The prefix anti- has become tarnished — no longer the signal of vital dissent. To be anti-war is to be dismissed as belonging to an ineffectual movement that paraded its political impotence until the marching lost all conviction and withered away. To be anti-American or anti-Israel is to be condemned as an enemy of civilization. To be an anti-Zionist is to be cast as someone with no regard for the rights of the Jewish people. And meanwhile, behind all these variants of opposition lurks the most dangerous negation of all: anti-Semitism.
You say no and we say yes. Who can escape seeing the appeal of being on the side of yes — even when it’s far from clear what this yes is supposed to affirm?
In a speech Chris Hedges delivered in New York City last Thursday at a fundraiser for sponsoring a U.S. boat to break the blockade of Gaza, he made a point worth heavily underlining when it comes to defining the oppositional antonyms that we use to define the issue of Palestine. This is not a struggle between yes and no.
Addressing secret informants in the room who were undoubtedly there gathering intelligence for the Israeli government, Hedges said:
You may have the bulldozers, planes and helicopters that smash houses to rubble, the commandos who descend from ropes on ships and kill unarmed civilians on the high seas as well as in Gaza, the vast power of the state behind you. We have only our hands and our hearts and our voices. But note this. Note this well. It is you who are afraid of us. We are not afraid of you.
This indeed is the most telling marker — not one that distinguishes those who are for or against but one that separates the fearful and the fearless.
To stand up in the name of justice is to align oneself with something bigger than ones own interests. The fearful cling to the things they are in jeopardy of losing. They defend an inequity that is inherently unstable. Their resistance is against balance and against a natural order. It is they who are most loudly saying “no” — even while calling it “peace.” Their resistance is through opposition to inevitable change.
The challenge to the fearful is this: you say you want to protect yourself from danger, yet you have allowed fear to become your closest companion. Do you not see that fear itself poses a greater threat to life than all the perils you name? Think less about how you can feel safe and you might discover how you can become less afraid.
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When I lived in Jerusalem I had a friend who confided in me that as a college student in the United States she attended events like these, wrote up reports and submitted them to the Israel consulate for money. It would be naive to assume this Israeli practice has ended. So, I want first tonight to address that person, or those persons, who may have come to this event for the purpose of reporting on it to the Israeli government.
I would like to remind them that it is they who hide in darkness. It is we who stand in the light. It is they who deceive. It is we who openly proclaim our compassion and demand justice for those who suffer in Gaza. We are not afraid to name our names. We are not afraid to name our beliefs. And we know something you perhaps sense with a kind of dread. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, and that arc is descending with a righteous fury that is thundering down upon the Israeli government.
You may have the bulldozers, planes and helicopters that smash houses to rubble, the commandos who descend from ropes on ships and kill unarmed civilians on the high seas as well as in Gaza, the vast power of the state behind you. We have only our hands and our hearts and our voices. But note this. Note this well. It is you who are afraid of us. We are not afraid of you. We will keep working and praying, keep protesting and denouncing, keep pushing up against your navy and your army, with nothing but our bodies, until we prove that the force of morality and justice is greater than hate and violence. And then, when there is freedom in Gaza, we will forgive … you. We will ask you to break bread with us. We will bless your children even if you did not find it in your heart to bless the children of those you occupied. And maybe it is this forgiveness, maybe it is the final, insurmountable power of love, which unsettles you the most.
And so tonight, a night when some seek to name names and others seek to hide names, let me do some naming. Let me call things by their proper names. Let me cut through the jargon, the euphemisms we use to mask human suffering and war crimes. “Closures” mean heavily armed soldiers who ring Palestinian ghettos, deny those trapped inside food or basic amenities—including toys, razors, chocolate, fishing rods and musical instruments—and carry out a brutal policy of collective punishment, which is a crime under international law. “Disputed land” means land stolen from the Palestinians. “Clashes” mean, almost always, the killing or wounding of unarmed Palestinians, including children. “Jewish neighborhoods in the West Bank” mean fortress-like compounds that serve as military outposts in the campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. “Targeted assassinations” mean extrajudicial murder. “Air strikes on militant bomb-making posts” mean the dropping of huge iron fragmentation bombs from fighter jets on densely crowded neighborhoods that always leaves scores of dead and wounded, whose only contact with a bomb was the one manufactured in the United States and given to the Israeli Air Force as part of our complicity in the occupation. “The peace process” means the cynical, one-way route to the crushing of the Palestinians as a people.