Welcome to the Nakba: notes from the epicentre of an apocalypse

Smoke haze hangs over Melbourne. The rim of my car-door is caked in orange dust after red rains. People post shots of the compromised view from their windows and balconies, visibility updates, rain water tank statuses: water like sweet sticky soft drinks left out on a hot summer’s day. I do not rejoice in these recent months of bushfires. But I am pleased that their traces have arrived in our capitals. I am pleased they have pressed their reality into the lives of people who have put their trust in the capacity of systems. The systems are working just fine, but we have to believe the evidence, and recognise they are not working for us.

As a Palestinian I have learned that people struggle to share in the reality of other people’s disaster. In 1967, Debord already understood the implications of the spectacle. Here was the disaster of the media-age writ large: a crisis of empathy. That information made us gods, and somehow when we saw another suffering, we turned to media for facts. They weren’t there. What was there was the fertiliser for generations of self-serving egoistic skepticism. What was there was the institutional gas-lighting par excellence of community identity and altruism, or the possibility that reality is a multiplicity and not an individual’s experience of the world. This was the co-alignment of the insignificant with the powerful. So, in the end, media transformations fuelled our crisis in empathy, not our access to information, nor the betterment of our educations.

When I look at the horizon, in smoke haze, most of all what I hope is that red-rains will be enough to convince settler-Australia to believe in the reality of their own life-changing crisis. That the intolerability of such a prospect will stimulate, at last, a capacity to empathy. I am heartened by talk of the climate-refugee, thinking surely this must inspire a reflexive consideration of the abysmal Australian policy approach to refugees. Hoping that the ordinary Australian will wake into the traces of climate crisis, and recognise with the evidence of their own dawn that another, revolutionary dawn, must be upon us.

Palestinians know cover-ups, media suppression, and institutional silence. We have lived for 72 years with double-speak, and in alternate realities. This is why in an era of climate apocalypse, you might say, Palestinians are born well equipped. We live in an apocalypse already arrived. We knew what it meant when Morrison threatened to ban climate boycotts; boycotts disrupt the system. People who run the system try and convince us that it is in our interests to protect it. It is our job to remain unconvinced.

Palestinians have many lessons inscribed upon our existence that can be extrapolated to the current Australian crisis. This is a crisis for which Australians are under-prepared, because they have not learned how to fight when the odds look grim. I have heard from friends who feel hopeless about things, overwhelmed or powerless. But I have also heard a lot about anger. Anger is worth holding onto. It is the raw material that builds resilience, hope and resistance.

Palestinians know that things can always get worse. We do not look away. There is nowhere else to look. We do not put our burden down, because there is nowhere for us to lay it.

We carry Palestine in our hearts and Israel on our backs.

This is not metaphorical or figurative. These are facts which precede us and facts we are born with.

Palestinians are not people ‘of Palestinian heritage’. That is to misunderstand the meaning of our diaspora. That is to misunderstand the nature of ethnic cleansing, forcible removal, spaciocide, genocide, the weaponising of language that would have us disappear in plain sight. Palestinians are not ghosts. Although it is true that we have the power of haunting (what criminal is not haunted by the flesh and blood evidence of their crime?). When a Palestinian tells you they are a Palestinian, this is not an opinion.

Palestinians are used to the equivocation of facts. Palestinians have been negated, undermined, publicly attacked and discredited. Because Palestinians are used to these things, we are excellent archivists. Palestinians have documents, photos and keys we have treasures all our exiled lives through, longer than a life-time. Our archives contradict the news whenever Israel has a story. (Palestinians are used to being told that theirs is not a story).

In January, Palestinians were absented from an historic ‘Deal-of-the-Century’, a deal that most of all concerned Palestinian lives. We have all heard about the US President’s son-in-law, gloating about how he read 25 books in preparing this plan. This is comical, of course, and Palestinians have a good sense of humour. We have tried to guess the books he read, and suggested books that should have been on the list. But it doesn’t really matter what Kushner read. What matters is how someone like that was ever put in a position to broker a deal at all. Palestinians know the epicenter of structural ignorance.

The ‘Deal-of-the-Century’ is full of inaccuracies. On page 7, under the heading ‘legitimate aspirations of the parties’ it states ‘while the Palestinians have never had a state …’ a line indicative of the staggering ignorance of the document’s authors or worse, an articulation of the settler-colonial desire to corroborate each other’s legitimacy by denying the rights, existence and ownership of the indigenous Palestinian population and all those who have been displaced. But it doesn’t really matter which, indeed it is probably both. Palestinians know the epicenter of structural denial.

We are used, also, to the arrogant way Americans and Israelis try and intimidate Palestinians into accepting deals made without reference to them and which so blatantly illustrate their belief that Palestinians do not have the same rights as others. When Kushner says:

If they screw up this opportunity, which again, they have a perfect track record of missing opportunities, if they screw this up I think they will have a very hard time looking the international community in the face, saying they’re victims, saying they have rights. This is a great deal for them …

it is clear to us, how little he knows. And it is clear, that for people like Kushner there is a hierarchy of humanity in which Palestinians hardly feature. This is the only salient fact to be addressed. Palestinians know the epicenter of structural racism.

Kushner tells us that the Israelis are in the West Bank and ‘they’re not leaving’. We learn now that Kushner was on the board of directors for an organisation funding Israeli settlements, deemed illegal at international law. Add to this deal the environmental apartheid that settlements create in which eco-communities enable raw sewage to fall on Palestinians’ heads. Palestinians are at the epicenter of environmental catastrophe.

The deal is just an example of what Palestinians already know, and an example of what non-Indigenous Australians need to believe in. There is no detail in this document that is worth our attention. But the idea that such a Deal could be made, or purport to resolve the Palestinian question for all time, is certainly worth our attention. It is worth our attention because structurally we must reject its premise, its architects, its assertions and its validity.

Palestinians grow up with the heaviest of words, ‘Nakba’. It means, catastrophe, and it covers catastrophes of all kinds. Nakba contains Western ignorance, denial, racisim and environmental disaster. But most of all, Nakba is what happens when too many people sit idly by. When too many people assume that the problem is just a Palestinian problem. When too many people fail to share in collective crisis and exercise their capacity to empathy, not for personal gain. A reversal in situations may seem unlikely, but in Australia that reversal is underway. Environmental crisis has little regard for class or colour.

Palestine has been the laboratory for all of these structural failures and more. Palestinians live with Nakba, and it is always and everyday here, with us, and present in our lives. Nakba is a word and idea that Aboriginal Australians appreciate well. They have lived through their own. Aboriginal nations have lived through more than two centuries of systematic efforts to refute their vast repositories of culture, of knowledge, their belonging and their ownership. They have watched the consequences of settler-destruction, they have lived at the front-lines of its violence. Like Palestinians, they are born into multiple realities and have the radical capacity to imagine another way of being.

Dear settler-Australia, your Nakba has arrived. Don’t feel helpless, powerless, frustrated, and above all, don’t pray for a miracle. I can tell you, from the other side, that it will never arrive. It’s time to tackle the structures you made, the structures that will ruin us all. Recognise your predicament is collective, and that your futures are conjoined with indigenous struggles. The fight is already afoot. You will not determine it, but you must join it, and be humbled.

Here is the first instruction for the revolution: believe in the crisis and cultivate a radical imagining. Don’t wait for confirmation, this is not a drill. At the heart of this first step is one essential idea that you must tend and propagate with generous care: another future is possible, and we are all responsible for making it happen.



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Micaela Sahhar

Micaela Sahhar is an Australian-Palestinian poet and researcher. She completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne in 2016 focusing on the influence of Israeli national narrative on Western media coverage of the situation in Israel/Palestine. She currently lectures in the History of Ideas at Trinity College, the University of Melbourne.

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