A Teaching Palestine workshop
Jenny Kelly, 10/24/23
I will first say that the way I frame this for my students, always, is through Rachel Herzig’s articulation of study and struggle in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. She wrote that “the distinction between study and struggle misses the point.” In fact, political education, she writes, is “studying the history and analysis of struggles for social, political, geographic, and economic power with the explicit purpose of strengthening political organizations and movements for social change.”
It is for this reason that we cannot abandon study. And it is for this reason, now and always, that we need to turn to Palestinian studies as an anchor. Following Scholars for Palestinian Freedom’s public commitment, during the last bombing campaign on Gaza in May 2021, to meaningfully engaging Palestinian scholarship in our classrooms, research, and institutions, I provide my students with a Palestinian studies reading list and introduce them to the multiple campaigns for Palestinian freedom struggles that exist within academia. That public letter—like many circulating today—underscores: pressuring our academic institutions to respect the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law; naming and resisting complicity and partnership with military, academic, and legal institutions involved that entrench Israel’s policies; supporting student activism on campus; holding our universities’ accountable for violations of academic freedom; substantively engaging Palestinian scholarship on Palestine in syllabi and research and including Palestinian expertise on Palestine (as we insist on here today).
What I will add is that my book, Invited to Witness: Solidarity Tourism Across Occupied Palestine, is a book about the practice, since the first intifada, of bringing international tourists to Palestine to witness the effects of Israeli state violence to work toward Palestinian liberation. It has a chapter on Gaza that details youth in Gaza’s visions for a free Gaza in a free Palestine, what tourism could look like if they had control over borders and movement, dreams that are shattered over and over again with each bombardment. The reason solidarity tourism exists as a practice is because Palestinians are not treated as reliable narrators of their own condition, requiring international presence to corroborate their analyses of Israeli occupation. This phenomenon treats witnessing as an alibi for research. In other words, tourists need to see it to believe it.
Right now, we are witnessing a genocide live on Instagram. Every day, we are witnessing Israel—on a murderous revenge campaign—rain terror on Palestinians, murdering 5,087 people, 2,055 of them children in Gaza, flattening neighborhoods, deleting entire families from the civil registry, bombing hospitals and bakeries, and arming settlers in the West Bank, where settlers or soldiers have murdered 95 Palestinians. The U.S. is funding it all, at the rate of 3.8 billion per year, and preparing to send more; the weapons killing Palestinians are manufactured here. And still, while we are witnessing these deaths livestreamed, Palestinians are still not treated as reliable narrators: they are accused of bombing their own hospitals, and, as they write the names of their babies on their bodies they can be identified if they are bombed overnight, they are accused of using their babies as shields.
In every other context, in my classes in Feminist Studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, and as a practice in our fields, we teach our students to analyze representational practice, unpack media depictions, decipher racialized violence as it takes shape in what they see around them. In doing this in this context, in class, together, I teach my students to be consistent in their critique. I remind my students of the importance of citational practice—that we need to remain committed to a citational practice that centers Palestinian archives of displacement and steadfastness. I share these archives with students, now and always, as I bear a direct responsibility as an educator to speak out about the ongoing Nakba, condemn the current genocide we are witnessing, and intervene in the clamoring of support for unchecked Israeli state violence. In this, I learn from scholars at Birzeit University, who call upon our academic communities to “fulfill their intellectual and academic duty of seeking truth, maintaining a critical distance from state-sponsored propaganda, and to hold the perpetrators of genocide and those complicit with them accountable.”
As educators, too, I think we need to be cognizant of the ubiquity of messaging from our university administrations that has expressed empathy for Israeli life, excluding Palestinians and recycling harmful Orientalist, Islamophobic, colonial, and racist tropes about a people under siege. Following the University of California Ethnic Studies Faculty Council, we affirm that this rhetorical violence generated by administrative bodies across multiple universities fosters a hostile learning environment for Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab students on our campuses who are reminded in these moments that the university does not protect them and cannot spare a word of care for their families under siege. In our classrooms, we need lead with care and not expect our grieving students to be able to turn off a genocide and show up to class unscathed with their assignments in hand. We need to make space to discuss how Israeli grief was immediately weaponized into an election-fueled revenge campaign, as many anti-Zionist Israelis have decried, and as anti-Zionist Jewish activists across and beyond the U.S. have screamed “Not in our name.” In a sea of misinformation, we have the opportunity to provide our students with clarity. I point my students, always, toward Democracy Now! to support independent media—screening segments from coverage by Palestinians in Gaza, a rare thing in these times. I also use teaching materials from Visualizing Palestine—well researched infographics that detail everything from displacement to exile to the apartheid legal system in Israel.
If you feel helpless, if your students feel helpless, let them know there is so much they can do: protest, call representatives, write representatives, lend the skills they have, have difficult conversations—remind them that discomfort is not danger, be loud, commit to protecting students and faculty under attack for being honest about Israeli state violence. This last point is particularly important across campuses, where the suppression of speech about Palestine is ubiquitous. Have them look at Palestine Legal cases or Center for Constitutional Rights cases, where lawyers are flooded—always and not just now—with requests for representation from faculty and students who are being silenced. This summer, our own campus distanced themselves from our work, saying they “do not endorse” a CRES-sponsored conference on critical Zionism studies that was looking at the coordinated suppression of speech on Palestine through the International Holocaust Remembrance Definition, which equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. In this landscape of hate mail, doxing, institutional censure, censorship, campaigns to get people fired for publicly supporting Palestine, and media blackouts—on top of the countless examples of reporting on Palestine that includes no Palestinians—it is incumbent on us as scholars to protect research and scholarship on Palestine.
Finally, I want to say something to those of you who are parents. This is an impossible time to be a parent. Every time I look at my baby, I think of all the others and can hardly function. I want to share two resources for you: the first is Gaza for Parents & Educators. Parents of K-12 students are seeing the Anti-Defamation League sending home materials that asserts that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, with no word about Palestinians under bombs and siege. Gaza for Parents and Educators has crafted an alternative: it is a Q&A, links to Palestinian voices, uses simple language, is anti-racist and anticolonial, made by Palestinian and Jewish parents, and you can simply send it to your kids’ principal. I also want to share this resource: How to Talk to your Kids about Palestine , an age-appropriate way to help your babies understand settler colonialism, the same way you do—we would hope—about the stolen land we live on. To fortify you, it is a good reminder that only some of us have the luxury to not talk to our babies about Palestine; others of us have to explain how and why bombs are raining down on their people while world leaders either cheer their executioners on or do nothing.
Finally, and to transition into Micha’s contribution about Palestinian art and cultural production, I end with Rafeef Ziadah’s words in 2011, which I also share in my classes, in “We Teach Life, Sir.”