As I sit at my computer in Brunswick, I’m reading on twitter about protests that happened outside the JNF-KKL offices in Jerusalem yesterday, timed to coincide with Tu Bishvat, which were part of a global campaign ‘against the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’ called #JNFDontUprootFamilies, and particularly focused on helping ensure that the Samarin family, who live in Silwan, are not evicted from their homes.
I’m also reading about how Israel recently deported Ghada, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl with epilepsy, to Gaza, after having decided that that’s where she lived, not in the West Bank city of Ramallah where she has spent her whole life and where her family lives. The Israelis didn’t bother to tell her parents. And when they woke her in her jail cell on the day of her deportation, she was told she was being dropped at Qalandiya checkpoint (five minutes from her hometown), not the Erez Crossing into Gaza.
I’m reading about Israel trying to expel, with bribes and racism, 7200 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees and people seeking asylum, with no care for what will happen to these people but only the desire that they not be in Israeli space. I’m looking at the continued protests happening in Israel and around the world against these actions by the Israeli government.
And I’m reading about how Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian freedom fighter, spent her seventeenth birthday (on 31 January) in prison. Groups around the world are mobilising to send her messages of strength, solidarity and love for her birthday. High-schoolers across the US marched to Israeli consulates to protest her continued imprisonment. I’m reading about 300 other Palestinians under the age of 18 who are being held in Israeli prisons, 180 of them without convictions. All of them will be subject to an Israeli military court system with an almost 100% conviction rate, as will the adult prisoners, including Ahed’s mother, Nariman.
Earlier this week I saw Justine Sachs tweet a screenshot of her fantastic response (a SpongeBob SquarePants gif) to an AAP journalist who asked for her reaction to the lawsuit that Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Center) has filed against Sachs, and her co-author Nadia Abu-Shanab, for an open letter they wrote encouraging Lorde to cancel her tour of Israel, in accord with the requests that the BDS campaign makes of artists.
Put simply, BDS asks artists to not go there. Do not play for these Israeli audiences in these Israeli towns. Do not break the boycott call. Show support for Palestinians, for their self-determination and calls for justice. Lorde listened to them: she opened her ears and her heart, took the time to read and think, and made the decision to reverse her previous decision to play in Israel. Her move was remarkable and inspiring, for the way she was prepared to learn and change her mind. None of us know everything about what happens in the world, but all of us have a responsibility to read when information is put in front of us; to respond with actions directed towards solidarity and justice when called upon.
And all of us have a responsibility to put information about what we know about what’s happening in the world in front of those who don’t. Sachs and Abu-Shanab were exemplary in their work: a Jew and a Palestinian worked together (as so many of us do, in a way which is totally ordinary) to write plainly, calling on a New Zealand history of protesting apartheid South Africa, and asking Lorde to put into practice a shared sentiment – ‘that our part in movements for justice and equality shouldn’t just be a memory that gathers dust.’
When Lorde responded – to them and countless others who contacted her – by cancelling, there was a predictably uproarious response from some quarters. It’s difficult to be reminded that you stand outside the human rights mainstream, which almost universally condemns Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. It’s difficult to be reminded that, as a Zionist, the society you support is one that is fundamentally based on the violent appropriation of Palestinian land and life. Having to see a popstar make clear that your society should not be normalised can be hard to stomach. Watching women work together, across the airwaves, to support basic calls for justice and rights is for some exciting and powerful; for others a moment of distress.
The Shurat HaDin lawsuit is the first to use the 2011 Israeli law that enables civil suits against people who call for a boycott of Israel. But it comes as part of a long campaign by the group of ‘lawfare’, or using the law in order to attempt to silence and punish those they disagree with. Basically, anyone who successfully publicly challenges Israel’s claims to being an open, progressive, society with the right to persecute Palestinians. And it comes on the back of the recent announcement by the Israeli government of 20 organisations who support BDS whose members will now be banned from entering Israel.
One of the remarkable things about the lawsuit (and there are others, of course) is that it is based on a claim of ‘emotional injury’ suffered by three teenage Israeli Lorde fans. According to the Guardian, the lawyer for these teenagers – Nitsana Darshan-Leitner – made the claim that:
These girls [the teenagers] are ideologists. They are going into the army next year, and they feel very shamed and hurt by the allegations that the New Zealand activists blamed Israel for.
‘They want to say,’ she further said, ‘on a personal and an international level, that those who boycott Israel or make a call to boycott Israel will be responsible and they have to pay.’
Writing as a historian of emotions (rather than the law), I find this weaponising of emotions remarkable. We know, of course, that emotions are historical, political and social. They don’t just happen naturally or spring from god’s will: we learn who to feel attached to, who to care about, who to make emotional claims for. These girls (and one wonders who these girls are and how they were chosen for this lawsuit), their lawyer, and Shurat HaDin are reminding us of this precise point when they make a claim that someone must ‘pay’ for causing these girls their harm. My point here isn’t that the girls didn’t feel harmed – I’m sure they did – but that we should take note of what they feel harmed by and how they choose to weaponise their feelings of harm. I’m not for a second suggesting that we should care that they are feeling sad feelings, of course. Just that we should pay attention to the ways they mobilise emotional discourses. They’re harmed because Abu-Shanab, Sachs, and Lorde, took a political stand and made public and plain the damage that Israel does. Indeed, part of the very point of a boycott is to cause damage and distress, in order to effect change. If no-one was inconvenienced, both materially and emotionally, by boycott, there would be no point to it.
But instead of being ‘emotionally injured’, ‘shamed and hurt’ by the actions of Israel – which include the things I was reading about, as well as countless other normalised acts of brutality – these girls made the decision to be emotionally damaged by the discussion of what happens, and then to sue because of it. They chose to dwell in this suffering and injury, to use it to try to silence discussion. The mobilisation and weaponisation of emotions in this fashion is, in a way, core to settler-colonialism. We’re seeing a similar move happen here in Australia, with the racist and sexist attacks on Tarneen Onus-Williams (who was also angry and spoke out against the colonial state) and the widespread public support she is receiving, particularly on the hashtag #IstandwithTarneen. The colonisers’ emotions – their feelings of hurt and discomfort – are placed in the public gaze in order to attempt to create bad feelings for others.
Where Lorde took the opportunity to open up her emotions and to care about people she perhaps previously hadn’t before, in the face of the same letter, these Israeli girls choose to shut themselves off. They choose to tell Sachs and Abu-Shanab that ‘they have to pay’. This payment is desired to be financial, but also emotional. Shurat HaDin wants to cause damage to these women, to the bonds of solidarity, to the global movement for justice for Palestinians, to all Palestinians themselves. The responses that Sachs and Abu-Shanab, as well as people around the world who support them, have issued though have been anger and defiance. Claims for emotional injury can be made, but that injury – and those emotions – are what will keep happening so long as this fascistic, violent, expropriating Zionism continues to hold sway over Palestinians.