Maia Ipp (contributing editor): Last week I read the 2021 memoir In This Place Together: A Palestinian’s Journey to Collective Liberation by Penina Eilberg-Schwartz with Sulaiman Khatib. The book tells the story of Khatib’s life and his extraordinary political and spiritual education, including the 10 years he spent in Israeli jails for having attacked an Israeli he thought was a soldier when he was 14 years old. We get scenes from his early family life in the village of Hizma, which in Khatib’s youth is still only a 15-minute bus ride from Jerusalem’s Old City before the occupation’s walls and checkpoints would make the journey arduous if not impossible. We learn how and why he was drawn to Fatah as a boy, and how the books he reads in jail start to inform an orientation toward nonviolent resistance. This commitment leads him to dialogue work, and eventually to co-found the remarkable organization Combatants for Peace, in which Israelis and Palestinians who have “taken an active role in the cycle of violence” undertake nonviolent action against Israel’s apartheid system together.
The book engages seriously with questions of strategic political violence, and we see and hear Khatib’s pain of isolation from accusations of tatbi’a, normalization. The careful nuance allows us to understand why Khatib’s critics, even in his immediate family, at times find his work unforgivable. Khatib himself also questions what is lost in forming a shared identity. While the book takes these complex political questions seriously, the personal experience at its center makes those questions alive and felt. The book is also enriched by Eilberg-Schwartz’s own reflections about the process of interviewing and working with Khatib, and about her own journey of political change as a Jewish American. Despite experiencing violence in nearly every form, Khatib articulates a hopeful, if cautious, vision for shared futures in and through the struggle for justice.
Aparna Gopalan (news editor): In the past weeks, many of us have encountered international humanitarian law (IHL)—or the “laws of war”—at every turn as we try to make sense of the genocidal violence Israel is unleashing on Gaza. Concepts like “distinction,” “proportionality,” and “intentionality” have suffused the ether, making a clear understanding of each essential. To this end, I recommend the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP)’s recent article “Israel and the Laws of War,” which is a Q&A with IHL expert Neve Gordon.
Like previous MERIP pieces—for instance, Lisa Hajjar’s 2016 article on how Israel has managed to get IHL itself changed in its quest to normalize violence against Palestinians—the Gordon conversation “moves beyond the question of whether violence is legal to underscore the unevenness of humanitarian law as powerful states maneuver within it.” For instance, Gordon notes that “distinction”—the IHL concept that holds that parties to armed conflict must distinguish between combatants and civilians—has in practice cast some who do not abide by the principle as “uncivilized or barbaric,” with non-state actors and people on the wrong side of the “color line” bearing the brunt.
Most pertinently, Gordon discusses the recent Israeli attacks on hospitals, explaining that “claims that Shifa and Al Quds hospitals are located on top of Hamas’s headquarters are [not just] preparing the public for attacks . . . [but] also preparing a legal defense based on proportionality and military necessity”—yet another instance of Israel using the principles of IHL as tools of warcraft rather than treating them as absolute limits on violence. Gordon similarly explains the discourse of civilians being “human shields” as an effort to create “killable subjects,” as explored at length in his book with Nicole Perugini, Human Shields: A History of People in the Line of Fire.
The interview concludes with Gordon reflecting on why IHL fails to protect people from state violence. IHL only regulates the technicalities of the fighting, Gordon explains, rather than addressing the structural violence that long precedes, and outlasts, open conflict. “We need to keep in mind that it could be the case that more people will die in Gaza in the aftermath of the war due to structural violence than those who have been and will be killed due to eruptive violence,” Gordon says. “The laws of war have nothing to say about that.”
Even more importantly, IHL is the product of an imperial project and is designed only to privilege certain lives at the expense of others. “The law helped cast [the colonized] as barbarians,” Gordon says, “and when they resisted the colonizer the laws of war were deemed inapplicable.” In this context, Gordon argues, IHL is useful not as a collective moral compass or legal strategy. Instead IHL is best used strategically, as a tool to mobilize public opinion against the worst excesses of violence, while always recalling that it is still the master’s tool, and will not destroy the master’s house—nor contain the master’s violence.
Cynthia Friedman (managing director): Since the morning of October 7th, I have been consumed by emotions—especially fear, grief, and rage for the fate of Palestinians in Gaza—as much as I have been consuming photographs, videos, text messages, news updates, “takes,” and in-depth analyses. It feels that there is so little I can do in the face of the massive pro-war machine. Alongside joining protests, donating, and calling my representatives, “bearing witness” to the words and images directly from people in Gaza becomes a fourth way to act. There is a pragmatic imperative to amplify these voices: the hope that circulating images and stories will humanize those under attack, and expedite a ceasefire. But beneath that, I feel an intense spiritual imperative as well: to ensure, at the very least, that they are not holding their pain alone.
In reflecting on this, I want to share the pieces and accounts that have held me. Just four days ago, n+1 published a small selection of translated and transcribed audio clips sent from people in Gaza. The two dozen testimonies range in length from a sentence to a page; the speakers range from youth to elders. The X account GazaMartyrs offers eulogies that would otherwise be eclipsed by the scale of loss: photos and stories about the personalities, dreams, and lives of individuals who have been killed. On Instagram, I follow photojournalists like Mohammed Zaanoun, Plestia Alaqad, and Motaz Azaiza to absorb difficult moments, such as people being dug out from underneath rubble, and joyous ones, especially the outpouring of love for young children.
Alongside the concrete “now,” art can reach into the future. I loved this tapestry from Arif Rafhan Othman; the illustrations of journalists by Nouri Flayhan and Peonica Fernando make me weep; the animated line drawings from James Thacher teach me new things. In trying to sustain my engagement for the long-haul, I have found artists’ work to be a welcome balm.