Happy 5775. Here’s to a year of love, a year of solidarity, a year of justice, a year of liberation, a year of dachshunds and vegan donuts.
The night before May Day I dreamed I was on a ship. The ship was sinking. The deck was flooded. I was trying to spoon up water with a dust shovel and pour it overboard. It was useless. I decided to go look for a bucket.
The ship was as big as a city and I wandered its streets, asking everyone I met if they had a bucket I could borrow. No one would help me. One shop had an old tin bucket but I didn’t have enough money to buy it.
By this point I was getting pissed off. I was trying to save the ship from sinking. Why wasn’t anyone else helping? All our lives were at stake. We were all gonna drown if the ship sank.
So why was I the only one trying to save us all?
Tania Billingsley has come out publicly as the woman who was assaulted by Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, a staff assistant at the Malaysian High Commission. She chose to have her name suppression lifted so that she could speak publicly about the case, and about the government’s failure to address sexual and intimate abuse.
I’m awed by Billingsley’s courage and strength. I’ve seen the kind of backlash that survivors of abuse have to deal with. If I was in her shoes, there’s no way I’d have the guts to stand up publicly like this. She’s made it very clear that she’s doing this not just for herself, but for every person who’s ever been sexually assaulted. In a public statement she said:
I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I have gone through. And if my idea of justice means ensuring the safety of women and others, then it cannot stop at the prosecution of this man. Violence does not occur in a vacuum. There are very real reasons why sexual assault is happening in our country every day. This is because our society normalises, trivialises and in both obvious and subtle ways condones rape. This is called rape culture.
I’m also furious that it’s come to this. I’m outraged that a woman had to out herself as a survivor of assault in order to be heard and taken seriously. I’m livid that sexual violence still isn’t seen as a political issue. I’m mad a man decided to exploit his diplomatic immunity to assault a woman, because he knew he could get away with it. I’m angry that bureaucrats and politicians decided that the pain and trauma that Tania suffered, her right to accountability, and other women’s right to be protected from assault by the same man, were less important than maintaining good diplomatic relations. I’m particularly disgusted by Murray McCully’s lazy, cowardly and self-serving response to everything that’s happened.
I’m struggling to type this because I am literally shaking with rage.
New Zealand has a serious problem with sexual violence—especially violence against women. Over and over and over it’s been made clear that the problem is not a few violent, abusive individuals—it’s an entire culture that normalises abuse and punishes the victims instead of the perpetrators. I know this from my own experience. I know it from the experiences of women in my life.
Tania Billingsley has taken an incredibly courageous stand. She’s taken this stand for everyone who’s ever been sexually assaulted, for everyone who lives in fear of being sexually assaulted, for everyone who loves someone who’s been sexually assaulted. We owe her our gratitude, and we owe her our action.
I lied when I told you I only had eyes for the revolution.
Somewhere along the way my eyes strayed.
First the left one
started stealing glimpses at you.
Then the right eye joined in.
Soon I wasn’t paying attention to the riots in Tonga,
too busy watching you roll pasta dough and
slice it into strips that hung like willow branches
from clothes hangers in your kitchen.
In Oaxaca the people were being massacred
and Gaza too.
Meanwhile you chased your son through Civic Square and I
The day the bypass opened I left
the protest early
—before the cops arrived—
to write to you.
I lied when I told you I only have eyes for the revolution.
My eyes have followed you around this city and now
the revolution is nowhere in sight.
When I was a kid learning about Pesach at school, the story we heard was more or less an analogy for the Zionist narrative. The oppressed Israelites fight against Pharaoh’s oppression—with God’s help of course—and then escape from the old land of slavery to the new promised land. In the process they also invade and colonise the people already living in Kna’an. This version of the story reflects the us vs. them mentality I grew up with. The Egyptians were the bad guys. They were our enemy. If their firstborn children died in the plague or if they drowned in the Red Sea, that really did serve them right.
Now when I celebrate Pesach I see it not as a festival of nationalism, but of liberation. I think of Shiphrah and Puah, the Egyptian midwives who risked their lives to protect Jewish babies from Pharaoh’s campaign of infanticide, even though as Egyptians they were benefiting from Israelite slavery. There’s an important lesson here about solidarity. It’s not really us Jews vs. them Goyim, it’s people who desire justice vs. people who are content to benefit from oppression.
Jewish feminists established the tradition of honouring the prophetess Miriam on Pesach. It’s said that when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, Miriam carried a magic cup that would refill with water each time it was emptied, and that is how the former slaves quenched their thirst. So we place Miriam’s cup on the seder table alongside Elijah’s cup, as a reminder that Jewish women have always played a central role in protecting and nurturing Jewish communities.
But this Pesach I had a different Miriam on my mind. Mariam actually. Twenty-year-old Mariam Barghouti is a Palestinian activist, translator, and student at Birzeit University. I know about her work from her excellent blog, and from her Twitter updates of protests in the West Bank.
On Friday, April 11th, 2014, 20-year-old Mariam Barghouti, a university student at Birzeit, was arrested by Israeli forces. She was brought to court on Sunday, April 13th where she was charged and her detention extended until Wednesday, April 16th.
Mariam was arrested while leaving the village of Nabi Saleh. Mariam, along with Abir Kopty (a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who was later released on bail), and three foreign journalists were detained by soldiers and searched. Mariam had been in Nabi Saleh accompanying some of the journalists on their assignments and translating for them. Soldiers on the scene fabricated charges against her and handed her over to the police who arrested her along with Abir. At her hearing yesterday Mariam was charged with stone-throwing and entering a closed military area; her detention has been extended until Wednesday. Mariam sobbed throughout the whole hearing and told her lawyer that the charges are simply lies.
Mariam is a student at Birzeit University where she is majoring in English Literature and Psychology. Mariam is also active in community work and organizing and received a two-month residency scholarship in the UK, part of a program supporting women.
Abir said that during the arrest incident on Friday, “one of the soldiers who detained us looked at me and with a big smile said, ‘I’m going to mess up your life.’ It was obvious to me then that not only will he fabricate everything for his own purposes, but he knows he has the power to do so.”
Mariam was released on bail on April 17, the third day of Pesach. 5224 other Palestinians are still imprisoned by Israel, including 210 children.
The day before Erev Pesach (actually it was Erev Pesach for me, New Zealand is about 24 hours ahead of the USA) a White supremacist and former KKK member named Frazier Glenn Cross shot and killed three people outside a Jewish Community Centre and a Jewish retirement community in Kansas.
The scary thing is, I wasn’t even that shocked when I heard about it. I know that during times of economic recession anti-Jewish racism grows. I see it all the time, even in supposedly leftist spaces like Occupy, or anti-asset sales protests: the banks are controlled by Rothchilds, John Key wants to privatise state assets because he’s a Jew. Anyone who’s ever read a history book knows that anti-Jewish racism can quickly escalate from scapegoating rhetoric to murder.
Most of the reactions to the shooting were predictable too. We had Zionists blaming Palestinians and BDS activists—as if there’s any connection between anti-colonial struggle and the KKK. We had anti-Semites blaming Israel—as if shooting Jews living in the USA is an act of resistance to Israeli apartheid. I’m used to this. Conflating the state of Israel with Jews worldwide is in the interest of both Zionists and Jew-haters, and they’re both opportunistic enough to exploit a horrific act of racist violence to reinforce their views.
The thing that did surprise me was the response of US media. Over and over and over I heard that the shooter’s motivations weren’t clear. The man was a White supremacist. He targeted Jewish sites. But no one would call this a racist attack. His motivations weren’t clear.
If Cross had carried out an act of racist violence against Muslims, or Arabs, or Sikhs, or Blacks, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see his racist motivations erased. I’m not stupid, I understand the role that mainstream media plays in perpetuating racism. Acts of violence committed by Whites are rarely attributed to a problem with White culture. They’re more likely to be seen as exceptional events perpetrated by a crazy individual.
I was surprised to see anti-Jewish violence treated the same way, because I’ve consistently been told that in America, Jews (at least Ashkenazim) are White. The USA is supposed to be the land of opportunity where Jews aren’t seen as outsiders or expected to give up our traditions and assimilate. At least that’s what I learned from films like Yentl and An American Tail, as well as conversations with both Jewish and Gentile Americans. But clearly Jews aren’t White enough to be protected from acts of racist violence.
It’s a good reminder that we shouldn’t confuse access to White power with liberation. Jews might be accepted into the fold of Whiteness when it suits the interests of White supremacy (for example when they can use us to perpetuate oppression of Muslims and Arabs) but our Whiteness is always provisional and can be taken away as political and economic circumstances change. Instead of seeking to become White we should be fighting to dismantle Whiteness.
This year I went to a seder organized by a Jewish discussion group I occasionally attend. I was apprehensive about going. I never feel like I belong at Jewish community events, mostly because of my opposition to Zionism and the state of Israel.
The seder was different from what I’m used to. There was no faux-chicken soup with kneidlach, we read the haggadah in English instead of Hebrew, and we didn’t sing Chad Gadya. There was much more talk of God than we have in my family, and less talk of politics.
There was also a different version of the Pesach story. In the story I learned at school, Jacob and his sons migrate to Egypt to seek relief from famine. Jacob’s descendants live peacefully in Egypt for several generations until a new Pharaoh decides that the Israelites are a threat and decrees that they will be slaves, and their sons will be killed. In the version I heard at this seder, Jacob’s son Joseph was responsible for stocking up on grains on Pharaoh’s behalf, which he then sold to the Egyptian peasants at inflated prices during the famine, forcing them into poverty. The Egyptians rebelled and installed a new Pharaoh, who enslaved the Israelites as punishment for Jacob’s greed. The story becomes very different when you look at it from the Egyptians’ point of view.
Halfway through the haggadah someone said that it felt hypocritical to be speaking about freedom when Palestinians are being colonised and oppressed by Israel. We had a short discussion about whether diaspora Jews bear any responsibility for Israel’s actions. No one wanted to get into an argument so we went back to the haggadah. But it was validating to know that other people there were thinking the same thing I was.
Pesach is a holiday of asking questions. So here are some questions:
What if the Israelites had chosen a different path? What if instead of organising as Israelites, they’d united with others who were being oppressed by Pharaoh? What if instead of escaping Egypt to a promised—but already inhabited—land, they’d worked to install an egalitarian form of government in Egypt? What if instead of organising as Jews today, we unite with others who are oppressed by White supremacy? What if instead of working to uphold a Jewish-supremacist colonial regime on Palestinian land, we fight racism and other forms of oppression right here where we stand? What kind of possibilities are there for a Jewish liberation movement that isn’t nationalist? What do we do now?
I have thought about this day for quite some time.
I thought that when it finally came, I’d be dancing around my bedroom to Pollyanna Frank drinking bubbly hugging everyone in sight.
Actually I don’t really feel like celebrating. I sure as hell don’t feel like mourning either. I don’t feel much of anything. I realise that I actually don’t give a fuck about Arik Sharon. The man’s been in a coma for years, he’s been powerless to hurt anyone. I don’t really care about revenge or about punishing the guilty; I just want to take away the power they have to oppress others.
But just because I’m not celebrating, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be celebrating. I am sick to death of all the sanctimonious bullshit going round about how ‘all life is sacred’ and ‘we should never celebrate anyone’s suffering’. Reading some of the reactions to Sharon’s death online really brought home just how huge an impact he had on the people he terrorised. Palestinian and Lebanese people are perfectly entitled to celebrate the death of a man who devoted his life to their annihilation.
People are so quick to rewrite history at times like this. If you need to be reminded what kind of man Arik Sharon was, I suggest you go read Miko Peled’s pre-emptive eulogy:
Ariel Sharon was an ambitious man. He was brutal, greedy, uncompromising and dishonest. He possessed an insatiable appetite for power, glory and fortune. His tendencies as a cold-blooded, merciless killer were evident from early on in his career when he commanded the Israeli army’s Unit 101 in the 1950’s. Unit 101 was an infamous commando brigade with special license to kill and terrorize Palestinians. It operated mostly in Gaza, but also in other parts of the country and beyond. Unit 101 was so brutal in its practices, and claimed so many innocent lives, that even by Israeli standards it was thought to have gone too far and the unit was eventually disbanded.
Sharon went on to be promoted to other commands in the Israeli army earning a name for himself as a promising commander and all were expecting that he would one day be the Israeli army’s top commander, or Chief of Staff. But this was one job he never got, he did better. Sharon entered politics and was nominated to be Defense Minister under Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In that capacity he lead Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
This invasion left countless Lebanese and Palestinians dead, wounded and displaced. Sharon was also behind the massacres that took place in September of that year in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut, and here once again, even by Israeli standards Sharon had gone too far and was removed from office.
My empathy and my solidarity are with the people Sharon murdered and the people he tried to destroy.
When Hannah Arendt wrote about the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem, she noted that many Germans passionately supported the trial and were glad to see Eichmann convicted and executed. Arendt suggested that the reason Germans were so eager to see Eichmann brought to justice was because they felt it would somehow exonerate them. If the responsibility for the final solution could be pinned on Eichmann, and only Eichmann, then ordinary Germans would no longer need to feel guilty for their failure to oppose their state’s acts of genocide.
I’ve been thinking about that today, while trying to untangle my visceral loathing for Sharon. Of course, he was a cruel, racist, brutal, violent, hateful man; responsible for massacres, land confiscations, house demolitions, imprisonment, torture, settlements… the list of the man’s crimes is endless. There is no one more deserving of my hatred.
But it’s more than that—I hate Arik Sharon because I feel that he has made me complicit in his crimes. I hate him because I know that I—and every other settler-colonist in Palestine—share some of the responsibility for the atrocities committed by this man.
For a long time Sharon has personified the worst excesses of Zionist colonisation. He represented the most militant, the most racist, the most violent strand of Israeli politics. Nice liberal Israelis could pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that we were better than him, because we were shocked and disgusted at the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, at the invasion of Jenin, at the settlements in the West Bank. Never mind that we also live on ethnically-cleansed Palestinian land. Never mind that most Israelis who view Sharon as a war criminal also oppose the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
This is part of why I feel ambivalent about celebrating Sharon’s death. It’s too easy. It’s too easy to pin the responsibility for Israeli violence and brutality on Arik Sharon, so that I don’t need to feel guilty. It makes it easy to forget that I too, am complicit. I too, benefit from the continued Israeli colonisation of Palestine.
I’m not arguing that Sharon is no guiltier than any other Jewish-Israeli. He had more political and military power than your average Israeli civilian and he went out of his way to use that power to dispossess Palestinians and Lebanese. He wasn’t a victim of circumstance who was simply acting on the demands of his superiors or his constituents. He was committed to entrenching (Ashkenazi) Jewish supremacy in Palestine and the Levant. Ariel Sharon, and all Israeli political and military leaders, should be held accountable for his crimes. But a few evil people cannot perpetrate this scale of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Jewish-Israelis as a whole carry some of the responsibility—because collectively we have always had the power to stop them.
Today a cruel and brutal man is dead. Indigenous resistance lives on. In spite of Sharon’s best efforts, Palestine will be decolonised and the refugees will return to their homes. I may not care enough to celebrate his death, but I will celebrate the certainty that his life mission will turn out to be a failure. I celebrate the victory of justice over oppression.
 I’m lying, I feel a little bit like celebrating. Just seeing how happy Palestinians and Lebanese are makes me feel happy too.
This time a year ago I was spending most of my time in bed, streaming episodes of Once Upon A Time, subsisting on a diet of hommous and crackers because the anxiety was so overwhelming that even going to the kitchen was too scary. I was trying out extended-release Ritalin to see if taking it on a daily basis helped. Mostly it just turned up the anxiety to full volume (which is the exact reason I’d been avoiding Ritalin).
There’s a bunch of things that helped me recover. One was moving to a flat where I could use the kitchen without worrying about flatmates giving me judgmental looks for eating food that comes in a can. Another was that my grandmother left me some money when she died, which gave me the freedom to take time off and work on recovering without having to battle WINZ every few weeks. I think maybe the most important one was that after a ten-year break I decided to give anti-depressants another go. I’ve had such terrible experiences with anti-depressants in the past that things had to get pretty desperate for me to even consider it. I’m glad I did, because right now the combination of venlafaxine and atomoxetine seems to be working out ok. I keep waiting for the meds to stop helping, for everything to revert back to the way I felt before. It’s like tiptoeing in the dark waiting to step over the edge of a cliff. Past experience has taught me that depression is never solved; you just learn to make the most of the good times and be prepared for the worst times.
I started making a list of significant things that happened in 2013:
- Margaret Thatcher died
- George Zimmerman was acquitted
- SCAF took power in Egypt
- Beyonce released a surprise album
- Chelsea Manning came out as trans
- Cis boys wrote earnest facebook updates about how they were gonna call Chelsea Manning by her correct name and pronoun
- Cis boys patiently waited to be showered with cookies
Last year we had the first NZ-wide conference about Palestine in two decades. Organising the conference was an educational experience regarding working with people who have drastically different political outlooks and approaches to organising. At times it felt like performance art on the nature of White Supremacist Patriarchy (White men making the decisions, Arab women doing the work).
I’m really glad it happened. It was awesome and inspiring and validating to meet people from around the country who are committed to the decolonisation of Palestine.
The highlight of the conference was the Palestinian writer and youth worker Yousef al-Jamal. He talked about his life in Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza, BDS, and the Palestinian prisoners’ movement. Building personal relationships between Palestinians in Palestine and solidarity activists here (as well as Palestinian New Zealanders) is really valuable and I hope that in the future we can bring more Palestinians over here, not just from Gaza but also from the West Bank, the ’48 territories, and the refugee camps. It’s far more useful than sending New Zealand journalists over to Palestine—there are plenty of Palestinian journalists who report from there.
The conference also included Jewish-Israeli anti-Zionist Miko Peled. It was revealing that—with the exception of Native Affairs—every mainstream media outlet was only interested in interviewing Miko and not Yousef. They all thought the voice of the coloniser was more valid and impartial than the voice of the colonised.
The conference gave birth to an Aotearoa BDS Network, which is where most of my time and energy went towards the end of the year. The global campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel is something that I’m incredibly invested in on a personal level. It’s the most useful way that people living outside Palestine can be actively solid with Palestinians. It’s an opportunity to abolish Israeli apartheid and see the refugees’ right of return honoured using non-violent tactics. I would much rather see Palestine liberated without more bloodshed. I also know that right now the chances of that happening are looking pretty slim.
I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions but this year I’m resolving to be nicer to myself. I’m giving myself permission to do things just because they’re fun and make me happy, even if they don’t contribute towards The Revolution. My list so far:
- Play music
- Make street art
- Pat dogs
- Drink beer
I considered adding ‘have sex’ to that list. There are good reasons I decided to take a break. I miss having sex with other people, but I’m not sure I’m ready either. I wish I lived in a culture where being a rape victim wasn’t stigmatised. I wish I lived in a culture where knowing how to support rape victims was considered such a vital skill that everyone knew how to do it. I wish I felt comfortable talking to potential lovers about what my boundaries are and what I find triggering, and be confident that they would listen and respect that and respect me for telling them. I wish I never had to see that expression on someone’s face when they go all awkward and uncomfortable and I know that they find all this stuff too weird and scary to be thinking about. I wish I didn’t constantly feel like I’m not worth the trouble of having to navigate through my trauma.
Last year was a ruthless reminder that I live in a rape culture. The group of teenage boys who got girls drunk, raped them, then humiliated them on Facebook, is one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard. The response—from the boys’ schools, from the police, from the media—was horrific. It’s no wonder that boys think it’s a good idea to rape girls when they grow up in a culture where rape is minimised, condoned, laughed about, and blamed on the victims. I’ve seen so many people blame these boys’ behavior on drinking culture, on hook-up culture, on the girls they raped. The reality is that this entire culture is at fault for making it so easy to rape, and to get away with it.
Watching the story unfold in the media brought back so many shitty experiences that I’ve had. Almost every woman I know was feeling the same. Maybe one of the positive things that came out of it is that it encouraged people who’ve been raped to talk about what happened, to talk to each other, to know that we’re not alone.
It was amazing to see Civic Square full of people who came for the Stop Rape Culture Now march. It was amazing to hear so many brave smart women speak. I know that it’s much easier to come to a protest than to actually respect boundaries and pay attention to consent in all of your sexual relationships (not that paying attention to consent is that fucking hard!) but I really really hope that all the protests, and blog posts, and discussions did have an impact.
Wishes for 2014:
- No more rape culture
- Decolonisation of Palestine
- Anarchist revolution
- Vegan pizzeria across the road from my house
- Good science fiction with lots of trans, disabled, POC, queer and women characters
- Introduction of transport beam technology
Failing that, I’ll settle for satisfying work that makes me feel useful and lots of time spent with awesome people who make me feel loved.
Happy goy new year.