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Listening + Learning

Thank you for the important discourse in the comments on our website to my February 13th article. I’m learning a lot about myself, and I’m continuing to challenge my beliefs and search out the areas where I’m unknowingly biased.

In addition to reading all of your comments, talking with people who disagree with me, and reading as much as I can, I have interviewed activists doing the work on the ground, and a policy scholar who studies why the US has failed to broker peace and how our involvement has exacerbated the violence. Vox Media is my new podcast partner, and they agreed to produce and drop the podcast with no advertising, no revenue, and no commercialization. I appreciate that.

Before I jump in, I want to be clear about my intentions in writing this and dropping three podcasts on this topic. When I talked to several close friends who passionately disagreed with parts of my essay, they shared similar and very difficult feedback: “I don’t think you believe everything you wrote, or we simply disagree in areas where I thought we were aligned.” That’s painful because I either did a poor job conveying my beliefs or we didn’t know each other as well as we thought. In the end, it was 80% a lack of clarity on my part and 20% disagreement about material issues.

My intention is not to change your mind about me or to change your beliefs. My intention is to share what I’m learning and unlearning for the purpose of me being a better global citizen and highlighting work that is, in my opinion, important and could make a difference in the lives of many people. It’s important to note that I’ve read every comment, and we’re not going to agree on everything.

Here’s the short list of learnings that I expect to keep growing:

Decontextualizing is dangerous.
In my original essay, I did not situate my beliefs in a deeper historical context. I did an equally inadequate job articulating the context around my beliefs — I gave you the what not the why. My decontextualizing allowed people to fill in the gaps with what they assume I believe about the atrocities that are happening in Gaza and that have been happening there for decades. And, in not sharing the context of my own beliefs, I invited people to fill in the gaps with what they believe are my intentions and my ideology.

Peace, Power, and Ending the Occupation
I did not accurately represent the people who are committed to non-violent peace movements by not acknowledging clearly that all successful non-violent peace movements, including the Parents Circle-Families Forum, Taghyeer, and Standing Together, start by naming power asymmetry and calling for the end of violence before justice work can begin. I can also see the significant impact this had on diminishing the brutality of what’s happening to Gazans.

Parents Circle-Families Forum, Taghyeer, and Standing Together are explicitly working to create the political will to end the occupation and create a way for the Palestinians and the Israelis to live together in dignity and equality. I was explicit in calling for a ceasefire and the end of the occupation, but it was not enough. If I’m going to talk about peace and non-violence work, I should have been explicit about naming the power asymmetry, acknowledging the history of occupation, and ending the immediate violence as pre-requisites for peace.  

The Origin of My Point of View
In terms of my activism, I was primarily focused on issues inside the US until 2006, when I started co-teaching a graduate social work course on global justice with Jody Williams (Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work on banning land mines). Before this, my work was focused mainly on reproductive rights, workers’ rights (I was a union steward), and organizing around race and LGBTQIA+ issues. While teaching with Jody, I became very involved with the Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI), an NGO that works in solidarity with local women’s movements, organizations, and activists around the world to build peace, defend justice, and champion equality.

In 2007, NWI hosted a conference on Women, Peace, and the Middle East. At the time I was studying shame, fear, and empathy. I was also working with students to understand if occupation movements and settlement strategies always require ever-increasing forms of violence and intimidation to be successful. Additionally, because of my background studying empathy, I was asked to facilitate a panel with bereaved Palestinian and Israeli peace activists who were striving for the end of the occupation and for equity and dignity for all people. This is where I met the activists from the Parents Circle-Families Forum and others who formed several beliefs that I hold today, including:

1. The belief that the only real solution for peace will be one that includes all of the Palestinian and Israeli people sharing the land that they both call home. Any solution that promotes 7 million Palestinians not being of the land and on the land, or 7 million Israelis not being of the land and on the land, will need to deploy massive dehumanization campaigns and/or extraordinary violence to accomplish.

We see the extraordinary violence from the current Israeli government. And, I believe the significant rise in antisemitism around the world is exacerbated by some of the international movements (including those in the US) that not only call for the end of the occupation but the expulsion of all of the Jewish Israeli people.

2. The belief that the occupation must end and there must be a truth, reconciliation, and reparation process in place that guides whatever solution that the Palestinian and Israeli people want. I think history proves that maintaining the occupation (and any form of power-over) does require ever-increasing forms of dehumanization and violence. I talk about the need for ever-increasing cruelty to sustain power-over in my work, and I should have been explicit about this in my first essay rather than assuming it was implied in my call to end the occupation. Big miss on my part.

3. We have to better understand why US attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace have consistently failed, and we have to hold our elected officials accountable for these failures. The third podcast in the series is an interview with Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, where he also directs MEI’s Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs. We talk about his book, Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump. I’ve read it twice, and it opened my eyes to many issues that I didn’t fully understand.

Below I’m addressing some of the specific concerns, points, and criticisms raised in the comments that aren’t addressed above.

1. There are many comments about the problematic use of the term, “The Israel-Hamas War.”

In my struggle to title the article, I researched the Associated Press guidelines and they suggested “The Israel-Hamas War.” I questioned that and checked Al Jazeera, and they used the same term. Still unsure, I checked with an NGO doing peace work on the ground in Israel and Palestine, and they also suggested that framing, so that’s what I used. When I explained this to a friend, she asked a very important question: “It sounds like you were searching and coming up with answers that didn’t sit right with you. Why did you forge ahead?”  It’s the right question. I think the answer is fear of not naming it correctly, and it was a mistake. I should have just called it Israel and Palestine or Palestine and Israel.

2. Because the comments are moderated, there were several questions about what was deleted. Here’s that information:

Comments were left open for nine days. Out of 1066 comments:

20 comments were not approved because they contained external URLs (we don’t allow links because it promotes spam) — 17 were invited to resubmit without links, 3 came in as comments were closing and the ability to resubmit was no longer available.

53 comments from 38 people were not approved because they disclosed the person’s full name and/or personal email address — they were invited to resubmit.

2 comments were not approved due to name-calling or dehumanizing language.

3. There were several comments that talked about it being problematic that Jewish/Israeli community members left comments saying they felt seen by the essay.

For me, Jewish and Israeli people seeing themselves in this post is not the problem and I would never apologize for that. The problem is Palestinian people not seeing themselves in this post. That’s where I failed. Unless we believe that it’s impossible to write something where all people feel seen. I think it’s possible and I should have done a better job.

I believe we have the capacity to acknowledge and name the asymmetry of occupational power and the destruction and impact of power-over, hold people accountable for that destruction, AND acknowledge that the fear, pain, and histories of all people is vital to understand and hold.  

4. There were several comments about whether or not I reserved the use of the word terrorist for “brown people” only.

The answer is no. Before this article, I had only assigned that label in association with white supremacy-driven domestic terrorism, specifically to the people who murdered Ahmaud Arbery, and to the January 6th Trump insurrectionists.

I became interested in the impact of terrorism because I started my research career six months before 9/11, and as I’ve written in several places but most expansively in Braving the Wilderness, I literally watched fear change us one interview and one focus group at a time. Fear began to ride roughshod over our families, organizations, and communities. Our national conversation became centered on “What should we fear?” and “Who should we blame?” and “Who or what poses the biggest threat to my safety.” In my experience, the goal of terrorism is never the number of casualties killed in a specific attack. The goal is to use violence and/or physical intimidation to create so much fear and trauma that communities become destabilized — especially along existing fault lines. The permanent low-grade suspicion, fear, and trauma for everyone in the targeted identity group changes us. That’s the win for terrorists.

I do think October 7th was an act of terrorism committed by Hamas. And, after talking to and learning from Khaled Elgindy, I don’t think that any peace negotiation will be successful without talking to all Palestinian leadership — including Hamas as representatives of the opposition. This feels like a moral dilemma that I’m not close to resolving personally. I think I understand the diplomatic strategy that we don’t negotiate with just our friends, but also our enemies — yet, I’m still struggling. I’ll be curious to see what y’all think after you listen to the podcast with Khaled.  

Last, I’m unmoved by people diminishing the power of nonviolent peace-making and connecting it to white, liberal, feminism. There’s absolutely nothing white, liberal, feminist about it — every global example of successful nonviolence movements has been led by people who are not white. I suggest digging deeper into understanding the courageous history of nonviolent peace movements. Here are a few links:

Jamila Raqib’s TED Talk “The secret to effective nonviolent resistance”

Julia Bacha’s TED Talk “Pay attention to nonviolence”

The King Center’s Nonviolence365® Training

In closing, for clarity,

I support an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
I support the end of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
I support the return of the hostages.
And, I continue to believe that any solution that diminishes the humanity of others and/or deploys power-over as a strategy is not a solution.

You can criticize me and my opinions, but please don’t conflate my position with the people on the podcasts who are doing tremendous work. You can find the podcasts here.

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