October 20, 2023
As anthropologists of the Middle East, we come together in grief and shock over Palestinian and Israeli lives lost. We bear witness to the destruction of homes, neighborhoods, and cities. We mourn the deaths that have occurred, and we fear for the death that is coming. We stand for justice, safety, and dignity for the more than two million Palestinians living in Gaza, and for all Palestinians and Israelis. We stand against the ongoing Israeli assault on Palestinians in Gaza that is being supported financially, militarily, and discursively by Western governments, and in particular the United States, where both of our organizations are based.
As we write, Israel has cemented a siege of Gaza that has existed in various forms for the past 16 years. This includes an unprecedented bombing campaign resulting in mass civilian casualties. Since Friday, October 13, Israel has ordered the forced displacement of half of the population of over two million to the already densely populated southern part of Gaza. More Palestinians are displaced today than became refugees during the Nakba of 1948. A large majority of Gazans are refugees whose families were dispossessed at that time.
Israel has cut off access to food, electricity, water and fuel, and a humanitarian catastrophe is well underway. These actions were preceded by the dehumanizing rhetoric of Israeli government officials, who have openly advocated for the collective punishment of the population—a war crime, according to international humanitarian law. Gaza’s already fragile health care system is at a breaking point, exacerbated by Israel’s bombing of multiple medical facilities. Prominent human rights groups, activist organizations, and scholars warn of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Racialized and militarized violence against Palestinians is escalating in multiple locations. Settlers and soldiers have killed dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7, building on a season of violence that had already seen the dispossession of four Palestinian Bedouin communities. Inside Israel’s 1948 territories, Palestinian citizens of Israel fear renewed violence similar to that they experienced in 2021. These violences all evince how Israel operates as what major human rights organizations have established to be an apartheid state.
In the United States and Europe, this is also a time of rising Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian bigotry, and of official warmongering and misinformation. We see the marginalization of Muslim journalists. The overwhelming framing of this event by US media organizations has been in terms of an Israeli narrative that started on October 7, despite the fact that Gaza has been under siege since 2007 and the occupation ongoing since 1967. We have already seen how European governments have banned or attempted to ban protests in support of Palestine, including in France, Germany, and the UK. Despite this, we have seen large marches in worldwide solidarity with Palestinians and against ethnic cleansing.
We recognize US college campuses as crucial yet vulnerable spaces for all students to process, grieve, and learn. We are deeply concerned that while college presidents and administrations have mobilized quickly to denounce and mourn violence against Israeli and Jewish communities, they have often done so at the expense of their Arab and Muslim communities. Once again, we see attacks on and calls for removal of critical professors; we see nuanced statements distorted. Arab and Muslim students are also threatened by outside organizations, as are others who speak about the violence that Palestinians face. Effectively, campus populations are being told that whatever they want to say, do, and organize must be vetted by donors and groups that see only one side of the issue. This mirrors longstanding practices of stifling criticism of the actions of the state of Israel.
As Middle East anthropologists, we reiterate calls made by leading scholarly organizations like MESA and BRISMES. We urge our colleagues to find ways to contribute to conversations on these crucial issues. We have the skills and knowledge to provide much-needed and sorely-lacking social and historical context and analysis, including perspectives on the tolls of militarism for its immediate victims, perpetrators, and non-human beings and the environment; the weight and richness of collective memory; the logics and violence of settler colonialism; the dangers of ethno-nationalism; the dynamic challenges and rewards of solidarity work; and dimensions of resistance across contexts. As anthropologists we can also teach about radical empathy and listening across difference. Finally, we must amplify the perspectives of our peers and peer institutions in the region. We can work together to promote academic freedom and spaces of learning, and we must stand against this ongoing, intensified Nabka and do all we can to support life and dignity.
Resources on understanding Palestine/Israel:
Decolonize Palestine Reading List
Journal of Palestine Studies, Collection of Articles and Essays (16 October 2023)
Black Women Radicals Reading/Resource List
Zinn Education Project: Teaching about the Violence in Gaza and Israel