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Palestine and the Arab Revolution

Rising in solidarity

A transcript of a meeting of revolutionaries from around the region talking about the inextricable ties between Palestinian liberation and liberation across the region. This panel was hosted by Haymarket Books on November 28, 2023, and was co-sponsored by Tempest. It has been lightly edited for readability.

Shireen Akram-Boshar: For nearly two months, Israel has been waging a genocidal campaign against Gaza. During that time, hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated globally in outrage at Israel’s genocidal bombardment of Gaza. In the Middle East in particular, protests have been massive, have faced state repression and have evoked memories of the Arab Spring Revolutions.

For example, in Egypt protesters have marched to Tahrir Square for the first time since 2013. In Jordan, regime and security forces have prevented these protesters from reaching the border to show solidarity with Palestinians. The liberation of Palestine has long resonated throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

And the connection is deeper than just sympathy. The settler-colonial project of Israel, its backing by U.S. imperialism, and the complicity of the Arab regimes with Zionism is reflected in the oppression of the people of the region more broadly. Because of this, one of the long held slogans of the Palestinian Left has been that the road to Jerusalem flows through Cairo, Damascus, and Amman; that Palestinian liberation will have to be achieved through regional revolt and revolution.

This panel will talk about the inextricable ties between Palestinian liberation and liberation across the region and its relevance to this crucial moment. And the speakers today are Hossam el-Hamalawy, Soheir Asaad, and Dr. Banah Ghadbian.

Hossam el-Hamalawi is an Egyptian journalist and scholar activist currently based in Germany. He’s also a member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists and was among the organizers of the 2011 uprising in Egypt.

Dr. Banah Ghadbian holds a PhD in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, San Diego. Their PhD dissertation, Ululating from the Underground, Syrian Women’s Protests, Performances, and Pedagogies, looked at the ways women and children in Syria utilized theater, protest, graffiti, and freedom school spaces in the Syrian Revolution.

Dr. Ghadbian has taught using theater and social justice curricula at the Syrian Women’s Association in Amman, Jordan, and with displaced Syrian and Palestinian youth in the Arab Youth Collective of San Diego, among other places. Dr. Ghadbian holds a Master’s in Ethnic Studies and a BA in Comparative Women’s Studies and Sociology, and is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Women’s Studies at Spelman College, where they also serve as a faculty advisor for the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. Banah is a member of the Palestinian Feminist Collective.

Finally, Soheir Asaad is a Palestinian feminist and political organizer and a human rights advocate. She received a Master’s Degree in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame. Soheir is the advocacy team member of Rawa, For Liberatory, Resilient Palestinian Community Work.

She’s also the co-director of the Funding Freedom Project. Previously, Sohair worked in legal research and international advocacy in Palestinian and regional human rights organizations. We’ll start with Hossam discussing Egypt and its connection to Palestine.

Hossam el-Hamalawy: When it comes to Middle East politics, usually the right wing, and even liberals, dub Palestine “the opium of the Arab people.” According to this view, the Arab regimes always use Palestine in order to divert the attention of their domestic populations towards outside enemies.

But based on my own personal experience and the facts on the ground, this kind of discourse might have existed in Egypt and in the Arab world, but this was before 1967. In fact, the Palestinian cause is a threat and source of instability in the eyes of the Arab rulers. Even more dangerous, they provide a model that the Arab people tend to emulate and copy.

With respect to Egypt and the Palestine solidarity actions, there are definitely parallels with solidarity protests that we organized when I was a student in the 1990s, before the second Palestinian Intifada. These were usually protests at an Egyptian campus that would start with pro-Palestine slogans. Then the focus would slightly change in a few minutes into anti-U.S. and anti-Zionist slogans. Then a few minutes later, the focus would start to change into “Why isn’t our government doing enough to help the Palestinians?” A few minutes later, the focus would change again into “Why does our government not actually want to help the Palestinians and is exporting cement to Israel, which is being used to build Israeli settlements? Why is our government opening up an embassy for the Israelis in the heart of Cairo?”

Then a few minutes later, when the central security forces and our militarized police troops show up to besiege the university, people would immediately start asking, “Why is our government that doesn’t want to help the Palestinians, helping Israel by exporting cement, opening up an embassy, and sending troops to our peaceful protest instead of sending those troops to help the Palestinians?”

Then with the first baton, or the first stick, that cracks the head of any protester, the issue immediately becomes about police brutality, about the nature of the regime that we’re living under.

I recall well that in one of our protests that started in solidarity with Palestine, by the end of the event, we were discussing the housing crisis in Egypt. We were discussing the Bilharzia disease that was affecting the peasants in Upper Egypt and all sorts of domestic issues.

Palestine is always a gateway to domestic descent in Egypt and in the Arab world. And after all the 2011 uprising, in fact, we have to thank the Palestinian cause for it.

I joined university as a freshman in the mid 1990s, and at the time Egypt was going through its first “War on Terror.” At the time, all shades of dissent were squashed. Industrial actions were unheard of. The labor movement had been destroyed.

Most of the political parties were besieged or dismantled. Most of the unionized professionals (lawyers, pharmacists, doctors, and other middle class professions) have all been nationalized by the government. You could mobilize on the campuses, but you could not mention Mubarak’s name. You could not whisper his name. You could not talk about politics over the phone.

I even recall in one of my first protests that I organized in the late 1990’s, as soon as I started chanting against Mubarak the people behind me started running for their lives. I was all alone facing the police. This is the kind of state terror that existed.

How did we evolve from that situation to the Egyptian revolution of 2011? It is thanks to the Palestinian cause. When the second Palestinian Intifada broke out and the visuals of Palestinian kids taking on Israeli tanks were aired to every Egyptian home (thanks to Al-Jazeera and the other satellite channels at the time) people immediately started drawing parallels.

They started saying that if Palestinian kids can confront Israeli tanks, then I can confront the armored police vehicle that’s out there in my street, that’s stopping people, and also abusing people at checkpoints. People would draw parallels immediately between Palestine and between Egypt.

When the second Palestinian Intifada broke out, you suddenly had this influx of protests happening mainly on the campuses among unionized professionals. In very few cases, these protests spilled out onto the streets for the first time probably since the 1977 bread uprising in Egypt.

 Thousands of Egyptian protesters rallied against religious sectarianism and in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada, in Tahrir Square on Friday May 13th 2011. The photo shows five protestors, one of them marching with Palestinian flag and one with the flag draped over his shoulder. Photo by: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي.
Thousands of Egyptian protesters rallied against religious sectarianism and in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada, in Tahrir Square on Friday May 13th 2011.  Photo by: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي.

Mubarak had destroyed street politics in the 1990s in Egypt. Even kindergarten schools and elementary school students were taking to the streets. And this phenomena we haven’t seen since probably the late 1940’s in Egypt. And these protests were faced with police brutality.

The police cracked down heavily on these protests and then they subsided after one week. But they revived once again in April, 2002, when Ariel Sharon sent his tanks to Jenin and the West Bank cities. Here there had occurred the horrible massacres under the name Operation Defensive Shield.

Then suddenly, this protest wave was revived once again. We had running battles with the police for two days around Cairo University, which is located in Giza. At the time people dubbed it the Cairo University Intifada. This was the first time in my life that I would hear thousands chanting against Mubarak. They were chanting “Hosni Mubarak is just like Ariel Sharon. He’s the same color. He’s the same figure.”

Only two years earlier, people could not whisper his name. Suddenly, they got the courage to take on the police and chant against Mubarak in name during the Palestine-inspired protests.

Now, the Cairo University Intifada was put down brutally also by the Central Security Forces, who were using their armored vehicles to try to disperse us by running us over. This was similar to scenes that we would see 10 years later during the Egyptian uprising after the protests were repressed and put down once again. They were revived with the American and the British led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Suddenly you had running battles from the old Islamic quarter in Cairo, where Al Azhar mosque is located, all the way to Tahrir in downtown Cairo.

There were roughly 40,000 protesters. This was the biggest protest ever organized in the streets of Egypt since the 1977 uprising at the time. People took over Tahrir Square for two days, burned down Mubarak’s posters, burned down the National Democratic Party, the ruling party posters, and almost managed to reach the American embassy trying to storm it.

And the police repressed the protest brutally. They rounded up hundreds of people, tortured many, including close friends of mine. Water cannons were used, bird shot, and all forms of repression. These mobilizations that happened in the streets around Palestine and Iraq created for us this margin where we could start mobilizing against the regime.

It’s not a coincidence that the Kefaya movement, which is Arabic for “Enough,” was launched in Egypt in 2004. And the founders of Kefaya are the same people who led the pro-Palestine and the anti-Iraq War movements in the previous three years. Kefaya took on the taboo around criticizing Mubarak and completely destroyed it. Kefaya had mobilized for two years.

Kefaya was mainly organized among the middle classes in Egypt. It never managed to create roots among the working class or farmers. At the same time, the telecommunication revolution and the ability to spread visuals of dissent like a small protest that we were holding while burning Mubarak’s posters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, revolutionized the public.

It’s not a coincidence that the industrial actions wave and the revival of the labor movement started in 2006, two years after the launch of Kefaya. That is when 22,000 workers in the textile mill in the heart of the Nile Delta went on strike and they won. They triggered the winter of labor discontent in Egypt, where all the textile sector went on strike and then the industrial militancy started to spread over the other sectors. This built up a social movement that led to the 2011 uprising.

The Egyptian revolutionaries never forgot Palestine and never forgot this umbilical cord that ties the two causes together. Several mass protests were organized in Tahrir Square in solidarity with the Palestinians. There isn’t a single protest that I’ve attended throughout the revolution that did not have the flag of Palestine.

The Israeli embassy was stormed twice in Egypt in 2011. It’s not a coincidence that when the coup took place in 2013, and the fully fledged counter revolutionary onslaught started, Sisi (our ruler) targeted every single cause that our revolution had adopted. Among them and most important was the Palestinian cause. We can understand why he is taking part in the Gaza siege, and why he is complicit with Israel in its crimes against the Palestinians.

It is the same cause. We believe that the road to Jerusalem will have to pass through Cairo because we have the biggest clientelistic regime in the region. And the Sisi regime is just as dangerous to the Palestinian cause as Israel is. We hope that we will play our part in the liberation of Palestine by getting rid of the imperialist client regime in Cairo at the very least.

Banah Ghadbian: Before I start, I’m just gonna say “trigger warning.” I mention prison and a lot of things related to rape and sexual assault.

Shocking news! You can have a dual critique of Zionism and Arab dictators at the same time. It’s amazing I have to say that, but it’s true. A dual critique understands a few things. First, that Israel occupies Syria in the Golan Heights. Second, how the Assad regime in Syria targets Palestinians while using pro-Palestine rhetoric to justify its legitimacy in Syria. Third, it understands the kinds of gendered violence the colonial state and the authoritarian state use on Palestinian and Syrian women. Fourth, how prisons, the carceral state, is central to both of these struggles.

Let’s start with the first point. Israel actively occupies Syria. Syria and Palestine are one land. The colonial borders were created under Sykes Picot a century ago. This is a relatively modern construct. For this reason, Syrians carry dual critiques of the Zionist system that occupies our land and authoritarianism.

For example, in March 2011 the Syrian revolution began. A group of children in Daraa wrote graffiti on their school walls and were then tortured in the dictator Bashar al Assad’s prisons. People take to the streets in places like Daraa, Darayya, and Baniyas, holding roses and water bottles. The regime police respond by gunning them down.

While this is happening in 2011, on May 15th (Nakba Day) and on June 5th, 2011, around 1,000 Palestinian and Syrian protesters marched to the Golan Heights near Quneitra and Majdal Shams to protest the Israeli settler-colonial entity that’s on Syrian land. How did the Zionists respond? They gunned down protesters injuring 350 people and killing 23.

One of these young protesters was Khaled Bakrawi, who is a young Palestinian Syrian from Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, and the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the world (for context, there are twelve Palestinian refugee camps in Syria). He marched during the Palestinian return demonstration in the Golan.

Israeli snipers shot him and injured him. He went back to Yarmouk refugee camp and became a leader in the Syrian Revolution. He co-founded Jafra Foundation and helped all the displaced Syrian children, who slept in Yarmouk refugee camps in the UN-run schools. And he helped refugees from Tadaman, Hajar Aswad, and Babila. The Syrian regime saw what he was doing, kidnapped him, arrested him, and then he died under torture in Assad’s prison two months later.

There are so many Palestinian Syrians that have this story. His friends, Ahmed Kousa and Bassam Hamidi, were other Palestinian Syrians who fought in the Syrian revolution and then died when the Assad regime shelled the Yarmouk refugee camp.

George Talamas, who was another Palestinian Syrian, provided aid to wounded protesters in the Syrian revolution. Adnan Abdurrahman is another person who led protests and Basil Safadi created a secret cafe where journalists could upload videos of the protest, and then was imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the regime in the Hadra prison in 2015.

There are people like Khaled Bakrawi and other activists whose entire life was about struggling against Zionism, but also against the brutal conditions of Syria’s authoritarian government that abuses Palestinians.

Today in Syria, organizations like Al-Marsad in the Golan Heights monitor human rights violations of the regime and of the Zionists. In 2017, rural people in Jasim, in the countryside of Daraa, played Fairouz’s famous “Flowers Among Cities” song during an anti-Assad protest to protest Trump’s decision to recognize the Israeli embassy in Jerusalem. They held up Syrian revolution flags and Palestinian flags saying “Jerusalem is our Bride” and they also burned American and Israeli flags.

The flag burning is interesting because that’s happening right now in Idlib. While they’re under Assad and Russian bombing, they’re burning American and Israeli flags. In Suwayda, numerous protests recently have taken place to criticize the Assad and Zionist settler-colonial entities at the same time.

These protesters hold multiple critiques simultaneously. Why? Because they experience multiple systems of oppression at once. This is the concept of intersectionality the U.S. Black feminist Kimberly Crenshaw created in the 1980’s. As Audre Lorde said, “there is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.”

The Assad regime from its inception has used the Palestinian cause to say that Syria needed to be under a state of emergency. Syria had one of the longest periods of active martial law in the world from 1963 to 2011. The pretext was always that of an Israeli attack: “we’re protecting you by freezing your rights.”

Today, Palestinian Syrians are second class citizens in Syria. Rezan Ghazawi, who is a Palestinian Syrian scholar, and formerly imprisoned by Assad, said, “Being Palestinian in Syria, you’re expected to shut up and be grateful. Everyone says, ‘don’t you see how many rights Palestinians have?’ You are an exile inside Syria.”

Where do you think Assad got his tactics from? From Israel, Assad learned how to drop cluster bombs and use chemical weapons. In 1976 Hafez al-Assad supported the far right Christian phalangists in Lebanon and committed a huge massacre of Palestinian people in Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp in Lebanon.

Tel al-Zaatar was inhabited by 50,000 Palestinian refugees. For two months, the Syrian offensive cut off all food and basic supplies and shelled them with 5,500 shells over the heads of civilians and murdered over 3,000 Palestinians. At the same time, they massacred Palestinians in Jisr al-Basha and [Tel al-Zaatar] camps.

Hafez al-Assad also imprisoned Palestinian dissidents in the Palestinian popular community, Fatah, and the Party for Communist Action in the 1970s. His son, Bashar al-Assad, carried on this tradition. An oral history of rural Syrians, like Syrians in my family, helps us record the realities that Palestinians face.

I want to share a story about my father. He was skipping school one day and decided to hop on a train to Damascus when he was about eight years old. And the year was 1970. Black September had just happened. He got to Madras Square in Damascus and looked up and saw the dead bodies of Palestinian resistance fighters. They had been publicly lynched.

The regime executed them as a message designed to invoke fear in the Syrian population. This is what happens when you resist an Arab regime. Today in Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria has documented that the Assad regime has detained over 4,000 Palestinian Syrians. Before October 7 that was around the same number of detained Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

Bashar al-Assad besieged the Yarmouk camp for two years, from 2012 to 2014, because the vast majority of Palestinian Syrians supported the Syrian revolution. They were collectively punished.

The [regime] used starvation tactics. They prevented the entry of all people, food and goods. They bombed all but one hospital in Yarmouk and they dropped chemical rain from airplanes, shelled and launched rockets into the Yarmouk camp.

There is a photo that keeps getting circulated on social media. People keep mislabeling it and saying, “Look at these Palestinians in occupied Palestine talking about Israel.” No, this is from a documentary called “Little Palestine Diary of a Siege” directed by Abdullah al Khatib about Palestinians in Syria under Assad.

There’s another famous photo of Yarmouk refugee camp that gets mislabeled as a view of the Syrian refugee crisis. No, this is the Palestinian refugee crisis in Syria. This photo was taken by UNRWA during a food distribution in Yarmouk camp in 2014.

Scene from Yarmouk refugee camp, the less than one-square-mile camp populated by Palestinians, constructed in 1957. The photo shows the backs of a long line of refu
Scene from Yarmouk refugee camp, the less than one-square-mile camp populated by Palestinians, constructed in 1957.  Photo by UNRWA/Rami Al Sayyed.

The overlap of these Palestinian Syrian issues is a gendered experience. Why? Because Palestinian and Syrian women experience patriarchal logics of domination and the extraction of feminized lands and bodies.

What do I mean? In Tel al-Zaatar, one of the ways the Assad regime harassed and terrorized Palestinians is by cutting open the pregnant bellies of Palestinian women. They also committed mass rape. A 2014 report regarding sexual abuse in detention centers talks about the special branch of prison, the so-called Palestine Branch, that is famous for what’s called Ta’zeeb Mushtarak, where groups of young children and youth are sexually tortured together.

Rural farm-working people, like my family who were fellaheen, experienced Zionist bombing of their countryside in Damascus because it was said Palestinian resistance lived in the hills. In 1967, my grandmother, while gathering crops on her field, was under Israeli bombings and experienced that while she was pregnant. A few years later, she experienced the Syrian secret police, the Mukhabarat, storming her home, terrorizing her again while she was pregnant, causing her water to break. The experiences of birthing people and gendered sexual assault are also something we have to talk about.

The shared Palestinian and Syrian conditions are not only about dispossession from our ancestral lands, but also experiences under prison. Branch 235, (the Palestine Branch) ironically was the oldest intelligence apparatus in Syria. Founded in 1969, the purpose was to fight for Palestine. They were supposed to interrogate Israeli intelligence operatives in that branch. But today is known as the place where Palestinians are tortured.

This in itself summarizes everything. Assad claims to fight for Palestine on paper, but in reality targets Palestinians in brutal ways. The number of people killed under torture by the Palestine Branch are 10 and 15 people a day. This is part of the reason why Palestinians and the Syrian revolution came to the forefront.

Tal al-Mallouhi is the youngest known prisoner of conscience in the world. She was a teenage girl in Syria who was detained by the Syrian regime because she blogged poems about Palestine in 2009. Some of her poems are beautiful. One says, “We will not accept new shame. Jerusalem will not be trampled, no surrender of stolen Palestine.” On her blog, Tal al-Mallouhi wrote messages of solidarity to majority Black populations during Katrina. She talks about Palestine and solidarity with Black people in 2006 during Katrina together.

In summer 2020, I was part of a group of Palestinian Syrians, Alawite, Kurdish, and Assyrian Syrians, many of whom survived Zionist regimes, the Assad regime, and detention under ISIS. They created Syrians for Black Power.

The idea was that we connect the dots between our liberation, and doing so makes us that much stronger. Of course, there are Syrians who normalize Zionism and Palestinians who normalize Assad. But we can be creative in our responses to this.

The last thing I’ll share is that in 2016, several Syrian displaced people were relocated to San Diego, and the only Syrian organization in San Diego to support refugees had accepted a Zionist grant from the Israeli government.

As a response, a group of us youth got together and created another center that we called the Khaled Bakrawi Center. The idea there was to create a pro-Palestinian, pro-Syrian revolutionary organization that could support the political realities and lives of the people it supported.

We’re capable of holding multiple critiques, and when we do, a more holistic vision of our liberation emerges.

Soheir Assad: Banah took us to moments that are carved into the souls, hearts and minds of each one of us who lived through the Arab revolutions. I’m part of this generation, part of the generation of the Arab revolutions.

For these past few years my generation felt that we’ve been defeated. We’ve been defeated by the counter revolutions that took over an intense moment of hope.

During May 2021 in Palestine, the Unity Intifada had taught us something about reclaiming our unity; reclaiming our power as people and taking back our agency. Now, at this moment, we’re speaking about it in the context of the genocide that is going on in Gaza where almost 15,000 people were killed, among them over 6,000 children were killed. I cannot believe that I’m saying these numbers.

In order to understand Palestinian and regional Arab solidarity among Arabs and non-Arabs in the region, we need to understand what the war is now. Who is launching the war on Gaza?

We can’t start the analysis of the genocide in Gaza by only understanding the over 75 years of Israeli colonization and oppression in a detached way. Israel is a project of colonialism in Palestine and in the region as a whole. It is a European and a U. S. project that is oppressing Palestinians, taking their lands, forcefully displacing them, and turning us into refugees and fragmenting our community. It also aims to control the whole region, controlling our resources, our freedoms, and our livelihoods all over the region.

This is apparent and very clear to us from what we’re seeing these days. It’s not only the state systems and armies that are actively participating in arming Israel with billions now and giving the technology that is burying children under the rubble. It’s not only military and state power but economic power. It’s also the complicity of different companies, investors and others who profit from the experience on our bodies like the bodies of the people in Gaza, the global South and in our region for so many years.

Palestinians, and Gazans in particular, are now being punished. They’re being punished for resilience, resistance and for standing up in the name of Palestinians, but also standing up in general in the name of the oppressed and shaking the foundation of this system, which is a global system.

It’s not only the Israeli colonization shaking the grounds behind these regimes within the racialized capitalist system under imperialism. And I think the ones who are complicit now are not only governments or right wings or mainstream. Definitely liberal discourse and institutions are extremely complicit as they’ve always been.

We’re seeing students in a U.S. university chanting and calling the universities to divest from arms. You ask yourself, why is a university, an academic institution, investing in arms, regardless of the ongoing genocide? Why is it generating profit from killing and experimenting on bodies of people from the Global South?

It’s not only universities, it’s big international human rights organizations, boards, and various institutions. It’s the media who is completely complicit in demonizing Palestinians the way it demonized Muslims and Arabs and black people and people from the Global South. They do not look at our deaths. They do not even call them killing. They do not point to the perpetrator. They call our children “people under 18.” Essentially, they do not have the basic, even ethical standards of journalism. But even more, the demonizing is actually abetting the genocide.

The Arab regimes not only have normalized relations with Israel. They are allies. We need to stop talking only about normalization. We should start speaking about allyship between them and their common interests.

The interest is not only to oppress Palestinians, to keep Palestinians contained and to end the Palestinian cause through the Abraham Accords and other processes that happened in the region in the last few years. There is also a mutual benefit. Israel is not oppressing only Palestinians, controlling the resources and playing the part of colonial power in the region. It’s directly aiding these regimes and oppressing their people with military, technology, surveillance, and political power. It’s not a coincidence that these regimes are killing their own people, starving them, making them live in poverty, putting them in jails, putting those who resist that oppression which is fully backed by the U.S.

If one looks at Egypt now, the U.S. obviously is part of this oppression but doesn’t have the political power. It does not have the political power but is benefiting from having a leader as a subject to it like Sisi. When we speak about imperialism, we don’t pick sides. It’s not that this imperialism is “good” and that imperialism is “bad.” In the end, imperialism is bad in Egypt, it’s bad in Syria, and it’s bad when anyone is doing it.

For many years these regimes were protected from accountability; they were protected from their people by the same power that is protecting Israel. The counterrevolution is a product of both these regimes.

This is control that runs deep in the state system, like the military, that we couldn’t get rid of by simply pushing out the political leader of the system. This deep control is also a result of direct intervention by these powers to keep the people of our region under continuous colonialism.

What are we witnessing? Colonialism not only exists materially on our land, the way it does in Palestine, but it is also the absolute control through racialized capitalism that is implemented through the militarization of life the Arab countries remain under despite the fact that it is claimed that colonialism is over.

If we deeply and radically look at our region we understand that colonialism is not over. What are we seeing now is colonialism from Europe and the U.S. being a clear manifestation of white supremacy with anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments, as well as a similar general sentiment against the global South.

Today one sees kids in Gaza being pulled from under rubble. At the same time, one sees Syrian kids drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and drowning on the shores of Europe. This is the reason and the cause for our oppression and the cost of what has happened in our homelands.

Regarding the Arab revolution, Hossam spoke about how Palestine radicalized Egypt. I want to talk about how the Arab revolution radicalized Palestine. I think as someone who’s a feminist in Palestine, as someone who believes in justice and is part of the Palestinian liberation struggle, our understanding of our liberation has often been very limited. It has essentialized Palestine in a way.

A generation of people linked the liberation of Palestine into a duality: either you’re with resistance or you’re with imperialism. Doing so turned Palestine into the general question of statehood. When Palestine is a question of the poor, Palestine is a question of the oppressed. Palestine is a question of the people and not statehood. It’s peoplehood and not statehood.

When the Syrian and Egyptian revolutions happened, I still remember what we felt in our hearts and the tears that we shed. I still remember the absolute rise of hope that my generation felt. We went into the streets for Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Iraq and for every other place that mobilized.

When we took the stage, we spoke about liberation, liberation from colonialism in the most radical sense, in the deepest sense. In a way, and especially Syria, some people try to put us in a duality: if you’re supporting the Syrian revolution, then you’re therefore supporting Zionism and the U.S. Many of us had to stand up and say, “Absolutely not!” Palestine’s freedom doesn’t pass over the blood and bodies of Syrian people. This cannot happen.

If we want to really understand Palestine, it’s not because we have a good position on Syria. If we want to deeply understand the liberation of Palestine, if we want to redefine its essence, to the core of that liberatory revolution, it is about resistance, but it’s about resistance to oppression.

We need to address all forms of oppression (not only Zionism). We need to address all oppressive capitalist regimes and dictatorships that are impoverishing people. And not only regimes, but also the economic system whose effects we see on our people all over the region.

In a way, the Arab revolution redefined liberation for my generation and it has impacted the way we look at other struggles, at the social structure struggle in Palestine on the issue of class, that Palestine liberation is not only about nationalism. Who are the Palestinians? What are we struggling for? How do we define that? What kind of Palestine do we want to see? Are we looking for a capitalist Palestine? Do I want that or do I want a liberated Palestine in the full sense?

In a way the Arab revolution has affected the way we look at the revolution, but also the way we reflect about ourselves. We are forever grateful for that, especially as a feminist. This revolution impacted the way I look at the feminist struggle today.

For the last few years, we have felt that the counterrevolution waged by our political elites has defeated us in the region. In Palestine this was done through the Palestinian Authority and other political elites there.

Our causes were fragmented. Everyone wanted to survive. Everyone wanted their cause to survive. There was a feeling of finding allies by appealing to the powerful, by appealing to the EU, to governments, and Congress. We know now that this doesn’t work but we know it even more today.

The powerful and those who have power, the colonialist states and client regimes, are interested in keeping all of us oppressed under racialized capitalism. The bodies that are sweating and laboring in Egypt and dealing with poverty are the same bodies that are oppressed on the shores of Europe. They are the same bodies that are killed under the rubble in Gaza. We cannot ever forget that.

There has been this use and the weaponizing of Palestine by the regimes when people felt alienated from the cause. They felt that it belonged to tyrannical regimes. But what Gaza is doing now, like the Great March of Return did in 2021 and many other times in recent Palestine history, is proving to all of us that people are reclaiming Palestine, reclaiming what liberation means. Gaza now is radicalizing the region and is radicalizing the whole world.

At this moment we cannot keep speaking about transactional solidarity or solidarity with slogans. I think the moment of defeatism and the moment of counterrevolution may have freezed many of us.

We have also faced a lot of political depression. A lot of the movement for justice in the region was really struggling in the last years. What we’re seeing in the world, the immense amount of solidarity in the region and in the world, should really inspire us again and again, not only to do performative solidarity, but really deep solidarity.

Our “allies” are creating power. They have power through collaboration. It’s not only through speeches but by actual material power. What we should strive to do is actually create our own power, our own material power as people, and to have each other’s backs. And not only when Palestine is facing oppression but when anyone is oppressed and not free, we need to have each other’s back.

And we need to make sure that the Western colonizing world that is oppressing all of us and the global South, can never rest. When we are dying, they should never be able to rest. When we are faced with injustice and that the Arab regimes also never rest when we are killed, but also when our people in general in the region are killed.

Featured image credit: UNClimateChange; modified by Tempest.

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Shireen Akram-Boshar, Soheir Asaad, Dr. Banah Ghadbian, and Hossam el-Hamalawy View All

Shireen Akram-Boshar is a socialist activist, writer, and editor on the editorial board of Spectre Journal. She is a member of the Tempest Collective.

Soheir Asaad is a Palestinian feminist and political organizer and a human rights advocate. She received a Master's degree in international human rights law from the University of Notre Dame (US). Soheir is the advocacy team member of Rawa, for liberatory, resilient Palestinian community work. She is also the co-director of the “Funding Freedom” project. Previously, Soheir worked in legal research and international advocacy in Palestinian and regional human rights organizations.

Dr. Banah Ghadbian (they/them) holds a Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, a Master's in Ethnic Studies, and a BA in Comparative Women's Studies and Sociology Their Ph.D. dissertation, "Ululating from the Underground: Syrian Women's Protests, Performances, and Pedagogies" looked at how women and children in Syria utilize theater, protest, graffiti, and freedom school spaces in the Syrian Revolution. Banah has taught theater and social justice curricula at the Syrian Women’s Association in Amman, Jordan and with displaced Syrian and Palestinian youth in the Arab Youth Collective of San Diego, among many other places. They are an Assistant Professor of Comparative Women's Studies at Spellman College where they also serve as faculty adviser for the Students for Justice in Palestine. Banah is a member of the Palestinian Feminist Collective.

Hossam el-Hamalawy is an Egyptian journalist and scholar-activist, currently based in Germany. He's also a member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists, and was among the organizers of the 2011 uprising in Egypt.