The question of representation

At a summer school about decolonialism in Granada at the moment, and a very interesting issues came up at one of the lectures today.

Tom Reifer, an anti-Zionist Jew, was presenting on the Palestinian question. He identifies as a radical of Jewish background, and his entire presentation was extremely critical of Israel and the manipulation of the memory of the Holocaust in order to occupy and ethnically cleanse Palestine today.

Afterwards, a Palestinian woman in the audience criticised his talk and claimed it was not decolonial, because in a talk about Palestine she had expected a Palestinian to be present as well. In the end the talk had focused more on the Holocaust and his experiences as an anti-Zionist of Jewish background, than on Palestine. Her critique was mainly that in a talk about Palestine, we were hearing the narratives of Jews who are against Israel.

This critique is interesting because it brings up the question of representation. On the one hand, Tom is a radical and decolonial speaker who was as critical of Israel as many Palestinians I have heard speak, if not more so. But he is not speaking from personal experience, living as a Palestinian, either in occupied Palestine or in the diaspora.

But this debate brings up the question of whether someone who comes from an oppressed group is automatically decolonial? We know that not all women are anti-sexism and that not all Arabs are anti-imperial. The reason these systems work so well is because they have been internalized not only by those who benefit, but by those who are oppressed.

Does that mean that having a Palestinian speak on a panel about Palestine is necessary? Does it mean they will present a more decolonial perspective than an anti-Zionist Jew? In other words, can someone who doesn’t have these experiences be the only one to speak on the Palestinian question? (I’m not suggesting Tom shouldn’t have been on the panel, but that perhaps he shouldn’t have been the only one.)

But then I started thinking about this in terms of gender. How many times have we been to panels on gender, comprised of only women, that present very sexist views on gender, femininity, masculinity etc.? Being a woman, and having the experiences that come with that, does not necessarily mean being anti-sexist and it doesn’t mean that one has unlearned all the internalized sexism and patriarchy we are bombarded with from when we are born.

I don’t have an answer to this dilemma. On the one hand, I don’t agree 100% with standpoint theory, which states that those who have experienced oppression should be the ones to speak on oppression, since they have experienced it. There are many who haven’t experienced oppression and yet are very good at critiquing these systems. On the other hand, I do sympathise with the idea, especially after hearing white feminist after white feminist demand the right to talk about “third world women” because everyone should be able to.

There is also the issue of authority. At the end of the day, anti-Zionist Jews are better able to influence audiences that are not pro-Palestine, because they are seen as “more objective” than Palestinians themselves (which is bullshit, but unfortunately widespread) and that if a Jew is criticising Israel, it might be something worth paying attention to. This process happens in terms of gender too, where male feminists get much more attention (and praise) for criticising patriarchy. Of course it is always meaningful when someone who benefits from a system then criticises that system, although this should not simultaneously de-legitimise or silence critiques from those oppressed by the system. But in terms of effectiveness, there may be something to be said for anti-Zionist Jews speaking on Palestine. I am pretty sure, for example, that many Dutch people would have been more likely to take Tom Reifer seriously than a Palestinian.

So what to do? Should we be able to speak (authoritatively) about systems and situations we have not experienced? Does this mean we will lose decolonial voices who have not experienced these systems and yet are critical of them? But at the same time, does it mean we have to continue accepting that the voices who dominate these debates are those that have not experienced oppression and are also not critical or decolonial? And I guess the most important question: who decides?



The last few days have seen an escalation in the Israeli occupation and bombardment of Gaza, a place that has been described as an open-air prison by many who have been there. Part of me isn’t surprised that Israel has, yet again, managed to kill so many innocent civilians (while claiming to target militants), but another part of me is sad that this continues to happen, and that people’s reactions continue to be this predictable: outrage from Arabs and some people in the west; silence or pro-Israel rhetoric from many people in the west, Arab governments, and western governments.

I know the western media is biased. We get that. But seriously people, THINK. Or do some kind of independent research! When I watched the Dutch news last night, the whole narrative was based on blaming Palestinians for this conflict because of the rockets they shot at Israel. I’m just gonna go ahead and say right now: if I were living in an open-air prison, in which limited supplies of food and medicine are allowed in, in a situation where I have to cross a million Israeli check points to get anywhere, in a situation where Israel is MILITARILY OCCUPYING what USED TO BE MY COUNTRY…

I would launch rockets too.

Anyway, I wrote an article for Muftah. Would love to hear feedback 🙂

Zizek on the Revolution

I’ve been watching and reading a lot of Slavoj Zizek in the past month, and I really believe he is one of the most influential philosophers of our time.  I just finished an article he wrote about the London riots, in which he mentioned Egypt:

Unfortunately, the Egyptian summer of 2011 will be remembered as marking the end of revolution, a time when its emancipatory potential was suffocated. Its gravediggers are the army and the Islamists. The contours of the pact between the army (which is Mubarak’s army) and the Islamists (who were marginalised in the early months of the upheaval but are now gaining ground) are increasingly clear: the Islamists will tolerate the army’s material privileges and in exchange will secure ideological hegemony. The losers will be the pro-Western liberals, too weak – in spite of the CIA funding they are getting – to ‘promote democracy’, as well as the true agents of the spring events, the emerging secular left that has been trying to set up a network of civil society organisations, from trade unions to feminists.

The rapidly worsening economic situation will sooner or later bring the poor, who were largely absent from the spring protests, onto the streets. There is likely to be a new explosion, and the difficult question for Egypt’s political subjects is who will succeed in directing the rage of the poor? Who will translate it into a political programme: the new secular left or the Islamists?

These are very interesting statements.  I definitely agree that the revolution died this summer, mostly because the military managed to mane sure Tahrir lost public support, while it reaffirmed its status as the ultimate Egyptian institution.  This is not to say the revolution can’t be reignited. But for now, I agree that it appears to be dead.

The recent events in Israel seem to benefit both the Israeli government (who have been mercilessly attacking Gaza ever since) and the Egyptian army (who have diverted Egyptian attention away from internal issues to the “Israeli threat” – a tactic often used by Mubarak, who knew how Palestine could always gain the attention of the Egyptian people. However, what is new is the Egyptian decision to withdraw its ambassador from Israeli over accusations of 5 Egyptian soldiers being killed by Israeli forces. This is big. But the announcement was withdrawn from the Egyptian military’s website, so it is unclear what will happen.

I also agree with Zizek that an economic revolution will come soon. People are still hungry (literally and metaphorically) and will not settle for the status quo for much longer. This revolution will be global. We have seen it in London, Spain, and Greece recently. In the Netherlands, as the government cuts more and more, we will also probably (at some point in the far future) see big demonstrations. However, countries like the Netherlands are further away because they have absolute trust in the government and governing institutions (including capitalism) and thus it will take longer for them to question these. This is the impression I get from Dutch people I have spoken to about the issue: they still do not see capitalism and neo-liberalism as the core structural problems. Rather they tend to blame Greece, immigrants, America, or whoever else is currently “causing problems.”

I like the fact that Zizek mentions the “secular left” in Egypt, as opposed to only focusing on the Islamists as the only alternative to the military. This is something I do not see in the majority of European/American articles about the revolution. The secular left can be a very strong force in Egyptian politics, given the chance and time to organize. The Muslim Brotherhood have been around since the 1920s: they are well-organized, well-funded, and know how to deal with the Egyptian state/military. This is not the case for the secular left, or other political groupings in Egypt.

My next post will be on what Zizek said about the London riots – definitely the most insightful comments I’ve read so far.

Beautifully sad

Bassem Tamimi, the popular committee leader of Nabi Saleh, was arrested more than one month ago for his role in organizing unarmed demonstrations against Israeli occupation. Tamimi’s trial began at the Ofer military court. Below is Tamimi’s full statement to the court. Link here.

Your Honor,

I hold this speech out of belief in peace, justice, freedom, the right to live in dignity, and out of respect for free thought in the absence of Just Laws.

Every time I am called to appear before your courts, I become nervous and afraid. Eighteen years ago, my sister was killed by in a courtroom such as this, by a staff member. In my lifetime, I have been nine times imprisoned for an overall of almost 3 years, though I was never charged or convicted. During my imprisonment, I was paralyzed as a result of torture by your investigators. My wife was detained, my children were wounded, my land was stolen by settlers, and now my house is slated for demolition.

I was born at the same time as the Occupation and have been living under its inherent inhumanity, inequality, racism and lack of freedom ever since. Yet, despite all this, my belief in human values and the need for peace in this land have never been shaken. Suffering and oppression did not fill my heart with hatred for anyone, nor did they kindle feelings of revenge. To the contrary, they reinforced my belief in peace and national standing as an adequate response to the inhumanity of Occupation.

International law guarantees the right of occupied people to resist Occupation. In practicing my right, I have called for and organized peaceful popular demonstrations against the Occupation, settler attacks and the theft of more than half of the land of my village, Nabi Saleh, where the graves of my ancestors have lain since time immemorial.

I organized these peaceful demonstrations in order to defend our land and our people. I do not know if my actions violate your Occupation laws. As far as I am concerned, these laws do not apply to me and are devoid of meaning. Having been enacted by Occupation authorities, I reject them and cannot recognize their validity.

Despite claiming to be the only democracy in the Middle East you are trying me under military laws which lack any legitimacy; laws that are enacted by authorities that I have not elected and do not represent me. I am accused of organizing peaceful civil demonstrations that have no military aspects and are legal under international law.

We have the right to express our rejection of Occupation in all of its forms; to defend our freedom and dignity as a people and to seek justice and peace in our land in order to protect our children and secure their future.

The civil nature of our actions is the light that will overcome the darkness of the Occupation, bringing a dawn of freedom that will warm the cold wrists in chains, sweep despair from the soul and end decades of oppression.

These actions are what will expose the true face of the Occupation, where soldiers point their guns at a woman walking to her fields or at checkpoints; at a child who wants to drink from the sweet water of his ancestors’ fabled spring; against an old man who wants to sit in the shade of an olive tree, once mother to him, now burnt by settlers.

We have exhausted all possible actions to stop attacks by settlers, who refuse to adhere to your courts’ decisions, which time and again have confirmed that we are the owners of the land, ordering the removal of the fence erected by them.

Each time we tried to approach our land, implementing these decisions, we were attacked by settlers, who prevented us from reaching it as if it were their own.

Our demonstrations are in protest of injustice. We work hand in hand with Israeli and international activists who believe, like us, that had it not been for the Occupation, we could all live in peace on this land. I do not know which laws are upheld by generals who are inhibited by fear and insecurity, nor do I know their thoughts on the civil resistance of women, children and old men who carry hope and olive branches. But I know what justice and reason are. Land theft and tree-burning is unjust. Violent repression of our demonstrations and protests and your detention camps are not evidence of the illegality of our actions. It is unfair to be tryed under a law forced upon us. I know that I have rights and my actions are just.

The military prosecutor accuses me of inciting the protesters to throw stones at the soldiers. This is not true. What incites protesters to throw stones is the sound of bullets, the Occupation’s bulldozers as they destroy the land, the smell of teargas and the smoke coming from burnt houses. I did not incite anyone to throw stones, but I am not responsible for the security of your soldiers who invade my village and attack my people with all the weapons of death and the equipment of terror.

These demonstrations that I organize have had a positive influence over my beliefs; they allowed me to see people from the other side who believe in peace and share my struggle for freedom. Those freedom fighters have rid their conscious from the Occupation and put their hands in ours in peaceful demonstrations against our common enemy, the Occupation. They have become friends, sisters and brothers. We fight together for a better future for our children and theirs.

If released by the judge will I be convinced thereby that justice still prevails in your courts? Regardless of how just or unjust this ruling will be, and despite all your racist and inhumane practices and Occupation, we will continue to believe in peace, justice and human values. We will still raise our children to love; love the land and the people without discrimination of race, religion or ethnicity; embodying thus the message of the Messenger of Peace, Jesus Christ, who urged us to “love our enemy.” With love and justice, we make peace and build the future.

Just watched a movie about Palestine

Why is this happening to Palestine?

Why do they have to go through checkpoints in their own country?

Why is it so hard for them to leave and get an education?

Why can they be arrested and beaten for no reason?

Why does the world constantly take Israel’s side?

Palestine was given away by the British to the European Jews. Yes, they deserved their own country. But that country belonged to someone else. At first Palestinians resisted. Then they said they would share.

But no. Israel never wanted to share. It wants everything. Every. piece. of. that. country.

Do some Palestinians throw rocks and missiles? Yes.

But they are up against a state and one of the strongest militaries in the world.


How is that balanced?


Why why why?