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On Speaking Out
You are not alone.
I had a dream once that everyone in the world stopped what they were doing and turned to the person beside them, and told their story. The stories became threads; they rose up into the sky and intwined, formed a beautiful tapestry that covered the whole world.
I’ve been trying to write this piece for weeks.
Fragments of it keep spinning through my head. They make no sense, then slowly become coherent, then I put them on paper and they don’t go away, just mutate into new incomprehensible thoughts.
All the while, I’m fracturing inside. Israeli bombs keep falling, the Palestinian death count keeps rising — entire bloodlines wiped out — US politicians keep cheering it all on. I am rage, I am sorrow, I am speechless at the endless waves of each that keep crashing through me. The war machine can’t seem to decide whether it wants us not to believe the casualty counts or not to care about them. I’m past caring what it wants, but I do want to say my piece, put all these twisted thoughts into one place.
The Judaism I was raised on prided itself on the idea of questioning. Over and over, the Rabbis told us that to doubt, to challenge even, placed us within a long legacy of famous questioning Jews: Abraham, Esther, Jacob, Jonah, and unmentioned but certainly fits in the lineage — Jesus. It’s not just that these and many others raised questions when they weren’t sure, it’s that often the one they were demanding answers from was literally GOD. The all-powerful. And sure, it landed Jonah’s ass in a whale, but ultimately, the message was that it’s good to seek answers when you don’t have them, to doubt, to struggle with what is and what should be — it makes us who we are, drives us to be greater.
And I loved that about Judaism.
To look out at the powerplays and maneuvering around how the story of this moment is being told, though, is to understand that the state of Israel does not tolerate questions, doubts, objections of any kind. Even the most delicate, carefully crafted, both sides-y, give peace a chance type questions have resulted in powerful people losing their jobs, being bombarded with threats, having to recant and apologize. In a situation like this, genocide, just seeing “both sides” (as if a conflict was ever as simple as just two sides), rather than going deeper, is still just a step one, and left as is marks a whitewashing of events, a tactical flattening of power imbalances. And even that is unacceptable to Zionism. The state of Israel is positioning itself as unreproachable, unquestionable, in a way, above even God.
The incredible thing is that it’s not working. While news stations, celebrities, and politicians largely toe the line, people across the world are standing up by the hundreds of thousands to say no, to reject genocide, to refute these sloppy lies, to demand justice for Palestine.
We’ve never seen a moment like this; there is no map.
In that truth alone, even amidst so much carnage, there is hope.
And that’s what I come back to over and over when it comes to speaking up. The story of this moment, it’s a battleground of its own. It matters, deeply. You can see that in the millions of ad dollars that Israel is putting into telling it; but more importantly you can see it in the countless voices rising together in opposition, both online and in the streets. We tell stories with our hands, our mouths, we tell stories with our feet. We tell stories with our whole bodies. To march is to refute the narrative that the world watched in silence as one nation tried to wipe out another. Reading and amplifying the stories of heroism and tragedy as they emerge from the rubble in Gaza is a way to redefine who gets to frame this moment in history, and platform the voices of those resisting erasure.
“As a writer, my stories can last forever,” Palestinian journalist Tareq S. Hajjaj writes from the streets of his besieged city in This Could Be My Last Report From Gaza. “They are meant to chronicle the history of my people. The power of the occupation stems from its ability to hide history. Our role is to defend and maintain it, to preserve the truth about our people who were systematically slaughtered by their occupiers, whose nation was erased because our colonizer wanted to take our land.”
From Gaza to the West Bank, where bombs are also falling and settlers are attacking as well, and beyond, Palestinians are standing up, telling their stories, demanding the world bear witness. Holocaust survivors, genocide experts, rabbis are also raising their voices to say no, to say that never again means never again for anyone, not just the Jews.
It's hard sometimes to know what to say, how to say it. It should be hard. But speaking out isn’t about having the answers, it’s about wrestling with the questions. There are truths within us that we only find when we engage, when we use our voices, our feet, our spirits. There are questions we won’t ask unless we’re in conversation with the world around us. Just watching the trauma unfold over and over across our timeline only creates a sense of helplessness and that bitter, writhing dread.
For my own part, I have faced not knowing what to say, then not knowing how to say it. I face it over and over again, every time I post, as I write these words. I don’t know until I try, and — crucially — fail. And then I still get it wrong, and so will you, and none of that is a good reason not to engage, not to speak your mind.
Yes, there are consequences for speaking up. You’ve seen the lists bouncing around social media tallying who supported what and how. There are also lists we don’t see, much more powerful and insidious ones, and the truth is we’ll never know the full ramifications on our careers, the cost of taking a stand. It’s often hidden in carefully worded form rejections, each paragraph approved by HR and PR and a team of lawyers. I remember struggling with this early on in my writing career, as we collectively took on the publishing industry for its long standing racism. This was the same industry I was trying to break into. And potentially it did lose me some deals, I don’t know. But I do know now, as I knew then, that I wasn’t going to do well with a publisher who wouldn’t work with me because I spoke out about racism. That would’ve been doomed from jump, so why waste time? The same goes today. If there’s a list going around of people who are against genocide, you know — sign me up. This is actually pretty basic.
When I was a medic, I learned that we experience traumatic events very differently when we are part of making them better than when we are just watching. People would always ask me — how do you sleep at night, given the shit you must see? And I mean, a) I slept great! I literally saved lives for a living! Which brings me to b) the misunderstanding lies in that word see. If I were to have just seen all the disasters that I responded to as a medic, it would probably haunt me for ages. But as medics we roll up on scene to do a job, and we do it. Not in the cold, removed sense of someone who has closed their heart off, but rather as a matter of calling, of action. Taking part in someone else’s healing is a cleansing that also serves to transform the experience for the healer. (Wrote more about this here.)
The healing power of taking action, not being a passive witness, takes hold in the larger world as well. When we speak out, we are participating in the larger narrative of the times and we are also rejecting our own silence, our own complicity, in the unfolding tragedy. We are collectively salvaging our own humanity.
For me, the moral imperative of speaking out is clear. I am a US citizen; my government is using my money to fund a genocidal campaign. As a Jew, it’s my safety that’s being leveraged in the ongoing apartheid system of the Israeli state. Antisemitism and fascism are a rising tide, yes, and a terrifying one. Besides just being — I can’t believe I have to say this— wrong, Israel committing genocide will not stop that tide, only make it worse.
My silence is required, demanded, by the imperial aspirations of Zionism, and I will not provide it.
So I will use my body at protests, my words, my platform, to tell a different story, to say no, to join the hundreds of thousands who are saying no, not in our name.
There are so many ways to do it — some are public, some behind the scenes. Saying no, standing up, requires creativity, ingenuity, and it asks us to become closer to ourselves, our communities, our deepest fears and hopes. There is no one right way, there is no simple answer. It is always a wrestling match with our own gods, and we always walk away changed.
I also speak out because when I’ve felt like I’m losing my fucking mind —often, these days — it’s been seeing other people raise their voices in shared horror, solidarity, truthtelling, that’s brought me back down to earth, reminded me I’m not alone, none of us are, kept me inspired and in the light. And I know if someone, some stranger on the internet can do that for me, I can do that for someone else.
It’s not for me to say what the Palestinian people need except to say that it must be up to them, but as a Jew I will say this as loudly and clearly as I know how:
Nation states will not protect us.
Walls and barb wire and bombs will not keep us safe.
Only freedom can do that.
And the only real freedom is freedom for everyone.
Palestine must be free. First and foremost for the Palestinian people to be free and safe, and secondly because until that happens, none of us will be free.
This moment of grief, of hope, of destruction and revelation, this turning point for which there is no map — do not let it push you deeper into silence, into darkness, into nothingness. Let this moment change you, change all of us, and in so doing change the world. I don’t know where we go from here or how we get there. I only know we have to begin by imagining it, this world that we’re hurdling towards, a place beyond genocide, beyond bombs and erased histories and lines drawn by dying empires to benefit nascent ones.
That place is something new, never seen before, something we must dream up together, collectively. And in many ways it’s already here and always has been — in every street we march down, every voice and fist raised, every story told, we can see its threads as they rise, rise, rise and coalesce into a beautiful tapestry that will live long after we are gone, and wrap all around this broken world to create a brand new one.
“We Teach Life, Sir” a poem by Rafeef Ziadah: https://blissonature.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/rafeef-ziadah-we-teach-life-sir-text-transcription-lyrics-words-of-poem/
Free ebooks for a free Palestine from Haymarket Books: https://www.haymarketbooks.org/blogs/495-free-ebooks-for-a-free-palestine
A thread of different sites providing support to Palestine (I haven’t gone through all of them, do your own homework): https://twitter.com/signofangelsfly/status/1714016165050167345?s=61&t=HRhQbeoh_3SjpuQ32TpsIA
Some links to contact elected officials:
1. Tell Congress: Stop fueling the Gaza genocide. | Adalah Justice Project