hope.
On Oct. 25, 2023, Waldemar Oliveira, Jen Parker, and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò spoke with Mohammed Nabulsi, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, and Radhika Sainath, a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal.
Waldemar To start, it would be interesting to hear more about the work of your organizations and how they view the situation in Palestine and the protests in the U.S.
Radhika We are a legal defense for the movement for Palestinian rights in the United States. We’ve been around for 11 years. We provide free legal services to activist students, professors, anyone who’s been censored, punished, or falsely accused for speaking out for Palestinian rights. I’m based in the New York City office, and we’re a small team of people.
Mohammed Palestinian Youth Movement is an independent grassroots movement of Palestinian Arab youth within North America and Britain. We are located across 15 cities. Our focus is on mobilizing Arab and Palestinian youth to take a leading role in the struggle for Palestinian liberation. That typically involves building power within our local context, where our primary base is the Palestinian Arab community. The biggest stakeholders in the liberation of Palestine are the communities in the diaspora, who have been severed, both geographically and politically, from our national movement. PYM’s role is to reconnect the Palestinian diaspora and its struggle, especially youth who have been largely disenfranchised both within local institutions and the national movement more broadly. We do that through a variety of means, of which one is mobilizations — especially in this moment, that’s what we’re seeing as our main role — but it’s also through political education, cultural programming, building institutions, whether it’s associations, unions, community centers.With a common vision and strategy across the diaspora, we can leverage power we build within our communities toward political and social change.
Olúfẹ́mi On October 18, the Center for Constitutional Rights published a legal analysis that alleged, “Israel is attempting to commit, if not actively committing, the crime of genocide in the occupied Palestinian territory, and specifically against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.” Do you agree? Would you put it differently? How do you think about this?
Mohammed PYM’s position, which you can see in our messaging, is that this is a project of genocide. It’s a genocidal campaign being waged on the people of Gaza through a variety of means, including a 16-year-long siege of Gaza. We’ve seen an intensification of that siege in the last two weeks, the denial of fuel, water, electricity, and medical supplies, coupled with an unrelenting bombardment on a densely populated area with nearly half of its population being children — all while the U.S. works to send more bombs. The only way to see it is as genocide, coupled with the statements by the representatives of the Israeli state calling Palestinians “human animals,” talking about how they’re going to transform the Gaza Strip into a city of tents, and various other genocidal claims being made across the spectrum politically and on every level of the political establishment within the Israeli state, calling for a second Nakba. They have self-identified it as a genocidal campaign. We don’t need to read between the lines to understand; they’ve made it explicit.
Radhika Unfortunately, we agree with that, too. The Center for Constitutional Rights is a close partner of Palestine Legal’s. We should take the Israelis at their word. The Israeli minister of defense called Palestinians “human animals;” he said Israel’s military will “eliminate everything” in Gaza, and there have been calls to flatten whole neighborhoods. This is genocidal language, as genocide experts have pointed out, and the horrific military violence against Palestinian civilians should terrify everyone. Knowing the history of how this rhetoric has been used in other mass atrocities is very frightening. We’re very concerned about what Israel will do next. It’s important that the international community urgently stop attempts to commit genocide against Palestinians.
Olúfẹ́mi The Center for Constitutional Rights’s analysis and both of you pointed out a number of specific roles that the United States has in aiding and abetting Israel’s military response. There’s the role that the U.S. plays as a direct military ally and funder. There’s the role the U.S. plays in preventing action in the United Nations, its role in the Security Council. And then there’s the role that the U.S. plays as a hub of a powerful media apparatuses that can work on an international level to help manufacture a legitimacy story for this. From a strategic perspective, is there a particular one of these roles that you are focusing on or that people acting in solidarity with you should focus on?
Radhika At Palestine Legal, we are domestic focused. We’re here to make sure that activists like Mohammed, whom I represented when he was a student, can speak out for Palestinian freedom. We let activists do their organizing, and as movement lawyers we think it’s important to take a back seat, to be the defense, and not to dictate or direct the movement.
Mohammed For us, it’s a struggle that must be waged on every front. Direct material aid has been the focus of the Palestine movement historically, the multibillion dollars provided by the U.S. government to Israel for military aid. There’s also now a call to increase military aid to Israel. The actual bombs being dropped on Palestinians in Gaza, the white phosphorus that’s being dropped on Palestinians in Gaza, are alleged to have links to the U.S. There needs to be a disruption of that.
As far as the U.S.’s involvement in the international arena, the call for a cease-fire, which is being echoed across the Palestinian rights movement in the U.S., is being amplified by a vast majority of governments across the world. Only a handful of states — many Western nations, including former colonial powers, and their de facto client states — are opposed to a cease-fire. We’ve seen an attempt at a resolution calling for a cease-fire brought by Russia, two separate resolutions, both of which the U.S. government vetoed. There’s also been messages internal to the U.S. government that there’s not to be a discussion of cease-fire. Our priority right now is to raise the political cost of the U.S. government’s policies.
Finally, to the question of media — that’s obviously a main front of ours, to counter the narrative. A project of manufacturing consent for genocide has occurred in the media; there’s been lies and fabrications, repeated and echoed by political and public officials. We’ve had to go on a full-frontal response to that. In the PYM, we’ve organized media trainings; our members across the U.S., Canada, and Britain have engaged media. I think we’ve done up to 100 interviews, both on a local and national level. We’ve also participated in alternative media, things like podcasts, YouTube channels, journals, including leftist journals. Right now, for the PYM specifically, it’s beyond the mobilizations in the streets. It’s about reducing this fervor that exists within the media around massacring Palestinians and raising the political costs, especially for the Democratic Party’s complicity.
Waldemar Both PYM and Palestine Legal are directly or indirectly supporting the current pro-Palestine protests. We would like to hear more about the impact of these protests and what you expect to achieve through them. What is the strategy of both your organizations at this point?
Mohammed First, it’s to demonstrate that there isn’t a consensus in support of genocide, that there are millions of people, domestically and globally, who are against the genocide of Gaza, and that this campaign is not going to be waged without fierce opposition. It’s a declaration of our position on this issue and the position of the grassroots on the streets. Second, it’s to mobilize our communities and supporters of Palestinian rights into the streets to create actual pressure. The work doesn’t end or begin in the protests on the ground — those are part and parcel of a broader set of tactics, including direct actions, media campaigns, and targeting public officials. These are the types of things these protests are meant to do. It’s also about raising the political ceiling on what our community’s calling for, placing the call for a cease-fire within the context of 75 years of occupation and ethnic cleansing. It’s also about enlisting the people who come to street protests into actual organization. A lot of the time people’s involvement ends after going to a protest. These people need to be brought into actual organizations that can maintain that energy and direct it toward targeted goals.
Just to clarify, the demand right now is obviously cease-fire. We see it as the most tangible pressure point toward U.S. policy. Because it doesn’t end at cease-fire; there’s still a 16-year siege that we’ve been waging a struggle against. There’s a 75-year ethnic cleansing campaign and settler colonial project that exists on the ground. There’s expansion of settlements, settler pogroms; there’s the displacement of Palestinians from their neighborhoods and their homes; there’s an attack on prisoners.
Something that’s been missed are two prisoners who’ve recently been abducted from the West Bank and likely assassinated inside Israeli prisons. There’s over 1,000 people who’ve been imprisoned out of the West Bank; there are thousands of Gazan workers who at the time of October 7 were actually inside of 1948 Palestine, or what is called Israel, and were arrested as part of the response to the October 7 attack. [Note: they were eventually released back to Gaza without money, phones, or even identity documents.] There’s all of this stuff happening. There’s over 100 Palestinians who’ve been murdered in the West Bank since this all started.
For us as an organization, cease-fire is obviously the immediate demand to relieve the brutality of this campaign on the people of Gaza, to allow for them to receive basic goods and medicine. We’re talking about people who are dependent on medical supplies to sustain themselves, beyond the fact that they’re being murdered from the sky. The cease-fire is the immediate call, but it’s within the broader context of calls for justice, dignity, liberation for our people.
Radhika We have been getting a record surge of requests for legal help — a tsunami of incidents. In the past couple of weeks, over 300 people have come to us for legal help. [Note: as of Nov. 14, that number had increased to over 600.] That’s what we saw in all of 2022. And it’s nonstop. We’re seeing people being fired from their jobs for saying that they support Palestinian human rights or criticizing Israel’s policies. We’re seeing Students for Justice in Palestine and other Palestinian students being threatened with violence and anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic messages. They’re being smeared as terrorists, removed from their positions, or investigated by their schools for making statements similar to what the Haaretz editorial board made, questioning Netanyahu and Israel’s role in all of this.
So many professors are contacting us, telling us that they have been questioned or that their classes have been canceled. They’ve been locked out of email; they’re afraid of losing their jobs. Even tenured professors are afraid of losing their jobs for communications supporting Palestinian rights, which is just McCarthyite, pure and simple. We’re seeing massive doxxing efforts, naming students who have signed statements in solidarity with Palestinians, things like a “college terror list,” severe harassment, death threats, threats to careers.
The list of things that we’re seeing goes on and on. Students are afraid of getting kicked out of school for, again, engaging in regular speech activities that students should be able to engage in on campus. The chancellor of the Florida state university system released a memorandum directing all public universities in Florida to “deactivate chapters of national Students for Justice in Palestine” on their campuses. We’re seeing this massive effort from Israel lobby groups, from big donors, from politicians trying to stop this growing movement for Palestinian rights. We are trying to push back on that, because we do see, as Mohammed mentioned, this overwhelming support from the streets, from the grassroots, and especially from the younger generations, artists, and writers who are speaking out against what’s happening, often at immense personal risk. We are trying to make sure that people have the space to speak out against what’s happening right now.
Jen What is Palestine Legal’s legal strategy at this moment?
Radhika We have a movement lawyering strategy where basically we think of the law as one tool to be used in the struggle for justice. Sometimes it can be an effective tool; sometimes it’s not an effective tool. Sometimes organizing or speaking out or some of the things that Mohammed mentioned is much more powerful than using the law, because we know that the law wasn’t designed for activists, but sometimes it can be useful. Often when activists come to us, sometimes there isn’t a great legal solution, and we have to tell them that. But often if there is a way to use the law that’s helpful to the movement, we try to use it. In the case of Students for Justice in Palestine in Florida, this is just blatantly a First Amendment violation. It’s just a total do-over of a Supreme Court case called Healy v. James, involving Students for a Democratic Society, that was decided in 1972. It’s just unconstitutional, period. Where the laws are useful, we’ll use them to fight back.
We are a small office. We’re based in Illinois and New York City, and we have an attorney in California, but we field cases from all 50 states, so we’re not doing this alone. We work with a lot of partners and other movement lawyers. Right now, we’re in a desperate situation to expand our attorney network. Sometimes we file lawsuits. Sometimes we’re advising people on their rights so they know what to do, and particularly students so they can be their own advocates. Or we’re writing legal letters to universities, warning them against taking a discriminatory or unlawful action against students supporting Palestinian rights.
Olúfẹ́mi Where do you see this going? Because they’re not going to stop with silencing people on Palestine. How do you understand the relationship of the attacks on pro-Palestine students with broader trends and the broader significance for free speech? Why is the right to free speech important for the Palestinian struggle and struggles beyond it?
Radhika We’ve long said that Palestine is the canary in the coal mine for rights. After the American Studies Association passed its historic academic boycott resolution in December 2013, which was mirrored after anti-apartheid boycotts against South Africa, the association was met with a slew of legal threats. The ASA was eventually sued, and in the wake of that, pro-Israel lobby groups pushed states to pass laws targeting the boycott movement for Palestinian rights.
Looking at these anti-BDS laws, we later saw that ALEC was behind a lot of this cookie-cutter legislation. And of course ALEC is behind a lot of other model legislation that supports corporate power and white supremacy. Palestine isn’t alone. We can see that, particularly in Florida with what DeSantis is doing; the same people who are trying to stop critical race theory and other social justice movements or ideas from being taught in our schools are also trying to stop students from advocating for Palestinian rights or discussion about Palestine in classrooms.
Waldemar If it’s true that the right to free speech is used in a defensive manner, we were wondering if the right to free speech also has a more active role supporting the struggle. How could success in the courts against repression open another path for the Palestinian struggle in general?
Radhika I do see the courts as a last resort. Hopefully, we don’t need to use them. But it’s not just a free speech issue. We’re seeing a myriad of laws being violated as far as discrimination laws, as far as universities not supporting their Palestinian students and the hostile anti-Palestinian environment at college campuses, which violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
A lot of different laws are in play here. The First Amendment and free speech laws are just one subset of laws that are being broken right now in this repression campaign. We’d like to see institutions, colleges, and universities treat their Palestinian students equally, the same as other students. If you’re reaching out to support your Black students after George Floyd’s murder, if you’re trying to support your Asian students after the anti-Asian spa killings in Atlanta, why not do the same for Palestinian students whose families have been killed or are being bombed in Gaza? That’s what Palestinians are asking: to be extended the same compassion and be treated the same as everyone else. Because their lives should be valued, too, and are no less valuable than anyone else’s. The same goes for Palestinians speaking up for their rights and their supporters as well. They shouldn’t be censored or punished for taking a principled stance on a human rights issue, on a freedom struggle issue.
Universities or people in power might not like that students are calling what’s happening ethnic cleansing or apartheid or genocide, but here in the United States that’s why we have the First Amendment — it’s so that the government doesn’t punish you for your views. That’s something we’re reminding people of now as well. And if we need to file lawsuits, we will.
Jen How are your organizations laying the groundwork for struggles into next year and beyond? What is the midterm game and the long game?
Radhika Right now it does feel like we’re in this hamster wheel of reactiveness because we’re in a moment where so many people are losing their jobs and are quite terrified. But this is only, unfortunately, the beginning. We expect more threats to the student movement, and that’s because students have been on the cutting edge of social change throughout history. That’s where we see the greatest attacks — often in the university, against the student movement, against professors and teachers but also against writers and artists. That was true during the McCarthy era. It feels like this moment is a throwback to that.
But I don’t want this to be just a downer conversation, because the reason we’re seeing so much censorship, especially at Palestine Legal, is because so many people are speaking out. And that’s really exciting to see. We’re getting calls from doctors, lawyers, novelists, professors, teachers, models, professional poker players, you name it. There’s no area that hasn’t been touched, because working people across the country are speaking out against Israel’s attempted ethnic cleansing and genocide. That’s why we’re hearing so much about the repression. It’s inspiring to see that people are fighting back and are standing up. And that’s just going to be more true. This situation can’t stand forever.
Mohammed It’s a very complicated conversation to have in the midterm. We’re dealing with an assault; we’re in the middle of a really intense campaign, the fronts that we’ve already discussed. We’re responding to what’s happening but also trying to go on the offensive in terms of campaigns around specific messaging, creating pressure to stop the genocidal assault — that’s the midterm goal.
Now, during this process, we’re identifying gaps that exist in terms of infrastructure, reach, networks, etc. That assessment is happening in real time, and it’s going to have to happen after the fact. We’re going to have to look back and see what we were prepared for, what we weren’t prepared for, and what we had to work out on the fly. That’s happening regularly, especially for the PYM. It’s a democratic organization with multiple chapters. We’ve shifted our messaging throughout this period; we’ve shifted some of our tactics and strategies, and we’re kind of testing what works and what doesn’t. There’s also feedback from our communities and partners; we’re learning what they want us to amplify or what they think is an effective approach. And we’re also shifting, arguing about, or rejecting some of the approaches our community is seeking.
In the long term, the fate of Palestine — and it was signaled by what Radhika said — is the fate of the left in this country. Where the left goes, we go; our ceiling is with the left. There’s only so much support for Palestine that can exist without a broader politics around a lot of different issues. I don’t need to give a spiel about why the struggles are interconnected, but our enemy — the largely right-wing institutions and strategies — are mobilized not just against the Palestine movement, as Radhika said, but against every struggle, including the climate struggle. One of the anti-BDS clauses in Texas was mirrored and now exists around the fossil fuel industry. Like Radhika said, ALEC is the main body creating these bills, which are then brought through state legislatures. The long-term strategy is to build the broader left movements in this country around the unifying platform. I say left and not progressive, because the progressive movement wavers. We’ve seen that both in terms of the elected officials who self-identify as progressive and the broader progressive institutions. So that’s how the PYM sees it.
Now obviously, we also understand setting aside left-wing politics, which are often ideological or political in a specific way. There’s also the goal of building power among Muslim, Palestinian, Arab communities that don’t necessarily fit neatly within a left-wing framing but are one of its most important constituencies, even if those communities disagree with some of the agenda of the left. One of the things we’ve learned is the significance and importance of Islamic institutions in this country and the role that they play in a moment like this, and also just broadly Arab institutions.
Lastly, a politics of anti-imperialism and internationalism is critical to a domestic left-wing agenda. This is where we see the separation between left and progressive, where progressive movements sometimes have narrow conceptions of what progress means that don’t apply to the global south or don’t extend beyond our borders. That is also a struggle. For us in the PYM, our intervention, or our focus, is obviously with the Palestinian and Arab communities and the Palestinian struggle specifically, but we understand the breadth of struggle being rooted in a much broader front. That requires coalition; that requires collaboration, networking, and the development of a shared agenda and a shared strategy for advancing this broad front.
Waldemar You just mentioned coalition. I’m wondering if there is a general federation or platform through which many different organizations — both Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish organizations, collectives, and legal NGOs — get together and define a common strategy.
Mohammed There isn’t a broader federation or coalition where we get together and define strategies. We are in touch with different institutions engaged in this work. The movement can be divided into two categories. You have the Palestine solidarity movement; Palestinians are present within it, but it also includes nonprofit organizations. It includes solidarity formations, meaning non-Palestinian-led organizations; that includes organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace or IfNotNow. Those are the Palestine solidarity movement.
There’s also the Palestinian national movement orgs; their constituencies are Palestinian, their leadership is Palestinian. Sometimes its membership is either Palestinian Arab exclusively, like the PYM, but at the very least it’s Palestinian-led, and these types of formations not only make demands on the domestic scene or on the struggle but also have an internal politics to the direction of the national movement more broadly. The Palestinian struggle is a national liberation struggle. National liberation formations are required in our work. There’s communication and engagement across both the solidarity movement and the Palestinian national movement, but it’s not centralized. Often in crisis moments, a broad consensus or parameters develop, but that happens organically and not necessarily through direct conversation. With PYM, that happens internally to our work. We are an organization whose multiple chapters take their experiences, synthesize them, and arrive at a vision and a strategy. Then the cycle occurs where it’s brought back to the local, but nothing like that exists between organizations at this moment.
Olúfẹ́mi Something that Muhammad has brought up a few times is the coalition of right-wing interests in favor of imperialism and in opposition to Palestinians and the Palestinian solidarity movement. I want to tie it to the conversation we had earlier with Radhika about the repression in the United States but maybe not exclusively in the United States. When we’re looking at the behavior of this anti-Palestine coalition — however we want to characterize the right-wing collection of people forming against this — on the one hand, they seem to be responding to the increase of popular support for Palestine in the U.S. and elsewhere. But on the other hand, it’s hard to look at their actions outside of the continued $3 billion to $4 billion of aid that the United States provides to Israel despite that increase of popular support. Should we understand what’s happening on the right today, the repression against BDS activists, as renewed strength on the Palestinian side? Or should we understand it as a show of weakness, a kind of show of desperation?
Radhika I think so. But it’s not just the right that’s doing this. Democrats, liberals, are also taking action. It’s desperation. That’s why they’re trying to throw everything at this moment and see what sticks. If we were irrelevant, then they would not be paying attention to us. That’s why we really are seeing this surge in the past 10 years — there has been a sea change in support of Palestinian freedom among the younger generations, the 200 or more Students for Justice in Palestine chapters across universities, not to mention other student groups that support Palestinian rights. We see this in Israel lobby groups statements, this fear that they’re losing Gen Z and people of color.
It’s not a one-note issue. People who care about Palestinian freedom also care about other social justice struggles and are deeply involved in those struggles. I do think it is because there’s power here. This is obviously a horrific time, with the number of deaths in Gaza — over 5,000 I think, with over 2,000 children killed. But no one expected apartheid in South Africa to fall as quickly as it did when the time came, and I do believe things could change on a dime when it comes to Palestinian liberation as well. That’s why there are these last gasps from those who support Israel’s apartheid regime to stop people from speaking out. There is this realization that regular people get what’s happening and aren’t going to stand for it.
Mohammed I agree generally with what Radhika said. The same interests animate both liberals and Republicans in terms of how they orient politically. Institutional capture exists. The dominant structures of power, whether governmental or nongovernmental like the ADL, are captured by and animated by the same interests, by the maintenance of the status quo, even where they disagree on the specifics of social issues or the specifics of the language used to justify what they want. In moments of crisis like this, these different wings of the ruling class come closer together politically to set the line on these issues. And the thing that they cannot capture or constrain is the grassroots, the people power; that’s outside of their control.
Now, they still attempt to shape the views and/or orientations of these people, whether by direct repression and levying costs for them stepping out politically or just media and propaganda. But what we’ve seen, not just on the Palestinian question but on various issues, is they still maintain a strategy of structural capture. The Republicans are really good at this. For example, they’ve had a strategy for the last decade and a half regarding the courts, the Supreme Court and federal courts, putting in judges who are going to uphold their direction. They use the courts or use the government to engage in acts that are clearly unconstitutional. They destroy institutions like reproductive health care in a state, and it takes 10 years for it to be reversed. By that time, the damage is already done, and you’re back to square one trying to pick up the pieces of what they destroyed.
This is the strategy across the board. It’s not just on the Palestine movement; the same can be said of the educational system. They are really upset that they feel like the university system is outside of their control — tenured faculty, the student movements — this is really disturbing to them. What they’re trying to do is reverse tenure. Like what DeSantis is doing, the anti-CRT fight is a mirror fight around all of these issues — LGBTQ issues, book banning, K-12 education — this is the strategy. They target institutions, they try to capture them where there’s space for agitation or dissent. Palestine, like Radhika said, is the canary in the coal mine around us. It tells us what they’re trying to do and how they’re doing it. They are coming where the site of struggle is out of their control. That’s what we’re seeing.
They’re worried about the future more than they are about the present. When you say you’re targeting students, you’re talking about potential future leaders of government. Polls show stark differences between the generations not just on Palestine but on every issue — employment, wages, health care. This is how they attack us. It’s a positive sign that we’re in a struggle in this moment, but we have difficulty translating this grassroots energy into political power. How do we translate this into actual impact on this class of people dominating our lives? That’s the big question, despite us feeling a shift: What’s going to have to happen so these young people grow up and have different politics? Are the same actors, this limited set of people, going to continue to run our world? Or are we going to be able to wrestle control out of their hands?
Jen I want to follow up on your argument that the right is operating from a place of weakness. Biden said a couple of hours ago, “I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth. I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war. … the Israelis should be incredibly careful to be sure that they’re focusing on going after the folks that are propagating this war.” Would you argue that this comment comes from a place of fear, or, as the guy who commands the richest military in the world, is he acting as the mouthpiece of empire?
Mohammed The U.S. and its relationship to Israel and its standing in the world is the weakest we’ve seen in decades. That’s very clear. Whatever pronouncements Biden makes regarding the destruction of Gaza and the genocide that’s happening on Palestinians, the U.S. doesn’t know where to go right now; the U.S. is extremely constrained in how it’s able to move forward. First of all, they’ve exhausted so many resources, including their military stockpiles, toward the war in Ukraine. They went full-fledged into backing this and turning it into a proxy war between them and Russia. They essentially pivoted away from the Middle East toward Russia and Ukraine, and then China and Taiwan, in a way that divided their ability to manage the situation. They’re worried about a regional war that’s going to inflame both the Arab world more broadly and the different actors in the region, and they’re exposed because all of their military bases right now are under potential threat. So right now, I don’t believe the U.S. knows where to go.
The war in Gaza is going to be prosecuted by a fragile government. Netanyahu’s coalition had already lost support internationally, before they even set foot into Gaza. What that means is Israel, and its standing in the world, is very precarious. And that’s not just diplomatic, not to mention militarily, not to mention what would happen if Lebanese resistance entered the war — that doesn’t tell us what would happen if this becomes a regional conflict. The contradictions that are being put forward at the same time — We support Israel’s right to defend itself, but it should respect human life and We don’t trust these numbers — all of that is a lack of a strategy on the part of the U.S. government. They don’t know where to take this war. The U.S. is one of the main orchestrators of what will happen in Gaza. This is the United States’ war just as much as it’s Israel’s war, because Israel is their outpost. It’s not some independent country that decides what it’s going to do in a region, because that’s why the U.S. gives them billions of dollars.
There’s so much more to say about the state of the economy, their attempts at normalization with Arab states. But truthfully — and what kind of makes this worse but also not completely doom and gloom — is both sides of it. The scary part is they’re backed into a corner, both the Israeli government and the U.S., in terms of where they can go; they have limited choices. The Israeli government doesn’t have the political sophistication to navigate themselves out of it. Netanyahu is basically a criminal. As soon as this war is done, he’s going to prison, potentially. And then you have the U.S., which is worried about this regional context, and worried about Ukraine and and Russia and China and Taiwan. That’s scary, because you don’t know what they’ll do. You don’t know if it’s more genocide, potentially. At the same time they’re scared. They’re fearful of what to do. I don’t remember the last time the U.S. government was fearful of what to do and worried about their partner in Israel being unstrategic and potentially drawing them into something they don’t want to go into.
Olúfẹ́mi There’s a lot of vulnerabilities for the U.S.-Israel relationship right now. Geopolitically, the U.S. was alone as far as the UN Security Council and in giving Israel the particular kind of support that it has been consistently giving for decades. Add that to the domestic situation, where more and more people are vocally in solidarity with Palestine. If we continue with those threats and think of this as a time of opportunity, what strikes both of you as good examples of concrete actions that people acting in solidarity should be thinking of? Should it be street protests? Should it be vocal cease-fire calls from civil society? Should it be refusal to participate in supply chains, like the weapons factories that are sending munitions to Israel? The National Writers Union is documenting and connecting with media workers who’ve been fired and retaliated against for expressing solidarity with Palestine. Are there any particular actions or avenues or even targets that would make sense, given the way both of you are looking at the situation?
Radhika As lawyers, we don’t like to tell activists what to do. But I love all those ideas.
Mohammed It’s a collection of what you described. This is an opportune moment to agitate politically around broadening our consciousness in terms of the interrelatedness of struggles and the interrelatedness of repression and the enemy that we’re facing. This is all happening against the backdrop of a recent spike in union activity, both in terms of union membership and strikes, whether it’s the UPS, autoworkers, the Writers Guild, actors. Now, those are at different levels politically. But there’s a state of crisis economically. And it’s connected to what’s happening in Palestine and elsewhere in the globe. This is an opportunity for us to draw those connections. Where we are weak politically and need to strengthen is to make this more cohesive. This is an opportunity where we have people in the streets to draw those connections and to build that into organization. We’ve gained those experiences over the years, from the Occupy movement through the Black Lives Matter struggle and the various other movements; it’s about consolidation. My fear is we get these upticks and there’s a lot of mobilizations, but transforming that into sustained action is where we have work to do.
In terms of the Palestine movement, where to channel the energy, it is into everything you described, like the protest movement. I hope that the repression makes things more clear for people. I really do think it has the capacity to backfire miserably, especially on younger generations that have very little to lose in terms of their futures. You’re threatening a population unable to afford housing; you’re threatening a population saddled with debt. I don’t know that it’s a good strategy to violently alienate that population. If I were to advise the other side, I’d say, You probably don’t want to do that. It’s a losing battle. The earlier question of why they’re repressing so violently — they don’t have any other avenues. We’ve been in it for decades, and we’ll continue to see this younger generation be much less interested in being controlled and dictated to about what our world should look like.
Mohammed Nabulsi is an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement.
Radhika Sainath is a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal.
Waldemar Oliveira serves as international adviser at Hammer & Hope and is a PhD student in history, with a focus on the African diaspora, at New York University.
Waldemar Oliveira é consultor internacional da revista Hammer & Hope e doutorando em história pela Universidade de Nova York.
Jen Parker is the editor and co-founder of Hammer & Hope and a former New York Times opinion editor.