Germany’s reckoning with its history of atrocities began as an undertaking by left-leaning German civil society. Today it has become a highly bureaucratized lever of the state that often serves a reactionary agenda. Since October 7, the German authorities have begun one of the most widespread crackdowns on civil society in decades. On July 20, 2023, George Prochnik spoke with Emily Dische-Becker and Eyal Weizman – two researcher-activists – for the print edition of Granta. On November 1, Prochnik began a new conversation with Weizmann and Dische-Becker about Hamas’ attack on October 7, the subsequent Israeli attack, and Germany’s response to both.
Eyal, how has your thinking about German memory culture evolved in the wake of the carnage and misery that have consumed Israel and Palestine over the past weeks? How are you doing personally and what has happened to Forensic Architecture?
I have a cruelly persistent, visceral reaction in the face of the scenes of unimaginable brutality we’ve all been exposed to, even while having to work frantically to carry out Forensic Architecture’s mission. Israeli friends of one of my daughters were among those murdered by Hamas at the rave in the Negev, and my family has tried to help her grieve ever since. Forensic Architecture has lost friends in Gaza from our close partner organization, Ain Media, as a consequence of Israel’s invasion. In the first week of the war, we didn’t work on any investigations, but simply tried to locate members of Ain Media who had gone missing. Our associates in Gaza were looking for them on the ground, and we were searching using our methods: we analyzed videos we were sent, along with footage we could find online. What we discovered about their fates was devastating. We were in contact with Rushdi al-Sarraj, Ain Media’s co-founder, to let him know our findings. Two weeks later, on 22 October, he himself was killed in an Israeli bomb strike over his house in Gaza City. He died while protecting, with his body, his wife and their toddler daughter. A week later, a dear colleague of ours, a Palestinian refugee from Ramla who grew up in Gaza, learned that twenty-one members of her close family – three generations, including young children and the elderly – were wiped out by another Israeli aerial strike. They had stayed in their homes, vowing not to let themselves be displaced once again. Every day brings more news of further losses. So we are in an unprecedented situation: we are grieving, wounded, burying our dead, so to speak, but trying to hold things together and keep doing the human rights work we are committed to.
Describing the world we find ourselves in today, Emily cited a statement by Yossi Bartal, a Berlin-based activist, ‘There was a context to October 7, and October 7 created a new context.’ What do you think of this idea of a radical dividing line that changes the present even as it resituates the past?
There is a crucial distinction between two relations to the past, one governed by factual excavation, collation and analysis, the other manifesting as a kind of psychological recoil. We can shorthand the former mode as historical contextualization and the latter as traumatic recall. But these two forms of responses have gotten dangerously mixed up in the past weeks. Oct 7 and its aftermath produced thousands of different images – the breaching of walls, house to house murders, civilians displaced from their homes walking with their belonging alongside dusty roads, cities of tents, carpet bombings, families buried under the rubble of what used to be their homes – and each image triggers a different set of traumatic flashbacks depending on the viewer.
I can’t deny that as the descendant of family of pogrom and Holocaust survivors the close-range killings of families were emotionally triggering. But the trauma I too experience can’t replace the responsibility of historical analysis. Israeli society seems stuck in Oct 7th, as if in an endless present. Trauma has disassociated at least some of the events of this day from the history of the seventy-five year of catastrophe that Israel brought on Palestinians, the decades long siege of Gaza, the denial of any political horizon to another people. But after October 7th came October 8th and on – and all the while much of Israeli society is either cheering or is oblivious to the annihilation of Gaza.
The trauma generates a meta-historical psychological state of permanent persecution. This is very dangerous, especially when Israel has such a large army, with so much international support and an annihilationist mindset. Israeli and German politicians are saying ‘never again is now’. This devolves into the grotesque parody of historical memory where you have the Israeli ambassador to the UN standing with a Star of David as a justification for the annihilation of Gaza, repeating the genocidal statements of the Israeli government and army. When you hear such genocidal statements as ‘erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of earth’, ‘eliminate everything’ or ‘human animals’, followed by systematic attach on public institutions, hospitals, schools and such large-scale civilian casualties, one must urgently act to stop what many legal scholars are calling an unfolding genocide.
Israel is not ‘fighting Nazis’; Palestinians should not pay for the crimes of Germany; and Israel’s attack on Gaza and its population is not a process of ‘denazification’. The majority of Israel’s victims are Palestinians civilians impoverished after decades-long occupation and siege.
Turning to Germany, it seems that Jews are the only ones entitled to historical context, to history, and to trauma. Palestinian history is denied. No recognition of the Palestinians’ ongoing Nakba is publicly allowed (commemorating Nakba Days had already been banned in previous years as matter of state policy). Palestinians are often prohibited by German authorities from demonstrating their grief in vigils for the thousands of Palestinians killed in Gaza. Even calling for ceasefire may be considered antisemitic in Germany. Lecturing, writing, broadcasting about Palestinian rights is restricted. The mere invocation of the notion of ‘context’ to Oct 7th, as the UN Secretary General António Guterres quickly discovered, is presented as ‘relativisation’ of Palestinian violence and thus as antisemitic.
Because only Jewish history is considered acceptable as context, only Israeli violence is legitimate and explicable on moral and pragmatic grounds. The murder of Israelis is a catastrophe that touches the core of many in Germany. Palestinians merely pay a ‘price’, or at best are considered a regrettable collateral.
There is another important thing that must be said about context. Context can function as historical explanation but not as moral justification. Context opens a field of possible actions but does not determine them. If there is agency there is responsibility and there is nothing in the historical context that prescribes or justifies atrocities against civilians. Palestinians have the right and duty to resist their occupiers. Israel, as any country, is bound by the duty of equality, and the massacres of civilians cannot be justified by any context, however violent. History is not the mechanical transfer of one manifestation of violence to another. There is always choice, and each owns their own violence.
In light of what you say, I think it’s important to acknowledge another division that exacerbates the volatility of the moment. The major powers in the West, governmental and institutional, have rallied in solidarity with Israel – and increased the sense of perilous abandonment among Palestinians. At the same time, as you observed in relation to the suffering in your own family – for which I want to express my sorrow – there is also raw shock, a condition of sheer mourning on the Israeli side that sometimes has nothing to do with the instrumentalization of historical trauma by the Israeli government and its accomplices – or even with people’s own family histories. The Israeli government responded to the attacks of October 7 with rapid, relentless, decimating violence; perhaps the space for a broader compassion didn’t have the chance to emerge because there was no pause, no beat, before the aerial onslaught began. Regardless, by and large progressive global civil society didn’t mobilize to stand compassionately with Israelis in a state of what we might call ordinary mourning (to distinguish from the reflexive traumatic recall you point to). For the most part, we’ve instead seen a sinister, false binary pasted over the basic human responsibility to empathically acknowledge and support all victims. With a few notable exceptions, progressive civil society has rallied around the affliction of the Palestinians, while Western powers have expressed almost undiscriminating backing for Israel’s military actions. This is obviously an extremely unhealthy bifurcation, one that diminishes the value of individual Palestinian lives, even as it stokes an already surging worldwide antisemitism. Both populations end up feeling isolated: the Palestinians from hope and power; the Israelis from the larger community of grief that can help people find the inner resources to move beyond poisonous tribal positions.
Emily, I know that in Germany the situation with respect to civil society doesn’t fit this framework, even as the government has gone so far in its solidarity with Israel that it has passed into an especially pernicious phase of its stance on Israel-Palestine. Can you talk about what the situation is like on the ground in Germany today?
For Jews in Germany, the massacre of October 7th was profoundly traumatic and terrifying, and for Palestinians in Germany, the unencumbered destruction of Gaza continues to be profoundly traumatic and terrifying.
The Germany state and most state-funded institutions have declared unconditional solidarity with Israel, without mentioning Palestinian suffering, even as the war in Gaza has killed many thousands of civilians. This has led people of Arab and Muslim background to feel that their pain, anger and grief is unseen and also unspeakable. People report a profound feeling of not belonging. Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on all persons with ‘Arab roots’ to distance themselves from Hamas. That kind of kin liability obviously has an unpleasant history here.
There’s been a crackdown on any expression of solidarity for Palestinians and any anti-war sentiment or calls for a ceasefire. For the first two weeks after October 7th, any and all pro-Palestinian demonstrations – including anti-war or general anti-racist demonstrations – were banned in Berlin. Schools were advised by the Senate not to allow any expression of Palestinian identity. There was a kind of police siege of the Arab-German neighborhood in Neukölln, with people being brutally detained for wearing keffiyeh.
In the last few weeks, demonstrations have been permitted to take place, under strict rules on what can be said. ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ has been banned as a slogan. In Bavaria, it is being prosecuted as incitement on par with ‘Heil Hitler’. In recent weeks even the slogan, ‘from the river to the sea, we demand equality’ has been banned by police, as well as any reference to ‘genocide’. At a demonstration in Berlin, a person holding a sign that read ‘from XX to XX, XX will be free’ is being prosecuted for possible incitement. The police announced that they would break up a registered demonstration if the crowd chants ‘stop the war’. Calling for ceasefire is equated with denying Israel its right to defend itself, and is therefore synonymous with wanting Israeli Jews to be murdered.
Aside from the massacre in Israel and the hostages held in Gaza, there has been a major focus on rising antisemitism in Berlin and in Germany more widely, as emanating from immigrants from the Middle East. This has fused with the anti-migration rhetoric that had been building for months before October 7th.
In addition, several pieces of legislation have been proposed that would not only prevent people who don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist from gaining citizenship, but also potentially strip people of citizenship who commit antisemitic acts, provided they have another passport, meaning that German-German antisemites would not be affected.
On the anniversary of Kristallnacht — the 9th of November — the ruling coalition introduced a 51-point resolution that would radically infringe upon constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, the arts and sciences, as well as immigration rights, in the name of ‘Germany’s historical responsibility to protect Jewish life’. The resolution is not legally binding and it has not yet passed. However, as we have seen with a previous resolution passed by the Bundestag in 2019, which declared the methods of BDS to be antisemitic, it has the potential to have far-reaching consequences, as it would be used to implement new guidelines for law enforcement, the judiciary and public bodies including cultural, educational and research institutions. A kind of back-door law.
Among the proposed measures are several that are quite absurd, including, for example, cutting public funding to cultural institutions that question Israel’s right to exist or that collaborate with institutions or individuals that reject Israel’s right to exist – which would effectively mean any institutions in countries of the Muslim world that don’t recognize Israel. It would mean that Germany can continue to buy gas from Qatar or sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, but that cultural exchange would be prohibited.
The resolution calls upon states to enforce various sanctions, from deportations to denying the right to family reunification, reducing social benefits and denying work permits to residents of Germany who ‘support terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Samidoun, or incite hatred against Jews’.
The issue is: how is ‘support’ defined? From what we have seen the past few weeks, concern for the fate of Palestinian civilians is broadly defined as support for Hamas.
Most tellingly, the bill entails only a single passing mention of the threat posed by right-wing extremist groups and political parties to Jewish life, despite the fact that 84 per cent of antisemitic crimes in Germany come from the far-right, and that a deadly attack on a synagogue in Halle in 2019 was committed by a neo-Nazi. This is a cynical omission considering that the occasion for the bill – the 9th of November – commemorates pogroms committed by the Nazis.
It’s as if non-Jewish Germans themselves are traumatized. Through a sort of twisted inheritance of their own history as persecutors, they can participate in contemporary Jewish suffering. That is how I have read the prevailing response.
How is the German state formally justifying its crack-down on demonstrations of support for Palestinians?
Any declaration of solidarity with Palestine or care for Palestinians is de facto construed as being pro-Hamas and as antisemitic. The media has led the way. Der Spiegel’s online headline in the immediate aftermath of the attack was ‘Most of Neukölln sympathizes with Hamas.’ So the equation between Palestinian-Germans and Hamas was the first move. Then came Der Spiegel’s print cover, the first week after the attacks. It was a picture of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, with the headline: ‘We finally need to deport in grand style.’ That was the cover! The next week, the cover was an image of four Jews, along with the phrase, ‘We are afraid.’ What I see is Jewish fear being used as a lubricant for German racism and for a right-wing politics. It’s so out in the open. The over-identification that characterized pre-October-7th German anti-antisemitism has now been totalized. In my experience at this moment in time, when some Germans say ‘Israel,’ they actually mean ‘Germany’. It feels like we’re approaching a point where the argument may begin to be made, ‘Why can’t we also treat Arabs like second-class citizens in order to protect Jews?’ That is a very dangerous development, for Jews as well.
Are there other manifestations of the changed atmosphere in Germany that you think people should be aware of?
The Hubert Aiwanger saga is representative of the radicalization of the German situation. A few weeks before October 7th, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s major national newspapers, alleged that Bavaria’s Deputy President Hubert Aiwanger – a member of the right-wing Freie Wähler party – had, back in his schooldays, authored a flier that said something like, ‘National competition for the greatest traitor of the homeland, do you want a trip down the chimney in Auschwitz?’ Other details then started to come out that indicated this wasn’t a one-off prank with Aiwanger, but that he’d also done the Hitler salute at school, to which he responded that he couldn’t remember whether he had or not.
Bavarian Minister-President Markus Söder was pressured to do something, including by central representatives of the Jewish community. He ultimately announced he wasn’t going to fire Aiwanger and had consulted with representatives of the Jewish community about this. Some of these representatives – including Charlotte Knobloch, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who is the head of Bavaria’s Jewish community – called it the right decision, but also said that Aiwanger needed to do more self-reflection.
At various public appearances at beer tents in Bavaria, Aiwanger began to treat this as a campaign by the people ‘up there’ to silence him, saying that this was only happening because of the elections coming up in October. He showed very little reflection or contrition, and painted himself as the victim. He also started to rally his base around his defiance and his party surged in the polls.
This is probably the first time in postwar Germany that someone’s career has not been damaged but rather helped by accusations of antisemitism. And in the midst of this what one saw in the German context was that Jewish representatives have no way of holding those in power accountable. There are only ever consequences for those who do not have power in German society: migrants and people of color.
Is part of the issue in Germany – as elsewhere – the gap between the broadly progressive cultural sector and the political authorities?
The support for Palestinians from the cultural world that we’ve witnessed internationally has been largely absent in Germany. There haven’t been big open letters of support. Individuals who have spoken out have been fired or had their gigs shut down. Among those fired in the first days was Malcolm Ohanwe, a Black Palestinian German journalist. In the immediate aftermath of October 7th, he condemned Hamas’s attack unequivocally, but said also that there’s a context for the rage and frustration. And so he was fired from Bayerische Rundfunk, and from ARTE, as well as from an organization called Neue Deutsche Medienmacher, which is ostensibly there to represent the interests of media workers who are non-white Germans. His immediate termination called to mind the playbook from 9/11, and the whole calculus of when in the timeline of catastrophe it’s deemed appropriate to mention context.
In the ensuing weeks there has been an unprecedented spate of cancelations and firings, particularly in the cultural sector. This has primarily affected racialized minorities — black artists, Palestinians and Arabs, as well as progressive Jews. Award-winning Palestinian novelist Adania Shibli was supposed to receive a prize for her novel Minor Detail at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The prize ceremony was not allowed to proceed. A major international symposium programmed by Holocaust scholar Michael Rothberg and South African artist Candice Breitz – both of them Jewish – on memory culture was canceled. Oyoun, a major migrant-run cultural center in Neukölln, has had its public funding shut off, effective starting next year, because they refused the Berlin Senate’s orders not to host the twenty-year anniversary of a group called ‘Jewish Voice for a Just Peace’. This has roiled the cultural scene here. The Senate’s move is of questionable legality, but challenging it in court would be a long process, and the space cannot pay its staff of thirty, many of whom are internationals with work visas conditioned upon their employment. Just recently, the Saarbrücken museum cancelled Breitz’s show scheduled there for next year. The museum justified its decision citing media coverage that Breitz had not distanced herself from Hamas in criticizing the war in Gaza – a verifiably false claim. The museum’s press release on the cancelation of Breitz’s show is truly mind-boggling: ‘the board has decided not to provide a platform to artists who do not recognize Hamas’ terror as a breach of civilization (Zivilisationsbruch) or who consciously or unconsciously eliminate the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate actions’. Zivilisationsbruch is a term used for the Holocaust. So if a Jewish artist does not acknowledge the Hamas attack as being en par with the Holocaust, she cannot show her work in Germany?
The entire finding committee for the next edition of Documenta – Germany’s most prestigious cultural event – resigned earlier this month citing the impossibility of working in Germany under the present circumstances – eluding to censorship and political interference.
It’s remarkable to watch Germany destroy its own soft power and reputation for supporting cultural exchange and human rights work internationally, and it’s certainly reckless to claim they are doing that on behalf of Jewish people.
Hasn’t there been a genuine spike in antisemitism in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany, partly in the guise of progressive, pro-Palestinian solidarity?
There is absolutely a sense of greater danger of antisemitism and antisemitic violence in Germany now than at any point in recent years. There was an attempted Molotov cocktail attack on a synagogue in Berlin last month. There have been Stars of David painted on buildings where Jews live and reports of Hebrew-speakers being spat at and feeling afraid to speak Hebrew with their kids in the streets.
If you look at the statistics, there is a clear rise in so-called ‘propaganda crimes’ – hate speech online, graffiti, et al. The police are arresting and prosecuting people for calls at demonstrations that were not illegal before October 7th, so that is also leading to an increase in reported cases of antisemitism. There is an increase in antisemitic crimes, but not in crimes (or attacks) against Jews. Those figures remain sadly stable from before October 7th.
There has also been an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab attacks. From 7 October to 1 November there were ten reported attacks on mosques, which have received far less attention.
I was invited to speak at a public event this past Nov 9th, the day commemorating Kristallnacht and the beginning of the Holocaust. It was hard to speak in front of a German audience. I was angry and worried about the fact that on this very same day the German Bundestag was trying to legislate a new set of laws (temporarily postponed but still hanging over the country) – that were purportedly designed to protect Jewish life in Germany, but in reality are intended to further erode the German public sphere, repressing Palestinian voices and turning Arab, Muslim and non-white people in Germany into suspects. Two years after the opening of Forensis, FA’s sister agency in Berlin, I found myself publicly expressing doubts as to whether Germany is a place where we can continue to work.
To be sure there is antisemitism in Germany. Official statistics show that most antisemitic offenses in the country are committed by white neo-Nazis who continue to march the streets of Germany under the protection of police, whose ranks they have infested. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) sits in the Bundestag, while the German state targets both Palestinians and Jews committed to Palestinian liberation. The identity of diasporic Jews whose or who are actively non- or anti-Zionist, is also under threat.
My talk took place in a week during which other symposia and academic events I was supposed to participate in got cancelled or ‘postponed’ out of fear that we’d publicly voice our support for Palestinian liberation. People close to our team were threatened by state authorities with deportation. Just recently the house of a survivor of the right-wing terror attack in Hanau, with whom we worked closely, was raided by police for pro-Palestinian activity.
I recently spoke to a Palestinian human right activist who is certainly no friend of Hamas. He told me that as a Palestinian he finds himself forced to proactively express his condemnation of the attacks, like in an online page asking you to ‘prove you are not a robot’. When he was asked to verify his humanity in this dehumanizing way by explicitly condemning murders he anyway abhorred, he justifiably refused the question as racist. These questions are posed to Arab migrants, not to white Germans.
The paradox is that non-armed resistance to Israel’s occupation and apartheid is criminalized. Criminalizing these means of unarmed resistance is wrong and stupid. Do we expect Palestinians to silently submit to the bombardments, the leveling, the expulsion, the humiliation? To simply accept that their life is not worth living?
These policies, to be clear, are wrapped up with advancing Germany’s own stances on migration – but were pinned upon the supposed safety of Jews in Germany. The German people’s collective guilt over the Holocaust is expressed through Islamophobia and racism – and is now being implemented on the policy level in our names. The names of the Jewish people in general and of those of us working in Germany in particular. One of the tragedies here is that there could have been an important positive and poignant dimension to German attitudes towards Jews right now. At a time when Jews feel vulnerable and often alone, the Germans, at many levels of society, could stand by their side. But by making Jewish people the stated reason for the repression of Muslim migrants in Germany they make us more vulnerable, not safer.
German intervention amplifies both antisemitism and Islamophobia, with mounting hate crimes against both Jews and Muslims the direct consequence. In Germany as elsewhere, the safety of Jews and Palestinians is interdependent.
I’m reminded of a famous mid-nineteenth century riposte by the German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine to an antisemitic outburst by a German youth. ‘How foolish and blasphemous your words sound when my soul is embracing the whole world with love. When in overwhelming joy I would embrace both Turks and Russians, would throw myself weeping on the breast of my brother, the enchained African! I love Germany and Germans, but I love none the less the inhabitants of other portions of the earth, whose number is forty times greater than that of the Germans.’ By invoking the enslaved African, Heine signals that the freedom of all the world’s peoples rises or falls together, and he saw the status of Jews and Muslims in Europe as especially intertwined.
What do you see as the first steps we should take in order for the delicate Jewish-Palestinian solidarity in Berlin and elsewhere to start being repaired?
It might be that we now must confront the destruction of a certain hope that we had for new form of collective Jewish life that had been emerging in Berlin, and which Emily and I began discussing in the first interview. That experimental community I was hoping to see hasn’t panned out as we expected. I used to imagine that most Israelis now living in Berlin were here precisely because they wanted to find a way into their Jewish identity that would bypass the State of Israel’s attempts to define it. Many of those same Israelis living in Berlin are now taking hard line positions that match those of Israelis in Israel.
One thing that’s been striking to me is how people on both sides of the conflict feel an incredible sense of abandonment, notwithstanding the fact that there have obviously been intense waves of bonding within the respective communities of Jews and Muslims. It’s clear that tribal solidarity is psychologically inadequate for the crisis at hand, and the only way out of this common isolation will involve people feeling heard or embraced across ethnic/national/religious divides.
Part of what is frustrating about the situation in Germany today is the fracture resulting from October 7th – the incompatible subjectivity of the people grieving two different violent events. These two griefs feel diametrically opposed, giving it a zero-sum feeling. There is a fragility to bonds between people from different communities have been working together for a long time. Many of them are now trying to mend those bonds, but the German political class is hell-bent on pouring fuel on the fire by denying the legitimacy of acknowledging the reality of one side altogether. Even before October 7th, we’ve been reduced to defending the idea that we want to have conversations at all, even to have the space for such conversations.
Can you give any examples about areas of discussion you feel have been missing from the public discourse thus far?
In general, the conversations that Jews and Palestinians have in private just aren’t possible when there’s the expectation that conversations will run according to German discursive expectations. There’s an imposition of ‘red lines’, which run afoul certainly of international scholarship and the state of inner-Jewish debates around the world. You may not mention the term ‘Apartheid’ according to the funding guidelines for international cultural programs run by Germany’s foreign ministry. How are you meant to have a conversation internationally, when the very conditions for discussion require flaunting what most major human rights organizations in the world claims is happening in the Occupied Territories?
So that means we can’t have interesting or critical conversations about Jewish nationalism, Palestinian nationalism – to discuss what visions for a shared future might be. These are subjects that are very much a part of the conversations that I have in private with my friends or that are taking place elsewhere. But it effectively means that we also don’t talk about the details of what authentic co-existence might look like. I get inquiries from people who say, ‘This politician would like to meet Israelis and Palestinians who work together in Berlin. Are there any people who do that?’ And I want to just yell at them, because they have demonized and criminalized those very initiatives by refusing to include Palestinians who advocate for a nonviolent boycott of Israel. That has been the condition for participation, when actually the only condition for participation should be a commitment to coexistence in Germany.
So you’re suggesting that the necessary conversations have to happen on a level below that of explicit, state-sanctioned public discourse?
Yes. I mean, there are spaces that allow us even today to hold conversations between Israeli and Palestinian activist organizers, cultural figures, etc. But these are very much closed-room spaces. The major cultural institutions don’t know what to do anymore and just cancel things. Within the mainstream German cultural sphere, our attention has to be focused on addressing a German understanding that lacks any complexity, right? Just the fact that now when you say ‘context’ this can be taken as antisemitic is an indictment of the state of discourse. Even the notion of ‘complexity’ as such is categorized as something for which the time is not right. Ambivalence is deemed antisemitic! The most storied and richest traditions of Jewish thought are now being positioned in Germany as antisemitic. We need to find the mental and physical space to have the conversations that matter so that we can get beyond the deleterious pieties.
Does this match with your recent experiences of developing relationships with Palestinian activists, Eyal?
Since October 7th there have been deep and meaningful conversations about solidarity and care happening under the radar. Late that morning of October 7th, a group of Palestinian friends and I met in London to experience the fallout together, to read the news in all languages, to connect to people we knew. We also tried to figure out our response to what was going on. It was a sunny London weekend. We sat outside. Each of us had our phones out and were connecting to dozens of people in the region. My daughter, meanwhile, was getting concerning messages from her own contacts. A day later she learned that she had indeed lost friends in the massacre. Many of my Palestinian friends reached out to support her and ask about the safety of my family. It was very moving. Palestinians from everywhere in the diaspora and from Palestine, the West Bank, were caring for her. And there’s something very Palestinian about that. The minute some violent event happens in the region, it’s very common for people to call each other to check that everything is okay. Among our small community of Palestine liberation activists, there is a genuine solidarity that developed over time and transcends the divisions.
That’s very moving. A question that occurs to me in relation to the point I made earlier is what can we do to grow that community? What are your priorities now?
The urgency right now for all of us in the diaspora is to call for an immediate, lasting ceasefire, the release of all prisoners and captives on both sides. We need to communicate the understanding that the Israeli army cannot restore its honor by massacring Palestinians. It cannot return its captives by military force, it cannot dismantle Hamas. Hamas is not only a military group, it is also civil society in Gaza – this is a basic sociological fact. It performs educational, health, religious, community-based functions – and in these capacities it is part of the glue that binds society together. Destroying Hamas is destroying hospitals and schools and mosques – the civil fabric. The war Israel is now waging represents an attempt to break the bond and break the glue – to atomize the people. Israel claims that civilian casualties are collateral effects of its attempt to hit military targets. But the ‘collateral’ is the aim here – it seems that Israel seeks to generate systemic damage. Collective punishment. Annihilation. Revenge. Blood for blood. Hospitals and schools targeted. Most of the population displaced. These are the things we mean when we protest, ‘Stop the genocide.’
My energy now is in solidarity with the survivors. We will need to help re-establish Ain Media. We’re continuing our mission and holding our team together. We’re wounded as an organization. It’s hard at home. It’s hard at work. I sometimes feel like I have two hearts beating in my chest.
But there is in London, and also still here in Berlin, a space in which Jews, including Israelis, and Arabs, including Palestinians who believe in Palestinian liberation, could build the scaffolding of a new community. This space is under threat, but meaningful conversations are still happening. When solidarity crosses the threshold of visibility into a petition or into a plenum, it becomes legible to the authorities and can be crashed.
After it is over, sitting on the ruins, we will need to start thinking and rebuilding. Intellectuals and artists mus create civil spaces against all odds, and express things that are otherwise taboo – particularly now, despite the risk of being sanctioned. The ‘day after’ will be no different than the day before unless we address the question of Palestinian liberation and equality. That Palestinians have rights over Palestine? This is not a question – it’s the aim of our struggle. Another question is: ‘What are the rights of Jews in Palestine?’
Photograph © Ben Mauk