If you say, I think the occupation of Palestine is fucked up on forty different levels, people are like, you’re the devil, we’re going to get your tenure taken away, we’re going to destroy you. You can say almost anything else. You could be like, “I eat humans,” and they’ll be like bien, bien.
– Junot Díaz
In the summer of 2014, Israel bombed Gaza for seven weeks during a campaign called Operation Protective Edge. Gaza, which had long been in a vulnerable state, suffered devastating losses; over two thousand people died and over half a million people were displaced. Historically, Israel’s assaults on Palestinians (and the US’s complicity in these assaults) have been largely ignored; there’s an occasional tsk tsk, but most turn a blind eye or think of the violence as part of some ancient Jewish-Palestinian feud that’s just too complicated to be worked out. It isn’t. And as Israel’s violence towards Gaza escalated in 2014, those images made their way around the world on news networks and social media. More started to take notice, and for once, those voices of dissent weren’t being automatically dismissed anti-Semitic.
Letters to Palestine is a collection of essays and poetry edited by Vijay Prashad. Its twenty-eight contributors, many of whom are Palestinian, include novelists, poets, scholars, and activists. The book is separated into three themes: Conditions, War Reports, and Politics. There’s quite a diverse selection of topics within each section, and the voices span a range of emotions — anger, pride, and solidarity, to name a few. Letters to Palestine is, as Prashad writes in his introduction, a book of documents:
They are whispers from the corners of the United States of America, whose government has been Israel’s great enabler. The authors of these documents are committed to the people of Palestine as much as to humanity. These are writers who have taken positions, who have traveled to the occupied zones and written diaries, who have modulated their screams into poems and who have conjured up strategies for the streets, the boardrooms, and across centers of political life.
I left a ton of bookmarks all over my copy of the book, so it’s a little hard to narrow down which ones to focus on! Randa Jarrar’s essay, “Imagining Myself in Palestine,” was one of my favorites. In it, she writes about flying to Tel Aviv to visit her sister and going through a grueling detention at the airport; she was banned from entering the country on the grounds that she’s Palestinian.
Other entries, such as Corey Robin’s “A Gaza Breviary” and Najla Said’s “Diary of a Gaza War, 2014,” are collections of thoughts and observations. Robin’s entry is presented in the form of a list; she takes more of a historical and sociological perspective and lists twenty-four things related to Palestine, such as quotes or short commentaries on pop culture:
16. Say what you will about Mia Farrow, she’s been tweeting and retweeting messages like this: “Tell the US to stop arming Israel.” And kudos to the seven other Hollywood celebrities who’ve spoken out on Gaza. Without retracting their statements, as Rihanna did.
Robin D. G. Kelley’s “Yes, I Said, ‘National Liberation'” was one of the essays I highlighted the most. Kelley argues that the recent swell in solidarity with Palestine is linked to people’s common experiences with oppression worldwide; in the US, one of the ways it’s most apparent is in activists’ responses to police brutality:
In our lexicon — especially post-9/11 — cops and soldiers are heroes, and what they do is always framed as life-saving, defensive action in the name of public safety. Police occupy the streets to protect and serve the citizenry from (Black and Brown) criminals who are seen to be out of control. That is why, in every instance, there is an effort to depict the victim as assailant…In Israel/Palestine, wars of pacification and annihilation are branded as efforts to neutralize the threat of terrorism.
Kelley, however, is not the only one who links seemingly disparate current events with what is happening to Palestinians. Several of the authors in the last section make the case for solidarity and action. It’s an important and timely anthology that needs to be read.
Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation was published in April 2015 by Verso Books.