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Shabbat Reading List

Mari Cohen (associate editor): For the three-and-a-half years I have covered Israel/Palestine politics in the US for Jewish Currents, there has always been a chasm between what is happening on the ground and what those in power are willing to say. A meticulous Amnesty International Report arguing that Israel’s policies towards Palestinians amount to “apartheid” received no initial news coverage in The New York Times and was slammed by politicians—without anyone able to say what, exactly, was incorrect. Even mentioning that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied has put businesses and institutions in danger of receiving relentless pushback. The facts often aren’t allowed to be the facts.

There had been slow, steady progress in closing that gap, but now it widens again before my eyes. We know too well about the devastating attacks on Israeli civilians, but we are apparently not supposed to know, and care, about the backdrop of US-backed Israeli apartheid or about the genocidal campaign against Gaza’s civilians that Israel has now begun. Our representatives gathered to mourn—as I, too, mourn—the dead in Israel, but the Palestinian dead seemingly do not exist; they are not allowed to exist.

I am grateful to Jewish Currents contributing editor David Klion’s lucid piece in n+1, “Have We Learned Nothing?” for historicizing this split reality. I was too young when 9/11 happened to consciously grasp the new political order that formed in its wake, but Klion offers a tour through that parallel moment. “A kind of collective psychosis . . . overcame most Americans, and perhaps especially those in the DC–NYC corridor charged with crafting and enforcing conventional wisdom,” he writes. Those who tried to mourn the dead while questioning American empire were pilloried. “To foreground the suffering of the Americans in the Twin Towers was obligatory; to acknowledge the past, present, or future victims of American violence abroad was at best awkward; to imply these things might be related was something almost no one wanted to hear when it might have made any difference,” Klion recalls. And by the time public consensus acknowledged that those early voices may have had a point, it was already too late: The US had launched “two catastrophic full-scale invasions, established ongoing secret wars spanning a dozen countries, set up a transnational network of torture camps and a prison in Cuba that exists outside the reach of the Constitution, built a dystopian digital panopticon to spy on literally everyone, and killed orders of magnitude more civilians than died on 9/11 itself.” Today, even as we try to prove otherwise, I fear that it might again be too late to stop what is happening in Gaza. Which is indeed reality, whether the state will admit it or not.

Alex Kane (senior reporter): When I text people I know in Gaza, they tell me there is no place safe from Israel’s bombs, and that they have no electricity. While I will never know what that feels like, filmmaker Yousef Hammash’s remarkable report from Gaza for Britain’s Channel 4 has enabled me to imagine life in Gaza right now. The panic, the terror, the chaos, the displacement, the children, the bombing, the rubble, the grief, the neighborhoods wiped out, the ambulances destroyed. Watch it. Then act.

Nora Caplan-Bricker (executive editor): I strongly encourage anyone who is hungry to understand what is happening to read Rashid Khalidi’s masterful The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance, 1917-2017. Khalidi, who is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and one of the most celebrated scholars of Palestinian history, deliberately wrote this book for a general audience, distilling his decades of research into an eminently readable portrait of this conflict’s extreme asymmetry. From the pre-state period to the present, Khalidi reveals how Israel has marshaled the support of the most powerful allies on earth (the United Kingdom, the United States, for a time the Soviet Union) to marginalize Palestinians on the world stage—even as it has successfully portrayed the conflict as a clash between equal parties, or, worse, a civilizational battle between Jews aligned with the West and antisemitic “terrorists.” As we watch the media and political class in the US and Europe join Israel in manufacturing consent for a genocide, I am thinking about Khalidi’s injunction to puncture this narrative.

Fargo Nissim Tbakhi (artist-in-residence): In their introduction to the 2016 essay collection Gaza as Metaphor, editors Helga Tawil-Souri and Dina Matar note that the book “was born in the midst of the ferocious attacks launched by Israel against Gaza on 8 July 2014 out of a desire to record, historicize and render Gaza accessible.” The book tells us that thinking of Gaza “through an allegory or a comparison . . . can help bring Gaza’s lived reality closer into focus.” Revisiting the collection at this apex of Israel’s genocidal project, however, I have found its premise suspect. The last week has made clear that any kind of metaphorical understanding has failed utterly to render legible the humanity of Gazans being exterminated.

The essays struggle through the clumsy frame to meaningfully grasp and hold on to any kind of language that might shift possibility. In the closing essay, “Gaza as Archive,” Sherene Seikaly concludes her descriptions of a few of the many moments of horrific killings during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge by writing that “they are painful in their immediacy. But it is their familiarity that is the deepest source of injury. They do not belong to this time or this place alone. To apprehend Gaza 2014, to resist understanding the Palestinian home and the Palestinian body as somehow continuous with violence, we must better attend to historical repetition.”

This same feeling of cruelty—and its essential familiarity—has returned in the last few days. Yet while the current genocidal bombing of Gaza feels distinct, it is also a cruel disservice to narrativize it this way: it is just a faster manifestation of nearly a century of slow death. The repetition of settler colonial violence is in itself the essence of settler colonial violence, and the ways we take up this violence discursively matter. To this end, the essays in Gaza as Metaphor range widely in their styles, from academic analyses to Palestinian accounts of lived experience to Jewish articulations of deeply felt historical parallels.

I now encounter this breadth as an act of desperation: an urgent attempt to try every available path that might narrate Gaza as a place of human beings worth loving, even if the world insists that love can only ever look like elegy. Yet even this we are denied. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote, “We do injustice to Gaza when we turn it into a myth, because we will hate it when we discover that it is no more than a small poor city that resists.” For me, right now, that’s the only lyricism that’s accurate—one that insists no lyricism can suffice.

Aparna Gopalan (news editor): If you can’t read right now, but you can listen, I would recommend anything by Palestinian spoken word poet Rafeef Ziadah. I learned about the colonization of Palestinian from history books, but it was Ziadah’s hypnotic videos that first introduced me to the steadfast defiance and unending grace with which Palestinians have lived the unlivable for decades. “Hadeel is nine,” she begins in a 2014 poem that could have been written this morning. “No, sorry, my apologies, Hadeel was nine . . . officials said they regret her death but terrorism must stop, rockets must stop, resistance must stop or they will continue, they will continue, they will continue, they will continue to bomb Gaza.” In another poem titled “We Teach Life,” Ziadah again opens with words that remain horrifyingly relevant. “Today my body was a TV’d massacre,” she intones, “that had to fit into sound bites, and word limits.” But through her work Ziadah rejects those constraints, instead taking up space for the Palestinian story and repeating phrases that bleed out pain they can barely contain. On days like this, I enjoin readers to look that pain in the face and resolve never to lose sight of it, no matter how loud the war machine hums.

Nathan Goldman (managing editor): One of the best things I read this week was Isaac Chotiner’s conversation with Tareq Baconi, author of Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance, in The New Yorker. Baconi offers brilliant insight into the context that led to the events of October 7th, the role that Hamas plays in relation to Israel and to the Palestinian resistance, and how colonial violence makes the violence of anti-colonial struggle inevitable. In a moment when I have found it nearly impossible to think with the clarity and complexity the moment demands, Baconi offers a model.